Archive for the ‘Acts’ Category

Tell the Truth

Posted: July 14, 2019 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 24:1-23, “Tell the Truth”

Truth, sad to say, can be a rare commodity. When witnesses take the stand in a courtroom, the first thing that takes place is that they are officially sworn to tell the truth (the whole truth, and nothing but the truth) under penalty of perjury. Why? Because people have an innate tendency to lie. We might not have problems with basic facts, so to speak, but we don’t want to look bad in light of those facts, so we often try to spin things to our benefit to the point that we don’t necessarily “lie” outright, but we certainly did not tell the truth.

The truth, however (especially for the born-again believer in Christ!) is important. It is the grounding of our relationship with God, as Jesus is the Truth (being the Way, the Truth, and the Life – Jn 14:6), and it is when we know the truth that the truth sets us free (Jn 8:32).

That being said, we don’t live in a world that often presents truth. We face deception every day – something that makes sense when we consider that the devil is a liar, and the father of lies (Jn 8:44). He specializes in lies, trying stop lost people from seeing the truth of Christ, and trying to distract those who do believe in Christ with false doctrines. Other times, the work of the devil is more direct, and he comes after Christians with false accusations, putting us on the receiving end of a lie, just like he did with the apostle Paul.

What happened? Like in comic books or the serial movies of old, “when we last left our hero,” Paul had escaped an assassination attempt that had been approved by the Jewish priests in Jerusalem. It was quite the series of events which led to this point. Having wrapped up his 3rd missionary journey, Paul headed to Jerusalem, desiring to celebrate Pentecost, and to deliver a financial gift from the Gentile churches to the Christians in Jerusalem. Although he was divinely warned on several occasions of the troubles that awaited him in the city, Paul was convinced it was Jesus’ will for him to go…so he went, trusting God the entire way.

Sure enough, trouble erupted as some Jews from Asia familiar with Paul shouted out false charges against him, instigating a mob which nearly killed him. God saved Paul through the intervention of the Roman military commander Claudias Lysias, who (though he nearly had Paul illegally tortured) gave Paul a chance to speak to both the Jewish crowd as well as the Jewish religious authorities on different occasions.

Even though it was clear to Lysias that Paul committed no crime, it was also clear that Paul required Roman protection from a faction of the Jews who conspired to murder him (under the full knowledge and assistance from the priests). That’s when Lysias sent Paul to the city of Caesarea to see the Roman governor, Felix. Ultimately, it was God who had protected Paul, showing overwhelming force against the enemy, because His gospel will not be silenced!

That said, the enemy does not give up easily, and he tried another tactic to stop Paul from sharing the gospel: lies. False accusations had successfully started a mob in Jerusalem, so now false accusations would be raised in the court of Felix. If the Roman governor found Paul guilty, then he would either execute Paul himself, or give him back to the Jews & they could do with him as they pleased. Either way, problem solved…and all it would take was a few well-placed lies – something at which the devil excels!

If there is something every Christian can expect at some point, it’s spiritual attack. In this world, we will face tribulation (Jn 16:33) – in this world, we will face the lies of the accuser, the devil. Sometimes it comes in the form of the lies he and his demons whisper in our ears – other times, it comes as an outright attack from someone in front of us. How do we handle these things? We see it in this passage:

  1. The enemy will lie. Expect it.
  2. We tell the truth. Stay in it.
  3. We wait on the Lord. Surrender it to Him.

As Christians, we are going to be slandered and/or persecuted at some point. When faced with the devil’s lies, our tendency is to respond with anger and other worldly means. Don’t do it! Remember that Jesus has already defeated the devil. Stay in the truth, and trust God to see you through.

Acts 24:1–23

  • Accusations of the Jews (1-9). The enemy will lie…expect it.

1 Now after five days Ananias the high priest came down with the elders and a certain orator named Tertullus. These gave evidence to the governor against Paul.

  1. The “five days” were the five days after Paul’s arrival in Caesarea & escape from assassination. Considering that the conspiracy to murder Paul had the full involvement & buy-in from the chief priests and elders (23:14), it seems a rather brazen move for the high priest to come waltzing into the court of the Roman governor not even a week later. Amazingly, his work as an accomplice to assassination never even arises in the text, and it’s unknown if it was ever addressed at all. Here’s a man that almost got away with murder, and he has no problem showing his face to the highest Roman official in the land.
    1. If there’s one thing the devil has no lack of, it’s arrogant gumption!
  2. With the high priest & the other elders of Jerusalem was a “certain orator named Tertullus,” no doubt an attorney hired for the occasion. Whether the man was even a Jew is unknown. He had a Roman name, but then again, so did Paul (in addition to his Hebrew name, Saul). What we do know is that the high priest left nothing to chance when it came to the trial. He wanted Paul remanded back to his custody (or killed by Felix), so he employed the high-priced lawyers to make it happen. Courtroom dramas are often portrayed as the skilled attorneys versus the little guy, and this was no exception. Paul had no representation of his own – none that is, except the Lord Jesus & Jesus is enough!
  3. Who was this “governor,” Felix? From the historical record, he was a corrupt, scrupulous man. He served as the governor of Judea from 52-59AD, and was known to have an oppressive rule, even commanding the murder of the previous high priest, Jonathan. He persecuted the Jews in Caesarea, instigating rebellion against Rome, and was eventually recalled by Nero for incompetency and immorality. (IOW, he was the perfect fit for a Satanic attack against an apostle of Christ!)

2 And when he was called upon, Tertullus began his accusation, saying: “Seeing that through you we enjoy great peace, and prosperity is being brought to this nation by your foresight, 3 we accept it always and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness. 4 Nevertheless, not to be tedious to you any further, I beg you to hear, by your courtesy, a few words from us.

  1. This was (in part) customary flattery, but it was way over the top & flatly untrue. The Jews did notenjoy great peace and prosperity” under the rule of Felix, and behind his back, they considered him anything but “” Again, the Jews regularly rebelled against Felix and there was little but contempt between him and the people he governed. Yet when the priests wanted something corrupt, they probably thought it best that a corrupt man was in charge. So they laid it on thick. Again, this was customary for the times and largely viewed as meaningless, but expected. Even so, considering that it came from a supposed-representative of God, it was a blatant falsehood.
  2. Once again, this is often how the devil works. He lies, and he’ll lie even when being surrounded by a cloak of religion. How many people have been led to hell through the teaching of cults? How many people have been led astray by supposedly-Christian pastors who are really wolves in sheep’s clothing? How careful we need to be! We cannot let superficial things like titles, TV platforms, or even academic degrees sway us from the truth of Jesus and His gospel. Whatever credentials a person might have, if he/she is not upholding Jesus, we need to hold their words at arms’-length!

5 For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 He even tried to profane the temple, and we seized him, and wanted to judge him according to our law. 7 But the commander Lysias came by and with great violence took him out of our hands, 8 commanding his accusers to come to you. By examining him yourself you may ascertain all these things of which we accuse him.”

  1. Tertullus painted Paul in the worst possible light. He was a pest, a danger, a troublemaker, a traitor. Whatever needed to be said to convince Felix to find fault with Paul, that’s what the lawyer was going to say. Truth didn’t matter; only a judicial conviction did.
    1. When it comes to spiritual warfare, the devil operates with no-holds barred. He might use a grain of truth and a lot of lie – he might use nothing but lies – he might use the truth in such a twisted way that it’s unclear and still deceptive. The enemy doesn’t care what it takes, as long as it accuses Christians and/or causes our eyes to get off of Jesus.
    2. Be careful not to forget that the devil is the accuser of the brethren (Rev 12:10), and he (and his minions) will not hesitate to do it whenever he sees fit. He accused Job of selfish motives to God, and he accuses us in the same way. The very word “devil” literally means “slanderer,” and that’s exactly what he does. Sometimes he’ll lie about us in public (as he had the Jewish priestly attorney do with Paul); other times he’ll lie about us to us, whispering accusations in our ears, telling the truth about our sins but lying about the forgiveness and grace of Christ.
    3. The key to dealing with lies: identifying them as lies, and knowing the truth. How do we combat the accusations of the devil? We need to (1) always remember that the devil is a liar and deals with lies, and (2) know the truth of God’s word so well that the lies of the devil stand out like a sore thumb. The better we know Jesus and His word, the easier it will be to point out the lies and accusations of the enemy. It’s like when you see the hidden messages in certain logos (like the arrow in FedEx, or the A-to-Z with Amazon), you can’t ever not see them again – when you intimately know the truth of God’s word, then the lies of the enemy become blatantly obvious…you can’t not see them.
  2. There were three basic accusations against Paul: (1) He was “a creator of dissension,” meaning that he was dangerously seditious against Rome. Someone who disturbed the peace was a threat to the empire. (2) Paul was “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” This itself, in their mind, was divisive and dangerous. The word for “sect” is αἵρεσις, where we get the English word “heresy.” Out of all the religions that Rome had approved within the scope of its empire, this new thing regarding Jesus of Nazareth was not one of them…it was heretical. (3) Paul “tried to profane the temple” by bringing in a Gentile beyond the allowed limit. Considering that Rome had allowed the Jews permission to legally execute any Gentile who violated the temple boundary, the involvement of the Roman “commander Lysias” was an illegal interference with Jewish affairs. Tertullus basically said that this was not Roman jurisdiction, and that the Jerusalem priests had every right to deal with this as they saw fit. – Paul will deal with each of these accusations in turn. Not a one of them was a problem when compared with the truth!
  3. FYI: There is disputed text in vss. 6-8, which isn’t included in all English translations. Even if the wording was not original to Luke, nothing that is written here is contrary to the previous account in Acts, and it’s easily seen elsewhere.

9 And the Jews also assented, maintaining that these things were so.

  1. Don’t miss this part. The priests and elders agreed with the lies against Paul, knowing that they were lies. They might have truly thought Paul to be a plague and a pot-stirrer, creating dissension among the Jews – but they would have known for certain that he hadn’t profaned the temple. That was the initial lie told of Paul by the Jews from Asia, and the Jewish priests repeated it in front of Felix. There wasn’t proof of it then, and there wasn’t proof of it now. The priests & elders knew it to be a lie, yet they said it anyway.
  2. This is the essence and the original context of the 9th Commandment: Exodus 20:16, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” We normally summarize this as “You shall not lie,” but the original context is specific to not bearing “false witness,” i.e. committing perjury. We should not testify about someone wrongly, and to misrepresent them in any way. It’s wrong to do it by accident, and it’s certainly wrong to do it purposefully. It’s what chief priests in front of Felix did – it’s what the devil and his demons do with us; it shouldn’t be what we do to one another.
    1. May we be careful to avoid false witness! We bear false witness when we spread rumors of others – we bear false witness when we misrepresent the position of someone who might oppose us – we bear false witness when we engage in outright lies. Those are the tactics of our enemy, whereas our God only tells the truth because Jesus is the truth. May our words reflect the character of Jesus; not the devil!

The devil lies. It’s a simple fact, and something we must expect. It amazes me when Christians (including myself!) are shocked that the world lies so freely about us. It shouldn’t be a shock at all; it’s the first tactic out of the devil’s playbook. From the very first instance he is introduced in the Scripture, the devil (as the serpent) engaged in lies and deception. Why would we think he changes? The lies of the devil worked then, and they often work now, so he keeps doing it. So we need to simply expect it, and be ready for it.

As for Paul, he wasn’t taken by surprise. He knew that he would be faced with lies & false accusations, and he was ready with the truth.

  • Paul’s defense (10-21). We tell the truth…stay in it.

10 Then Paul, after the governor had nodded to him to speak, answered: “Inasmuch as I know that you have been for many years a judge of this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself,

  1. Although at first glance, this might also appear to be undue flattery, there was a big difference with Paul’s statement here, than what was said by Tertullus. Here, Paul was courteous, but not a brown-noser. Paul didn’t lie, nor needlessly flatter the governor’s ego. What Paul said was nicely-put, but true. Felix had been governor for “many years,” either in the chief position over all Judea, or serving in a subordinate position in Samaria. This meant that Felix was not totally unfamiliar with Jewish customs or the growth of Christianity (something which is pointed out in verse 22). Felix would have seen for himself that Christians were peaceful people, despite the lies that were told about them by the Jews who persecuted them. The truth about Christians (as a whole) was easily observable.
    1. Let your character and your actions be your defense! If your love of Christ is seen in your life, then your record will speak for itself in the face of lies.

Addressing sedition…

11 because you may ascertain that it is no more than twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 And they neither found me in the temple disputing with anyone nor inciting the crowd, either in the synagogues or in the city. 13 Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me.

  1. Think about the time-frame: Paul said that there were “no more than 12 days” from the time he arrived in Jerusalem, to the time he stood on trial in front of Felix. Within that timeframe, Paul: (1) met with the church elders including James, making a plan to participate in the vows of other Jewish Christians, (2) waited almost 7 days to return to the temple, (3) was beaten, arrested, faced trial before the Sanhedrin, (4) transported overnight to Caesarea, and (5) waited nearly another 5 days for the current trial. Those were jam-packed days…there wasn’t enough time to stir up an insurrection! Paul barely had time to coordinate with the Christians fulfilling their Jewish vows…he certainly didn’t have time to instigate any trouble at the temple. No – all these things were done against him, and Paul was not guilty of sedition.
  2. Additionally, nothing said by the priests could be proven (something which he addresses in detail in verses 19-20). Paul told the truth, and it was their word against his.

Addressing his involvement with the gospel…

14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets.

  1. On this, Paul was guilty. He pled “no contest,” in that he was 100% guilty of the gospel! Yes, he followed “the Way” (the original term for Christianity, as Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life,” – Jn 14:6). Yes, Paul worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yes, Paul believed everything written in the Old Testament (“in the Law and in the Prophets”), including all of the prophecies that points to Jesus as being the Messiah/Christ of Israel. So yes, Paul was guilty…guilty of the gospel.
    1. How wonderful it is to be accused of being a Christian! For the world, it might be an insult (“you Bible-thumper fundamentalist!”); for us, it’s music to our ears! For the man or woman who truly knows Jesus as the Son of God crucified for our sin & risen from the dead, there is no shame in His name; there is power, glory, and the salvation of God. When the world accuses you of being a Christian, take heart…you’re doing something right!
    2. The problem comes when the accusation does not When the world looks at us and assumes we’re one with them, that’s the true tragedy. As born-again Christians, people who have been redeemed by the Lord Jesus & filled with God the Holy Spirit, our lives ought to be transformed, and we should look different from the rest. Why wouldn’t we? Before we met Jesus in faith, we were dead in our trespasses & sin; now we are alive and made into new creations. We are inherently different from the world, so why would we look like them? If we do, it means we’re living more like them & less like Jesus. It means that although we might look to Jesus for fire-insurance from hell, we aren’t looking to Him as our Lord, fearing & worshipping Him as God. And that’s a huge problem, indeed.
    3. We sometimes ask ourselves the question: “If you were accused of believing the gospel of Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” – perhaps the better question is this: “Would you even be accused?” Not everyone has an extroverted personality that shouts their faith loudly, and few people are as bold as a Paul or a George Whitefield or a Spurgeon, DL Moody, or Billy Graham…but even those with a quiet personality can still have an evident faith. Would your friends and co-workers even consider the possibility you might be a Christian? If not, there’s a problem…and it’s something you need to work out with Jesus.
  2. Paul gladly acknowledge being a follower of “The Way,” but he makes an important clarification. The Way of Christ is not a “sect” or heresy; it is the truth! Was it a division from Judaism? It depends how you look at it. If one looks at the religious traditions that arose from Jewish culture over a period of centuries, and interpreted through the opinions of the many rabbis…then yes, Christianity divides from that. Yet if you look at the Scripture itself, then no – absolutely not! The Way of Christ is the fulfillment of everything taught in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise given by God to Adam and Eve of the Seed of the Woman coming forth to crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15) – the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that through him, all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen 12:3) – the fulfillment of the promise to Moses that God would raise up another Prophet like him, who spoke the true word of God to the nation (Dt 18:18) – the fulfillment of the promise made to David that the royal house God built him would last forever (2 Sam 7:13), and the fulfillment of 300+ other prophecies throughout the Scriptures speaking of the Messiah of God. (If anyone was being divisive in terms of religion, it was the priests in their rejection of most of the Old Testament & their rejection of the Messiah!)
    1. Beloved, know this: we who have faith in Jesus have faith in the truth! We do not follow a religion made by men – we do not carry on traditions for traditions’ sake; we believe in, and know a living person who Himself is the truth of God. This is no heresy; this is the absolute truth!

15 I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.

  1. Again, Christianity is a fulfillment of the Hebrew promises – even the ones rejected by the Sadducean priests, but affirmed by the Pharisaical elders (remember, they were divided on the resurrection). Paul gladly affirmed the future resurrection. Keep in mind, this is the key issue that caused all the ruckus in his earlier hearing in front of the Sanhedrin. When he knew he wasn’t getting a fair trial, he claimed his Pharisee-heritage and said he was being judged because of his belief in the resurrection, to which all the Pharisees in the room immediately took his side. Now Paul brought it up again, in front of the high priest who had to remain silent in front of the Roman governor.
  2. That said, the resurrection is the key issue. We have proof that Jesus is the Son of God because He is risen from the dead (Rom 1:4). And because Jesus is risen, we know that we will rise (1 Cor 15:20). With that in mind, we’d better be sure which resurrection will be ours: the just or the unjust. Objection: “Wait a minute! There are two resurrections?!” Yes – Jesus taught this explicitly: John 5:28–29, “(28) Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice (29) and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” The Bible is clear: all people will rise from the grave. Those who have faith in Jesus in this life take part in the initial resurrection/rapture when Jesus calls us home and we meet Him in the air (1 Ths 4:16-17). That’s the first part of the first resurrection, and things are on hold until after the Great Tribulation and Millennial Kingdom when those who have faith in Christ during that time (and have died) are raised from the dead just prior to the final judgment (Rev 20:5-6). All of that is the resurrection of life/resurrection of the just. The second resurrection is what takes place after that time, when all people throughout history who have died without faith in Jesus are raised from the dead to face the judgment of God. That’s the resurrection of condemnation/of the unjust, and they immediately go from life to what the Bible calls the second death as they are cast into hell and its lake of fire (Rev 20:13-15). All people will be raised; when they are raised and for what destiny they are raised is what differs.
    1. Here’s the good news: you can be certain of the first resurrection! You can be 100% sure that you will be included in the resurrection of the just and that you will be received by Jesus as one of His own. How? Become one of His own today! Turn away from your sins, believing upon Him as the Son of God & Savior of the world, and He will grant you the promise of eternal resurrected life!

16 This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.

  1. The resurrection was Paul’s motivation for righteousness. As it should be for us! After all, when we live with the knowledge that we could see Jesus at any moment, it changes the way we act. Think about it: for any one of us, this Sunday morning could be your last Sunday morning on earth. Life is fleeting (at best!), and anything could happen between now and walking out the door. Besides that, there is also the possibility that Jesus Himself could return at any time, and if we’re not resurrected from the dead then we’ll be raptured from this life. Either way, we could see Jesus at literally any time. How would you live your life differently if you knew you’d be seeing Jesus this afternoon? What kind of conversations would you have at lunch? What openness might you have with your faith? What potential arguments would be so important that they’d be worth fighting over? Knowing we’d see Jesus changes everything. And it should! But we need to realize that this is not a hypothetical situation…this really could be us today. Jesus could call us home at any moment through death or rapture. So keep your conscience clear! Live “without offense toward God and man.” Keep your accounts with people short, and keep your love of God long, living every day like it’s the day you’ll see Him.
  2. Interestingly, what Paul said here basically repeats what he said in front of the Sanhedrin at the opening of that trial (23:1), for which the high priest Ananias had him illegally struck on the mouth. Once again, Ananias had to stay silent & couldn’t do anything about it, but listen. 

Remember, there were three charges against Paul: (1) sedition against the Roman government, (2) being a ringleader of Christians, and (3) profaning the Jerusalem temple.

Addressing the event at the temple…

17 “Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation, 18 in the midst of which some Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with a mob nor with tumult.

  1. Felix had already been told the priestly point-of-view, which was filled with either misrepresentations or outright lies. Now Paul got his turn, and he told the truth. Paul hadn’t come to bring harm to his nation; he came to bless it! Throughout his 3rd missionary journey, Paul received financial offerings from the Gentile churches to bring to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, and that (along with Paul’s desire to celebrate the feast of Pentecost) brought Paul to the city at the time. And neither was he profaning the temple when he arrived…quite the opposite! Paul wasn’t with Gentiles in the temple, but with Jewish Christians. Paul himself was participating in a Jewish ceremony, being purified along with other Jews for a vow in which he joined. Paul wasn’t starting a fight or a ruckus at all; he was just there to worship. It was others who created the “tumult” in the temple…Paul was totally innocent, having acted above reproach in the city.

19 They ought to have been here before you to object if they had anything against me. 20 Or else let those who are here themselves say if they found any wrongdoing in me while I stood before the council,

  1. There was a key problem with the accusers of Paul who were standing before Felix in Caesarea: none of them were eyewitnesses! Remember that it was the Jews from Asia (probably Ephesus) that accused Paul of bringing Greeks into the temple (22:27-28); the priests and elders didn’t get involved until after Paul was already in the custody of the Roman commander Lysias. They hadn’t seen the riot begin, nor had they seen Paul in the temple with any Gentile/Greek. All they knew is what took place after Lysias commanded the Sanhedrin to convene to figure out what happened the day before in the temple. Without the actual accusers, the priests had no case in the eyes of Rome, at least regarding the event in the temple. By this one single fact, Paul undercut the entire argument of the priests and elders!
    1. Isn’t it amazing what the simple truth can do? When faced with false accusations and lies, we don’t need to panic. As long as we’re living our lives with a clear conscience before God, all we need do is stay in the truth. Truth will always be revealed, and some point or another.

21 unless it is for this one statement which I cried out, standing among them, ‘Concerning the resurrection of the dead I am being judged by you this day.’ ”

  1. This was the one thing the priests and elders had witnessed, and if this was all they had against Paul, then it was a matter of theological debate; not Roman law and a question of imprisonment/death. It was a matter of life and death for Felix & all who heard the gospel…it just wasn’t a matter of Paul being on trial. As far as the civil case against Paul was concerned, there was nothing to it & it should have been dropped at that moment.

