Faithlife Sermons

73. Acts 22:30-23:35 (From the Frying Pan to the Fire)

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Divine Providence in the life of Paul is illustrated for us that we might trust more in God.

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Title: From the Frying Pan to the Fire
Text:
Occasion: Pillar Sunday Pulpit 10.13.19
Thesis: Divine Providence in the life of Paul is illustrated for us that we might trust more in God.
Prayer of Illumination:
Our Father,
You are the the God of Heaven and Earth.
Heaven is Your Throne and the earth is Your footstool.
Give us then a humble heart, a contrite spirit, a heart that trembles at Your Word.
What we know what, teach us, what we have not, give us, what we are not, make us, for the sake of Jesus we ask, Amen.
Introduction:
John Gill, a British theologian of a generation past, has reminded us that God’s sovereignty is seen in His control of men and events. Scripture teaches us, “He does according to His will in the host of Heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’ ” ()
Say it another way, Providence is the name given to the doctrine that the Sovereign God exercises an absolute control over everything that happens in this world, from the greatest events to the smallest details, all with a view to bringing his plans and purposes to pass.
Illustrations of this principle of Divine Providence are to be found throughout history.
John Bunyan, for example, was drafted as a soldier in the civil war in England and was sent to take part in the siege of Leicester [Lestar].
As he was about to begin sentry duty one night, another requested that they exchange responsibilities. Bunyan agreed.
That night the other soldier was shot in the head and died. Bunyan was spared so that in the providence of God he might minister through the written word to generations to come.
Christopher Columbus felt greatly disheartened and discouraged after many attempts to obtain financing for a trip to India.
While on his way back to Italy he stopped one day at a convent not far from Granada and asked for a drink of water. The monk who gave him the water and heard his story was the man who intervened on his behalf with Queen Isabella.
Out of that request for a glass of water came the money to equip the vessels that ultimately crossed the Atlantic—that request led to the discovery of America.
One day when Abraham Lincoln was rummaging through a barrel of old stuff, he came across a copy of Lord Blackstone’s Commentaries (on British jurisprudence).
This “chance” discovery awakened his interest in law and human rights.
As a result he ran for political office and eventually played a decisive role in the history of our country.
George Whitefield was employed by his brother in the Bell Inn but could not get along with his brother’s wife, so he gave up his job and went to Bristol.
Then step by step he went to Oxford, met with the Wesleys, and developed a ministry that touched countless thousands of lives on both sides of the Atlantic. Whitefield was perhaps the greatest preacher of his time.
At thirty-two years of age William Cowper faced a great crisis. Tired of the struggle, he decided to take his own life.
He took an overdose of laudanum, but this suicide attempt failed. Then he tried to drown himself in the Thames river, but he was prevented from doing so.
The next morning he deliberately tried to pierce himself on a knife, but the blade broke and he was only slightly injured.
Then he tried to hang himself—and almost succeeded. Someone found him unconscious and cut him down.
In despair he began reading Paul’s letter to the Romans and received strength to believe that God loved him. Later he wrote:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sov’reign will.
Cowper become one of the great hymn writers of all times, hymns we love to sing even today.
These seemingly chance contacts and events have literally altered the course of history.
There is nothing here in our passage that directly teaches us of divine providence. It is simply illustrated for us.
But what a fascinating illustration this is of divine providence.
This story is given to us in order to strengthen our faith, and in order to increase our trust in God.
We derive encouragement from this story since it underscores God’s involvement in the seemingly little things in our lives
As Dr. F. B. Meyer wrote, “All these things, if carefully observed, yield their testimony and assurance that God is in all events permitting, directing, controlling, and causing all things to work out His perfect plan.”
To use Paul’s famous words he wrote in Romans, “God works all things for good, to those who love him, to those who are the called according to his purpose.”
What we see here is that Paul not only confirmed this truth in his writing, but also in his living.
Let’s recall the situation Paul is facing in our passage.
It all started from Paul’s determination and resolve to travel to Jerusalem. , Paul says, “And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.”
Paul would discover how true that is as he is literally in chains as a prisoner before his Jewish brethren, offering his defense, personal testimony of what Christ has done for him.
Like Stephen, Paul had been falsely accused of blasphemy, of preaching against the Law and the Temple and Paul then offered up his defense.
Paul didn’t even get to finish his speech because we see in chapter 22, once Paul said the detested G-Word, Gentiles, it says in v. 22, “They listened to him up to this point,” the Authorized Version says it this way, “They gave him audience unto this Word,” “and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live.”
