Arrested to Serve and to Save

Note from Jesus

Dear Disciple,

Paul’s long anticipated return to Jerusalem finally happened. He arrived in Jerusalem accompanied by Christians from the churches in Asia Minor and Europe. They came with Paul to bless their impoverished Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ and to be able to report back to their churches that the contributions for the poor in Jerusalem were used as intended. Along the way, Paul had been repeatedly warned by friends and by the Holy Spirit that trouble, hardship, danger, and arrest awaited him (Acts 20:22-25; Acts 21:4; Acts 21:10-14).

In an attempt to keep the peace with the Jewish people of Jerusalem and to preserve the fragile peace the Jewish Christians enjoyed with their fellow Israelites, Paul followed a suggestion that James and the elders in Jerusalem made. He went to the temple with other Jewish Christians to show he still respected his heritage. However, some people from Asia Minor who hated Paul were at the temple. They had previously seen Paul with a fellow named Trophimus, who was a Gentile from Ephesus. They wrongly assumed Paul had taken Trophimus into the Jewish-only portion of the temple compound.

A Gentile in this portion of the temple was an offense punishable by death under both Roman and Jewish law. So in their fury, they seized Paul. They screamed for others to help them beat Paul to death. Roman soldiers rushed to the scene and arrested Paul. However, the riot had grown so intense that the soldiers had to carry him to safety.

Paul had invested so much of himself in the Gentile churches’ collection for the poor Jewish Christians of Jerusalem. He had so hoped that this act of generosity would tear down the walls of race and prejudice that divided My church in many places in that day. Unfortunately, because of Paul’s association with Gentiles, his attempts at reconciliation blew up in his face as an ugly riotous mob of non-Christian Jews tried to kill him.

Years earlier, on My last trip to Jerusalem before My crucifixion, I warned My disciples repeatedly about the hostile rejection, arrest, and crucifixion that awaited Me. Paul and others had warned that he would be rejected and arrested in Jerusalem. Just as I had gone to the temple to honor the Father, so had Paul. Just as I had met with the hostility of the people in the temple, so had Paul. What I said on My trip to Jerusalem still rang true in Paul’s day:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

(Matthew 23:37-39 NLT)

My lament is similar to Paul’s words you read previously from the book of Romans — words that partially explain why Paul went to Jerusalem despite facing rejection and possible death. He wrote:

With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it. My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed — cut off from Christ! — if that would save them.

(Romans 9:1-3 NLT)

Paul’s trip to Jerusalem wasn’t made because he was foolhardy or had a death wish. Paul went there because of the love he had for non-believing Jews, because of his desire to unite the world Christian movement beyond racial lines, and because he wanted to help impoverished Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.

I share all this because I want you to notice that sometimes things don’t turn out as you would want. This undesired result can be true even when you have the best of motives. This outcome was true for Me on My last trip to Jerusalem. It was also true for Paul on his last trip to Jerusalem. Despite the disappointments and the apparent failure of Paul’s mission, the Holy Spirit worked to bring great good out of this awful situation. The Spirit used this shocking turn of events to enable Paul to testify before rulers and authorities and ultimately to get to Rome.

So please, don’t give up in despair when your best efforts and your finest intentions end up in a mess. Satan wants to use your mess to destroy you. But I AM at work even when circumstances suggest that I have abandoned you. The Father is working for your good even when you can’t immediately see that good. Paul’s words of assurance ultimately were proved true for him on this visit to Jerusalem, and ultimately they will be proved true for you:

We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan. From the distant past, His eternal love reached into the future. You see, He knew those who would be His one day, and He chose them beforehand to be conformed to the image of His Son so that Jesus would be the firstborn of a new family of believers, all brothers and sisters.

Romans 8:28-29

What Paul promised to you, I accomplished and proved true for him. But that, My dear disciple, will be shown in more detail in our subsequent days together as we continue to remember Paul’s journey to Rome!

