ACTS 20:13-38 MARCH 19, 2017
“PROPHETIC WARNING ABOUT THE FUTURE”
I believe that many of us read the classic “1984” by George Orwell. The story is a terrifying vision of the future where government becomes the big brother that controls every aspect of a person’s life even including what a person may think. There are times when I fear that George Orwell may be more prophetic than any of us might have believed when we read it in high school. I do not know if 1984 will come true or not. (I hope not!) What I do know is that in the New Testament the Lord has given us prophetic warnings about the future. Luke records the message that Paul gave to the elders of the church in Ephesus giving them a prophetic warning about his future and the future of the church. Let’s take a look.
Luke records the journey of Paul traveling to Jerusalem when he was taking the offerings raised to help the church in Jerusalem. Acts 20:16 (NIV) “16 Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost.” Paul was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem so he skipped going the land route. Because of this he would not be able to visit Ephesus where he had spent three years preaching the gospel and building up the church. However, Paul did want to meet with the church leadership one last time.
This message by Paul is the only message that was given solely to the church in the book of Acts. In all of the other messages that Luke records they were sermons addressed to non-believers. This message to the church elders is very similar to Paul’s letters to the various churches.
Paul starts out with reminding them why he visited Ephesus in the first place and of his commitment to Christ and he reveals his heart. Acts 20:18-21 (NIV) “18 When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. 19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews. 20 You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.”
Paul was speaking from his heart of his love for Christ and for them. Paul desired that every person he met would come to know Jesus Christ. This is the message that each of us should be sharing with all people that everyone “must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” Paul spoke of this same commitment to Timothy. 1 Timothy 2:3-7 (NIV) “3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men–the testimony given in its proper time. 7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle–I am telling the truth, I am not lying–and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.”
Paul knew what would most likely happen when he traveled to Jerusalem, but this possibility would not stop him. Acts 20:22-24 (NIV) 22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. Paul’s commitment to Christ was unshakeable even though he knew that the price would be suffering and death. “24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”The Lord has a task for each of us and the Lord has individuals he wants us to share the gospel with. May we not give up and may we complete the mission he has for us.
Paul now has a specific message for the church elders. This message is also appropriate as I am about to leave you. Acts 20:28-31 (NIV) “28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.”
Did you notice who Paul first warned the elders to watch over? Paul wanted the elders to be cautious in looking after themselves. As we walk along in faith with Christ we become more and more aware that we are our own worst enemy. The great theologian Pogo said “We have met the enemy and he is us.” 1 Timothy 4:16 (NIV) “16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” I have discovered that I can easily fall into error by being lazy and complacent. We must be careful to stay in the Word daily or we will gradually slide away into sloth and sin and error.
We must also love people enough to confront them whenever we see a brother or sister in Christ sliding into error. It is easy to slide into error. “People prefer to believe what they prefer to be true.” We prefer to believe that all our actions are pure and right. Galatians 6:1 (NIV) “1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”The most common fault of our age is that we don’t want to be seen as being nosy or judgmental.
Acts 20:29-30 (NIV) “29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” Paul warned them of false teachers leading the church astray. It was about ten years later that the church in Ephesus was the site where false teachers began teaching that Jesus was not fully human and only appeared to have suffered and died on the cross. This was the danger that the apostle John warned about. 2 John 7 (NIV) “7 Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.”
We must always beware because error most always arises from within the church. We must be careful to hold onto the Word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV) “16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
We see in Paul his deep faith and trust in God. His final act was to place them in the hands of God. Acts 20:32 (NIV) “32 “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Paul then prayed with them before he left. Acts 20:36 (NIV) “36 When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed.”
Let us pray.
I commit you to God and to the word of his grace.