“Someone’s Watching over You”
Series: The Church on Fire!
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
First Baptist Church Henderson, KY
- Take God’s Word and open to Acts chapters 23.
We’ve been working our way through the book of Acts and we’re in these last chapters of the book. The series is entitled “The Church on Fire” and we’ve been reading about the spread of Christianity from its inception in Jerusalem to the utter ends of the earth. The Apostle Paul, finishing his third missionary journey gets into some trouble. He is falsely accused by the non-believing Jews of things he wasn’t doing, things like preaching against the Jewish law, the Jewish temple, and Jewish customs. So he’s nearly beaten to death by the Jews before being taken into Roman custody.
Our previous couple studies tell us about this Roman commander or Tribune who is trying to get at the bottom of what is going on. He and the Roman soldiers have rescued Paul from being beaten to death, then Paul wishes to address his accusers and the commander lets him speak. But, as we saw last time, the crowd listens to Paul until he starts talking about God’s love for the non-Jews and then they go crazy again and try to kill Paul all over again. So once again this Roman commander steps in, not because he likes Paul but because it’s his job to keep peace. So this Roman commander takes Paul back to the military barracks and prepares him for a Roman flogging, or beating. He’s thinking, “I don’t know what this Paul guy is up to, but I’m getting tired of this and I’ll beat out of him the truth about who he is and what he’s doing.” And you’ll remember from last time that Paul mentions his Roman citizenship and the commander steps aside now because it’s illegal to beat a Roman citizen. So we return to the scene and find out in chapter 23 what this Roman commander does next.
Now we’ll pick up at the very last verse of chapter 22, verse 30, which really goes more with chapter 23. So we’ll start there and, in fact, let me read the last verse of chapter 22 and then we’ll ask God’s blessing and guidance upon our time together.
- Stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
30 The next day, because he wanted to know for certain why he was accused by the Jews, he released him from his bonds, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down and set him before them.
I was five-years-old when I was dressed and ready for kindergarten one day in my boyhood home in Northern California. We had a swimming pool in our back yard and one of the things I loved to do was ride my bike around that pool. So on this particular morning I had plenty of time to spare before school and was riding around that pool on my bike. And as I was making my way around the pool on that fateful morning the front tire hit something or missed something and into the deep end of the pool I went. I remember how strange it felt to be sinking down into the water with my school clothes on and the bike and everything. I also remember trying to swim back up to the surface now trying to raise my bike, which seemed to weigh a thousand tons. I made it to the top, but the bike sunk to the bottom of the pool. I climbed out of the pool thankful to be alive, but soaking wet in my kindergarten clothes. The bike was at the bottom of the pool. No one had seen any of this. How was I going to explain what was to me a near death experience? Would I get into trouble? And all the other thoughts that go through a five-year-old mind were going through my mind.
Now what I learned later was that I was not really alone. In fact I later learned that I never really had the sort of autonomy that I thought I had because every time I was riding my bike around that pool, my mother was always watching from the kitchen window, always ready to step-in and help whenever necessary. So on this particular morning after I had gotten out of the pool and was making my way to the back door, there was my mother who had seen everything. I learned later that she was working hard at keeping a smile from crossing her face as she looked at her pitiful son completely drenched and his bike at the bottom of the pool.
We read here in our Bibles about the Apostle Paul we wonder whether there may have been times when he felt like he had “gotten himself into the deep end of the pool.” He is sinking to the bottom. His plans are ruined. He is all alone—but he’s not alone. All the while His Lord is there, watching, if you like, from the windows of heaven and ready at a moment to step-in and save his child.
Our study this morning encourages us to know that God is always there for his children. Someone is always watching over you. Jeremiah 29:11 says He “knows the plans He has for you; plans of peace and not of evil; plans to give you a hope and a future.” And so I want to talk to you about the God who’s watching over you. Be encouraged by some things today. First:
I. Be encouraged by the Lord’s Protection (22:30-23:10)
This is a point we looked at last time. It just continues into the next chapter. The Lord is always there, always protecting His children. He sees everything. He knows what you’re going through. He’s protecting you. We mentioned last time that quote of John Wesley. He said, “I am immortal until my work is done.” God protects us through every step of the way and when our work is done He brings us home.
We turn back to this story and we read of this poor commander who cannot figure out what to do with the Apostle Paul. The verse we read a moment ago, verse 30, tells us that our story picks up on “the next day.” We read last time what had happened the day before. Paul was being beaten outside the temple, the commander comes and the beating stops only long enough for Paul to address the crowd. The beating looks like it’s going to start again. The commander takes Paul back to the barracks to beat Paul himself then stops when he learns Paul’s a citizen. What we don’t read is what happens between verse 29 and 30.
