I've been off Acts for a little bit. The reason is that I don't think I quite know what to do with Acts 21:1-16. The narrative of the journey to Jerusalem isn't hard to understand, its very straightforward. What I have been struggling with is, why does Luke tell us about it. There is an obvious narrative need to explain how they got from Ephesus to Jerusalem, but you don't need 16 verses to do it.
What I have so far is that there are 3 features that seem to stand out to me:
1. They leave disciples in Ephesus, where there were pagan idol riots. They stop at Tyre and find disciples. They arrive at Ptolemais and find disciples. The same at Caesarea. When the apostolic team set out there weren't disciples in those places, now there are. Acts 1:8 is being fulfilled. And where Paul had a vision for travellign strengthening the disciples, clearly they are also now strengthening him as he gets closer to Jerusalem. Some of them join the group and take the last stage of the journey with him. The gospel is working and the community of God is growing
2. The Holy Spirit is actively at work leading and guiding, explicitly in Ephesus, Tyre and Caesarea. The disciples pray and prophecy. (I wil do another post on why they apparently seem to prophecy the opposite of what the Spirit has told Paul in Ephesus). The challenge for me is that the Holy Spirit isn't leading and guiding to nice things, humanly speaking, but to hardships and sufferings, preparing and strengthening Paul with insightful words of knowledge about what to expect.
3. The disciples they visit in Caesarea are Philip and his family. I wonder what that meeting was like. Remember that Philip was a friend of Stephen all those years before. Paul had approved of the murder of his friend. Clearly now there is forgiveness and good fellowship "for many days", and prophecying going on in the house from Philip's daughters. The gospel works - it has brought enemies together in Jesus, and Jesus is revealing his purposes
So when the missionary journeys started it was into a vacuum. There were no Christians in those places. Now as the journeys come to an end there are lots. And they are there in places the apostolic team didn't spend a lot of time in or didn't visit at all. God has been doing more than the team were doing. The gospel is spreading uncontrollably on the expanding firefront of Holy Spirit led witness. It still is.
Sometimes I wonder if the firefront has moved elsewhere and is no longer sweeping through British suburbia. Whether the ignition is going on somewhere else, but having been "churched" for generations (dreadful expression) we have got used to, and comfortable with, not being in the forefront of that spreading flame. Yes the gospel is going to the nations, but we grow cold and dim. I want to see British churches and British Christians at the forefront of faith-filled adventure. Every church should be crying with wonder "the gospel works, we see God at work!" and should be terribly concerned if we don't. In fact we should pack up and go home if we don't.
A pastor friend rang just now with an astonishing account of something that God has done miraculous in his church in the last weeks. Miracle is not too strong a word - it clearly was completely divine. He said "let me tell you something that will build your faith." And it did. Let's get into the habit of telling the stories. And if we don't have any, crying out to God to work for the extension of his fame and the glory of his name among us as well as to the ends of the earth.