God is in the Detail | Fiona Dorman
On to Jerusalem
1 After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. 2 We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. 3 After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. 4 We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. 5 When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. 6 After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home.
7 We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day. 8 Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. 9 He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.
10 After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, ‘The Holy Spirit says, “In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.”’
12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, ‘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.’ 14 When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, ‘The Lord’s will be done.’
15 After this, we started on our way up to Jerusalem. 16 Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples.
Paul’s arrival at Jerusalem
17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: ‘You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.’
26 The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.
27 When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, 28 shouting, ‘Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.’ 29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)
30 The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. 31 While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.
33 The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. 35 When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. 36 The crowd that followed kept shouting, ‘Get rid of him!’
Paul speaks to the crowd
37 As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, ‘May I say something to you?’
‘Do you speak Greek?’ he replied. 38 ‘Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?’
39 Paul answered, ‘I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.’
40 After receiving the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic:
God in the Detail
Many exciting things happen in the account Luke writes of the early Church, but the first part of chapter 21 is rather a flat account of travelling from one place to another. Paul and Luke say goodbye to some, hello to some others – it reads like a few weeks’ pages from a diary.
And yet reading between the lines, we can see that God is there in all the details. The journeys themselves might be tedious, getting on and off cargo boats, but God is moving among his people. Disciples open to the Holy Spirit have sensed that all will not be well for Paul in Jerusalem, and beg him not to go. Men, women and children gather with them on the beach to pray for their journey. We read of Philip the Evangelist, whose four daughters had the gift of prophesy. And then another prophet, Agabus, demonstrates what God is showing him about Paul’s future.
We also read of Paul’s own understanding of the prophesies: not as warnings to stay away from Jerusalem but simply as a prediction to prepare him for what he will suffer. And he is able to teach the disciples more about the self-sacrificial path of discipleship and trust in Jesus, as they share their sense of what God is saying to them.
Most of us lead quite ‘ordinary’ lives day to day. Our diary entries probably don’t look very exciting for the most part. But do we notice God working in our lives when it’s just a steady plod through the week? We must remember that the living, dynamic Creator is not just at work in the big life-changing events, but in every detail of our lives. God is in the detail of our to-do lists, our work, our families, our friendships. He is there when all we are doing is keeping going.
Thanks to Jesus, we are able to turn and see this reality: the grace and power of the Holy Spirit infusing every detail of our lives. He has opened the way for us to experience God the Father’s love day by day. Developing a rhythm of prayer helps us to open our eyes to this reality even in the most ‘ordinary’ of days and weeks. And that can prepare us for when a life-changing event might throw us off course, and keep us close to the One who loves us.