In all of Paul’s response, what did he do? He stayed in the simple truth. Having expected the lies of the devil, Paul told the truth before God and even gave testimony to the truth of God in Jesus. Beloved, this is how we combat the lies of the world around us! We don’t succumb to the same tactics as the enemy – we don’t lower ourselves to his level – we don’t fight dirty with fleshly means; we stay in the truth of God, living the truth of God, believing the truth of God. How did Jesus fight the lies made against Him? He opened not His mouth (Isa 53:7). That’s not to say that we always need to remain silent as Jesus was silent (He was fulfilling prophecy, after all, and did confront the lies of the Pharisees on other occasions – Mt 23); but we certainly don’t take up the strategies of the world & our enemy. Jesus was confident in the truth of God, and the lies of the world held no power over Him – Paul was confident in the truth of God, and easily responded to the lies of his foes. We too, can be confident in the truth & not be dragged into the mud by the lies of the world. God knows the truth, so if you know the truth, then you know God knows you. And that itself is enough!

At this point, the priests made their case (through the expected lies) and Paul made his case (relying on the truth). What next? It was all up to God and His sovereignty.

  • Felix’s response (22-23). We wait on the Lord…surrender it.

22 But when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of the Way, he adjourned the proceedings and said, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will make a decision on your case.”

  1. Luke writes that Felix had a “more accurate knowledge” of Christianity (“the Way”), to which AT Robertson rightly observes, “more accurately than what?” Answer: than the expectations of the priests in front of him. Ananias & the Jewish elders perhaps thought that Felix was going to be a pushover, simply remanding Paul back to their custody & allowing them to handle this themselves, especially if Paul and the “sect of the Nazarenes” (in their terminology) was thought to be a threat. What they didn’t anticipate was that Felix actually knew something about Christianity (something which Paul anticipated). How Felix learned about Christianity and how much he knew is something that is unknown, but he obviously knew enough to see through much of what the priests were trying to pull over him.
    1. It’s a good reminder that we don’t know everything that God is doing behind the scenes. Whenever it looks like the enemy might have the upper-hand, we need to remember that God is omniscient; Satan is not. God knows the plans and schemes of the devil, and God easily works around them, all to His own glory.
  2. Question: Did Lysias ever come? There’s no record of this happening. Perhaps he saw no need, considering he already gave his testimony in a written letter. Perhaps Felix never sent for him, despite his statement in verse 22. Felix wasn’t a man known for his honest dealings with the Jews, so it’s quite possible he said just enough to shut everyone up and get them out of the room.

23 So he commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him.

  1. There may not have been a verdict given in the Roman court, but this much was true: Felix obviously did not see Paul as a threat. This was not a man he feared spreading sedition or stirring up division, not if Paul was a man he allowed to have freedom of movement and visitations. If Felix truly thought Paul to be capable of those things, Paul would have been locked in chains in the dungeon in solitary confinement, but that wasn’t what happened. Felix gave Paul a tremendous amount of freedom, if not any judicial vindication setting him physically free to leave.
  2. Was Paul still jailed? Yes, officially. But again, he had as much liberty as could be allowed a prisoner of Rome…and God used it in wonderful ways! Paul was confined in Caesarea, but his pen was used to send letters to Christians around the empire. The books of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon are all thought to have been written during this time, and we still benefit from these letters today…none of which might have been written if not for Paul’s loose imprisonment. God allowed Paul to stay in Caesarea, but God used Paul in mighty ways for the ministry of the gospel!

How important it is for us to trust in the sovereignty of God! To know that God has all things in His hand is crucial for the Christian, especially in times of trial and uncertainty. Think about Paul: he was faced with lies from his enemies, he responded with the truth of God, and yet he was still (officially) under arrest. Shouldn’t he have been freed upon telling the truth? Wasn’t there an injustice done by his remaining in custody? Yes, on both counts. But…God allowed it. Paul told the truth, but he surrendered the results to God. God had a perfect plan in work, and Paul trusted God to see it through.

Our problem is that we don’t often trust God to see it through. Sure, we might respond calmly with truth in the face of lies, but when we don’t get our expected result, that’s when we start digging in our heels and fight dirty. No – we need to surrender to the Lord, trusting God to work His way in His time. Would Paul eventually take some action? Yes, but surely after much prayer and much time to know the will of the Lord for him. Often, we don’t give God that kind of time & trust.

Give it to Him! Surrender those things to the Lord, trusting that He is sovereign & good.

Conclusion:

Once again, Paul was faced with spiritual attack, having to counter lies of the enemy. He had faced it on the mission field, faced it again in Jerusalem, and now had to endure it all one more time in front of the Gentile Roman governor. Even now, it wouldn’t be the last time. Spiritual attack is a constant for those actively involved in ministering for the Lord Jesus (in any capacity!), and lies are one of the devil’s favored tactics. Yet Paul didn’t panic or resort to worldly defenses. He had the truth of God and the gospel of Christ, and that was all he needed. Paul stayed grounded in the truth, and trusted God to do what God willed to do with the rest.

Christian, when was the last time you came face-to-face with lies? Maybe you heard a perversion of the gospel when some well-dressed people came knocking on your door – maybe you heard the whispered accusations of Satan as you struggled with some of the promises in the Bible – maybe you even heard things that seemed to be good, but too good…truth twisted to the point that you weren’t sure if it was even Biblical. Or maybe, just like Paul, you had false accusations thrown in your face and you were forced to defend yourself. The enemy is going to lie, in some shape or form…it’s just something we need to expect.

When shoved by lies, stand in truth. Live your life above reproach so that your record speaks for itself – know the truth of the written word of God, so you can recognize deception when you see/hear it. Most of all, stand firm in the gospel truth of Jesus! Of any accusation, let the one you be guilty of is faith in Jesus Christ! Stick to Jesus as the truth, and have faith in your Sovereign God to work things from there. Our heavenly Father knows us, loves us, and does not abandon us in our trial. When we stand firm in the truth of Jesus, we can be sure we’re also standing on the rock of God, and He’s got everything under control.

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Not Going to Die Tonight

Posted: June 30, 2019 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 23:11-35, “Not Going to Die Tonight”

Have you ever noticed how some songs get stuck in your head? Those who lived through the 80’s remember well Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” (and if you don’t know it from the recording, you know it from the talking fish!). In more recent years, perhaps it was “Let it Go” from the movie Frozen…and many of us couldn’t “let go” of that song soon enough! The song that’s been in my head all week as I’ve studied this passage of Scripture is from the Christian rock band Skillet, called “Not Going to Die,” and the lyrics for the chorus are simple: “No, not gonna die tonight | We’ve gotta stand and fight forever (don’t close your eyes) | No, not gonna die tonight | We’ve gotta fight for us together | No, we’re not gonna die tonight.”

When thinking about the assassination plot against Paul in Acts 23, it seems like he could have easily have sung the same song! Try as they might to kill Paul, the conspiracy against him failed. No, Paul wasn’t going to die that night (or any night soon after). Why? Because he was guarded and kept by the promise and power of God, and nothing/no one can overcome it! When anyone battles against God, God wins…always.

After years of traveling about the Roman empire preaching the gospel, Paul’s days of freedom came to an end (at least, temporarily). Having arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost at the end of his last mission, Paul was subjected to false charges against him in the temple, which resulted in a riot that nearly cost him his life. It was the Roman commander who rescued him, although when the commander failed to learn the charges made against Paul by the crowd, he very nearly had Paul tortured through the horrendous practice of scourging.

Had Paul not made his Roman birth-citizenship known, that may have been the end of his story. As it was, the Roman commander took considerably better care of Paul, and tried once again to discern the charges against him by convening the Sanhedrin council. In the end, they were no help, and Paul was forced to stir up a bit of division among the Jews, as it became apparent that he would not face a fair trial.

So what to do? The commander still had Paul in protective custody, and although he couldn’t get a straight answer of why the Jews hated Paul so much, he understood this was an issue of religion; not Roman law. The problem was that too many laws of Rome were being broken over whatever religious issue it was. Unbeknownst to the commander, more law-breaking was on the way. People wanted Paul dead, and they were determined to see it done, one way or another.

If you want to thwart an attack, there is only one way to do it: resist it with overwhelming force. If a bully knows he doesn’t stand a chance, he either won’t do anything at all, or he’ll back off really fast. Paul’s bullies were the Jews who opposed him, and a show of overwhelming force was the only way to shut them down.

Of course, behind the bullies was an bigger, invisible bully: the devil. As with us, Paul did not fight “against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,” (Eph 6:12). Paul’s battle was a spiritual one that manifested itself in physical ways. His fight against it needed to take place in the same fashion. The devil wanted him dead, so Paul relied upon the promise and power of God in Christ Jesus – and Jesus’ promise to Paul was that he wasn’t going to die tonight.

How did it all work? What did Paul do? He needed to:

  1. Know the promises of Christ
  2. Know (understand) the attack of Satan
  3. Know (rely) upon the power of God

This is how we fight our spiritual battles. The bully, Satan, wants us dead; our only protection is Jesus. Hold fast to His promises, and rely on the overwhelming power of God!

Acts 23:11–35

  • The Promise (11). Know Jesus’ word.

11 But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.”

  1. It all begins with an appearance of Jesus to Paul. Whether this was a vision to Paul’s subconscious, a dream he had in the middle of the night, or an actual post-resurrection appearance visible to all is unknown. What we do know is that Jesus appeared to Paul in some ways, having “stood by him.” Aside from the fact that such immense grace was showered on Paul in Jesus’ appearance (by itself, amazing!), is the grace shown Paul in the timing of it. When did it take place? “The following night” – i.e., the night following the crazy show-trial of Paul by the Sanhedrin. Remember the Roman commander convened the Jewish leadership council to try to figure out the legal charges against Paul, but what happened was that the high priest Ananias showed his bias early on, commanding Paul to be illegally struck on the mouth (23:2). It was clear Paul wouldn’t get a fair trial, so that’s when he shrewdly put the Pharisees against the Sadducees, quickly getting the Pharisees on his side (as a former Pharisee) regarding the resurrection of the dead. Unfortunately, Paul did not get the chance to preach about Jesus’ own resurrection (which is the definitive proof that Jesus is the Messiah!), but it did expose the show-trial for what it was, causing the Romans to have to pull Paul out of the room. – With that done, it would have been easy for Paul to panic overnight: “What’s going to happen next? How many more times will I be attacked in Jerusalem? How am I ever going to preach the gospel again?” Whatever thoughts were rushing through his mind that night, that’s when Jesus appeared to him. When Paul needed Him the most, Jesus showed up.
    1. It’s doubtful any of us will ever see a visible appearance of Jesus, other than at our death or at the rapture – but there’s no doubt that Jesus is there, right when we need Him. He never leaves us, nor forsakes us. He is fully and freely available to us, if we but go to Him in faith. Think of it: for the born-again Christian, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, who has sealed us and indwells us. There is never a time that we exist when God is not with us. When we need Jesus, all we have to do is pray! He’s right there.
  2. Jesus did not just appear; He spoke. He gave Paul a promise of protection. Jerusalem was not the end of the road for Paul; he’d go all the way to Rome. While at the temple, Paul was nearly beat to death because of lies against him, but he also got the chance to give his testimonies to the Jews and tell them of Jesus. What Paul did there, Jesus promised he’d do elsewhere. Earlier in life, Paul had travelled around the Roman empire, but now he had the guarantee of God that he’d go to Rome. There, too, he would “bear witness” of Jesus…literally, he would “be a martyr” for Jesus.
    1. The English language has evolved to make “martyr” synonymous with “someone who has died for Christ,” but the Greek word simply refers to bearing testimony. Anyone who shares their faith in Jesus is technically a “martyr.” This is what every born-again Christian is called to do. We’re not all called to die a martyr’s death, but we are called to bear a martyr’s witness. We speak of what we know of Jesus, telling people who He is, what He has done, how we know Him, and how they can know Him too. That’s the job of a martyr…that’s our job.
  3. Note: Jesus gave Paul a promise of protection & life; not exemption from suffering. The promise was that Paul would go to share the gospel in Rome as he did in Jerusalem; not that life would be easy as he did it. Not that this was a problem for Paul – he knew what it meant to share in the sufferings of Christ. Just the promise of life would have been enough to provide tremendous comfort and peace in the midst of vast threats and attacks against him. Bottom line: Paul had a promise from the Lord. Jesus promised him protection from death, giving him confidence for the immediate future. 

Step 1 in preparing for battle: know Jesus’ word! Know the promises of the Scripture, and hold fast to the word of God. Just like we don’t often see visible appearances of Jesus, we don’t often receive personal promises of protection. But we have something Paul had only a portion of: the written word of God! The Bible is full of promises from God, and we can be certain of this: God keeps His word! That God is trustworthy is a basic part of His essential character: Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” This is true in the words God speaks, and the words He has inspired to be written. There is not a single promise in the Bible that is not/will not be true. If it has not already been fulfilled in the past, or is not immediately applicable to the present, it will most certainly be true in the future.

For instance…in the past, God promised to bring Israel out of Egyptian slavery (Gen 15:16); He did it. He promised to defeat Babylon through the Persians (Dan 5:28); He did it. He promised to give the Messiah as a substitution sacrifice (Isa 53:5-6); He did it! In the present, God promises to give everlasting life to those who believe in Jesus (Jn 3:16); He does it. He promises to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask (Lk 11:13); He does it. He promises to give peace to those who pray (Phil 4:6-7); He does it. In the future, Jesus promises to return (Mt 24:30); He will. He promises to receive born-again believers to Himself (Jn 14:3); He will. God promises to judge the living and the dead (Rev 20:12-13); He will. Every word God speaks is true! He promises are good to 100% accuracy.

What does this mean for us? It means (1) we need to know His word, and (2) we need to believe it! We cannot trust promises we’ve never read, but neither do we believe something just because we’ve read it. Put forth the effort to know God’s word, and then intentionally make the decision to believe!

  • The Plot (12-22). Know Satan’s attack.

12 And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 13 Now there were more than forty who had formed this conspiracy.

  1. Jesus gave a promise to Paul by night, and Satan worked in the hearts of Paul’s enemies by day. A “conspiracy” quickly developed, and it was quite large: “more than forty” were involved. Why so many? Because although they were evil enough to want to commit murder, they weren’t so stupid to forget they were going up against Roman soldiers. Their best-case scenario would have been to intimidate a small cadre of guards assigned to Paul’s side, but they also needed to be prepared to fight in case the Romans resisted. Some of the Jews might die – others might be arrested – thus, they had to have a big enough group to ensure the job was done.
  2. Not only was it a large conspiracy; it was quick. The group formed literally overnight, and because of their vow not to eat nor drink, the task had to be accomplished within days. — Considering they failed, did they starve to death? Probably not. Jewish custom in the Mishnah allowed for vows to be nullified if they became impossible to fulfill. Most likely, these conspirators were released from their vow within a few days after realizing their defeat. (It did not, however, release them from God’s judgment!)
  3. When we stop to consider the size of the group, and the speed of which they came together, it’s rather astounding. How badly did they hate Paul, for so many people to want him so quickly dead? (How much did Paul tick these guys off?!) We’ve got to understand that it wasn’t Paul that they hated, so much as it was what Paul represented: the truth of the gospel of Jesus. It was bad enough that the Jews of Jerusalem had to deal with the Christians in the city, but they could write off the general group as people who didn’t know any better; but Paul had been one of their own. Paul was once a religious leader in Jerusalem, just like they had been. More than that, Paul was active with his faith, with people all over the world coming to faith in Jesus through his witness and work. It was relatively easy to ignore people who may/may not have been doing much, but Paul was someone they couldn’t ignore.
    1. May we be Christians that can’t be ignored! Does it open the door for the hatred of the world? Yes…but isn’t that what Jesus promised? John 15:18–19, “(18) “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. (19) If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” If the world hates us, then it’s a pretty good sign we’re following Jesus (as long as they hate us for the right reasons). It’s when the world doesn’t care about us that we need to worry whether we’re actually living as Jesus’ disciples!
    2. This doesn’t mean that we go pick fights; it means that we’re faithful and active with the gospel. Paul didn’t stroll around town looking for people whom he could offend; all he did was share his testimony and tell people about Jesus.

14 They came to the chief priests and elders, and said, “We have bound ourselves under a great oath that we will eat nothing until we have killed Paul. 15 Now you, therefore, together with the council, suggest to the commander that he 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.”

  1. Don’t miss this: the religious leaders were complicit in a conspiracy of assassination. What about the 6th Commandment was unclear? (“You shall not murder,” Exo 20:13.) Yet they were more than willing to lie & cheat to try to lure Paul into a death-trap. The fact that they were “the chief priests and elders” is shocking on one hand, but at the same time, it makes sense. The priests and elders were primarily composed of Sadducees, rather than the Pharisees with whom Paul was affiliated. Remember that the day before, the Sadducees and Pharisees had a tremendous argument because of Paul, and they likely wanted revenge for the trouble he caused. Even so, it doesn’t change the fact that of all people, the chief priests & elders of Jerusalem should have known better, but they still conspired to murder.
    1. Although it should be obvious, it needs to be said: positions and titles are not indicative of faith. Just because someone has a bunch of letters after his/her name – just because someone has thousands of followers on YouTube or runs a massive church or has an expensive TV show – these things do not mean that the person is a born-again believer in Christ. We need to stop looking at superficial things like titles and money for evidence of faith, and start looking to meaningful things like character, fruit of the Spirit, and doctrine.

16 So when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their ambush, he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. 17 Then Paul called one of the centurions to him and said, “Take this young man to the commander, for he has something to tell him.” 18 So he took him and brought him to the commander and said, “Paul the prisoner called me to him and asked me to bring this young man to you. He has something to say to you.”

  1. Enter the intrigue, the plot-twist. Although the conspiracy was planned in secret, it was discovered by Paul’s nephew. At this, some might be a bit surprised: “Paul had a sister?! And a nephew?! And they lived in Jerusalem, instead of Tarsus!? How old was the boy? What was his name? How did he hear?” To all these questions, we have to remember that although the Bible is the inspired word of God, meaning that every word is meant by God to be there, it is by no means a comprehensive history of everything that took place at the time. We know next to nothing about Paul’s personal life, other than the fact that he was unmarried, and the previous biography he mentioned about being the son of Pharisee (of the tribe of Benjamin – Phil 3:5). We have no idea how many siblings he had, nor how many nieces & nephews there were. We don’t even know the age of this particular nephew at the time of these events. The same wording used for “young man” that’s used here could as well refer to a 20-year old, as a young boy under age 10. We have no idea how the nephew would have learned of the plot against Paul. We could speculate that since Paul was the son of a Pharisee, that perhaps his sister married into the family of another Pharisee who sat on the Sanhedrin council & that gave the boy access to information – but at the end of the day, that’s just speculation (guessing).
  2. For all we don’t know, here’s what we do know: The young man learned of the plot against Paul immediately after it was made, and within hours of Jesus promising Paul that he’d live to testify in Rome. So how was it the boy learned of the plot? By the work and grace of Almighty God! Satan may have put murder in the hearts of the priests & others, but God knows even the secrets of Satan…nothing is hidden from His sight! Try as the devil might, he is never able to outwit God! In the battle between Satan and God, God wins every time!
    1. Beloved, that’s a truth to which we must cling! We can get so discouraged in times of spiritual attack. When we get hit from side after side, and we start going from one piece of bad news to the next, it’s easy to think that we’re overwhelmed with no way out. We may be overwhelmed, but God isn’t. The same God who lives within us is the God who overwhelms the enemy! When Jesus and Satan go head-to-head, there’s no contest. Jesus wins, every time!
    2. What we need to remember in the meantime is that God works according to His own timetable. What seem to be major defeats in the present day are nothing in light of eternity. God sees the end as well as the beginning (as well as all points in between!); He knows what needs to be done & when it needs to happen. Trust Him to work His will, in His time…we’ll find it to be perfect.
  3. In this case, God desired immediate action to be taken, so He allowed Paul’s nephew to overhear the assassination plot, God gave the nephew the courage to take the news to Paul who was kept under guard in a Roman fortress, God gave Paul the leniency enough among the Romans to receive visitors & trust enough with the Roman centurion to be taken at his word about the importance of the message, and permission for this unnamed Jewish boy to be seen by the top Roman commander in Jerusalem. This had the hand of God all over it!

19 Then the commander took him by the hand, went aside, and asked privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?” 20 And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask that you bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire more fully about him. 21 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 till they have killed him; and now they are ready, waiting for the promise from you.”

  1. One reason we don’t know the age of Paul’s nephew is that although the description of the “young man” could refer to someone in his 20’s, it would seem unusual for the Roman commander to take anyone “by the hand,” unless it was a young boy. Again, we cannot say for sure what the details were concerning the nephew, but there’s no doubt that he gave a thorough and accurate report. (Even more miraculous, if from a young lad!) God gave this young man the information he required, the courage to deliver the message, and the presence of mind to deliver it accurately and with detail. However old the boy was, there’s no question he was empowered by God!
    1. BTW – We so often question what it is we’ll do in any theoretical future scenario. “How would I respond if ____?” Christian: If you’re submitted to the Lord Jesus, being filled with Spirit on a regular basis, you don’t have to question what you’d do in that time; God will equip you with what you need in the moment. We wonder sometimes how martyrs of the past (and present!) stood with such calmness and faith when facing torture & execution. It’s because God empowered them in the moment. Again, God does not leave us alone! Jesus does not abandon us. When we need the power of the Holy Spirit, God will give it!

22 So the commander let the young man depart, and commanded him, “Tell no one that you have revealed these things to me.”

  1. With the plot discovered, a bit of counter-planning was needed, and for that, secrecy was required. At this point, only Paul, the boy, the centurion, and the commander knew the plan for assassination. Any other people who knew only increased the chances of information leaking out & plans changing.

If Step 1 in spiritual battle was to know & believe Jesus’ word, Step 2 is to know (be aware) of the plots of the enemy. Paul knew very specific plans against him: the priests were going to call him for a 2nd hearing, and men would try to assassinate him along the way. (But he also knew of very specific promises of Jesus guaranteeing his survival!) We might not have specifics, but we know how Satan and his minions work. We know that Satan tries to implant doubt about the word of God (“Has God indeed said…” Gen 3:1). We know that Satan outright denies the word of God (“You will not surely die,” Gen 3:4). We know that Satan tempts people with immediate satisfaction, miracles, and worldly power (Jesus’ temptations, Mt 4:1-11). We know that Satan does not come except to steal, kill, and destroy (Jn 10:10), that he can appear as an angel of light (1 Cor 11:14), and that he seeks whom he may devour (1 Pet 5:8). Over & over again, the Bible tells us of his strategy. So why are we so often taken by surprise? Because although we know the basic facts, we don’t think it’ll happen to us.

The attacks that Satan poured out on Job happened to someone else – the temptations Satan laid out to Jesus happened to someone else – Satan’s attacks on the disciples happened to someone else. All of that was “Biblical times,” and it doesn’t really happen today…or so we think. Beloved, it does happen, and it happens every day! There’s a reason why so many Christians try to justify sinful behavior: because they doubted God’s word. There’s a reason why so many professed Christians walk away from the true gospel: they hadn’t really believed in Jesus, and instead listened to lies from an angel of light (something that appeared good). There’s a reason why so many Christians get caught in despair: they’ve let themselves get devoured by the enemy.