The commander, still unsure why Paul is the target of such outrage, takes him and was about to examine him by scourging.
The Roman scourging is designed to inflict a great deal of pain and physical damage to the back.
One scholar describes the painful process of scourging this way: “While it sometimes consisted of a handle on which were fixed leather straps, it was often an instrument of brutal innovation. The lashes could be knotted cords or wire having bristled ends or be strung with knucklebones and lead pellets. This method of interrogation, though never overtly construed as punitive, could nevertheless result in crippling or even death before the truth had been arrived at.”
As the soldiers were stretching out Paul with thongs about his wrists to secure him for scourging, we wonder, “will he survive? Will God’s plans be thwarted by such aggression?”
At this point, Paul reveals his Roman citizenship to the centurion and averts the terrible ordeal he is about to face.
The Roman orator Cicero exclaimed, “To bind a Roman is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to slay him is almost an act of murder”
So the soldiers “quickly withdrew,” and the commander was “frightened,” because of what he had done.
But this ordeal is far from over, because what we see in chapter 23 is that Paul goes from the frying pan into the fire.
Paul barely managed to escape one hostile situation before entering another.
And in v. 30 we read, “But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews, he (that is, the commander) released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them.”
The commander doesn’t understand exactly why, but he’s going to try again to find answers as Paul comes before the Sanhedrin.
As Paul is before the Sanhedrin, the tension of the story builds and the plot thickens, the question is raised, “will Paul survive Jerusalem and finally make it to Rome?” (Repeat)
This is the question that dominates the landscape of the rest of Acts.
As we work through this passage, I want to divide the text by the various characters involved and how God ultimately used these human characters to serve His purposes and deliver his servant from danger.
1. The Council
First, there is the Council, the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews whom Paul was now facing.
Paul began by taking a long look at the Sanhedrin, v. 1, states, “Paul, looking intently at the Council.”
Paul knew some of these men. Even if Paul had not been a member of the Sanhedrin, he had friends in those high places.
You could imagine the twinge of recognition as Paul gazed around the room and locked eyes with some of them.
And he said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.”
In other words, Paul is implying that there is no possible ground of complaint against him.
This reason for this meeting is pointless, because I haven’t done anything wrong.
The high priest took offense to this and commands that Paul be slapped across the mouth.
That was a very degrading form of insult to an Israelite. The law commanded that no Israelites should ever struck in the face.
Let me also say, we Gentiles, don’t appreciate getting slapped very much either.
So Paul responds sharply back, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?””
The Jews painted their tombs white as a warning, because to touch a tomb brought defilement. Paul was saying that Ananias, though he appeared good and righteous on the outside, was full of decaying filth.
So Paul is calling him a stinking hypocrite.
Probably, not the best way to start his address to the Council.
Paul’s stabbing words naturally brought an immediate response.
“But the bystanders said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.”
Did Paul really not know that Ananias was the high priest?
What do we make of this statement from Paul, “I was not aware, brethren that he was high priest”?
It has been suggested that the high priest was not wearing his robes that distinguished him as the high priest, so Paul didn’t recognize him as the high priest.
Others have suggested that Paul had poor eyesight, something hinted at in .
A more likely explanation is that Paul meant he did not recognize in Ananias the conduct of a high priest.
“By his actions I would not have known he was high priest.”
But the moment it is pointed out to him that Ananias is indeed the high priest, Paul admitted his error and quoted to show his loyalty to the Law and owned up to this mistake.
We are accustomed to seeing Peter with his foot in his mouth, and though we want to excuse Paul of any wrongdoing, we can’t ignore the fact that Paul responded with an angry and impulsive retaliation.
This is an instance that the best of men are men at best.
In one moment, Paul gave a masterful, courteous and sensitive defense of the faith and in another moment, he loses his temper.
That to me, is the most natural way to read verses 2-5. Paul was slapped and he flared up. He loses his cool temporally.
That happens to the best of us doesn’t it?
But to Paul’s credit, he immediately realized that he sinned, regretted his choice of words and was first to admit that and owned up to it.
Realizing that the situation got off to a bad start, and things were getting worse, Paul says, “Alright, I’ll practice divide and conquer and see what happens.”
We read in v. 6, “But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!”
The Sadducees were what today we would call modern liberals. They denied the supernatural and denied the resurrection from the dead.
