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Acts 21:1-15

Be Aligned with God's Will

  • Jean Marais
  • Sunday Night Messages
  • July 16, 2023

To have a life of significance and godly influence it is imperative to align our lives with the will of God, for it is by far the best way to live.

  • Sermon Notes
  • Scripture

Be Aligned with God’s Will
Acts 21:1-15
July 16, 2023

As we continue our study through the book of Acts, Paul is on his third missionary journey. He has been traveling by ship and is determined in his heart to go to Jerusalem. They crossed the northern part of the Mediterranean heading east toward Israel and landed at a city called Tyre, a port city in the area of Syria, just north of Israel.

They stayed there for seven days with the disciples from that city who kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem. There has been much scholarly discussion and debate about whether Paul was being told here that he should not go to Jerusalem, yet the scripture seems plain that he is being warned by the Spirit about what would happen if he were to go.

These are very important verses because it has to do with listening to the Lord which is something we all need to understand. But it also has to do with decision-making and the will of God, something that should be important to all of us.

There is a story of an old Scottish woman who went from home to home across the countryside selling thread and buttons and such. When she came to an unmarked crossroad, she would toss a stick into the air and go in the direction the stick pointed when it landed.

One day, however, she was seen tossing the stick up several times. “Why do you toss the stick more than once?” someone asked. “Because,” replied the woman, “it keeps pointing to the left, but I want to take the road on the right.”

We all make many thousands of decisions in our lives and the course of our lives often hinges on just a few key decisions. It’s so important to understand these things.

To have a life of significance and godly influence it is imperative to align our lives with the will of God, for it is by far the best way to live.

I. God often Warns Us in Advance

  • In the speech Paul recently made to the elders of Ephesus, he said that the Holy Spirit testified to him that in every city bonds and afflictions awaited him.
  • In other words, he knows his life will be filled with troubles and he has prepared his heart.
  • But this warning seems different. “They kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.”
  • How should we interpret this warning? Was Paul given a direct command?
  • More importantly, how does Paul interpret this warning? It was not understood by Paul as a direct command that he should not go up to Jerusalem. Otherwise, it would have been direct disobedience to continue toward Jerusalem.

A. Count the cost

  • Earlier Paul said he was bound in spirit on his way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to him there. But now he knows.
  • The Holy Spirit has made clear to Paul that if he continues toward Jerusalem, he will be bound hand and foot and delivered over to the Gentiles.
  • Therefore, this is a warning to Paul that he should not go to Jerusalem unless he has fully counted the cost and is willing to encounter the perils of the journey.
  • Jesus taught a parable that spoke of this point very powerfully.

Illus – A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; at the dinner hour he sent his servant to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is now ready.” But they all began to make excuses. One had just purchased a piece of land and needed to go and look at it, another had purchased five yoke of oxen and wanted to try them out, another one said, “I have married a wife, and for that reason, I cannot come.”

  • Jesus then concluded the parable by saying…

Luke 14:28, 31, 27, “Which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down to calculate the cost… Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough to encounter the one coming against him?… Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”

  • When you start to make excuses, your heart is not in it. As said many times before, following Christ is not just about lip service. The gospel is free, but it might cost you a lot. There are things to surrender and sometimes things to lay down.
  • Paul has counted the cost and is ready not only to be bound, but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.

B. Listen to the warnings of God

  • God often tells you in advance that the way of blessing is this way or that if you turn the other way it will result in disaster.

Isaiah 30:21, Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left.

Illus – Sometimes it’s a choice between right and wrong and though it may be difficult, God’s telling you to do the right thing.

          It is easy to swim with the stream, for example, in our modern culture. It is easy to just swim with whatever is happening, but I am blessed in my heart to have been in contact with young people who see these times and say they will not submit to the propaganda and the things of this world. Kids that are willing to take a stand, even though it is difficult.

  • The easy way isn’t necessarily always the right way. One might have the comfort of the easy moment, but you might have to ‘sell your soul’ which is much more costly. These decisions many times haunt people and whatever they gained through compromise cannot calm that storm within.

Illus – When Peter denied Christ…

  • There are other times when we have to say no to something good in order to say yes to something better. There are times when we must choose the highest good; that which glorifies God the most.

Illus – Once there was a man who was the keeper of a lighthouse. He lived on a small island where there was a small village. It was difficult to reach him so they supplied oil only once every three months. A bitterly cold winter fell upon the island and one by one his neighbors began to ask for a little oil… but the ships depended on that light to reach safe harbor.

Jeremiah 42:6, “Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the Lord our God… that it may go well with us when we listen to the voice of the Lord our God.”

II. Commit Your Life into His Hands

  • When the men traveling with Paul heard what the prophet Agabus said they began begging him not to go to Jerusalem.
  • Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?”
  • When they saw that Paul would not be persuaded, they fell silent, saying, “The will of the Lord be done!”
  • In other words, “We entrust this to you, Lord. This is not what we want, nevertheless, we trust that Your will is over all things and we can trust You with whatever happens.”

