Be ready to suffer for Christ.
If you’re anything like me, then you’re not really sure what to do with a big idea like that. “How can I be ready to suffer for Christ?” Luke will provide us with three answers: 1. Prioritize Jerusalem. 2. Pursue Fellowship. 3. Practice Prophecy.
Before we open the Bible together, I want to give you an update on Citylight’s regathering plan. The Bible puts an incredibly high value on Christians meeting together. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” According to these verses, the way that Jesus’ people stir one another up to love and good works is by meeting together regularly for mutual encouragement. Meeting together is inestimably valuable!
In light of the Bible’s teaching on the value of meeting together, being lovingly wise and honoring our governing officials, the Citylight pastors and staff are working hard on two initiatives. First, we are actively looking for three venues in the Philadelphia suburbs where we can hold three Sunday worship services for Citylight members, attenders, and their neighbors that live in the suburbs. Second, we are working with Citygroup leaders whose groups meet in the city of Philadelphia to launch as many as 30 weekly watch parties so that Citylight members, attenders, and their neighbors can meet together in homes to participate in the online worship services together. Of course, an online option will continue to be available to anyone in the suburbs who does not feel comfortable attending an in-person gathering. The reason for the two initiatives is that the city of Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs have different ordinances regarding the size of indoor religious gatherings.
Here is where you come in. I am asking you to do four things to help make these initiatives a reality:
1. Pray. Please pray that the Lord will open up venues in the suburbs and homes in the city so that our church can meet together for the glory of God, the edification of God’s people, and for the salvation of our non-Christian friends and neighbors.
2. Recommend. If you have ideas for venues in the suburbs that Citylight should consider, please email your recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Respond. If you attend a Citygroup in the city and your group isn’t already doing watch parties, watch for more info from your group leader soon and be sure to respond!
4. Serve. Launching services in the suburbs and watch parties in the city will provide nearly all of us with an opportunity to serve. We will send out more serving information in the coming weeks as our plans, Lord-willing, come together. Keep an eye out.
Gatorade. It’s one of the most popular drinks on the planet. How did that happen? Well, some might say that it’s all thanks to one little phrase from a commercial that Gatorade ran back in 1992. The phrase: Be like Mike. The Gatorade commercial featured clips of Michael Jordan both dominating basketball greats and everyday folks imitating him. The iconic commercial ends with two bold sentences lighting up the screen: “Be like Mike. Drink Gatorade.” Be like Mike was the theme that catapulted Gatorade to the top of the sports drink world. In a somewhat similar way, the theme that dominates Acts 21-28 is “be like Paul.” Of course, Acts is all about the risen Lord Jesus who is reigning and working from heaven to advance God’s kingdom on earth by the power of the Holy Spirit through people just like you and me speaking the gospel and demonstrating its power. Acts is all about Jesus and Acts 21-28 is all about being like Paul who was being like Christ. Back in Acts 19, Paul resolved in the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem and take the good news concerning Jesus’ death and resurrection for sins with him. At the heart of our passage today is the example that Paul sets in being ready to go to Jerusalem despite receiving multiple prophetic promises that suffering awaits him there. Acts 21:13-14: Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” We see the effect that Paul’s example had on his friends in the very next verse: 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” What is Luke doing in these verses? Luke is presenting Paul as a model of being ready to suffer for the name of Christ. That brings us to the big idea of our passage: Be ready to suffer for Christ. If you’re anything like me, then you’re not really sure what to do with a big idea like that. “How can I be ready to suffer for Christ?” Luke will provide us with three answers: 1. Prioritize Jerusalem. 2. Pursue Fellowship. 3. Practice Prophecy.
Paul is ready to suffer for Christ because he’s already resolved to bear witness to Christ in Jerusalem. We first learned that Paul prioritized Jerusalem in Acts 19:21: Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit…to go to Jerusalem. Paul then doubles down in Acts 20:22-23: And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. As we read moments ago, Paul repeats the resolution in Acts 21:13: Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” In short, Paul displays that he’s ready to suffer for Christ by prioritizing Jerusalem; the specific place where the Holy Spirit has directed him to bring the good news about Jesus. Being ready to suffer for Christ includes prioritizing taking the gospel where God has called you even if potential suffering awaits.
