Pastor Miles DeBenedictis
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“But the following night the Lord stood by him,” by Paul, “and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness at Rome.’
“And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and they bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. Now there were more than forty who had formed this conspiracy. And they came to the chief priests and to the elders, and said, ‘We have bound ourselves under a great oath that we will not eat anything until we have killed Paul.’ Now you, therefore, together with the council, suggest to the commander of the Romans that he, Paul, be brought down to you tomorrow, as though you were going to make further inquiries concerning him; but we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”
Lord, we pray that You’d give us insight and application as we look at this passage of Scripture. You can almost sense, at the end of these words, like hearing from the old movies, “Dun, dun, DUN.” Lord, this…the plot thickens. So, we pray, God, that You would minister Your grace, that You would speak to us, that You’d help us to make application from this passage, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. And all God’s people agreed, saying, “Amen.”
You can be seated.
It was probably more than ten years ago now, I think, it was on a Saturday night, and I was here late at the church getting ready for some stuff for Sunday morning, and I was leaving the office, and my car was parked down here in the lower parking lot. And, as I was going to the lower parking lot, it was, you know, pretty late – 11:00 at night, or so. And, about a dozen or more Humvees, military vehicles, with flashing blue lights, started coming down El Norte Parkway here. And then this huge semi-truck with a flatbed, and a big old wooden crate box – you’ve seen those big wooden crate boxes – on the back of this flatbed, and then more military vehicles behind it with flashing lights. And there’s all these armed personnel inside these things. And you’re going, “Wow!! What’s goin’ on?! What are they moving…all these guys?!” It was one of those times when you want to get in the car and kind of follow at a distance, like kind of “Peter-style,” following at a distance, see what’s going on. Well, you know that you’re not supposed to do that sort of thing, but you wonder, when you see all of this, “I wonder where they’re going, I wonder what they’re doing?” You start, your imagination starts to go, “I wonder what’s in that crate?” And I’m sure it was, although my imagination was going, I’m sure it was something completely different than what I was thinking about. But when you see a movement like that, a troop movement, if you will, there’s something about it that’s just incredibly striking, and you wonder, “Man, there’s something cool that’s going on.” Especially for guys; the gals would be like, “Oh, my goodness, they’re in the way,” or something like that. But, the guys are like, “Ooh, what is going on?” You know, they all want to follow and like, “Ooh, they got something cool in that container.”
As we’re going to see in our passage of Scripture here this morning, this is one of those instances, because as the story unfolds here in Acts Chapter 23, we will see an awesomely significant movement of troops, Roman troops, from Jerusalem down to Caesarea – nearly 500 soldiers that are going to move. As you do the calculations, there’s 470 of them; almost an entire cohort of Roman soldiers are going to be moving from Jerusalem down to Caesarea, in the cover of night, in the middle of the night, and guys with spears and swords, and guys on horses. And when you look at this large movement, one tenth of a Roman legion moving from Jerusalem to Caesarea, if you were to see this, you would have thought, “Man, there is something big that is going on.” You would never imagine that this entire group of soldiers was given for the protection of one guy – a Jewish man, born of Roman birth, Roman citizenship – to move him from Jerusalem down to Caesarea. You’d never even contemplate that that is what is going on. You would think, “These guys have something big that they’re going to defend the region against.” But instead, they’re just moving one guy.
And so, God, in His awesome providence, is going to do something that, even though it’s very natural, there’s a supernatural nature to what is naturally taking place here in this passage. And you almost, when you see this, as we’re going to in just a few minutes, you almost sense the sense of humor of God in this, that here is this one guy – His guy – who, representative of the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, is now being protected by an earthly kingdom, because they don’t want this guy taken out, so, an incredible thing that happens here in this passage.
As we left off in our study, we’ve seen previously that Paul had been rescued – maybe not the best word – but rescued by some Roman soldiers there in Jerusalem, as he came up to Jerusalem during the time of the Feast of Pentecost, right about this time of year. As he went up to Jerusalem during the time of Pentecost, and there arose a group of people that were crying out against the Apostle Paul because they believed that he had brought Gentiles into the temple, which would have been against Jewish custom and law. And so they drag him outside of the temple, and they’re preparing to kill him, they’re preparing to beat him to death right there. And the Romans move in; about 200 Roman soldiers move in, and they take Paul, they pull him out of this, and they wrongly assume what his identity is. We learn, as the story unfolds, previously in Acts Chapters 20 and 21, 22, that the Roman commander thought that Paul was the ringleader of a group of religious zealots that were trying to incite riots there in Jerusalem against Rome. And so he’s going to take him into the Roman barracks and have him beaten, to be examined. And as he’s going in, you remember, Paul speaks to him in Greek, and he says, “Hey, you know, can I have a moment to speak to these people?”
And the commander says, “Oh, you speak Greek. I thought you were this Egyptian guy.”
“No, I’m not that guy. Can I speak to them?”
