Profiles in Courage: Paul’s Sister’s Son

Scriptures reveal how it has pleased God to use many instruments in His work. It is characteristic of His ways that at times He will employ the most insignificant vessel to frustrate the counsels of the mighty. One instance was the devoted act of Mary when she anointed the feet of the Lord Jesus (John 12). The counsels of the ungodly were that Christ must be put to death; their one provision was that it not be on the feast day (Matt 26:5). Jerusalem, crowded with pilgrims at Passover, would be ripe for a riot if, as they supposed, some of His followers were to defend Him. The intervention of the Roman guard would then have frustrated all their plans.

The counsels of men were at variance with the counsels of God. Enter Mary! Her act of devotion so infuriated Judas that he went to the chief priests and agreed to betray the Lord Jesus when it was convenient for him. The one stipulation of the leaders had to be jettisoned in light of the new-found ally within the Lord’s inner circle (Matt 26:15-16). His knowledge of the movements of the Lord Jesus would enable them to apprehend Him without a crowd being present. Mary knew nothing of the counsels made in the darkness of the council chambers of evil. God used her act, however, to fulfill His Word. It is a reminder that an act of devotion done for the Lord Jesus will always accomplish far more than the doer ever intended.

In a similar manner, the future of Christianity, humanly speaking, was at a crisis. The Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, was imprisoned. Adding to the seemingly desperate circumstances, the conspiracy by the 40 vow-takers (Acts 23:12) catapulted the crisis to “red-alert” status. Fanaticism, fueled not by devotion but by hatred, has proven a formidable foe throughout history.

The cabal was agreed upon; the plan appeared fool-proof and destined for success. Jerusalem and Judea would be rid of the man who was spreading his perfidious and blasphemous doctrines. Something of the depth of sincerity which only a fanatical mentality can produce is seen in the curse under which they placed themselves: they were not going to eat or drink until they had slain Paul (Acts 23:12, 14). Nothing short of a vow solemnized this conspiracy!

Once again, the counsels of the ungodly were at variance with the purposes of God. While Paul’s itinerant ministry would be sharply curtailed from this point on (perhaps only interrupted by a brief visit to several locations during his release between Acts 28 and 2 Timothy), the majority of his written ministry for the people of God of all ages still lay ahead. Imagine being without the epistles of Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, Philemon, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus? (We won’t argue about Hebrews here!) What invaluable teaching we would have been deprived of by the assassination of Paul.

God, however, is never at a loss or taken by surprise. There are no emergencies or crises before the sapphire throne.  The divine purposes in the past had hung on the slender thread of one life or one deed to survive. Joash (2Kings 11) is a reminder of the courage of one woman, Jehosheba, to preserve the royal seed (and the fulfillment of God’s covenant with David).

In this instance, the plot is discovered by Paul’s sister’s son. Conjecture is, at the least, limited and, at the most, dangerous, but had his sister been brought to Christ after Paul’s conversion? Was this a pre-emptive strike by God to preserve His servant? Was the young man, his nephew, saved later, as well? Did he just “happen” to be in Jerusalem? Did he just “happen” to overhear the conspirators? The wise man taught us, “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord” (Prov 16:33, KJV). Ruth’s “hap” might be to come into the field of Boaz (Ruth 2:3), but behind it was the hand of God. Paul’s nephew was not there by coincidence. Someone has aptly said that coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.

Events proceed with haste as the young man makes the information known to Paul, who in turn sends him to the centurion. It must have been with some trepidation that the young man recounted the news first to the Roman centurion, and then to the chief captain. Would the Roman believe the word of one of the despised Jews? Would he take the word of a young man, perhaps even just a lad? If it were accurate, it would entail a total change in plans and some measure of risk for the chief captain.

Fearlessly, the young man entered the presence of the chief captain, where he related his information. Similar to the young maid in Naaman’s household (2Kings 5), he told what he knew, and accomplished far more than he ever would understand. Eternity alone will reveal to him what was accomplished by his brave testimony before the centurion and his captain.

Small deeds can have momentous consequences. It required courage and faith for the little maid to speak to Naaman’s wife. But how many have been saved by reading the story of Naaman? It took courage for Paul’s nephew to divulge the plot to the Roman authorities. But once again, consider the myriads of believers who have been blessed by reading Paul’s subsequent epistles. May we be encouraged and challenged to tell what we know, do what we can, and give what we have in devotion to the Lord Jesus, conscious that while we may not see the full fruits of our deeds, they will wash up on the shore of eternity to be remembered forever.