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wrestling in the snow December 9 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading: Acts 20:7-38; 21:1- 23:1

Courage and Wisdom in Adversity

Holiday times can bring fun to some but adversity to others. Whether they are family members or acquaintances, sometimes we are not liked because we are religious or because we do not have the same convictions as they have. The Apostle Paul was not liked by some people. In fact, the Jewish leaders hated him and plotted against him to take his life. Yet, Paul had an assignment to fulfill, given to him by God. What he did when he faced adversity will help us as we follow his example.

Paul’s assignment was to return to Jerusalem with the contributions he had collected from the churches of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) to bring relief to the poor believers there (1Corinthians 16:1-4; Romans 15:26). Jews in Jerusalem persecuted followers of “The Way,” the term used of believers because they were followers of Jesus. The Jewish leaders considered them to be a religious cult. They were a threat to Jewish traditions and Jewish heritage and their influence in the Roman government. They were hated. Because of this, it is likely that they neither allowed nor carried out commerce with the Christians in Jerusalem. Paul’s mission was to go into hostile territory to help them.

The dangers were very real. While Peter tried to keep the Jewish traditions, Paul did not. Paul was a missionary to the Gentiles (non-Jews), who were considered no better than mangy curs (despicable dogs). Paul was once a zealous Pharisee, but the Jews thought that he turned into a traitor when he became a Christian. Now he was coming back to Jerusalem and was considered an enemy. The outcome of his trip to Jerusalem looked bleak.

Along the way to Jerusalem there were dire prophecies made about Paul. Prophets told him he would be bound and persecuted in Jerusalem. His Christian brothers and sisters pleaded with him not to go. Still, Paul was not dissuaded from his mission. Why did the Holy Spirit give the prophecy to the prophets if not to stop him? One possible answer is that he gave the prophecy so that others might support Paul in prayer. We need our comrades to encourage us in the days of battle.

How did Paul encourage himself? On the way to Jerusalem Paul told the Ephesian elders (pastors),

And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-- the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace, (Acts 20:22-24, NIV).

Paul was compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. God’s assignments are not always easy. Though he would suffer hardships, Paul steeled himself in the face of probable persecution so that he might complete the task that God had given him. This was not confidence in himself; his confidence was in God, as he would soon tell the believers in the city of Philippi (Philippians 1:6).

When Paul arrived in Caesarea, Paul answered concerns for his safety. He said to the believers there, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus,” (Acts 21:3, NIV). Paul was resolved to complete the task assigned to him for the sake of his commander, Jesus Christ.

When Paul entered enemy territory in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed him warmly but asked him to behave astutely. They asked him to take a vow of purity so that the rumors that Paul was persuading Jews outside of Jerusalem to behave like Gentiles would be squelched. This Paul wisely did, but it did not work for him, and Paul was thrown out of the temple. Then the Jews tried to kill Paul, but Roman soldiers saved him by arresting him and taking him away.

After Paul was arrested, he requested an audience with the Jews and was allowed to make his defense before the people. In his defense he told them he had identified with the Jews’ zealousness to protect the Jewish traditions, until he was suddenly converted to follow Christ. Then, when Paul told them God gave him an assignment to go to the Gentiles, an uprising started against Paul. The Gentiles, after all, were thought to be not worthy of God. The Roman officials did not understand what caused such an uproar, but for Paul’s safety and until they figured out this issue, they bound him and brought him back into the barracks. To keep order they intended to beat him, but Paul used the clout of his Roman citizenship to prevent them from doing it. Paul was shrewd. By example, we might learn from Paul that God wants us to use our minds to deliver ourselves whenever possible. He wants us to be as wise as snakes, though harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16).

The next day, the Romans brought Paul before a Jewish council to settle the matter of the uprising. When Paul realized he was sitting amongst Pharisees and Sadducees, Paul caused a theological riff between them, and so much so that once again he had to be brought under Roman protection. Once again, Paul used the mind God had given him to deliver himself.

Was God with Paul? Yes. Paul was protected and delivered from further harm. The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome,” (Acts 23:11, NIV).

Lessons to live by: We can exercise courage and wisdom in days of adversity by

  • Recognizing that sometimes God calls us to complete difficult assignments.
  • Encouraging ourselves in the Lord, seeing the necessity of the task, steeling ourselves in our commitments, and engendering some prayer support from our comrades in the faith.
  • Using the intelligence that God gave us to fight, win, or deliver ourselves as God leads us.
  • Are you a follower of Jesus? Not only does he offer you forgiveness, peace, and new life; He can also give you courage and wisdom in adversity (more...).

Today’s memory verses: Acts 20:24 “…I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-- the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.” (NIV)

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