We wonder what this commander must have been thinking as he goes home that evening. Does he sit down to eat dinner with his wife and she asks, “So, did you have a good day at the office?” And he shakes his head and says, “I don’t want to talk about it.” But finally he gives in and shares the events of the day and then his wife asks the inevitable, “Well, what are you going to do about it?” He says, “I don’t know, but I’ll think of something.” And so verse 30 tells us what he thought of. He brings Paul the next day before the very people who wanted to kill him. Specifically, the Roman commander brings Paul before the chief priests and the Jewish Sanhedrin, the council of Pharisees and Sadducees. It was a hastily called meeting, but the Roman commander wants to get at the bottom of all this.
1 Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” (By the way, who of us could say that?!)
2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth.
3 Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?”
4 And those who stood by said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?”
5 Then Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ ”
Here we are reminded of something I have been stressing recently. Paul is a man, a great man, but only a man. He is a human being. He doesn’t always do the right thing. The high priest orders Paul to be struck on the mouth. The verb tells us this was no pansy slap, but something more like a fisted blow to the mouth. Paul is angry. He says, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!” That was simply a charge of hypocrisy. Like when people in their day put a fresh coat of this white wash on a wall falsely reasoning that if the wall looked clean and good on the outside then it would be more structurally sound on the inside. So Paul’s like, “You slap me?! You’re the one who needs to be slapped!”
Paul then learns that the guy he’s insulted is the High Priest. The Jewish Law taught respect for the office of the high priest so Paul is like, “I didn’t know he was the high priest.” Maybe he didn’t recognize the high priest. This was a hastily-called meeting. It may be the high priest wasn’t wearing his official robes or he thought someone else called for the striking to the face. I don’t know. The point is, Paul made a mistake here and he owns up to it.
Are you listening, men? Are you listening fathers? God doesn’t expect us to be Super-Dads. We’re human beings. We make mistakes. But when we realize we have done wrong with our wives or our children let’s be quick to own up to it and allow God to use us again.
6 But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!”
7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided.
8 For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection — and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.
9 Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, “We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.”
It may be that after this altercation with the high priest that Paul realizes he’s never going to get a fair hearing so he appeals to those who would be more sympathetic to his cause. The Jewish council, the Sanhedrin, is composed of both Pharisees and Sadducees. Luke reminds us in verse 8 that the Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection of the dead, but the Pharisees do. So Paul is like, “Look, I’m a Pharisee. It’s only because of my belief in the resurrection that I am being judged” and this statement takes the focus off of him and then puts the Pharisees and Sadducees against one another.
10 Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks.
So the commander is like, “Here we go again!” And he rescues Paul again from “being pulled to pieces” and back to the barracks he goes.
The Lord works through the commander to protect Paul. Paul is encouraged by the Lord’s protection. This same Lord works through events to protect us. Be encouraged by the Lord’s protection and then, knowing that about our Lord, secondly:
II. Be encouraged by the Lord’s Presence (23:11)
Everyone seems to be against Paul. He’s at a real low point here. He can’t seem to get anywhere with the Jews. He’s been nearly beaten to death by them and he’s tried to speak to them civilly on two occasions but he’s getting nowhere. They want only to kill him. And maybe as he’s being dragged back to the military barracks he’s thinking, “What am I doing wrong? Where’s God in all of this?” Have you ever asked that? Look at verse 11:
11 But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.”
At these low points in the Apostle’s life, the Lord Jesus Christ comes rushing to the aid of His man and He encourages him with His presence. We see this a few times in the book of Acts. We saw it before back in chapter 18 when Paul was at a low point in Corinth. The Lord Jesus appeared to him and said, “Do not be afraid, but keep on speaking for I am with you (18:9-10).” We’ll see it again in chapter 27 when an angel appears to Paul in a storm at sea and says, “Don’t be afraid, Paul (27:24).” And here we see as Paul is at a low point in his life the Lord “stood by him.”
I love that phrase, “The Lord stood by him.” What child is not encouraged when walking through the darkness of the woods or crossing a rickety bridge or a busy street to know that his father stands by him? The Lord stood by him. He encourages us with His presence.
This is the truth about which David writes in the favorite 23rd Psalm we’re always quoting: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.” Why? “For Thou art with me (23:4).” At the Southern Baptist Annual meeting this past week in Indianapolis Ed Litton, pastor of a church in Alabama spoke on the topic of brokenness. I am privileged to sit on the Board of Trustees with Ed at Southeastern Seminary. In our spring meeting earlier this year I sat next to him in our meeting and asked how things were going. It was last year that Ed’s wife was tragically killed in automobile accident. Ed shared about his grief and in his sermon last week he mentioned how he had struggled with fear about the future, his kids, and everything was going to turn out. And he said a brother in Christ on his staff helped him remember that the Lord reveals Himself to us not in the future but in the present. He meets our need in the present. We cannot worry about tomorrow. The Lord said, “Don’t do that. I’m with you now. I’m here for you now. I’m standing by you now.”
So the Lord stands by Paul. He reveals Himself in the present. And then He says, “Be of good cheer, Paul.” Literally, “Take courage.” Be encouraged, Paul. Then, this statement, “For as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.” In other words, “I’m going to get you to Rome. This isn’t the end.” And note the preface to that statement. He says, “As you have testified for Me in Jerusalem.” How’s that going for him? How’s Paul’s witness going over in Jerusalem? How many converts does the Bible record that Paul got in Jerusalem? Hold up the universal sign for zip, zilch, and nada.