And so, he gives him an opportunity; and Paul’s standing there in front of the Antonia fortress in Jerusalem, he speaks to this crowd of Jewish men that were wanting to kill him. And he’s probably bleeding, and bloodied, and black and blue already; and he speaks to them in Hebrew. And at a certain point in what he’s saying, the mob just starts tearing at their clothes, and yelling at the top of their lungs. And remember, the Roman commander, he doesn’t understand what’s being said, he doesn’t speak Hebrew, and so they take Paul in. “We’ve got to figure out what it was that he said.”
And, of course, as it unfolds, we see that Paul shows these guys that he’s Roman, he’s got Roman citizenship. They can’t beat him. But the commander wants to know, “Why is it that this group of Jews want to kill you?” And so he subpoenas the religious ruling council there in Judaism, in Jerusalem, to come together, and he brings Paul down. It’s like a formal arraignment, if you will. Paul is going to go and stand before this group of people.
And we saw, in our study last week, that as he’s standing before them, things are not going so well, and so he throws out that he’s a believer in the resurrection. And, once again, a riot unfolds. And again, the Romans have to go in and protect Paul. And they pull him out of this whole situation.
And then when we come to Verse 11, “But the following night the Lord stood by Paul and said to him, ‘Be of good cheer.’” I’m absolutely certain that when Paul was headed to Jerusalem – it took him about two months to travel from Corinth, in Greece, all the way around down to Jerusalem, and as he passed through Macedonia, as he passed through Asia Minor, as he passed through Syria, and then Judea – I’m absolutely certain he had no idea that something like this was going to happen. He knew that something crazy was going to be in front of him in Jerusalem, but he probably never envisioned that the Romans would be the ones protecting him. He probably never envisioned that there would be two riots in Jerusalem trying to pull him apart and beat him to death. And yet, now, here he is in this situation, he’s back in the Roman barracks. And his own countrymen, people who he knew, people who knew him, people who he once worked with when he was a Pharisee. Some people believe that he had one time been on that ruling council in Jerusalem, the one that now wants to kill him. And so there he is, seated in the barracks, in a Roman prison cell, if you will, and he’s there, not because he’s done anything wrong, as we’re going to see in this passage, but he’s there for his own protection. He’s being protected by these heathen Gentiles, the Roman army, that’s occupying Judea, and there he is for protection.
And the Lord appears to him in the night. That night, after this event took place before the Sanhedrin, Jesus comes and ministers to Paul. And we’re not told how exactly this happened. Did Paul have a dream? Did he have a vision? Did Jesus actually manifest His presence there with him? We don’t know the details of that. All we know is that Jesus appeared to Paul, He stood by Paul, and He says to him, “Be of good cheer.”
Now, we need to see, we need to note the implied reality here. When you read through the Scriptures – Old Testament and New Testament – there’s a number of times where God, through an angelic being, reveals Himself to human beings. And just about every time an angel shows up, the first words out of the angels mouth, to the person that they’re meeting, are what? “Fear not. Don’t be afraid.” Why do you think they say that? I think the people are probably scared to death. I mean, if all of a sudden an angel just appeared, and we are not given any majorly clear descriptions of angels; sometimes they appear as human beings, they appear as men, sometimes they appear in some pretty awesome description, as you see them in Ezekiel, in the Book of Isaiah. So, we don’t know how these angelic beings appear, but if you imagine – someone just appeared, and all of a sudden speaks as a representative of God – you’d probably be a little bit concerned. And so the first words are all, “Don’t be afraid.” The first thing; they just show up, and like, “Okay! All right. Hey. Calm down. Don’t pass out. I’m just here; I’m just a messenger. So don’t freak out.” So they say, “Don’t be afraid.” The implied reality is that the people are fearful.
If Jesus shows up and says to Paul, “Be of good cheer,” what do you think the implied reality is? Do you think he’s pretty cheery at this moment? I don’t think so. I think Paul’s a little bit discouraged. I think he’s probably on the border of being depressed, that here he came back to Jerusalem intending to be a witness for Jesus, intending to be received by them, by bringing this offering from Gentile Christians that are scattered throughout Galatia, Macedonia, Asia, and Greece. And he comes back, and instead of being received in any way by his countrymen, by people who knew him – I mean these people were not strangers to the Apostle Paul, he’s not a stranger to them, they knew who he was – and so instead of them receiving him, not only did they not receive him, not only do they not give him a warm welcome, they don’t even give him a cold welcome. Instead, they want to kill him. And so here he is, being protected by the Romans, inside this fortress, and I’m certain that he was discouraged. I mean, the text seems to imply that, that Jesus comes and says, “Be of good cheer. Be of good cheer.”
And so, there Paul is in this not so cheery situation, not exactly encouraged by what was going on. I think he was definitely discouraged. You see, Paul was God’s man, and he was certainly a great man, but he was not Superman. He wasn’t. He was subject to the same sort of things that you and I are. I think that sometimes we can glorify someone like the Apostle Paul, and fail to recognize that he’s just a human being like us. He’s not divine. And so he certainly was experiencing some discouragement. We know that that was part of Paul’s life previously. He speaks about that in his letter to the Corinthians. He said, “We were hard-pressed, we were so discouraged that we despaired of life. It got to the point where, just going, ‘I don’t even know if I can continue to go on.’” And so, we fail to see sometimes that that’s how Paul sometimes faced his days, faced his life.
