Acts: The Story Continues Take Courage Acts 23:1-35 (Page #932) Intro • Do you know what it feels like to be pushed to your breaking point? • You know that relentless struggle life throws at us where we’re barely keeping our head above water? • You know those moments, when all you’ve got left to do is cry out to God like the Psalmist did? • See if what he wrote in Psa. 56 resonates w/ you: • 1 Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; 2 my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly... • 5 All day long they injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil. 6 They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps, as they have waited for my life. • That’s got to be how Paul felt as we pick up in our story today. • & even though that Psalm was written over 1,000 years before Paul, the author & Paul haden had one thing in common: they made a decision to operate out of their identity, not their ideas. • What I mean by that is, their ideas – their thoughts in their own mind – told them this was going to be the end for them… that there was no hope… that they were doomed. • But their identity – a child of God, cherished by the sovereign creator of the universe, that identity told them a different truth – that God would never leave them for forsake them. • It told them that His mighty power would work in even their situations to bring forth His glory & their joy. • So, knowing his identity, the Psalmist continued… • 3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. (That’s who I am, that’s what I do.) 4 In God, whose word I praise, (That’s what I choose to do.) in God I trust; (So) I shall not be afraid. After all, What can flesh do to me? • Or as Paul would write, 31 …If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8) • But that doesn’t mean life’s just going to start handing you rainbows & popsicles. • Usually, we have to go through more heat before we get to see God reveal His glory. • So, let’s pray & then we’ll dig in to see how this all went down for Paul & the hope Jesus offers for you. Pray Context • If you remember, last week we saw Paul get arrested after his preaching had incited an angry mob in the Temple. • &, true to their Roman ‘no non-sense’ reputation, 24 the tribune (Claudius Lysias) ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. (Acts 22) • But right when they’re about to start all that fun, Paul lets them know that he’s a Roman citizen. • That’s a big deal b/cause doing what they were about to do would be illegal. • So, the proceedings stop for the day, 30 But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him & commanded the chief priests & all the council (Pharisees & Sadducees) to meet, & he brought Paul down & set him before them. (Acts 22) • He’s determined to get to the bottom of this, so he brings in Paul’s accusers. Text • Acts 23 1 & looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” 2 & the high priest Ananias (highly offended) commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. • & for the first time in all the trials & persecution Paul had been through, he finally reached his limit & lashed out back at them. • 3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, & yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” • 4 Those who stood by (sneered &) said (to Paul), “Would you revile God’s high priest?” • Paul quickly regains his composure & admits that what he had done was wrong, but excuses himself & 5 [says], “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’” • Here we see the wisdom & humility of Paul. • He could have lashed out again b/cause, frankly, the high priest deserved every bit of wrath Paul might have felt for him. • However, Paul sets the example for each of us who might be treated unfairly by some authority b/cause we choose to stand for the gospel. Now, just b/cause Paul approaches the situation humbly, doesn’t mean he’s not fighting. • He’s pretty familiar w/ the group of people he’s in front of now. • Now b/cause Paul had been a Pharisee himself, he was well aware that Pharisees & Sadducees didn’t always get along. • I mean, it wasn’t uncommon for the their ‘discussions’ to get so heated that they would literally “take it outside” & fight it out to the death. • So, Paul, knowing they have no intention of doing him justice, decided to take advantage of their hatred, create a scene &, hopefully, get out of this situation & back to safety. • 6 Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees & the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is w/ respect to the hope & the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” • & just as he’d hoped, 7 & when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees & the Sadducees, & the assembly was divided. • See, what he’d said was a pretty big deal 8 [B/cause] the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. • 9 Then a great clamor arose, & some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up & contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” • This is hilarious! It’s so political! • The people who were condemning him found out he was one of them & now he’s innocent!? • Sounds like typical politics today, doesn’t it? • &, just like what you see today, it can get real ugly real fast. • 10 [So] when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down & take him away from among them by force & bring him into the barracks. Despite having escaped that scene w/ his life, Paul is feeling really depressed. • You can imagine being Paul – You know what it’s like to be on the “Roller Coaster of Hope”. • You’re living a bold life of faith & then you get knocked down. • God gives you some encouragement & so you get back out there, just to get knocked down again. • That cycle is exhausting & never seems to stop. • & for Paul, the cycle was to the extreme. • Back in Acts 9, when Paul first became a believer, God had told him his life wasn’t going to be pretty. • He told him “… how much he must suffer for the sake of [Christ’s] name.” • At this point, Paul had lived the past 15 years w/ those days hanging over him like a dark cloud, & now, that roller-coaster ride was getting hard & fast. • Now since his first arrest, he had been cheered up by the hope & fervent prayers that he & the church had laid at the throne of grace for the past few months. • But he also knew his speeches before the mob & the Sanhedrim had only made his enemies more ferocious & more determined to destroy him. • It was so bad, that the Lysias didn’t know what to do other than to keep him in prison. • & so, in every direction Paul looked, he saw prison walls or his own bloody grave blocking his way to Rome (or any other place God might use Him.) • Now, how do we know what Paul was feeling so distraught? • B/cause as I’ve said before, God doesn’t appear to His saints to encourage them unless they really need it. • & here, when Paul is at the bottom of the pit of despair, God speaks. • 11 The following night the Lord stood by him & said, “Take courage, (I see you. I hear your prayers. I have not forgotten you. I am w/ you.) for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” But just b/cause God said Paul would be okay, doesn’t mean his situation was going to improve any time soon. • In fact, it was about to get even darker & even more scary. • 12 [The next day], the Jews made a plot & bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. • 14 They went to the chief priests & elders & said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul. • 15 Now therefore you, along w/ the council, give notice to the tribune to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case more exactly. & we are ready to kill him before he comes near.” • Now, it’s just about impossible for a conspiracy of this size to be planned & executed w/out any kind of leak, especially when the target is as prominent in the news cycle as Paul was. • So, it’s not surprising that a few of Paul’s friends ended up hearing about it. • 16 Now the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, so he (at great personal risk to himself) went & entered the barracks & told Paul. So, Paul, even though God had promised to protect him the night before, he knew the situation was now more dangerous than ever. • So, he reassesses the situation & figures his best hope is w/ the Lysias. • So, 17 Paul called one of the centurions & said, “Take this young man to the tribune, for he has something to tell him.” • 18 So he took him & brought him to the tribune & said, “Paul the prisoner called me & asked me to bring this young man to you, as he has something to say to you.” • 19 The tribune took him by the hand, & going aside asked him privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?”… • After the young man tells him about the plan …22 So the tribune dismissed the young man, charging him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of these things.” • Part of the reason the Lysias demanded secrecy was to keep the young man safe. • The bigger reason was that he couldn’t allow the Jews to know the real reason for what he was about to do. • You see, if the Jews thought their actions could influence his policy, it would only inspire them to keep pulling stunts like this. So, Lysias figures out a plan to keep everyone happy. • If he can send Paul away that night, before the Jews make their request, that would protect Paul, while at the same time avoiding any unnecessary conflict w/ the Jews. • So, 23 …he called two of the centurions & said, “Get ready two hundred soldiers, w/ seventy horsemen & two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea at the third hour of the night. 24 Also provide mounts for Paul to ride & bring him safely to Felix the governor.”