Pentecost 14 September 6, 2020
1 Timothy 1:5-17
16, 418, 409, 53
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen. +
When we had sighted Cyprus, we passed it on the left, sailed to Syria, and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload her cargo. And finding disciples, we stayed there seven days. They told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem. When we had come to the end of those days, we departed and went on our way; and they all accompanied us, with wives and children, till we were out of the city. And we knelt down on the shore and prayed. When we had taken our leave of one another, we boarded the ship, and they returned home. And when we had finished our voyage from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, greeted the brethren, and stayed with them one day.
On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied. And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ “ Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, “The will of the Lord be done.”
Dearly Beloved Fellow Believers,
“Thy will be done.” In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to say this prayer as part of our daily devotions. Jesus Himself also prayed this prayer in Gethsemane when He faced the ordeal of His passion and death. The words reveal His triumph over Satan and the temptation to turn back from suffering the cross.
In today’s text we again come upon this familiar prayer. The wording is slightly different, but it is the same prayer. Here it is disciples of Jesus praying, “The will of the Lord be done.” This prayer too represents a triumph over temptation, both for the Apostle Paul and for the Christian friends who were counseling him. The apostle both knew God’s will and was determined to follow it.
As disciples of Jesus Christ and children of God we, likewise, want to know God’s will and to submit to it, for we know that what He wants for us can be nothing but good. Yet we also understand that knowing God’s will and doing it are not simple and easy things. God’s will in every situation is not always obvious; we need to actively search it out by studying His word, praying, and meditating on His Word. And then doing His will once we become convinced of it—that is also difficult, for doing God’s will often means swimming upstream, against the will of the devil and the world, against the inclinations of our own sinful nature.
In this our text helps us. Here we look at how the Lord strengthened Paul and other disciples to do His will, and we learn to follow their example.
If we are going to do God’s will, we first need to know what His will is. We don’t want to make the error of following some misguided path, thinking it to be God’s will. Many have made that mistake to their detriment.
In our text we see that Paul did not make that mistake. When he was determined to go to Jerusalem and would not be talked out of going there, he was not being stubborn or willful. He wasn’t just bent on a certain course of action that he had chosen, as people often are. Paul was resolute because he knew that it was God’s will that He go to Jerusalem. The account in Acts says of Paul that he “purposed in the Spirit…to go to Jerusalem.” (Acts 19:21) The Holy Spirit revealed to Paul that he was to go to Jerusalem and then to Rome. How else can we account for Paul’s resoluteness about going to Jerusalem? When Paul spoke about this to the elders at Ephesus he said, “I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem.” (Acts 20:22) His spirit was bound by the Holy Spirit.
The visit to Jerusalem had an important purpose. Paul was going there to deliver in person an offering that had been collected for the Christians there. The believers in Jerusalem had been having a rough time of it. They had suffered severe persecution from their unbelieving countrymen; no doubt many of them had suffered the loss of property and livelihood. Paul had brought their needs to the attention of the Gentile believers in Asia Minor and had organized a collection. To Paul, this was a project of the greatest importance. He speaks of it in several of the epistles, giving careful instructions about how and when it was to be gathered (1 Corinthians 16; 2 Corinthians 8; Romans 15:25-27). Its purpose was more than to help out the suffering Christians in Jerusalem: it was to be a concrete expression of the Christian bond that existed between the Gentile and Jewish branches of Christianity. That is why when the money was collected from all the Gentile churches it wasn’t just sent to Jerusalem by messenger or courier. Paul wanted to deliver it in person and to be accompanied by representatives of the Gentile churches. He wanted the disciples in Judea to know the Christian love that was behind the offering.
