Tag Archives: Bible

The Apostle Paul’s Trip to Jerusalem


Recently I had a conversation wherein the subject came up of the Apostle Paul’s ill-fated trip to Jerusalem. It was one of those instances where I had my own frame of reference regarding that incident and assumed the other person shared it, though as the conversation progressed things were said that didn’t quite mesh with my understanding.

It was two days before I remembered: there are two interpretations of Paul’s motivations in going to Jerusalem. One that he was bravely risking imprisonment and death for the sake of testifying to the Jews about the Lord, and the other that he was arrogantly stuck on going to the Jews, despite the fact he had specifically been called and “sent to the Gentiles” and in the face of all God’s warnings to him not to go.

I hold to the second opinion, and have for years, ever since I heard Col Thieme’s interpretation and exposition of the relevant passages.  In light of the conversation, though, I reread the section in Acts that deals with this, and came away more convinced than ever that this interpretation is the one most solidly supported by Scripture. However, recalling my own surprise when I first heard it years ago, I wondered if it might not be the standard opinion.

So I checked our commentary (Eerdman’s New Bible Commentary Revised) and discovered there that the author of the section in Acts did indeed hold to the notion that what Paul had done was the Lord’s will, despite all those warnings from the Holy Spirit not to go — from the Holy Spirit himself as well as  from numerous Spirit-filled brethren, including Luke, the Spirit-inspired writer of Acts, Philip the Evangelist, Agabus, already established as a genuine prophet, and Philip’s four daughters all of whom were said be be “prophesying,” ie, in this case giving a message from God (albeit one that is not recorded) — despite all these warnings, when Paul ignores them, the writer says, “We must not infer that Paul was wrong here…”

And I’m thinking… why in the world not? It sure looks wrong. Is there some reason to think that Paul was infallible? He was human like the rest of us. He had to be given a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from getting arrogant (2 Corinthians); in  Romans 7 he lamented that the good things he wanted to do he didn’t and the bad things he didn’t want to do, he did.  In Galatians he says the flesh wars continually against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh. Why would we think he was any “holier” than the rest of us and that it was impossible he could have made a mistake? Sure he was an Apostle, but he still had a sin nature.

Here’s the commenter’s justification for why “we must not infer that Paul is wrong” in this:

“These friends tried to dissuade him because they foresaw the risks to which he would be exposed at Jerusalem…”

This makes it sound as if it’s merely the friends’ human opinions and discernment that motivated them to speak, rather than God. That they had no opinion on whether God wanted him to go or not, merely that it was “risky.” But that’s not what Scripture says:

“After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.” (Acts 21:4)

That seems pretty clear. First the message itself: “telling Paul … not to set foot in Jerusalem.”

And second, the source of the message: “through the Spirit.”

The Spirit said to him, “Don’t set foot in Jerusalem.”

The commenter ignored this and focused, apparently, on the fact that because Paul was wanting to do a “good” thing (witness to the Jews), and was willing to give his very life to do it, and that, when he refused to relent despite his friends warnings and they said, “The will of the Lord be done,” this indicated their recognition that “Paul’s movements were divinely guided.”

That is, because he wanted to do a good thing, even if it meant his death, and wouldn’t be persuaded to abandon the plan, that must have been God guiding him. Even when a few verses earlier it says the Holy Spirit was telling him not to go there.

Perhaps the problem is the commenter is not taking into account the fact that there are three basic categories of God’s will: directive, permissive and overruling.

His directive will was “Do not set foot in Jerusalem, Paul.”

Like all of us from time to time, Paul had his mind set on his own good plan, and refused to heed God’s instruction to the contrary. He probably thought if only he could tell all those Jews in Jerusalem, (many of them no doubt former friends and colleagues) what had happened to him, if only he could show them how the Hebrew Scriptures overwhelmingly pointed to Jesus of Nazereth as their Messiah, they’d believe.

So God let him continue. Because there were many things Paul needed to learn, and many things we can learn from it as well. That’s God’s permissive will.

The same permissive will that allowed Abraham to go in to Hagar, Jonah to set off for Spain when he was supposed to go to Nineveh, and Adam to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We have volition and God will honor it.

