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Positioning for Checkmate

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Positioning for Checkmate

Acts 22:30-23:35

Big Idea:  We are able to see the big picture in tough times by recognizing God’s sovereignty, realizing God’s provision, and remembering God’s Word.


I.       Introduction

A.    Secular

1.      Chess is a game of 100% skill, one person against another.

2.      Even though I’m not a chess player, I like the idea of going head-to-head with someone and trying to outmaneuver them, out-strategize them, or out-think them.

3.      It’s very difficult to try to set up a viable defense with your positioning at the same time you’re looking for a weakness in your opponent’s positioning in order to attack and capture their king.

4.      It is easy, however, to get so focused and tunnel-visioned on trying to do one thing, but forgetting about the rest of the board and getting check-mated because you didn’t see the big picture of what was happening.

5.      That’s why so few people attain the highest level of grandmaster.

B.     Personal

1.      How are you at seeing the big picture?  Do you fall victim to tunnel-vision?

2.      It’s easy for us to get so focused on what we’re doing in our little corner of the universe, especially during difficult times or times of tragedy that we miss seeing God at work.

3.      Because we miss seeing God at work, we fail to find comfort or encouragement when we need it most, during those tough times.

C.     Biblical

1.      Being able to read through the Bible like we can, we have the ability and the opportunity to see God’s big picture unfold throughout history.

2.      Part of how that big picture unfolds is kind of like a chess match between God and Satan.

a.       Incorrect to say that Satan is able to compete with God, however, we can say that Satan is opposed to God and desires to ruin His plans.

b.      We see this in a couple of different ways in the Bible, especially with regard to Messianic prophecies:

1.)    Gen. 3:15 – seed promised that would destroy Satan, then Cain kills Abel.  Seth then born.

2.)    2 Sam. 7 – offspring of David that would rule for eternity, then we see son with Bathsheba dies.  Different son.

D.    Text

1.      Even in the book of Acts, we see several times how the church is growing in number and power, and then the apostles are beaten and arrested, or Stephen is stoned to death, or James is killed, or Peter is imprisoned.

2.      Even in the life of the apostle Paul, we see several times where people try to kill him or run him out of town, but God always shows up to deliver him.

3.      As we continue in Acts 23, we see the same type of chess-like maneuvering between God and Satan.  Particularly, we see how God handles some of Satan’s attacks on His church.

II.    Exposition

A.    Divert the Attack (Acts 22:30-23:11)

1.      Storyline context

a.       Beginning in Chapter 21, Paul is determined to make his way back to Jerusalem in order to celebrate Pentecost (coming up later this month).

b.      We’re now 58AD, or roughly 25 years after Jesus’ resurrection and the Pentecost of Acts 2.

c.       He is arrested in the temple and allowed to speak to the crowds in Acts 22, where he gives his Damascus Road conversion testimony.

d.      Paul says something to stir up the crowds even more, so the Roman tribune in charge takes him away to examine him more.

e.       This is the context for out text today.

2.      Paul addresses Ananias (Acts 22:30-23:5)

a.       Tribune sets up meeting with council

1.)    Desires to know “real reason” for accusations against Paul

2.)    Brings Paul and Sanhedrin together to hear each side

b.      Was third effort at finding the truth

1.)    First was by questioning the crowd, but got no facts (Acts 21:33-34).

2.)    Second was through torture, but found out Paul was a Roman citizen (Acts 22:24-29).

c.       Paul immediately goes on the offensive and claims that he has done nothing wrong, emphasizing his devotion to God.

d.      Ananias reacts to this by ordering someone to hit Paul.

1.)    Ananias was the high priest in Israel

a.)    Several sources speak to his corruption and violence.

b.)    Robbing from other priests

2.)    Why would Ananias react so strongly?

a.)    In his saying, Paul is making the claim that for his entire life, including after his conversion experience, he has been a good citizen of Judaism, doing everything according the Law because of his devotion to God.

b.)    Paul is going beyond saying, “I’m innocent” and is taking it to a level of “Every God-fearing Jew should be doing what I’m doing.”

e.       Paul responds angrily by calling him a hypocrite and announces that he is placing himself under the judgment of God.