And so here he is, discouraged, disappointed, things were not going the way that he probably hoped that they would. Even though he knew, as he was traveling throughout Greece and Macedonia and Asia, as people were saying, “Hey, chains and tribulations await you at Jerusalem,” there was probably a part of Paul that was saying, “Yeah, I know there’s some things that are in front of me in Jerusalem, but, you know what, we’ve got a good message, and God’s calling us there. So things are going to… There has to be something good that comes from this.”
And so, there the Lord appears to him in the night, stands by him. Paul speaks about a similar situation later in his life, in the very last letter that Paul will write, is the letter of 2 Timothy, and it’s right before Paul faces his final trial in Rome, it’s right before he is killed as a martyr. He was beheaded for his faith in Christ, at the end of his life. Right before that happens, he’s writing to Timothy, in 2 Timothy Chapter 4, Verse 17, he says, “No one stood by me at my final appearance before Caesar, but the Lord stood with me.” And so, similar thing happening here in Acts Chapter 23, Verse 11 – “The following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Be of good cheer, for as you’ve testified of Me in Jerusalem, so you also must bear witness at Rome.’”
And so the Lord comes to encourage him. He shows up, and He brings a word, a prophetic word that brings some form of encouragement in the midst of all kinds of circumstances that are certainly discouraging. And I don’t know that this is something we experience regularly, but there are times in our lives where God does this for us. And I know one such experience comes to my mind where the Lord showed up. Now, He didn’t come physically, He didn’t manifest His presence, but I knew, there was a sense that the Lord is here, and there was a sense that He was imparting His peace. It was almost three years ago, to the day, that my wife and I, Andrea, were over at the Emergency Room here at Palomar Hospital with our daughter, Addison, because she had drank some, she ingested some chemical cleaners. And, while we were there in the Emergency Room, and I’m sitting on the hospital bed, holding her in my arms, and they’re running all these tests, and everything. And all the circumstances, everything going on just makes you want to be frantic and hysterical. We’ve all been in situations like that before. And as I’m sitting there feeling completely helpless; I can’t do anything – you know, something’s happening to you, you can almost compute it a little bit better than when something’s happening to your, at that time, two-year old daughter. And so, there I was sitting, and it was as if, in the moment, this just peace came over me, and I knew, in the moment, that, I could sense, the Lord is here. And it was almost as if, it wasn’t audible, but it was almost as if someone spoke in my ear and said, “It’s going to be okay.” And with that simple word, “It’s going to be okay,” it was like, “Okay, I know that these are frantic situations,” but throughout the next few days, as we were transferred down to Children’s Hospital, there was that sense, “It’s going to be okay, even though right now it doesn’t seem okay, it’s going to be okay.” Any of you have ever experienced that sort of thing? The Lord just shows up, and He ministers to you. Sometimes He uses another Christian brother or sister, someone that He places in your path to speak a word of encouragement. But in this situation with Paul, it was just him, in a Roman prison cell, there in the city of Jerusalem; he’s not there because he’s done anything wrong, he’s there for his protection, and God shows up, God shows up and ministers to him.
Discouraging circumstances do not hinder the personal and private ministry of Jesus. They don’t hold Him back from coming and ministering in that situation. He stands by His servants. That’s one of the great promises that we have as followers of Jesus, that the Lord stands by His servants. He encourages them with a prophetic word, with a prophetic promise. But, point Number 1 on your outline, if you have it there in your bulletin, point Number 1:
God’s Prophetic Promise Does Not Prevent Short-term Suffering
God’s prophetic promise does not prevent short-term suffering. You see, unfortunately, there has been a teaching, that has largely grown up from our own nation, that Christians don’t suffer. There is this doctrine, which is a false teaching, it’s not supported by Scripture, that says that Christians don’t go through these sort of things. And if that’s true, than none of us here today are Christians, right? Because we’ve all experienced trials, we’ll all experience suffering. Once you’re a follower of Jesus, you put your faith in Jesus, that doesn’t mean that He now takes you out of all the difficulties that other people that don’t follow Him experience. No, that’s not true at all. If that were true, then Paul’s not a very good Christian, because here he’s suffered a lot. He speaks about his suffering in 2 Corinthians, and we see his suffering in the Book of Acts. And we see not only his suffering, but the suffering of many followers of Jesus throughout Christian history. But, even in the midst of trials that are short-term – Paul mentions that in his letters to the Corinthians, that this is a “momentary light affliction.” Now, I know, if you’re going through an affliction, a trial, a suffering moment, at this moment in your life, it doesn’t seem momentary. It seems to envelop everything about your life. There’s nothing that doesn’t go through that suffering in the moment. But Paul says to the Corinthians, “It is a momentary light affliction, and it’s working for us a far better and greater eternal weight of glory.” So Paul redirects us away from the suffering that we’re in to a prophetic promise that the Lord gives us.
