Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Plot to Murder Paul

With the twenty-third chapter of Acts, we enter into the darkest period of Paul’s life. He had hard times earlier, of course. He was unpopular. He was the victim of mob action on more than one occasion. He was beaten and stoned. But during those earlier days he at least had his freedom. At this point, he entered into a period of life when he was not even free. He was imprisoned in Caesarea for two years and for another two years, at a minimum, in Rome. So, including travel time, Paul was in Roman custody for at least five years, and probably longer.

To make matters worse, we observe that following Jesus’ appearance to him after he had spoken to the Sanhedrin (23:11), Paul had no special revelation from this point on, no direct word of comfort during the events recorded in this chapter.

There are times in our lives when not only do things seem dark, but God does not seem to be speaking to us. The heavens seem to be made of brass. Does that mean God has forgotten us or does not care what is happening? Of course not. As Harry Ironside has said, “God is never closer to his people than when they cannot see His face.”

The story is straightforward. Paul had been attacked by the Jerusalem mob and had nearly been lynched. Yet he had escaped because of the Roman soldiers’ intervention. It was the Romans’ job to keep peace in Jerusalem, especially in volatile times like these, and the soldiers did it well. Yet there were zealots in the city who were determined that Paul should not escape. There were about forty of them, and they took an oath that they would not eat or drink until they had killed Paul. They asked the chief priests to request that Paul be brought before the Sanhedrin again, promising that they would lie in wait and kill him before he got there.

The next part of the story tells how God protected Paul.

Paul had a nephew, the son of his sister, who was living in Jerusalem. Up to this point, we have not been given the slightest information about Paul’s family. All we know is that Paul received his Roman citizenship from his father, who was therefore obviously a Roman citizen before him. Yet suddenly, in the midst of this story, here is a boy who is Paul’s nephew who perhaps had been sent to Jerusalem to study as Paul had been years earlier. He is also somehow privy to what was going on in the Sanhedrin. He overheard the plot and learned of the rulers’ culpable compliance.

This boy went to the military barracks and told his story, and as a result, Paul was removed by night and taken to Caesarea. It is amusing to read about it. Verses 23 and 24 tell us that the garrison commander prepared a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen to take Paul to Caesarea. Think of that! Four hundred and seventy of the “crack” troops of the Roman army to escort Paul safely out of town! And Paul was even given horses so he would not have to walk (v. 24).

Here we have another of those startling biblical cases where God, who is able to use the little as well as the great things of life, used something as small as a boy’s casual eavesdropping to accomplish His purposes.

If God is able to use little things, then God can use us, however small or apparently insignificant we may be. Paul states this principle in 1 Corinthians 1, where he says, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (vv. 27–29).

Don’t ever say—though I know we are tempted to say it, especially when we are going through dark periods—“Things are really bad for me. I am not accomplishing anything. God cannot use somebody like me, especially not in these circumstances.” What we often find is that it is usually people like us in circumstances like ours that God uses.

Circumstances are not against you. God is the God of circumstances. So if you are going through dark times, as Paul was, and it you are discouraged and weary with the struggle, the message of the chapter is keep on trusting God and serve Him regardless. His purposes for you will be accomplished, the day will brighten, and the will of God will be done.

W. H. Burleigh wisely wrote:

Still will we trust, though earth seem dark and dreary,

And the heart faint beneath his chastening rod;

Though rough and steep our pathway, worn and weary—

Still will we trust in God.

Let us press on, in patient self-denial,

Accept the hardship, shrink not from the loss;

Our portion lies beyond the hour of trial,

Our crown beyond the Cross.