This evening we study Acts to look at the sequence of events in the life of the apostle Paul as he is now a prisoner. In Acts 23:11, Paul had just been through three riots, all directed at him. And now he sits alone in jail, and the Lord Jesus comes to him in person in verse 11, and says, “Be of good cheer Paul, for as you have testified in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also at Rome.”
The Lord comes in the middle of the night to a lonely, discouraged apostle, and cheers his heart. The Gentile world was so antagonistic from a pagan standpoint; and the Jewish world was antagonistic because he preached the Messiah they rejected. And this was all manifested in the three riots which just occurred. And as he sat in the cell, a plot was going on against his life, but his confidence was in God.
And immediately an incident occurs that seals that confidence. Now it is two years from the time of the promise, in verse 11, to the time that he gets to Rome. But, all through those two years he never waivers. God made a promise; he believed the promise. God immediately, in Acts 23:12-35, sealed that promise with him. And Paul had absolute confidence in that promise.
This episode has to be one of the greatest illustrations in the entire New Testament of the providence of God. I was reminded of a book in the Old Testament that doesn’t mention the name of God; has no Christian doctrine in it; has no instructions to holiness. It is simply a historical incident without any theological references whatsoever. It’s the book of Esther. God’s name isn’t even in the book.
That book is there because it is one of the most graphic and complete illustrations of the providential care of God anywhere in all revelation. It shows how God cared and brought about what He wanted to bring about through the circumstances that were going on. It doesn’t even have a miracle in it. Do you know that God does things two ways: through miracles and through providence, and they’re different?
A miracle is when God breaks the natural process to invade it in a supernatural way. Providence is where God gets His will, done not by changing the natural, but by using the natural circumstances to accomplish what He wants to. How many times have you read that “So-and-so did this, and so-and-so did this, and then they did this, and all of a sudden, it all worked out the way God wanted it.”
A miracle is God violating the natural world to invade it supernaturally; providence is God supernaturally using the natural to accomplish His will. In Esther there are no miracles. You just have all kinds of interwoven circumstances as God works His will. He can do it through miracles or He can do it through providence. And we are living in the day when God is doing things through His providence.
And as you come to Acts 23, you see the providence of God. It is in its purest sense supernatural. But it is through the use of natural events rather than the cessation of the natural and the invasion of the unnatural. Those are miracles when Paul was stoned at Lystra and the Lord raising him from the dead; and Paul going to jail and the Lord has an earthquake knock the jail doors down.
Here you don’t have God’s name mentioned, but all of the circumstances weave together to accomplish God’s purpose. At the same time I think of those times when we don’t see a miracle, we have a difficult time trusting providence. God can accomplish whatever He wants to accomplish through providence; through the ordering of things in the way that He desires to gain His purpose.
In Luke 12:30 God says, “For all these things do the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you have need of these things.” He says, “If I take care of the birds and the lilies.” Don’t you think you’re worth more than birds and lilies? Your Father knows you have needs. Verse 31, “So, seek the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.”
Luke 12:32-34, “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moths will destroy. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So, what is God saying here to Paul?
God says, “I’m going to take care of you. You’re My sheep, I know your needs. You’re sitting in a cell, you’re upset, and Jesus came and comforted you. There’s a murder plot against your life. Leave it to Me; I’ll take care of everything.” And it is exciting as we see this plot unfold to see the providence of God as He weaves together the circumstances to accomplish the protection of His child.
Let us look to verses 12-13, “And when it was day,” that’s the morning after the night in which Jesus appeared to Paul and the very day after he had given testimony to the Jewish Council “...some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath, saying they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. 13 Now there were more than forty who had formed this conspiracy.”
They wanted this man dead, and the most stringent way they knew was to take this kind of vow which bound them and told everybody the seriousness of it. And, they invoked the vengeance of God if they didn’t accomplish it. That’s dumb, because God may or may not be involved in it. That’s why Jesus said in James 5:12, “Do not swear, but let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’”.
They had been so subjected to the power of Satan by this time, existing so long in a false system of religion based on self-worth and hypocrisy. And Satan wanted Jesus and the Gospel done away. The rebellion began in Heaven. It continued on earth in Eden, and even when God began the plan of redemption to bring the Messiah, Satan still fought against it. He tried to destroy the Messiah’s line.
Verse 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.” Now, the chief priests of the Sanhedrin were the Sadducees, who were the most antagonistic to Paul. Because Paul taught the resurrection of Christ and they did not believe that. They wanted to enlist the support of the Council.
They were the spiritual leaders, but their justice and spiritual truth was so corrupted to the point where they could be enlisted in an assassination. Verse 15, “Now you, therefore, together with the council, suggest to the commander that Paul 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.”
So, it was an ambush. The plot was formulated. “Did the Sanhedrin agree?” According to verse 20, they did agree. So, the Sanhedrin voted to cooperate. The Sanhedrin is going to ask the Roman leader of the men at Fort Antonia, to send Paul down to the Sanhedrin. On the way, he will be ambushed and murdered by those 40 men. But we begin to see how providence moves as the plot is found out.
