I have an affection for these little barely-mentioned, unnamed game changers in Scripture. Shallum’s daughters, for example.
Today, it’s Paul’s nephew. His act of obedience saved his uncle’s life and gave us Acts 24-28 and the astounding books of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon*, none of which would have been written or recorded had Paul fallen prey to the Jews’ plans to kill him, outlined in Acts 23 and overheard by a ‘young man (Acts 23:22).’ Paul’s nephew.
So imagine with me for a moment, what this risky Yes to thwart the Jewish leadership’s plan must have been like for Paul’s nephew. Can I encourage you to read all of Acts 23 first?
As with other posts, this post came as the fruit of my time with God while doing a SOAP note journal entry.
Wait – WHAT is THAT?
I’m glad you asked. SOAP is an acrostic for a Bible study method developed by Wayne Cordiero. You can learn more about it at Discover One Thing here. You’ll also find daily blog entries with several Godly folks’ SOAP notes to inspire and encourage you on your own journey of getting to know God better through His Word. Join us!
S~ But Paul’s nephew—his sister’s son—heard of their plan and went to the fortress and told Paul. Acts 23:16
Instinctively, the Israelite woman reached up to touch her head, now strangely damp. The sudden move made her drop the precariously tall bundle of dyed cloth she was carrying to market. With a small curse, she looked up. Not a cloud in the sky. Where did that water come from? Not just a drip, it was enough to soak through her head covering. She looked around, but it seemed she was the only one on the deserted side street who was running this early to market. Quickly gathering up her now-dusty cloth, she hurried down the street. She didn’t hear the giggles erupt from the rooftop as she rushed away.
The two 13 year old boys punched one another in the arms as they tried to contain their guffaws. That was the best reaction yet to their game. The water jug, source of the mysterious clear-sky rain, nearly tipped over beside them.
“Wait – hush! Here comes someone else!”
“Joseph, we have to get going. Remember, we’re men now-“ his friend groaned and rolled his eyes. “People will wonder what we’ve been up to!” Joseph put a quieting hand on his friend’s shoulder and pointed. This street usually only held hurrying women on their way to market at this hour. Yet, here came a pair of priests familiar to the boys. They were in a hushed, deep conversation, and paused directly below the boys’ perch to argue.
“This is a foolish mission!” The boys lay down and stretched just to the edge of the rooftop where they could better hear. “We should allow the council to provide justice!”
“No, Simon. You know the history. They will not provide justice, and by law, this man deserves to die. We are the protectors of our faith, and Paul’s perversions are causing many to go astray. We must become justice ourselves.”
“But an ambush? While Paul is on his way to the council? How will we succeed?”
“In numbers. You know more than 40 have taken an oath not to eat nor drink until they have executed this heretic (Acts 23:12-14). God is with us…” At this point, the men continued their walk away from the boys’ hearing.
Joseph was shaking and pale. He jumped up and tried to find words.
“I need to go – I just remembered something my mom needs…” His friend narrowed his eyes at him.
“I know he’s your uncle, but-“ The friend’s argument was useless. Joseph was already scrambling down the ladder on the side of the building and running toward the fortress that contained the prison. As he ran, the Scriptures he’d so thoroughly studied in Hebrew school flew through his mind.
For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews – for Paul – from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? Esther 4:14
Is this mission that critical? Even as Joseph ran, he thought about his wise uncle. Paul’s words had radically transformed thousands, including his mother, and Joseph had quietly watched, a boy-man still easily ignored. As he listened to Paul unwrap the very Scripture he was so earnestly studying, his heart burned within him. He knew Jesus was the Messiah. He just hadn’t known what it meant for him. He remembered a quote of Jesus’ that Paul’s friend John Mark shared once.
If you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost. (Luke 14:27-28).
He knew Paul was ready to die for Jesus’ sake. It was this radical commitment that had made Joseph hesitate in his own whole-hearted surrender. Joseph had quietly been considering the cost, and now the moment was before him. Was he willing to risk his own life to save Paul, not just out of love for his uncle, but out of love for Jesus?
His legs began to burn with exertion, but he continued to run. Fear and conviction rushed through his veins as he neared the fortress. Would Paul believe him? Would any authority listen to him? The Jewish tradition now held him in the status of manhood, even though he barely had hair under his arms, let alone a beard on his face. Would a Roman guard give him more than a glance? Adonai, let the guard be young, like me. And what would he even say that might convince anyone of the truth of his words?
“O Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!”
The Lord replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” Then the Lord reached out and touched my mouth and said,
“Look, I have put my words in your mouth!” Jeremiah 1:6-9
You must go. The words pierced Joseph’s heart. It was as though the Spirit of God was speaking directly to him. He had never felt this nearness before. Peter’s Pentecost sermon, passed down among followers of The Way, resonated within his memory. He recalled the prophecy Peter quoted, the truth ringing with it, and suddenly he felt the words described him:
What you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days,’ God says,
‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
In those days I will pour out my Spirit
even on my servants—men and women alike—
and they will prophesy…
Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” (Acts 2:16-18, 38-39)
As Paul’s nephew ran, his heart cried out, I am turning to you, Jesus the Messiah. If I survive this mission, I will be baptized. I have considered the cost, and I am following You. I will change the way I live, the choices I make, the risks I take, because You risked it all for me. I surrender.
The burning in his legs did not diminish (In this world, you will have many troubles…), but somehow he didn’t care anymore (But take heart: I have overcome the world! John 16:33). No matter what the next hour held for him, he knew: his life would never be the same again.
P~ Lord, as I consider the cost of obedience to You, it is humbling that the little yeses You call me to can be such a struggle for me. This young man, barely mentioned in Scripture, risked everything to say Yes, and because of his risk, we have words spoken by Paul recorded in the Bible as God-breathed, life-giving truth. Paul’s nephew, unnamed, seemingly insignificant, was part of the weaving of Scripture itself. I am small. I am one. I am, in the world’s eyes, pretty doggone insignificant. My name may not be mentioned in a single book ever. But today, Lord, I will have hundreds of little opportunities to say Yes. Hundreds of ways to show my commitment to You, with each thought, each decision, each word, each action. These Yeses may not put my life at risk – but they may require I give up my own way, my comfort. Lord, I confess that sometimes I consider the cost and choose me over You. Today, may I be found faithful. Help me say Yes. Help me prove my love for You with every Yes today.
*Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon are considered the ‘prison epistles.’ Scholars agree these were probably written during Paul’s Roman imprisonment, which took place after the events in Acts 23.