We need to know his attacks, understand his strategies, and respond to them Biblically. It’s not a matter of us calling out Satan by name and performing some kind of “showy” spiritual jujitsu; it’s about being truly aware that we have an enemy who hates us, but being even more reliant upon the Living God who loves us!

  • The Plan (23-35). Know God’s power.

23 And he called for two centurions, saying, “Prepare two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at the third hour of the night; 24 and provide mounts to set Paul on, and bring him safely to Felix the governor.”

  1. Count it up, and there are 470 soldiers altogether. Was this overkill? The commander met the threat with overwhelming force. Not only would it have provided immense protection for Paul, but it would have greatly discouraged any future conspiracy attempts against people under the protection of Rome. Interestingly, by some estimates, there were only 1000 total Roman troops normally stationed in Jerusalem. If accurate, then the commander sent Paul with nearly half of them.
    1. If 470 Roman soldiers versus 40 Jerusalemite would-be assassins sounds like overwhelming odds, imagine something even greater: Jesus versus Satan – the Almighty Infinite God versus the created being who became the first among fallen angels. Satan is incredibly powerful in comparison to you & me, but he is an infinitesimal weakling compared to the Son of God! When the devil comes up against the plans of God, he is met with overwhelming force!
  2. So the basic plan was to send Paul out of Jerusalem under the cover of darkness with basically an army as his protection detail. The commander likely could not have done more on Paul’s behalf, if he tried!

25 He wrote a letter in the following manner: 26 Claudius Lysias, To the most excellent governor Felix: Greetings.

  1. Standard form of epistle/letter. We sign our letters (emails!) with our name; they began with theirs. At this point, we finally learn the name of the commander: “Claudius Lysias” – probably a Greek man (Lysias) who took the name “Claudius” when he purchased his Roman citizenship.
  2. The letter was addressed to the proconsul of Judea & Syria, “the most excellent governor Felix.” History doesn’t show Felix to be excellent (must less most excellent!), but this was the standard protocol of addressing someone in his position. Not unlike saying “your honor” for a judge.

27 This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them. Coming with the troops I rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman.

  1. Well…kind of. There’s a bit of fudging here. It’s not an outright lie, but it’s certainly an “enhancement” of the full truth. Yes, Paul was “seized by the Jews,” and yes, he was almost “killed by them.” And yes, Paul was “rescued” by the Roman commander…but there was also a case of mistaken identity (initially Lysias believed Paul was a leader of some assassins), and a near-miss on having Paul brutally scourged. Those details were conveniently left out, probably with the hopes that Paul wouldn’t bring them up to Felix as it could have caused a lot of trouble for Lysias back in Jerusalem.
  2. The fact that the Roman commander did not tell the full truth does not give us license to do the same. The Bible accurately records his words from the epistle; it does not teach them as doctrine for us to follow.

28 And when I wanted to know the reason they accused him, I brought him before their council. 29 I found out that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but had nothing charged against him deserving of death or chains.

  1. This part was fully true. From the events of the council the previous day, Claudias Lysias knew that Paul did not deserve prison. There was no law of Rome broken by Paul; it was all an issue of religious doctrine. That doesn’t make the doctrine unimportant (it was!); it just means there shouldn’t be any civic/legal punishment for Paul.
    1. The religious question is, in fact, the most important question that can be asked! Remember that although Paul knew that he wasn’t getting a fair trial, he still tried to bring things back to the gospel by bringing up the subject of the resurrection. If Jesus is truly raised from the dead, then there is no question that He is the Son of God / Messiah of Israel. If He is the Son of God, then everything He ever said is true. If what He said is true, then we must believe in Him to have everlasting life!

30 And when it was told me that the Jews lay in wait for the man, I sent him immediately to you, and also commanded his accusers to state before you the charges against him. Farewell.

  1. Again, true. He sent Paul to Felix for safety, and for a resolution of the issue.

31 Then the soldiers, as they were commanded, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. 32 The next day they left the horsemen to go on with him, and returned to the barracks. 33 When they came to Caesarea and had delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him.

  1. Per Lysias’ orders, the group left in the middle of the night, traveling hard and fast. They covered approximately 35 miles to get him to Antipatris. Although the bulk of the soldiers (those travelling by foot) left Paul at that point, he still had a protection detail of 70 Roman horsemen that went with him all the way to Caesarea. In the end, the mission was successful, and Paul was safely delivered to Felix.

34 And when the governor had read it, he asked what province he was from. And when he understood that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will hear you when your accusers also have come.” And he commanded him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.

  1. Paul had a short audience with Felix on his arrival, where Felix determined whether he had jurisdiction over the case. Paul remained under arrest, but at least his quarters were relatively comfortable: the palace of Herod. He’d soon have another trial, and he’d have to endure the weasel-like personality of Felix, but he was alive. Jesus’ promise proved true, Satan’s plot had failed, and Paul was on his way to Rome.

Review the steps: (1) Know and believe Jesus’ word, (2) Know & understand the plots/plans of Satan, and lastly (3) Know/rely upon the power of God. How was it that Paul got to Caesarea alive and in one piece? A counterplan was made by Claudius Lysias, and he was accompanied by 470 Roman soldiers. Was it Rome that kept Paul safe? No. It was God using Rome that kept Paul safe. No plot of the devil could outwit the plan of God. No show of strength by Satan could not be matched by God…and not just matched, but totally overwhelmed! God’s power was more than enough to keep Paul safe.

God’s power is more than enough for us, too! As Paul himself wrote, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31) If God is for us, then it doesn’t matter what Satan throws at us, how viciously he opposes us, or how much upheaval he brings into our lives. If God is for us, it doesn’t matter what sicknesses we face, what confusion we endure, or even what weaknesses of our own we face. When God is for us, we’re in the majority – when God is for us, we win because God wins. Romans 8:37–39, “(37) Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. (38) For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, (39) nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  The power and plans of God are more than enough to conquer any battle we face (even of our own making!), because God’s will is always going to be done. His will was accomplished when He sent Jesus to die for us on the cross & rise from the grave, and His will is going to be accomplished when Jesus returns in power & glory receiving us home. God will see Himself glorified, and He has the power to see it done. Trust Him to do it!

Conclusion:

In the battle, God wins. Satan will never overthrow the will of God. There are times that it may seem like things are hopeless, and that the enemy is out to get us. Guess what? He probably is! The Bible tells us that the devil roams about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet 5:8). But we serve a God infinitely more powerful than the devil, and our Jesus can face him down with overwhelming power! Trust that He can do it.

Paul did. Paul knew the word of God, and trusted the promises given him by the Lord Jesus. He understood the plans/strategies of Satan, being under no delusion that he was under attack. He also knew the overwhelming power of God, who was more than able to see His own promises fulfilled.

How Paul faced his battle is how we ought to face our own. Know the word & promises of God, believing them for what God has said. Know/understand the plans of Satan, being aware of his attacks & knowing our enemy doesn’t change. Know/rely upon the power of God, who always accomplishes His will (even when it may conflict with our own).

We face our own spiritual battles every day…we don’t have to be taken down by them. God has a plan to use each and every one of us for His glory, and He will do it! That’s not to say it will always be easy, or that we can always expect some kind of miraculous deliverance. Yes, Paul had a protection detail of 470 Roman soldiers, but he was still under arrest, and would remain so for the foreseeable future. Yes, Paul was delivered from scourging a few days earlier, but he would later greatly suffer in prison & eventually be executed. But even in this, God was glorified. When God’s plans are accomplished, God receives the glory, and Jesus is made known to others through the gospel. This is what God did through Paul, and this is what God will do through each of us as well.

For Such a Time as This

Posted: June 23, 2019 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 22:22 – 23:10, “For Such a Time as This”

One of the most famous movie titles of all time has to be “The Right Stuff,” the 1983 movie about the early NASA astronauts. The men and women involved at NASA at the time had just the right smarts and bravery to get the work done…something that hasn’t often been repeated! Some things call for the right stuff at the right time. Think of the founding fathers of the United States of America – although they weren’t perfect, they put together an incredible system of government, unequaled among the governments of men. They were the right people at the right time.

One of the best historical examples is found in the Bible, in the account of Esther. Esther was a beautiful young Jewish woman, born in the midst of the Babylonian captivity, now ruled by Persia. She was taken into the king’s harem, favored by the king & taken as his wife…and it came at just the right time, as a plot to exterminate the Jewish people came to light. Although she initially feared to get involved, she was famously told by her uncle: Esther 4:14, “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” God had prepared her for this moment, and she was the right person at the right time.

The same thing could be said for the apostle Paul. Although Paul had been rejected by the Jews in the Jerusalem temple & now arrested by the Romans, God had prepared him for this time. Everything in Paul’s life had led to this moment, and God was going to use it for His own glory.

After completing his 3rd missionary journey, Paul travelled straight for Jerusalem. He was well-aware of trouble that awaited him, having received multiple warnings & preparations from the Holy Spirit of coming persecution. Yet Paul was submitted to the will of God for him, being ready for anything. Sure enough, trouble arrived when Paul was at the temple. Confronted suddenly with false accusations, Paul found himself face-to-face with a mob ready to kill him on the spot. Were it not for a rescue from the nearby Roman commander, that was exactly what would have happened.

Not one to waste an opportunity, Paul asked for & received permission from the Roman commander to speak to the crowd, and Paul gave them his testimony. He described how he once was a rabbinical student with the highest credentials & how he persecuted Christians wherever he could find them. That was when Jesus appeared to him, calling him to repentance & faith, and giving him a new mission: to take the good news of the God-given Messiah of Israel to the Gentiles.

At this, the crowd erupts once again. All of this left a problem for the Roman commander: he still did not know the charge against Paul. What crime had he committed that left the temple mob so angry? The commander already had to rescue Paul once, and now the whole thing was starting all over again. What to do? He already tried things Paul’s way; now he would use the Roman way…a much more painful way!

How did Paul handle all of this? He had to be quick on his feet, using everything at his disposal. He had to use the very things God had given him throughout his life. God had prepared him for such a time as this, and now it was time for Paul to act.

There are things in our past, of which we might not be proud – things that we believe are best forgotten, or at least useless to God. These might be the very things God chooses to use for His glory. Just as God prepared Paul for Paul’s time, God has prepared you for yours. Are you ready & willing to use what you have for Jesus?

From Paul’s experience, we can ask ourselves two questions:

  1. Who did God make you to be?
  2. How has God prepared you for this time?

Whatever you have, use it for Jesus…for such a time as this!

Acts 22:22–30

  • Roman examination (22:22-29). How were you born? Who did God make you to be?

22 And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!”

  1. What “word” sent the crowd into a renewed furor? “” Keep in mind, it wasn’t that the Jews were opposed to Gentiles converting to Judaism – Jesus noted that the Pharisees would “travel land and sea to win one proselyte,” (Mt 23:15); it was the implication that the Messiah of Israel had been rejected by the Jews & that now the good news of the Messiah would go to the Gentile nations instead of Israel. The Jews were upset that Paul said that their Messiah told him that Israel had lost their opportunity.
    1. Nothing used to upset our daughter when she was little as much as the idea that she had lost an opportunity. As a toddler & young child, it would send her into fits. That’s the case with all of us. We might not want to do something in the moment, but when we find out that we won’t get the chance to do it at all, that’s when we get upset. We’ve lost our opportunity. What’s the solution? Don’t waste your opportunity! Do something while you’ve got the chance.
    2. Regarding salvation, we can identify certain times in our lives when we know Jesus was calling us…but we aren’t guaranteed any additional times beyond the current one. When Jesus calls, answer. Don’t waste your opportunity!
  2. Interestingly, the outcry of the crowd was a fulfillment of prophecy. This was exactly what Jesus said the Jews would do: Acts 22:17–18, “(17) “Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance (18) and saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.’” That had been true when Paul first arrived in Jerusalem, and had to be snuck out of the city due to an assassination plot against him (Acts 9:29), and it was true once more. These Jews in the temple wanted Paul dead, even if it meant running over the Romans to get to him.

23 Then, as they cried out and tore off their clothes and threw dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, and said that he should be examined under scourging, so that he might know why they shouted so against him.

  1. The Jews were incredibly upset by the situation, and the formerly-calmed crowd erupted into a renewed mob & frenzy. They “tore” their clothes in grief & hurled “dust into the air.” They were like raging bulls threatening to burst into a stampede. At this point, the Roman commander was likely thinking that letting Paul speak wasn’t such a good idea after all! For the Roman, his whole job was to keep the peace, and things weren’t very peaceful (to say the least!). The crowd was ready to rip Paul limb-from-limb, so the commander thought to save them the trouble…he would do it himself.
  2. The so-called “examination” would comprise of little else but torture. The commander hadn’t learned anything from Paul’s testimony (even if he spoke Aramaic or Hebrew), and he still needed answers, so he thought he’d beat it out of Paul. The process of scourging was horrendous. Most Christians are familiar with it from the lashes received by Jesus prior to His crucifixion…the one with which His back was flayed open. This was no beating with canes, nor the comparatively merciful 39 lashes of discipline practiced by the Jewish courts; this was a multi-thronged whip embedded with stone and pieces of glass. It was whipped across a person’s back for as long as the torturer wanted, and would often leave the victim permanently incapacitated or dead. It was terrible torture, endured by Jesus without a word of protest out of His love for us, but something no one else would ever want to experience if it could be avoided.

25 And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?”

  1. Paul did not ask the question out of a lack of knowledge, but out an abundance of wisdom! He knew exactly the answer to the question, and it was a resounding “no!” Although non-citizens within the Roman empire could be scourged without trial, citizens were protected. Citizenship was difficult to acquire outside of Rome itself, but for those who had it, it was extremely valuable. As a Roman citizen, Paul had rights, and he did not hesitate to claim them. [Paul did something similar when he and Silas were wrongfully imprisoned in Philippi. ~ Acts 16:37-39]
  2. Question: What about turning the other cheek? What about enduring suffering as Jesus did? Answer the question with a question: What about it? If Paul had indeed undergone scourging, no doubt he would have forgiven the man who wielded the whip. If Paul had to endure suffering, he would have done it, just like he had done many times before and after. But if it wasn’t necessary, why do it? If Paul could avoid scourging, why not avoid it? Paul was willing to suffer for Christ, but he wasn’t a masochist, nor was he foolish. It was wisdom that Paul exercised when he claimed his citizenship, so Paul claimed it.
    1. When we put our faith in Christ, we do so as whole people; we don’t check our brains at the door and leave them behind. Part of wisdom is using what God has given you so that you can keep serving Christ. It’s not being stupid under the excuse of faith. Paul could have said, “Well I guess God wants me to get scourged, so I might as well take it.” In any other case, that may have been what God allowed, but in Paul’s case, God gave him Roman citizenship. God didn’t want Paul to endure scourging; He wanted Paul to use the protections provided for him. Not to use it would have been the height of foolishness.
    2. Christians make this mistake when we substitute arrogance & presumption for “faith.” We hear: “The evangelist on stage told me I was healed of my diabetes, so I’m not going to take my medicine.” “God knows the number of days I have, and I’m convinced today isn’t my day to die, so I’m going to walk into harm’s way and trust God to keep me safe.” These things aren’t acts of faith; they’re foolishness. They are presuming upon God to bow to our will, rather than us being submitted to His. God has given us our brains…we need to use them! The Bible repeatedly speaks of the value of wisdom, so we need to be wise!
  3. It’s not only the wisdom of God seen in Paul’s question, it’s also God’s provision. Who was it that gave Paul his Roman citizenship? God…and He gave it at Paul’s birth (22:28). This was something planned by God for Paul long before Paul was born, and it was meant (in part) for this exact moment.

26 When the centurion heard that, he went and told the commander, saying, “Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman.” 27 Then the commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” He said, “Yes.” 28 The commander answered, “With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.” And Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.” 29 Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.

  1. Paul’s statement of Roman citizenship brought quite the change to his situation! Once he said something, the centurion knew to report it immediately. The soldier didn’t need to ask for papers – citizens usually kept it with family archives & hardly ever had it on their persons, but the penalty for lying about citizenship was death, so this was a statement that could usually be trusted. Certainly, the centurion wasn’t going to take a chance that Paul might be lying – otherwise, it would be his neck on the line! So the centurion told the commander, and the commander went back to question Paul. Citizenship was difficult to come by, but it wasn’t impossible. Certain officials had the power to grant citizenship papers, and if a person performed some vital service or gave enough of a bribe, the official might grant the rights. In fact, that was what the commander himself did, having “obtained” his own citizenship “with a large sum” of money…money that it did not appear that Paul had. That’s when Paul told him of his birthright citizenship, which carried more prestige than the commander’s purchased version.
  2. What happened then? There was immediate protection because of Paul’s citizen benefits. One moment, Paul had been tied to a stake, in preparation for a scourging; the next, he was loosed free & the soldiers feared even to touch him. Citizenship made all the difference.
    1. Citizenship makes the difference with us, too! It makes perfect sense, on a civil level: citizens have the right to vote; non-citizens don’t – citizens have the right to appeal to the Bill of Rights; non-citizens don’t, etc. If that’s true in the USA, it’s also true in the Kingdom of God. Citizens have the right to appeal in prayer to Almighty God; non-citizens have no guarantee of being heard. Citizens have the protective seal of the Holy Spirit; non-citizens do not. When citizens of God’s kingdom sin, we have an Advocate in Jesus Christ the Righteous; non-citizens face only judgment. Citizenship makes all the difference!
  3. Again, the existence of Paul’s Roman citizenship is where we see God’s provision in action. Paul’s answer to the Roman commander would have been impossible, if it weren’t for God sovereignly arranging the circumstances of Paul’s birth long before Paul came to be. At the very least, Paul’s father would have had to have been a Roman citizen, and God would have had to do something in his life for him to obtain it & be able to pass it to his son. The amount of planning involved for something like this to happen at precisely this time & in precisely this way is almost infinite…but that’s exactly what God did. (And it’s what God does with every single man, woman, and child on earth!)

One of the things that makes Paul’s Roman citizenship so interesting is that when he was younger & establishing his career as a rabbi and a Pharisee, his Roman background was likely a hindrance rather than a help. Think about it: although Paul (known among the Jews as Saul) had a strong Jewish background as a Hebrew of the Hebrews & being from the tribe of Benjamin (Phil 3:5) as well as having a father as a Pharisee (23:6), at the core of his upbringing Saul was a Hellenistic Jew; not a Hebraic one. He was born and raised in Tarsus of Cilicia, with a Roman birth citizenship, and had to travel great distances to arrive in Jerusalem to be trained by Gamaliel. No doubt, Saul spoke little of his background, not wanting to be compared to the other young men born and raised in Jerusalem. Yet what Saul would have wanted to keep quiet in the past was the very thing God used to protect him in the present. At some point as a young man, Saul may have wondered why God had made him the way he was, if he wanted to be a rabbi, scholar, and Pharisee – what good was a Roman citizenship in light of all of that? It was because God had something bigger in mind, and God knew exactly what He wanted out of Paul when God designed him to be born the way he was.

There may be certain things about your background that you think hold you back. You’ve got certain inherent traits that you can’t do anything about. Maybe it’s a disease with which you were born, and it’s limited you all your life. Maybe it’s a genetic disposition that keeps you from doing an activity you long to do. For instance, some people want to be in the NBA, but they’re 5’1”, stocky, and slow, no matter how much they train. Maybe it’s your family, or your comfort levels, or any number of things that you believe are a hindrance, and there’s not a thing you can do about it. It’s something you were born with; not a skillset you can change. 

Here’s the thing to remember: God made you who are. The Almighty All-knowing God designed you a certain way, ensuring that you were born to a certain set of parents at a specific time with a specific DNA and background. You are not a random combination of mud & stardust brought together by time; you were knit together in the womb of your mother by the Creator God. God knows exactly what He’s doing, and God has a plan to use the person He made you to be. There is not a thing about your life that God cannot use for His glory. He did it with people of the past: Abram was an idolater whom God always planned to use to bring forth a nation – David was a simple shepherd boy that God planned to be a king – Saul was a Roman citizen who longed to be a rabbi, but God had plans for him to be protected and preach the gospel to the world. If God did it with them, He’ll do it with you.

Who did God make you to be? What intrinsic weaknesses do you believe you have? Give it all to God…He can use it for His glory!

  • Jewish examination (22:30 – 23:10). What have you done? How has God prepared you?

30 The next day, because he wanted to know for certain why he was accused by the Jews, he released him from his bonds, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down and set him before them.

  1. Although the commander did the right thing (eventually!) by not scourging Paul, he had a problem: he still didn’t know the cause of the uproar in the temple. This time he picked a more peaceful way of discovery! This time, he commanded the convening of the Sanhedrin. Technically, the Roman commander did not have legal authority over the Jewish religious council, but there was a bit of jurisdiction overlap due to the civil unrest. The commander would not be able to interfere with the council, but he could command them to appear to try to resolve the security issue.

Acts 23:1–10

1 Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.”

  1. Considering that Paul was also the one who wrote, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom 3:23), was Paul being arrogant? Obviously he had done things for which he was ashamed…he was a sinner just like everyone else. This wasn’t arrogance; what Paul said was true, according to the standard of the Sanhedrin. When it came to the observance of the Mosaic law and Jewish custom, Paul had kept it as well or better than anyone. This was basically the same thing he meant when writing to the Philippians, that he was “concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless,” (Phil 3:6). By the standard of men, Paul was blameless, having “a good conscience before God;” by the standard of God’s perfect righteousness, the only thing Paul offered were filthy rags (Isa 64:6).
    1. This is all of us! When we measure ourselves by ourselves, we’re going to look pretty good. When we compare ourselves with one another, some are going to smell like roses & others are going to stink. But when we start comparing ourselves to God’s perfection, we’re all going to have a stench! What we need is true righteousness, and that can only be found in Jesus.