Question: Are you prioritizing your Jerusalem? Sometimes we read Acts and, frankly, the suffering and opposition that Paul and others experience can be a bit hard to relate to. “I don’t suffer for Christ. How is this applicable to my life?” It’s an important question. My question in response is: are you prioritizing Jerusalem? If you resolve to obey Jesus’ call in Acts 1:8 to live as his witnesses, if you take your dignified place in the story of God’s kingdom advancing to new people and places by prioritizing taking the good news that Christ died for sins to your Jerusalem, then you’ll experience some level of opposition and Acts will become that much more meaningful to you. Sometimes we can’t relate to the suffering because we don’t participate in the speaking. Show your readiness to suffer for Christ by prioritizing your Jerusalem.
Practically, prioritizing your Jerusalem begins with having one. Will you ask the Holy Spirit to give you a Jerusalem? It’s important to remember that most people converted to faith in Acts stayed put and sought to reach the people right around them. Perhaps the best way to start prioritizing your Jerusalem is to ask the Holy Spirit for three people who live locally that you can pray for and witness to and then pour your heart out for them. Perhaps the Holy Spirit will put something even bigger on your heart like your workplace, your school, your immediate neighborhood, a particular population, a group of people that you hobby with, or something that I haven’t even thought of yet. Ask the Lord to give you, like Paul, a Holy Spirit constrained longing to be a witness for the gospel to a particular people or in a particular place and then be bold. Prioritize where God has already placed you and consider that he might be sending you to places with less gospel access around the world. Do that and you’ll show yourself ready to suffer for Christ and Acts will come alive to you as an extraordinary source of motivation and comfort. Rebecca Whitmire, who is a member of the Citygroup that I co-lead is an inspiring example of prioritizing her Jerusalem, which is CHOP where she is a physician. Rebecca speaks boldly about Christ to patients and co-workers alike and demonstrates the gospel’s power through sacrificial deeds. The result has been that, from time to time, Rebecca suffers. She receives push back and attempts at silencing. But Rebecca won’t be deterred from the Jerusalem that God has given her. As a result, along with suffering, she’s seeing the kind of gospel-fruit that is nothing short of exhilarating. Be ready to suffer for Christ, first, by prioritizing Jerusalem. Now, when you prioritize Jerusalem and experience exciting fruit and deflating suffering, it becomes all the more important that you experience the life-giving support of Christian fellowship. That brings us to the second way to be prepared to suffer for Christ…
One unique feature to notice in Acts 21-28 is that the pace of the action slows down significantly as Luke draws our attention to the details surrounding Paul’s ministry so that we can learn from them. One detail that Luke draws our attention to in Acts 21 is the way Paul pursues Christian fellowship as he journeys toward suffering in Jerusalem. We see this first in the City of Tyre. Acts 21:4-6: And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. 5 When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed 6 and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home. While making a physically exhausting and emotionally frightening journey toward suffering in Jerusalem, Paul intentionally pursued fellowship with other Christians. What’s amazing about this scene is that Paul has never met the disciples at Tyre. The reconciling work of Christ in the gospel can create deep fellowship in just seven days. As they say farewell to one another, they kneel on the beach and join their hearts in the fellowship of prayer. When Paul arrives in Caesarea, his last stop before Jerusalem, we witness a similar scene. Acts 21:8, 12-16: On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him…12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged 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 imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” 15 After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. 16 And some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us, bringing us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge. In Caesarea Paul enjoys the rich hospitality that marks Christian fellowship as he prepares to suffer for Christ in Jerusalem. From Tyre to Caesarea we learn that being ready to suffer for Christ requires pursuing fellowship.
In our passage we see at least three characteristics of Christian fellowship that we can pursue:
1. The cross. Notice that Paul enjoys rich fellowship with people that he’s never met and probably didn’t have a lot in common with culturally. How is that possible? The cross. The cross has two beams, the vertical beam reminds us that we are reconciled to God through Christ and the horizontal beam reminds us that we’re reconciled to one another through Christ. When the gospel as at the center of our relationships in the church, then we can enjoy rich fellowship with people even if we haven’t known them for a long time or don’t have much in common with one another aside from the gospel. Gospel-centrality is a central characteristic of Christian fellowship.
