April 12, 2019

Only God . . .

My favorite fiction usually has a good plot told in a dramatic way. For that reason, one of my favorite true stories is a section in the Book of Acts telling how Paul went to Jerusalem and was rescued from those who wanted to kill him.

The story begins in Caesarea where a prophet named Agabus took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ ” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. (Acts 21:10–12)

Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” (Acts 21:13–14)

Paul was not a man who ran away from God’s will. He took men to the temple to be purified, and as soon as the Jews from Asia saw him there, they stirred up the crowd with an assumption that he was “teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.”

All the city was stirred up, and the people ran together, seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and as they were seeking to kill him, the tribune of the Roman cohort saw all Jerusalem was in confusion. Immediately he took soldiers and centurions and ran to the source of this mayhem. They saw them coming and stopped beating Paul. The tribune arrested him, ordered him bound and tried to find out who he was and what he had done.

Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. The tribune brought him to the barracks. Actually the soldiers carried him because the crowd was so violent. (Acts 21:26–36)

At that point, Paul asked to speak. He told the crowd of his conversion and they listened until he reported God saying to him, “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” They became violent again and the tribune decided to flog him to get the truth. But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?”

This got the tribune’s attention. He stopped in fear as he was breaking Roman law. (Acts 22:21–29) Yet the dissension became violent, and the tribune feared Paul would be torn to pieces so he removed him to a safe place.

There the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

The next day, the Jews plotted to kill him, but his nephew heard their plans and told Paul who sent him to the tribune. He took the boy aside and heard of the plot, told him to keep it secret, then ordered his men to “Get ready two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea at the third hour of the night. Also provide mounts for Paul to ride and bring him safely to Felix the governor.”

He wrote a letter of explanation and Paul was taken to the governor. Eventually he gave his testimony again and then was sent to Rome. Throughout this story the hand of God not only protected him but gave him opportunity to share the Gospel with many people, including Roman leaders. (Acts 23:10–35)

I left out most of the details, but this story always amazes me. God let Paul know that his trip to Jerusalem would put his life in danger, but he went anyway. He spoke up to an enraged crowd, trusted Gentile law-keepers, and most of all, believed God that all of this would take him to Rome where he would again be able to share the good news of Jesus Christ with many more people.

God has impressed on my heart to have a stronger faith in “Thy will be done” — trusting God to do what He plans even in situations that seem contrary to His will, or at least contrary to what I think His will might be. This story from Acts 21 to 25 reads like a dramatic novel, however it is a true story of what God can do with someone who trust Him with the details and the consequences.

Lord Jesus, there are many dramatic moments in life. While I’ve never been physically threatened like Paul was, I am very aware of all that You do to keep me safe and give me opportunities to tell others about You and Your goodness. I am not the speaker that Paul was and not nearly so brave but living for You is not about me. How wonderful to experience Your care and Your power and to be able to say “Only God” as a reason for things that happen — or don’t happen!

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