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Can't See It

His Old House, Acts  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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It’s Almost Apple Season

The trees are heavy w/ new apples.
I’ve seen many trees where the owners have propped up the branches w/ 2x4s b/c there is so much fruit on them.
Slide (Trees)
I can’t wait.
Apple sauce, apple butter, apple pies, apple cobblers, carmel apples, candied apples,
We’ll have boxes and bags.
Just like the citrus we get from the valley, some of you will be carrying a lot down the mountain when you go.
Hopefully, we can beat the elk to them.
I’ve heard that the elk have an amazing sense of when the fruit is ripe.
Person will think “tomorrow they’ll be perfect to pick.”
Only to come out the next day to find 1 bite taken out of each apple on the tree.
Slide (Red apple)
You pick the apple and it looks beautiful.
What do you assume? What do you expect based on what you see?
You cut it open and you find this.
Slide (Rotten Apple)
We can’t see everything that is going on.
Whatever the apple looks like on the outside, we have to cut it open to see what’s going on on the inside.
The opposite can also be true. What we see can look bad but there are things we can’t see that are going on at the same time that are good.
Like, cancer.
We can see ultra-sounds the results of needle biopsies. But that doesn’t mean we can see everything that’s going on.
Life-line scening at the church in July. Needle biopsy in August. Surgery in September.
In the mean time, God did something we couldn’t see until the surgeon opened her up.
Here’s the message God has for us today:
Slide
God is always at work in ways we can’t see even when we don’t like what we can see.
This is the message of . Paul had been arrested because of a riot that sprung up by the temple in Jerusalem after he spoke there.
As a Roman citizen he would be given the opportunity to defend himself in a Roman court. First, the commander of the Roman army needed to understand what was the root of all this trouble.
If Paul could convince Rome this was strictly a religious matter they would leave him alone.
The commander understood that at least most of it was a religious issue, so while in Jerusalem he asked the temple leadership to convene and discuss all this.
This amounted to a ‘pre-trial’ hearing that he could observe to better understand the whole thing.
So, as he watched, here’s what he saw.

Something is Rotten

Contrast

Acts 22:30–23:3 NIV
The commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews. So the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the members of the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them. Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”
Acts 22:30-23:
The Sanhedrin was the ruling body of the temple. They were in charge.
They were made up of 2 groups, Pharisees and Sadducees.
The Pharisees were responsible for the interpretation and application of the OT law. The preachers and teachers.
The Sadducees were responsible for the rules and enforcement. They filled the key offices and ruling authority.
The 2 groups would work together on larger issues like this one.
As Paul made his opening statement, he said he’d been called by God to do this. He was representing Jesus to whomever would listen.
And, accordingly, his conscience was clear.
Obviously, if he had been disobedient to God in any way his conscience would not be clear.
So, here he is, on trial, opposed to, in conflict w/, the religious leadership that he used to be a member of and who claimed authority on these matters and claimed to be God’s representatives to the world.
Ananias ordered him to be hit in the mouth. Tradition allowed this to defend God’s honor.
Paul defended his actions, teaching that Jesus is the Messiah and offering equal status and full participation w/ God to Gentiles.
Which, the Sanhedrin wholly rejected.
To an observer, Paul didn’t look good. He looked like he was in trouble on the outside but he said he was clean on the inside.
Contrast that w/ Ananias the High Priest. He accused him of being a whitewashed wall.
IOW, he looked good on the outside. Gold and purple robe, holding a fancy cane-looking staff, and a cool pointy hat.
But, on the inside, what no on could see, he was rotten.
Like a fresh coat of paint covering deck-boards eaten w/ dry-rot. Or, that red, shiny apple that’s rotten inside.
Hard wood floors vs. a thin veneer of oak glued onto particle board.
Ananias, and the rest, were just a thin veneer. No substance. No character. No depth. They were able to hide their rotten cores w/ a little spit and polish. Gold and purple.
Paul accused Ananias of violating the very law he claimed to represent and defend. The entire OT; law, prophets, and poetry pointed to Jesus as the Messiah.
Not only did the Sanhedrin miss it, they prosecuted and persecuted everyone who saw it.
And, Paul was #1 on their list to shut down.
But, the commander brought him in to give him the chance to defend himself first before this group before he was in a Roman court.
Here is his defense.

