Acts 21:27-36 (ESV)
When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, for the mob of the people followed, crying out, “Away with him!”
The brothers’ plan backfires so perfectly it could be the model for the classic sci-fi plot where someone goes back in time to try to prevent a major tragedy but ends up causing the tragedy. My favorite is the one where a time traveler goes back to 1871 to try to prevent the Great Chicago Fire. Sure enough, Mrs. O’Leary’s cow is doing just fine until the time traveler spooks her and she knocks over the lamp.
The sci-fi theme is don’t try to change history. Here it’s don’t try to outsmart God. That seems like a no-brainer to us reading about it now, but somehow, these giants of the faith missed it. How is that possible?
They assumed that Paul’s arrest was a bad thing. This was so obvious that no one even considered the alternative. Paul’s missionary work is advancing the kingdom, so God couldn’t want Paul arrested, right?
Their reasoning makes perfect sense from a secular point of view, but it’s wrong. This is one of the most difficult and advanced concepts in Christianity. Our minds are full of logical assumptions and processes. They define us. They’re how we think. They’re how we survive. Yet, in the light of God’s perspective, His priorities, and His revealed word, many “obviously right” things can be dead wrong.
The classic example is the assumption that predestination and free will cannot both be true. That’s obvious, right? Yet the Bible says, repeatedly, that both are true. Chapter 3 of the Westminster Confession of Faith says both are true and lists some Biblical references. This very passage is an example of both.
All study of scripture is humbling, but this is more humbling than most.
It’s all good; we can use a little humbling. Praise God for His amazing ways. He grows His servants using processes we would never think of. Yes, pain is sometimes part of the deal.
Pledge to God your willingness to pay a cost to belong to Him.
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