Acts 20-23

It’s only one line, and it really doesn’t add anything to our doctrine….but I hadn’t seen it before and somehow knowing it made me feel closer to the story.Read Acts 20-23
Tucked away towards the end of today’s reading, about when the 40 bandits decided they would ambush Paul and kill him, we learn an interesting fact from Paul’s life….he had a sister.    Is that a big deal?   Well, maybe….if you like to know as much as you can about Bible figures.   I always thought of Paul as a solitary figure, a man who never married and had no descendants.   But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have family.   I wonder how many people were in Paul’s family?   We never hear anything of his parents….who must have paid dearly for his education with Gamaliel, only to see their dreams for Paul to become an important Jewish leader dashed on the rocks as he accepted Christ.    I wonder if Paul’s family had hopes of him becoming high priest some day?    Did they understand his message and convert, or did they go to their graves believing that their son was a traitor to the faith?     Today we celebrate the image of Paul imprisoned, writing letters to churches and defining the spiritual landscape….did they look at their son with satisfaction, knowing he was doing God’s will?   I wonder if they ever sent him any “care packages”….or did they disown him?    To my knowledge he never mentions them…so I think they either died or disowned him.
It makes me wonder how many people will be highly esteemed in heaven that received no recognition or respect on earth.    It also reminds me that God doesn’t guarantee that we will have our family of origin with us as Christians.   Although family is dear to us, there is no guarantee that they will be with us in heaven, and if they force us to choose between them and Jesus our response must always be in favor of Jesus.
One thing I loved about today’s reading is how captivating it was.  There are days when I have to read and re-read a passage trying to stay focused.   Occasionally my eye will drift down the page (actually, the screen) to see how much longer the reading is.   It’s not that I am bored by it….I’m just not engrossed by it.   I want to read, and I want to understand…but it occasionally seems a little distant.   But today, I was right there with Paul and Luke as they sailed past different ports.    I can’t understand why Paul would insist upon going to Jerusalem after the believers told him (through the Holy Spirit) NOT to go.   Wasn’t Paul being disobedient here?   Why didn’t he listen to the Holy Spirit through the other believers?   Did he think he knew better than they did?    Or was the Holy Spirit telling him something different?    Certainly the Holy Spirit wasn’t telling Paul to “go” and telling others that he “shouldn’t go”.    I’m confused on that point.     At the end of the reading, the Lord says that Paul must travel to Rome and testify there.   Clearly he was never to die in Jerusalem, and he was bound hand and foot just as the prophets said.    Was all this the Lord’s plan, or did Paul get it wrong….and God had to do something different?
I’m going to look it up, and then comment on it after I know more….
Okay…I’m back.  (that was fast, right?)   As it turns out, this is a popular question, but the answer isn’t a difficult one.   The verse reads that the Holy Spirit warned the believers that Paul shouldn’t go to Jerusalem.  That’s a problem, because the rest of the text shows Paul being completely obedient to the Spirit.  Paul knew in advance that he would suffer in Jerusalem and that he would also travel to Rome  (Acts 19:21-23)   So the Holy Spirit had already told Paul where he was going and what to expect.   In cases like this, it’s best to allow the text to interpret the text.  Meaning, we use the rest of the Bible to help us understand what one passage might be saying.    Since we know the Holy Spirit doesn’t say two opposing things, and since we know from the rest of the text that Paul already knew he should go to Jerusalem and Rome…and since there is no record of Paul confessing a sin, or admitting an error….and since the Holy Spirit doesn’t rebuke him when He tells Paul to continue onto Rome….we must conclude that something has been lost in the translation as the message was handed down.   Perhaps what the believers heard from the Holy Spirit was that Paul would be tortured and incarcerated in Jerusalem, and they pleaded with him not to go.  But when it was recorded, it sounded like their human desire for Paul to avoid Jerusalem was from the Spirit.     John Stott, a modern theologian stated it this way, when speaking of Acts 21:4 ” the warning was divine but the urging was human”.       At times I am sure we have done likewise, receiving revelation from the Holy Spirit and then adding our emotions to the overall thought as we share it with others.
Paul wasn’t disobedient, and his life played out exactly as the Lord had planned for him.     Of course, we already knew this, right?   But it’s good for us to ask questions and investigate the areas that tickle our imagination.   That helps develop our faith, and remove areas where seeds of doubt could grow.