Paul’s defense

Acts 23:6–9 NIV
Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.) There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”
Paul’s strategy was more than just the story of Jesus. He focused on a flashpoint of disagreement between the 2 groups of the Sanhedrin.
He was a Pharisee and called on his roots and ID’d w/ that half of the leadership group.
There had always been a sharp disagreement regarding the resurrection and any hope for an eternal future.
So, he got them into an internal argument leaving him out entirely. Half the group, the Pharisees, were actually defending him.
He was on trial for defending Jewish teaching, according to the Pharisees. The OT teaches an eternal kingdom inhabited by those who came to faith while they were here.
The question they were fighting over was, “How could Jesus speak to Paul and commission him to do anything? He was dead.”
So, is there a resurrection? Does Jesus speak to us today?
Irony!

Irony

Acts 23:10–11 NIV
The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks. The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
The argument grows in its intensity among the Sanhedrin. The potential for violence is real so the commander ordered Paul t/b taken out immediately and brought to their barracks where he’d be safe.
Picture in your mind, while the violent argument continues over whether or not there is a resurrection, Jesus (the risen Lord) meets Paul in the Barracks, speaks to him and assures him he’ll make it to Rome to testify there before the most powerful people in the world.
Why didn’t Jesus show up at the Sanhedrin hearing?
He doesn’t impose Himself where He’s not welcome.
And, sport, maybe. Kinda funny and ironic He’s there while they are fighting over where or not it’s possible.
Not only did Jesus assure him w/ his presence, he assured him w/ his words.
Paul was in custody and would stay there. He lost his freedom. He’d face more trouble in the near future. But, he’d live long enough to speak to powerful people in Rome.
So, no matter what they saw other people doing, or trying to do, what they didn’t see was what God was doing to make sure Rome would happen.

The Rot was Spreading

More Irony

Acts 23:12–13 NIV
The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot.
Paul’s mission was in serious danger. Can God protect him? Will He?
If these people had their he’d be dead the next day, wouldn’t make it to Rome, wouldn’t write his NT letters (prison epistles), no audience w/ Caesar.
More than 40 swear an oath they’d be under a curse if they don’t carry this out. They won’t eat or drink till he’s dead.
Justice is moving too slowly and there’s the real threat he won’t be stopped by the Romans at all.
Those who take matters into their own hands don’t have as much control as they think they do.
Ironically, they took an oath before God that violated His will and law.
They also broke the law they claim to defend by scheming to lie and murder.
How would the leadership respond to their scheme? Would they realize the mistake to break the law or would they go along?

Whitewash exposed

Acts 23:14–15 NIV
They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.”
Under the pretense to impress the commander, they agreed to call Paul in for more questioning to supposedly be able to make a more educated and accurate decision.
The leadership agreed to go along w/ the scheme.
Proved the truth of Paul’s insult of Ananias as a whitewashed wall. A thin veneer of good appearance but rotten underneath.
He, too, violated the law he claimed to defend.
He had Paul hit in the mouth for dishonoring God. Yet, he participated in the scheme to murder Paul, who was on a mission for God, speaking for Him and about Him.
Who saw this coming?

Scheme exposed

Acts 23:16–18 NIV
But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul. Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.” So he took him to the commander. The centurion said, “Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.”
Paul’s nephew. Who knew he was there and related to Paul? Why was he there? Don’t know.
Other than God’s providence. God’s plan will prevail.
He reveals the planned ambush to Paul who sends him to a centurion who in turn sends him to the commander.
God is at work behind the scenes to preserve and protect His children for His purposes and to fulfill His promises.
This doesn’t always mean a physical rescue. Doesn’t mean every person we pray for will be healed in this life.
But, it does mean every person we pray for, who believes, will be healed one way or the other. No believer will ever be destroyed or distracted from living in God’s eternal kingdom.
That’s God’s promise and He will protect us thru the transition from this life to the next.
His protection is overwhelming. The enemy has no chance.
Just like the Romans planned defense of Paul was to overwhelm attempted ambush or opposition.
Imagine going to Washington DC and knocking on the door to the Supreme Court and asking for a audience w/ the justices. Sure.
The only way to plead your case before the high court is if you are in some trouble, on trial, and they agree to hear you.
You have to get arrested or sued first.
As a prisoner in the system, not only was he protected by the most powerful army in the world, the gospel was spread as his guards were transferred after being chained to him and believing it, and, then, the highest authorities in the world heard his case.
God is always and surely at work in ways we can’t see even when things we can’t see are not going our way.

