From Bad to Worse

Why do things sometimes go from bad to worse?Paul before Festus

Have you ever exerted great effort to prevent a problem from occurring, only to have it develop into an even worse situation?

When the apostle Paul arrived in Jerusalem, the elders greeted him warmly, and Paul reported to them all what God had been doing through his ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 21:19). They rejoiced over the news. Then they explained to Paul that many thousands of Jews had also believed and were very zealous for the Law. "They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses . . . . They will certainly hear that you have come" (vv. 21-22).[1]

They advised Paul to join with four other men in purification rites so that everyone would know that Paul, himself, was still living in obedience to the Law, so Paul did as they had suggested, and what was the result? Some Jews saw Paul at the temple and stirred up a crowd against him. The whole city was soon in an uproar; people seized Paul, intending to kill him. Although Roman troops intervened, Paul was arrested. His best efforts to avoid trouble actually backfired!

How did Paul respond to his predicament?

He recognized that God was in control of his situation and that He had allowed it for a purpose. Paul asked the Roman commander for permission to speak to the crowd. Then he stood before the mob and said, "Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense" (Acts 22:1).

You might think that Paul would tell them all the reasons why they should not be attacking him. Instead, he shared his testimony with them, explaining how Jesus had stopped him in his tracks while he was en route to Damascus to persecute and arrest Christians. He told them that God had called him to share the gospel with all people. The crowd listened intently until Paul added, "Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles'" (Acts 22:21).

God had a bigger picture in viewImmediately, the crowd shouted, "Kill him! He's not fit to live!"

Had Paul deviated from sharing the gospel and allowed his own desires to take control, causing him to say the wrong thing? Or were his words spoken according to the will of the Holy Spirit within him? Some might conclude that the former was true. After all, if we obey God, then our situation should improve, shouldn't it?

If we read Acts 20:22-23, we discover that God had warned Paul that he would face trouble in Jerusalem. "Compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me." Paul could have avoided facing the Jerusalem mob and being arrested if he had chosen to disobey God. Instead, he chose to complete the task that the Lord had given him to testify to the gospel of God's grace.

After Paul's arrest, he spoke to the Sanhedrin.

The following night, the Lord appeared to Paul and said, "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome" (Acts 23:11).

God had a bigger picture in view than Paul's immediate release from captivity. Paul would have the opportunity to address Governor Felix and his successor, Festus; King Agrippa; the prisoners and guards on a ship headed for Rome; the people on the island of Malta, where he was shipwrecked; and ultimately, Caesar himself.

Thousands of people are in heaven today because Paul faithfully obeyed his Lord even when Paul's efforts backfired and his situation went from bad to worse.

© 2013 Howard W. Stevens

[1] All Scripture verses are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.