Then there’s God’s overruling will where He just steps in and intervenes. In this case, it was when the Jews blew up in outrage as a result of Paul’s testimony and refused to listen to him further. At that point God moved in, motivating the Roman authorities to have him brought back to the barracks for questioning, at which point they found out he was a Roman citizen. From then on he was in their protective custody, all the way to Rome, which I believe is where God really wanted him to go. (Romans 15: 15, 16)

I love God’s impeccable timing in this, as well. In Acts 22 Paul gets up before the “Brethren” and starts out by reminding them all of his background, how he was born in Cilicia but brought up in Jerusalem, trained there under the best teachers, a Hebrew of Hebrews, blameless before the Law, yada yada.  Then he recounts his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus, and how he was blinded and went to Ananias who restored his sight and told him he was to be a witness for Him to all men.  After that Paul says,

“It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’

“And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You.

‘And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.’

And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'”

Note that Paul is recalling what the Lord said to him in the Temple in Jerusalem back when he was first saved:  “Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.” And after Paul protested that surely his own personal experiences and reputation would convince them: “Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.”

I do not consider this to be a “coincidence,” but a HUGE CLUE as to what is going on and what the Lord wants.

He allowed Paul to repeat His initial instructions to him with his own mouth and then, the moment Paul repeated the part about being sent far away to the Gentiles, his Jewish audience erupted, cutting him off. End of Testimony.*

They started screaming and shouting and tossing cloaks and dust, until the Roman commander intervened and brought him back to the barracks.

That was all Paul really got to say to them. He never got to the Gospel, or the Hebrew scriptures. Mostly he talked about himself, not the Lord; about his amazing experience, which the Jews had no use for.

And even though on the next day the commander brought him back to the Sanhedrin “wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews,” he still got nowhere.

In that incident, he’d barely opened his mouth before the high priest ordered “those standing beside him to strike him.” At that point he got into a petty argument with said high priest (that “white-washed wall!”) about protocols of the Law, then tried to appeal to the Pharisees for support, based on his own former membership in their ranks. But that only led to another shouting match, wherein the Sadducees and Pharisees were at each other’s throats over whether or not Paul had seen “an angel or a spirit.”

Not whether he’d seen the risen Christ, not whether Jesus was the Christ, nothing but bickering about irrelevancies.

So once again the commander came to his rescue and from there on Paul witnessed to Roman soldiers and officers — Gentiles — while the Jews kept coming up with various plots to kill him. The entire episode was a wash when it came to witnessing to the Jews….

Thankfully God still had His hand on things (having known in eternity past that Paul was going to defy Him by going to Jerusalem) and used it to accomplish His will in spite of Paul’s disobedience.

Which is one of the coolest things about our God, and about this story — that even when we blow it royally, and Paul did, He’s always there to protect us from our idiocy, and then pick up the pieces and get things back on track. Often He uses our failures to accomplish His will in spite of us, and, if we let Him, in the process teach us much about ourselves, about Him and about His amazing grace plan for our lives.


*As I wrote this it occurred to me that the Lord was also telling Paul what He was going to do with him right there in that very situation — “send him far away to the Gentiles.” Not that Paul would have picked up on it at the time, merely that we can look at it and see that that’s exactly what He did.

The Stern and Shocking Way God Told Me to Discontinue the Comments

Yesterday I said the reason that I turned off the comments when I was back on Blogger, was because God had told me to do so in a “stern and shocking way.” In fact, He did more than tell me to turn off the comments, He pretty much told me to stop with all the accepted and prevalent ways Christians today are seeking to “market” their work: joining all the groups to cross promote, the blog writing, the cultivation of friendships for the purpose (if we’re honest) of selling our work as we help to sell theirs — all of it human systems, human effort, human personality and human strength.

This was, as I said, back in 2007, and the main event actually predated the moment I chose to stop the comments by several months. Even before then I’d been wrestling with it all, and He kept telling me what I was to do, but I kept ignoring Him. But finally He got a little more dramatic and that got my attention.

No, I didn’t “hear” His voice speaking to me in my office. Nor did a stranger email or show up on my doorstep with “a word from the Lord” for me. Rather it was one of those times when the Bible falls open and your eyes are drawn to a relevant passage.

Until then, I thought that sort of thing was only one step above asking God for help, then opening the Bible with closed eyes and pointing to something on the page, then looking to see what He has “told” you.

