Sermon Manuscripts

November 22, 2020 – FCBC Sermon

Acts 23:11-35                        “PROVIDENTIAL DELIVERANCE!”

Though travel at this time is quite limited, I am sure that in the past we have had some journeys that take on many legs.  I remember the summer that I was getting married I travelled with the Seminary Quartet as far as Winnipeg and from there my friend Scott and I had decided that we would go and work in a mine in the Yukon for the summer.  As we made the journey by plane, it was a hop and skip with many legs before we arrived in Yellowknife.   Over the next day, as we finally arrived at Keno Hill and made an application at the mine, we were told it would be a two week waiting period.  By this time, I was missing someone acutely and decided to come home to work for the summer.  My friend went on to work in the mine and I came back and worked at Muskoka Bible Center to be near the one I love as our wedding approached.  My many-legged journey ended. 

As we join the Apostle Paul here in Acts 23, his is just beginning.  He has made his appeal as a Roman citizen for trial in Rome and God has guaranteed his arrival.  Jesus told him in Acts 23:11 (ESV)  The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”  So Paul is on his way to Rome, but the trip takes on many legs. 

We’re going to go on a little Scriptural Safari as we get started this morning to learn more about the life of the Apostle Paul before we consider his present circumstances described in this passage in the Book of Acts.   Obviously Paul was no stranger to danger and all too familiar with what it meant to suffer for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He described what he went through in his ministry in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 (ESV) “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.  Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.  Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?”

From the very beginning of his ministry when he witnessed for Christ in Damascus Paul faced threats on his life.  Acts 9:22-25 (ESV) “But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.  When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.”

During his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion the Hellenistic Jews tried to kill him. 

Acts 9:29 (ESV) “And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him.”  He and Barnabas were driven out of Antioch in Pisidia after sharing the Gospel with the Gentiles who rejoiced and glorified God that salvation was offered to them. 

Acts 13:50-51 (ESV) shows the reaction of the Jews “But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.  But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium.”

In Iconium they threatened to stone him Acts 14:5-6 (ESV) “When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country.” 

It was in Lystra Paul was stoned and left for dead.  Acts 14:19-20 (ESV) “But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of

the city, supposing that he was dead.  But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.”

In Corinth the Jews tried to get Paul arrested.  Acts 18:12-17 (ESV) “But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal,  saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.”  But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint.  But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.”  And he drove them from the tribunal.  And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.”

Paul spoke to the Ephesian Elders as he was making his way to Jerusalem explaining to them that he knew he would face even more suffering and he told them of the plots of the Jews to kill him and their plan to kill him while at sea which caused him to travel back through Macedonia.  He told the Elders: Acts 20:22-23 (ESV) “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there,  except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.”

When we read Acts 23:11-35 it is no surprise to encounter another plot against Paul’s life.  After all, suffering was part of what Jesus had promised Paul when He called him to follow Him.  Ananias was sent by Jesus to Paul to lay hands on him that he might regain his sight after his encounter with the living Christ on the road to Damascus.  Paul was blinded by the bright light and Ananias was told by Jesus. Acts 9:15-16 (ESV) “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

All of this sets the appearance of the Lord Jesus to encourage Paul in Acts 23:11 that we finished with last week in a more intense light.  Jesus was with Paul in all that he suffered and He is with you and me today in whatever we may be going through. 

So let’s consider what we can learn from this passage…

1.  GOD’S PLAN: Acts 23:11

2.  MAN’S PLOTTING: Acts 23:12-15

3.  GOD’S PROVIDENCE: Acts 23:16-35

1.  GOD’S PLAN: Acts 23:11

“The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

The Life Application Bible Commentary says:  Look at the richness of the encouragement of the Lord here. Christ told Paul to Be encouraged and then gave him the substance of why he should be.  First, he gave Paul a word of praise for his faithfulness to the ministry—just as you have told the people about me here. Second, he gave Paul a word of promise—you must preach the Good News in Rome. God, in essence, promised Paul safe passage to another field of ministry.

I think there is a third part that goes with the praise and the promise.   Praise – Paul you’ve done a good job witnessing in Jerusalem.  Promise, Paul you will be my witness in Rome.   I would add Protection Paul, I am going to see that you get there.  And the praise, promise and protection set before us God’s Providence.    

I have no doubt that Paul slept well that night.  How have you been sleeping?  You and I need to trust that God is in control, that He is working out all things according to His eternal plan.  He is sovereign and in His providence we can trust that Jesus is standing by us.  So, Take Courage! 

God is in control and as we will see God is at work.  Look at those whom God uses to sovereignly deliver Paul. 

Paul’s nephew.  The only mention of his family in Scripture, but God had him in the right place at the right time. Who knew he had a sister whose son was in Jerusalem?  God did! 

Claudius Lysias the Roman Tribune, whom we have already met used of God to deliver Paul twice already.  You’ll remember he is the chiliarch, the ruler of 1000.  Who knew he would take such good care of Paul?  God did! 

The Roman soldiers, note how many soldiers God deploys and how Paul’s travel plans take shape.  Who could mobilize half of the armed forces in Jerusalem to take Paul to Caesarea?  God could!   And finally Felix, the Governor.  Who could give Paul a hearing in front of the most corrupt official

in the land and his wife?  God could! 

Paul is in the hands of God and so are you and I.  So let’s look at the plot and then see God’s providence. 

2.  MAN’S PLOTTING: Acts 23:12-15

The morning immediately following Christ’s reassuring words to Paul a group of Jews gathered with the express purpose of plotting to murder the apostle.  These may have been the Jews from Asia who had been following Paul, but we are not told.  The chief priests and elders bereft of any morality or decency join with them in their plotting.  The Jewish leaders were openly criminal as they had been throughout the trial of Christ.  But God’s plan is not derailed by man’s plotting. 

John Stott says: “Man’s careful and cunning plans cannot succeed if God opposes them.” 

It was not unusual for the Council to ask for more information about Paul so they were sure their plan would succeed.  They bound themselves with a solemn oath, vowing to go without food or drink until Paul was dead. 

What they did not know was that God had already granted Paul safe passage to Rome.  They would have to go without food for a long time as it would be about 10 years before Paul’s death in Rome.  If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the stomachs growling of the forty men bound by an oath to kill Paul. 

As has been said: “Man proposes, but God disposes.”   God declared through the prophet Isaiah:  Isaiah 43:13 (ESV) “Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work,

and who can turn it back?” 

