Church Expanded – Message 9
June 6, 2021
I. Introduction: Continuing to see how the Church Expanded, led by Paul.
A. Today’s title refers to the Protection given to Paul—and to us— as we pursue God’s plan.
- Theme verse: Acts 23:21 (NLT)—“…They have vowed not to eat or drink anything until they have killed him. [Paul]…”
- As Acts chapter 23 opens, Paul again faces Jewish opposition.
- Background: In Acts 21, Roman soldiers arrested Paul as he was savagely beaten by a Jewish mob at the temple grounds, which likely saved his life.
- In Acts 22, Roman Commander, Claudius Lysias, allowed Paul to address the angry crowd, but when he said God sent him to the Gentiles, the Jews started rioting again.
- To discover why the Jews were so angry with Paul, Lysias had him whipped to extract a confession, but Paul objected as a Roman citizen, to punishment without trial, so the beating stopped, leaving the commander frustrated and confused. (22:24-29)
- As a Roman citizen, Paul had the right to know the charges against him, so the commander needed to discover the charges against him, so he called the Sanhedrin.
- Acts 22:30 (NLT)—The next day the commander ordered the leading priests into session with the Jewish high council [Sanhedrin]. He wanted to find out what the trouble was all about, so he released Paul to have him stand before them.
- As we reflect on Paul’s experience of accusation and attack, we can learn how to conduct ourselves when we face opposition for living and sharing and our faith.
II. When facing opposition:
A. #1 - Admit mistakes. (Acts 23:1-5. C/R: Exodus 22:28; Romans 13:1-5; 2 Timothy 2:24-25; James 1:20)
- Acts 23:1 (NLT)—Gazing intently at the high council [not intimidated, but also perhaps poor eyesight], Paul began: “Brothers [He had been a Pharisee, likely knew many of them, worked with them to oppose Christians], I have always lived before God with a clear conscience!” [Always motivated by a desire to please God, put them on the defensive, causing them to ask whether they, not him, were opposing God.]
- This statement doesn’t mean all of Paul’s actions had been right; he killed Christians, but he obeyed what he thought was right and from God at the time, though wrong.
- A person’s conscience operates based on what they believe is true and right, when, biblically-speaking, it may be wrong and false, corrupt and sinful.
- Only by exposure to the Bible and sensitivity to the Spirit’s influence, can we rely on our consciences to guide us. (ILL.: Following your conscience can be very unwise!)
- Acts 23:2-3 (NLT)—2Instantly Ananias the high priest (a cruel, evil, corrupt, pro-Roman Jew who was in place for 11-12 years beginning in AD 47) commanded those close to Paul to slap him on the mouth. 3But Paul said to him, “God will slap you, you corrupt hypocrite [lit. whitewashed wall]! What kind of judge are you to break the law yourself by ordering me struck like that?” [Not charged or convicted of any crime.]
- Was rebuking this priest for violating the law appropriate, or was it a sinful, impulsive, act of anger about being slapped? (James 1:20; righteous anger not wrong! Ephesians 4:26)
- Acts 23:4-5 (NLT)—4Those standing near Paul said to him, “Do you dare to insult God’s high priest?”
5“I’m sorry, brothers. I didn’t realize he was the high priest,” Paul replied, “for the Scriptures say, ‘You must not speak evil of any of your rulers.’” [Exodus 22:28]
- Paul acknowledged his disobedience of the Scripture, even quoted the passage, in his failure to respect the office of high priest, even if the man was not worthy of respect.
- Paul may have not been aware Ananias was the high priest (not wearing high priestly garments or sitting in official seat at this informal hearing), or, because of poor eyesight, he just couldn’t see him clearly.
- Paul admitted he was wrong for disrespecting the high priest. [Romans 13:1-5]
- He did not attempt to excuse his disrespect by blaming the high priest for having him slapped, he saw his sin in relation to God’s holiness, not Ananias’ evil. [James 1:20]
- When sharing our faith, we should always honestly admit our own sin and failings; excusing, defending, justifying or blaming others for our wrong actions causes people to question our honesty, integrity, and therefore, our transformation.
- APP.: Are we honest about our sins and failings with others, especially unbelievers?
When facing opposition…
B. #2 - Assert God’s truth. (Acts 23:6-10. C/R: Deuteronomy 13:4; Proverbs 3:5-6; Luke 11:28; Colossians 3:16)
- Acts 23:6 (NLT)—Paul realized that some members of the high council were Sadducees and some were Pharisees, so he shouted, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, as were my ancestors! And I am on trial because my hope is in the resurrection of the dead!”
- Paul wisely identified with the members of the Sanhedrin who he could most agree with in hope that they would support him.
