Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Twice Paul was warned, yet he still went to Jerusalem

It was Paul’s 2nd major missionary excursion out of Antioch
We read from the Book of Acts, in Paul’s second major missionary excursion out of Antioch, twice Paul was warned not to go to Jerusalem, yet he insisted to carry on to go to Jerusalem. At Jerusalem, Paul was seized, beaten up, and arrested. He was imprisoned, stood trials before the Sanhedrin, Governors Felix and Festus, King Agrippa, and finally got shipped to Rome (got ship-wreaked, in the journey) when he appealed to go before Caesar.

Paul had wanted to hurry to Jerusalem
Paul had wanted to hurry to Jerusalem; so he opted to by-pass the province of Asia. But still he wanted to see the Ephesus elders, and at the Miletus stop-over, Paul called for the Ephesus elders to come over to Miletus to meet him, and the elders did. Paul explained to the elders that they would never see him again.

In Acts 20:37-38, we read that the elders wept –

37They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. 38What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again.

From Miletus, after meeting and saying good-bye to the Ephesus elders, Paul sailed off, and after a number of stops, landed at Tyre. There Paul and his companions found some disciples, and decided to stay with them.

First warning
The first occasion of warning was given to us in Acts 21:4-5 -

4Finding the disciples there {Tyre}, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they {the disciples} urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. 5But when our time was up, we {Paul and his companions} left and continued on our way. All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray.

Clearly, the word of God here said that the people who warned Paul were disciples of the faith; they were believers. Also, it was also clearly stated that it was through the Holy Spirit the disciples urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem. What the latter meant was that the disciples must have received some kind of data from God, maybe it was a vision, a dream, or some words, etc, concerning Paul’s intention. It was very clear from here that it was not something the disciples pulled out of thin air, so to speak, to urge Paul not to carry on with his intention. Yet Paul refused to give up. The disciples and their families even knelt at the beach to pray in the send-off. Was Paul blatantly disregarding the direction from the Holy Spirit? Was he being stiff-necked?

Second warning
The second occasion was given to us in Acts 21:10-11 -

10After we had been there {Caesarea} number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, "The Holy Spirit says, 'In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.' "

From Miletus, subsequently, Paul and team reached Caesarea (not far from Jerusalem), and stayed at Philips’ house. A prophet by the name of Agabus from Judea came over to Paul, took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said the Holy Spirit said that the Jews in Jerusalem would be doing the same to Paul and would hand him over to the Gentiles. That was to say that he had prophesied that Paul would be bound by the Jews in Jerusalem and be handed over to the Gentiles.

Again, here, a number of things were clearly stated: One, Agabus was a prophet (from Judea, Jerusalem being the “capital”.). Two, with demonstration, Agabus said that the Holy Spirit said that Paul would be bound by the Jews and would be handed over to the Gentiles.

When Scripture specifically stated certain facts, we should not dispute them. When the Bible said that the Holy Spirit was the one who said the thing in verse 11, we should accept it as correct. Therefore, one should not say, it was Agabus’ own saying, not that of the Holy Spirit. I once heard a preacher said that Agabus got it wrong, that it was not the Jews who bound Paul but the Gentiles. He quoted Acts 21:33, which stated that the Roman commander ordered his men to bind Paul with chains. I do not agree that the alleged error by Agabus made the prophesy devoid of its effect on Paul. In any case, I do not interpret that there was an error made here. Firstly, as I have explained, what is literally stated, in Scripture interpretation, we should accept it. Secondly, nowhere was it stated that, that was the first binding of Paul. The people who first instigated the mob (which could largely be Jews) and seized Paul was the Jews from the province of Asia. We were not told when Paul was seized by the mob, whether or not he was bound. He could have been bound, maybe not with chains, but, it could be with something else, maybe a rope, maybe a belt, etc. The people from Asia were Jews, and many of the crowds were Jews, I believe. So, it was all possible that Paul was bound by the Jews. Generally speaking, but especially in a religious city, the Jews and the Gentiles did not mingle. To me, the mob could very well be Jews, not Gentiles. As to who constitutes Jews of Jerusalem, and who were not, I believe, being a religious city, Jews from all over, congregated in Jerusalem. Jews of Jerusalem, should in this case, be regarded as Jews (who could have come from many nations) in the city.