So, we as Christians, although we suffer short-term here and now, we have this promise of restoration, we have this promise of salvation in the future, glorification in the future, which causes us to see, or should cause us to see, the things that we’re going through right now in a different light. The resurrection of Jesus in the past, as I said last week, and our promise of resurrection in the future affects our reality right in the moment. When we have the hope of resurrection in the future because of His death, burial, and resurrection in the past, it changes the way that we experience these things, even though it doesn’t remove us from the discomfort. It doesn’t remove us from the trial. And yet, there are Christians who think, because they’ve received false teaching, that if you’re a Christian, then you won’t go through these trials, suffering, discomfort. And sadly, there have been a number of people who call themselves Christians, who have checked out of the race, running, following after the Lord; they’ve given up on their faith, if you will, they’ve walked away from it because of discouragement, because of discomfort, because they had an expectation that, “I shouldn’t go through this.”
You know, Jesus speaks about that when He gives the parable of the sower in the Gospels. How many of you remember the first parable that Jesus spoke, the parable of the sower? The sower went out to sow seed, and some of the seed fell along the wayside, and some of the seed fell on shallow ground, and some of the seed fell among thorns. The seed that fell among the shallow ground, it says the sun came up, it sprouted up quickly, but then the sun came up and burned it out. And later on, when Jesus is describing, is explaining this story to His disciples, because a parable is a story that has spiritual significance, as He’s describing it later, He says, “Listen, the seed is the Word of God, and the ground are the hearts of men. And when that seed takes root in shallow ground, and it springs up, and it looks like it has the life of Christ, and yet the sun,” Jesus says, “of trials comes and burns it out before it can ever produce fruit.” And, you know, there have been people who started following Jesus, they started to become a part of a church family. It looked like the Word of God was taking root in their heart, but it never grew to produce fruit. Why? Because suffering came, and they said, “I was told that I wasn’t going to experience this stuff. I had an expectation that I wouldn’t go through this sort of thing.” And now, when trial came, they just said, “Aw, I give up. I give up.”
Well, you know, the Apostle Peter has a word for us on that very topic in 1 Peter Chapter 4. You can turn there if you’d like. 1 Peter Chapter 4, at the end of your Bible, right near the very, very end. In 1 Peter 4, Verse 12, Peter is talking about suffering, he’s talking about trials, and he says this – remember, he’s speaking to Christians, followers of Jesus – he says, “Beloved,” so Christians, “do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” When you go through a trial, when you experience suffering, don’t look at it and go, “Well, this just doesn’t make sense. I don’t know why I’m going through this. Christians don’t go through this.” No, that’s not what the Scripture says. Don’t think it strange, the fiery trial, which is to try you. You see, God uses those experiences, God, in His providence, has a way of using the difficulties, the trials, the suffering that the Christian faces – other non-followers of Jesus experience the same sort of things, they experience cancer, they experience the loss of a child, they experience the loss of their career, their job, they experience the loss of health, whatever it may be. Non-Christians and Christians alike experience these sort of things. And so Peter says, “Don’t think it strange,” because recognize God is using that thing in your life. He wants to use that thing in your life to try you, to prove you.”
One of the ways that God uses it in our life is to show other people who are not followers of Jesus the peace, the joy, the contentment we have in Christ because of our hope of the resurrection in whatever situation. Another way that God uses the trial in our life is to refine us, to change us, to transform us more and more into His image, to increase our patience, to increase our hope, to increase our character, which is exactly what Paul says in Romans Chapter 5. That these tribulations that try us, that we go through in this life, “they produce in us patience, and hope, and character, and that hope does not disappoint, because God has shed His love abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit of God.” That’s what it says in Romans Chapter 5, in the opening words there in this passage.
So God still allows difficulties to cross our paths, either to show His glory through us, or to manifest it in us by transforming us more into His image. So listen, Christian, if you’re going through a trial today, if you’re facing some sort of hard circumstance, recognize that the Lord wants to stand by you in that trial; He wants to remind you that we do have a great salvation, prophetically, that we’re looking forward to. But right now He wants to do a great work of glorifying Himself in your life, in and through that. And maybe it may be that the Lord wants just to see that today, so that maybe your prayers would change from, “God, take me out of this!!” to, “God, help me in the midst of this to glorify You, to bring praise to You.”
One more thing on Verse 11 – I’m spending like most of our time on one verse, this is not good to our time schedule here – but Verse 11, notice it that Jesus’ words to Paul, “Be of good cheer.” Why? Why should I be cheery? This is not a cheery situation. Because, this is why: “As you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so must also you bear witness of Me at Rome.” I’m really encouraged by this, because I am sure, based on what Jesus says to Paul, that Paul, in the moment, did not feel as though he had been a good witness of Jesus in Jerusalem. He has now had two opportunities, on this trip to Jerusalem, to stand before his countrymen, on behalf of the Lord, as an ambassador of the kingdom of heaven. And both situations, he’s been cut off from giving the Gospel by a riot, and he’s been pulled out of the situation because his own countrymen wanted to kill him. And so I’m certain that he was discouraged by this, and I’m certain that it was going through his mind, that, “Well, I failed. I didn’t do what I anticipated that I was going to do here.”