Don’t assume that just because things aren’t going well that the Lord isn’t there with you or that you’re not doing His will. He hasn’t called you and me to be successful. He has called you and me to be faithful. So when you hit the low points in your work for the Lord or when you hit your low points in your life in the Lord, remember that He’s watching over you. He stands by you. Be encouraged by His presence.
We all feel His presence at the high points, don’t we? It’s easy to sing, “Jesus loves me this I know” when everything is going great! But it is at those low points when you most need to remember that He is there, too, those times you are singing, “Through many dangers toils and snares I have already come. ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.”
The Lord is with you in the crucible of your marital conflict. Stay faithful to Him. Stay faithful to your spouse. The Lord is with you in the vice-grip of your work situation. Stay faithful. He is there in the center of your conflict. He is the peace and presence in the eye of your storm.
Never forget how our Lord’s Great Commission to us in Matthew 28:19-20 concludes. He says, “As you go about making disciples of all the nations, remember this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” I am with you! Be encouraged by the Lord’s presence.
So be encouraged by the Lord’s protection and be encouraged by the Lord’s presence. And then, when you need yet a little more encouragement:
III. Be encouraged by the Lord’s Providence (23:12-35)
Providence is, “The belief that the events of our lives are not ruled by chance or fate, but by our sovereign and loving Lord who works out His plan and purpose in the lives of all His children.”
This is a recurring theme in the book of Acts. I hope it encourages you as I believe our Lord wants it to encourage us. Things don’t “just happen” in our lives. God is there guiding, controlling, superintending. He is providentially controlling all of history to fulfill His perfect purposes. Watch this in the rest of the chapter.
12 And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.
13 Now there were more than forty who had formed this conspiracy.
14 They came to the chief priests and elders, and said, “We have bound ourselves under a great oath that we will eat nothing until we have killed Paul.
15 “Now you, therefore, together with the council, suggest to the commander that he be brought down to you tomorrow, as though you were going to make further inquiries concerning him; but we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”
16 So when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their ambush, he went and entered the barracks and told Paul.
How did Paul’s sister’s son hear of this ambush? On the one hand, I don’t know. On the other hand, I do know. Paul’s nephew heard because God wanted him to hear. The boy heard because of the Lord’s providence.
17 Then Paul called one of the centurions to him and said, “Take this young man to the commander, for he has something to tell him.”
18 So he took him and brought him to the commander and said, “Paul the prisoner called me to him and asked me to bring this young man to you. He has something to say to you.”
19 Then the commander took him by the hand, went aside and asked privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?”
20 And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask that you bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire more fully about him.
21 “But do not yield to them, for more than forty of them lie in wait for him, men who have bound themselves by an oath that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him; and now they are ready, waiting for the promise from you.” (That’s an interesting oath before God: “God, we pledge to not eat or drink until we kill the person who loves You so much!)
22 So the commander let the young man depart, and commanded him, “Tell no one that you have revealed these things to me.”
Why worry about anything when we know God is in control? Praise God for His providence! I wrote here in my Bible a quote from St. Augustine: “Trust the past to the mercy of God, the present to the love of God, and the future to the providence of God.”
23 And he called for two centurions, saying, “Prepare two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at the third hour of the night;
24 “and provide mounts to set Paul on, and bring him safely to Felix the governor.”
25 He wrote a letter in the following manner:
26 Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor Felix: Greetings.
27 This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them. Coming with the troops I rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman. (He puts a good spin on the story, the way some of us write our resumes. He fails to mention that how he learned Paul was a Roman!)
28 And when I wanted to know the reason they accused him, I brought him before their council.
29 I found out that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but had nothing charged against him deserving of death or chains.
30 And when it was told me that the Jews lay in wait for the man, I sent him immediately to you, and also commanded his accusers to state before you the charges against him. Farewell.
31 Then the soldiers, as they were commanded, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris.
32 The next day they left the horsemen to go on with him, and returned to the barracks.
33 When they came to Caesarea and had delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him.
34 And when the governor had read it, he asked what province he was from. And when he understood that he was from Cilicia,
35 he said, “I will hear you when your accusers also have come.” And he commanded him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.
So because of a relative of Paul, Paul’s nephew, the Apostle is safe. Ray Stedman says, “You could say Paul was ‘relatively safe!’” But we know, of course, that it is not so much owing to the nephew as it is owing to God.
Do you see the hand of God in the ordinary events of history, working out His perfect plans and purposes? So often we yearn for lightning bolts and the spelling-out of God’s will in the sky, but more often than not God works out the beauty of His providence in what appears to be the ordinary events of everyday life. He’s working-out His perfect plans in your life.
So be encouraged by His protection, His presence, and His providence—by His care, His comfort, His control.
- Stand for prayer.
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