Paul was steadfast in his goal; he was going to Jerusalem (Acts 21:13) and when he arrived, he met with mixed reviews.
First they met acceptance (Acts 21:17): the brothers welcomed Paul and his companions warmly. Don’t miss Luke’s terminology, he said when “we” arrived. We might not have faulted his friends if they did not go to Jerusalem with Paul. He was intent on going to Jerusalem, but his companions could have told him to go on ahead if you want to, but we’re not going! You can throw a rock at that hornets’ nest but I’m not going to stand around here while you do it. But they went with him. It’s almost like Thomas when he said, “Let us go on to Jerusalem that we may die with him” (John 11:16). They knew trouble awaited Jesus and they went anyway, same here with Paul.
When he got there, they might have talked a long time since Paul reported in detail all that God had done (Acts 21:19). Their reaction was to praise God, notice they did not praise Paul (Acts 21:20). Have you been warmed and rejuvenated with passion after hearing stories from the mission field?
Next, they met apprehension; they had a little good news, bad news scenario. First the good news, many Jews had believed (Acts 21:20). The bad news was that they were zealous for the Law and believed that Paul taught people they should not live according to Jewish customs (Acts 21:21). So in this situation, they’re saved, but they’re also mad. James must have been in a tough spot caught in the middle. How many times have you been stuck in the middle with believers you love on both sides of an issue?
In this situation, what they were saying was not even true. If people wanted circumcision, they could practice it, but Paul said it had nothing to do with salvation. We might expect unbelievers to misunderstand our theology, but believers can also be fairly cruel. Remember things like the inquisition? Like Paul, we must also seek common ground between differing parties, and we need to remove any barriers or obstacles to people finding faith in Christ. Let’s build witnessing relationships but still maintain our biblical standards.
Paul also met accusation (Acts 21:27) when the troublemaker Jews from Ephesus arrived; remember the guys who started the riot (Acts 19:8-9)? The entire city is in an uproar and they wanted to beat him to death (Acts 21:30, 31). What’s interesting, is that God used Roman unbelievers to rescue people, and they saved his life!
Application: Life can often send things our way that are not on the scheduled itinerary; I call this life unscripted. It just might come down to faith in the One who holds us in the palm of his hand. We want things to go smoothly with no pain, suffering or hardship, but that is not what is promised. God promises to go through life with us, not necessarily to deliver us from the suffering. Paul even prayed that he would not only know Christ, but to also share in the fellowship in his sufferings (Philippians 3:10). Are you at the point where you can accept whatever life or the world throws at you? Can you praise God in the midst of suffering? Can you praise him in the storm? Are you willing to worship God because it is the right thing to do and he deserve it, or do you follow him because of what you get out of it (primarily heaven at the end of this life)? Are there people in your life who will stand by you in the midst of suffering and pain rather than run from it in self-preservation?