And yet Jesus comes and says, “As you have testified of Me,” or, “for Me in Jerusalem.” You see, those words from Jesus are so encouraging because the Lord does not see as we see. Sometimes we see the things that we do, we endeavor to do for the Lord and for His kingdom, as not being successful, because our measure of success was not met. And yet Jesus’ apparently was. And so He says to Paul, “Hey, you did what I wanted you to do. Your work here in Jerusalem is done, it’s done. And, I’m going to get you to Rome.” Now, these words are so important, because the next thing that Paul’s going to learn in this passage is that Rome’s a long ways away, and there’s a lot of obstacles between Jerusalem and Rome. And yet God says, “You will testify of Me at Rome.” And this was Paul’s heart’s desire. Paul wrote the letter to the church at Rome prior to this event, and in Romans Chapter 1 he says, “Listen, I long to see you, Roman Christians. I want to come there.” So Paul’s heart’s desire was to go to Rome. But he said to the Romans, in Romans Chapter 1, “I gotta go to Jerusalem first, and then I’m going to come and see you in Rome.” And now he’s in Jerusalem, and everything seems like that’s never going to happen. Have you ever had one of those situations where you go, “Well, what I thought the Lord had spoken to me, it just…that’s never going to happen.” And here God says, “Paul, as you have testified of Me here in Jerusalem, so you will testify of Me there in Rome.” Well, continuing on, Verse 12, more discouragement comes: “When it was day…” So, the following day – Jesus meets with Paul that night, says, “Be of good cheer,” the next day – “a group of Jews banded together and they bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. Now there were more than forty of them that had formed this conspiracy. And then they come to the chief priests and the elders…” And they don’t come to confess their sinful, murderous ambition. Right?
I mean, this is phenomenal. What is taking place here is so striking about the danger of mere religion, that here, these guys are filled with murderous hate – now remember, murder is a transgression of one of the ten commandments, and Jesus tells us, in the Sermon on the Mount, “Merely desiring to kill someone, or hating someone is equal, in His eyes, to murder.” So these guys have already committed the act in their hearts. They’re already guilty of murder. And yet, they come to the chief priest, the guy who is to be the overseer of the faith, the overseer of Judaism there in Jerusalem, the one who oversees the offerings and the sacrifices for sin, the one who knows what the law says. “They come to him, the chief priest and the elders, and they said, ‘We have bound ourselves under a great oath and we will do nothing, we’ll eat nothing until Paul is killed.’”
Now, you almost hope, even though you kind of know the story, you know the ship’s going to hit the iceberg and sink, you know it, but you know what’s going to happen here, and yet you want the chief priest to say, “Guys, are you crazy? Don’t you realize this is a transgression of God’s law? Don’t you see where your hearts are?” That’s what you want to happen. That doesn’t happen.
And so they said, “We bound ourselves in this. So you, therefore, we want you to be a part of it.” Chief priests, elders of Israel, Judaism, representatives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “So you, therefore, gather the council, and suggest to the commander of the Romans that Paul be brought down tomorrow, as though you were going to make further inquiry,” another, a second arraignment, bring him before, “and we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”
Not only did Paul’s countrymen not receive his testimony, but now they’ve bound themselves in this oath, in this conspiracy to kill him. Up to the highest levels of Judaism, they have conspired to kill him, to destroy him. Point Number 2 on your outline:
Sometimes The Most Religious Can Be Terribly Unrighteous
The most religious can be terribly unrighteous. In fact, at times, religious rules and regulations and rites can provide the perfect justifying excuse for our unrighteousness. Sometimes the show of religion can mask our unrighteous, wicked ambitions. I think one of the most striking examples of this is found at the trial of Jesus in John Chapter 18, because the chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, they bring Jesus down to Pontius Pilate, and it says in John Chapter 18, Verse 28, that they bring Jesus before Pilate to be condemned to die, and they’re filled with murderous hate and ambition to kill Him. And it says that they did not want to go into the Roman Praetorium because they were fearful that they would make themselves ceremonially unclean, and they couldn’t partake of the Passover that night. What?! “We want to kill Him; there’s nothing He’s done wrong. We’ve conspired and lied to have Him put to death, but we can’t step foot there because that will make us unclean, and we can’t religiously observe the Passover.” Wow!!
