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June 23, 2007
This chapter begins the last section of the book of Acts: about Paul's journey to Jerusalem, his imprisonment, and his appeal to Rome. There is some debate on the topic of whether or not Paul was obeying God by going to Jerusalem. The key to this debate centers on a couple of passages in this chapter. Verse 4 says: "And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem." Later as Paul gets nearer to Jerusalem, we read: "While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he 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. 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.'" (21:10-14)
There are those who say that the Lord was merely testing Paul's resolve with these prophecies about not going to Jerusalem, and that Paul's friends were deceived by these prophets, but Paul never was. I have to disagree. The Lord would not have allowed Luke to write all these things, because we know there are plenty of things Luke left out, if it were not important and if it did not mean exactly what it seems to mean when you try to read it. One of my Bible teachers in college used to say about Bible interpretation, "If common sense makes good sense, then seek no other sense." I think that applies in this case.
You know, it's OK if we find out about the failures of those who are heroes of the faith, and certainly Paul is one of those. We tend to elevate people like Paul to superhuman status. But of course only one Man has ever lived a perfect life, and that is the Lord Jesus. I know I can get stubborn sometimes. It's actually reassuring to know that a man like Paul had the same stubborn streak that I do.
Well, Paul gets to Jerusalem and the trouble starts, just like all the prophets predicted (Remember that prophecy was one of the special sign gifts given to the early church. And for those who say that prophecy is preaching, they need to read verse 9 of this chapter, where we read about Philip the evangelist having four daughters who were all prophets). All he had done was report to the Apostles when things started spinning out of control. James tells Paul he needs to prove that he has not abandoned his Jewish heritage: "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality." (21:20-25, ESV)
Even the Apostles were none too pleased to see Paul in Jerusalem. They were amazed at his work, but they knew Jerusalem was not a safe place for him. Paul did exactly as they recommended, shaving his head and taking the vow, but that did little good. It was the same Jews who opposed his work in Asia and Greece who did him in. They came to Jerusalem to observe the feast of Pentecost, and when they saw Paul they accused him to the priests and they sent out to arrest him.
The head of the Roman garrison at Jerusalem actually saved Paul's life, and brought him into the Roman barracks. He asks Paul who he is. Paul tells him and asks to speak to the people. That is where the chapter ends. Chapter 22 is Paul's message to the Jews at Jerusalem.