2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?” 4 And those who stood by said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” 5 Then Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ ”

  1. Many Christians have wondered why Paul didn’t recognize the high priest, when Paul used to live in Jerusalem as a member of the Sanhedrin council. And although the name sounds familiar in English (the Aramaic roots were different), this was a different man than the former high priest Annas of Jesus’ trial. This was Ananias, son of Nedebeus, who was known for his corruption and cruelty. Historically, the position of high priest changed frequently during the Roman empire as it was a political position as much as a religious one. It wasn’t like the Roman Catholic pope who normally served for life; the Jewish high priest served as long as the Roman governor wanted him to serve, or not to serve. As for Paul, it had been 20 years since he lived in Jerusalem, and although some of the men on the Sanhedrin council knew him from the past, there were probably others who were strangers. Even if Paul knew Ananias from before, he still may not have known that Ananias ascended to the position of high priest, if Ananias wasn’t wearing his priestly robes. Remember that the Roman commander convened the council rather suddenly, so the men might have gathered without the traditional garments.
  2. In any case, Paul obviously did not appreciate being hit, and he immediately lashed back with his words. Was Paul cursing him, or prophesying against him? It’s difficult to say, as Ananias did experience a death that could be considered the judgment of God (house burned by revolutionaries and possible assassination by the Sicarii). At this point, some might accuse Paul of not turning the other cheek & reacting in anger, to which they might have an argument. Paul would be the first to admit he wasn’t perfect, and although he had a right to be offended, he probably expressed it in the wrong way. That said, we ought to give Paul some credit: as soon as he was confronted with his potential sin (even by those who sinned against him!), he was quick to humble himself and apologize. He knew he was wrongly judged by the priest, but he was still personally accountable to God, and he held himself to the standard of Scripture (Exo 22:28).
    1. As much as it was wisdom that Paul used in claiming his Roman citizenship, it was also wisdom for Paul to humbly accept rebuke, even from those who were his enemies. Proverbs 19:25, “Strike a scoffer, and the simple will become wary; Rebuke one who has understanding, and he will discern knowledge.” Christians can be both in the right and the wrong at the same time. Our humility in accepting correction can be a powerful tool used by God to share the gospel of forgiveness with others!

6 But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!” 7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. 8 For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.

  1. We might think of the difference between the Pharisees & Sadducees as between the theological conservatives & liberals. Although Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, there was a reason the Pharisees were around Jesus more than the Sadducees: they had far more theological ground in common! Were it not for their self-righteousness and hypocrisy, the Pharisees might have been allies with Jesus and the disciples in Jerusalem. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were more focused on politics than Scripture. They were the party that usually produced the high priest & thus often allied with Rome, but they discounted major portions of Hebrew Scripture & denied all kinds of Biblical doctrine outside of the Pentateuch (the 5 books of Moses). Part of what they denied included the future resurrection, and Paul used this to his advantage.
  2. Question: Was this a legal/political stunt? No – Paul knew he wasn’t getting a fair trial, so he did what he needed to do to try to gain a hearing among at least some of the people present. Although the Proverbs warn against those who stir up strife (Prov 15:18, 16:28), they also speak of waging war by wise counsel (20:18) and foreseeing evil & hiding oneself (27:12). Paul wasn’t trying to stir up trouble just for the sake of division, nor to gain some sort of political power for himself; he was in the midst of a kangaroo court that was out to do him harm. This was (once again) wisdom in action, as Paul used everything God had given him at his disposal.
  3. Additionally, Paul’s identification as a Pharisee allowed him to talk about the core issue at hand: the “resurrection of the dead.” Truly, this was why the mob had wanted to kill Paul in the temple, and why so many on the Sanhedrin hated him. Paul preached the resurrection, and he preached a specific resurrection: Jesus’. Because Paul preached that Jesus was risen from the dead, and because Jesus’ resurrection was preached to all people (Jew and Gentile alike) giving them the hope of their own future resurrection, Paul was hated and condemned by the Jews of Jerusalem (Sadducee and Pharisee alike!).
    1. But that is the good news of the gospel! Jesus is risen from the dead, and because He rose, we can be sure that we will rise as well! Our resurrection is included in Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus being the firstfruits of those risen from the dead (1 Cor 15:20). Although one day all men and women will rise to stand before God, only those who have received Jesus as Lord will rise to everlasting life. We only know this because of Jesus’ own resurrection, so His resurrection is good news indeed!

9 Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, “We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.”

  1. The Pharisees took Paul’s side, but not enough to truly listen to what he said. Paul wanted to speak of a specific resurrection; the scribes & Pharisees heard enough to simply ignore the rest. They essentially said, “We don’t believe Paul’s guilty of a crime. We don’t know who spoke to him or if what was said was true, but if a spirit said it, then it’s okay by us. Let God sort it out!” They were likely remembering what Paul said the previous day at the temple when speaking of Jesus’ appearance to him. Instead of recognizing Jesus as the Risen Messiah, they passed Him off as some random “spirit or an angel.” It was enough to save Paul for the day, but not enough for the scribes and Pharisees to come to faith.

Take a step back to look at the larger picture again. What was it to which Paul appealed in his trial? His life as a Pharisee. With the Romans, it was his citizenship with which he was born; with the Sanhedrin, it was his background as a Pharisee for which he had trained. This was what Saul of Tarsus longed for as a younger man, desiring to be a Pharisee like his father had been a Pharisee – and he excelled to the highest levels! Yet this was what later brought Paul the apostle some of his greatest regret. It was as a Pharisee that Saul had a misplaced zeal for God – it was as a Pharisee that he stood by, holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen to death – it was a Pharisee that Saul threw Christian men & women into prison – it was as a Pharisee that Saul was willing to go to any city to track down any Christian he could find and persecute him, and thus persecute Jesus Himself. These were the things Paul regretted until the day he died. It’s not that Paul never realized he was forgiven (he did, and he rejoiced!), but neither did he forget. It was ever tied into the gospel he preached: 1 Timothy 1:12–15, “(12) And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, (13) although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. (14) And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. (15) This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” Paul was a sinner saved by grace alone…a fact he never forgot.

But there was regret. Paul knew the sin he committed as a Pharisee, wishing he had never done it. Yet what was it that God used in this moment to help Paul? Paul’s background as a Pharisee. The things he wished he’d never done (rightfully so!) was what God chose to use for His glory.

Likewise for us. There are things in our past that we wish never happened. We have regrets about the things we’ve done, and if we could do it all over again, we would do differently. And rightfully so! Sin is sin, no matter how we look at it or what label we slap on it. But for the Christian, this much is certain: God uses even those things to make us the men and women we are today – God can (and does!) use those things for His glory. Remember the promise Paul wrote to the Romans: Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” You know one of the great things about that promise? Apart from the identification to the born-again Christian (“those who love God…those who are the called”), there’s no limit on it. It doesn’t say, “God uses all the good things to work together for good,” or “God uses all the successes in our lives to work for good;” it says that God makes “all things work together for good.” That includes all of the stuff of our past – it includes all of the things that have happened to us to make us into the men & women we are today. Even the stuff of which we are ashamed can be used by God for His glory.

Think of it: former drunkards can talk to other drunks about Jesus – former addicts can tell other addicts the gospel. Men who have been freed from pornography can give hope to others who are trapped in it – people who have contemplated suicide can offer the hope and life of Jesus to those in despair. All of those things of which we are ashamed, those things which we wish never happened – each and every one of those things can be used by God for His glory! If God can use the Pharisaical background of Paul to spread the gospel of grace, certainly He can use sinners like us!

10 Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks.

  1. By this point, the Roman commander had to be thinking: “Who is this guy? Every time I let him speak, people want to rip him to shreds!” Once again, Paul had to be rescued from a mob, albeit a much smaller one.
  2. At least the commander finally had his answer. This wasn’t a question of a civil crime or national security; this was a question of the Jewish religion. What to do about it was still uncertain, but it was something the centurion would have to figure out quick!

Conclusion:

It was the end of a couple of turbulent days for Paul! After being rescued from a Jewish mob, he was almost scourged by the Romans, and went from there to a kangaroo court where he almost faced terrible injustice. What saved him was the unlikeliest of pairs: his Roman background, and his Jewish career. God used all of the things of Paul’s past (both things over which he had no control, and things of which he was ashamed) to prepare him for exactly this moment. God had raised Paul for “such a time as this,” and used him for the glory of God.

Christian: Who did God make you to be? How has God prepared you for this moment? Sometimes we wonder how God could ever use people like us for His perfect plan, but that’s exactly God’s intent for each one of us! There are things in our makeup over which we have no control, and there are events in our past that we wish never happened – but whoever we are & whatever we’ve experienced can be used for the glory of God. Our God is that big and that powerful.

The key for us is to be available. Use what you have for Jesus! Bring to Him what little you have, and trust Him to use it for His glory. We might think we offer nothing but scraps and crumbs, but God can do much with little. If Jesus can turn water into wine & a few loaves & fish into an abundant meal for thousands, just think what He can do with what little we have to offer! Trust Him to do it. Trust that no matter what it is we have in our past, God can & will use it for His glory.

Never the Same

Posted: June 16, 2019 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 22:1-21, “Never the Same”

Transformations can be amazing! Think of the weight-loss before/after shots you’ve seen – some of them don’t even look like the same person. People lose weight through all sorts of means, but if there’s one thing that’s commonly said by all, it’s this: “I’ll never be the same – I’ll never go back.” Of course, it doesn’t always hold true (though the intention is good), but other transformations are truly one-way tickets. A soldier returning from the battlefield has seen things that he/she would never have seen otherwise, and they are never the same. A cancer survivor has usually experienced things he/she would never wish on an enemy, and it leaves the person forever changed, never the same.

Of course, the best transformations belong to those who have met Jesus. We who believe upon the risen, living Son of God have been truly transformed from the inside-out. Like a caterpillar going through metamorphosis to become a butterfly, so we have become new creations in Christ. We were dead; now we’re alive – we were sinners; now we are saints in the sight of God – we were lost; now we are found – we were enemies of God; now we are His sons and daughters. All of it is through Jesus & all of it is by His grace, and all of it is truly transforming. Those who have met Jesus are not, and can never be, the same as we were before. (Even during the times we slip into sin, we’re not the same! Now when we sin, we do it with the knowledge of what we are doing as we actively resist the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Thankfully, we also have the promise of forgiveness!)

When we think of Christian transformations, we’re really thinking of what we often call “testimonies.” These are our stories. These are our accounts of how we’ve individually come to faith in Christ. They vary from person to person, but the basics are the same: there was a time we didn’t know Jesus – there was a time we believed in Jesus – and there was/is a time we started walking with Jesus. Before we didn’t know the Lord, but once we met Him & believed upon Him, now we can never be the same.

There are a lot of dramatic testimonies out there, but perhaps the most famous is that of the apostle Paul. This was a man who was transformed from being a persecutor of Christians, to one of the most influential Christians of all time. Paul was truly transformed from the inside-out, and after meeting Jesus, he was never the same!

Question: For those of us who have been studying the book of Acts, we may remember that Paul’s testimony has already been given in Chapter 9. Why go through it all again? Better yet, consider the fact that this isn’t even the final instance of Paul’s testimony in the book of Acts, because it’s repeated yet once more in Chapter 26. Why do we need to hear Paul’s testimony three times? Answer: Because it’s the story of a life transformed. Paul was a man who supposedly loved the Lord God, and was zealous to serve Him to the highest extent…when in reality, Paul didn’t have a clue as to how lost he was! That’s when Jesus reached out to him in grace, saved him, and called him into service. That’s when Jesus used Paul to change the world for the glory of God.

What Jesus did with Paul is what He can do with you & with me. The Lord Jesus did not stop working in the 1st century…not by a long shot! If Jesus could transform someone like Paul for the glory of God, Jesus can (and will!) do the same with us.

Acts 22 picks up on a cliffhanger of an ending from Acts 21. Remember that that chapter breaks/numbers are not inspired by the Holy Spirit; only the text of the Bible itself – so Luke (as the author) didn’t intend to leave his readers hanging…that’s just the result of history. Remember that Paul had come to Jerusalem having been repeatedly warmed about his future arrest. First, he was warned by the Holy Spirit about chains & tribulations (20:23). He was confronted by the Christians in Tyre, who did not want him to go up to Jerusalem (21:4). Finally, the prophecy was confirmed yet again by Agabus in the city of Caesarea (21:11). Through all of this, Paul was fully committed to God’s will, and he continued on to Jerusalem, conducting himself peacefully and above reproach, not giving his enemies any excuse to start trouble.

Excuse or not, they started trouble anyway, lying about Paul & instigating a mob that almost beat Paul to death in the temple courtyard. One of the Roman commanders came to Paul’s rescue, initially arresting him out of a case of mistaken identity, but taking him out of the hands of the Jews. Speaking to the Roman in fluent Greek, Paul took him enough by surprise that the commander allowed Paul to speak to the crowd…and that’s where we left off.

What did Paul have to say? Interestingly, he never once refutes the lies spread about him, but immediately launches into his personal testimony. If there was one thing the Jews in Jerusalem needed to hear, it was how Paul had been saved & transformed by Jesus. Just like he was lost as an unknowing enemy of God, so were his countrymen. And just like Paul had been saved, so could any of them. So can you.

After a brief introduction, Paul’s testimony breaks down into three main parts:

  • Before Christ
  • Meeting Christ
  • After/In Christ

It’s Paul’s transformation, from beginning to end, but it could describe any of us. God transforms people through Jesus…believe on Him!

Acts 22:1–21

  • Introduction (1-2).

1 “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense before you now.” 2 And when they heard that he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, they kept all the more silent. Then he said:

  1. When speaking to the Roman commander, it was Paul’s fluent use of Greek that got the commander’s attention; with the Jewish crowd, it was the opposite. This time, Paul “spoke to them in the Hebrew language,” with Luke using the term to most likely refer to the common Aramaic spoken at the time. This was the language of the Jews of the 1st century, and it was the language they had been using since their return from Babylonian captivity. Of course, it is possible that Paul spoke to them in formal Hebrew, the language most of the Jews would hear only on Sabbath in the synagogue (if there, at all) – but whatever specific dialect Paul used, it took the Jewish mob off-guard. This was a man basically accused of apostasizing from the Jewish faith and one who knowingly & willingly brought Greeks into the holy Jewish temple. Although the Roman commander didn’t expect Paul to know Greek, the crowd didn’t expect Paul to speak anything but Greek! And as with the commander, it caught the people just enough off-guard to allow him an opportunity (one with which he ran!).
  2. Paul appealed to the crowd, asking them to hear his “defense” (ἀπολογία ~ apologetics). Again, this wasn’t a defense against the false charges about him; this was something totally unexpected by the people. Like Peter later wrote, Paul was ready to give a defense for the hope he had within him (1 Pet 3:15). Whatever it was the crowd thought they were going to hear about the charges against Paul, what he gave them was the gospel!
    1. Christians are sometimes accused of sounding like broken records when all we do is talk about Jesus, and if there’s one person that exemplified that more than most, it was Paul. But who says that’s a bad thing? When we get the opportunity, let us speak of Christ! Let us proclaim the cross & resurrection! No subject is more worthy of our speech than the gospel, and we need to take every opportunity that is given to us to proclaim it.
    2. That’s not to say we need to be obnoxious about it. If we use any excuse to slip in the name of Jesus as a non-sequitur “Sunday school answer,” then people are going to stop listening to us. (And testimonies aren’t much value without someone to hear them!) But as we can, in wisdom, discernment, and grace, we can use the platforms given us by God to tell people of His Son & introduce them to Jesus. 
  • Where Paul came from. (3-5) Before Christ.

3 “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today.

  1. The first thing Paul did was establish common ground. He was a Jew, just like everyone standing in front of him. He was no different than anyone else, and he had the same background. He may have been born outside Jerusalem, but (just like people born outside Texas), he got there as fast as he could! Technically, being “born in Tarsus of Cilicia” (in modern-day Turkey), Paul was a Hellenistic Jew (a Jew with a Greek-background), but Paul certainly had strong Hebrew credentials! His family moved to Jerusalem when he was young enough to be taken on as a rabbinic student by the famous Gamaliel. Gamaliel was seen in Acts 5, giving counsel to the Sanhedrin regarding what to do with this new teaching being proclaimed by Jesus’ disciples (primarily Peter & John), and he was one of the most respected rabbis in the ancient Jewish world. For Paul to say that he was a student of Gamaliel would be like a lawyer today saying how he/she clerked for a Supreme Court justice, or a computer programmer saying how he/she trained under the late-Steve Jobs (Apple). You couldn’t ask for a higher quality training…it was as good as it got.
  2. And not only was Paul’s training to the highest degree, so was his application. Just like the Jews in front of him, he “was zealous toward God,” wanting to be the best Jew he could possibly be “according to the strictness of our fathers’ law.” Although no one can ever truly be righteous through their own efforts, according to the standard observed by the Jews of the day, Paul was righteous. As he wrote to the Philippians about his past credentials, he was “concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless,” (Phil 3:6). Of course, it didn’t gain him anything! He went on to write that what things were considered “gain” to him, he “counted loss for Christ,” because knowing Jesus was better than anything he had known before! (Phil 3:7-8) – But the point was clear: Paul was a Jew just like the other Jews, and he did his best to live according to the word of God.
  3. Notice that although Paul speaks of being zealous toward God & strictly obeying the Jewish law, he never once pronounces himself sinless. Paul may have been a “good” Jew, just like the men in front of him were “good” Jews, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have sins that required God’s forgiveness. (And he did: verse 16!) Being a good religious boy or girl doesn’t save anyone – all of us have sinned and need the forgiveness of God. Whether we know it or not, we’re all lost & need to be found by Jesus!
    1. There are a lot of church-going people in the same boat as the “before Christ” (BC) Paul. They were raised in the church – they learned all the songs – they knew all the heroes – they memorized all the Scripture…but they are still lost. Without a true relationship of faith in Jesus as the Living Son of God, none of that Christian tradition saves. Without true faith in Jesus, it’s tradition…nothing more.

4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, 5 as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.

  1. Speaking here of Paul’s previous history of persecution. When Paul the missionary was known as Saul of Tarsus, his name was feared among Christians! Those who were of the “Way” (the earliest name for Christianity, reflecting Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life) ran and hid when Saul drew near. His murderous career began at the mob-stoning of Stephen (the 1st martyr of the church – Acts 7), and it continued as he drug men and women all over Judea to prison (Acts 8:3). This had a by-product of pushing Christians out of Jerusalem and Judea to start travelling all through the Roman empire, and Saul wanted to follow them wherever they went. In an unprecedented move, he asked for letters from the Sanhedrin (Paul’s “brethren” at the time) to extradite discovered Christians back to Jerusalem for punishment. Consider for a moment a request from the ambassador of Afghanistan to extradite an Afghani national from the USA back to their country for crimes against Islam…it’d be unthinkable! Yet that was the hubris of Saul/Paul, and exactly what he wanted to do with the Jews who had put their faith in Jesus as Messiah.
  2. What’s more, all this history could be verified. If any of the Jews in the crowd questioned Paul’s story, they could just ask the high priest. They were already on the temple grounds, and there were surely members of the Sanhedrin among them. Although this had all happened 20+ years earlier, the records and reputation of Saul/Paul was well known. None of this had been done in secret & all of it could be verified.
  3. Put it all together, and what’s the idea? Before he met Jesus, you couldn’t find a Jew more opposed to Christ than Saul/Paul! He hated the message of Jesus as the Messiah with as much fervor as he claimed to love and worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
    1. The irony of it all is that because he hated Jesus, it’s clear he did not even know the God of his fathers! How can anyone love God, yet hate His Son? If you told me that you loved me, yet hated my daughter, I’d look at you as if you were nuts! (And vice-versa!) How much more with God? Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), and if we knew Jesus, we would know the Father (Jn 8:19, 14:7). If you love one, you love the other; if you hate one, you hate the other…it’s that simple. So many people want to claim a relationship with God apart from/without Jesus, and it doesn’t work that way. There’s no way to know God in truth without knowing Jesus as His Son. Again, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him (Jn 14:6).

This was who Paul was prior to meeting Christ: a zealous Jew, brought up according to the strictest religious tradition, and someone who truly hated Jesus and those who followed Him. If it seems he was lost, he was! He was supremely lost, and didn’t even know it. He was an enemy of God all the while he believed he was serving God. 

That could describe a lot of people…maybe even you & me. When we don’t know Jesus as our Savior & Lord, we’re lost – supremely lost…even if we don’t know it. Maybe you were the good kid, the religious kid…Paul was. Maybe you were the God-hater, open-enemy of Jesus…Paul was. Truth is, it doesn’t matter how “good” or how “bad” you think you were, without Jesus, you were still lost and doomed. Something has to change – and something does, the moment we meet Jesus!

  • What happened to Paul (6-16). Meeting Christ.

6 “Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ 8 So I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’

  1. Armed with his extradition papers, Saul/Paul headed north from Jerusalem to Damascus of Syria (one of the largest and most ancient cities of the Roman world), and that’s when his life changed forever. All of a sudden, Paul saw a light & heard a voice – his senses bombarded with such force that he fell to the ground even though no one touched him. That’s when the words that were being spoken to him started to sink in: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Paul had persecuted many people, but he didn’t know who this was. This whole experience was like something out of his Bible, and he didn’t know what to make of it. Could this be the One he feared? Could this be the Angel of the Lord? There was only one way to find out: he had to ask. No doubt his heart felt like it dropped to his stomach when he heard the answer: “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.” Saul/Paul was persecuting Jesus. The One he believed was powerless and a fraud was none other than the all-powerful Son of God. Everything the disciples spoke about this Man was true, and the people who followed Him as the Way did so rightly…and Saul was persecuting Him.
    1. Question: Had Saul raised a finger against Jesus? By this point, Jesus was long-since risen from the dead and ascended to heaven. But all persecution is persecution against Jesus! When we place our faith & trust in Christ, we become part of Jesus’ body, with Him as our head. So when one believer in Christ is hated, Jesus Himself is hated. When one Christian is spat upon, Jesus is spat upon. As Jesus said in the teaching of the sheep and the goats, “inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me,” (Mt 25:40). That’s true for good & evil. When people bless fellow Christians, people are blessing Christ; when people persecute Christians, they persecute Jesus.
    2. What does this mean for us today? (1) It means that if/when we experience persecution, we can be certain that it is seen by Almighty God & it will not be ignored! He is the just Judge! (2) It means that we ought to be very careful how we treat Jesus’ body & bride! He loves His church, and we do well to care for her, rather than tear her down.
  2. The overall point made by Paul is that he was personally confronted by the Living Lord Jesus. Although Paul had previously hated and persecuted Christians, he had no idea that he was actually opposing God. Now everything was flipped on its head. Now Paul met Someone he could not ignore, nor could he deny. The rumors about Jesus were not rumors at all; they were truth. Jesus is alive, and Jesus is the Lord God. That was something Paul had to deal with. (It’s something we all have to deal with!)
  3. FYI: Jesus said much more at the time, but Paul condensed his testimony here. Paul’s testimony is recorded three times in the book of Acts, all with minor variations (depending on the reason the testimony was given), but no real contradictions. One supposed contradiction is seen in verse 9…

9 “And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me.