You see, sometimes the most religious can be terribly unrighteous. And there are ways in which we, in churches today, can cover unrighteousness with a veil of religion. And so we establish scales of righteousness, and we say, you know, you’ll hear different sort of standards that are not biblical standards, but we’ve set them up. And maybe originally they started out as good directors of morality; they started out as good directors of behavior. And so we say things like, “Well, you know, Christians, they don’t listen to secular music. And so if you want to be righteous, you don’t listen to U2 and Mumford & Sons. Never, never listen to that sort of stuff.” And so we set up these sort of things that we put over our faith. We say, “Well, real righteous people don’t do that sort of thing.” And so you can be a person who, by that standard, you say, “Well, I only listen to K-Wave. I only to K-LOVE, you know, 107.9, it’s the online radio seminary, you know.” Whatever it is. So, “I only ever listen to… Oh, you listen to that channel, do you? Oh, so what do you have on your iPod? Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness, look at this, so terrible. You’ve got the Beatles on there.” So, we get into this whole sort of thing. And we establish that you are righteous if you do this, and yet you can be gossiping about people who don’t. You can be involved in all kinds of immoral sort of behavior, looking at things on the Internet that you shouldn’t be, but, “Hey, I never go to Rated R movies, because that would be bad.” And yet, your religious standard can cover over incredible unrighteousness.
And so here we have that exact thing going on in this passage. This group of people are filled with rage, they’re filled with murderous ambition, they want to orchestrate a very public assassination of the Apostle Paul. They don’t care who dies in the collateral damage, “If there’s Roman soldiers that die in this, we just don’t care, we want him dead. And so, listen, chief priests, gather together the Sanhedrin council, call the commander of the Romans and say, ‘We want you to bring Paul down here the next day, because we need to inquire of him more fully.’ So, lie about it, and then we’ll wait, and we will kill him as he comes down.”
And when you look at this, you just say, “How is it possible that these guys could so hate this guy, Paul the Apostle, Saul of Tarsus? How could they be filled with such vitriolic hatred for him?” And we’ve got to see, point Number 3 on your outline:
If They Hate You, Know That They Hated Jesus First
If they hate you, know that they hated Jesus first. They didn’t hate the Apostle Paul; they hated the Lord Jesus; they hated that he stood on behalf of the Lord; they hated Paul because they hated Christ. As Jesus even told us, in John Chapter 15, on the very night that He would be betrayed, in John 15:18 He says, “If the world hates you, know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of this world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
Listen, Christian, if people in the world don’t like you because of your faith in Jesus, if they say you’re bigoted and you’re narrow-minded and you’re ignorant because “you don’t believe as we believe, and you don’t follow the things that we believe, and because you believe that Jesus is the only way,” if they say all those things, even though it’s not true that you’re bigoted, even though it’s not true that you’re narrow-minded, it’s just that you’ve put your faith in Jesus, just expect they’re going to hate you, not because they hate you, they hate you because they hate Christ. And these guys hated Paul for no other reason than he stood on behalf of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. And Jesus and the cross of Christ are an offense to those who are perishing. It is a stumbling block to those who are walking according to the course of this world.
Verse 16: “So when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their ambush, he went and he entered the barracks and he told Paul.” Pause there for a second. I don’t know about you, but in all of my time studying the Apostle Paul, it just never crossed my mind to think about Paul’s family. You see, most Bible scholars believe that Paul was single, that he was not married, but we never really think much about his family. At the very least, Paul had a sister who lived in Jerusalem. We don’t know her name, but Paul’s sister lived in Jerusalem, and she had a son. Paul had a nephew. It’s likely that he had other siblings. Jewish families were not single-child families; Jewish families were large families. It’s very likely that Paul had brothers and sisters, other siblings. Maybe some of them lived there in Jerusalem. Perhaps some of Paul’s brothers were still prominent Jewish individuals there in Jerusalem, and perhaps even some of his brothers did not like what had happened to their brother, Saul.
And here, Saul, Paul, his nephew catches wind of this desire, this ambush. He hears about it, and he comes to the barrack, and he comes and tells Paul. Now, this gives us some insight here, to the fact that Paul was not being held as a prisoner, Paul was being held for his protection, because his nephew could come and go into the Roman barracks and meet with Paul. So he’s not there as a prisoner, he’s there being held for his protection. And his nephew, it opens up all kinds of questions: How old was his nephew? And what was his name? And how did he find out this information? We’re not given the insight. All we’re told is that Paul’s nephew found out about the ambush, he comes and he tells his uncle Paul, “Uncle Paul, they want to kill you!!! They’ve got a plan to kill you! Here’s the plan, the whole thing!”
And so, “Paul,” Verse 17, “called one of the centurions to himself and said, ‘Take this young man to the commander, for he has something to tell him.’ And so the centurion took him and brought him to the commander and said, ‘Paul the prisoner has called me and told me to ask you that I bring this son, this child to you. And so, here, he has something to say to you.’”
Verse 19: “Then the commander took him by the hand.” Now, we’re not entirely sure, but I just have a hunch, when it says that the commander took him by the hand, that this is not an adult child, this is not even a teenager, this is probably some little kid. I imagine my son, Ethan, running in there, “They want to kill you!!”
