Acts 21:”Tell ‘Em, Show ‘Em, Can’t Make ‘Em”

Ever since I was a teenager I have always loved Oakley sunglasses. I can remember getting my first pair of “M” Frames back in 1994 for $165! To a 15 year old in 1994, $165 was like a thousand dollars! There’s only one problem with owning $165 sunglasses; losing $165 sunglasses. Here’s the other problem, having a chronic habit of buying $165 sunglasses, losing them, replacing them, then losing them again… I know, it’s a problem.

I wish I could tell you that it’s been relegated to the 1994 version of myself, but unfortunately I can’t. Through much of my life since 1994 I have donated some really nice sunglasses to restaurants, amusement parks, beaches, and even the back of a cab in San Francisco (only had those for two days…two days!). I’ve had friends and family over the years tell me not to buy expensive expensive sunglasses; they’ve even showed me where to buy cheaper sunglasses; but at the end of the day, I had to make the decision to do what they suggested.


Acts 21:10-12 (NLT) 10 Several days later a man named Agabus, who also had the gift of prophecy, arrived from Judea. 11 He came over, took Paul’s belt, and bound his own feet and hands with it. Then he said, “The Holy Spirit declares, ‘So shall the owner of this belt be bound by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and turned over to the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the local believers all begged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.


Everyone knew that Paul was making his way back to Jerusalem, they also knew that if he went back it would probably mean he would lose his life. The example above is from the prophet Agabus. You may recognize his name from Acts 11 when he stood up and declared a famine was coming to the entire Roman Empire. This time Agabus went a step further and literally took Paul’s belt and hog tide himself in order to show what would happen Paul if he went to Jerusalem.

Tell ‘Em

One of the key aspects of the Christian life is telling people about Jesus. It’s not the only way we’re called to share, but it is incredibly important. I tend to think about what Paul wrote in Romans 10:14-15 (NLT) 14b And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”

Paul understood the importance of telling people the good news of the gospel. He also knew that not everyone would be so open to receiving the message.

Show ‘Em

Sometimes telling people isn’t enough, you need to take a different approach and show them. While Agabus was trying to communicate to Paul what the Spirit was revealing to him, Agabus in many ways represents the real struggle that exists in trying to help people understand the danger of not listening to our message.

We don’t know if Agabus tried to talk to Paul first and then was relegated to show and tell, but either way, Agabus was trying to communicate the dangers awaiting Paul. Recognize the parallel: We too should be just as concerned for the danger awaiting people who could potentially die without knowing Christ.

Can’t Make ‘Em

The most unfortunate part of tell ’em and show ’em, is the reality that you can’t make ’em.


Acts 21:13-14 (NLT) 13 But he [Paul] said, “Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart! I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus.” 14 When it was clear that we couldn’t persuade him, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”


Although Agabus and the others thought they were helping, Paul knew that Jerusalem was his final destination. Some would read Acts 21 and believe that Paul wasn’t listening to the Holy Spirit. The truth is, Paul was able to discern between the Holy Spirit and opinion in people; and just like everyone else, Paul had a wonderful gift called “free-will.”