The forty fasting men and scheming religious leaders had forgotten that Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ and that the exalted Lord was watching from heaven. To these leaders, politics and position had become more important than God. They were ready to plan another murder, just as they had done with Jesus. This also revealed the flimsiness of their case against Paul. They knew they had no case, but they so desperately wanted to get rid of him that they were willing to stoop to any means to do so. As always, however, God, not the Council, was in control.

3.  GOD’S PROVIDENCE: Acts 23:16-35

We know nothing of Paul’s sister and nephew except what is recorded here.  We don’t know how it came about, but Paul’s nephew learned of the plot, knew it was wrong and in the providence of God was able to come to Paul with the news.  He knew and relayed all of the pertinent details to Paul and then to the commander. 

Paul immediately sent his nephew to talk to the commander.  It is assumed that Paul’s nephew is quite young as Claudius takes him by the hand and speaks to him privately.  It is here we see the courage and the integrity of Claudius Lysias.  He could have plotted with the Jews, but he was used of God to deliver Paul.  He knew he had to get Paul out of Jerusalem as soon as possible.  So he mobilized almost half his force.  As a chiliarch he was in charge of 1000 soldiers.  Here he sends Paul with a force of 470.  200 soldiers, 70 horsemen and two hundred spearmen.  Paul was now receiving a Roman citizen’s proper treatment.  And he got to ride in style as they were commanded

to provide mounts for Paul.  Why the plural “mounts”?  Paul’s companions also got to ride along.  We don’t know how Luke became aware of the instructions included in the letter but it may have

been presented as  a part of Paul’s trial later on.  One thing to note is that Lysias certainly tried to make himself look good.  It was not quite the whole truth.  He implies that he rescued Paul because

he learned that he was a Roman citizen which we know he did not learn until he was about to unjustly try to beat the truth out of him. 

Leaving at 9 o’clock that night, Paul and his escort went from Jerusalem to Antipatris abut 60 km away. Antipatris was a Roman military post often used as a rest stop for travelers between Jerusalem and Caesarea. It had been built by Herod the Great and named in honor of his father, Antipater.

It would certainly have been a quick march probably lasting most of the night.  The soldiers then returned to Jerusalem and Paul and his companions, carried on the further 40 km to Caesarea. 

Arriving there they delivered Paul and the letter to the Governor, Felix. 

The Bible Exposition Commentary says:  Antonius Felix was governor (procurator) of Judea. He was married to Drusilla, a Jewess who was daughter of Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:1) and who left her husband to become Felix’s third wife. She was sister of Herod Agrippa II (Acts 25:13ff). The Roman historian Tacitus said that Felix “exercised the power of a king in the spirit of a slave.” Felix was called “a vulgar ruffian” and lived up to the name.

Not only did Paul travel in style on horseback with an escort fit for a king he was now put, not in the prison, but in the palace, Herod’s praetorium.  We might wonder why Felix asked where Paul was from.  It was primarily a matter of jurisdiction.  Paul had asked for a Roman trial and with Paul being from Cilicia, Felix could determine that Paul was from an area under the rule of Felix’s superior.  To pass Paul on to him would not sit well.   Tarsus in eastern Cilicia where Paul was from was part of a combined province of Syria-Cilicia, the ruler of that area was also in charge of Judea so Felix answered to him.  Trying to pawn Paul’s case onto his superior would not go well nor would requiring the Jewish officials to travel further to make their accusations against Paul. 

So Felix determines that he will hear the case when Paul’s accusers arrive.  Until then, Paul gets to live in the palace, the governor’s residence.   In the providence of God Paul’s travel was being arranged in miraculous ways. 

Augustine said: “Trust the past to the mercy of God, the present to His love and the future to His providence.”  Though at times the road of God’s Providence may be rough, we walk it with Him!  In God’s providence.  Paul was assured of God’s presence.  Jesus stood by him. 

Paul was provided God’s protection.  His nephew, Claudius Lysias, the soldiers, Felix. 

God was working out His plan.  Psalm 34:7 (ESV) “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.”

Kenneth Gangel comments, “Sometimes God delivers his children by the simple word of a young relative. Sometimes he has to call in the cavalry. At all times, he is ultimately in charge”

God’s providential protection of His servant demonstrates His faithfulness.  Based on his own experiences, Paul could declare to the Corinthians that “God is faithful.”  The first step occurred the day after God promised to bring Paul to Rome.  He also showed His creative care for Paul by

sovereignly providing a safe and comfortable trip to Caesarea.  And now Paul would enjoy the Herod Hilton for his stay in the seaside city. 

You can almost imagine the description going like this: Paul you have won a trip to Rome.  You and your companions will enjoy all travel expenses paid by the Roman judicial system.  You will bounce your way via Roman steed as far a Caesarea where you will stay for a time in the Herod Hilton, following that your travel plans will include an island stay and then some time later special accommodation has been prepared in Rome for you and your friends. 

God is the Deliverer.  He can deliver us through peril, or He can deliver us from peril.  Like Paul, during the course of our lives, we can probably expect both.  We can’t put God in a box.  We can’t assume that in a certain situation He will act a certain way.  He is far to creative for that.  He does not deliver by the same methods over and over again.  He keeps things interesting!  Deliverance through natural means is no less the work of God than deliverance through supernatural means.  He can shake the foundations of the prison, or He can employ the Roman cavalry to escort His servant out of town. 

It is one of the mysteries of providence that many times we cannot see why things are happening as they are. Yet God is surely at work in ways that we could not have planned for ourselves.

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November 15, 2020 – FCBC Sermon

Acts 22:30 – 23:11                  “STANDING BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN”

Paul’s Second Defence!

Paul now stands on trial before the Sanhedrin, the governing body of the Jewish people, in charge of the Temple and it’s treasuries.  Their way of life was threatened by the followers of the Way as it had been threatened by the Lord Jesus Himself and it doesn’t take long to see their opposition in action as Paul perceiving their own division sets before them the hope of the resurrection. 

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ forms the dividing line for every person in the world.  The message of the Gospel is the Resurrection of Jesus.  What you believe about Jesus determines your destiny for eternity.  As we proclaim every Easter and declare every Sunday as we gather to worship.  Christ is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!  1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (ESV) “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”  

In his imaginative work “The Great Divorce”, C. S. Lewis. draws a picture of the reality of the resurrection. When the main protagonist enters into the heavenly realms, he is confronted with a new world. He and all the other people who had died and arrived with him were like phantoms or ghosts, but the inhabitants of the new world were “solid people.” Flowers were like diamonds. Leaves were too heavy to pick up. Grass penetrated his feet. This new reality was heaven, and they were experiencing the reality of the resurrection and life after death, a life of profound physicality even as it is suffused with spiritual life.