And now, he takes him by the hand, “What is it? Come over here.” The Roman commander pulls him aside and says, “What do you have to tell me?”
“And so he said,” Verse 20, “’The Jews have agreed to ask that you bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire of him more fully. But do not yield to them, for more than forty of them lie in wait for him, men who have bound themselves by an oath that they will neither eat nor drink until they have killed Paul; now they are ready, waiting for the promise from you.’
“And so the commander let the young man depart, and he commanded him, saying, ‘Tell no one that you have revealed these things to me.’” “Tell no one that you have revealed these things to me.”
Now, could you imagine Paul receiving this news from his nephew, having not received the word from Jesus the night before? How discouraging would that have been? Here he is, in the barracks in Rome, twice now he’s had to have been rescued by the Romans because he was almost put to death by these Jewish countrymen of his own there in Jerusalem. And now he’s sitting there going, “I don’t know what I face. I know that they said chains and tribulations await me at Jerusalem, but now it’s looking not so good.” And even though Paul, in Acts 20:24, said, “None of these things move me,” you have to be pretty awesome to not be moved by 40 guys that say, “We’re going to kill you. We have our hearts set on it. We’ve got a plan; it’s orchestrated; it’s ready to go.”
And so now, there is Paul, in the Roman barracks, in Jerusalem, 40 of his countrymen, including the chief priests, have conspired to kill him, and yet God is still on the throne. God is still operative, He’s still working behind the scenes, doing things in an awesome way. And, you know, point Number 4 on your outline:
God Works In Ordinary Ways
I know some of you were thinking mysterious; that might be true, but don’t fail to recognize that God works in very ordinary ways sometimes. God works supernaturally in natural ways. And here, somehow, in some way, Paul‘s nephew heard about this. God had set it up. And Paul’s nephew was able to come and speak to Paul. There was an open door for him to come in and share this with Paul. And then the Roman commander actually listened to Paul’s nephew, this little boy that comes in, he has something to say; and now the commander takes it to heart. God can work in very ordinary ways. Yes, sometimes He works in extraordinary ways. Sometimes He works in miraculous and mysterious ways, but God still works in just very ordinary, normal circumstances. The hand of God is moving.
You see, there are three other situations in the Book of Acts alone where there are individuals in prison, where God springs them miraculously. In Acts Chapter 5, the apostles are kept by the chief priest there in a detention cell in Jerusalem, and an angel of the Lord appears and opens the doors and says, “Go and preach in the temple.” And they go. In Acts Chapter 12, Peter is in prison, Herod had put him there in prison for his witness of Jesus. And God appears to him in an angel and opens up the door and says, “Come on, let’s go.” In Acts Chapter 16, Paul and Silas are there in Philippi, in a jail, in stocks, at midnight, worshipping the Lord, and an earthquake happens, all the doors are opened, and ultimately the Lord makes it so they leave that place. So God can work in miraculous and powerful ways, but God still works in very ordinary and normal things.
Verse 23: “And so he,” the commander, “he called two centurions.” A centurion represented at least 80 Roman soldiers. So “he calls two centurions, says, ‘Prepare 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen, and 200 spearmen to go to Caesarea at the third hour of the night,’” at 9:00 at night, hours were calculated from 6:00 in the morning and 6:00 at night, so the third hour of the night, at 9:00 at night, “’I want you to get 200 soldiers, Roman soldiers in full armor, with their swords, 200 spearmen,’” Roman soldiers that not only had swords, but they also had spears about 7 ½ feet long, weighing between 7 and 11 pounds, that these guys could throw with incredible accuracy, and take out an opponent, this was like a machine gun of the first century. And so he says, “I want 200 spearmen, I want 200 soldiers, and I want 70 mounted Roman soldiers on horses.”
Why? “Are we going to war?”
“’No. We got something to do… And provide mounts to set Paul on, and bring him safely to Felix the governor,’” down in Caesarea.
“I want you to put Paul on a horse, in the middle of 70 Roman horsemen, with 200 soldiers at the front, and 200 soldiers at the back, and you’re going to take him from Jerusalem to Caesarea, 60 miles.”
Now, about two weeks before this, Paul had come from Caesarea to Jerusalem, and it wasn’t like this. Awesome.
And so then, the commander “wrote a letter in the following manner:”
Verse 26: “Claudius Lysias…” This is the name of the commander there in Jerusalem.
“To the most excellent governor Felix:
“This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them. Coming with troops, I rescued him.” I love the way this guy whitewashes history.
“I rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman.” It’s like he says, “I found out that the Jews were going to try and kill a Roman citizen, and so I went in and protected him.” That’s not quite how it happened. “I rescued him when I learned that he was a Roman, and I wanted to know the reason that they accused him, and so I brought him before their council. And I found out that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but nothing,” notice this, nothing charged against him deserving of death or chains. And when it was told to me that the Jews lay in wait for him, I sent him immediately to you, and also commanded his accusers to state before you the charges against him.