1.)    Whitewashed wall was a reference to the cosmetic cleaning of a dirty and decrepit wall by covering it with plaster.

a.)    Jesus called the hypocritical Pharisees and scribes “whitewashed tombs” in Matt. 23:27.

b.)    On the outside they looked nice, but on the inside they were full of uncleanness and death.

2.)    Paul, however, then apologizes for this statement.

3.)    Several interpretations for this apology:

a.)    Paul couldn’t see well (references poor eyesight in Gal. 4:15).

b.)    This was an informal meeting of the Sanhedrin, since the Roman tribune was present, so the high priest wasn’t wearing his usual ceremonial garb.

c.)    Paul was being a bit sarcastic as was saying to the effect, “I apologize, but I didn’t know that man with such a low character could become high priest.”

3.      Paul addresses the Council (Acts 23:6-23:10)

a.       Because Paul had “looked intently” at the makeup of the council, he saw that they were a mixed group of Pharisees and Sadducees.

1.)    Mixed socially – Pharisees were generally associated with the lower, to middle class of society and were extremely learned in the Law.  Sadducees were from the upper classes of society.

2.)    Mixed politically – Pharisees got their political power from the Jewish people, while the Sadducees got their power and influence from Rome.

3.)    Mixed theologically – Pharisees believed in angels, spirits and a general resurrection to come.  Sadducees did not.

b.      Paul takes advantage of this division and identifies himself as a Pharisee and says that it is for theological reasons that he is on trial.

1.)    He brings up the resurrection in particular, meaning the resurrection of Jesus.

2.)    Pharisees take up Paul’s case and say that there is nothing wrong with him.

c.       This creates great dissention in the council, and Paul has to be removed by the tribune so that he is not “torn to pieces” (Acts 23:10).

d.      Why would Paul do this?

1.)    Paul did this to reveal to the Roman tribune that although the Jews, particularly the Sadducees, hated him, they couldn’t agree on why they hated him.

a.)    In Acts 21, the crowd was beating him because the accusation was that he was teaching against the law and the traditions, and that he defiled the temple by bringing a Gentile into the temple court – which he didn’t do.

b.)    In Acts 22, the crowd started shouting for his death when he said that he was told by God to take the good news to the Gentiles.

2.)    He was saying that their argument against him was a religious one, and it had no merit because he has stayed true to the Law, as half of the Sanhedrin were attesting to.

3.)    The attack was diverted from being against Paul and turned in on each other.  As a result, Paul was able to leave safely.

4.      Jesus addresses Paul (Acts 23:11)

a.       Paul is taken into the Antonia Fortress where he is able to reflect in solitude what was happening to him for a whole day.

1.)    Perhaps he was remembering the words of the disciples in Tyre who exhorted him in the Holy Spirit not to go to Jerusalem.

2.)    Maybe he was recalling the words and actions of the prophet Agabus while he was at Philip the evangelist’s house in Caesarea who prophesied that he would be bound and delivered to the Gentiles if he went to Jerusalem.

3.)    Maybe he was thinking, “If only I had listened to them, then I wouldn’t be in this mess.”

b.      Regardless of what he was thinking, Jesus appeared to him in a vision.

1.)    Just as God spoke to Joshua and commanded him to “Be strong and courageous” (Josh. 1:9), Jesus commands Paul to “Take courage.”

2.)    How is Paul able to take courage in this situation?

a.)    First, because Jesus was with him.

i.)      The text says that Jesus “stood by him”

ii.)    This is more than just appearing to him.

iii.)  He was showing Paul that He was right with him, close to him.

iv.)  Jesus was fulfilling His promise in the Great Commission to always be with his disciples, as they go and make more disciples.

b.)    Second, because Jesus still had a purpose for him.

i.)      When Jesus first appeared to Paul, then called Saul, in Acts 9, He told him that his purpose would be to carry the gospel to the Jews, the Gentiles and to kings.

ii.)    Here, Jesus is telling Paul that you have been faithful to your purpose so far, but don’t give up, there’s still more to do.

c.       Despite what he may have been thinking beforehand, he had to be encouraged by Jesus’ words, and ready for whatever was about to come his way.  His courage was about to be challenged.

