Only One Safe Place Exists – Acts 23:23-35

A well-known commentator on the current culture has opined that the popularity of social media – particularly Twitter, where many people post every small detail of life – is the quest for fame and notoriety. There is a sort of “celebrity rush” that comes from thinking all of hundreds of “followers” are now seeing your tweet “brushing my hair now #LookingFine”.

This same commentator speaks from his own fame that public notoriety is a two-edged sword. After a while, anonymity becomes the highest value.

The more public one is, the more that same person not only builds fame, but also builds critics and detractors for one of hundreds of possible reasons.

I’ve never been hugely well-known, but I have had enough life in the public eye between pastoring, coaching, political activism, etc. to know that not everyone is going to like you. Someone once said that “no good deed goes unpunished.”  That statement communicates how even well-intentioned and pure actions will have some folks who read into it a self-centeredness or motivational ill intent that did not actually exist.

Certainly the Apostle Paul had to feel this way. He was seeking to obey God and share the gospel’s good news everywhere he went … but his reward seemed to most often be beatings and imprisonments.

Our reading picks up on the portion of the text yesterday where it was revealed that a plot was afoot to murder Paul. So the local Roman commander thwarts this by sending Paul “up the ladder of authority” to Governor Felix in Caesarea, accompanied by a heavy guard of foot soldiers for the first day of the journey (see attached map) along with cavalry for the entire trip.

One can also imagine Paul’s amazement that he had somehow caused all of this trouble. I would suspect he also had to feel he could certainly accomplish more if he could be on the road by himself – living the evangelist/missionary life. Instead, he seemed to be more often in chains and locked up in jails. Where was God in all of this misery and waste of time?

The fact was that Paul was perfectly in the Lord’s hands, and that is the safest place for any of us to be. Though God allows difficult times in our lives, and though he may at times even call some of us home to himself on a schedule that seems like an unjust timetable, this does not mean that God is not for us and with us. Again, to live is Christ, and to die is gain – the worst thing is actually the best thing! God has a plan, even though it often seems to be more confusing than clear.

Yes, there is only one safe place – in God’s hands and care.

Paul Transferred to Caesarea – – Acts 23:23-35

23 Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. 24 Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.”

25 He wrote a letter as follows:

26 Claudius Lysias,

To His Excellency, Governor Felix:

Greetings.

27 This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. 28 I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. 29 I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. 30 When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.

31 So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. 32 The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. 33 When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. 34 The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will hear your case when your accusers get here.” Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.

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When Circumstances Don’t Make Sense – Acts 22:30 – 23:22

One of the age-old questions is, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  I’m not going to answer that fully today. And it is not a question that finds a 100% final answer, as we are left at times to simply trust the truth stated in Scripture that God’s ways are higher than our ways

But I do mean to state it clearly today that there is not a one-to-one perfect correspondence to pleasant circumstances in our lives as perfectly representing God’s pleasure with us. And neither do all painful life circumstances correspond to God’s displeasure with us.

The passage today tells the story of the Roman commander’s total confusion with what truly comprised the story of this crazy guy named Paul. He determined to bring him before the Jewish leadership – the Sanhedrin – to gain some better information. They were not a part of the riot of the previous day, and surely they could help him understand the nuances of various Jewish or Church groups.

So Paul is brought before them to give a statement. His first sentence offends the high priest, who orders that he be slapped on the mouth. OK, you look at that and say, “Where’s the offense in that?”  I’m not sure I can answer that one for you! All I can do is report that it happened and Paul got whacked! Obviously, this irritates Paul and he reacts against the order with some pretty strong words. He is then made to realize that he is speaking to the high priest. For some reason, Paul did not realize this. There are two possible explanations: it might be that Paul’s eyesight was bad (this is speculated to be a physical condition from which he suffered – based upon a variety of Scriptures), or it may be that Paul simply did not know what the guy looked like and assumed he was not even there. In any event, Paul essentially apologizes.

This is off to a bad start!

So, Paul changes course rather rapidly by throwing the entire Sanhedrin into an uproar by saying that he was being judged for the hope of the resurrection from the dead. What a sly political move! The Sadducees were the theological liberals who did not believe in such things as the resurrection or angels, etc.  On the other hand, the Pharisees were the conservatives who affirmed these teachings, along with all of the Old Testament (and not just the writings of Moses). Paul’s move here would be sort of like someone yelling out in the U.S. House of Representatives that they were being excessively persecuted by the government because of a wrongful burden of unjust taxes!

It was quickly clear to the Roman commander that he was going to learn nothing from this gang, and in fact he had to again rescue Paul from being torn to pieces like an old sock being pulled apart by two dogs in a tug-of-war.

The second part of today’s reading speaks about the uncovering and reporting of a plot to kill the Apostle Paul. A pretense was to be made to have Paul again come before the Sanhedrin, and to kill him as he was being transported. This leads into tomorrow’s reading.

But to conclude today, look again at the statement of God to Paul in verse 11, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”  Paul’s unpleasant circumstances of gangs threatening to kill him, being beaten, and thrown into prisons … these events had nothing to do with Paul’s character or actions, but rather it related to a larger plan of God to use Paul in a bigger way. And so, not every bad event that arrives on our doorsteps has necessarily something to do with errant behavior on our part; it may rather be God’s sovereign intervention in our lives that finds its outworking in convoluted and circuitous paths – even some we don’t appreciate … some that seem like we are lost and alone in the dark. Take heart; be faithful; serve God; trust him for clarity another day.

Paul Before the Sanhedrin – Acts 22:30 – 23:11

30 The commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews. So the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the members of the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.

23 Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”

Those who were standing near Paul said, “How dare you insult God’s high priest!”

Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’”

Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.)

There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 10 The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.

11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

The Plot to Kill Paul – 23:12-22

12 The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13 More than forty men were involved in this plot. 14 They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. 15 Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.”

16 But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.

17 Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.” 18 So he took him to the commander.

The centurion said, “Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.”

19 The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, “What is it you want to tell me?”

20 He said: “Some Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. 21 Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.”

22 The commander dismissed the young man with this warning: “Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.”