The Final Stops along Paul’s Third Missionary Journey

Acts 21

The final days of Paul’s third missionary journey are a beautiful snapshot of the love and hospitality that characterized the early church. The story picks up just after Paul and his coworkers had boarded a ship in Patara on the Lycian coast and headed for Phoenicia. They landed at the international commercial hub of Tyre, where the ship unloaded its cargo. While they were there they found some believers and stayed with them for seven days. Such an unannounced and lengthy request for hospitality would likely be met with offense and resentment by many in the Western world today, but in ancient times travel and lodging were not always safe, and accommodations with a trusted friend were highly valued–by both host and guest–for just as hosts provided guests with safe, warm lodging, guests often provided hosts with news updates or cherished greetings from loved ones far away. Thus, hospitality for traveling believers became a hallmark of the early church as they sought to care for the needs of those within the family of God, regardless of their personal familiarity with them (see 2 John 10; 3 John 5-8). During this time in Tyre, the believers, no doubt aware of Jewish animosity against Paul, urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Yet Paul was determined to continue his journey, so all the believers and their entire families escorted him to the beach where he was to board another ship. There they knelt down, prayed, and said their farewells. The next day Paul arrived in Ptolemais and stayed with believers there for one day. Then he set sail for Caesarea, the headquarters of Roman forces in Palestine and also the home of Philip the Evangelist, a prominent deacon in the church who had led many Samaritans, an Ethiopian royal official, and many people along the coast to faith in Christ (Acts 6:1-7; 8:1-40). While he was there, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea and warned Paul of his impending arrest in Jerusalem if he continued on. When other believers heard this, they began to weep and urged Paul not to go. Yet Paul remained resolute, and after several days he and his coworkers headed to Jerusalem. Some believers from Caesarea traveled with Paul and made arrangements for him to stay with a believer named Mnason from Cyprus. Paul was warmly received by believers in Jerusalem, and the next day he visited James and the other elders of the church. He recounted to them all the things God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry, and they praised God. They also mentioned, however, that many Jews living in Jerusalem had been hearing false reports that Paul was teaching Jews to abandon the laws of Moses. So they requested that Paul take part in and even pay for a vow ceremony (likely a nazirite vow; see Numbers 6) for four men to demonstrate that he still observed and valued the law of Moses. Paul agreed, but, ironically, it was this very act of obedience to the law of Moses that ultimately led to a riot among the Jews, for some of them accused Paul of defiling the holy place by bringing Greeks into the Temple.

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