  1. How does this match with Acts 9? At first glance, it appears to be a direct contradiction: Acts 9:7, “And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one.” So which is it: did they see nothing but hear something, or see something but hear nothing? They saw something (a light); they didn’t see someone (Jesus). They heard “a voice,” but they did not hear Jesus’ voice. IOW, they heard a sound, but they could not distinguish the words. Objection: “You’re just parsing words!” No – words mean different things in different contexts, even if it’s the same word. The word “love” means one thing when I’m talking about my pet dog & something totally different when I speak of my beloved bride. Same word, different context. It’s the same thing with Paul’s testimony. In Acts 9:7, “voice” is open-ended, meaning it could be translated “sound/noise;” in Acts 22:9, “voice” is specifically “the voice of Him who spoke to me.
  2. In all the debate, don’t miss the main point: Other people knew something had happened to Paul. They may not have known what it was, but they knew something took place. There were witnesses. What happened to Paul was supernatural & beyond-the-ordinary, but it was not the ravings of a crazy man. Paul was no lunatic nor a well-meaning guy with an overactive imagination; although the words he heard were heard by him alone, the experience he had could be verified by those who were with him. There were witnesses (just like with the high priest & other Sanhedrin).
    1. BTW – Christian: Not everyone from your past will agree with your faith and testimony, but there will be some things they cannot deny. They will see the changes in your life, and they will have to admit it. “He used to be a drunk, but now he’s sober.” “She used to be hateful, but now she’s not.” When we meet Jesus, there’s a change (or several!) in our lives that is unmistakable. We’re no longer the people we were before, and people who knew us then will have to admit the change now. 

10 So I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus.

  1. In no small irony, when he saw the light (both literally and metaphorically), Paul was left blind. His whole life to that point had been in spiritual darkness (though unintentional & ignorant); now that he saw the truth, he could no longer see around him. – Some might wonder if this was God’s punishment on Saul for all of Saul’s persecution, but this was probably a blessing. After all, Saul/Paul had been completely egotistical, thinking he knew it all – he was puffed up with spiritual pride and religious zeal. All of a sudden, it was taken away from him, and he was completely humbled and forced to be dependent on the kindness of others…and ultimately, the kindness and mercy of God. This was a lesson to the newly-converted Paul that he would not soon forget: he had nothing without Jesus…all he had was grace, and grace alone.
  2. One thing he did know: a ministry had already been “appointed” for him by God. Paul may have previously been a persecutor of Christ, but Jesus was not casting him off. Once Paul came to faith, Jesus wasn’t sitting around laughing & mocking him, teasing him with all the things that Paul would never be able to do. No! Jesus had a wonderful (if not always easy) plan for Paul, and both desired & commanded Paul to serve. In the past, Paul wanted to serve the Lord in zeal, but was grossly wrong in how he did it; now Jesus graciously gave him the opportunity to do it in truth.
    1. Our God is so good! Our God has plans for us! They may not be the plans we would write for ourselves, but they are the ones that can best be used for the glory of God. Seek God for what He as appointed for you, and submit yourself to it!

12 “Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there, 13 came to me; and he stood and said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that same hour I looked up at him.

  1. Once Paul arrived in Damascus, he was helped by Ananias, a credible Jew & “devout man.” If Paul thought Jesus’ appointed plans for him were different than his expectations, no doubt Ananias was doubly surprised by Jesus’ call! Ananias truly loved the Lord, but he was understandably fearful of Paul, knowing why he had come to Syria. Even so, Ananias was obedient to Jesus’ command, went to Paul & healed him of his temporary blindness.
  2. Again, Paul’s mention of Ananias’ devoutness was to establish him as a credible person in the minds of the Jews listening to him at the temple. Thus far, nothing described by Paul was done by Jewish heretics or crazy people. Were the events fantastic – incredible – miraculous? But they were verifiable to the ears of the 1st century Jews. This was an amazing account, but a reasonable one. And it went even further: Ananias’ credibility is furthered by the miracle. As Nicodemus noted of Jesus, no one can do the miracles of God unless God gave those miracles (Jn 3:2). If Ananias was able to give a supernatural healing, then he must have been empowered by God to do so. This was all God’s work, and they needed listen!

14 Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. 15 For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.

  1. This was what Jesus told Paul to expect: he was to be told God’s will for him. What was it? God’s will for Paul was for Paul to know God’s will regarding the Messiah. God wanted Paul to know & “see the Just One,” the Righteous One, the Promised Messiah of God, and that’s what happened when Paul saw the glory and person of the Lord Jesus. In that moment on the road to Damascus, God made Paul a true apostle of the Risen Jesus, enabling him to be a witness of Jesus to all the world.
  2. Why? Because God wanted Paul to be a “” Isn’t that amazing? It’s certainly not what we might have expected. Think about it: Paul was a theologian – maybe God wanted Paul to be an apologist-extraordinaire for Jesus, going toe-to-toe with the Sanhedrin. Paul was a violent persecutor – maybe God wanted Paul to rush into the prisons and free those whom he had arrested. Paul was a Pharisee trained under Gamaliel – maybe God wanted Paul to go back from the Pharisees, and try to change people from within the system, bringing rabbis to Christ. None of it. God didn’t need any of Paul’s strengths – God had no need of any of the skills for which Paul trained over the years. All God needed was Paul’s availability as a witness. God wanted Paul to speak of the events of that one day on the road to Damascus. – That’s one reason why Paul’s testimony is recorded three times in Scripture: it’s because Paul never stopped talking about it! This was what Jesus called Paul to do, and Paul did it. He was a witness – a faithful, humble witness of Jesus’ resurrection, and he spoke of how Jesus transformed his life until the day he died.
    1. Beloved, that’s what Jesus asks of us! He doesn’t need our debating skills or our theological prowess. He isn’t impressed with how many scholars you can quote or how many arguments you can win. Jesus doesn’t need your skill (He can give you whatever skills are needed for whatever task He gives you!); He needs your availability as a witness. How willing are you to tell others of what you have seen & heard? How ready are you to tell someone else about how Jesus transformed your life? That’s what He asked of Paul; that’s what He asks of us.

16 And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’

  1. Ananias called Paul to action. Paul had spent enough of his life engaging in sins of the past. Before he had been zealous for God in ignorance; now he knew the truth. Now there wasn’t time to waste! It was time to get moving.
  2. BTW: Don’t get confused by the idea of washing away sins in baptism. Baptism does not save; calling on the name of Jesus saves. Paul was saved the moment he put his faith in Jesus as the resurrected Son of God. Baptism simply symbolized the new life he had in Christ, and it was like he was washing clean, starting over.
    1. Baptism is important – it is obedient; it just doesn’t save.
  • Where Paul would go (17-21). After/In Christ.

17 “Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance 18 and saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.’

  1. There was a lot of history skipped over by Paul to the Jews. In those few minutes while standing on the steps of the Antonia Fortress looking over the temple courtyard, it wasn’t time for him to give a full biography of his life; he was just giving the highlights. There was the BC-version of Paul, the Damascus road meeting of Christ, and then a whole life that brought Paul to this point where he’s now standing in Jerusalem. Out of the last part, what was most relevant to the Jews in the temple? Anything dealing with Jerusalem…so that’s what Paul concentrated on.
  2. This was the 2nd appearance of Jesus to Paul (at least, 2nd in this version of his testimony) – providing a double-witness of the Messiah, and strengthening Paul’s testimony even more to the people. Even so, what Jesus said to Paul wasn’t what Paul wanted to hear. Jesus told him that he’d have to flee for his life. Why? The Jerusalem Jews would “not receive your testimony concerning Me.” That was both prophetic at that initial moment, as it was in the day Paul spoke in the temple (as will be seen in verse 22!).

19 So I said, ‘Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You. 20 And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’

  1. Paul protested. Likely thought that his testimony made him supremely qualified to take the gospel to the Jews. After all, if a Pharisee like Paul converted, that would be a powerful witness to the rest of Jerusalem. We’ve often thought the same thing: “If only that person converted, he/she would be such a great witness!” The reality is often quite different. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Some celebrities end up being fantastic witnesses to the crowds from which they came…others, not so much. At the end of the day, celebrities are just humans, with the same failings and weaknesses and temptations as the rest of us. How much influence that have prior to meeting Christ means nothing; it’s how much they give themselves over to Christ what matters.

21 Then He said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.’ ”

  1. Again, Jesus didn’t need Paul’s strengths. Paul’s resume made it seem as if he’d be the perfect candidate to preach to the Jews; Jesus knew differently. Paul was the perfect person to preach to the Gentiles. Not according to paper, but according to the plan of God. God used everything that would have been perceived by the world as a weakness (Paul’s strong Hebrew background) to boldly proclaim that the Hebrew Messiah had been given by God to the nations…and (just like Paul) the world was never the same!

Conclusion:

Paul was transformed by Jesus, when Paul didn’t even realize he needed to be transformed! His entire life was turned upside-down, and it was wonderful! He didn’t have a clue how lost he was, until Jesus reached out to him in grace and gave him the opportunity to be saved.

Maybe you’re the same way. You look at your life, and you think you’re perfectly fine: life is going the way that you want, your career trajectory is on-point, and it seems like the world is at your fingertips. Look again. Are you working with Jesus, or against Him? Is He the Lord of your life, or have you been working against Him, perhaps even persecuting Him with your attitude against other Christians? Or maybe you’ve been part of a religious church culture without ever having a real experience with the living Jesus? Having faith in Christ is more than checking off some boxes of things we say we know; it’s about truly knowing the Living Lord Jesus.

For those of us who are Christians, what we see in Paul’s testimony is instructive regarding our own testimonies. For all the ways our backgrounds differ, there are basic things that are the same: (1) We had a time before we knew Jesus, when we started in sin. (2) We had a time when we met Jesus in faith, and we were saved by His grace. (3) We now have a time when we walk with Jesus in obedience, and we’re sent out by God. IOW: Before Christ, Meeting Christ, After/In Christ. Those are the elements of our testimonies. Are they as dramatic as Paul’s? Maybe, maybe not…few are. But they are just as miraculous! Once, you too were dead, and now you’re eternally alive because you believed upon the Risen Jesus – you met Him in faith & surrendered your life to Him as your Lord. You’re a new creation, and you’ll never be the same. 

Faith in the Fray

Posted: June 10, 2019 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 21:15-40, “Faith in the Fray”

We call the situation a “Catch-22” – a classic “darned if you do; darned if you don’t,” (though perhaps with different words as substitutions!). It’s the situation where no matter what you do, it comes out wrong. Instead of a win-win (which is always preferable); it’s a no-win, “heads I win, tails you lose” from an opponent.

This was what Paul experienced during his arrival in Jerusalem. No matter what he did and how he tried to put his best foot forward, his enemies were looking for an excuse to take him down, and that’s what they did…or so they thought! What the enemies of Paul believed to be a victory was actually the plan of God at work. The enemies of Paul believed themselves to shut down Paul’s gospel message to the Gentiles; the reality was that their actions (by the hand of God) only served to amplify the gospel to the rest of the world & countless generations through history. They hadn’t shut down the work of God at all; they had been unwittingly used by God for His greater glory!

This is what is shown during Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem at the temple, and if we miss this, we miss the whole point. It would be easy to look at the events that led to his arrest in an attempt to dissect strategies and failures…but that isn’t what is seen at all. Remember that this whole series of events had been repeatedly prophesied. At the end of Paul’s 3rd missionary journey, he began the trek to Jerusalem & received prophecy after prophecy of his impending arrest. First were the repeated testimonies from the Holy Spirit of the “chains and tribulations” that awaited him in Jerusalem (Acts 20:23). Next was the warning in Tyre, as the Christians there potentially misinterpreted their own revelation by the Holy Spirit as they told Paul “not to go up to Jerusalem,” (Acts 21:4). Finally, there was the enacted drama in Caesarea by the recognized prophet Agabus that Paul would be bound by the Jews and delivered to the Gentiles (Acts 21:11). At this point, there should have been zero doubt as to what awaited Paul. God promised (repeatedly!) that Paul would be arrested in Jerusalem, and so he would be.

So why the attempt of the church to avoid arrest? What happened that the strategy of the church failed? First of all, nothing failed at all. The advice of the church was for Paul to maintain his innocence and to remain above reproach, and that was what Paul did. As for his enemies, they simply didn’t care. The devil doesn’t care about what compromises we’re willing to make, and it didn’t matter what Paul would or wouldn’t have done in Jerusalem – his enemies still would have opposed him.

But again, this was all part of the sovereign plan of God.

No one in the church wanted Paul’s arrest & suffering at the hands of the Jews, but just like this had been God’s will for Jesus, it was God’s will for Paul. This was God’s chosen plan to take the gospel to the house of Caesar, and to provide much written Scripture to the rest of the church. This was what God wanted, and Paul had faith enough to trust God’s sovereign plan, and simply try to make the most of every situation in which God allowed him to be placed.

How similar it was to Jesus! Jesus always knew He was destined for the cross, and though He never once tried to avoid it, He made the most of every opportunity until it came. Jesus had perfect peace in the mist of injustice & sin because of His knowledge of God’s sovereignty. It didn’t make the actions of the people right; it make the plan of God glorious.

What is your response to the plan of God for you? Do you kick against every obstacle, or do you see these things as things that our sovereign God (and loving Heavenly Father!) has allowed? What can you do with the situation you’ve been given for the glory of God? Typically, we panic when things seem to spin out of control, but we need to remember that that things are never out of God’s control! Trust Him & His plan! Have faith in the all-powerful God!

It’s all seen in the events leading to the next phase of Paul’s life, as he was transitioning from missionary preacher to prisoner of Rome. First was his meeting with the church, as they made an effort for peace. Next was his meeting among the Jews at the temple, as he remained above reproach. Finally was his meeting with the Romans, as he made the most of what he had.

In all of it, Paul trusted God’s sovereign plan. Have faith in the power and plan of Jesus!

Acts 21:15–40

  • Meeting with the church (15-25). Make an effort for peace.

15 And after those days we packed and went up to Jerusalem. 16 Also some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us and brought with them a certain Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to lodge. 17 And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.

  1. Recall that Acts 21 began with Paul making his way to Jerusalem, stopping in Caesarea for a few days to stay with Philip the evangelist (one of the original seven Jerusalem deacons), and his four prophetess daughters. It was there that the prophet Agabus acted out the violence of the Jews and their future rejection of Paul to the Romans. Apparently, some of the Christians in Caesarea were prepared to help Paul. They might not be able to prevent the things that would happen, but they could make the journey easier on Paul as he went. They were prepared to share some of the burden with him, which no doubt gave him a bit of comfort.
    1. Having someone with you for the journey can be wonderful! We can’t always walk a mile in the other person’s shoes, but we can walk that same mile beside them. Time spent with them is love, in a practical way.
  2. Who was “Mnason”? Apart from what Luke writes, we don’t know. His original home was Cyprus (like Barnabas), and he was “an early disciple.” How early? Again, it’s unclear. Many scholars believe he may have been one of the first converts on the original Jerusalem Pentecost (Acts 2), but considering the association here with Paul, perhaps Mnason came to faith during Paul and Barnabas’ 1st missionary journey, which began on the island of Cyprus (Acts 13). In any case, he seemingly had a home in Jerusalem, and that took one more burden away from Paul, as he (and his team) now had a place to stay.
  3. Once they arrived, things started out well. There was a good reception among the church! Although Paul’s home church was in Antioch of Syria, he made a habit of visiting Jerusalem often. One particular visit was filled with controversy, as he and Barnabas debated against the Judaizing wing of Christians (who taught that Gentiles had to be converted to Judaism before converted to Christ), but the gospel of grace won out over the legalism of men, and things had been fine ever since. This started out no differently. “The brethren” (the rank and file of the church) “received us gladly,” Luke wrote. It was little different with the leadership (at least at first).

18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. …

  1. There was a good report to the church! The leadership gathered, consisting of “James” (the half-brother of Jesus), and the other “elders” among the Jerusalem Christians, and they were the ones to receive Paul’s missionary report. Interestingly, none of the other apostles are mentioned as being present. Presumably they were off on their own missionary journeys, preaching the gospel of Christ in every direction beyond Jerusalem.
  2. Notice the emphasis in Paul’s report: it wasn’t about the things Paul had done, but “those things which God had done.That was the right priority! Had Paul been faithful to do what the Lord gave him to do? Of course. Could Paul take the credit? Absolutely not! The work of ministry is always the work of the Lord. Anything we do for Jesus is done by the power of God the Holy Spirit, using the opportunities given us by God the Father, for the name of God the Son to be proclaimed. In what part of any of that can we take credit? None! We wouldn’t be alive, if God hadn’t given us breath. We wouldn’t be saved, if Jesus hadn’t died for us, the Father hadn’t called us, and the Spirit hadn’t given us a new birth. We wouldn’t have any power whatsoever if the Spirit hadn’t come upon us and filled us. We don’t even have a message to preach, if we’re not preaching about Jesus. 100% of the ministry from start to finish is all about Him, all for His glory!
    1. This gives us a great test for other preachers! Who do they preach: Jesus, or themselves? Do they use the name of Jesus simply for a platform to slap their own name on a product for sale – do they use the reputation of Jesus to build up their own reputation? Or do they preach Christ alone? John the Baptist knew it well: “He must increase, but I must decrease,” (Jn 3:30). For as great as was the ministry of John the Baptist, it was never about John; it was always about Jesus. John didn’t care if his name was remembered one iota; he wanted Jesus to be known. All preachers should do the same!
    2. BTW – Be careful not to write of the principle only to preachers; this is true for all. It’s easy for anyone to try to take credit for the things in our lives. “I built my career – I earned my wealth – I honed my skills – I ____.” News-flash: you didn’t do anything God did not allow and equip you to do. God gave it to you, and God ought to get the glory. James tells us that “every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights,” (Jas 1:17). If God gives it, God gets the credit.
  3. The church understood this well. Their response? “They glorified the Lord.” Amen! When we hear of the work of God, how can we do anything other than praise the Lord? This isn’t simple ritual or routine for the Christian – it isn’t (or shouldn’t be!) a trite phrase for the Christian. “Praise the Lord!” …That’s simply the proper response! When we hear of God’s work, we give God credit, and that means we give Him praise. It is good to give glory to God! 

…And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; 21 but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. 22 What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come.

  1. As with many things, there was good news & there was bad news. The good news: There were many Jewish Christians. There were “many myriads of Jews…who have believed.” Considering that a “myriad” is 1000, some claim that James is speaking in exaggerated overstatement. After all, the whole city of Jerusalem may have had less than 50,000 Jews present. Even so, why should we not accept James’ statement as real? On the Day of Pentecost alone, about 3000 Jews were saved! (Acts 2:41) Even if many of these Jews went home to other areas, the Jerusalem church continued to grow day-by-day (Acts 2:47), and by the time Peter and John were first arrested by the Sanhedrin, the number of Christian men in Jerusalem reached 5000 (Acts 4:4). Even if not a single additional Jewish man, woman, or child came to faith in Christ after that point (which we know is not the case!), that is still several thousand (many myriads of) Jews who believed. Praise God for all the Jews who came to faith!
    1. Praise God for the Jews still coming to faith around the world! Although as a nation, the Jews as a whole are blinded to the gospel of Christ (Rom 11:7), there are still men and women among the tribes of Israel who come to faith every day in Jesus as Messiah. The gospel is still for the Jew first, and then for the Greek (Rom 1:16). 
  2. The bad news: Unfortunately, many of these Jewish Christians believed lies about Paul. Despite Paul’s own writings and actions (having Timothy circumcised, due to his half-Hebrew parentage), people thought that Paul taught Jews to “forsake Moses” – literally, “to apostasize from Moses” – to fall away from the Jewish customs in Paul’s own version of Christianity, forbidding circumcision for all, abandoning the feasts, etc. Not so! Although Paul vehemently preached a gospel of grace, holding fast to the truth that Gentiles need not become Jews to be saved, Paul also taught that Jews were Jews. He himself kept the feasts (he came to Jerusalem specifically to celebrate Pentecost!), and he told people to live as they were called (1 Cor 7:18).
    1. So how did these rumors grow among the Jewish Christians in the first place? We don’t know. Obviously it doesn’t take much to get a rumor to spread. Like the old children’s video demonstrates, a lie is like a weed that grows fast & far, and all it takes is someone willing to listen. The key is to stop listening! Don’t entertain a rumor, and it won’t spread past the person speaking it. The book of Proverbs says about talebearers: “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases,” (Pro 26:20).
  3. However it was the lies about Paul had spread, they needed to be addressed. Even though the church had initially rejoiced in Paul’s arrival, there would soon be others not to glad to see Paul in Jerusalem. What to do? 

23 Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. 24 Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.

  1. James’ proposed solution to the rumors: participate in a Nazirite vow. Paul had taken this sort of vow in the past (when he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea – Acts 18:18), and Jewish custom allowed a latecomer to join a group of Nazirites at the end of their vows, if he personally paid their expenses at the temple as an act of devotion. If Paul did that, then he could demonstrate through his actions that he had nothing against the Jewish culture, and that he himself still lived like a Jew among other Jews. The bottom line suggested by James: act according to Jewish customs. Don’t start a fight; show humility.
  2. It’s good advice to more than just Paul! Instead of mounting a defense, be humble. Some have suggested that James was bowing to political pressure here, and that he was trying to throw a bone to the Judaizers, but that isn’t what’s seen at all. Nowhere does James try to change Paul’s theology, nor does he attack the gospel of grace, nor does he suggest that Paul do anything at all sinful or overly legalistic. James simply suggested that Paul do something that Paul already did, and would have been extremely comfortable doing as a Jew, in order to maintain humility and an attitude of peace among those who sought him harm. Chains and tribulations were coming to Paul, no doubt…nothing was going to change that. But there was no reason for Paul to provoke an attack, either. If he maintained his humility, then people would have to go out of their way to find a reason to fight against him.

25 But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.”

  1. As for the Gentiles, nothing changed. Everything that was decreed back in Acts 15 remained the same. No one is forced to enter the covenant of Jesus through the covenant of Moses. No one has to become a circumcised, feast-keeping, Sabbath-keeping Hebrew in order to become a born-again Christian. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone…period! The only guidelines given to the Gentiles were things that would get in the way of the gospel: meat offered to false gods, eating/drinking blood, eating meat not drained of its blood (i.e. “strangled”), and sexual immorality (all kinds of fornication: adultery, promiscuity, etc.). Those things are either inherently sinful, or are stumbling blocks to others hearing of the truth of Jesus (how He transforms us from dead sinners to living witnesses), so they are to be avoided.
  2. The point for James wasn’t to retread the same ground as Acts 15, but to reiterate that everything remained the same. The issue wasn’t what people believed Paul was teaching the Gentiles, but what they believed Paul was teaching the Jews.

The basic idea was that Paul was to put his best foot forward, and make a true effort at maintaining peace. And the idea wasn’t bad! Paul himself wrote as much to the Romans: Romans 12:17–18, “(17) Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. (18) If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” We can’t fix everyone’s attitudes, but we can do what we can not to make them worse. What is it that depends upon you, when it comes to peace in your work or your home? Do that. We have no business starting fights, and we don’t even have to worry about finishing them (Paul goes on to quote how “Vengeance is Mine,” says the Lord! – Rom 12:19). Our calling is not to petty arguments; it is to love and peace. The more we get our egos out of the way & seek humility, the more we’ll be doing what we can to live in peace.