B.     Thwart the Attack (Acts 23:12-22)

1.      The plot to kill Paul is conceived (Acts 23:12-15)

a.       The next morning, 40 Jewish men got together to swear not to eat or drink until they have killed Paul.

1.)    The phrase “bound ourselves by an oath” is a translation of “with a curse, we have cursed ourselves”

2.)    It means that they would rather bring themselves under a curse and face divine wrath and eternal separation, than allow Paul to live.

3.)    It’s ironic that less than a year prior to this conspiracy, Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Romans 9:3 (read).

a.)    In Paul’s great love for his Jewish brothers, he would give up his salvation, if that were possible, so that they would be saved.

b.)    In their great hatred for Paul, they would rather be sent to hell instead of allowing their Jewish brother to live.

b.      They approached the chief priests and elders to join them in this conspiracy.

1.)    They would get the Sanhedrin to request to the tribune to bring Paul down again for another meeting.

2.)    This time, Paul would be killed along the narrow streets from the Antonia Fortress to the Council Chamber.

2.      The plot to kill Paul is discovered (Acts 23:16-22)

a.       Somehow, Paul’s nephew learns of their plot and goes to tell Paul.

b.      Even though Paul was imprisoned, he was not officially under arrest.

1.)    Therefore, visitors can come and go, and even bring him food and materials, as they would later in a following imprisonment.

2.)    Paul relayed the news his nephew brought him to a centurion guarding him, who brought Paul’s nephew directly to the tribune.

3.)    The tribune was able then to hear the news firsthand from Paul’s nephew.

C.     Escape the Attack (Acts 23:23-35)

1.      Preparations for Paul’s removal from Jerusalem (Acts 23:23-25)

a.       The tribune, in his wisdom, was starting to see that this was getting out of his control.

b.      Immediately he arranges for 470 soldiers to escort Paul to Caesarea under cover of darkness.

1.)    This had to do less with Paul being innocent and more with him being a Roman citizen and the tribune keeping some semblance of peace in Jerusalem.

2.)    Caesarea was a major port city on the shore of the Mediterranean sea, and was built by Herod the Great to be  kind of a capital city for the Roman governor so he didn’t have to stay in Jerusalem.

a.)    The governor at this time was Claudius Felix, who was related to the previous Caesar Claudius but still had favor with the current Caesar Nero.

b.)    Found favor because of the brutal way he squashed any Jewish attempt to rise up against the Romans.

c.       So the tribune does what any good politician does in a tough situation, he passes the problem off to somebody else.

2.      Letter for Paul’s arrival to Caesarea (Acts 23:26-30)

a.       The tribune writes a letter of introduction to Felix to let him know the situation.

b.      The letter loosely recounts the facts of the last few chapters of Acts, but it is distinctly written to give the tribune the maximum credit possible for the preservation of Paul’s life.

c.       In it he also makes an explicit statement of Paul’s innocence.

1.)    He not only states in Acts 23:29 that the issue was a religious one, and out of Roman jurisdiction.

2.)    But he also states that according to Roman law, he’s done nothing wrong and didn’t deserve to be imprisoned or killed.

3.)    This is the second time in this chapter that we are told that Paul was innocent.

3.      Provision for Paul at the praetorium (Acts 23:31-35)

a.       That night the soldiers set out for Caesarea

1.)    The journey from Jerusalem was about 64 miles northwest and would have taken most of the night to reach Antipatris, which was just over the border into Samaria and a little over halfway there.

2.)    The next morning the spearmen and foot soldiers turned back to resume their posts at the Antonia Fortress, and Paul continued to Caesarea with the seventy horsemen.

b.      After reading the letter from the tribune, Felix asks Paul where he was from.