Number 5 on your outline:
God Works In Extraordinary Ways Too
God works in extraordinary ways too. I have to think that at 9:00 at night, on that night, when they set Paul on a horse, and he was surrounded by 70 Roman horsemen, with 200 soldiers at the front, and 200 soldiers at the back, that he had to kind of chuckle, and say, “God, You’re amazing!” Have you ever been in a circumstance like that, where you just look at it and you go, “I don’t know how You do it, but You do.” And here Paul is, with a full Roman escort to Caesarea. “How am I going to get out of this bind?”
“I know how you’re going to get out of this bind. Paul, I got you covered,” God says. “I got a plan.”
I wonder if, when Paul wrote to the Ephesians, and he said, “God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think,” I wonder if he didn’t think about this situation? I wonder if he didn’t go back to that night in Jerusalem, when he’s surrounded by Roman soldiers, not to kill him, but to protect him, as his own countrymen have conspired to kill him?
“And then the soldiers, as they were commanded, took Paul and they brought him by night to Antipatris,” about halfway between. “And then the next day they left the horsemen to go on with him.” So now the 70 horsemen return to Jerusalem, and now he’s with 400 Roman soldiers. “…and they returned to the barracks,” the horsemen did. “And when they came to Caesarea and had delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. And when the governor had read it, he asked from what province Paul was from,” because the letter said that Paul was a Roman citizen. “And he understood that he was from Cilicia, and so he said,” Verse 35, “’I will hear you when your accusers also have come.’ And he commanded him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium,” which, as we go on to the next chapter next week, we’ll see that Paul had the freedom to go in and out. So, he not a prisoner, he’s protected by the Romans once again, to stand trial, as he’s extradited from Jerusalem down to Caesarea.
And so he’s moved from one praetorium to the next, as we know that in the last ten years of Paul’s life, he would spend the remainder of his life in this sort of situation, this sort of scenario.
But, as we close, three things to keep in mind, three things to consider as we go from this text.
Number 1: Be careful not to cover unrighteousness with religion. Be careful not to cover unrighteousness with religion. “Oh, I go to church on Sunday. Oh, occasionally I go to Tecate with the church to serve at the orphanage. I help with children’s ministry. I give an offering. I raise my hands in church. And, because I do all those sort of things, it doesn’t matter that I’m looking at pornography. It doesn’t matter that I’m, you know, I don’t act with integrity at work. It doesn’t matter that I gyp people from time to time, that I backbite or gossip. It doesn’t matter that I’m doing this sort of thing, because I’ve covered it over with my religious service.” Be careful not to cover unrighteousness with religion.
Why? Because the Lord sees. The Lord sees, and He will judge. You know, one of those heartbreaking things that I’ve seen in ministry has happened in the last month and a half. And some of you know about it. One of the greats within Calvary Chapel; pastor of the 14th largest church in America, the largest Calvary Chapel – 20,000 people attend the church on a Sunday – Pastor Bob Coy, Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, it came out just about a month ago that he had been committing adultery with two different women. Lost his church, lost his ministry, lost… Those things don’t matter, what he’s lost is the reputation of being a man of God, giving the enemies of God the opportunity to blaspheme. Heartbreaking. And so many of my friends within Calvary Chapel just brought to tears by this, looking at this sort of thing happen. It’s dangerous, we can cover over unrighteousness with religion, and figure, “Well, I’m a pastor. Oh, well, I serve at the church. I’m an elder.”
Number 2: Be careful not to misunderstand the sanctifying work that God brings through suffering. Be careful not to misunderstand the sanctifying work that God brings through suffering. You might be suffering today, you might be going through a trial; God wants to do a work of glorifying Himself in and through that trial that you’re walking through right now. Don’t misunderstand it. Don’t think that He’s doing this because He’s mad at you. Don’t think He’s doing this because, “Aw, He just doesn’t care.” God has allowed it in your life to bring about His sanctifying work and His glorification through your life.
Thirdly: Be careful not to miss the working of God in the natural and the ordinary. Don’t fail to see God working in the little things, and to be thankful for His working, as He works in maybe not so miraculous or mysterious ways. Sometimes we’re only looking for the miraculous and the mysterious, and we think, “Well, God’s not doing anything in my life, because He’s not protecting me miraculously. Or, He’s not providing by ravens from heaven.” Don’t fail to see the hand of God in the natural and the ordinary. Amen?
Okay, let’s stand, and we’ll close in prayer as the worship team comes and leads us in one more song.
Father God, thank You for this text. Thank You for the encouragement that we can receive by just looking at what You have done in and through the lives of men and women of faith who followed You faithfully in the past. And, God, we pray that You’d help us to walk in faithfulness as well. Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, Lord, help us to run this race with, Lord, Lord, to run this race in such a way that brings glory to You. Don’t allow us to cover over unrighteousness with religion. Lord, help us to see that the thing that we’re facing right now, that’s like a speed bump or an obstacle to us, is Your tool to transform us. And, God, help us to recognize Your hand at work today, tomorrow, as we go about our business this week. God, work these things into our lives, we pray, for we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.