Verses to Live

Luke told this account of Paul’s arrest very matter-of-factly. So I want you to let your imagination catch you up into this story. Imagine yourself as one of the angry mob. How do you feel believing Paul had desecrated the holy temple of YHWH (the Hebrew for the name of God)? Imagine yourself as Paul, trying to accommodate everyone’s wishes and having such deep longing to share My grace with those in Jerusalem. How would you feel captured by the angry, riotous, murderous mob? Now I want you to imagine My heart as I watch Paul in the places where I had ministered and as he went and faced many of the same things I faced on My last visit Jerusalem. Only this time, give thanks that I had faced these things and triumphed over the death inflicted by the angry mob so that you, Paul, and even the angry mob could have the opportunity of true salvation!

So we [Paul and those traveling with him] knew what we were getting into as we prepared to ascend the foothills toward Jerusalem [because of the repeated warnings of friends and the Holy Spirit]. Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and led us to the home of Mnason, a Cypriot and one of the first disciples, with whom we stayed. We continued on to Jerusalem and were welcomed warmly by the brothers there. The next day, we went together to visit James, and all the elders were there with him. Paul greeted them and then reported account after account of what God had done through him among the outsiders. When they heard his story, they praised God.

James and the Elders:

Brother, we have a problem. You can see that we have thousands of Jewish believers here, and all of them are zealous law keepers. They’ve heard all kinds of rumors about you — that you teach all the Jews living among the outside nations to forget about Moses entirely, that you tell believers not to circumcise their sons, that you teach them to abandon all our customs. We need to deal with this situation, since word will spread that you’re here in the city. So here’s what we would like you to do. We have four men here who are fulfilling a vow. Join them. Go through the rituals of purification with them. Pay for their heads to be shaved according to our ritual. That will show that the rumors are false and that you are still observing and upholding the law. For the outside believers, we’ve already written in a letter our judgment on their situation: they should not eat food that has been sacrificed to idols, they should not eat meat with blood in it or meat from animals killed by strangulation, and they should abstain from all sexual misconduct.

Paul complied with their request. The very next day, he publicly joined the four men, completed the initial purification rites, entered the temple with them, and began the seven-day ritual purification process, after which a sacrifice would be made for each of them. The seven days of purification were almost completed when some Jews from Asia recognized Paul in the temple. They grabbed him.

Asian Jews (shouting):

Help! Fellow Israelites! This man is an enemy of our people, our religion, our law, and this temple! He travels around the world subverting our holiest customs! He is at this moment desecrating this holy temple by bringing outsiders into this sacred place.

In this accusation, they were confused — they had seen Paul elsewhere in the city with Trophimus the Ephesian, and they assumed that one of his current companions was Trophimus. It was too late to clarify, though, because word spread and soon a huge crowd rushed to the temple. They held Paul and dragged him from the temple and shut the doors behind them. They beat Paul, and it was clear they intended to kill him. By this time, word of the uproar reached the commandant of the Roman guard assigned to Jerusalem. He led a group of soldiers and officers to the scene. When the mob looked up and saw the soldiers running toward them, they stopped beating Paul. The commandant took him into custody and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He conducted a preliminary interrogation — asking Paul’s name, what he had done. Members of the crowd were shouting over each other, and the tribune couldn’t hear a thing, so he ordered Paul to be taken back to the barracks. When they came to the steps leading down from the temple, the crowd was seething with such violence toward Paul that the soldiers had to pick him up and carry him.

(Acts 21:15-35)

Response in Prayer

O dear Father, thank You for the grace that brought Jesus to us. Thank You, Jesus, for the pain You bore, not just when You went to Jerusalem and faced the cross, but also when You relived the events with Your apostle Paul. Thank You that his fate at this time was different from Your fate on the cross. Thank You for reminding me that I, too, may face disappointment and harm for things I do with good intentions and pure motives. I learn from this, dear Lord, that I must trust the results and the justice to You and Your grace, believing that my future is secure in You. Thank You! Amen.

‘A Year with Jesus’ is written by Phil Ware.

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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Voice™. © 2008 by Ecclesia Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved.