Acts 21:1-26: Jerusalem
February 12, 2023
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Exodus 32-33, Psalm 35, Matthew 15:1-20, Acts 21:1-26
Paul is determined to go to Jerusalem. And he continues in that journey despite clear warnings from the Spirit—and also from the Spirit through a prophet called Agabus—that if he went to Jerusalem he would be persecuted. Yet Paul still insists on going to Jerusalem. By contrast, when in Jerusalem, the leaders there ask him to perform a religious vow to show the Jews that he was not anti-Moses, to that request Paul agrees. What is the logic behind Paul’s decision-making here? Did he make a mistake in one or other or both cases?
To begin with, the Spirit was warning Paul that he would suffer. Those following him and who loved him, therefore, interpreted that to mean that Paul should avoid going to Jerusalem where his sufferings would increase. But Paul knew he would suffer in Jerusalem. He also knew that it was God’s will to use his sufferings for the cause of the gospel. Matthew Henry puts it brilliantly:
“It was not at all their fault to think so [that he should not go to Jerusalem], and consequently to dissuade him; but it was their mistake, for his trial would be for the glory of God and the furtherance of the gospel, and he knew it; and the importunity [that is, the urgency] that was used with him, to dissuade him from it, renders his pious and truly heroic resolution the more illustrious.”
In other words, what we see here is part of the mark of an apostle, of a great Christian, and of a true follower of Christ—the willingness to take up his cross and follow Jesus. And through Paul’s sufferings and his imprisonment, the name of Christ was greatly glorified, even in Rome.
But when Paul was in Jerusalem, and he learned of how his reputation had been mischaracterized, he was more than willing to do what he could to avoid suffering. There is nothing to be gained from seeking suffering, much less looking forward to suffering and difficulties. We should do all that we can in prudence to avoid persecution and unnecessary pain and hardship. Paul was wise to attempt to calm down the opposition—though in the end the attempt did not work.
So in either case, we learn a parallel lesson. First, to be willing to follow Christ even if it causes us to face suffering. And second, to prudently do what we can to avoid such suffering when it is possible.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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