Paul is journeying to Jerusalem. He's on a disciple-making mission of missions convinced it is where the Lord wants him to go.
So it's interesting to me that God would allow a prophet--the apparently reliable Agabus--to prophecy in front of Paul and others in dramatic fashion that he would be bound in Jerusalem and turned over to the Romans. Acts 21:10-11
Naturally, Paul's friends and followers discouraged him from continuing his journey. After all, this was the same Agabus who correctly prophesied about the great famine in the Roman Empire. Acts 11:28 It's not hard to see why Paul's friends might interpret this to mean that he shouldn't go. Was it a test for Paul? Was God trying to change Paul's direction? Did Paul not hear God correctly earlier?
Paul sees it as a test, I think. Because he doesn't question the accuracy of the prophecy. Neither does he seriously consider it either, it appears. He knows what he must do and is willing to take on all the associated risks: suffering, imprisonment and even death.
Paul can do this because he has already, in a sense, died. He's certainly lived through a number of situations where he should have died...and didn't.
I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. - Paul, 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT
Paul understands the stakes of going to Jerusalem. He is just convinced that there is no better place to be than in the center of God's will. He knows the "worst" that can happen is he can suffer and die and then find himself in the presence of God himself. He's ready to go there!
As a result, he's ready and willing to live for Jesus-no matter what that may mean. You live differently when you are a dead man walking. When you've already died to yourself and this world, it makes facing danger much easier (not necessarily easy). Paul died daily to his flesh so that he was prepared to live and, if necessary, die for Christ. He was truly committed to make as many disciples for Jesus as he could in his lifetime. Wow.
And then there are we so-called Christ-followers today. So worried about pain and suffering. Afraid and timid at every turn, it seems. Or maybe it's just me. No, I'm looking around and find few true courageous men and women of faith. I know they exist. I know a few. But they are rare. Perhaps it was rare in Paul's day too.
So what do we do about this?
1. We adopt an attitude of death. We personally die daily to ourselves. Jesus said it this way, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23 NIV84) It starts with a decision, a prayer and an attitude to live differently.
2. We practice this life daily. If I can't die to, say, food (substitute something unimportant you really enjoy here) for a day, then I'm not dying to Jesus. We must be willing to practice self-denial in smaller things to get us to move towards the really difficult things. Paul was prepared to face Jerusalem through his earlier near-death encounters that he wasn't warned about. As Mark Dever tweeted, "No cross is convenient."
3. We make disciples boldly. This is what all the ruckus was really about. Paul was faithfully making disciples of all nations. He was bold and focused. He put everything he had on the line each day. He preached, taught and lived the Gospel 24/7. You might not agree with him but you couldn't legitimately question his convictions.
Let me encourage you to make disciples daily. Start with this simple acrostic LOL:
L -Listen to God's words (Bible)
O -Obey whatever God says to you
L -Lead others to do the same
No cross is convenient. Will we bow to the idol of comfort forever?