2. Prayer. When we bear one another’s burdens and prioritize one another’s Jerusalem’s through regular prayer, our hearts are knit together. There is nothing quite like praying together that will knit your heart together with other Christians.
3. Hospitality. In our passage, the Christians opened their homes to Paul and his team. Christians aren’t those who say, “my home is my haven.” Christians are those who say, “my home is your haven.” Spiritual fellowship is forged as we welcome one another into our homes even when they aren’t clean or conflict free.
If you’re going to prioritize your Jerusalem, then you’ll need to pursue Christian fellowship. You’re not called to suffer for Christ alone. Practically, I want to encourage you to join or recommit to one of our small groups, which we call Citygroups. Citygroups are the primary place where Christian fellowship is cultivated in our church. Our Citygroups are all regathering in person these days, which makes now a perfect time to join or recommit to one. Third and finally, to be ready to suffer for Christ…
The New Testament gift of prophecy was an important feature in Paul’s readiness to suffer for Christ in Jerusalem. Paul’s resolution to go to Jerusalem was “in the Holy Spirit.” Paul’s friends in Tyre urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem “through the Spirit” (21:4). Philip the evangelist has four daughters who prophesy, probably concerning Paul’s trip to Jerusalem. A prophet named Agabus acts out the way that Paul will suffer in Jerusalem because it’s what the Holy Spirit says will happen to Paul. God sovereignly ordained that practicing prophecy be part of preparing Paul to suffer for Christ in Jerusalem.
What is prophecy in the New Testament and today? According to Acts 21 and parallel passages in 1 Corinthians 12-14, prophecy is a human report of a divine revelation (Sam Storms). This is what we see in Acts 21. Several believers receive a revelation from God that Paul will suffer for Christ in Jerusalem. In most cases these same believers report the prophecy with the interpretation that Paul should, therefore, not go to Jerusalem. Paul responds to the prophecy by testing it according to his own internal resolution and resolves all the more to go to Jerusalem anyway. Paul agreed with the revelation that he will suffer in Jerusalem, after all, it’s a divine revelation. However, Paul disagrees with their interpretation. Out of love for Paul, the people interpreted and reported the revelation as a warning for Paul not to go. Nevertheless, I’m sure that Paul was built up and encouraged both by the love that the believers had for him and confirmation that what the Holy Spirit warned him about concerning suffering was being confirmed by others. The suffering is ordained by God and that brings Paul great courage to continue on to Jerusalem. And in all this, Paul’s road to Jerusalem is punctuated by practicing prophecy.
The Bible says that we should earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy, because of its power to build up other Christians. In your Citygroups this week, we are going to provide some space to practice prophecy as you prioritize Jerusalem. After each CG member has the opportunity to pray for and share the Jerusalem that the Holy Spirit places on their hearts, we’re going to take time to ask the Holy Spirit to place any specific, prophetic encouragements on our hearts for each other. Again, now is a great time to join a Citygroup as part of being ready to suffer for Christ.
John G. Paton served for ten years as the pastor of a church in Glasgow, Scotland, but God began to burden his heart for the New Hebrides. These were Pacific Islands filled with cannibalistic peoples with no knowledge of the gospel. Twenty years earlier, two missionaries had been cannibalized there. Paton received opposition from everywhere. When one older man protested, Paton famously said, “Mr. Dixon, you are advanced in years now and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave there to be eaten by worms. I confess to you if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms. And in the great day, my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.” Paton wouldn’t be persuaded, and soon he would be putting the Lord’s Supper elements into the hands of former cannibals that had repented and trusted in Jesus.
Everything in our fall nature recoils at the idea of suffering because underneath our fear of suffering is the fear of death. The Bible says that the consequence of our sin is death; physical and eternal death. The fear of suffering is only a feature of our fear of death and coming judgment. But we can be free from judgment and courageously ready to suffer for Christ because before Paul, Christ first resolved to go to Jerusalem. The Bible says that Christ wept over Jerusalem’s sin, our sin, went into the city and suffered, and then carried his cross outside the city to not only be bound but to die in our place for our sins. But Christ did not remain in the grave, he rose victoriously over death so that all who turn from their sin can be freed from the death and judgment to come and be ready to courageously suffer to bring this same good news about Christ to their Jerusalem that desperately needs him. The gospel makes us ready to suffer for Christ.