Will we have situations that have no likely good outcomes? Sure. But it doesn’t mean we have to go in with guns blazing! Make an effort towards humility – do what you can to be at peace with one another. When we go peacefully, we can trust the Lord to be our defense!

  • Meeting among the Jews (26-36). Stay above reproach.

26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them.

  1. Things started out well, as Paul acted according to the custom. He met with the men, met with the priests, announced his intentions, paid the fees, etc. He did everything a faithful Jew would, because that’s exactly what Paul was: a faithful Jew who knew the Lord Jesus as Messiah.

27 Now when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 (For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)

  1. The “Jews from Asia” were likely from Ephesus, considering their knowledge of “Trophimus the Ephesian.” Remember that a riot had broken out in Ephesus earlier because of Paul’s ministry (Acts 19). At that time, the Jews were unsuccessful in getting Paul arrested (or killed!), and they almost had the mob turned against them personally (Acts 19:34). But they knew Paul well, considering that he had been in Ephesus for nearly three years, and when they saw him in the Jerusalem temple, they thought they had a second chance at his blood.
  2. These Jews cried out for help (as if Paul was a violent person in the midst of a crime!), and immediately told two lies about him: (1) As if Paul taught “against” the Jews. (2) As if Paul brought a Gentile into the temple. – Both accusations were false, as (1) Paul never once taught against the Jews; he taught of the Jewish Messiah. If he had no love for the Jews, he would have no love for Jesus! He consistently gave the gospel first to the Jews, and only afterwards to the Greeks. (2) Although Paul was with Trophimus in the city, by no means would Paul ever have brought him past the court of the Gentiles in the temple, as that would mean a death sentence for the both of them. Paul was bold, but he wasn’t stupid. 
  3. Either way, it didn’t stop the lies. Notice: all of this took place despite Paul making every effort for peace. He tried his best, and his enemies still lied about him. Why? Because people are people, and sinners sin…that’s just what they (we!) do. Even so, take a step back theologically. These lies were allowed by the Lord! God did not force the “Jews from Asia” to lie, nor were their lies anything less than outright sin, but God allowed them, nonetheless. This was all part of His plan. This was how Paul would be arrested – this is how he would experience chains and tribulations – this was how he would share the gospel before governors and kings on his way to Rome – this was how he’d have time to write so many epistles to the churches. Yes, the people sinned against Paul, lying terribly about him, but these were lies that were allowed by the all-sovereign, all-knowing, all-powerful God.
    1. What do you do when God’s plans for you aren’t your plans for yourself? How do you respond when the things God allows in your life don’t fit the mold of “peace, comfort, and prosperity”? Is your theology big enough for a God who is God even over your enemies or over your suffering? If we say that we believe God is sovereign, then that means we need to trust Him even during the times that His sovereignty isn’t easily seen. The things that happen are the things God allows…which mean they are things in which His glory will ultimately be revealed (either in this life or the next!).

30 And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut. 31 Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

  1. Quite the disturbance! They (1) seized Paul, (2) shut the temple door, and (3) sought to kill him. To say it another way, they grabbed Paul for potentially bringing in Gentiles, shut the door so that no other Gentiles could get in, and proceeded to carry out the death sentence (no judge or jury required!). This was mob violence at its worst, and Paul took the brunt of it in his body.
  2. The only thing that stopped the Jews from beating Paul to death at the time was the appearance of the Roman “commander” IOW, Paul’s arrest by the Romans saved his life! The Roman commander may not have sang out, “Here I come to save the day!” but that was essentially what he did! 

33 Then the commander came near and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and he asked who he was and what he had done. 34 And some among the multitude cried one thing and some another. So when he could not ascertain the truth because of the tumult, he commanded him to be taken into the barracks.

  1. The commander chained Paul as a criminal, and tried to figure out the issue. What was it that had caused the commotion and the riot? In the confusion, it couldn’t be done – no answer was given…at least, no consistent answer. Many of the men in the mob didn’t have a clue why they were beating Paul – they just got caught up in the violence. 

35 When he reached the stairs, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob. 36 For the multitude of the people followed after, crying out, “Away with him!”

  1. Things got so bad, that Paul had to be physically rescued! Even when surrounded by a group of Roman soldiers, Paul couldn’t get through the crowd. The people pressed in so hard against him, that he had to literally be lifted up in the air and carried over the heads of the mob by the Romans. This was bad!
  2. Question: Why was there so much violence and hatred against Paul? It was all because of the gospel! Because Paul preached salvation of Jesus as the Messiah to all men & women (Jew and Gentile alike), he was hated. Because Paul preached of one God who sent His only begotten Son to die on the cross for the sins of men & women, he was despised. Because Paul preached of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, he was despised. Because Paul preached of grace, free grace, true grace, abundant grace to all who believe, Paul was hated to the highest extent. Why? Because of people hear of a Savior, it means that people need to be saved – and if people need to be saved, it means that people are inherently sinners…and people don’t like that part. People don’t want to hear that we are enemies of God, traitors against our Creator, fully deserving of His infinite judgment and wrath. People don’t want to hear that our “little” sins are just as evil as the “big” sins, and that all sin carries the wage of death. People don’t want to hear it, but it’s true. But it’s just as true that God has given an answer for sin, and the answer is Jesus! Jesus is the answer of God’s love and grace to the problem of sin. And to those who are willing to hear and to believe, we are eternally saved!

Paul had tried his best, having made an effort for peace, and he was still assaulted in the temple. Yet here’s the thing: the only way a mob was raised against him was because Paul’s enemies lied about him. They had no legitimate charge to make, so they made one up out of thin air. … Paul didn’t give them a reason for violence – he lived his life above reproach. 1 Peter 3:15–16, “(15) But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; (16) having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.” Paul was defamed and reviled, but he (in Christ) was innocent. That’s the way all of us should be.

Lies will come, and haters are going to hate. Just be sure the only reason is Christ! Let them hate us for the gospel, and nothing else! Too often, we give people reason to hate us. We call it “persecution,” when it’s really retribution. We’ve been jerks, and people have responded to us in-kind. Or we’ve been caught in sin, and we don’t want to admit our failure. Live beyond reproach! Live in such a way where accusations don’t stick. (How is it possible? Only through humble dependence on the Holy Spirit! We’ll always have failings, but we don’t have to let those failings define us, other than how they make us run anew to the cross of Christ!)

  • Meeting with the Romans (37-40). Make the most of what you have.

37 Then as Paul was about to be led into the barracks, he said to the commander, “May I speak to you?” He replied, “Can you speak Greek?

  1. Paul took the Roman commander by surprise! The last person he expected to rescue from a temple mob in Jerusalem was an educated man fluent in Greek. It was a minor thing, but it was enough to open a door for a conversation between two individuals, rather than the Roman commander treating Paul like just another prisoner.

38 Are you not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a rebellion and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 But Paul said, “I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I implore you, permit me to speak to the people.”

  1. The commander had assumed Paul was someone else: a wanted-man, an Egyptian who had led a rebellion. The historian Josephus writes of the man, calling him the leader of the Sicarri (named after their preferred dagger) who murdered men in broad daylight, including the high priest (Wars of the Jews, 2.254-257). Although by & large the group had been disbanded, the leader had not been caught, and the Roman commander believed Paul was the guy. It was a case of mistaken identity.
  2. Question: Why did the Roman commander assume that Paul was a leader of assassins? Probably because he couldn’t think of any other reason why the Jews in the temple were so bent on killing him. It shows that (1) the Roman didn’t know the Jews very well, and (2) he was completely uninterested in questions of religion. His mindset was for political and security issues; not questions of regional theology.
    1. The Roman probably had the same mindset of so many people today: “Believe what you want to believe; just leave me alone. It doesn’t affect me one way or the other.” Wrong! Like it or not, we are all theologians, and what we believe about God has a direct impact on our eternities. We all believe something, even if we claim not to believe anything (which itself, is a statement of faith). The thing which we do believe, is what we’ll be accountable for when we see God.
    2. You might not want to think about questions of religion and eternity, but you cannot afford to ignore them! One day, you will be confronted with these issues, and you will have to give an answer.
  3. Paul corrected him, telling him he was a Hellenistic Jew, specifically that he was a citizen of Cilicia in Tarsus. Cilicia was known as an educated, metropolitan city, so this gave Paul a bit of credibility with the commander. He wasn’t trying to start a riot, and he definitely wasn’t out to murder anyone. He was a man of words; not violence. Paul saw in all of this, an opportunity to speak to the people in the temple, and this was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up! 

40 So when he had given him permission, Paul stood on the stairs and motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, saying,

  1. Amazingly, the commander gave Paul “permission” to speak. This itself was a minor miracle from God! How many arresting officers give their handcuffed prisoners the chance to speak to the press? The last thing (other than a weapon) you hand a prisoner is a microphone, because you don’t know what it is they’ll say. Even so, the commander (by the grace of God) extended trust to Paul, and permitted him to speak to the crowd.
  2. Paul took the opportunity, and ran with it! He silenced the people by signaling for them to be quiet, and “spoke to them in the Hebrew language,” i.e. the Aramaic dialect, which would have disarmed the crowds a bit. It was one thing to have this man accused of bringing Gentiles into the temple speak Greek; it was another thing to hear him speak their own native language. Just like the Roman commander was caught off guard by Paul speaking Greek, the temple Jews were caught off guard by Paul speaking Hebrew/Aramaic. (Bummer for the commander, considering he probably had no idea what it was Paul was saying!)

The key issue is that no matter what happened to Paul, he didn’t waste the opportunity – he didn’t lose faith in the power and sovereignty of his Heavenly Father. Paul made a true effort at peace, and he had maintained a good example, living above reproach, and the people still attacked him. What did he do with it? He made the most with what he had. If this was what it took for Paul to have the opportunity to preach the gospel to the Jews in Jerusalem, so be it. He might be in chains, and he might have had to suffer a terrible beating, but at least he could still preach Jesus to his countrymen!

What do you do with the opportunities you’ve been given? Do you kick against them – grouse about them – complain and whine? (If you do, you’re not alone!) We need to change our perspectives. Instead of grousing about all the ways our circumstances stink (and being lied about in the temple, beaten by a mob, and arrested by the Romans stunk!), we need to see how even our worst circumstances can be used by God for His glory. We can make the most of every opportunity.

Conclusion:

On one hand, it looks like everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. Paul was in a no-win scenario. His reputation in the city was based on lies, his humility among the Jews was all but ignored, and his enemies were willing to lie, cheat, and say whatever was necessary in order to attack him at the first opportunity. There was no good outcome for Paul, period.

Or was there? In all of this, God was still in control! These were all things that the Holy Spirit had said would happen, and Paul was fully prepared to face these things in faith. He had faith in the middle of the temple fray, and kept his cool while his enemies were losing their minds. Knowing what was going to happen, Paul (1) made an honest effort for peace, hoping to quell the rumors (2) lived his life above reproach, not giving people a reason for hate, and (3) made the most of the opportunities given him, using everything for the glory of God and the testimony of Christ.

Paul understood something many of us do not: God is sovereign, and He is always in control. It may look like things are spinning into chaos, but it’s not. Consider Jesus’ own earthly ministry. He too, arrived in Jerusalem and faced betrayal, lies, beatings, and unfathomable suffering. Chaotic? From the outside, perhaps, but it was all the plan of God. This was precisely the means by which we are saved!

If it was this way with Jesus, and this way with Paul, what makes us think it will be any different with us? It may look like things are spinning out of control, but in light of an ever-sovereign all-powerful God, nothing is out of control! God is over it all: He is over our enemies, over our sicknesses, and even over death itself. Nothing happens without His knowledge or allowance. It doesn’t make the betrayals of people any less sinful, nor does it mean that God does not grieve with us in our trials. It means that God has foreseen it all, has allowed it all, and will show His glory and His purpose in it all. 

Little children hate going to the doctor, because they know it often means getting a shot. But the pain of the doctor’s office becomes easier when mom or dad is right there, because they know that mom or dad wouldn’t allow this to happen if it wouldn’t lead to something better. The shot still hurts, but at least mom or dad is there to make them feel better.

Beloved, our Daddy is right here! Our Abba, our Heavenly Father is with us, and His eye is upon us in everything He has allowed to come our way. Trust Him! Have faith that what He allows, He uses for His glory, and one day it will be evident to all. As Paul wrote to the Romans: Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” What a glorious promise! Have faith in this God, the God who has called you according to His purpose.

Choose Faith

Posted: June 2, 2019 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 21:1-14, “Choose Faith”

Some choices are easy. In the days that I ate regular ice-cream, if there was a choice to add chocolate syrup, I took it. To this day, given the choice between extra-dark or milk chocolate, the dark is going to win every time. Other choices are less frivolous, but just as obvious and “easy” to make: how to vote on Biblical issues, the need to prioritize time with family, the desire to walk in purity over sin, etc. The actual actions aren’t always easy to take, but the decision on what should be chosen is easy. These things are obvious.

Other choices are less so. Of course, there are the somewhat ambiguous things such as “Should I purchase this vehicle?” or “Should I apply for this job?” – things that might not matter in a moral sense, but areas where we still want to walk in God’s will. But there are other choices with far more weight: “What does God want me to do with this mission trip?” “What do I do about this prodigal son/daughter?” “How should I deal with this ethical issue at work?” “What does God want me to say to this person that I see who’s trapped in sin?” Some of these things aren’t easy yes/no answers, and some could be answered in a variety of ways with more than one way being argued from the Scripture. What do we do in situations like that? What do we do when the choice isn’t easy?

The apostle Paul was faced with a scenario like this of his own. While on his way to Jerusalem, he began with a clear idea of what the will of God was for him, but he received some contrary advice along the way – seemingly from very godly people who were moved by the Holy Spirit. What choice would he make? One option seemed easier than the other, but which was the one God desired for him?

Paul was at the end of his 3rd missionary journey. He had the opportunity over the years to preach the gospel all throughout the eastern Roman empire, travelling by land & sea to Cyprus, Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia. Now, he was headed to Jerusalem, hoping to celebrate Pentecost along with the rest of the Jewish Christians. Although Paul had a past background in the city of Jerusalem (previously being a Pharisee with a violent zeal to persecute the church), Paul never really had much opportunity to preach the gospel in the city. He had been called by Jesus to preach to the Gentiles, and that was enough. Even so, Paul had a love for his Jewish countrymen & travelled to Jerusalem whenever possible – especially when it came to the various feasts such as this one.

Yet this would be no ordinary feast. God the Spirit had already revealed to Paul that “chains and tribulations” awaited him – something he reported to the Ephesian elders during his farewell speech to them (Acts 20:23). This revelation didn’t dissuade Paul, but neither did it change the reality. Suffering lay ahead of him – the same suffering of which Jesus told him during the earliest days of Paul’s salvation (Acts 9:16).

That’s when things got complicated. Through several instances, this suffering was confirmed to him through prophecy, but it was accompanied by well-meaning people trying to stop him from walking into it. So did God want Paul to go, or not? What was God’s will, and how was Paul supposed to walk in it? Paul wasn’t trying to change the will of God; he gave himself over to the will of God, trusting that God’s ways are always best. God’s will for us isn’t always easy, but it’s always good.

This is what’s seen in this brief section describing Paul’s final days prior to his arrest and imprisonment by the Romans in Jerusalem. Without doubt, troubles awaited Paul, but he didn’t run from those things; he ran to God because of those things. We so often want to run away from our problems, because (by definition!) they’re so hard to face. But when we rely on God’s strength & grace, we find that He’s the one to equip us to face these things in faith. We want things to be easy & comfortable, and it’s rarely that way. Again, God’s will isn’t always easy, but it’s what is best. We need to trust Him, and make the choice to serve Jesus, no matter what.

What happened during the journey to Jerusalem? (1) Paul had his faith tested, and he was willing to go. (2) Paul was confronted with hard truths, and he was resolved to follow Jesus. Are you willing? Are you resolved? Make the firm choice to serve Christ!

Acts 21:1–14

  • A test of faith (1-6). Are you willing?

1 Now it came to pass, that when we had departed from them and set sail, running a straight course we came to Cos, the following day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. 2 And finding a ship sailing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. 3 When we had sighted Cyprus, we passed it on the left, sailed to Syria, and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload her cargo.

  1. Cos was known as the birthplace of Hippocrates, and an important city for ancient medicine. Rhodes was well-known for hosting one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world: the giant Colossus statue, standing about the size of the Statue of Liberty, greeting visitors to Rhodes as they sailed into port. The structure collapsed in the earthquake of 226BC, so by the time of Paul’s arrival, the ruins remain on the ground (where they stayed until 653AD). The statue was actually a representation of the Greek sun-god Helios…it was no small irony that an apostle of the true Son of God sailed right past the ruins of the ancient idol. The trips to both Cos and Rhodes were short daily jaunts by sea; the major sea voyage began in Patara, in which Paul & co. found a vessel able to take them 400 miles across the Mediterranean Sea to Tyre in Phoenicia (just north of Judea).
  2. The basic idea is that the group was making good time as they went to Jerusalem. This was what Paul wanted to do, and he did it – a lot of little steps adding up to big progress. (Which is often how things go!) There’s no indication of any evangelistic activity at these port cities, but at this point, that wasn’t the purpose. There simply wasn’t much time, as Paul & the others went from port-to-port, hopping on daily boats as they went.

4 And finding disciples, we stayed there seven days. They told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem.

  1. Seven days was enough time for a layover, but not much else. Having the rare gift of time on his hands, Paul and the others took the opportunity to meet and visit with some of the “disciples” in Tyre. Considering that Paul was an apostle, it isn’t unexpected that he would try to locate some of the local Christians, to have some time of fellowship, discipleship, and worship with them. What was unexpected was what happened when everyone gathered together. Seemingly engaging in prophecy, these local Christians told Paul “not to go up to Jerusalem.” Remember that this was the entire reason Paul had travelled this far. He was convinced of his mission in the city, and that Jesus called him to endure a period of suffering starting in Jerusalem. Now here were a bunch of Christians, seemingly filled with the Spirit, telling him not to go. What gives? All of this raises a few questions as to the possibilities:
    1. Did the Holy Spirit truly say this command, or was this the interpretation from the people of the things the Spirit actually said? IOW, perhaps the Holy Spirit simply confirmed the trials and sufferings to be faced by Paul, and the people thought that it meant that Paul shouldn’t go. Just because a word is given from the Lord doesn’t necessarily mean that the people who receive that word do the right things with it. Just look at the books of Old Testament prophecy! The kings routinely had the word of the Lord given to them, and quite often this word was ignored or they tried to avoid the consequences of what was said. For as much as people say that they want to hear from God, it doesn’t mean that they like what God has to say! Generally we’re fine with God’s word if it confirms the things we want to hear; when it doesn’t, we often try to wriggle our way out of it. Perhaps that was the case in Tyre.
    2. If this truly was a command from the Spirit, would it mean that this was a contradiction of what He already revealed to Paul about his future chains and tribulations? God does not contradict Himself, nor does He lie. (Num 23:19) Even so, we still need to answer the question how the Spirit could tell Paul one thing, yet still seemingly tell him something else. Some have suggested that the Spirit gave Paul a choice about how to proceed in the future, as if He told Paul, “If you go, you’ll face chains in Jerusalem, but you don’t have to go if you don’t want to.” Perhaps it was something like David experienced before becoming king of Israel after saving the city of Keilah from the Philistines. He inquired of God if the men of Keilah would deliver him over to Saul, and God confirmed that they would. So David left Keilah before the men of the city had the opportunity to betray him (1 Sam 23). David’s reaction to the revealed word of God raises this question: If God already confirmed that the men of the city would betray David to Saul, then was God’s word invalidated by David’s departure? After all, it would seem a prophecy of God did not come true. No. God gave David advance knowledge of what would happen if David stayed, and (by way of implication) gave David the opportunity to leave and avoid that potential future. God, being all-knowing & all-sovereign knew precisely what would happen & what choice David would make, but He still allowed David the opportunity to make the choice in accordance with God’s ultimate will. It’s possible that God did something similar with Paul here in Tyre.
      1. We can never overestimate the knowledge of God! He knows all things, past, present, and future! Don’t make the mistake of thinking that God is making things up as He goes along. Not so! He knows the end just as well as He knows the beginning, and He has all things in His hand.
    3. There’s one more option: if this was not a contradiction from the Holy Spirit (which it wasn’t!), could it possibly be a test of faith? Perhaps, yes. Remember what happened with the prophet of Bethel who tested the man of God (1 Kings 13). The man of God pronounced God’s judgment on the rebellious king Jeroboam of the newly-separated northern kingdom of Israel, and this man of God had strict orders from the Lord to go straight home without eating food or water. He was soon approached by a second prophet from the town of Bethel, who lied to him about a command from God to bring him back to the prophet’s house for something to eat (1 Kings 13:18). The man of God went, had judgment pronounced upon him, and was soon killed by a lion on the side of the road. Although the man of God had been faithful in some things, when his obedience was tested, he failed. Perhaps God allowed something similar with Paul. God had clearly told Paul what awaited him, yet allowed these well-meaning Christians in Tyre to test whether Paul would continue on.
      1. God does not tempt us with evil (Jas 1:13), but He does sometimes allow our faith to be tested. Just look at Abraham, when he was commanded to lay his son Isaac on the altar (Gen 22). Surely that was a test, if ever there was one! Yet Abraham, like Paul, looked steadfastly to the Lord and passed with flying colors.
    4. So what was it? Was it a misinterpretation, a true choice, or a direct test of faith? In the end, it’s impossible to know because Luke doesn’t give us enough information, but we know this much: Paul’s faith was No matter which scenario it was, Paul had to decide: would he follow through on what the Lord had already given him to do, or would he follow this new thing? Paul had a tough decision in front of him, and either decision could have been arguably have been a response to God’s word. – What do we do when God’s will doesn’t seem to make sense? From what little Luke writes of the event, it would have been easy for Paul (and anyone!) to have gotten confused. What do we do when we want to obey God’s will, but find ourselves confused as to what God’s will is? Answer: When in doubt about things that are unclear, fall back on the things that are clear. When you’re not certain about an act that may/may not be God’s will for you, do the things you know are God’s will for you. For example, we don’t always know the best way to confront a person who has sinned against us, but we do know that Jesus tells us to love even our enemies and to forgive those who have trespassed against us (Mt 5:44, 6:14-15). We don’t always have a clear direction if God wants us to go on a certain short-term mission trip, but we do know that we are to be witnesses of Jesus wherever we are (Mt 28:19-20). Do what is clear, and ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom on what is unclear. He will give it! (Jas 1:5)
      1. Whatever you decide about the unclear things, if you err, err on the side of faith. We can be sure that God will correct us along the way! Paul learned this in his own life when he initially attempted to preach in Asia at the beginning of his 2nd missionary journey. At that time, the Spirit forbade him from going (Acts 16:7), but as we know from the rest of the book of Acts, it was simply a matter of Paul’s going to Asia at the right time. God guided Paul to go at the right time in the right way, and Paul simply walked in faith with the opportunities God gave him.

