Paul sat in the corner of his cell, thoughts racing through his mind. Just this afternoon he had preached to one of the largest audiences of his life in his beloved Jerusalem. The results had been less than he had hoped for, however. After preaching in numerous Gentile cities, he had hoped to convince his own people, the Jews, to place their faith in Christ. Instead the opposite had happened: He had been perceived by them as an enemy–one set on destroying their faith.
Paul saw Jesus as the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. However, he had been unable to convince many of his fellow Jews who saw him as an evil threat who had defiled their holy temple. He had written prior to his journey to Jerusalem that, “I take pride in my ministry. In the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people [the Jews] to envy and save some of them.” (Romans 11:13,14 NIV). It was this desire to see Jews place their faith in Christ that had brought Paul to Jerusalem in spite of prophetic warnings that this mission was dangerous. Now his chances were not looking good!
Paul looked at the walls, ceiling, and floor of his cell. Was there a way of escape? A point of weakness? He still had his knife. Could he plunge it into some crack? He climbed up on the wooden stool to examine the barred window. At that moment, Paul heard the footsteps of the approaching jailer! A large burly man appeared: his muscles bulged in his bare chest and arms, and a large sword hung from his belt. He clunked along slowly as he checked the lock of each cell. Paul hopped down from his perch and huddled in the corner. The jailer stopped at his cell and stared long and hard before resuming his patrol. Paul shivered. A man of small stature, his power was in his words, not in his physique. He was no match for the well-armed jailer. Finally, when he could no longer hear the jailer’s footsteps, he stood again to check his cell. Another commotion was beginning just out of his sight. He recognized it as the sound of many marching feet. A phalanx of sixteen Roman soldiers marched past his cell.
Paul again slumped to the floor. There was certainly no physical way out of this cell. How could he get out? This was clearly the danger that had been prophesied. Despite the danger, he had come to Jerusalem. Although he had been careful to do everything to conform to the laws of the Jewish faith, his actions had been misunderstood. He was being falsely accused. He didn’t care about his own reputation, but this was a threat to his ministry. He couldn’t preach in this cell. He had a calling to fulfill! What was God’s plan?
Faces from the crowd began to come to mind, and he began to think harsh, hateful thoughts toward them. They were the face of the enemy, set to prevent the masses from placing their faith in Jesus! But then he received a revelation which he would record several years later in his letter to the Ephesians. “We are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, …and against evil spirits in heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12 NlT The real enemies were the spirits arrayed against the way of Christ. He realized that when he thought hateful and fearful thoughts toward the men who were controlled by the evil spirits, that he was contributing toward the same spirits, causing this evil force to increase. Several years before God had instructed Paul to write: “We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy fake arguments.” 2 Corinthians 10:4 NLT. “Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” Romans 12:21.
He also remembered a similar situation when he and Silas had been imprisoned in Philippi. They had begun to pray and to praise! An earthquake had resulted. The jail had opened, and the jailer had been converted to Christ. (Acts 16:17-34) This time Silas was elsewhere, and Paul was on his own. Never-the-less he began to praise God for everything that he could think of, even for this opportunity to trust God while being persecuted. There was no earthquake this time, but he was assured that he would have the opportunity to bear witness of Christ not only here in Jerusalem but also in Rome! He knew that “All things work together for good to those who love God to those who are called according to [God’s] purposes.” Romans 8:28. This difficult situation would somehow be used by God for good.
At that very moment, Paul’s sister, Ruth, and her twelve-year-old son, Nathan, were attending the synagogue. As they left, they could not help overhearing the men gathered in one corner of the courtyard: “We have taken a vow not to eat until this interloper has been dispatched. Let us go and ask the authorities to bring him to the chief priests and elders. While he is on his way, we will kill him. ” (Acts 23:12-14)
Ruth and Nathan rushed home where she prepared a nutritious soup, then sliced some cheese, and home-made bread. She put the food in a pack and gave it to Nathan to take to Paul.
Perhaps because of his young age, Nathan was not perceived as a threat by the jailer. After his lunch pack had been thoroughly checked, Nathan was allowed to pass down the jail corridor and enter Paul’s cell. He whispered the message of the murder plot while Paul ate the bread and drank the broth. Paul called the jailer and asked him to take Nathan to the commander. He prayed God’s protection over the boy, and Nathan bravely left with the burly jailer.
(Would the boy’s message be enough to save Paul from certain death? Would Paul’s praise and prayers from his prison cell be heard and honored by God? The conclusion of the story comes next week.)