The best modern work on the Resurrection is “Surprised By Hope” by  N. T.  Wright. In it, Wright seeks to answer two questions: 1. What happens when we die? and 2. What does the answer to that have to do with how we live now? It is one of the most beautiful and inspiring books you can read about the resurrection. 

It draws out the reality that the resurrection is not just hope for the future, it is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ that enables us to live in the present knowing the power and the presence of the living Christ because we know that Christ is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!  So as we look at Paul’s second defence before the Sanhedrin we’ll consider three important questions that I believe are all answered by living in the sure hope of the resurrection. 

1.  HOW DO YOU LIVE IN GOOD CONSCIENCE AND NOT SPEAK EVIL OF RULERS?

Maintain a good conscience before God.  Acts 22:30-23:5

2.  HOW DO YOU BRING THE GOSPEL INTO FOCUS FOR THOSE WHO OPPOSE IT?

Talk about the hope that you have in Jesus Christ who is Risen.  Acts 23:6-10

3.  HOW CAN YOU GO ON IN THE FACE OF INSURMOUNTABLE ODDS?

When you take your stand for Jesus, Jesus will stand by you!  Acts 23:11

1.  HOW DO YOU LIVE IN GOOD CONSCIENCE AND NOT SPEAK EVIL OF RULERS?

Maintain a good conscience before God.  Acts 22:30-23:5

The Roman Tribune who has arrested Paul is still trying to understand why there has been such an outpouring of wrath against him and since allowing Paul to speak didn’t clarify anything and since he could not beat the truth out of him because Paul was a Roman citizen, he determines to bring Paul before the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin to try to find out why he was being accused by the Jews. 

It would be safe to assume that this was not a regular session of the council but one called together by the Tribune to enable him to decide what to do with Paul.  If it was simply a religious matter he could then determine how to proceed. Paul knew that he was on trial for his life so he opened his defence with an appeal to God and to a good conscience.  He had been following the will and purpose of God in all that he had done. 

He looked straight into their eyes and said:  Acts 23:1 (ESV) “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.”  He turned his plea of not guilty into a personal testimony for the Lord.  Paul consistently used his times of persecution as opportunities to witness.  Paul fixed his eyes on them and addressed them as brothers.   

Paul lived out his convictions and his conscience was clear before God. Welwyn’s Commentary says:  Conscience is the mind functioning in the context of a known standard. Scripture speaks of conscience as a faculty of the human mind—the mind of human beings made in the image of God. It is part of what it means to be human (2 Corinthians 4:2). Paul speaks of the ‘consciences’ of ‘Gentiles, who do not have the law’, nevertheless ‘bearing witness’ to the reality that ‘the requirements of the law’ were ‘written on their hearts’, so that they did ‘by nature the things required by the law’. The conscience, he says, operates through our thoughts, ‘now accusing, now even defending’ our actions in terms of that moral standard (Romans 2:14-15).

The common proverb, ‘Let your conscience be your guide,’ is fundamentally misleading. It is God who must be our guide, through a sanctified conscience because our conscience can be seared.  The conscience can cease to function as it should and any behaviour can be justified.  The seared conscience is evident in those who have no sense of right and wrong like so many we see today, even leaders of countries. 

Almost as soon as he had begun to speak Ananias the high priest commanded those close to Paul to slap him on the mouth.  Ananias became high priest in A. D. 48,  and he reigned through to A. D. 58 or 59.  Josephus, a respected first-century historian, described Ananias as profane, greedy, and hot-tempered. He was hated by many of his Jewish contemporaries because of his pro-Roman policies.  Eventually he was killed by his own people for siding with the Romans.  So although in this instance he judged Paul worthy of a slap he was soon to be judged by God as was the entire Sanhedrin and the Jewish religious system itself with the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. 

Paul speaks very harshly to him in prophetic words.  Acts 23:3 (ESV) “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?”

The question many ask is “Why did Paul react this way?”  “Are we not to turn the other cheek?” While that is true we are also to speak the truth.  In Matthew 10:19-20, and Mark 13:11, Jesus told His followers that they would be brought before kings and governors for the sake of His name, but that He would give them the words to speak. 

Matthew 10:19-20 (ESV) “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.  For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” 

Mark 13:11 (ESV) “And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.”

Some commentators speculate that Paul lost his temper here.  That he was in the wrong and he later apologized for his error. But I don’t believe that to be true. 

To me the real question is: Did the Holy Spirit inspire the words of Paul in this instance.  I believe He did.  His words echoed those of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 23:27 (ESV) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” This amounted to calling Ananias a hypocrite. “Whitewashed wall” may refer to the practice of whitewashing gravestones. This created a clean and positive appearance for what contained death and corruption.

Some make much of Paul’s apology saying Paul was entirely wrong in what he said and he sinned when he spoke, suggesting that when Paul says: “I did not know he was the high priest” he was admitting he was in the wrong.  The speculation runs rampant on this count.  Paul’s poor eyesight meant that he didn’t recognize the high priest.  Since this was a hearing and not a regular meeting of the Sanhedrin the high priest was not clothed in his formal robes.  Paul had been away from Jerusalem for so long he didn’t know who the high priest was. Speculative excuses aside, I think Paul was speaking prophetic words of judgement and was saying that there was no way of recognizing this man as the high priest because of the way he acted.  Ananias’ behaviour makes him unrecognizable as a ruler of the people and unworthy to hold that office. 

So what of the Scripture quotation?  “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.”  Paul respected the office of the ruler but he did not respect the man.  I believe he spoke words of prophetic criticism and condemnation.  I believe Paul was pointing out that the high priest was unrecognizable in his actions ordering that Paul be struck.  His conscience was still clear before God. 

He answers the question:  HOW DO YOU LIVE IN GOOD CONSCIENCE AND NOT SPEAK EVIL OF RULERS? Maintain a good conscience before God. 

2.  HOW DO YOU BRING THE GOSPEL INTO FOCUS FOR THOSE WHO OPPOSE IT?

Talk about the hope that you have in Jesus Christ who is Risen.  Acts 23:6-10

At this point Paul masterfully redirects the proceedings bringing the real issue to light.  Paul recognizes the makeup of his audience. Half are Sadducees, the other half Pharisees (Acts 23:6). These two groups had sharp disagreements about the Jewish religion.

The Pharisees taught a more conservative understanding of the law and held all the books of the Hebrew Scriptures as authoritative. Furthermore, they believed in a resurrection from the dead.