In Acts 21:11-13, we read of the response of Paul to Agabus’ prophesy -

12When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13Then Paul answered, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus."

Paul’s companions and the people of Caesarea pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. But Paul answered that they should not be weeping and breaking his heart by their tears; he said he was not only prepared to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ. Actually, we can see that Paul did not dispute Agabus’ prophesy; only that he insisted to go, still, to Jerusalem. So again, was Paul spiritually stiff-necked? Too arrogant, not willing even to be led by the Holy Spirit?

At first I did not understand
A week ago when I studied again the last few chapters of the Books of Acts, I felt I could not understand why a great man of God, like Paul, did not heed repeated warnings from the Holy Spirit concerning his safety. Also, the recollection of the preaching I heard some times back about Agabus’ prophesy not being quite correct, added to the confusion. I left this study for Good Friday and Resurrection Weekend with a question of why the Scripture had the Holy Spirit promptings recorded, when at the end of the day, Paul still proceeded with his original intention of going to Jerusalem. Do you know why?

I believe it is revelation
During the weekend, while watching a documentary/movie, Furious Love (a sequel to the Finger of God documentary/movie), screened in my church as part of the special services for the Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, I believe the Holy Spirit has given me the understanding. To tell the truth, while watching the screening I was not thinking at all about the issue, and therefore, I believe the thought that came suddenly, was from the Holy Spirit, not from myself.

In short, Paul was imitating Jesus
The short answer was that Paul was emulating or imitating Jesus.

A little comparison
I believe Jesus, as a man, progressively knew more and more of what lied ahead of Him as He drew closer and closer to God in His walk, with God. He knew He would be betrayed, and he even knew who the betrayer was, yet He just continued on without removing Judas Iscariot from his company. When the day drew nearer and nearer, he knew he would need to suffer greatly and even die a gruesome death; yet He just continued on. No one could have revealed His destiny to Him over that period of time, except the Holy Spirit, or God, or God’s messengers, in the form of angels, or the Patriarchs like Elijah and Moses at The Transfiguration; yet He just continued on, and entered Jerusalem. Jesus, as a man, had come to know what He was to do, what He had to do, to fulfill the will of the Father God. Likewise, Paul had come to know what he was to do, what he had to do, to fulfill the will of the Lord. Jesus did not shrink back, overcame his fear, and disregarded his own safety and life, for the sake of accomplishing the will of the Father God. Paul likewise, did not want to shrink back, overcame his fear, and disregarded his own safety and life, for the sake of accomplishing the assignment given to him by the Lord, to preach the gospel to both the Jews and the Gentiles. That was, in short, why Paul just persisted on completing the journey that he felt the Holy Spirit was compelling him to undertake.

In Acts 20:22, we read of Paul mentioning of him being compelled by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem. Paul just wanted to remain steadfast to what he was tasked to do, just like Jesus, his master and Lord, had done, being steadfast to the sacrifice of his own life on the cross to bring reconciliation of man to God. Without Jesus’ entering Jerusalem to die, reconciliation of man to God would not have been completed.

22 {In addressing the Ephesus elders at Miletus} “And now, compelled by the {Holy} Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24However, 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. (Acts 20:22-24)

But why the 2 Holy Spirit promptings?
One may still ask why the 2 Holy Spirit promptings were given to the disciples at Tyre, and to Agabus, at Caesarea. If we look closely at the 2 promptings by the Holy Spirit, we will find that actually, they were not stated such that the Holy Spirit was suggesting that Paul was not to go to Jerusalem.