No, He wants us in Bible Class learning His word from a man with the gift of pastor-teacher, day in and day out so we can build a reservoir of doctrinal principles, concepts and verses in our souls. It is from this reservoir that the Holy Spirit draws His counsel. He can’t counsel us with doctrine or concepts we haven’t learned. (Unless we happen to be in Bible class learning the material and He very forcefully says, “PAY ATTENTION! THIS IS FOR YOU!!!”)

But this just goes to show you can’t put God in a box, though for the record, I was not using the Open-and-Point method. Instead as I said, I’d been wrestling with the problems that come from trying to join groups of Christians with diverse views on what exactly is the Gospel, or the Christian life, or the Christian’s purpose, or the manner in which that purpose is to be carried out. You’re supposed to be encouraging them, helping to sell their books and yet, you might just think some — even much — of what they have to say is heresy. Then what?

And as much as you take exception to their books, they are just as unimpressed with yours. So… what is this all about? Much is made of tolerating all views, but that doesn’t really line up with the Word of God, which often warns us to avoid people with views that do not line up with Scripture. (David’s example as stated in Psalm 101:3 is perhaps the most forceful on this matter — “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes. I HATE the work of those who fall away” — though the Apostles John and Paul both warn about men coming with false teaching.   2Jn 1:10, 2 Ti 3 and 6)

But even as I was conflicted in this area, I guess I just kept thinking… no, wanting to do it myself — even though He’d been trying to tell me otherwise for a long time. After all, wasn’t that the lesson from the purchase and subsequent publication of the Legends of the Guardian King?

But, as I said, the world is relentless, and so is my sin nature and everyone was doing it, so I continued to suffer and struggle and ask for guidance. Even as He continued to give me all sorts of verses and principles showing me what I was to do.

So one day in March I was sitting on the couch, fretting about all this, my Bible on the coffee table. It’s old, falling apart and has a tendency to slide around. Seeking  the passage in Isaiah about not going down to Egypt for help, I picked it up and started to open it, but somehow it slid out of my hands onto the table, opening itself to Joshua 8 — which is the section on the conquest of Ai.

That was just after the Israelites were entering the Promised land. Having already taken Jericho, they had moved on to Ai, which seemed a far easier conquest than their first city. Yet they failed on their first attempt, all because, it turned out, one man in the camp of about 2 million had disobeyed God’s command not to take anything from that which He had banned in Jericho.

I know that the OT stories are also illustrations of New Testament truths, and that all those Amalekite cities represented the world and its ways, so when I saw where I was, a chill ran up my spine.

The story starts in Joshua 2:24, 25: “Now Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel; no one went out and no one came in. And the LORD said to Joshua, “see, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its kings and the valiant warriors.”

It goes on to detail the Israelites marching around the city once a day for six days. Then, on the seventh day…

(vs 15) …they rose early at the dawning of the day and marched around the city in the same manner seven times; only on that day they marched around the city seven times.

And it came about that at the seventh time, when the priests blew the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout! For the LORD has given you the city.

And the city shall be under the ban (cherem – not redeemable, deserving of utter destruction: all must die); and all that is in it belongs to the LORD; only Rahab the harlot and all who are with her in the house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent.

But as for you, only keep yourselves from the things under the ban, lest you covet them and take some of the things under the ban, so you would make the camp of Israel accursed and bring trouble on it.”

… (vs 21) And they utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.

As I said, like Egypt, Jericho represents the World — its treasures, its ways its power… God’s people were not to take anything from the world to enhance their lives or build their fortunes.

They followed His commands to the letter in the conquest of Jericho  — except for one man, Achan, who secretly stole a Babylonian robe, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold from the city and hid them in his tent. This is brought out in chapter 7 as they set out to take the next city, Ai.

Since Ai was sparsely defended, the men who spied it out recommended Joshua send only a couple thousand Israelites to take it. To everyone’s dismay, this group was soundly driven back, routed even, 36 of their number slain. When Joshua went to the Lord about it, he was told what had happened (Josh 7:10 – 15):

So the LORD said to Joshua, “Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face?

“Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. And they have even taken some of the things under the ban and have both stolen and deceived. Moreover, they have also put them among their own things.

