Bound to Happen (text version)

What’s the difference between fatalism and an honest expression of “The Lord’s will be done”?

What is the difference between a sad state of resignation and a confident trust in Christ?

Where does one gain wisdom and discernment to sort through the mixed ideas of well-meaning Christians and develop the obedience for one’s walk with Christ?

In today’s passage of Scripture (Acts 21:1-26), we see the answer revealed in the life of Paul. I have linked to the entire passage, but would like to focus on but a few verses in this devotional (since I’m away from the pulpit this week… and also explains why there will be no audio version to go along with today’s passage).

Paul is on his third missionary journey and is in the midst of his return trip to Jerusalem. He’d wanted to be there already (had he been able to sail straight to Syria from Greece), but circumstances and that little plot against his life made it impossible for him to be there by the Passover. The best he could hope for, taking that inland route with a few short boat trips, was for him to arrive by Pentecost.

Good-bye Macedonia. Good-bye Ephesian elders. Now say good-bye to Tyre and Caesarea. Paul is compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. It was bound to happen.

Bound to happen but all kinds of obstacles stand between now and then. Obstacles of well-meaning Christians.

Have you ever been plodding along in your walk with Christ and a well-meaning brother or sister in Christ questions whether you’re going about it properly?

In Paul’s missionary journey, he was bound for Jerusalem.  Was it bound to happen? Not if well-meaning disciples had any say in it! Here are the disciples in Tyre.

Acts 21:4 Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.

Through the Spirit”…what does that mean? Paul was “compelled by the Spirit” to go! How could these well-meaning Christians urge Paul “through the Spirit” not to go. Does this mean that the Holy Spirit was giving Paul mixed messages?

Obstacle to obedience #1—the mixed message from well-meaning Christians

The Holy Spirit is not divided against Himself. The easiest reconciliation of these two thoughts (go and don’t go) is that Paul…through the Spirit…was compelled to go to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22) even though…through the Spirit…he’d been warned that he would face persecution there (Acts 20:23). Flip sides of the same good coin. The Gospel cuts both ways. And the servant of Christ will be persecuted. John 15:20 “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.”

The disciples in Tyre had (probably through a prophetic gift) discerned that there would be trouble in Jerusalem for Paul and therefore assumed God wasn’t in it since Paul’s ministry on earth would end. But Paul had the further revelation of an inner compelling that overrode matters just like when Jesus was compelled to go to Jerusalem and face the Cross. Peter’s understanding of Kingdom matters elicited one statement (below) whereas his incomplete understanding and good desire of love to protect Jesus prompted the second. Compare these two statements about the same individual, Peter:

Matthew 16:17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Matthew 16:23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

Six verses separate Peter’s godly wisdom from his brazen obstacle to Christ’s obedience.  Same type of deal here with Paul.

The disciples in Tyre didn’t want anything to interfere with Paul’s good and fruitful ministry. Why would God send Paul to where his ministry would end? (Answer: for the same reason He sent Jesus to finish His work in a place of persecution. God always sees the bigger picture and doesn’t always communicate it widely ahead of time. Jesus knew He was compelled. Paul knew he was compelled and in each case, that was enough.)

But this is not fatalism.

And the difference is there’s choice…and quite simply where you place your trust.

If compelled by the Spirit, but trusting in man for your life, you’ll always be disappointed and at the mercy of your opponents. If compelled by the Spirit and trusting in God for your life, it’s the honest expression of “The Lord’s will be done.”

It was bound to happen because Paul was in step with the Spirit…both in the compelling and in the understanding of the dangers ahead. The Holy Spirit doesn’t suck you in with goodies and then trap you in persecution like luring a mouse into a mousetrap.

The Holy Spirit prompts obedience to accepting both the good and the persecution by appealing to faith.

bound hands.jpg10 After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.'” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

Here’s a second prophetic word about the upcoming persecution of Paul. Luke includes himself among those who urged Paul not to go up to Jerusalem.

Obstacle to obedience #2—the mixed emotions of well-meaning Christians

Ironically, the two commandments that are the greatest can be at conflict with one another in the faith of a disciple of Christ. Matthew 22:37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Like confusing messages that originate in the mind, mixed emotions can tug both ways at the heart. Conflicting emotions are another obstacle to living a life that exhibits a total confident trust in Christ. Paul loved Jesus and wanted to follow Him. Paul loved the disciples, too!  So when they urged him not to go, he asked,

Why are you weeping and breaking my heart?”

