The Journal of Biblical Accuracy

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The Lord stood by him

In Acts 19:17-20 we read for the joy that there was in Ephesus concerning the Word of God:

Acts 19:17-20
"This (see verses 13-16) became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed."

The Word of God grew mightily and prevailed in Ephesus. Many were returning to the Lord confessing their deeds. The name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. Magicians were burning their books in the sight of all. And then follows verse 21:

Acts 19:21
"When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome."

After Macedonia and Achaia the next place that Paul had decided to go was Jerusalem. In fact, as Acts 20:16 tells us, it was urgent for him to be there before the day of Pentecost. Thus passing through Greece, he took the way to Jerusalem. In this journey, apart from the brothers, he had also the company of the holy spirit that was advising him in many of the stops of this trip.

In Miletus

Acts 20:22-23
"And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me."

In Tyre

Acts 21:4
"And finding disciples, we stayed there seven days. They told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem."

In Caesarea

Acts 21:10-14
"And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul's belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, "Thus says the Holy Spirit, `So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.' Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, "What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, "The will of the Lord be done."

Though the first and the third of the above passages do not make clear whether the instruction of the Lord was to go or not to go to Jerusalem, the second passage leaves no doubt: what the disciples were telling him THROUGH THE SPIRIT was not to go to Jerusalem. This was not the opinion of the disciples but of the HOLY SPIRIT. However, Paul, despite these warnings, he insisted. We don’t know his reasons. However it seems that he had taken this decision from Acts 19:20 and sticked to it despite the warnings he was receiving. He wanted to be there regardless of the cost. And he was. Verses 17-26 tell us:

Acts 21:17-26
"And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, "You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; "but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. "What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. "Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. "Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law. "But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality." Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them."

The mood in Jerusalem was not good for Paul. James and the elders glorified the Lord for all that Paul told them, but showed him also the thousands of the Jews that had believed but were still zealous for the law. For those people Paul, the apostle of grace, was something like a blasphemer. They had heard of his teaching and they would now come together to catch him. Knowing what would happen, the elders of the church of Jerusalem told Paul to show openly that he also follows the law ("but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law") while at the same time they told him that they had written to the Gentiles to keep nothing of these. Though Paul followed their instruction, he didn’t avoid the conflict. The Jews found him:

Acts 21:30-32
"And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut. Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. He immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul."

All the city was in an uproar. Paul was in the hands of the Jews whose aim was to kill him. In fact they might have done it, hadn’t the Romans interfered. After quite some turbulence, Paul asked the commander to permit him to speak to the people and Acts 22:1-21 gives us his witness to them, in which he described who he was and how he met the Lord Jesus.

Paul gave with boldness his witness in front of the full of wrath multitude, who now more loudly were asking for his death. The commander brought him to the garrison and the next day he called the high priests and their council and presented him to them. However this resulted again in dissension.

Acts 23:10
"Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks."

Before we move further, let’s think for a moment about the results of this trip and what had happened up to then. Following the accomplishment of the joyful things in Ephesus, Paul decides to go to Jerusalem. However he knows that tribulation and chains wait for him there. And though there are cases where the tribulation and the chains are unavoidable and men shed their blood for the Lord (as Stephen, James and thousands other martyrs), in our case here, the Lord had spoken to Paul about it and He had very clearly told him not to go to Jerusalem (Acts 21:4 : "And finding disciples, we stayed there seven days. They told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem."). However he moved ahead. We don’t know what he had in his mind and why it was so urgent for him to be in Jerusalem. Certainly he didn’t want to go there just for a visit. There was something very serious and urgent that made him to travel all the way from Greece to Jerusalem and put aside the warnings that he was receiving. In Jerusalem he met the elders of the local church. After the initial joy for all that had happened through Paul’s ministry, they showed him the thousands of the Jews that had believed but were still zealous for the law. In fact they suggested to him to pretend the same in order to avoid being caught by the Jews while at the same time they assured him that they had written to the Gentiles not to keep any of these. After this, the support of the church to Paul, at least as far as this support is shown in the pages of the Scripture, is rather non-existent. Paul is alone having against him his own people and he is saved from death by the intervention of the Romans. In Acts 23:10 we find him in the garrison, I guess in a prison there. Here is therefore the man that had done so much for the gospel, the man that did hundreds of kilometers for the Word of God and who more than anybody else put himself in danger. Here he is, alone in a prison cell and abandoned by all others. All others, except one: the Lord Jesus Christ.

Acts 23:11
"But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, "Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome."

The Lord stood by him…… Only a few years earlier He had been persecuted in the same city by the same people. He was also delivered to the Romans. As Paul that day, He was also brought before the counsel and He was also abandoned by all. Here He is, the raised Lord Jesus, coming to meet the lonely and tortured apostle whom with so much love, He had called many years earlier. The Lord Jesus came to meet Paul, STOOD BY HIM, as the text said. All the others may had forgotten him but the Lord was there. He didn’t told him much. Only one sentence, so full though: "Be of good cheer Paul for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome." Many of us if we ever went to Paul under such conditions, which I doubt, or if we were discussing his case, we would say: "It is a pity, but the Lord had warned him. He had told him not to come to Jerusalem but he came. Now he has to pay the consequences." We are in a hurry to judge and condemn. If somebody falls, our words many times sound like words of judgment than words of mercy. The Lord however hasn’t appointed us as judges. What He wants us to have and show is mercy, grace, love instead of harsh words and phrases like "I had told you this". And this is what He does here. He stands by the lonely Paul. He makes no reference like "I had told you". In contrast He gives him CONGRATULATIONS. "CONGRATULATIONS PAUL THAT YOU STOOD BEFORE ALL IN JERUSALEM AND TESTIFIED FOR ME." He had never told him to go to Jerusalem. However this is not so significant. What is significant for the Lord now, is that even there he stood for Him. The Lord gives him congratulations and together a plan and a vision for the future: "as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome". I don’t know what was the initial plan of the Lord. But whatever this was, could He not make it again possible? If we believe that our importance is so big in the work of God we have somehow overestimated our necessity and we have underestimated the necessity and the abilities of the Lord. Of course there is a mission. Of course there is work. However, if let’s say a mistake happens does it mean that it can have consequences forever? I don’t think so. Paul went even to the Rome and bore witness to the Lord as He had said. He stood before kings as He had told him in the beginning (Acts 9:15) In many occasions he could be free. But the Lord didn’t do it. In the prison he wrote many of his epistles. Others taking courage from his chains they were preaching the Word with more boldness (Philippians 1:12-18). Paul’s ministry was fruitful, even though he was in prison, and it was so because the Lord was with him. It is not so much important where you are but if where you are, you are with the Lord. Because if you are with the Lord, you will bring fruit. Though all others had abandoned Paul, the Lord was with him. Writing to Timothy, he said:

II Timothy 4:16-17
"At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion."

All had abandoned him but not the Lord. Let’s put this deep in our heart. There may be times in the Christian life that we will be alone, with very few or none to support us. Let’s not lose our courage or be angry about it. Though all may leave, there is one that WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU. THERE IS ONE THAT IS BY YOU, ALWAYS, EVEN NOW. THERE IS ONE THAT APPROACHES YOU NOT TO CONDEMN YOU FOR PAST MISTAKES NOR TO JUDGE YOU BUT TO ENCOURAGE YOU AND TELL YOU "Be of good cheer. I’m here"

Hebrews 13:5-6
"For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you" So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, I will not fear. What can man do to me?."

Anastasios Kioulachoglou