1.)    Paul replied that he was from Tarsus in Cilicia.

2.)    Because Paul was far from his home province, Felix agreed to take custody of Paul and hear the arguments against him.

3.)    Paul is then set up in Herod’s preatorium, which was the governor’s palace in the city.

4.      Here in Ch. 23 were presented with the explanation of Paul’s transfer from Jerusalem to Caesarea, and we get a glimpse of the tough time he was having.  But what can we learn from this?  How can we use this today?

III. Implications, Illustrations, Applications

A.    The first thing we need to do  is recognize God’s sovereignty.  Even though it looks like uncontrolled chaos is all around us, we have to be convinced that God is not just simply aware of what we’re going through, but what we’re going through fits perfectly in His will.

1.      Even though Paul was enduring persecution, and had been for some time, he always kept the main thing the main thing – lifting high the name of Christ.

2.      Because he believed so strongly in God’s sovereignty, he was able to submit himself to that purpose, despite what happened to him, even calling them a “light momentary affliction” (2 Cor. 4:17)

3.      Pulling back a bit, we can see how this chapter fits into the overall of Acts.

a.       In Acts 1:8, Jesus said that His Word would be spread to the ends of the earth.

b.      In Acts 9, He told Paul that he would be a witness to kings.

c.       By the end of Acts, we see precisely those two things happening

d.      Paul was being directed, by God, to the center of the known world, Rome, so He could testify about Christ there.

e.       He was squarely in the center of God’s sovereign will.

4.      Where much of our discouragement comes is in the fact that we lose sight of this truth in the midst of struggles.

a.       It’s like not seeing the beauty of the forest because there are too many trees in the way.

b.      We need to lift our eyes up and recognize God’s sovereignty.

B.     Next, we need to realize God’s provision.  As we remind ourselves that God is sovereign, we should be able to see His hand at work in our lives, when otherwise we might not.

1.      Looking at our story, we see God’s provision by enabling Paul’s nephew to discover the assassination plot and tell the tribune about it.

2.      Not only was this elaborate plot by 40 desperate men foiled, it was foiled by a little boy.

3.      A wonderful example of God’s provision comes in the story of Esther.

a.       Even though His Name is not mentioned anywhere in this book, His fingerprints are discernable everywhere.

b.      Haman, the enemy of the Jews, and a member of the royal Persian court, is furious that a Jew named Mordecai won’t bow down to him or honor him.

c.       So Haman builds a 75ft gallows to hang Mordecai on and seeks to wipe out the Jewish people. 

d.      However, God secretly intervenes and it ends up that Haman is hanged on that same gallows and Mordecai is given Haman’s position in the court, and the Jews are able to celebrate this deliverance today with Purim.

4.      Even though it may look like God is not present, or not working, He is.

a.       The writer of Hebrews drew on the fact that several times in Scripture God has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).

b.      Then applied it by quoting Ps. 118:6, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

C.     Finally, we need to remember God’s Word.  Restate.

1.      Jesus personally appeared to Paul, as He had in the past, and encouraged him through His Word.

a.       We have in our hands, the inspired Word of God.

b.      A Word that He has authored and intended for us to have.

2.      When is the best time to read up on how change a flat tire?

3.      When is the best time to read of God’s character or the power of His might, know the depths of His love and compassion, or accept His gift of salvation?

a.       There is no greater source of comfort or encouragement than knowing that He has purchased our lives from the domain of sin and hell through the blood of His Son Jesus, and that we can never be separated from the love God, or our eternal salvation, and that He will never remove His Holy Spirit from those who believe.

b.      These are truths that can carry us through the darkest times.  Ps. 23.

4.      The Bible is an invaluable source of encouragement.  We need to be in it so that we can remember it when we need it.

IV. Closing

A.    In the rough times of our life, the dark times, we are able to be encouraged and comforted because we know that there is a big picture and that God is sovereign over it, because we know that God is at work providing for us even if we don’t see Him, and because He has given us His Word, and His Word never fails.

B.     Prayer

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