Overwhelming protection

Acts 23:23-
Acts 23:23–25 NIV
Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.” He wrote a letter as follows:
470 men protecting Paul.
Not just to protect him against the 40+, but in case they had planned another ambush along the way.
Orders to deliver him to Caesarea. Not Rome, yet. But a major governmental seat.
Felix, the governor, lied and served there.
The commander, Claudius, sent a letter to Felix, w/ Paul to explain why he was delivering him there.
God had the real reason, but as far as Claudius and Felix knew they they had it all figured out.
They knew what they saw.
Claudius first flattered him, never missing an opportunity to butter up a boss.
Then explained that they were about to kill Paul.
The Roman charge in question was disturbing the peace in a major way.
Serious enough for the governor himself to hear the case but not a capital offense.
Paul becomes a curiosity to Felix but not much more. Once again, a Roman official deems Christianity as no threat to Rome.
He was enough of a curiosity to Felix to keep him for some time and hear from him a number of times.
Paul had ample opportunity to clarify the gospel for everyone in the court to hear and consider. Only Felix could rule on the charge. But everyone could rule on their own consideration of Jesus.
This passage shows a diverse response to the gospel.
Most of the Jews were hostile, some were open.
Romans were strictly functional. All they wanted was to keep the peace.
The Jews were angry and committed to killing Paul.
The Romans were curious but not committed to anything else.
Many people go thru life pursuing their own goals or seeking to survive rather than engaging in a serious way with God to see what He has for them.
God deserves more than a patronizing recognition in our lives.
There was no way Paul would get the opportunity to make his case to Felix or Caesar if he had simply visited Rome on a missionary journey and knocked on their door.
Imagine going to Washington DC and knocking on the door to the Supreme Court and asking for a audience w/ the justices. Sure.
The only way to plead your case before the high court is if you are in some trouble, on trial, and they agree to hear you.
You have to get arrested or sued first.
As a prisoner in the system, not only was he protected by the most powerful army in the world, the gospel was spread as his guards were transferred after being chained to him and believing it, and, then, the highest authorities in the world heard his case.
As slaves of God we are protected by the most powerful army in the universe. And we will be preserved until every last promise God makes is fulfilled.
God is always and surely at work in ways we can’t see even when things we can’t see are not going our way.

Applications

Substance or Veneer?

You clean up nice!
Does your inside look cleaner or more rotten than your outside?
Character is who are when no one sees you.
Is there something no one else sees about you that you need to clean up?
W/ God’s help, you can.

Control

You are limited by the one whom you have placed in control of your life.
Those who attempt to take matters into their own hands don’t have as much control as they they think.
Maybe we think we see everything that is going on in our lives.
But, we don’t.
You are limiting what God will do in areas where you are attempting to control them yourself.
What do you need to let go of and give completely to God?

Committed?

Are you just curious or are you committed to God?
God deserves more than patronizing recognition in your life.
He’s not Santa Claus or your Genie in a Bottle here to grant your wishes.
Don’t try to earn His favor by coming to church or carrying a big bible.
Every day give Him at least a few minutes and ask Him what He has for you that day.
There will be a lot of ordinary stuff He will have for you.
But, occasionally, something extraordinary will come along for you from God.
He may not cure your cancer. That’s Sara’s story. God has a story for you, though.
Commit yourself to serving Him, giving Him everything and He will do amazing things with you. Some things we will see. Some things we won’t.
God is surely and always at work in ways we can’t see even when we don’t like what we can see.
Be patient. Trust Him. Eventually, you will see what He has done for you and how he has taken care of you.
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