5 When we had come to the end of those days, we departed and went on our way; and they all accompanied us, with wives and children, till we were out of the city. And we knelt down on the shore and prayed. 6 When we had taken our leave of one another, we boarded the ship, and they returned home.

  1. Paul and the others decided to continue. However it was that they interpreted the word given through the local disciples (whether they saw it as an incorrect interpretation, a choice, or a test), it didn’t change their minds. Paul was set on Jerusalem, and that’s where he led his team to go.
    1. This may be one of Luke’s ways of showing a parallel to Jesus. At a certain point in His ministry, Jesus also “set His face to go to Jerusalem,” (Lk 9:51). That was Jesus’ purpose, and no one would sway His mind from it. Paul was truly following in the footsteps of his Lord!
  2. Notice that no one changed their mind in the situation: neither Paul, nor his companions, nor any of the local Christians from Tyre. We don’t read of any of Paul’s companions staying behind, nor of any of the locals leaving Tyre to accompany Paul to Jerusalem. That’s not to say that anyone was in the wrong; it’s just notable that they passed on what they believed was a word from the Lord to Paul, and that’s where they left it. They were faithful to deliver the message, but they weren’t responsible for anything that was done with it.
  3. Whatever was the case with the Christians in Tyre, we can know this much about Paul: he was willing to take a chance in faith. He was willing to follow what he knew about the Lord’s will, even with people pressuring him to the contrary. — Are you willing? It’s one thing for Christians to say that we’ll follow the Lord; it’s another for us to be willing to do so when the opportunity presents itself. Many of us might say, “Yes, Lord, I’ll follow You!” We sincerely mean it at the time…even though we say it when times are good & we don’t see anything on the horizon. But what about when times look tough? What about the times when a prayer like this looks like it leads to difficulty? Are we still willing to follow Jesus?
    1. Jesus never promised us things would be easy. On the contrary – we have His own personal guarantee that times will be tough! Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” By definition, crosses are not easy to bear! Jesus does not speak here for some minor inconvenience like an annoying co-worker or routine traffic-jam; He refers to the same item that He would also carry: the massive instrument by which He would be put to death. There was nothing easy about the Via Dolorosa (the road through Jerusalem to the cross); it was incredibly hard – but Jesus was willing to endure it for His Father & for us. Those who would be His disciples are called to do the same. Be willing to pick up your cross! Be willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of Christ!
    2. BTW – Although it is never easy to carry our cross, Jesus promised that we would never carry it alone. As He invited people to follow Him, He promised “My yoke is easy and My burden is light,” (Mt 11:30). How so? Because when we’re yoked, we’re yoked with Jesus. It is His strength & His power that helps us to endure. What we’re called to isn’t always comfortable, but He is with us right in the middle of our discomfort!
    3. Are you willing? Are you willing to endure the discomforts and trials, if that’s where Jesus leads? All over the world, Christians live with the daily discomforts of persecution, forced poverty, and rejection from family. Once they chose Christ, their world chose to reject them…yet, Jesus is worth it. They are willing to choose Jesus every single day, fully understanding the personal cost. Are you willing? Am I? We don’t always have easy times, and we’re not always offered easy answers to our questions, but we can be sure Jesus is worth it all. Be willing to choose Christ!
  • A word of truth (7-14). Are you resolved?

7 And when we had finished our voyage from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, greeted the brethren, and stayed with them one day. 8 On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. 9 Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.

  1. Quick trip to Ptolemais and Caesarea. Due to the speed of the travel, most believe that Paul was still travelling by ship, just skipping along day by day.
  2. Once in Caesarea, Paul goes to the home of Philip. Philip was introduced earlier by Luke as one of the original Jerusalem deacons, along with Stephen the first martyr of the church over whose mob-style execution Saul of Tarsus supervised (Act 6-7). Philip is also known for being one of the first Christians to share the gospel with the Gentiles, as he was used by the Holy Spirit to bring an Ethiopian eunuch to faith in Christ (Acts 8:26-40). In one sense, he was the precursor to Paul, and provides a perfect resting place for the apostle on his way to Jersualem!
  3. By this point in his life (several decades later ~ 57AD), Philip was known as an “evangelist” (if that hadn’t been obvious from his earlier exploits), and had a family which included “four virgin daughters” (i.e. unmarried), each with the gift of prophecy. How often they prophesied, we don’t know. What they said in their prophecies, we don’t know. (Which demonstrates that the gift of prophecy does not have the expectation of being the same level as Scripture. Although prophecy is still the word of the Lord, it is not necessarily meant for all of God’s people in all places at all times.) Why their gift of prophecy is even mentioned here, we don’t know, as we don’t read of them exercising it with Paul. The mention of their prophecy is descriptive, more than anything else. Philip had the gift of evangelism, and his daughters had the gift of prophecy. (This was a family mightily used of the Lord!)
    1. Interestingly, when all the members of Paul’s travelling party are put together, we see all four New Testament offices assembled in one place in Philip’s house: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor/teachers (Eph 4:11). It would have been quite a gathering!
    2. Although we don’t know much about the ministries of Philip and his daughters, beware the thought that their ministries didn’t matter. They did! God equipped them in marvelous ways to serve the church and to share the gospel. They had different gifts than Paul & a different calling than Paul, but they were no less important to God than any of the apostles.

10 And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ ”

  1. Why did Paul, Luke, and the others (notice the 1st person “we”) remain in Caesarea for “many days”? They weren’t at all far from Jerusalem (70+ miles), and earlier, it seemed that Paul was in a rush to get to the city. Why the slow-down? Remember that Paul was trying to get to Jerusalem in time for Pentecost; he wasn’t necessarily trying to get there before Paul was under no illusions as to what awaited him there – again, the Holy Spirit had specifically revealed to him of future “chains and tribulations” (Acts 20:23). His very presence in the city would cause a stir, and he (most likely) didn’t want to stir things up too much before it was time. If Paul showed up early, he might not get the chance to go to the temple at all. He wasn’t afraid of what would happen to him in the city, but neither did he want to push things along too soon.
  2. While in Caesarea, he was visited by another prophet: “” Agabus had been previously introduced as arriving in Antioch of Syria (Paul’s home church) from Jerusalem, prophesying a famine that would spread in the days of Claudius Caesar (Acts 11:28). The church at Antioch decided to send a financial offering to help the church of Jerusalem at the time, and sent it by the hands of Barnabas and Saul/Paul (Acts 11:30) – the first road-trip of the two friends, previewing their future missionary ministry. It was this same Agabus that “came down from Judea” to Caesarea, apparently looking specifically for Paul, in order to deliver this prophecy from the Holy Spirit. 
  3. Where there may have been some confusion from the earlier prophecy in Tyre, there was none in Caesarea. Following the example of prophets of the past such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Agabus acted out a physical analogy of the prophetic word, showing how Paul was to be arrested. In dramatic fashion, Agabus took Paul’s own belt off of him, wrapped it around his hands & feet, declaring Paul’s soon arrest. He would be: (1) Bound by the Jews, (2) Delivered to the Gentiles. Although some quibble about the details of the fulfillment, the Biblical record shows this is exactly what happened. The Jews seized Paul while he was at the temple (bound, Acts 21:30), and it was the Romans who took him into custody (delivered over, Acts 21:33).
    1. Interestingly, it was also the same pattern experienced by Jesus. He was arrested by the Jews, put on trial before the Sanhedrin, and then delivered over to Pilate (the Roman Gentile) to be crucified. To say Paul followed in the footsteps of Jesus is no understatement!
  4. This was a difficult word, and without doubt it was a word given by God the Holy Spirit through a recognized prophet. Whatever the earlier word was in Tyre, the prophecy in Caesarea was clear: Paul was about to enter into suffering.
    1. Again, for as much as we love about the word of God, God’s word isn’t always easy. Forgiving those who’ve hurt us isn’t easy – sharing the gospel with people who hate us isn’t easy – knowingly walking into a situation where we will suffer isn’t easy. Despite all the hoopla from the men & women on TV, God doesn’t always promise us ease & physical prosperity. Some of the things He promises are downright hard. God’s will isn’t always comfortable. But God never calls us to comfort; He calls us to faith!
    2. This is one place where we’re so dependent on the grace of Christ! Left to ourselves, we’d run from circumstances like this. Who would willingly walk into chains and persecutions? Who wants to face these things? No one! These are the things we pray against, and the things we run hardest from. But what happens when these things are actually the will of God for us? For that, we need a strength that goes beyond ourselves. We need a grace greater than our griefs. This is what we have in Jesus! Remember what it was that Jesus promised Paul in the midst of suffering: grace for the moment. [thorn in the flesh] 2 Corinthians 12:9, “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” What is it we need in our hardships, trials, and griefs? Grace! Would we prefer to avoid these things? Sure…who wouldn’t? There are trials people endure that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies. But there is no trial that can be endured for which Jesus’ grace is not sufficient. Jesus’ strength and grace is enough!

12 Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem.

  1. The friends of Paul “pleaded with him not to go.” If earlier, Paul had faced pressure to quit, surely now he faced it to an even greater extent. This time, it wasn’t coming from Christian disciples he had barely just met in Tyre – it wasn’t even from a prophet that he somewhat knew, but had little relationship with – this time it was his closest travel companions. Men like Luke, Timothy, Tychicus, and others all begged Paul not to continue. These were men who had been through thick & thin with Paul, having endured the riots along with him & having experienced many of his same hardships first-hand. If Paul valued any human opinions, it would have been the opinions of these godly men. In their minds, they were looking out for his benefit – they wanted him free to continue ministering the gospel in other places beyond Jerusalem. They wanted (what they believed) was Paul’s freedom to continue serving Jesus in the gospel, not realizing how Jesus would equip Paul to preach the gospel and disciple believers even from prison. Like most of us, these friends were well-intentioned, and they wanted what they thought was best for Paul. So they told Paul not to go. This was Paul’s greatest pressure yet. If there was any point in which he considered not going to Jerusalem, surely this was it.
  2. As wonderful as Paul’s friends meant for him, don’t miss what happened here: these very godly people pleaded with Paul to disobey the Lord. Again, we cannot forget that the Lord Jesus specifically told Paul he would suffer (Acts 9:16) – God the Holy Spirit already prepared Paul for these chains and tribulations (Acts 20:23). He knew what lay ahead, and had told his friends of God’s will for him. Yet they still tried to turn him away. Like Peter objecting to the Lord Jesus that He would suffer & be killed (Mt 16:22), the people who loved Paul the most became the worst kind of stumbling block for his own faith and obedience.
    1. What do you do when good people give bad advice? It may not even sound so bad at the time, but anything that diminishes (or worse yet, contradicts) God’s will is bad. The pleading from Luke, Timothy, and the others no doubt sounded well-intentioned & good – perhaps even said from a God-honoring motive. It was still contrary to God’s will for Paul. What do you do when this advice comes from godly people you greatly respect?
      1. First of all, we need to realize that people can be godly and still be wrong. As much as we might value the opinions of certain people in our lives, no one is infallible, except Jesus. Your friend could be wrong – you could be wrong – you both could be wrong. Even with all the best motives and desire to honor the Lord, godly people can still be mistaken. Just look at some of the different conclusions people come to regarding non-essential theology: if Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians can disagree on some of those things (with at least one side of the argument being mistaken), then surely we might be mistaken when it comes to how to apply the Scripture to our lives in certain situations. It doesn’t make the other person bad/evil; but just because they are godly doesn’t mean that they are right.
      2. Secondly, we need to stay true to God’s word! Again, fall back to what it is clear. Whatever the situation, what does the Bible say on the matter that is most certain? Stick to that, whatever else anyone might say. When we start looking for nuance and various ways of explaining ourselves in spite of Scripture, that’s when we get into trouble. For Paul, there was no doubt in his mind what God had told him to do…the people who doubted were the ones trying to talk him out of it! For us, we might not have a prophetic revelation given to us, but we have enough in the written word of God. Whatever the situation, we search the Scripture for the principle that is most clear, and we stick with it. Maybe it’s a question of transparency: stick with truth. Maybe it’s a question of pride: stick with humility. When in doubt, look to the fundamental issue, and follow the Bible and Jesus’ example in each one.
    2. That’s not to say we can ever totally discount the opinion of godly brothers and sisters in Christ! On the contrary: godly counsel is one of the blessings God has given to us as believers in Christ to help us discern right from wrong & wise from unwise. Just be sure to measure all counsel with the written word of God.

13 Then Paul answered, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

  1. Paul was ready for anything, if that was what Jesus had for him to do. His friends may have been “weeping” on his behalf, but they were causing him to experience even more grief because he already knew what Jesus had given him. What was worse than his future suffering was the temptation his friends laid before him – what was worse than facing imprisonment was seeing his beloved ministry partners try to talk him out of obedient faith. That was more heart-breaking than any rejection he’d face in Jerusalem! No, Paul was ready to serve Jesus just like he had always served Jesus. Just like he was ready to die on the mission field in Galatia, he was ready to die on the temple grounds in Jerusalem, if that was what the Lord Jesus had for him.
  2. The basic issue was this: Paul was resolved to follow Jesus. Just like he was willing to pick up his cross and follow Jesus when faced with the mere possibility of suffering, Paul was resolved to actually do it now that the time had come. His course was set, his heart was prepared, and he was ready and resolved to do whatever it was Jesus gave him to do.
    1. We need men and women of resolve! Far too often, it seems that the evangelical church is filled with people of good words and intentions, but it falls short of resolve and determination. Don’t misunderstand: we first need the will. Without being willing, we can never move to resolve. If someone isn’t willing to pick up his/her cross, he/she will never get the point where it happens. But good intentions don’t mean much if they don’t lead to good actions. Will has to move to resolve if anything is to be done. With resolve comes commitment, and with commitment comes action. Will is our availability to get into a plane with a parachute strapped to our back; resolve is the moment we decide to step outside the open door. We need resolve!
    2. Where do you lack resolve in your own walk with Jesus? There might be things that you’ve told Christ you’re willing to do, but to this point you haven’t stepped forth to actually do it. Ask yourself a question: If you’ve been putting off obedience, how “willing” were you in the first place? May we be men and women of more than words; may we be a people of resolve!

14 So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, “The will of the Lord be done.”

  1. In the end, even Paul’s friends were persuaded. (Paul wasn’t, so they were!) They were resigned to whatever was God’s will. They joined in the resolution of Paul.
  2. This isn’t giving up; this is godly! Jesus said almost exactly this in His own prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Not My will, but Yours, be done,” (Lk 22:42). Surrendering to the will of the Lord isn’t a cop-out; it’s obedience. (And it’s one of the ways we can tell that Paul’s godly friends were truly seeking the Lord! They ended up seeing the will of God reflected in Paul’s resolved faith.)

Conclusion:

Paul’s suffering had not yet begun, but it was on the way. In the meantime, he received confirmation after confirmation of what was to happen to him: the will of God for him was going to be difficult – it wasn’t easy, nor was it comfortable. The question was how he would respond. The people around him tried to convince him to quit: be it the Christians in Tyre who potentially misinterpreted the word of the Spirit, or the close friends of Paul who knew precisely what the Spirit said but who didn’t want Paul to endure these things. Yet Paul didn’t quit. When given a tough word from the Lord, Paul was both willing and resolved to see things through. He didn’t let his circumstances cause him to run from Jesus; it drove him to run even closer to Jesus.

We don’t all have a promise of imprisonment for following Christ, but we all have a promise of trials and tribulations. Each one of us has had some situations that might cause us to run away from God’s will out of fear, and few people would blame us. If we had known (as God knew) that we would face the death of a loved one, would we have gone forward? If we had known (as God knew) that we would face lies and betrayal, would we have remained? If we had known (as God knew) that we would endure incredible sickness & disease, would we have continued?

Don’t get the wrong idea. It’s not that God wants our lives to be awful – far from it! But there’s no getting around the fact than an all-powerful, all-knowing God is fully aware of all of the tragedies and trials we will face in the course of our lives, and if we knew what He knows, we would all have a tough time moving ahead. Our lives (even in Christ) are not always comfortable, and they are rarely easy. But when we face these things with Jesus, then we face them with a grace we’d never otherwise have. When we face these things with Jesus, we face them with strength. When we face them with Jesus, then we do not face them alone.

Are you willing to walk with Jesus? Are you resolved to move forward when the moment arrives? Choose to walk with Christ; choose faith!

Acts 20:28-38, “Exhorting Ephesus, part 2: Watch!”

Some advice comes a bit too late. How often have you seen someone trip on a sidewalk, stretched out your hand & said, “Watch out!” Or served your family some food, see them burning their tongues & said, “Be careful, it’s hot!” Good counsel, but it would have been a bit more helpful 30 seconds earlier. 😊

Other advice comes right on time, warning others well in advance of what’s up ahead so they know how best to prepare for it. In fact, this is what training is all about. The reason why the military puts all its new recruits through basic training isn’t only so that they can get soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines physically fit for the battlefield; it’s so that these men and women can be physically, emotionally, and intellectually prepared for the challenges they will face every day. If they are prepared in advance for a jammed rifle, then they know how to fix it for when (not if) it jams.

This is the sort of advice & counsel Paul gave to the Ephesian elders in his last meeting with them. There were dangers that awaited them, and they needed to be prepared. Paul didn’t want his warning to be too late; he wanted it to be right on time, so he told them what they needed to know. And what they needed to do was: watch! Watch out for dangers, watch out for themselves, and keep looking to Jesus.

How did we get here? Paul was on his way to Jerusalem at the end of his 3rd missionary journey. Along the way, he wanted to see the elders of the Ephesian church one last time. He had a marvelous ministry in the city, preaching the gospel and teaching the Christians for nearly three years. And great results were seen, until the day that a riot broke out, leaving Paul little choice except to leave. Now on his way back to Jerusalem, he speaks to the church leadership one final time in the city of Miletus, 30 miles south of Ephesus.

What did he say? Paul testified how he had been faithful among them: (1) He had been faithful to serve God, regardless of the circumstances. (2) He had been faithful to finish the ministry, having declared to them “the whole counsel of God.” Paul’s whole life had been an example of faithful service to Jesus; now he exhorted the Ephesian elders to do the same. Paul had been faithful; now the elders were to be faithful, and to remain faithful.

Why was it such an urgent exhortation? Because of the dangers! In the future, these same leaders (along with the rest of the church congregation) would face all kinds of trials that threatened to take their eyes off Jesus. They needed to watch out! They needed to: (1) Watch out for danger, particularly within God’s church, and (2) watch out for their own weaknesses as they waited for heaven. Keeping their eyes on Jesus (watching Him as their Good Shepherd) would help them watch out for their threats, so Paul told them to watch!

Question: If Paul gave this exhortation to a bunch of church leaders (the Ephesian elders), does this have any application to the rest of the church? We might understand why this text might be preached at a pastor’s conference, but why a church congregation? Like we asked last week, why does this matter to 99% of all Christians? Answer: Because although pastors can exhort us to watch, they cannot open our eyes. Pastors are to help Jesus’ sheep look to Jesus, but they can’t force the sheep to do it. We each have to choose to look to Christ, being aware of the surrounding dangers.

So what Paul said to the Ephesian elders, he says to all of us:

  1. Take heed! Watch out for danger.
  2. Take care! Watch out for your own weaknesses.
  3. Bonus at the end: take hold! Watch for one another until we get to heaven.

The end message is simply this: Look to Christ…He is our Good Shepherd. Keep your eyes on Jesus!

Acts 20:28–38

  • The command: Take heed! (28-31) Watch out for danger!

28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

  1. To “take heed” is to watch. Specifically, Paul commands the elders (and all of us) to watch over God’s church. The idea for the Greek word behind “take heed” is to “be alert / pay close attention to / consider carefully.” Think of the surgeon who pays close attention to his actions and his patients in the operating room…one minor slip-up means tragedy. You can bet the doctor is in a high state of alert! Think of the soldier standing guard while expecting an enemy attack. Again, he/she is alert, carefully scanning the horizon being ready for anything. Likewise, Paul told the elders to “take heed” – to be alert. Two ways:
    1. Be alert for “yourselves” as Christians and church leaders. Paul will have more to say on this later, when it comes to our weaknesses and temptations, but we have more to watch for ourselves than just our sin. We watch over ourselves for the good as well as the bad. Athletes take heed to themselves when they pay attention to their form, trying to excel at their sport. We take heed to ourselves when we pay attention to the fundamentals of following Christ. In all our service to Christ, we cannot forget our relationship with Christ. We don’t “do” things to the exclusion of being with Jesus. Take heed to your prayer life – take heed to your worship – take heed to just being with Jesus!
    2. Be alert for “all the flock,” i.e. the church overall & local congregation. This referred to their role as pastors/shepherds. All born-again Christians are sheep in the flock of our Good Shepherd, Jesus, and some of those sheep have also been made under-shepherds. How would they watch? Literally, by watching “over” them. “Overseers” = ἐπίσκοπος: ἐπί “over/upon” + σκοπος “look” (~scope). Elsewhere, this is translated “bishops” – not speaking of an ecclesiastical hierarchy, but simply as a servant of Jesus & under-shepherd of Jesus’ sheep (being a synonym for “pastor,” as seen here). IOW, these elders were not to just watch out for themselves; they had a responsibility to watch out for others. – In the grand picture of the church, we are not all under-shepherds, but we do watch out for one another. When we see our brother or sister in danger, we say something – how can we not? We all have people in our lives with whom we have influence. We might not have responsibility over them, but we definitely have responsibility to
      1. BTW: Within the church congregation, how does someone become an overseer/pastor? By the “Holy Spirit.” This is a Spirit-appointed and Spirit-ordained role…it is His work. God the Holy Spirit is the one who takes men who are just like everyone else in the church (just as sinful – just as much in need of the grace of Jesus), and makes/molds them into servant-leaders for the church. It’s a calling; not a career choice. There are some in the pastorate that haven’t been called, and there are some who have been called who aren’t serving…both are miserable.
    3. In all of the command to be alert, Paul reminds the elders of something else: this congregation didn’t belong to them. They were to be mindful over God’s Paul describes it as “the church of God,” and emphasizes that the church has been bought/acquired by Him. The Lord God has all rights to the church, and the local leaders were just servants entrusted with this temporary responsibility (to be passed on to the next generation). But the flock belongs to God. He “owns” it. With what were we bought? With “His own blood.” Be careful with this. There was (and is!) an ancient heresy known as “patripassianism,” in which the members of the Trinity are confused and undistinguished from one another, and teaches that God the Father (“pater”) suffered and died on the cross (“passion”). This is not Biblical, and Paul is not teaching patripassianism! God the Father did not shed blood on the cross; the Son did. God the Father did not come incarnate among us; the Son did. [The Shack] A more literal translation of this phrase referring to the purchase of the church could be “through the blood of His own,” i.e. through the blood of His only begotten Son. God the Father purchased/acquired the church through the blood of Jesus, when Jesus became a sacrifice for us as the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. And it was because such a high price was paid that these overseers were to pay such close attention.
      1. In all of the commands and exhortations given to the elders, don’t miss the wonderful good news of the gospel. Jesus shed His blood for you! God bought us for Himself through the death of His Son. No longer do you belong to death; through Jesus, you belong to God! (Only through faith in Him!)