“Therefore the sons of Israel cannot stand before their enemies; they turn their backs before their enemies, for they have become accursed. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy the things under the ban from your midst.

“Rise up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, for thus the LORD, the God of Israel, has said, “There are things under the ban in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you have removed the things under the ban from your midst.”

‘In the morning then you shall come near by your tribes. And it shall be that the tribe which the LORD takes by lot shall come near by families, and the family which the LORD takes shall come near by households, and the household which the LORD takes shall come near man by man.

‘It shall be that the one who is taken with the things under the ban shall be burned with fire, he and all that belongs to him, because he has transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he has committed a disgraceful thing in Israel.'”

So Joshua did as he commanded and Achan was found out. He confessed his sin, and revealed where he had hidden the stolen goods as recorded in Josh 7:24,25

Then Joshua and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the mantle, the bar of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent and all that belonged to him; and they brought them up to the valley of Achor.

Joshua said, “Why have you troubled us? The LORD will trouble you this day.” And all Israel stoned them with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones.

This is pretty severe, even offensive to today’s sensibilities… But it illustrates the displeasure God has with His people when they disobey His specific instructions, and especially when they seek to use the ‘things of the world,’ to gain what He has promised to give them.

The Only Reliable Confirmation

Back before Christmas I wrote about confirmation bias, the concept that people tend to look for evidence to support their beliefs instead of evidence to disprove them. I discovered it in the book The Black Swan where it was presented in a negative light, something which hindered people from arriving at truth.

And to some degree I believe it is that. I brought up the examples of Global Warming, evolution, and someone trying to sell a machine that was said to detect and cure ills via quantum mechanics and cell phones, all of which rely on confirmation bias for their “proof.”

We also see it in matters of faith.  Members of cults who see events working out to their liking claim that God is behind them, thereby endorsing their beliefs. Muslims are sure that God is working in their attacks upon the Jews and no doubt there are many other religions who look at external events and see the hand of their deity at work. Indeed, the whole point of sacrificing to various gods was to bring about a desired outcome; if the outcome occurred, the sacrifice was good enough, if it didn’t, the sacrifice was lacking. And, of course,Christians use confirmation bias, too, as I illustrated from the example of the young man who derived confirmation of his belief in God’s guidance from a series of numbers on a boxcar.

But just because events seem to confirm a belief does that make it so? Are we to abandon confirmation in external events in our faith lives? Or should we go about looking only for things that might disprove our faith as the author of  The Black Swan seems to advise?

Looking for things that sow doubt does not line up with what the word of God has to say, and in the end, that is the key. The only thing, the only real source of confirmation is the word of God, never experience or external events. I’m not saying that God doesn’t use external events to guide us, only that all experience must be filtered through the standard of God’s word. If it doesn’t line up with what scripture teaches, it’s not valid.

Of course, if you don’t know what Scripture teaches, you’re going to have a hard time discerning what’s valid and what isn’t. We live in a world of lies administrated by the father of lies, Satan himself. He is a master of deception and we are charged with acquainting ourselves with his schemes (2 Co 2:11). We have a sin nature that deceives us constantly. We are human, with limitations to our senses. We don’t always perceive what’s actually going on.

I remember one time my family and I passed a vehicle at the side of the road. A woman was standing near it. After we had passed it we got into conversation and discovered that each of the adults in our car — me, Stu, my mother and my sister — had a different memory of what we had seen. Some thought the vehicle was a pickup truck, others an SUV. Some thought it was perpendicular to the road we traveled on, others thought it was parallel. We even disagreed on what the woman was wearing: what it black shorts and white top, or white top and black shorts? Or was it not even black and white but colors?

I no longer recall what the actual case was, but it would have been a sorry display had we four been called upon to testify before a court of law! Though perhaps if it had been a more important incident we would have paid better attention and remembered more. The point is, our memories aren’t always accurate. Especially if emotion is involved. Which feeds into another principle delineated in The Black Swan — that experiments have shown that each time we recall a particular event from our past we change it slightly, until years later it’s not at all like what it was originally.

All of which goes back to the fact that it’s the word of God that must be the standard for discernment not someone’s experience. Experience can support the word, but if there’s a conflict, experience has to go. And if the word of God is to be our standard, well, that makes one more reason why we must know it backwards and forwards and be we are handling it accurately.