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"The captain came up and put Paul under arrest. He first ordered him handcuffed and then asked who he was and what he had done. All he got from the crowd were shouts, one yelling this, another that. It was impossible to tell one word from another in the mob hysteria, so the captain ordered Paul taken to the military barracks. But when they got to the Temple steps, the mob became so violent that the soldiers had to carry Paul. As they carried him away, the crowd followed, shouting, 'Kill him! Kill him!'" Acts 21:33-36 (The Message).
How many times had Paul been in a similar situation? In almost every city he had preached in, he had faced being lynched, either by Jews or enraged Gentiles stirring up violence against him for some perceived grievance. This was religious bigotry at its worst.
His ploy to appease the opposition hadn't worked. They were not taken in by his shaved head and pathetic attempt to convince them that he was a good Jew. His reputation had gone before him and it took only one tiny spark of hatred to set the whole city alight. Roman soldiers or no Roman soldiers, the mob was determined to get him this time, once and for all.
It was only divine intervention that could save him, and it came to him in the form of Roman authority which, at this moment, was on his side. This little Jewish colony was a constant thorn in Rome's side. There had to be a strong military presence here to keep the volatile crowd from erupting over any little religious nit-picking especially when it came to the issue of Jesus of Nazareth.
Some thirty years before, representatives of the city had made their choice. 'His blood be upon us and upon our children,' they had yelled at Pilate. Not only had they chosen to speak for themselves but they had also implicated their descendants in their decision to reject their Messiah and consign themselves to the unbelief that has dogged their nation down the centuries.
For Paul there was one tiny light at the end of the tunnel -- Rome. He was not going to die here at the hands of the Jews, no matter their intention, because God had assured him that he would testify to His grace in Rome. As scary as his situation was, he was assured of divine protection and he could rest in the presence and promise of God.
"When they got to the barracks, and were about to go in, Paul said to the captain, 'Can I say something to you?'
"He answered, 'Oh, I didn't know you spoke Greek. I thought you were an Egyptian who not long ago started a riot here and then hid out in the desert with his four thousand thugs.'
"Paul said, 'No, I am a Jew, born in Tarsus. And I'm a citizen still of that influential city. I have a simple request. Let me speak to the crowd.'" Acts 21:37-39 (The Message).
Surprise! The Roman captain thought he had to do with yet another marauding gang leader, not an educated, Greek speaking, respectable citizen of an influential city in the Roman Empire. That put a different slant on things. God was slowly building His protective shield around Paul, growing respect for him in the heart of the Roman captain which would stand him in good stead in days to come.
Once again Paul was learning that the safest place to be was in the will of God because he was untouchable in the worst of circumstances as God's plan for him unfolded. When
David was a fugitive from the murderous hatred of Saul, he also experienced a safe place in God. To Abiathar, son of the murdered priest, Ahimelech, he said, "'Stay with me, don't be afraid. The man who is seeking your life is seeking mine also. You will be safe with me.'' 1 Samuel 22:23 (NIV).
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