The Sadducees,  held only Genesis to Deuteronomy as authoritative and denied a bodily resurrection. Paul exploits this disparity and declares that he stands trial because he holds to the hope of the resurrection of the dead. His words function like tinder and gasoline on an already smoldering fire. The assembly erupts as the two competing worldviews clash (verses 7-8). The disagreement culminates when the Pharisee party declares Paul’s innocence of all charges (verse 9). The scene ends with the tribune intervening by having Paul taken and removed from the situation (verse 10) by the soldiers standing by.

In turning the discussion to the resurrection Paul focussed all attention on the hope that we have in Christ.  And it is interesting that the Pharisees bring it all to a boiling point saying: “What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?”  Jesus spoke to him and was about to speak to him again! 

Sadly the Sadducees would have argued strongly that such communication was not possible because they didn’t believe in the existence of spirits and angels.

I believe that some of them were getting the message clearly that Paul believed in the resurrection because he had met on the road to Damascus the risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  He was telling the Pharisees, “I know you believe in the resurrection, I have a Resurrection you must investigate!”

We must take the opportunities that God brings to us to tell people about our Saviour. 

Christ is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!  Paul answers the question:  HOW DO YOU BRING THE GOSPEL INTO FOCUS FOR THOSE WHO OPPOSE IT? Talk about the hope that you have in Jesus Christ who is Risen.

The disputing became so fierce that the tribune again feared that Paul would be torn to pieces so he and his soldiers brought him back into the barracks. 

3.  HOW CAN YOU GO ON IN THE FACE OF INSURMOUNTABLE ODDS?

When you take your stand for Jesus, Jesus will stand by you!  Acts 23:11

Paul has just been through two terribly trying days and Jesus comes and speaks words of comfort and encouragement to him.  Jesus stood near to Paul and said:  Acts 23:11 (ESV) “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

Charles Spurgeon commented on this passage: One is reminded of the Quaker who came to see John Bunyan in prison and said to him, “Friend, the Lord sent me to you and I have been seeking you in half the prisons in England.” “No, verily,” said John, “that cannot be! For if the Lord had sent you to me, you would have come here at once, for He knows I have been here for years!”

Look carefully at what Jesus is saying?  Paul you have given a good testimony to the facts about me in Jerusalem and you will do the same in Rome.  No questioning of Paul’s words of condemnation of Ananias.  Paul had given a good witness.  He is encouraged by Jesus that he is on the right track.  What God through His Spirit had laid on his heart is unfolding.  Acts 19:21 (ESV) “Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” Paul was facing exactly what had been revealed to him as he had expressed to the Ephesian elders:  Acts 20:22-23 (ESV) “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.”  

His friends had tried to persuade him not to go.  The prophet Agabus had predicted he would become a prisoner.  And now Jesus affirms his actions.  “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

Take Courage is a present active imperative in the original.  The three times that Jesus uses this term in the Gospels it is translated “Take heart.” 

The Life Application Bible Commentary says:  Look at the richness of the encouragement of the Lord here. Christ told Paul to Be encouraged and then gave him the substance of why he should be.  First, he gave Paul a word of praise for his faithfulness to the ministry—just as you have told the people about me here. Second, he gave Paul a word of promise—you must preach the Good News in Rome. God, in essence, promised Paul safe passage to another field of ministry.

We might imagine that after this visit, another in a long line of God’s encouragement appearances to Paul, the apostle rolled over and drifted off to the kind of restful sleep that only a child safe within his Father’s strong arms can experience (Psalm 127:2).

“God does not guarantee an easy voyage, but He has promised a safe harbour.” The lessons are clear.  God is with us.  God is for us.  God is not finished with us yet.  And God is still at work.  The Lord is always near His witnessing people!  So Take Courage. 

Maintain a good conscience before God.  Talk about the hope that you have in Jesus Christ who is Risen. Know that, When you take your stand for Jesus, Jesus will stand by you!

As Paul said in Romans 8:31 (ESV) “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote this while awaiting execution under the Nazis: 

O God, early in the morning I cry to You.  Help me to pray

And to concentrate my thoughts on You: I cannot do this alone. 

In me there is darkness,  But with You there is light;

I am lonely, but You do not leave me; 

I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help;

I am restless, but with You there is peace. 

In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;

I do not understand Your ways,  But you know the way for me…

Restore me to liberty,  And enable me so to live now

That I may answer before You and before me.

Lord, whatever this day may bring Your name be praised.

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November 1, 2020 – FCBC Sermon

Acts 22:1-29        “A CAPTIVE’S AUDIENCE! – PAUL’S FIRST DEFENCE”

We come to a major turning point in the life of the Apostle Paul.  Since his conversion on the Road to Damascus in Acts chapter 9, he has shared the Gospel as a free man, except for his brief imprisonment that we know of in Philippi.  However, from this point forward to the end of the Book of Acts, though Paul is a prisoner he continues to witness to the power of the Gospel and to proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ. 

His assault and arrest lead him to be an “ambassador in chains” for Jesus Christ as he called himself in Ephesians 6:20.  As a free man he had preached the gospel throughout the Roman Empire and now as a prisoner he would be enabled to preach the gospel to Roman officials, Kings and probably even the Emperor himself.  Like John Bunyan, who wrote “The Pilgrim’s Progress” while imprisoned in Bedford jail, Paul wrote four New Testament books (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon) during his imprisonment at Rome. 

As we learned last week, even his chains enable him to keep on telling others about Jesus. Luke describes six defenses Paul makes of the Gospel message while in his chains. His words in his defense are testimonies to his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  

The first that we’ll consider today, is before a Jewish crowd at the northwest corner of the temple area as he speaks from the steps of the fortress Antonia.  After that the second is before the supreme Jewish Council in Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin.  The third and fourth are in Caesarea before Felix and Festus, who succeeded one another as procurators of Judea, and the fifth, also held in Caesarea is before King Herod Agrippa II.  Paul then made his way to Rome where at the end of the Book of Acts, he shares his final testimony, his sixth defence before the Jewish leaders in Rome. 

These speeches in his defence, together with the circumstances of his arrest that we looked at last week, take up six chapters in our Bibles or nearly 200 verses. 

