Paul's approaching the end of his third missionary journey in this week's study, and it's a chapter of "lasts" as friends and parishioners tell him he's walking into danger, which perhaps invites the question: How can we ever know we're doing the right thing?
(21) A Chapter of “Last”s
Paul is heading back to Jerusalem with a gift for the churches and a longing to go to Rome. He must have spent nearly a year wandering through Asia and Greece – he left Ephesus after Pentecost (1 Corinthians 16:8-9) and now he’s hurrying to reach Jerusalem before the next Pentecost (Acts 20:16). Three months of that period was probably spent in Corinth, followed by a slow trek north toward Philippi with trouble all the way (Acts 21:3). The team crosses to Troas (Troy) and works their way South toward Ephesus, but Paul’s in a hurry and doesn’t want to stop there.
Last Words to the Ephesians
1. Read Acts 20:17. Remembering the troubles Paul seems to have had with the Corinthian churches when he didn’t visit them, why might this be a good move? Is human intelligence important?
2. Read Acts 20:18-21. Why is he reminding them about his actions? When have you found it helpful to recall how you got to where you are?
3. Read Acts 20:22-23. Knowing the Jews were plotting against him (Acts 20:3) what sort of thing do you think people have been saying as he traveled through Greece and Asia?
4. Read Acts 20:24. We know Paul hopes to go to Rome after Jerusalem (Acts 19:21). Why doesn’t he just skip Jerusalem altogether? How do we know when we’re just being stubborn, and when we’re obeying God?
5. Read Acts 20:25-31. What’s the most important danger the Ephesian Christians face? What’s the most important danger we face?
6. Read Acts 20:32-35. How does Paul say they will strengthen themselves to face trouble? How should we?
7. Read Acts 20:36-38. Why is this so emotional? How do “last” events make you feel?
Last Chance to Change His Mind
1. Read Acts 21:1-3. Luke describes the voyage very carefully. Why do the details matter?
2. Read Acts 21:4-6. People keep telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem. They even tell him “through the Spirit.” Is he disobeying the Spirit by continuing? What’s the difference between information and interpretation?
3. Read Acts 21:7-9. Do you remember who Philip is and what he’s done in the past? What do you think his daughters said to Paul? What’s the difference between prophesying and telling someone what to do?
4. Read Acts 21:10-11. Do you remember who Agabus is? (Read Acts 11:28) Did Old Testament prophets use visual props this way? Is Agabus prophesying or telling Paul what to do?
5. Read Acts 21:12-14. Does this remind you of Peter telling Jesus he mustn’t die?
Last Days In Jerusalem
1. Read Acts 21:15-17. Who is Mnason? Who else came from Cyprus?
2. Read Acts 21:18-19. Is Paul looking for trouble?
3. Read Acts 21:20-21. Is Paul guilty? How do people today distort truths to wound Christianity?
4. Read Acts 21:22-24. How would this help? Is it deceptive?
5. Read Acts 21:25. Why might they choose to remind Paul of this?
6. Read Acts 21:26-29. The vow ends with a public sacrifice. It’s meant to give one message to the people, but ends up giving another. How do we respond when our good intentions go awry?
7. The mob is jumping to conclusions. How easily do people jump to conclusions and distort facts today? Should we be trying to protect ourselves from doing this? When might we be tempted to jump to conclusions?
8. Read Acts 21:30. Do you remember anyone else being dragged out of the Temple to be killed?
9. Read Acts 21:31-36. Why did the Roman soldiers intervene? What does this tell you about the situation in Jerusalem at this stage?
10. Read Acts 21:37-40. How do you imagine this scene?
Last Moments of Freedom
1. Paul describes his upbringing as a good Jewish boy. He mentions Gamaliel, who was admired as very strict about dietary law, but liberal about interpretation. Read Acts 5:33-35, 22:3. Do you think Gamaliel would have approved of Paul’s passion for killing Christians?
2. Paul describes his conversion. What aspects does he emphasize? Why? (Read Acts 22:6-8,12-16)
3. Read Acts 21:21-23. Why does Paul’s last statement provoke such a response? And what about Acts 9:28-30?
4. Read Acts 21:23-24. If you imagine Paul as a terrorist suspect, does this change your view of what’s going on?
5. Read Acts 21:25-29. If you imagine Paul saying “I’m an American citizen,” does this change your view?
Last Appearance before the Sanhedrin
1. Read Acts 22:30-23:3. Is Paul’s response reasonable?
2. Read Acts 23:4-5. What is happening here? Read Exodus 22:28. Why does Paul not defend himself?
3. Read Acts 23:6. Is Paul just trying to cause trouble, or is he trying to convey a point?
4. Read Acts 23:7-9. Does this remind you of Gamaliel?
5. Read Acts 23:10. Paul’s last chance at preaching a good sermon to them is gone. How do you feel when you think you’re going to succeed in something and it all falls apart?
6. Read Acts 23:11, Romans 8:28. So Paul will make it to Rome after all. Have you had experiences where God has allowed bad things on the road to good?