Summary: Paul trying to bring peace produced as much violence that we see anywhere in the New Testament. The whole plan backfired, and now Paul is the most hated man in town.
When Irving Berlin visited London as a young man he gave the doorman at the station the largest
tip of his life. He did it because when he held the door open for him he was whistling, "Alexander's
Ragtime Band." That was Berlin's first big hit. That doorman was in the right place at the right time
doing the right thing.
On the other hand, there was Mike Maryn in Chicago who had been mugged 83 times in 5 years.
He had been mugged by men, women, and by youth. The police didn't know why. All they could
say was, "He happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Paul gives us a picture of another possibility, and that is of being in the right place at the wrong
time. He was in the temple doing good, but he was recognized by an enemy who started a riot. Paul
got into serious trouble even when he did everything right. There are those who dispute whether Paul
was right in coming to Jerusalem. Ray Stedman, for example, is convinced that Paul made a major
mistake in his stubborn determination to come to Jerusalem. He was warned by people led of the
Spirit, and he should have given heed to their warnings. He didn't do so, and it led to two years of
imprisonment in Caesarea and three years imprisonment in Rome. It was all unnecessary waste says
Stedman, and so Paul's problems could have been prevented had he been open to friendly advice.
The problem with such criticism of Paul is that is ignores the fact that Acts 20:27 says that Paul
was compelled by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem, and that he was fully aware of the risks that
awaited him. We have to accept the testimony of God's Word and see that Paul was in the center of
God's will. He was doing what was good and right, and yet was nearly buried under an avalanche of
problems. Joseph Parker feels that the church leaders were the ones making a mistake in expecting
Paul to have to prove himself to the Jewish Christians. Paul was God's man, and the Holy Spirit had
used him mightily to open up the Gentile world to the Gospel. What business was it of there's to
impose their ceremonial nonsense on Paul?
It is easy to feel this way for us who are Gentiles, but the fact is, Paul did not present one word of
resistance. This man of deep conviction, who withstood Peter to his face on an issue where Peter was
falsely compromising, did not say a word to this proposal for peace, but he calmly cooperated. Who
has the authority to call this a mistake? Paul was seeking unity with the largest Christian church in
the world, and the headquarters of Christianity. It was a sensible move. Paul recognized when there
were times when you have to cooperate with fellow Christians on issues over which you disagree, but
which are not vital to salvation.
I think of Billy and Ruth Graham. Here is the world's most famous Baptist married to a
Presbyterian. Many of Billy's friend urged Ruth to be re-baptized by immersion. In spite of the
pressure she declined. So Billy has had to live with love, and cooperate with a wife who has a
different conviction from his own. It is probably led to some problems, but it has also opened up
doors for him in different denominations. Problems are not a valid criteria by which we judge the
rightness or wrongness of actions, or the success or failure of a plan. You cannot say that if you do
all that God wills that there will be no problems. That does not fit reality.
Paul's life was problem oriented from the moment he stepped on to the stage of history. He was
a major problem to the Christians as he persecuted them. He then became a major problem to the
Jews when he was converted. He was always somebody's problem, and so he had problems wherever
he went. He was in Jerusalem as a peacemaker, and he was in the temple proving he was a lover of
the Jewish heritage, and still he became the center of a vicious riot that almost ended his life. He was
trying to solve a problem and became the cause of a larger problem. Erick Sevareid was right when
he said, "The chief cause of problems is solutions."
Paul was not causing a problem because he was a proud and presumptuous Christian who thought
he was above the law. He was not like the one who was driving an evangelist down the streets of Los
Angeles when the evangelist shouted, "You are going down a one way street the wrong way!" He