His masterful defences ably answered the false charges levelled against him–a fact that even the Roman authorities who held him as a prisoner had to acknowledge in Acts 26:30-32.  This passage describes his first defence as it unfolds before us.  After the attack of the mob and the dramatic rescue by the Roman soldiers, Paul is being taken to the barracks so that the commander can find out why the unruly mob had dragged this man out of the temple intent on killing him.  Paul, restrained in two chains is being dragged up the steps carried by the Roman soldiers.  The crowd is shouting one thing and another and crying out “Away with him” and though the commander has asked Paul who he is and what he has done, he cannot hear his answer because of all the noise. 

Reaching the top of the stairs Paul “asked the commander, “May I say something to you?” (Acts 21:37 ESV) Shocked by the language Paul spoke (as he expected him to be an Egyptian), Claudius Lysias (the commander who is identified by Luke in Acts 23:26) asks him incredulously, “Do you speak Greek?”  Greek was the language of the cultured, educated men, not common criminals and certainly not that of the terrorist he assumed Paul to be.  Paul identifies himself and asks for the opportunity to speak to the crowd. 

Hoping to calm the situation and find out what caused it, Lysias consents.  Acts 21:40 (ESV) “And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:”

The crowd is hushed as Paul speaks to them in their own Hebrew dialect, Aramaic the common language among the Jewish people.  He tells them how Christianity’s most violent persecutor became the Gospel’s greatest missionary.  His focus as in the other four New Testament accounts of his testimony is on God’s power and sovereign grace. 

We’ll look at what Paul says, the reaction of the crowd and the response of Claudias Lysias this morning.

1.  PERSECUTOR: Acts 21:1-5 I am a Jew just like you. 

2.  PREACHER: Acts 21:6-21 Jesus met me and He changed my life.

3.  PRISONER: Acts 21:22-29 The crowd reacts, the Tribune responds, Paul appeals to Rome.

1.  PERSECUTOR: Acts 21:1-5 I am a Jew just like you. 

We can barely imagine the scene: Paul probably at least 60 years old at this point, has just been rescued from the mob who were stirred up by the Jews from Asia believing that Paul was acting against everything in which they believed.  They had seized him, dragged him out of the temple area and were seeking to kill him.  Paul had just been severely beaten and now he begins to speak to the crowd in their own language.  Though Roman guards surround him, his mind is set on the Jewish people.  Paul continually evaluates how he can turn a conversation or opportunity to speak toward a presentation of the Gospel.  We should do the same. 

He addresses them in exactly the same way that Stephen did in Acts 7 beginning: “Brothers and fathers, hear.”  And he makes his defence, which translates the word apologia from which we get out English words apology, or apologetics (the defence of the gospel).  Paul was not apologizing, he was making a defence of his conduct, his life.  As he spoke in their language they became even more quiet.  He immediately refutes the charge that he is against the people telling them: “I am a Jew just like you.”  He then sets out his impeccable Jewish credentials.  Born among the Hellenistic Jews of the Diaspora in Tarsus of Cilicia he had been brought up in Jerusalem where he was educated under Gamaliel – the most revered Rabbi of that time and one of the greatest of all time.  Paul said he was strictly trained in “the law of our fathers.”  He had been indoctrinated in Old Testament law and the rabbinic traditions, becoming a Pharisee who could claim to be blameless under the law.  A claim he stated clearly in Philippians 3:5-6 (ESV) “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;  as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” The charge that he opposed the law was tacitly false, completely unfounded and utterly ridiculous.  His personal conviction about the law was as stated in Romans 7:12 (ESV) “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”

Paul declared to the crowd that he was as “zealous for God as all of you are this day.”  (Acts 22:3)

Paul credited the attack on him as a part of their zeal for God but his zeal had far surpassed theirs

because he persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison. (Acts 22:4) He had been the Christians most feared persecutor overseeing the death of Stephen and then pursuing the believers who fled to other cities.  The high priest and council of the elders empowered him in what he did giving him permission to drag back to Jerusalem for punishment those who had become followers of this Way.  Paul’s conduct before he met Christ refuted the false allegations against him. 

The God’s Word for you commentary says:  If Paul had stopped his speech at this point, the crowd would have applauded. Paul, however, no longer rooted his life in his ethnic identity, education, or work. Something powerful and transformative had gripped Paul as he traveled on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians (verse 5)…. Paul, by sharing about his life before meeting Christ, allowed his story to demonstrate the transformative grace of the gospel.

That is where our stories of salvation need to begin.   Sharing what we were before Christ allows our lives to demonstrate the transformative grace and glory of the Gospel. 

2.  PREACHER: Acts 21:6-21 Jesus met me and He changed my life.

Paul went on to defend his actions explaining that the God of Israel had sovereignly, powerfully intervened in his life and turned him from being the Christians foremost persecutor to being its primary preacher. 

The account of Paul’s dramatic conversion occurs three times in the book of Acts.  Paul adds to the detail concerning the light that shone into his heart and life. He tells us: “About noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me.”  The added detail is that this occurred about noon. 

Noon, when the sun is at its brightest was when the Son of God made Himself known to Saul.  The blazing glory of the glorified, exalted Christ far outshone even the brilliant midday Mid-Eastern sun.  Those who were with him saw the light but did not hear the voice speaking to him.  He further describes the fact that as a result of being blinded by the light he could not see.

Speechless with terror, Paul fell to the ground and heard a voice saying: Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”  Lying face down to the ground, stunned and blinded Paul could only cry out: “Who are you, Lord?”  Jesus replied: “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.” 

What a shock!  The One whom he had despised and rejected.  The One he thought was just another false Messiah was the Lord of glory.  Jesus the Nazarene had spoken directly to him from heaven.  He faced life’s most important question.  Who is Jesus? 

Those with him could corroborate his testimony, they saw the light, they heard the sound, but they did not understand the words.  Overwhelmed by the glorious confrontation with the Lord Jesus Christ the proud Pharisee could only humbly ask, life’s second most important question: “What shall I do, Lord?” 

Have you answered life’s most important questions:  Who is Jesus?  And what are you going to do about Him?  Christ told Paul to “Rise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.”  (Acts 22:10 ESV) So as a blinded man, Paul was led to Damascus by his companions and there Ananias came to meet him.  He too was a keeper of the Law an important detail to Paul’s accusers.  Ananias said: “Brother Saul, receive your sight!”  At that moment Paul was healed and could see him, he then went on: Acts 22:14-16 (ESV) ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth;  for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.  And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

Paul declares before the mob what Ananias declared to him years previously: Jesus is God.  God’s sovereignty in salvation is in evidence here.  God has chosen you!  Paul was chosen by God and appointed to be a witness to all men of what he had seen and heard.  God had chosen Paul, but Paul needed to make a response.  The sovereignty of God, the responsibility of man.  Some try to support baptismal regeneration (the false teaching that baptism is required for salvation) from verse 16.  Although baptism is an act of obedience required of all Christians, it does not save.  In the construction of the sentence in the original language, the phrase “wash your sins away,” must be connected with “calling on His name.”  Connecting that phrase with “be baptized” leaves the participle “epikalesamenos” (calling) without an antecedent.  Paul’s sins were washed away not by baptism but by calling on the name of the Lord.  Paul called on the Lord’s name which is the act that saves.  Baptism and the washing away of sins follow. 