Verse 16, “So when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their ambush, he went and entered the barracks and told Paul.” This introduces to us something which we can’t resolve. Paul’s nephew somehow heard the plot. The Bible says nothing about Paul’s family. All we know is his father was a Pharisee because he said so earlier. How then, all of a sudden, does Paul’s sister’s son come to Paul’s rescue?
What is he doing in Jerusalem? Did he live there? Was he there studying to be a rabbi, as Paul had been when he was a boy? Was Paul’s sister really one who cared about Paul even though he had been disinherited? Had Paul’s sister become a believer? Interesting to think about. I can’t imagine the apostle Paul not trying to convert his family, can you? I’m sure he gave it everything he had.
It seems sensible to say he was present at the plot or he wouldn’t have known the plot. Can you imagine how God worked the circumstances to have that little boy hanging around the conspirators and to get the right message, and then to have the presence of mind to go warn his uncle? You can see that this is no less supernatural than if God had reached out of heaven and pulled Paul right up.
Can you imagine what Paul’s heart must have started doing? Just a few hours before, the Lord had come and said, “You’re going to go to Rome,” and now, all of a sudden the boy comes and tells about a murder plot against him, and he begins to realize that God has warned him and that this is step one in the fulfillment of a promise. I can imagine he was so excited when that happened.
Verse 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.” Verse 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.” Paul always calls himself, “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ.”
Verse 19, “Then the commander took him by the hand, went aside, and asked privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?” Why would a chief captain take a little boy by the hand unless it was to kind of calm him down? Verse 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.”
God’s timing is perfect. Verse 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.” Verse 22, “So the commander let the young man depart, and commanded him, “Tell no one that you have revealed these things to me.”
Jerusalem and Judea were volatile. It was only a few years after this that the whole place exploded in a revolution. And, he knew the past history of what other commanders had run into in that place, and he did not want to fight them. And he just figured that the simplest thing to do is, “Let nobody know I know and just get Paul out of town.” He was wise. And so we see that the plot is found out.
And you can see again the providence of God. Determined to outfox the assassins, Claudius Lysias feels the pressure of Roman justice, and doesn’t want to have the responsibility for the assassination of a Roman citizen, which could cost him his job and his life. He knows the only thing to do is to get this guy out of town and push the case upstairs to the governor.
And to get him over to Caesarea, 60 miles away at the coast, was smart because Caesarea was a Gentile-dominated territory. And, there was less likelihood of a real problem, or revolution, or an assassination. Verse 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.”
So the Roman army is grouped to get Paul out of town, at the third hour of the night, which is 9:00 pm. That’s how he left Jerusalem protected by the army. Verse 24-26, “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.”
What is interesting about that? Luke never read it. This is a good illustration of divine inspiration. The Holy Spirit told Luke, the words of that letter, and he wrote them down with his own hand. That’s how the whole Bible has been written. And incidentally, the letter was probably written in Latin, so the Holy Spirit had to give it in Greek. But the Holy Spirit does translate well.
Verse 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.” Liar, he didn’t know he was a Roman until he had strapped him on the frame to be scourged. And then he found out he was a Roman and panicked. Verse 28, “And when I wanted to know the reason they accused him, I brought him before their council.”
He brought Paul to the Jewish Sanhedrin, and it all ended in a big fight. Verse 29, “I found out that he was accused about questions of their law, but he had nothing charged against him deserving of death or chains.” And he was right. He is stating the innocence of Paul. Israel’s history has been the long history of killing those people that God has sent to them with His message.
Verse 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.” Since there was no accusation, Claudius says, “I’m sending him for protection.” It was a smart thing to do; he saved his life and his reputation, with both the Romans and the Jews by acting wisely.
Verse 31, “Then the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris.” That’s about 35 miles. Verse 32, “The next day they left the horsemen to go on with him, and returned to the barracks.” They felt that the 70 horsemen could handle him, so the other 400 soldiers came back to Jerusalem. That was wise, because he had to have his forces back in the city.
Verse 33, “When they came to Caesarea and had delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him.” Verse 34-35, “And when the governor had read it, he asked what province Paul 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.”
The word in the Greek is praitōrion, meaning the residence of the governor. Paul had been escorted by 470 soldiers, and now he is going to room in the palace. God is taking care of him. Did you see a miracle anywhere? No miracle. Did you see God at work in His providence, ordering the circumstances, ordering the lives of the people, moving all the characters to accomplish His will?
This passage tells me things about God even though God isn’t mentioned. It tells me God is using providence. He keeps His word. Peter said this in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise.” He makes a promise in verse 11, and right in the morning He carries out the fulfillment of it. Paul is 60 miles closer to the promised destination the first day. God is faithful. Let us pray.