The Pharisees were the conservatives, more fundamental in their understanding who believed in the resurrection from the dead.
The result was predictable, while the Sadducees, the anti-supernaturalists took offense, the Pharisees took Paul’s side.
There arose a heated debated over this. Some might call what Paul did clever on his part to raise this issue, but Paul succeeds only in polarizing the council.
His hopes for a testimony before the leaders of the nation is squandered.
Paul finds himself in the midst of another shouting match of Jews. The rivalry between the Sadducees and Pharisees were fierce and Paul’s statement only ignited this tension.
Both sides were yelling theological arguments at one another and Paul is in the middle of this and you could imagine, the room being divided, the Pharisees on one side and the Sadducees in the other, and they’re both threatening to tear Paul apart as they literally pull and tug at him.
And once again this Roman commander, puzzled by this man must rescue Paul.
Like putting steel to a grinder, every time the commander puts Paul in the presence of Jews, the sparks begin to fly.
Three times now the commander has pulled Paul out of the fire.
We’ll get to the commander in more detail later, but consider with me how Paul must have felt.
He had a golden opportunity before the leaders of the nation, and he blew it.
When would Paul get another opportunity like this one? He knows like the Dodgers, he choked under pressure.
Now he sits in his cell, utterly dejected, defeated, deflated, discouraged.
All of his dreams and hopes of his Jewish brethren turning to Christ are crushed in the ground.
Even the most optimistic of people can at times, want to curl up with the biggest blanket they can get, put their thumbs in their mouth, and wallow in their miseries.
That was Paul.
But friends, man’s desperateness is always God’s hour.
Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.
God waits for a man to arrive at that place, because that is how God’s glory shines.
God will allow us get to this place of detection, of brokenness, of defeat, of being utterly dried up of any resources in ourselves.
Some of you are at this place right now.
You have to come to the place of utter darkness and discouragement, you have come to the end of yourself, ready to call it quits, without realizing that God was standing right by your side the whole time saying, “Great! That’s exactly where I wanted you to come. I was bringing you to this place of desperation. I was waiting for you to come to the end of yourself so that you’ll be able to see that now is my time.”
This is what we see happening in v. 11, “But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood by his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.”
In other words, “Cheer up Paul, don’t worry Paul, I’m going to stand by you. I’ll be with you. You will accomplish the task that I have given to you.”
John Wesley, the great evangelist, once said, “I am immortal till my life is done.” That’s an expression of what God is saying in essence to Paul, “You are immortal until you finish the task I have for you.”
Now you expect after the Lord say something like this, for the Lord to work miraculously in the same way he worked when Peter was in prison, sending his angel to break Peter’s chains and opening the gate of prison.
Or perhaps causing an earthquake to erupt, like the time Paul was imprisoned at Philippi.
But the Lord does no such thing. Instead, we see the Lord quietly working behind the scenes.
He even makes His enemies as pawns in the Lord’s chessboard.
2. The Plotters
We turn from the Council to the plotters. We now read that a plot was hatched to murder Paul.
Paul was taken into Roman custody, and it would have seemed to all who were in Jerusalem, Jews and Romans alike, that Paul was protected in prison from the Roman army.
Yet there were men in the city known as zealots who were determined that the apostle should not escape their hands.
There were about forty of them, and they got together to take an oath that they would not eat or drink until they had killed Paul.
I take this to mean that it was their religious duty to get rid of him. When you can get a man to believe that it is his religious duty to something, he will go to any length to carry it out. We see something like this in our day with all the terrorist attacks.
So these 40 radical Jews, willing to do anything to kill Paul, even asked the chief priests and elders to urge the Council to ask the commander to bring Paul back for more questioning so that they would wait and ambush Paul at some strategic point.
They said in v. 15, “We for our part are ready to slay him before he comes near the place.”
In fact, this plot is repeated at least three times in this passage to emphasize the seriousness of the danger for Paul.
V. 12, “they bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul.”
V. 14, “We have bound ourselves under a solemn oath to taste nothing until we have killed Paul.”
V. 21, “more than 40 of them are lying in wait for him who have bound themselves under a curse not to eat or drink until they slay him.”
With the emphasis through repetition on the murderous plot by this gang of forty to kill Paul, a destructive momentum developed that appeared unstoppable.
It looks as if the plot might work.
But “somehow” that plot came to the attention of Paul’s young nephew.
3. Paul’s Nephew
Look at v. 16, “But the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, and he came and entered the barracks and told Paul.”