Paul in his defence had taken the best offence, turning the tables on those who opposed him.  He had acted only in submission to God; therefore accusing him was to make an accusation against God.  He continues his testimony to reinforce that point! 

Paul’s transformation from persecutor to preacher met with persecution and so the Lord told him to get out of Jerusalem.  Paul must have been somewhat hard to persuade since the Risen Christ had to appear to him to tell him to get out of town.  Even then Paul protested.  Paul must have been somewhat hard to persuade since the Risen Christ had to appear to him to tell him to get out of town.  Acts 22:19-20 (ESV) “And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you.  And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ Paul thought that the radical transformation of his life would persuade them to see the light and believe but Jesus knew their sin-hardened hearts so He said to Paul: “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” (Acts 22:21 ESV)

Paul was commissioned by Christ as the apostle to the Gentiles

3.  PRISONER: Acts 21:22-29 The crowd reacts, the Tribune responds, Paul appeals to Rome.

When they heard that God had sent Paul to the Gentiles they reacted furiously saying: “Away with such a fellow from the earth!  For he should not be allowed to live!”  (Acts 22:22 ESV) Racial prejudice pushed their outraged passions beyond the bounds of reason.

In his last sentence, Paul, in effect, announces that the grace and goodness of God has been extended to the Gentiles. The crowd can listen no longer. They have heard enough. Paul is declaring that even Gentiles are part of God’s family. The Jews cannot stomach this thought because they hate the Gentiles.  Paul did not in any way soften or lessen the message of God’s grace for all peoples to try to win the Jews over.  He spoke the truth of God which offended the people and challenged the culture of the day.  We are called to do the same.  We must not water down the message of the Gospel to make it more palatable.  Luke puts it succinctly. “Up to this word they listened to him.” 

The riot was breaking out all over again and the Tribune was no nearer to understanding its cause so he ordered that Paul be brought into the barracks to be beaten to find out what was really going on.  The Romans had perfected the art of persuasion and extended cruelty to unsurpassed bounds.  Scourging by the Romans was done with a flagellum (a wooden handle to which were attached leather thongs tipped with bits of metal and bone) it would literally tear the flesh from a victims back.  This is what Jesus endured before His crucifixion probably bound in exactly the same place as Paul.  In preparation the guards would stretch the victims back tightly by tying the hands to a post, to maximize the effect of the flogging. 

The beating by flagellum was so cruel as was death by crucifixion, Roman citizens were exempted from both by Roman law.  Paul asked a very timely question of the centurion in charge: “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?”  (Acts 22:25 ESV)  The centurion supervising the beating immediately responded.  “When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.”  (Acts 22:26 ESV) 

Gravely concerned the commander came to Paul.  Lysias stood to lose not only his military commission but possibly even his life for violation of Roman law. Acts 22:27-28 (ESV) “So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.”  The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.”

Claims of Roman citizenship were generally accepted at face value since the penalty for a false claim was death. 

Lysias’s explanation of how he gained his citizenship at great cost underlines its value.  Roman citizenship was officially not for sale.  But corrupt officials could be bribed especially during the reign of the Emperor Claudius which may account for Lysias chosen name of Claudius Lysias. 

Citizenship could also be granted as a reward for service to Rome. Paul did not obtain his citizenship by bribery or by grant, but by birth.  Paul was immediately released from his chains as another breach of Roman law was to put a citizen in chains without a preliminary hearing.  Lysias, thoroughly perplexed decided to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin the next day to try to find out what was going on. 

John Bunyan,  lay in Bedford jail twelve years for preaching without a license in England. Many times Bunyan was offered his liberty if he would quit preaching.  But every time he would say,  “Let me out today and I will preach tomorrow.”

John Bunyan points out in his book, Pilgrim’s Progress, “Mr. Pliable does not go to prison to be martyred for the truth.” 

In his book “THE HOLY WAR,” John Bunyan provides a dramatic closing scene between Emmanuel (Christ) and residents of the town of Mansoul (you and me).  Emmanuel has helped them beat off the Diabolonians (Satan’s army), and now he stands in the town square telling them how to stay free from Satan’s clutches.  Emmanuel says: “I have loved you, Mansoul.  I bought you for a price; a price not of corruptible things, as of silver and gold, but a price of blood, my own blood, which I spilled freely to make you mine, and to reconcile you to my father.  And I stood by you in your backsliding, when you were unfaithful, though you did not know I was there.  It was I who made your way dark and bitter.  It was I who put Mr. Godly-Fear to work.  It was I who stirred up

Conscience and Understanding and Will.  It was I who made you seek me, and in finding me, find your own health and happiness.  Nothing can hurt you but sin; nothing can grieve me but sin; nothing can make you fall before your foes but sin; beware of sin, my Mansoul.  I have taught you to watch, to fight, to pray, and to make war against your foes; so now I command you to believe that my love is constant to you.  O my Mansoul, how I have set my heart, my love upon you!  Show me your love – and hold fast – until I take you to my father’s kingdom where there is no more sorrow, no grief, no pain….where you shall never be afraid again….”

As Emmanuel rides away in his chariot, Conscience, Understanding and Will discuss the future and how they will have to be alert to keep the Diabolonians at bay.  Unless they depend completely on King Shaddai (the Father), Emmanuel (the Son), and the Lord High Secretary (the Holy Spirit) they will fail and fall into enemy hands.  “Is this way better than the freedom you had before?” asks Understanding, referring back to days before Emmanuel had come into their lives. 

“The freedom we had before was like–” Will struggled for words, “like birds flying through broken windows in and out of a deserted house – flying aimlessly, going nowhere.” “Do you love him because you have to?” Understanding’s probing was gentle; their talk was to reiterate their faith, and in their talking, they strengthened each other. 

“I do not have to love him,” said Will.  “I am free.  He has always left me free to do as I please.” “Then?” questions Understanding. It ends this way…I love him because I want to.” Will said simply.  “And I can never love him enough,”

That was what Paul learned on the road to Damascus and it saw him through his journeys in freedom, his suffering for the Gospel and it would see him through as a prisoner of Rome. 

