It can be very helpful to pause and ask ourselves the question: “What matters most to me?”. Or to put it a different way: “What would I want to get right in my life, even if I got everything else wrong?” Both are questions which find useful answers from Paul in our passage.
We’re in the mid to late 50’s AD. Paul has worked hard in Ephesus (Ac 19:10), then travelled elsewhere (Ac 20:1-5), before now heading towards Jerusalem (v16). His presence in the city will testify to the growing kingdom of Jesus across the world, as is glimpsed in Luke’s travelogue of Paul’s life (v13-15). It will be his final witness to his fellow Jews, before they face the ruin of their land (Mt 24:15,16) in the next decade. Maybe the weight of what lies ahead of him is what causes Paul to travel by land when his colleagues take the boat (v13), since it can be good to have time by ourselves to process our circumstances and pray (as the Lord himself did – Lk 6:12).
But Paul doesn’t stay on foot (v14). He picks up the pace, taking the decision to bypass Ephesus (v16) so he can reach Jerusalem by Pentecost (the Jewish festival to celebrate the first harvest – Dt 16:9,10). Presumably this is because Ephesus would place too many demands on him, due to his previous exertions there. We are have to know our limitations, which means sometimes letting go what we might wish we could do. However, Paul can (at least) meet with the mature believers of Ephesus who lead the church (v17). But why does it matter to Paul to reach Judea for Pentecost? Well, it was the time when Jesus launched the church (Ac 2:1) and large crowds will be in the capital. But, also, Paul sees Israel’s feasts as fulfilled in richer ways in the work of Christ (1Co 5:7,8). Jesus described his work as being like sowing crops (Mt 13:37) for others to reap (Jo 4:35-38). Hence, it was very suitable for the first fruits of the Spirit’s saving power amongst the Jews to be seen at a Pentecost festival (Ac 2) and, therefore, eminently suitable for the first fruits of the Spirit’s saving power amongst the Gentiles also to be seen at a Pentecost festival.
Paul, then, is racing home, driven by the Spirit (v22). However, what he faces on arrival doesn’t look good. The Spirit has been readying him for that in every city he’s visited (v23), presumably through local Christian prophets. Yet, Paul speeds on towards the danger like a runner straining to complete a race (v24). Jesus has given him the task of testifying to God’s grace and he will see it done! That’s why he has lived humbly (v18), carried huge pressure (v19), and poured out his energy on both public and private teaching (v20); Paul has been determined to tell the gospel message (v21). So now he must go to Jerusalem and show the city what the Lord has done! His passion is striking, and from it Christians today can learn important lessons.
Firstly, we should not be distracted by what is temporary. Jerusalem has pumped time and funds into her temple (Jo 2:20), and she is proud of it. Yet, as Jesus and his apostles testify, it will soon be gone. We can be enamoured with what is thrilling, only to find it quickly fades (that even happens with some Christian projects). Not that what is temporary has no value. There are short-lived things which are precious, important parts of the lives given to us by God. But even so, Christians are to value more highly what is eternal and not be distracted from that (Mt 6:25-33).
Secondly, Christians should seek a lifestyle suited to all circumstances. Life changes quickly and unexpectedly, which can lead to anxiety. But Jesus tells us to seek the life which can cope (Mt 6:31-34). Paul has been living such as life, as the Ephesian Christians have seen (v18). It has matched his teaching and seen him through all the troubles he’s faced. That’s why he’s ready for the danger ahead. What’s this life look like? Too often, we assess a life by its tasks and achievements. But Paul talks about what he’s done for and with people, starting with the Lord. The lifestyle for all circumstances is that of love (Mt 22:37-39), where we invest in others. How that happens will be different for each of us, since it will depend upon the circumstances and the opportunities that the Lord has given to us (few will do what Paul did!) But all Christians should seek to do good to others (Ga 6:10). Jesus once illustrated this with an odd parable (Mt 25:14-30) which seemed to say the Lord rewards the wise financial investor. But when you read on, you realise he is actually talking about a very different type of investment: that of love (Mt 25:31-46).