Wait? Paul has a nephew?
Prior to this passage, we didn’t know Paul even had a sister, let alone a nephew!
What was Paul’s nephew doing in Jerusalem?
How old was he?
Who was Paul’s nephew, that he was about to find out about this plot? How did he even get to know of it so promptly?
We don’t know any of those answers. All we know is that “somehow” Paul’s nephew was right there to hear of the plot.
“By accident” we might say.
“By chance.”
Or “coincidentally” he is at the right spot at the right time to overhear the plans of killing Paul.
But of course, “luck” or “chance” or “coincidence” are pagan terms. What we see is that God was at work delivering his servant from danger.
God told Paul he would go to Rome. His life was in danger. And he would not know of the danger had it not been for his nephew.
Here, God is acting behind the scenes to guarantee that outcome for Paul to go to Rome.
4. Paul
But then look next at what Paul does. We might think that as Paul was in prison and heard the Lord saying, “just as you witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also,” he would’ve relaxed and even told his nephew on hearing of the plot, “Hey, don’t worry about it. Go back home to your mom. God already guaranteed my safety. There’s nothing to worry about. God will work some miracle”
Paul does no such thing. He doesn’t use his knowledge of God’s Sovereignty as inaction.
He did not take the view of knowing God controls the events in the world that he has nothing to do. Not at all.
Far from being idle, Paul takes action. When he got the news, he quickly told his nephew to see the commander and tell him what he had discovered.
So in v. 17, “Paul called one of the centurions to him and said, “Lead this young man to the commander, for he has something to report to him.”
5. The Commander
Now we come to the commander, Claudius Lysias.
What would the commander do?
The Roman commander was in a tight spot.
He knew that he had to get Paul out of Jerusalem or there would be one murderous plot after another, and one of them just might succeed.
And he also knew that he had better determine the charges against Paul or he might be accused of illegally holding a Roman citizen.
He could solve both problems by sending Paul to Caesarea and putting him under the authority of Felix, the Roman Governor.
At once, he prepared to dispatch Paul to Caesarea, relieved, no doubt, to wash his hands of this troublesome situation.
Therefore, the commander too was a cog in the wheel, another instrument from the Lord’s hands to bring Paul to safety.
Look now in v. 23 at what the commander does,
And he called to him two of the centurions and said, “Get two hundred soldiers ready by the third hour of the night to proceed to Caesarea, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen.”
They were also to provide mounts to put Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the governor.
Two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen, that is four hundred seventy armed men to protect Paul.
Do you see what God is doing? 470 men to take one man, the apostle and protect him to Caesarea, so that God’s purpose to take that man to Rome might be worked out.
You ever read of anything so amazing as what the living God does in the lives of HIs children.
This is probably part of my fallen nature.
I would have loved to see the faces of these 40 Jews as they waited for the apostle Paul and saw instead 470 Roman trained soldiers and Paul on the charger. This would’ve made for a great movie.
But beloved, it’s true, it’s your God and my God that acts like this.
God moves in a mysterious way.
His wonders to perform. He plants his footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.
Paul left town, under a small army and the cover of the night. He left Caesarea more like a king than a criminal!
6. Felix
But wait, there is one more step in God’s providential working in bringing Paul to Rome.
And the last character we come to is Felix.
Felix was a successor to Pilate as governor of Judea. He had been in office several years by now. We will see more of his character in our next study together.
When he reads the letter from the commander he asks of Paul, "What kind of province does he come from?"
There were two kinds of provinces in the Roman Empire: There were those under the control of the Roman senate, and those which reported to the emperor -- the imperial provinces.
Had Paul come from one of areas under the control of the Roman senate, it would have been diplomatically desirable to consult the ruler of the state in question.
But he learns that Paul is from Cilicia, a Roman province, it was an imperial province under the direct control of the emperor himself and responsible to Felix.
So accordingly, Felix told Paul that he would take the case on himself.
And so steps are being laid, as God is operating behind the scenes to pave the way, for bringing Paul to Rome.
One writer has said, “In the transfer of Paul to Felix’s custody, God used a combination of Roman vigilance for public order, regard for legal proceedings, and sensitivity to political realities to accomplish the very opposite of the Jewish plot.”
In the process, God placed him a step closer to the fulfillment of his promise that Paul would bear witness in Rome.
Two Lessons:
1. The Power of God’s Providence
I trust that you do appreciate something of the power of God’s providence. When we speak of God’s providential care, we mean God’s unseen interference in the affairs of men.
