Joseph, Jesus and Paul: Warnings of Danger and Strategic Wisdom
John C. Rankin (February 18, 2008)
When we read the Gospels, we see the angels of God warning Joseph to watch out for certain dangers, and we see Jesus perceiving danger and moving out of its way, while also skirting it ever so closely, until it was his timetable to go to Jerusalem. When we read Acts, we see the Holy Spirit warning Paul of certain dangers, and Paul heeds the warnings while also embracing the necessary dangers in his Spirit-led agenda to go to Jerusalem and Rome.
A robust biblical theology understands the sovereignty of the Creator, Yahweh Elohim, and the fullness of his investment in Adam and Eve as his image-bearers. They were given authority over the creation, under Yahweh, with freedom to govern accordingly. We are neither puppets of a capricious deity as with pagan religion; nor are we abandoned to our own license in a cold and hostile universe as with a secular worldview. The biblical reality is that Yahweh is sovereign, thus we in humility are able acknowledge our thankfulness for the gift of life with its many blessings, and worship him. The biblical reality also is that we are made free by the sovereign Yahweh to be fully responsible in all our actions, reaping what we sow as we experience his infinite nature of creativity and order given into our finite frames. This balance is the only basis for a healthy human psychology.
The first Adam had full authority over creation, reneged on it when he did not judge the ancient serpent, and Jesus as the second Adam restores that authority to us in a still broken world. To grow in the knowledge of this authority is key to an overcoming Christian life.
In Matthew 2:13ff, an angel appeared to Joseph, warning him to flee to Egypt to protect the young Jesus, Mary and himself from the coming rampage of King Herod. Then, upon returning from Egypt after Herod’s death (vv.19ff), Joseph was warned in a dream to settle in Galilee (next to the Gentiles), and thus away from Herod’s son Archelaus. He follows through in thus acting wisely.
In the gospels, Jesus was relentlessly opposed by the religious and political elitists, as they sought to kill him. But Jesus was not going to let it happen until he was ready to die as the Passover Lamb, outside the walls of Jerusalem, on his timetable. Thus, on many occasions, he changed his travel plans so as not to allow his enemies to arrest and kill him ahead of time. This is especially the case in the gospel of John. In John 2, Jesus comes to the feast in Jerusalem, but only in a way so as not to draw too much publicity. In John 6:15, Jesus withdraws from the crowd so as not to be forcibly made king by the people. In John 7:1ff, Jesus purposely stays away from Judea and Jerusalem, knowing that certain Jewish elitists were waiting to take his life. But then later he comes on his timetable, without the public fanfare that so often followed him. This did lead to a conflict where his enemies tried to arrest him, but in the face of his authority, “no one laid a hand on him” (7:44).
And in John 8:59, after Jesus declared he was the I AM, and his enemies tried to stone him, “Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.” In John 10:31, his enemies tried again to stone him, but he thwarted their intent with his words; then in v. 39, “again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.” Finally, when Jesus was arrested — on his timetable en route to the cross — as he speaks the words, “I AM” (he), Judas, the officials from the chief priests and Pharisees, along with the detachment of soldiers “drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:6). True power is powerful when used wisely, and this we see in Jesus.
In Acts 16:6ff, Paul was warned by the Holy Spirit not to travel to the province of Asia and neighboring Bithynia, and instead had a vision to go to Macedonia. In Acts 18, in the face of opposition in Corinth, Paul was encouraged to stay and minister in the city, as the Lord spoke to him in a vision, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (18:9-10). In the riot at Ephesus (20:23ff), Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but his friends and the local officials persuaded him otherwise.
In Acts 21, Paul’s friends urged him not to go to Jerusalem, and the prophet Agabus (vv.10-11) warned him of the imprisonment that awaited him. But it was God’s will for Paul to testify in both Jerusalem and Rome, so he went, knowing the cost (see Acts 9:15-16; 23:11). As he did, he was repeatedly opposed by certain Jews from the province of Asia (where the Spirit prevented him from going earlier), and they set up many plots to ambush and kill him. So the Lord used the warning not to go to Asia, Paul’s false arrest, and his appeal to Caesar, to give Paul the protection of the Roman soldiers, thus enabling him to testify in both Jerusalem and Rome, and complete his calling.
In other words, this slice in the New Testament shows us the leading of the Holy Spirit, mediated as well by angels, where God’s sovereignty and human moral agency work together. We are to be led by the Spirit (John 3:8), and too, we are to “be shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).