A. God’s will interfaces with human choice

  • They are saying that they don’t want Paul to go through all those things, that, because they love him, that’s what they would choose. But they’re willing to lay aside their desires and trust God’s will.
  • When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane the night He was arrested, He spent several hours in prayer, saying…

Matthew 26:42, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.”

Luke 22:42, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”

  • There are many things in life we may not understand, but we can trust that God holds all things in the palm of His hand.

Illus – It’s difficult to understand when things take a hard turn; if finances fall apart, when you hear some bad news from the doctor, or if you lose someone near to you, or your relationship is in shambles. All you can do is keep walking faithfully and trust God’s hand.

2 Timothy 1:12, For I know in whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have entrusted to Him until that day.

Isaiah 49:15-16, “I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;”

B. God allows you to choose

  • I believe the Holy Spirit was warning Paul of what would happen to him in Jerusalem and that he should not go unless he had counted the cost.
  • Having counted the cost, Paul said, I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Illus – As we are going through the book of Job in the Wednesday services, it is once again impressed upon my heart what Job’s wife said and Job’s response to it.

Job 2:9-10, Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

  • Job had a choice. He did not understand. He could not see the future. He wasn’t privy to what was happening in the spiritual realm. He could have cursed God and even taken his own life, but he would have never seen the end and what God was going to do.
  • There are some deep insights here. God’s choice to give us free will was put to the test. God was showing the enemy that Job’s love relationship with God was more important to him than physical provision. In other words, Job was more interested in being in relationship with God than what he could get out of it. He wasn’t just serving God for what God could do for him.
  • God’s will interfaces with our choosing so that we might freely choose Him. That’s what love is.

Deuteronomy 30:19, “I have set before you life and death… So choose life in order that you may live… by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him, for this is your life and the length of your days.”

Illus. – When I make plans, one of my first involuntary thoughts is ‘How will this affect my wife and our calender’…

  • Every choice we make should be driven and influenced by our love for and relationship with God.
  • When we choose Him and surrender to Him, we can ask Him to give us the desires of His heart, to work in us to be aligned with His will.

Illus – I love the words of the song that says “…break my heart for what breaks Yours…”

  • The question is, how do you know God’s will? When you choose to surrender, God will stir up His will in you. Paul wasn’t being dragged to Jerusalem tied to horses. He wanted to go!

Illus – The other day my daughter and I were discussing a book they were reading in school about missionaries and the great hardships they went through. She felt convicted, and maybe a bit condemned, concerning what she should be doing for God. I told her that have never seen a missionary being dragged onto a plane kicking and screaming to get them to the mission field. Yet, stories like these make us attentive to the call of God as to what His will is for each of us as individuals.

  • If anyone needs wisdom in deciding, God is more than willing to give the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

James 1:5, If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

  • But what if you make a dumb decision? Then own it, repent, and run back to God as fast as you can.

Isaiah 55:7, Let the unrighteous man forsake his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him… For He will abundantly pardon.

  • One of the things I really appreciate about the Lord is that He is able to take even the dumb things of my life and somehow bring something for His glory.
  • I look back now and see that God’s hand has always been with me; through the highs and lows, through the good things and the dumb things, He uses all things for His glory.
  • What if you do the ‘wrong’ thing? At least you tried and were available. God even uses ‘failures’ to grow us.

C. Don’t pout when you don’t get your way

  • Those traveling with Paul were convinced that this warning of the Holy Spirit meant that he should not go to Jerusalem and they were begging him not to go.
  • When he could not be persuaded, they fell silent, saying, “The will of the Lord be done!”
  • The next verse is key; after this, they got ready and started on the way to Jerusalem.
  • Notice that they didn’t say, “If you’re not going to listen to our opinion, then we’re out of here, you can just go to Jerusalem by yourself!”
  • They tried to persuade Paul, but when they saw his heart was set, they willingly went with him. “The will of the Lord be done, we’ll go there together. I’m with you heart and soul.”
  • This is key. The will of the Lord be done. We can choose to say, my will be done, but it is not the way of love.
  • This story would have turned out very differently had they quit on Paul. This was the right response and it’s a great lesson for us to apply to our lives.
  • Too many people respond poorly when they don’t get their way and many relationships are broken because of it. But because they responded well, with a mature heart, God used them.
  • It was this same Luke who was given the privilege to author this book of Acts as well as the gospel of Luke.
  • One of the things I also appreciate about the Lord is that when we don’t listen to Him, he doesn’t give up on us either. His love never fails.

Lamentations 3:21-23, This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindness never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.

  • It is never too late to turn around.

Illus. – Samson…

Judges 16:28, Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time, O God, that I may at once be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.”

Psalm 51:17, The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

  • Our prayer should be, God, I do not always understand, but above all else, I know You love me and You work all things together for good to those who love You and are called according to Your I choose to align my will with Your will so you will be glorified through my life.

Acts 21:1-15     NASB

21 1When we had parted from them and had set sail, we ran a straight course to Cos and the next day to Rhodes and from there to Patara; and having found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. When we came in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo. After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul [a]through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem. When [b]our days there were ended, we left and started on our journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until we were out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home again.

When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and after greeting the brethren, we stayed with them for a day. On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. 10 As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” 12 When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!”

15 After these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem.


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