… • Then, Lysias writes a letter to the governor, Felix, to let him know what’s going on. • …31 So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul & brought him by night to Antipatris. • 32 & on the next day they returned to the barracks, letting the horsemen go on w/ him. • 33 When they had come to Caesarea & delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. • 34 On reading the letter, he asked what province he was from. & when he learned that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” & he commanded him to be guarded in Herod’s praetorium. Application • Now, that is interesting! • We had to go through that whole chapter to get to this one little word: “Praetorium.” • Do you know what that word means? • It means “palace”. • You see, Herod had built this magnificent palace there, & well, ever since he’d declared a holiday to honor himself & God struck him & worms ate him, he hasn’t really been able to enjoy it. (Acts 12). • So, his palace was taken over by the Romans & turned into the house of the governor. • So, catch this… Don’t miss this… What has God just done? • For Herod (a Jewish King who sought to honor himself ) God took away his life & his palace. • But for Paul (another Jewish man who sought to honor Christ) God saved his life & moved him into that palace. • B/cause Paul remained faithful, God took Paul & moved him out of a prison cell & into the Palace Suite. (B/cause that’s what God does!) • & look, talk about the royal treatment! • He didn’t have to pack his bags & move all this stuff on a U-Haul camel himself, defending himself from whatever thieves & other road hazards he might run across on this trip. • No! He had been escorted by 470 soldiers & now, he was going to dine, sleep & relax in the palace! • It’s almost like God wanted him to know He meant it when He promised to take care of him. • & look, the text doesn’t tell us what Paul did when he got there. • So, I’m just going to point out that Paul was used to praising God in a prison, but imagine the acoustics in that huge palace! • • But now, look again at the passage: Do you see a fancy, showy miracle in the passage? • Did you see any chains fall off or people struck dead? • No over-the-top miracle. No signs, no wonders, & no mighty deeds done by an apostle. • But can you see God at work in His providence? • Ordering the circumstances, ordering the lives of the people. • Like a Theater Director, skillfully & w/ all power & wisdom, moving all the scenes & characters around on the stage to accomplish His will? I love this story b/cause, even though God isn’t mentioned (not even once), the story stills tells me a whole lot of things about Him. • It tells me He sees me. • It tells me He hears me. • It tells me He loves me. • It tells me God is faithful. • It shows me a faithful God who made a promise to Paul in v. 11 that, “as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome”, & that very morning God showed Paul that he meant it. • In fact, moving Paul to the Herod’s Praetorium put him a whole 60 miles closer to his promised destination! (For free! First Class!) • I mean, glory! So, yeah, sometimes (lots of times) God calls us to go through really difficult stuff. • But don’t let Satan discourage you by telling you that you’re alone, or the situation is hopeless, b/cause we serve a God who is faithful, & that God cares for you just like He cared for Paul! • God knows when you’re reaching your limit & how far beyond it you can go. • & just like here, when Paul was reaching his limit, He gave Paul what he needed & He won’t hold back from you either. • But, God still wants you to grow &, just like w/ everything else in life, the only way to do that is to let you struggle & fight. • We’ve seen Paul have to sneak out of town. • We’ve seen Paul dragged out of town. • We’ve seen Paul hustled through the Judean hillsides between the robbers & all the people that were lurking there. • Paul had survived that kind of thing before & God could have had him do it again. • But this time, He knew how far Paul had stepped out beyond his own limits… • He saw how much Paul had endured & grown by trusting a God w/out limits. • & now God decided it was time for Paul to go 1st class – So that’s how he went. Conclusion Remember that Psalm I read in the beginning? • Here’s how it ends: 10 In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise, 11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? 12 I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you. 13 For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. (Psa. 56) • That’s God’s plan for you – that you might walk in the light of life. • That you might walk on sunshine. • So, when the storms of life roll in & your days are filled w/ clouds, remember to keep moving up b/cause on the other side of those clouds is pure & glorious light. Gospel • However, the only way you get to that light is through Jesus. • He loves you so much that He was willing to be pushed to His limit too. • In fact, He was willingly pushed past His limit when He went to the cross to break apart the cloud of sin that lingers over us. • His death & resurrection built the bridge between man & God so that you & I could walk across it & experience the joy of being reconciled to Him. • So today, will you take your next step of faith? • Will you give your life to God? • Will you offer your life as a thanks offering to Him? • B/cause the moment you give your life to Him, He will deliver your soul from death too. • He will keep your feet from falling, • & He will continue to uphold you so that you may walk before Him in the light of life forever. • Glory be to God! Amen.