How many times have you watched a movie and thought, or maybe yelled, “Don’t go in there!” when the main character is about to head up to the attic or into the cave but you know what awaits?
That’s a bit of the feeling we should have reading Acts 21, as Paul begins his journey back to Jerusalem. His friends pleaded with him not to go, but off he went. Paul knew it might be to his demise, but he also knew that ignoring the prodding of the Holy Spirit would have been even worse than death.
When he arrived, Paul went straight to James, the brother of Jesus, who was the most respected leader of the church in Jerusalem. Paul shared what God had done during his journeys and brought with him four young men, Gentiles, who had become followers of Christ.
This was significant. Paul was Paul, the most prominent of the apostles, but he went to James for counsel in a posture of humility. He didn’t arrive as the conquering hero or star preacher. He abided by decisions made by the counsel of elders. Paul saw himself as part of the Church, not the star of the Church.
What Paul did next was the true “Don’t go in there!” moment. We felt it when he headed toward Jerusalem, the ominous music in minor tones playing in our minds. But when he entered the temple with four Gentiles, we knew he was walking into the den of the beast (“beast” being the religious leaders of Israel who hated him and the work he was doing).
Ironically, Paul didn’t go to conquer the beast. He went to feed it. Paul’s intention was to see these young men through ritual purification so that they could be followers according to religious customs.
But the religious leaders turned on him. Through lies and false accusations they riled up a crowd so rabid Paul would have been torn apart if Roman soldiers hadn’t arrested him. The fervor and ire of the religious leaders echoed back to a number of years earlier in Jerusalem when a man was arrested on false premises and killed on a cross a few hours later. Jesus was the man who Paul sought to honor with his whole life. And this arrest would eventually lead to Paul’s death too.
But Paul knew this. He knew he “shouldn’t go in there.” Was Paul a fool? By human standards, maybe; but by that standard so was Jesus. What Paul did was the same as what Jesus did – the thing that the Holy Spirit compelled Him to do in order to give glory to God. Such actions are never foolish, no matter the cost.
Written By Barnabas Piper