As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, This is what the Holy Spirit says: In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.
This is a rather painful scene. At Caesarea they came into the home of Philip the evangelist. There Agabus, a prophet of the Lord, in a dramatic, visual way, took Paul’s sash from around his waist and bound his own feet and hands, and said, This is what the Holy Spirit is saying to you, Paul. If you go on to Jerusalem, this is what will happen to you. You’ll be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles. They will bind you, and you’ll be a prisoner.
This was the last effort made by the Holy Spirit to awaken the apostle to what he was doing. Agabus was joined in this by the whole body of believers. The whole family present urged him not to go, Luke included. We read in verse 12, When we had heard this, we and the local residents begged him not to go up to Jerusalem. So even his close associates recognized the voice of the Spirit, to which the apostle seemed strangely deaf. He refused to listen.
And in Paul’s reply to them we can detect that, without quite realizing what has happened, he has succumbed to what today we call a martyr complex. Paul said in verse 13, What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. These words are brave and sincere and earnest. He meant every word of them. We can find no fault with the bravery and courage expressed in those words. But it was not necessary for him to go, and the Spirit had told him not to go.
Here we see what can happen to a man of God when he is misled by an urgent hunger to accomplish a goal which God has not given him to do. The flesh had deceived Paul and evidently he saw himself as doing what the Lord did in his final journey up to Jerusalem. The Gospel accounts say that Jesus steadfastly set his face to go there, determined to go against all the pleading and the warnings of his own disciples. Paul must have seen himself in that role. But Jesus had the Spirit’s witness within that this was the will of the Father for him, while Paul had exactly the opposite. The Spirit had made crystal clear that he was not to go to Jerusalem.
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When Paul refused to be persuaded his friends said, Well, may the will of the Lord be done. That is what you say when you do not know what else to say. That is what you pray when you do not know how else to act. They are simply saying, Lord, it is up to you. We can’t stop this man. He has a strong will and a mighty determination, and he’s deluded into thinking that this is what you want. Therefore, you will have to handle it. May the will of the Lord be done.
Father, thank you for recording so faithfully even this failure by the apostle. It is so helpful in letting me see how I must rely not upon the arm of the flesh but upon the arm of the Spirit. Teach me to walk in obedience, Lord, and not to venture out upon that which would be merely the fulfillment of a great desire on my part.
The guidance of the Holy Spirit is intimate and personal, yet he often uses godly counsel from others to validate God’s will. Are we learning to be alert to the inner witness while open to confirmation from our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ?