After several days of visiting, a prophet from Judea by the name of Agabus came down to see us. He went right up to Paul, took Paul’s belt, and, in a dramatic gesture, tied himself up, hands and feet. He said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: The Jews in Jerusalem are going to tie up the man who owns this belt just like this and hand him over to godless unbelievers.”
When we heard that, we and everyone there that day begged Paul not to be stubborn and persist in going to Jerusalem. But Paul wouldn’t budge: “Why all this hysteria? Why do you insist on making a scene and making it even harder for me? You’re looking at this backward. The issue in Jerusalem is not what they do to me, whether arrest or murder, but what the Master Jesus does through my obedience. Can’t you see that?”
We saw that we weren’t making even a dent in his resolve, and gave up. “It’s in God’s hands now,” we said. “Master, you handle it.” Acts 21: 11-14
This last Sunday, I and a bunch of like-minded believers took up conversation for the purpose of discussing the sometimes confusing gift of Spirit-filled prophesy. I say sometimes confusing, because sometimes sorting out what is of God and what is of men is a difficult process.
What God wants for his children is clarity, I believe that, but when His message comes through frail humanity, clarity is sometimes lost in translation.
Here is what we learned from our study in Acts 21 on Sunday:
When a prophet named Agabus came down to Caesarea with a message for Brother Paul, he brought with him a clear understanding of the tinder box that was ancient Jerusalem. This prophet knew that the city was a hot spot of spiritual and religious controversy. Furthermore, he understood that factions within the Jewish community. Some refused to accept that Jesus was Messiah, while many thousands of others did believe, but still also cherished their Jewish way of life and the Law of Moses. Because the unbelieving saw the believers as heretics of the worst degree, and Paul the worst of the worst, the Holy City had become a hostile environment for Paul’s contingent of converted Jews, Greeks, and Christian Gentiles.
Agabus knew the city was struggling in other ways, as well. He knew, for instance, that assassins were active in and around the Temple area. He knew that members of the Jewish aristocracy sympathetic to Roman rule were being murdered. He knew crescent-shaped daggers had become the weapon of choice for heavily robed Hebrew nationalists, and he knew that instability existed within the ranks of Roman officials charged with keeping Jerusalem quiet, riot-free, and willing to pay her tax tributes to Caesar.
Those taxes helped continue Caesar’s oppression over Israel, Agabus knew this.
It is with this wealth of knowledge and a willingness to serve God that Agabus prophesied over Paul the same message others had relayed previously; namely: If you go to Jerusalem danger, persecution, and possible death await you there.
The Holy Spirit within had confirmed for Paul that this message was true. At some point, ministry for Paul became a mission fraught with danger and death, and still the Apostle would not waiver in his determination to finish his race and go in the direction that God’s holy finger pointed.
Note: Paul was not confused about what he needed to do to answer God’s call on his life and obey the Lord, Jesus.
Paul’s followers, well, they had a little less clarity concerning his calling.
What does all this mean for believers today?
1. That we need to lean in to God to hear clearly what he is saying to us at any given time, but especially when what he tells us is that obedience could mean suffering and persecution for us and/or those around us.
2. Once we have heard clearly what God wants us to do, we need to use that information to carefully sift through what others are suggesting we ought to do.
We need to ask ourselves, what motive does God have for saying what he is saying to me right now? Then we need to ask the same question about our fellows—what motives do they have as they offer their advice? The truth for us probably lies somewhere in the middle, in a place only the Holy Ghost can help us gain access to and benefit from.
Today, let’s pray for wisdom and discernment that we might understand clearly God’s message and mission for us, remembering that the safest place for any Christian to be, is in the center of God’s will.
Who has helped you sift through the confusing parts of your past? How do you handle the input you get from well-meaning Christians who don’t understand what God is asking of you?