When I use “providence” here I mean that wonderful, strange, mysterious, unguessable way the Lord has of ruling his world and sustaining his people, and his doing it, frequently, over, under, around, through, or in spite of the most common stuff of our lives or even the bias of our wills.
It is God orchestrating people, governments, circumstances to get the right man at the right place at the right time.
Paul’s nephew, he thought he was just wandering the streets of Jerusalem. No, the Lord was at work in this.
Who knew Paul’s nephew would be in Jerusalem at just the right time to hear the plot? That is the mystery and power of Providence.
You see the difference between a miracle and providence.
A miracle is if God would have transported Paul from the prison cell to Caesarea. A miracle is if God sent his angels to break off Paul’s chains. A miracle an earthquake, like at Philippi, causing Paul’s chains to break loose.
Providence is the fiery-zealots who were eager plot an assassination to plunge their daggers into Paul’s heart.
Providence is Paul’s nephew who just so happened to hear of this plot and tell his uncle.
Providence is Paul quickly telling his nephew to tell the Roman commander.
Providence is the Roman commander, who just so happened to save his own skin and thought the best way was to send him to Felix.
Providence is Felix, who just so happened to be a governor of the Roman province, who decided to take on Paul’s case himself.
This is providence, it is God co-operating with natural events, with separate factors, who are all handled like pawns on a chessboard by Him who “makes the wrath of man praise Him.”
You see, it takes someone who is truly omnipotent to hold everything that is happening in the world together according to His perfect plan.
However, we might ask: Does the Lord’s providence only operate in the affairs of major figures in salvation history (Paul) in this case) or does his (mostly) invisible wisdom follow my path as well?
Does the Lord direct only major episodes in his kingdom or does his sway extend to the individual lives of his subjects? Surely the latter.
Wisdom testifies to it: “A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” ()
I hope you appreciate the power of God’s providence in your own life. This is the way God rules your life too.
He is not just providential in Paul’s life. God is providential in every single person.
You know, last week we heard of three different testimonies. I love to hear of them not only because it reminds me of my own salvation, but it is such a striking illustration of God’s providence in saving a soul and in bringing that person to this Church.
If you’ve ever been asked how you came to Pillar? And your answer is rather complicated because of different circumstances and people you’ve come across, and if you have a complex story, and all those details are key in understanding the story, listen, that’s the hand of Providence.
God moves in a mysterious way. Yes, but God also moves through what He has in place, common things like governments, commanders and governors and nephews.
And here in our story, we discover that God’s plans and purposes will not be thwarted. That God uses unexpected means to save his servant.
Who would’ve thought that God’s enemies would be the catalyst to bring Paul to Rome?
Who would’ve thought that a little boy would uncover the plot?
Who would’ve thought that a Roman commander would be so courteous and kind to Paul?
In the same train of thought, who would’ve thought that a lamb would rescue the souls of men?
Who would’ve thought that a young virgin woman would give birth to the Son of God and Savior of the world?
Who would’ve thought that one of Jesus’ intimate friends who would betray him would actually be a means to God’s saving purposes?
Who would’ve thought that the cowardly act of Pilate would be one of the last cogs in the wheel to put Jesus on that Wondrous Cross?
Who would’ve thought that the means God would save His people would be by slaughtering his own Son?
Circumstances do not limit God. Circumstances are not independent of God. God creates circumstances. God is the master of circumstances.
God will use any and every circumstance to accomplish His plans and purposes.
2. The Secrecy of God’s Providence
But secondly, I want you to learn the secrecy of God’s Providence.
One of the fascinating marks of this whole section is that hardly anyone knows what is really going on.
God is actively at work, but few see what it is He is doing.
As far as all the characters in this story, they think they’re acting independently, acting in complete freedom.
The plotters, of course, had no idea. They would have been utterly disgusted at the thought, that their plot to kill Paul would actually facilitate God’s plans to send him to Rome to make the Gospel spread even more.
Had they known that their plot would be the first chain of events that would make Paul go to Rome and witness the Christian Gospel, they would never have plotted to kill Paul in the first place.
But, they didn’t know, and their plot was only the first step that would set in motion for Paul to go to Rome.
Paul knows to some extent what is going on because the Lord told him he has more work to do in Rome.
Even though Paul received a divine promise of his safety to Rome in v. 11, even Paul didn’t know this would happen.
God promised Paul he would be spared and make it to Rome. He did not tell him by what means he would get Paul to Rome.
