In today’s lesson, we see Paul and his companions’ continuing journey back to their homeland. Normally, it is a great joy to return home after long and challenging times in far-flung places. Yet here we see Paul headed back to Jerusalem with the strong conviction—confirmed by the words of a local prophet—that his welcome there would include arrest and confinement.
There is something of a parallel here between Paul and Jesus. Both were determined to go to Jerusalem, come what may, because God was at work and had given them a task there. Both knew that the opposition was organized firmly against them. Both, also, felt tender love for brothers and sisters there and those God might touch and reach, and they valued God’s ways above personal safety.
Paul’s friends (like Jesus’ disciples many years before) were deeply concerned for his safety and tenderly urged him not to put himself in jeopardy. Their love and concern was so genuine that it was “breaking his heart.” But since Paul was convinced that being obedient to God’s call was the paramount consideration, he needed and wanted them to be strong with him in following the Lord’s lead—no matter the cost. He could guess what might lay in store for him. After all, he could remember his own days as a persecutor of Jesus-followers in Jerusalem. But he also knew how Jesus had met him and turned his whole life in a new direction. So Paul was both ready and willing. In the face of his faith and conviction, his friends were left to quietly agree, “The Lord’s will be done.”
Sometimes, like Paul’s friends, our earthly concerns get in the way of what God is doing in and through someone we love. We are unprepared to see them sacrifice safety or comfort. As Jennifer McKenzie reminded us this past Sunday in her sermon, it is certainly appropriate to be discerning, Risk-taking “for Christ” is predicated on knowing that God has directed it. Yet, once God’s direction is discerned, we can be united in strength toward God’s purpose—knowing that God’s will is ultimately for good. Jesus’ death was terrible; but it was the prerequisite to immeasurable and eternal blessing. Paul’s road led to martyrdom. But his faithfulness planted the gospel in churches far and wide and his rich and practical teaching in the New Testament has anchored the Church throughout the centuries. Jesus and Paul and countless others paid a high price. But look what God has done!
So let us pray for vision to discover our own places in the mighty work of God, and for strength to encourage each other to follow where he leads.