After the long farewell to the elders from Ephesus, Paul and his party returned to the ship and set sail. Much of this passage tells of the ports of call along the way, and in some instances of ports where Paul and his party were able to meet with other believers while the ship was loading or unloading cargo. It would seem that everywhere they went; Paul was warned not to go to Jerusalem.
Luke has not told us why Paul was so intent upon visiting Jerusalem as opposed to returning to Antioch and reporting to the elders there in the church that had actually commissioned his journey; we can only speculate about his thinking. Yet whatever his reasons were, he was determined in spite of the warnings that the Holy Spirit was giving him.
They arrived in the port city of Caesarea where a prophet by the name of Agabus gave Paul yet another warning with a dramatic illustration of what would happen to him in Jerusalem and everyone begged him once again, not to go:
When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 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.” When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.” (21:12-14)
Looking at this moment in purely human terms, it would be easy to conclude that Paul was acting rashly, that he was just being stubborn; we might even wonder if he had some kind of martyr complex. Oh I know that we really won’t confine ourselves to this moment, since we have all read further in the story of Acts, not to mention through Paul’s letters, and we know that the ultimate result was that the Gospel would go to places it might not otherwise have been, and that letters were written that are now part of the Scriptures, that might not have otherwise been written. Try to step back from all of that and ask yourself a question: If the Holy Spirit was leading Paul to Jerusalem, then why was the Holy Spirit warning him not to go there?
At this point in the story, in spite of all the nice little “Sunday school” answers we have heard over the years, there really is no way for us to know; perhaps Luke will give us some clues in the chapters that follow… or perhaps Paul was making a big mistake, and God used him to spread the Gospel anyway…
One thing however is certain, Paul’s companions finally gave up trying to talk him out of the trip, and left everything to God’s will, for they were willing, when all was said and done, to place their faith in God.
I would suggest that this is a pretty good lesson for us to learn as well.