29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.

  1. Watch out for wolves. What is one of the greatest dangers to sheep? Predators, specifically “” For as much value as sheep have to shepherds, they aren’t very good at defending themselves. They need their shepherds to guard and protect them (and we have the very best Shepherd in Jesus!). The under-shepherd overseers appointed by God had the responsibility to look out among the flock, warning them of savage predators.
  2. Talking here about danger from the outside. Wolves come from the outside to pick off and kill sheep from inside the flock. They can come in a variety of ways: sometimes in an obvious overt attack, sometimes in disguise dressed in sheep’s clothing (such as Jesus describes false prophets in Mt 7:15). But there is no question why they come: to kill. The wolves come for the same reason as the devil: to steal, kill, and destroy (Jn 10:10). This is why shepherds are needed to sound the alarm, and this is why we need to constantly look to Jesus!
    1. Who are the wolves today? If we’re thinking of wolves as dangers external to the church, then these might be non-Christian or anti-Christian teachers who actively attempt to destroy faith. New atheists, cults, other religions, general skeptics, etc. They prey upon Christians, when they perceive them to be easy targets.
    2. Don’t be an easy target! Know what you believe, and know the reasons why you believe what you believe. Wolves will attack the fundamentals of the faith: the existence of God, the deity of Christ, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the truth of the Bible. Know why you believe these things, and you become a much more difficult target for the enemy!
      1. God’s existence: Creation testifies of a Creator. The knowledge of good testifies of a perfect standard of good.
      2. Jesus’ deity: Jesus claimed to be the “I AM,” and the Bible clearly states that He is the revelation of God, the Creator Himself.
      3. Jesus’ resurrection: Not a myth; a historical fact proven by the response of Jerusalem on Pentecost & the days following, and in the martyrdom of the apostles as witnesses.
      4. The accuracy of the Bible: There are well over 22,000 manuscripts of the NT, with no real contradiction in all the OT & NT.
      5. Answers exist! We need to know them…we have a responsibility to know them. How else will you answer your Jehovah Witness neighbors or the office skeptic?

30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.

  1. Watch out for within / danger from the inside. Keeping the analogy going, the “wolves” are external dangers (though perhaps disguised as sheep), but external wolves are not the only threats to faith. There are also Christian (or perhaps even pseudo-Christian) teachers who drag people into error in the name of Christianity. These are the ones inside the church teach heresy, who muddy the waters of God’s truth, who speak “perverse” (distorted/crooked) things as they mislead people regarding the Lord.
  2. Their motive: self-glorification. Unlike the wolves, the perverse teachers don’t want to kill faith; they want to twist it for their own purposes and egos. They want to “draw away” Christians “after themselves.” They want to build up followings, gain influence (and ultimately) gain cash. They use the church as a means for personal gain and greed, caring nothing about what Jesus truly desires for Christians. Who are these false teachers? They are many! Just switch on the TV, and you’ll get a whole list of them. Any teacher that tells you to trust him/her above the Bible is one to be avoided – any person who lifts his/her own name above Christ is one of which to be warned. There are too many to list, but we need to beware!
    1. Again, this is one more reason to keep our eyes on our Good Shepherd! It becomes far more difficult for us to be misled from Jesus, when we are singularly focused upon Him. It becomes more difficult for people to lie to us about Jesus when we know the truth about Him.

All of this brings up a couple of questions…

Question #1: Where does ___ fall? Is this person an outside wolf or an inside perverse teacher? Sometimes the lines can be easily drawn; other times, not so much. After all, it can be difficult to answer how much error a person can actively teach and still be considered a born-again believer (with all the benefits that go to all believers, such as the indwelling presence and guidance of God the Holy Spirit). In the end, the question is irrelevant. What does it matter if a false teacher is ultimately saved or unsaved, if he/she still takes a person’s eyes off Christ? Where the false teacher (or error-filled teacher) falls on the spectrum of salvation is something ultimately to Jesus…and it’s something they need to resolve! This is especially true for the teacher who claims to truly know Christ, but actively teaches dangerous false doctrine (such as word-faith/prosperity gospel). These people have zero assurance of their salvation when they consistently lead Christians into lies & away from Jesus. At that point, it doesn’t matter what past testimony they claim; they are in present rebellion against Christ. … As for us, we are to treat those teachers the same way as we teach other obvious anti-Christian wolves: as dangers to us and to the rest of the flock of God, and in desperate need of the salvation offered by Jesus! (Wolves can still be saved and transformed into sheep!)

Question #2: What is the danger? If a person truly belongs to Jesus, with Jesus’ promise that no one can snatch us out of His hand (Jn 10:28-29), what is the real problem for a Christian who encounters either a wolf from the outside or a perverse teacher from the inside? If we’re still saved, shouldn’t that be enough? To answer, ask yourself another question: Is your eternal salvation the only thing that matters in your relationship with Jesus? Are you just looking for a “get out of hell free” card and no more? For a Christian to constantly drink in false teaching is for his/her relationship with Christ to be continually built upon lies instead of God’s truth – it is to lose all real joy and abundance of life that Jesus promised even in the midst of tragedies – it is to be spiritually starved for God’s daily bread – it is to potentially lead other Christians into error via our own example, or worse yet, to possibly stop non-Christians from knowing the truth. Sound like a problem yet? And that’s not even the worst part. The worst is a lack of assurance. We have confident assurance of our eternal salvation, yes, but where does that assurance come from? From abiding in Christ. What happens when you’ve taken in so much error that you no longer look to Jesus? Where can you point for true assurance? You can’t. This is the problem with false teachers. False teachers kill faith, and they are to be avoided at all costs.

31 Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.

  1. The command is repeated & re-emphasized: watch! Interestingly, this is a different word than what was used earlier (for “take heed”). Earlier, the idea was for being alert & paying close attention; here it’s similar, but it refers to staying awake, being in a state of constant readiness, and (in some cases) remaining alive. This word was used of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse when He told His disciples to “watch” for His coming, as they would not know the hour (Mt 24:42, 25:13). How often do we need to beware false teachers? Always! 24/7.
  2. One other reason to watch & be on constant alert: because we’ve been warned. To the Ephesians, Paul warned them constantly for nearly three years. And the warning was necessary! After all, look what happened to the historical church at Ephesus: they took their eyes off Jesus & lost their first love! (Rev 2:4-5) Even with the elders taught by Paul, with the influence of Timothy & Titus among them, with the apostles Peter & John visiting them – even with all of this sound godly instruction, the church still got distracted to the point that Jesus personally warned them of their impending ruin. Tragedy can strike the best of churches when congregations get ravaged by the wolves & taken in by con-artist perverse teachers.
    1. We too, have been warned! The Scripture is full of warnings to stay in Christ, to beware false teachers, and to beware of spiritual attack. We dare not rest on our laurels, kick up our feet & think that because we’ve never given in to false teaching in the past that wolves and other perverted teachers are never dangers in the future. The Bible calls us to constant vigilance! Be alert – take heed – keep your eyes on Jesus!
  3. Don’t only watch; warn! Warn others of the danger of which you’ve been warned.

They were to watch out for danger, but danger wasn’t only external. Enemies could attack from the outside, but their own weaknesses could harm them from the inside…

  • Commendation: Take care! (32-35). Watch out for your weaknesses!

32 “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

  1. With all of the warnings given, Paul understood that there was one ultimate Safeguard that would keep these Christians safe: Jesus! This was the point that Paul gave the church over (entrusted them) to God. It’s not as if Paul thought that God wasn’t guarding over them, and it was up to him as an apostle to somehow place the church of Ephesus into His hands; it was that Paul understood the weaknesses of all people, and our tendency to trust in men rather than God. To this point, with all that Paul had taught the Ephesian Christians about Jesus, they would still have been looking to Paul to help them solve their problems. No longer! Paul commended them over to the Lord God, and they would have to look to Him alone. — That’s not a bad thing; that’s basic Christian maturity! When we’re young, we look to our parents to provide for us & to give us what we need. That’s fine for when we’re 2, 5, 10, 15, etc., but at some point we’ve got to grow up! There comes a time when we stop asking our parents for money, and we get ourselves a job – or we stop expecting people to solve our problems for us, and we start to tackle things on our own. That’s what the apostle Paul did with the church at Ephesus. They had been baby Christians long enough; it was time for them to grow up and start walking with Jesus on their own.
    1. Some of us need to grow up! We rely far too much on the faith of others, never developing faith of our own. Though we’ve been Christians for decades, we rely on someone else to point out where the books in our Bibles are, or we read only the same surface-level devotionals that contain half-a-verse at a time, or we still feel lost when it comes to prayer, or unable to even explain the basics about the gospel to someone else when asked, or (more to the point here) we’re unable to distinguish false teaching when we’re confronted with it, not knowing how to handle it. Beloved: it’s time to grow up! It’s time to take responsibility for yourself, and start living as the mature Christian that God wants you to be. Stop making excuses for yourself, and start living as a disciple of Jesus!
    2. Don’t misunderstand: it’s not that we all have to be at the same maturity level as Christians, nor do we all expect the same giftings and abilities, nor do we get to a point that we don’t need other believers around us. God has made us a body of believers, and we are all necessary to one another in Christ. He has given us pastor-teachers, evangelists, etc., to help encourage, exhort, and teach us, and we all minister to other Christians in some way. But as we do it, we still grow as individual Christians. We still keep our own eyes on Jesus. As valuable as other people will be in our lives, they cannot live out our walk of faith for us. If we do not do that on our own, no one will do it for us.
    3. In all of this, never forget this: we are never completely on our own. The whole point of growing in our maturity with Jesus is that we are with Jesus. To the Ephesians, it’s not like Paul was telling them to suck it up & handle their problems all by themselves; it was entrusting them to God. They weren’t to look to Paul to guard them from dangerous false teachers; they were to look to Almighty God, being grounded in His word, relying on the power of His Spirit, serving the Living Christ. As born-again believers, we are never alone; we always have the presence of the Living God with us!
      1. Earlier, Paul described the Ephesians as being the flock of God, with the elders having the role as overseers/shepherds. Who is the ultimate shepherd? Jesus! He is our Good Shepherd, and He always has His eye upon us!
    4. Not only was the church at Ephesus entrusted to God; they were entrusted to the gospel: “the word of His grace.” What would God use to guard His church from the dangers of false teaching? His own written word: the word of His grace – the word of His gospel of grace given through Christ Jesus. When atheists claim that God is a mean, vindictive, child-abuser, the written word of God shows us He is merciful, kind, and loving at His core (1 Jn 4:8). When cults such as Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses claim that Jesus is a model for us all, though not truly God, the Scriptures clearly show Jesus to be the Great I AM worshipped by Abraham and the Creator of all the world (Jn 8:58, 1:1-3). When Roman Catholics & liberal Protestants claim that we have to add good deeds to our faith to truly ensure us of our salvation, the Biblical gospel tells us that we are saved by grace through faith, not of works so that no one can boast (Eph 2:8-9). Whatever the false teaching may be, the way to combat it is through the written word of God, the Bible! It is through the Bible that we learn of the grace of God, the deity of Jesus, and the sufficiency of His work. It is through the Bible that we learn of the power available in the Holy Spirit, and of God’s promise that the Spirit will be in us, with us, and upon us (Jn 14:17). It is through the Bible that we learn of the truth of God, because His word is truth (Jn 17:17). His word is enough!
    5. More to the point, the gospel is enough! What do Christians know through the word of God’s grace? God’s word is what He uses to “build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” God’s word builds us into maturity. His gospel is what God the Holy Spirit uses to give us a new birth into a new family, and from there to receive a promised inheritance that belongs to all of the children of God – i.e., to all who are “sanctified” or set-apart by God for His own glory. There are a lot of wonderful things we do for God as His children: we love each other with the love of Christ – we show compassion to others, feeding the hungry and helping the poor – we protect the widow and the orphan, and show kindness to the stranger. But as good as all of those things are, they are all temporary. They are needed in the short-term, but do nothing for the long-term…at least, when “long-term” is defined as eternity. God’s word will lead us to do all of those things, but it is only His gospel that builds us as Christians and leads us to an eternal inheritance. It is only His good news of grace that sets us apart as His holy children. It comes by faith alone by grace alone through Jesus alone…and we know it alone through His gospel (contained in the Scripture alone). (To God alone be the glory!)

So Paul commended the church to God, that the elders (and the rest) would rely upon God and His word to stand fast to the truth. That was one way they could take care (watch out) for themselves. The second way was to watch out for their weaknesses, particularly in terms of greed…

33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me.

  1. Guard against greed! Paul had provided a personal example of what it looked like to be responsible instead of greedy. The future wolves and perverted teachers would inevitably try to soak the church for money, using the Christians as a means for wealth, rather than building into their lives. Even today, there’s a reason that cults and charlatans feed off of Christians: they think they can make an easy buck! (They wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work!) One way the Ephesian believers could test if a future teacher was true or false was how that teacher treated money. Would the teacher take responsibility for himself? Or would he continually pressure the church to give & give & give? Greediness is a dead giveaway for an enemy of the gospel.
    1. Question: Did Paul set a precedent for the church for all time showing that all pastors need to be bi-vocational, earning their pay apart from the local church? Not even Paul did that. At times while Paul taught freely in Corinth, the churches of Macedonia provided for his needs (2 Cor 11:8-9). Paul acknowledged his right to be paid in his pastoral work; he simply chose not to exercise it, so that it would be a hindrance to others (1 Cor 9:14-18). Where Paul did set a precedent was his heart in service. Paul was going to preach the gospel and disciple believers, no matter where he was or what he needed to do in order to get it done. If that meant bi-vocational ministry, so be it. He refused to put a block between others and the gospel. The grace of God is not for sale, and Paul would never have it said of him that he presented it that way.
    2. How different that is from many of the false teachers of today! For them, it’s always about money. Their “church” services have three different offerings (freewill, tithe, and abundance or “overflow faith”) – their TV programs are little more than infomercials – their messages say little about Christ, but a lot about cash. It’s multi-level marketing with a hint of false-holiness, a veneer of feel-good spirituality. It may be many things, but the gospel it is not.
  2. Of course, Paul’s example didn’t just apply to the future false teachers; the Ephesian elders needed to check their own hearts! Paul had not burdened the disciples with constant “asks” for giving; neither should these leaders. For that matter, not even the Ephesian Christians needed to make money their focus. “Church” wasn’t supposed to be about what they could get out of it – as if the other Christians in the body needed to provide for everyone who didn’t feel like working. No – people needed to take responsibility for themselves, stop coveting, roll up their sleeves and get to work.
    1. It’s easy to point the finger at the false teachers on TV who abuse the church for money; it’s a bit harder when we start looking at our own lives. When we start using other Christians for what we can get out of them, rather than what we can give unto them, we’re little different from the charlatans on the tube. Again, we need to grow up! We need to mature as believers, looking to Jesus alone as our Provider, and be careful about our own sinful weaknesses.

35 I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

  1. The best way to guard against greed? Give generously. Help others, “support the weak.” Sometimes wealthy Christians get a bad reputation, as if somehow it’s a sin to have money. Not so! Some of the most well-known Biblical figures were extremely wealthy people. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, David, Solomon – these were all very rich men (some, being the richest in all history). None were perfect & without their failings, but on the whole, they each sought the Lord in worship & sought to honor the Lord with their wealth. And who better to help the poor, than a wealthy believer with a heart to honor Christ? After all, you can’t give money you don’t have.
    1. Whether you have money or not isn’t the point; your attitude concerning money is. Do you use your money for Jesus, or do you use Jesus for your money? The way you answer that question reveals much about who your true master is.
    2. And again, it’s not how much money you have; it’s your attitude and what you do with it. By no standard could Paul have been considered rich (at least, not after he came to faith in Christ and started the life of a missionary apostle). Yet even with what little he earned through his tent-making profession, he used it to “support the weak,” giving it out to those in need as he had opportunity. Whatever it was Paul had, he gave. Like Peter & John in the temple courtyard when they saw the paralyzed man in the gate: “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you,” (Acts 3:6). Regardless what is in our bank account, we can always give the gospel…just be sure to do it with a clean heart!
  2. Generosity is godly. Paul quoted the words of Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Where & when Jesus said these words is unknown. They aren’t recorded anywhere in the four gospel accounts, nor in any other narrative record of Jesus. That doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t say it, however. Remember that none of the gospel accounts claim to be a comprehensive source of every single thing that Jesus said & did. In fact, John’s gospel explicitly says the opposite! (Jn 21:25) Some have theorized that Paul was familiar with an oral tradition concerning Jesus’ words, or perhaps there was some earlier written account now lost to history (the mysterious Q source, which was supposedly used by Matthew, Mark, & Luke). With due respect to the scholars, the most likely answer is the most obvious one: Paul learned it from Jesus Himself. Remember that Paul spent nearly three years with the Risen Jesus, being discipled in Arabia (Gal 1:17-18), and Paul also was privy to numerous visions and prophecies, many of which are unknown to us. It would not at all be unlikely that Paul learned it from Jesus, taught it to others, and then was able to remind those same people of what they were taught. – In any case, don’t miss the main point: there is a blessing in giving – there is a joy in generosity! Those who try to use Christians for monetary gain show they know nothing about the heart of Christ, and they never experience the joy of what it is to give as He gave.
    1. Hopefully, you aren’t one trying to use other Christians for financial gain, but there’s still a possibility you don’t know the true joy of giving. Granted, in a culture where there is so much emphasis from Christian pastors/teachers on giving, it can be difficult to see how anyone would want to give generously, without feeling a tremendous amount of pressure or guilt. But if you can push all of those pressures to the side & just give joyfully unto the Lord, then your financial offering can be a true act of worship! Or maybe you’re led to help someone on the street – not necessarily for their sake, but for Jesus’…there is a joy in doing so! This sort of giving is not a “give-so-you-can-get”; it is a blessing that goes beyond physical and financial things & is a direct hit to our hearts.
  3. In all of our giving, don’t miss the best part: Generosity is gospel! God was generous with Jesus. He gave the best of the best, and He gave all that could be given, and that blessing has overflowed to all the world! Our giving back to God is like riding the ripples in the splash of the cross. 

That was Paul’s message to the Ephesian elders. Not only did he show them his own example in serving Jesus, he exhorted them to continue to serve Jesus. They did it through watching. They were to take heed, watching out for the dangers around them – and they were to take care, watching out for their own weaknesses, particularly the tendencies to wander from the gospel of grace and to fall into greed. Finally, it was time for Paul to leave them…

  • Conclusion: Take hold! (36-38) Watch for one another till heaven.

36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, 38 sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship.

  1. This was the final act of commendation unto God. Paul prayed for them, and they prayed for him (note the “with” – this wasn’t one-sided prayer). They wept, embraced, and walked him to the ship. There was true sorrow among these dear friends, but this sorrow was only temporary. How so? They wouldn’t see his face again in this life, but they would certainly see Paul in heaven. Every departure for a Christian is temporary, even in death. As the old gospel song goes, “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing it will be!” Not only will we have a grand reunion with one another, but we’ll have our reunion with Jesus, and we’ll be singing and praising His name together!
  2. Even here, we see an example from Paul: how to best say goodbye to one another.
    1. Pray for one another (36). For the Christian, prayer isn’t trite or ritualistic (at least, it shouldn’t be!); it is a real interaction with the Living God. When we pray for one another, it’s more than just repeating some words of random “blessing” and sending someone off; it’s going to God on their behalf, asking for His will to be done in their lives, and for His glory to be known. One of the very best things we can do for one another as believers is to pray for one another, and it’s especially important to do at a time of departure.
    2. Love one another (37). Love doesn’t stop when someone walks out the door. Paul may have been leaving the Ephesians, but it wasn’t that he didn’t care for them, nor they for him. It’s good to weep, hug, and even kiss one another in godly expressions of emotion. Sometimes we get the idea that Christians ought to be stoic and stone-faced. That’s not the picture that the Bible paints of Jesus, nor is it the picture it paints of the early church. May it not be the picture of us, either! It’s okay to shed tears when someone leaves (whether in life or death); it’s simply a measure of how deep our love has been.
    3. Wait for one another (38). Hold fast to the promises of Scripture – hold fast to the truths of eternity. Everything Jesus told us is true: we will go to heaven, and we will see one another around the throne of God, and we’ll all be giving Him praise!

Conclusion:

After nearly three years of ministry among Ephesus, one might think Paul had already said everything that needed to be said. He did! He had declared to them everything that was contained in God’s word for them. With that done, he left them with a commission & a commendation. He gave the Ephesian elders the command to do their work as overseers/pastors, watching out for God’s people (His flock) and watching out for their own temptations and potential abuse.

Paul’s exhortation continues to this day: Watch! Look to Christ, ever keeping your eyes on Jesus!

  1. Take heed! Watch out for danger. The enemy sends wolves among the sheep in an attempt to steal, kill, and destroy the faith of believers. More than that, he grabs the hearts of perverted teachers within the church, trying to draw people away from Jesus. Beware & watch out!
  2. Take care! Watch out for your own weaknesses. Don’t fool yourself that you’re too strong to give into temptation (be it greed, or any other kind of sinful lust). Sin can gain a foothold in any believer who gets distracted from Christ, which is why we need to be so grounded in God & in His gospel of grace!
  3. Take hold! As we do these other things, we also take hold of one another, loving one another and watching for one another until we get to heaven.

Beloved, look to Christ! Get your eyes on Jesus. Never forget the lesson learned by Peter when Jesus commanded him to walk on the stormy waters of the Sea of Galilee: it was when he took his eyes of Jesus and saw the boisterous winds that he began to sink (Mt 14:30). When we look to Christ alone, being ground in Him, in His gospel, and in the rest of the Scripture, we’re fine…it’s when we look away that we get picked off by the enemy. Get (and keep!) your eyes on Jesus.