What about you?  Who is Jesus?  What are you going to do about Him?  Will you trust Him or will you turn away?  Believe on Him today!  He loves you.  Open your eyes and see His infinite love! 

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October 25, 2020 – FCBC Sermon  

Acts 21:17-36                      “A FLAWED PLAN OR A GOD PLAN?”

When I was in school every year there were speech contests.  I was thinking about that because one speech I did in Grade Six I got to participate in the city final and that speech was about running a race. It came to mind because in the life of Paul he talks about finishing well in  2 Timothy 4:7 (ESV) “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

That fits what unfolds in these chapters as Paul is arrested, imprisoned and faces five different trials as he makes his way to Rome. 

For my speech in Grade six I shared the story of the breaking of the four minute mile barrier.  When it finally happened a goal was reached that sportsmen and athletes alike had dreamed of for many years.  It is one of my favourite sports stories.   

In 1954 the Englishman Roger Bannister ran the first four minute mile.  Three months later, the great Australian runner John Landy ran 1.4 seconds faster – they met in a race that was greatly anticipated and that would make history at the Empire Games being held in Vancouver, British Colombia.    Bannister was known for his strong finish, and Landy for setting a strong pace. Landy led from the beginning.  As they neared the finish, Landy took a split second glance in the last turn to see where Bannister was, just as Bannister was making his final kick and Landy lost the race in that instant as Bannister sped past him. 

What made that speech particularly memorable to me was that the finals were held shortly after I had my tonsils out and in the middle of the speech I lost my voice.  It did finally come back and I managed to finish.   I didn’t win anything but I did get an honourable mention.  I think they were just trying to be nice. 

I was reminded that in running the race you have to keep your eyes on the goal and that is exactly what the Apostle Paul been doing.  As far back as in Acts 19:21 (ESV) “Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”  And we learned in Acts 20:16 that he wanted to be there before Pentecost Acts 20:16 (ESV) “He was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.”  

Finally after many weeks of travel and in spite of many pleas from his friends to not go to Jerusalem as well as the message from the prophet Agabus that he would be arrested, Paul arrives at his destination.  In light of what we studied last week, it is interesting to note that had Paul not gone to Jerusalem, the prophecy of Agabus would not have been fulfilled. 

Remember Paul’s friends saw the prophecy as a warning of prohibition.  But Paul saw it as a warning of preparation.  He knew what awaited him in Jerusalem as he told the Ephesian Elders.  Acts 20:22-23 (ESV) “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there,  except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.”  

As Luke develops the storyline you can see several parallels to the Lord Jesus Christ in His resolve to go to Jerusalem and His perseverance despite divine predictions of suffering.  Like Jesus, Paul would not be deterred. 

His arrival in Jerusalem marks the end of his third missionary journey and through the rest of the Book of Acts, Luke describes the life of Paul the prisoner.  His assault and arrest lead to five trials that Paul had to endure as his life is suddenly changed from travelling as a free man and proclaiming the Gospel, evangelizing most of Asia Minor and Greece to being a prisoner of Rome in chains.  But even his chains enable him to keep on telling others about Jesus. 

Luke describes the five trials Paul had to endure and the opportunities it afforded him to proclaim the message of the gospel.  His words in his defence are testimonies to his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  

As we will see next week the first was before a Jewish crowd at the northwest corner of the temple area.  After that the second was before the supreme Jewish Council in Jerusalem, the third and fourth  were in Caesarea before Felix and Festus, who succeeded one another as procurators of Judea, and the fifth, also held in Caesarea was before King Herod Agrippa II. 

These five trials, including in each case, Paul’s speeches in his defence, together with the circumstances of his arrest that we will look at today, take up six chapters in our Bibles or nearly 200 verses.  Why did Luke go into such detail?  Luke was present throughout these events.  He arrived in Jerusalem with Paul and the next “we” section in Acts 27:1 and following, shows that he sailed with Paul to Rome.  During the two years of Paul’s custody in Caesarea, Luke was a free man, and we can rightly assume that as he remained in the area, he was a help to Paul at every opportunity and this season also afforded him the time and contacts to gather the information he needed to write his two volume work of Luke and Acts under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as he would be able to interview some of the principle players in the drama of the Life of Christ and he knew first hand and through long conversations with Paul the adventures of the Apostle on his three missionary journeys.  Luke was not only an historian recounting the life of Christ in the book of Luke and the history of the church in the Book of Acts, he was also a theologian showing the development of the church and the spread of the Gospel in the known world, fulfilling the key verse of this book: Acts 1:8 (ESV)

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

This verse forms a geographical outline of the book of Acts.  Jerusalem, chapters 1–7; Judea and Samaria, chapters 8–12; ends of the earth (i.e. Rome), chapters 13–28. This outline may denote the author’s literary structure and purpose. Christianity is not a sect of Judaism, but a worldwide movement of the one true God fulfilling His Old Testament promises to restore rebellious mankind to fellowship with Himself.  The message of the Gospel continues to challenge believers to go into

all the world.  Literally, we are to be His witnesses to the end (eschatos) of the earth fulfilling the mandate to proclaim the gospel message until time is no more.  So let’s see today how Paul begins his journey toward Rome where he would finish the race. 

1.  PRAISE TO GOD AND P. R. PROBLEMS: Acts 21:17-26

2.  STRATEGIC FAILURE – PAUL IS ATTACKED: Acts 21:27-31a

3.  RESCUED BY THE ROMANS – ARRESTED AND  BOUND, A CAPTIVE’S AUDIENCE:

Acts 21:31b-40

1.  PRAISE TO GOD AND P. R. PROBLEMS: Acts 21:17-26

Paul and his companions were given a warm welcome by the brothers in Jerusalem but overall things were about to heat up considerably.  The next day Paul goes to share with the church at Jerusalem what has happened during his third missionary journey.  No doubt at this point he also entrusted to them the offering received for the church.  Interestingly his meeting is with James the brother of Jesus, author of the book of James and the leader of the church at Jerusalem and all of the elders of the church.  Why not the whole church?  Two reasons:  It was too large to gather in one place and they were dealing with a volatile situation in the church.  We might ask: Where are the apostles?  Some were dead by now and the others were fulfilling the mission to go out with the gospel. 

Paul reported in detail on his work (the Greek has the sense of recounting every single thing) so they probably met for quite some time.  The one golden thread that holds it all together that God Himself had done the work.  It was not what Paul had done, it was what God had done among the Gentiles and those with Paul from the Gentile congregations were living proof. 