When the love of God pulls you to sacrifice yourself…and the love of neighbor pulls you in another direction, it does break a person’s heart. It makes it really hard to follow God. But Paul passed the test. It was bound to happen, just as Agabus had predicted through his “enacted prophecy” which was along the lines of the ministries of Jeremiah, and Isaiah and Ezekiel.

In the movie, Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell loves his sister Jenny and the mission. But he loved God more and God brought him to a tough place of decision-making. Out of love for God and honoring God’s gift of excelling as a runner, in the movie, Eric asks his sister to understand and let him run his race for the glory of God before he returns to the mission field in China. The tugging at his heart—love of sister versus love of God—made it hard for him to run unfettered. He needed her to understand that he was compelled. But then the decision not to run in the 100 meter race, but instead to honor God because it was the Sabbath, was something well-meaning Christians did not understand.  In many cases, he was pummeled in the press since some thought it would do God better by his running and proving his love for his teammates, his king, and his country.  Well-meaning Christians can be obstacles to whole-hearted obedience. The mission field was ahead, but that would be after Eric would win the Olympic 400 meter race, become internationally known and then go to occupied China where he would die for the Gospel. Arguably his ministry had eternal significance beyond running and rugby.  He died having been more widely known for his decision not to run on the Sabbath than he would have been known for any Sunday qualifying heat which would have been celebrated for a moment at the cost of his devotion to God.

Paul, in our passage, was compelled and well-meaning Christians didn’t understand but eventually relented, “The Lord’s will be done.”

17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs.

Obstacle to obedience #3—the mixed report of well-meaning Christians

The brothers heard all that Paul said had happened and they praised God. But in the next breath, they point out that the Jewish believers were still thinking of the Messiah as basically belonging to the Jews and the Law was still the rule. This whole Gentile ministry of Paul’s was kind of problematic from the standpoint of the average Jewish Christian who was trying to get along and stay alive in Jerusalem. So the brothers pressed Paul to demonstrate his affinity with the Jewish Christians by participating in a vow of four men by funding their purification rites. It was symbolic of obedience to the Law and did no harm to the ministry of Paul since he, like Christ, affirmed that the Law was not abolished.  It was fulfilled. In preserving the unity of Christians, God honored Paul’s heart and it did not compromise anything along the way. It was just an unnecessary step had the brothers in Jerusalem (well-meaning though they were) taught the people the full truth of what Paul had been doing.

Instead, well-meaning Christians engaged in perpetuating a rumor and offered a solution that wasn’t one in reality. The Jewish Jews wouldn’t be convinced by this plan of action… and the Jewish Christians weren’t educated on the finer points of theology. The Men of Israel (the Jewish Jews) will persecute Paul in next week’s passage and the Jewish Christians will be nowhere to be seen. Dealing with the mixed report could have been a distraction for Paul’s obedience.  Had Paul not been discerning, it could have been an obstacle.  The brothers should have dealt with the mixed report by teaching the full truth to the Jewish Christians and inspiring their obedience, even in the face of persecution.

So what about you?

What do you do when you get mixed messages from others about what God is calling you to do? Do you dig into the Scriptures and devote yourself to prayer or do you just talk a lot with your Christian friends to get their opinion?

What do you do when love for God seems to be calling you to a different place than what might be love on a strictly human level? What informs your decision about what to do? Who do you listen to?

When you see the “divine conveyor-belt” of the Spirit taking you to a place that is bound to happen, how you react? Do you try to jump off because of mixed messages, mixed emotions, and mixed reports…or do you respond in faith?  Is your confidence in Christ?

A focus on man will always lead you to fatalism and sad resignation at the “divine conveyor-belt” of life…bound to happen as one’s fate. But a focus on God and a healthy discernment will always lead you to “The Lord’s will be done” and a deep faith in Christ. For Paul and for Jesus before him, something being bound to happen can be celebrated as Paul did: “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Paul was ready to be bound and bound for death.   If it’s bound to happen, let it be bound to happen… by faith!


Categories Chapel Worship/News | Tags: | Posted on September 22, 2015

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

Leave a Reply