Paul’s knowledge that God wanted him to go to Jerusalem came from a special revelation. Are we to expect special revelations from God so that we can know what God wants us to do? I know of nothing in Scripture that would lead us to look for such revelations. But we too surely can know the will of God for our life. In His Word God has revealed both what is pleasing to Him and what is displeasing, what is good and what is sinful. Thus, in matters where God has spoken we can be just as sure about His will as Paul was. Individuals today spend a lot of time agonizing over moral issues where there is a clear “Thus says the Lord.” They weigh pros and cons where God has said, “You shall not.” Churches and church leaders look for novel interpretations of passages of Scripture that have been clearly understood for many centuries. They try to find ways around God’s Word because the direction that it gives is no longer acceptable in our increasingly secular society. But we are still right to follow the guidance of the Word. It is the unchanging Word of the eternal God, still in our day “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
But what about matters where God’s Word does not speak? How can we know God’s will in these things? Maybe you have to make a decision on something: whether to pursue a certain career; whether to make or postpone a major purchase; whether to accept or make a proposal of marriage; whether to retire or continue in your present job for a while longer. These are not matters of right or wrong; you could go either way in your decision without sinning. These are matters of wisdom and judgment. But they are also important matters, and for them we ought to ask for the Lord’s guidance. He has invited us to come to Him in every need and promised to hear us. He is pleased when His children want to do what is pleasing to Him.
As we pray for guidance, we ought to apply what we know from His Word to our problem, our situation. Just because there is no clear “You shall” or “You shall not” does not mean that God’s Word provides us with no guidance. God’s Word is a “lamp to our feet and a light to our path.” (Psalm 119:105) For example, if you were trying to decide on a career, the Bible doesn’t tell you which to choose, but it does tell you that your abilities are gifts of God and should be used to His glory. The Bible doesn’t tell you who to marry, but it does show you what kind of person would be a God-pleasing choice. It doesn’t tell you whether or not to buy a new car, but it does remind you that all your money and property is from God and that you have a responsibility to be a good steward of it. If we are truly looking for guidance in making an important decision, we will surely receive it. And we will arrive at a decision and have confidence that what we have decided is good and right. Those who go badly astray in their decisions and choices are those who do not seek God’s will.
When we know the Lord’s will what must follow is submission. Submission to God’s will is a fruit of faith. We believe in God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our own Father who loves us for Jesus’ sake. As a loving Father He wants only what is for our good. And He is wise—wise enough to know what is for our good, our growth, our blessing. Knowing this we humbly submit to His will, even if we don’t see how what He wants us to do will work out for our blessing.
In our text we have a fine example of this in the apostle Paul. As we have seen, Paul was convinced that the Lord wanted Him to go to Jerusalem and from there to Rome. So Paul set off confidently, determined for Jerusalem, bearing the offering for the Christians there. But along the way his faith underwent a series of severe tests. These tests started well before the point in our text, which is near the end of his journey. Along the way, when Paul stopped to say farewell to the elders of the congregation in Ephesus, he told them, “Now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.” There were prophets in those early days of the Christian Church through whom the Holy Spirit gave special revelations. We find them here, first at the city of Tyre where Paul and his party first reached land. The Christians there knew from the Holy Spirit that Paul would be in danger when he went to Jerusalem. They told him not to go there. Apparently, that was their own conclusion, because Paul did not turn back.
Then at their next stop it happened again: in Caesarea, at the home of Philip, Paul met up with a prophet from Jerusalem, a man named Agabus. He spoke a prophecy about Paul which he also illustrated by taking Paul’s belt and using it to tie his own hands and feet. Paul would be arrested and imprisoned while he was in Jerusalem, Agabus said. The disciples there again urged Paul not to go.
But Paul would not be deterred. He knew what the Lord wanted him to do, and he would not be turned back from it, even if it meant that he would suffer. “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus,” he said. Paul was following in the footsteps of Jesus who Himself went to Jerusalem knowing that He would suffer and die there, for it was the Father’s will. Paul’s Christian companions, seeing his determination, then stopped pleading with him to turn back. “The will of the Lord be done,” they said. If it was the Lord’s will, then he must go, they agreed. If this was the Lord’s will, then all would be well.
Now, again, you and I don’t have direct prophecies from the Holy Spirit to direct us personally and individually. But we do know that Jesus wants us to follow Him, to confess His name, and that we are not to turn back from following Him, no matter what. We are on a journey that is not all that different from that of the apostle Paul. We don’t know exactly what awaits us down the road, but we do know that it will include trials, difficulties, challenges; Jesus Himself has said so. But we do not want to turn back on that account. The trials that we have to go through are the Lord’s will; He will not let them harm us but will use them to strengthen and purify us. And at the end of the road of discipleship is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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