The response to the news was very positive as it should be, they glorified God.  “Doxazo” in the Greek means to glorify, to honour.  But sadly, they immediately try to deal with their P. R. Problem.

This is where we need to discern if the plan they come up with is a flawed plan or a God plan. Look at what is missing.  Tellingly, there is no mention of prayer.  There is no mention of the Holy Spirit. There is the good news that many Jews have believed, literally myriads upon myriads, thousands upon thousands had believed.  Some estimate at this time there were 50, to 60,000 believers in Jerusalem.  But what they say next, I believe, is of great concern.  “They are all zealous for the law.” 

They had been released from the bonds of their sin by belief in the Lord Jesus but they were still holding on to their legalism and pride in the Jewish religion. They had listened to the rumours about Paul and now prior to discussing it with Paul the leaders of the Jerusalem church had come up with a solution to the P. R. Problem they wanted to propose.  No mention of praying about it, no mention

of the Holy Spirit, I may be somewhat harsh but personally, I think it was a flawed plan.  They are reacting to rumours about Paul that are false.  He did not preach against the law.  In every instance where is was appropriate he kept the law. 

However, on the other hand, I have to see that this was a God plan because the Holy Spirit had already told Paul he would be delivered to the Gentiles.  So let’s see how it comes about.  They address Paul as brother and tell him to join four others in keeping a vow of purification that would be completed in 7 days.  Note that Paul willingly submitted himself to the leadership of the Jerusalem church. Paul acts with a spirit of accommodation in order to preserve the unity of the church.  He is a loyal Jew.  

In their instructions, the leaders repeat the guidelines for Gentile believers decided by the Jerusalem council. Why did Luke include that and why did the leaders repeat it here?  That decision meant that the Gentiles did not have to become Jews to follow Jesus.  Gentile Christians could continue to live as Gentiles.  And Jewish Christians could continue to live as Jews.  But I believe that here the situation had gotten out of hand, they were holding on to Judaism and mixing it with Christianity and that caused confusion.  The book of Hebrews was written to show the need for the observance of the law was past.  Paul Himself told the Galatians the law was our guardian or schoolmaster to bring us to Christ and there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, male or female, all are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:21-29) In point of fact God Himself would soon, bring about the end of Judaism with the destruction of the Temple in A. D. 70.  

2.  STRATEGIC FAILURE – PAUL IS ATTACKED: Acts 21:27-31a

And the plan failed miserably, or did it?  The Holy Spirit had said Paul would be bound and delivered into the hands of the Gentiles and that’s exactly what happened. 

The stratagem of Paul publicly participating in redeeming the Nazirite vows of four men in order to show his faithfulness as a Jew backfires. While preparing for the purification ceremony, Paul is grabbed and beaten by a crowd of angry worshippers on a false charge that he deliberately defiled the temple’s purity.

The Jews from Asia, unbelievers probably from Ephesus since they recognized Trophimus, show up and condemn Paul.  They lie and claim that Paul had brought a Gentile into the temple.  Paul is seized and dragged out of the temple by the mob of people.  They were stirred up, they seized Paul, they dragged him out, they were seeking to kill him.  Paul is in great danger. 

And the gates of the temple are shut meaning that it is no longer serving it’s purpose.  It no longer functions as the place where God’s grace is mediated to all.  Jesus alone has become the place of grace.  Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  

F. F. Bruce concludes, “This was the moment when, in Luke’s eyes, the temple ceased to fill the role allotted to it in his history up to this point. The exclusion of God’s message and his messenger from the house formerly called by his name sealed its doom.”  The temple cannot have any further significance for God or for the Christian church.

For Luke, the focus of divine forgiveness and salvation has shifted from the temple’s altar to the cross of Christ. Nothing can be allowed to stand in the way of anyone who would come to Jesus in faith to receive God’s grace.

3.  RESCUED BY THE ROMANS – ARRESTED AND BOUND, A CAPTIVE’S AUDIENCE: Acts 21:31b-40

In the providential plan of God the news reaches the commander of the Roman troops in Jerusalem.  They were on high alert during the time of the Jewish festival season.  That the Roman soldiers “ran down” implies that they descended the stairs of the palatial fortress Antonia, named by King Herod to honour his friend Marc Anthony. It adjoined the northwest corner of the temple complex and served as a garrison for Roman troops. Josephus reports that soldiers patrolled on the wall above the temple courts and were stationed around the porticoes during festival times, when crowds, easily incited to insurrection, jammed into the temple.

The Roman tribune of the cohort is the “chiliarch” in the Greek, the commander of a thousand.  He responded to the situation immediately with soldiers and centurions.  A centurion was in charge of 100 men.  So the plural centurions means that at least 200 came charging down from the fortress.  The crowd immediately stops beating Paul and they arrest him and bind him with two chains. 

The word translated arrested in verse 33, is the same word used for the crowd that seized Paul in verse 30, “epilambanomai.”  The commander tries to get the story straight but there is so much yelling by the crowd they literally have to carry Paul away to safety in the barracks.  Just as with Jesus, the crowd is crying out, “Away with him.” 

As they arrive at the top of the stairs Paul asks to speak to the people.  Claudias Lysias the Roman Commander assumed Paul was an Egyptian terrorist but he immediately changed his mind when he heard the facts.  The revolutionary to whom Lysias was referring was described by Josephus as ‘an Egyptian false prophet’ who, about three years previously, had brought together 30,000 men (Josephus the Jewish historian was prone to exaggeration, according to the Roman official it was 4,000 men!).  He had led them to the Mount of Olives, and promised them that, when the walls of

Jerusalem fell flat at his command, they would be able to break into the city and overpower the Romans. But the procurator Felix and his troops intervened, and the assassins were killed, captured or scattered.  The Egyptian had disappeared, and the commander at first thought that he had now come to light again.  But he was surprised as Paul began to speak to him in Greek. 

Paul enlightened him about his identity. He spoke proudly of his citizenship of Tarsus, which was ‘the first city of Cilicia, not merely in material wealth but in intellectual distinction, as one of the great university cities of the Roman world’. He then asked permission to be able to address the crowd, which was granted.

So, as we will see next week, Paul makes the first of his defences to the Jewish mob that had just tried to kill him.  You might say they were a captive’s audience.  Paul began his witness to the end of the earth to people he would never have met, had he not become a Roman prisoner.  God’s missionary did get to Rome, and the Romans paid for the passage. 

That is what happens when God’s people trust Him!  Are you trusting Him today?