Paul did not know precisely how it will unfold.
So this narrative reminds us of how little we see of the divine plan, how secretive God is in his providential working.
In fact, apart from v. 11, when you actually get to the story of the conspiracy to kill Paul beginning in v. 12 all the way to v. 35, when Paul is in custody of Felix, there is no mention of God or of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are many moving parts, many details and many characters, but no mention of God.
He is, as it were, hiding and working behind the scenes.
Somebody has well said that God is often behind the scenes, but He moves all the scenes that He is behind.
I remember once reading a story about a catcher for a minor league baseball team located in one of our northwestern states.
He decided he would have a little fun, so, when the umpire called the next pitch a ball rather than a strike, the catcher jumped up with an irate look, turned to the umpire, and with typical vehemence exclaimed, “You’re right! That pitch was a ball!” The ump was dumbfounded.
The catcher continued his “tirade.”
The crowd naturally thought he was disputing a bad call and began to hoot and boo the umpire.
When the ump threatened to throw the catcher out of the game for trying to rouse the masses against him, the catcher retorted (as he kicked dirt and continued to carry on) that the umpire couldn’t do that because he, the catcher, was concurring with the umpire’s call.
His words uttered with angry look in the ump’s face were something like: “I’m not arguing with you—I’m agreeing with you. I said that pitch was a ball. You made an excellent call!”
By this time the crowd was caught up in its uproar against the hapless umpire.
The people were there and they thought they knew exactly what was going on down at home plate, but, actually, they didn’t have a clue.
Something entirely different was happening than what appeared to be happening.
God frequently seems to manage his kingdom that way.
No, I don’t mean like a prankster baseball catcher. But I mean that often his real work is concealed.
He is working for the deliverance of his people but we do not see it. He works secretly.
We can clearly see surface matters like Paul’s nephew discovering the plot, and perhaps that is all we discern.
You see, the Lord often works in an undercover way. You may not know what He is doing, but He is doing something.
You may never know what He is doing. He may reveal it to you and He may not. He may be doing 10,000 things in your life, but you might not know. But He is working.
This is especially good for us to know in our troubled times, in times where we feel we are in the dark and cannot see the hand of God.
And sometimes, only sometimes as here in , does God let you in on the secret.
How do we know that Paul’s nephew and the commander was God’s doing? Because of an “intrusion” into our story.
That instruction occurs in v. 11, when the Lord spoke to Paul, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.”
I call this verse an intrusion because they are. If you read the story through v. 10 and then read on to v. 12, you will find the story connects perfectly, the narrative never missing a beat.
So, in one sense, v. 11 is not necessary for the flow of the story, but you see, Luke includes it for our understanding of it.
Through all the circumstances in Paul’s life, all the twists and turns, all the near death experiences, both in success and failure, God was working His purposes out in, under, around and through all that happened to him.
It is for this reason that Luke gave us a record of the Lord’s promise to Paul just before telling us of the plot to take his life.
However, unlike , God may not let you in on the secret.
Like reading Hebrew, God’s providence is to be read backward. You may see traces of what God has been doing much later as you look back, but in the present you may be just as much in the dark as the characters in this story.
In the midst of our daily life, we may be able to see very little of God’s divine plan and purpose.
But this story teaches us that God is never nearer to His people than when they cannot see His face.
He is never closer than when they do not Hear His voice.
He is never more concerned about us than at the very time that all seems to be darkness and confusion.
Let us remember that Beloved.
We must trust God that He knows what He is doing. It is only by trusting in God that you and I will know that behind a frowning providence, such as a plot to murder Paul, God hides a smiling face, a way to lead Paul to Rome.
So you must trust in God and His promises to bring us at last safely, not to Rome, but to heaven itself.
That is the message of this chapter. That is the message of the Bible, trust in God.
Trust God in the dark times of your life.
Trust God in your discouragements.
For just as in Paul’s case, the Lord stands by you and says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Prayer of Confession:
Sovereign Father,
We marvel in the ways You have ordered our steps and interfered in the affairs of men to work out Your holy purposes.
We are comforted to know from Your Word that You are intimately involved in all that happens to us.
It is one of the mysteries of providence that many times we cannot see why things are happening as they are.
Yet, O Lord, surely You are at work in ways that we could not have planned for ourselves.
Help us to take comfort in that.
And may the knowledge of Your providence lead us to commit ourselves to You daily, and to trust in You in every step of the way.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
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