And when we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. 2 And having found a ship crossing to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. 3 When we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload its cargo. 4 And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. 5 When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed 6 and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home. – Acts 21:1-6
For the most part I have stayed out of places where danger lurks – especially when I’ve been warned. That wasn’t the case, however, when Diane and I were in Paris. We were in search of a SIM card for our cell phone, and were very unfamiliar with the city. We didn’t know particular neighborhoods or shopping areas. We managed to find a small store which had the SIM card but when we went in there were signs we should probably not tried to do business there. We should not have even been in that part of the city; it was a strongly Islamic area and we even encountered a demonstration in one roundabout as we got out of the area! We just should not have gone there.
This was the message to Paul about a very familiar place to which he was traveling: “Don’t go there!” I notice that this message is conveyed by the group of Jesus’ followers in Tyre, “by the Spirit“. Paul, however, is bound and determined to go to Jerusalem. He is not to be dissuaded from this destination. He was going to Jerusalem – even if the Holy Spirit led people to tell him not to go.
Paul’s insistence on going there – even against the advice of Spirit-led disciples – has to be put into the category of human stubbornness of will. The Ephesian elders have bid him farewell not knowing whether they would ever see him again. He is warned in Tyre not to go. There seems to be no one else who wants him to go to Jerusalem. But Paul will go. No matter what.
It’s a good thing that God can use such people. Stubborn people like Paul, Martin Luther, and sometimes even yours truly. There are times when we simply have our minds set on a thing which may not be morally wrong, but outside of God’s will for us. Going to Jerusalem, moving to a new job, marrying someone too early in our lives: these are the kinds of things (not autobiographical) that may not be morally wrong, but might possibly be a path other than God’s will for us. Thankfully God can work through our willfulness – just as he will here.
Paul will go to Jerusalem. It will also be a launching pad for his trip to Rome – through a very convoluted series of events, and against the odds of conspiracy and efforts to undercut his ministry and even take his life. It is possible that had Paul not gone to Jerusalem, he would have also gotten to Rome in a more peaceful and less-conflict-ridden way. We’ll never know. But what we do know – thanks be to God – is that God can work through all kinds of people to accomplish his work.
This is not a call for foolish stubbornness. It is certainly better to go where common sense and good advice would lead us. But at least on this occasion, Paul will continue beyond Jerusalem to serve the cause of the rule and reign of Christ. Thanks be to God!