- Acts 23:7-8 (NLT)—7This divided the council—the Pharisees against the Sadducees—8for the Sadducees say there is no resurrection or angels or spirits, but the Pharisees believe in all of these.
- The Sadducees accepted only the Pentateuch as authoritative; they rejected any concept of an afterlife, claiming that it was not found there.
- The Pharisees, on the other hand, believed in the authority of the Scripture, resurrection of the dead and the afterlife; their beliefs were more compatible with Christianity.
- The Bible mentions Pharisees who became Christians, including Nicodemus (John 3:1) and others (Acts 15:5), but no Sadducees.
- Acts 23:9-10 (NLT)—9So there was a great uproar. Some of the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees jumped up and began to argue forcefully. “We see nothing wrong with him,” they shouted. “Perhaps a spirit or an angel spoke to him.” 10As the conflict grew more violent, the commander [who was watching] was afraid they would tear Paul apart. So he ordered his soldiers to go and rescue him by force and take him back to the fortress. [Commander still did not discover what crime Paul had violated.]
- I think Paul provide a model for facing opposition: speak truthfully and biblically; keep asserting the Bible as our standard of truth, even if the hearers don’t accept it.
- People will sooner accept our behavior and our beliefs if they are based on biblical teaching, as long as we consistently follow the Bible in our lives. (Luke 11:28)
- APP. Do we live and act biblically (which gives us credibility to share the gospel)?
When facing opposition…
C. #3 - Anticipate God’s protection. (Acts 23:11-35. C/R: Psalm 91; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-3;
2 Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 13:6)
- Acts 23:11 (NLT)—That night the Lord appeared to Paul and said, “Be encouraged, Paul. Just as you have been a witness to me here in Jerusalem, you must preach the Good News in Rome as well.” [Also appeared at Acts 18:9-10 and 22:17-21.]
- God gave Paul hope, assuring him that his life would not end in Jerusalem.
- The promise of ministry in Rome would sustain him through many trials. [2 Timothy 4:18]
- APP.: Does the promise of heaven sustain you through trials and suffering on earth?
- Acts 23:12 (NLT)—The next morning a group of Jews got together and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. …
- These Jews knew they could not depend on the Romans to execute Paul, since there was no capital crime with which to accuse him, … but God’s providence intervened.
- Acts 23:16-17, 20-22 (NLT)— 16But Paul’s nephew—his sister’s son—heard of their plan and went to the fortress and told Paul. [Chained to a Roman soldier but permitted to receive visitors.] 17Paul called for one of the Roman officers and said, “Take this young man to the commander. He has something important to tell him.” …
20Paul’s nephew told him, “Some Jews are going to ask you to bring Paul before the high council tomorrow, pretending they want to get some more information. 21But don’t do it! There are more than forty men hiding along the way ready to ambush him. [Needed large number to fight Roman soldiers.] They have vowed not to eat or drink anything until they have killed him. They are ready now, just waiting for your consent.”
22“Don’t let anyone know you told me this,” the commander warned the young man.
- God providentially caused Paul’s nephew to learn about the plot and report it.
- God’s providence is His control over the circumstances of the world and in our individual lives; it’s how God works out His sovereign will in our world and lives.
- Acts 23:23-24 (NLT)—23Then the commander called two of his officers and ordered, “Get 200 soldiers ready to leave for Caesarea [seat of Roman government. 65 miles from Jerusalem] at nine o’clock tonight. Also take 200 spearmen and 70 mounted troops. 24Provide horses for Paul to ride, and get him safely to Governor Felix.” [his superior].
Verses 25-33 tells us that Lysias wrote a letter to Governor Felix telling him that Paul, a
- Roman citizen, had been arrested for his safety, but the Jews complaint against him was related to their religious law, so not worthy of imprisonment or death.
- Upon learning of a plot to kill him, Lysias sent him to Governor Felix and told his accusers to take their charges against Paul to Felix—and the governor agreed.
- Acts 23:35 (NLT)—“I will hear your case myself when your accusers arrive,” the governor told him. Then the governor ordered him kept in the prison at Herod’s headquarters. [In the providence of God, Paul’s arrest and custody saved his life.]
- Our all-powerful God is able to protect us—and He can use whatever and whomeverHe chooses to accomplish His plan for our lives and His purpose in this world.
- If we are pursuing God’s plans, I believe He will protect and preserve our lives until we accomplish His purpose!
- The safest place in all the world is in the will of God. [Warren Wiersbe]
- APP.: Are you pursuing His plan for your life?
Memory verse: Hebrews 13:6 (NLT)—So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?”