You know, the Book of Acts also has a strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God. God sovereignly works to assure us that the Great Commission of Acts 1:8 is fulfilled. The harder the Jews work to oppose the gospel, the more effective it is, because salvation is God’s work. Several times God delivered His servants from the grasp of the Jews, of Gentiles, and even of Rome. On the other hand, God sometimes used the death of a martyr to advance the cause of the gospel. Paul knew that God could rescue him from death, but he was also assured that God might not and would use his suffering and death to bring glory to Himself.
Think about the time when Abram began to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham fully expected to complete the sacrifice. He didn’t know that Yehoveh was going to “stay his hand.” In fact, he was so intent on obeying the Lord that the angel had to grab hold of Abram’s hand!
When we to think about all these things together, it’s fairly easy to see why Paul would recognize that avoiding Jerusalem would be a departure from the will of God for his life. We can do the same thing. We can discern God’s will for our life by using the same truths that may have guided Paul. Discerning God’s will shouldn’t be any more difficult for us than to being willing to do His will. It was God’s will for Paul to face opposition and imprisonment in Jerusalem. That’s what He revealed to Paul (and others) in every city. The question was, “Will Paul persist on the path God has placed him on when doing so will involve great suffering and sacrifice?” Thank God, Paul was persistent.
One man said, “Paul’s decision to press on to Jerusalem is like the apostles’ decision to replace Judas with Matthias in chapter 1—Luke doesn’t pronounce judgment on the decision.”
I believe that it was very important for Paul to remain on the path that God had set out for him. My interpretation of this chapter and the applications I’ve made rest on my conviction that Paul correctly rejected the counsel of his beloved friends and companions to avoid Jerusalem. But even if Paul was wrong, it wouldn’t have overthrown or overruled God’s plan to take the gospel all the way to Rome. And it was indeed God’s plan to take the gospel to Rome:
“He told them, ‘You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth’” —Acts 1:7-8
“The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Have courage, for just as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome’” —Acts 23:11
There are those who flatter themselves by believing that the fulfillment of God’s plans and purposes were dependent on their faithfulness. Not at all. Certainly our joy and our rewards are the result of our faithfulness, but God’s purposes don’t hang in the balance. Thank God for that! Peter denied his Lord, and he deeply regretted it, but that didn’t keep our Lord from going to the cross, dying for lost sinners, and rising from the dead. Judas’ betrayal didn’t thwart the purposes of God, either. The choice of Matthias didn’t in any way prevent God from raising up Paul to become the apostle to the Gentiles. Even if Paul’s decision to go to Rome was wrong (and I don’t think it was), God’s purposes were realized anyway. The gospel did go on to Rome. Our unfaithfulness affects us and our relationship with our Father, but it doesn’t sabotage the plans and purposes of God. What a wonderful and comforting thought that is.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Story of Acts