First, what exactly happened at Tyre, we were not told. We were not told whether the disciples had a vision, or a dream, or some words, etc. We were only told that through the Holy Spirit the disciples urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Such a sentence merely indicated to us that there was a Holy Spirit inspired occurrence; but we do not know what that was. For such a context, it is not wrong to consider possibilities or likely scenarios. It is different, if something is specifically stated in Scripture, in which case, we just accept what was written. Even in looking at likely scenarios, what we paint must be consistent with whatever data that was already given.

I am suggesting that possibly there was an error in interpretation by the disciples of what they experienced concerning Paul’s journeying to Jerusalem. Perhaps, they did see, through a vision, or a dream, hardship and persecution that Paul would need to go through if he went to Jerusalem, but I believe, perhaps, they misinterpreted what they saw as the Holy Spirit wanting Paul to abandon the trip to Jerusalem, when in actual fact, the Holy Spirit only wanted to alert Paul to the hardship and persecution, including imprisonment, that would be waiting for him in Jerusalem. It could have been the Holy Spirit’s attempt (one of many) to prepare Paul for the things to come. Misinterpretation, such as the kind here, is possible. Please allow me to digress to illustrate this with a hypothetical example.

For example, nowadays, many Christians can receive visions from the Holy Spirit, as a word of knowledge for others. Let’s say when we are praying for an individual, an adult, we receive a vision, and in that vision, we saw an old lady talking angrily to the adult in a home. Now, if the Holy Spirit does not tell us the identity of the old lady, it is best that we say we saw an old lady rather than “cleverly” assumed that the old lady is the mother-in-law of the adult we are praying for. The old lady can be anybody, and we can end up with a scenario whereby the adult would brush off our word of knowledge when he/she actually was not married and therefore, could not have a mother-in-law to talk about.

Now, if you are asking for the hypothetical example above, whether or not, a misinterpretation can at all happened since the Holy Spirit has wanted to say something to the adult who is being ministered to. Yes, in reality, it happens. It is similar (not same, but similar enough) to one asking whether or not, a Christian can sin; in other words, since the Holy Spirit is dwelling inside a Christian, can he still make a mistake, do a wrong, sins? Sure, a Christian can sin (and a mistake can be made in interpretation of signs of the Holy Spirit). Of course, in line with Romans 8:28, it is still possible that even in an error, God can still work thing out for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.

For the second prompting, a prophesy by Agabus, again although it was specifically stated that it was the Holy Spirit who said the binding and the handing over, of Paul, it was not said that Paul was not to go to Jerusalem. In fact, I felt Agabus, did nothing wrong, and I do not think he had erred. He was probably shown a vision or a dream, and perhaps words had accompanied the vision or dream, and Agabus illustrated or demonstrated, and said of the words or thoughts that were given him. Noticed that he said the Holy Spirit said the manner of Paul being tied up would be like what he demonstrated, he was not even saying that the material had to be a belt or a rope or a chain. Again, I believe it was the Holy Spirit attempt to alert Paul, and to confirm to Paul what was likely to happen in Jerusalem, and not that Paul was not to enter Jerusalem.

What can we learn?
This whole story demonstrated to us that we have to be careful how we interpret “bad things” we see, in visions or dreams. They do not necessarily mean for the person concerned, to discontinue with his or her intention, especially if the intention was not a bad thing in the first place. Paul was mature enough to know how to weigh words of knowledge or prophesies given. Actually, it is important that we consider such things together with what we already previously received from the Lord. I am not saying that the Lord cannot give us new things or assignments, but weigh it, and seek the Lord for confirmation.

Paul had demonstrated spiritual maturity of, one, being steadfast with what He knew the Lord had assigned to him, much like his master, the Lord, Jesus, for His assignment, from the Father God; two, not spiritually stiff-necked. It was also not that Paul refused to be led by the Holy Spirit. Paul in fact, said that he was receiving from the Holy Spirit indications of threats of imprisonments and hardships in various cities (Acts 20:23).

Anthony Chia, high.expressions – But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:20-21). Paul did exactly this.

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