Acts 23:12-35 – The Providence and Protection of God

Grant us the faith to believe you and trust you fully, for all that you’ve revealed to us in your holy Word. May we be enlightened by your Word again and be encouraged today. Bless this time, we pray, in Jesus’ Name, AMEN.

We saw last week how Paul was rescued from the chaotic end to the Council meeting.
• Fearing for his life, the commander stepped in yet again and ordered his soldiers to take Paul away.
• We concluded with the words of the Lord to Paul – Acts 23:11 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 Lord was with Paul and knew all that he has transpired in Jerusalem. “As you have testified about me in Jerusalem” means God has been watching over him.
• Paul was not alone in the trials, although it might seemed so to us, when we are going through trials in life, especially in ministry.
• The Lord came especially to him on the following night, to encourage him – “take courage” – and assured him that he will testify for him in Rome.

God has not been distant, passive or unconcerned with the plight of Paul.
• He might not have immuned him from all troubles but God is not unconcerned.
• Our heavenly Father cares for our plight in life, so hang in there and trust Him, when you are going through difficult times.

God spoke to declare His sovereign purpose for Paul, that he might testify in Rome.
• This would be most comforting to Paul, because it means that from now until he reaches Rome, Paul would be fine, under God’s watchful eyes.
• We are going to see it being unfold in the next few chapters.

Let’s read the Word of God – Acts 23:12-15.

12 The next morning the 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 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.”

The next morning, we have more than 40 men binding themselves under oath not to eat or drink until they killed Paul.
• And they created the opportunity for this to happen – get Paul out of the barracks and ambush him.
• They went to the Council leaders and suggested this plot. “Petition the commander to bring him before the Council on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.” (23:15)

We would expect the religious leaders to hesitate over such a devious act, or to rebuke these men for having such a murderous thought.
• With the wicked Ananias as presiding high priest, the Council connived with the evil men and agreed to lie and deceive the Roman commander, and thus becoming willing accomplices to the murder of an innocent man.
• We have seen, over the past two chapters, how Paul’s trials resembled that of Jesus, with the accusers coming against them with false accusations and with the intention to kill them.

Did it work? No, absolutely not! Something amazing happened – Acts 23:16-19.

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?”

Somehow, in some unexpected way, this secret plot was discovered, surprisingly.
• The window of opportunity to stop this is really narrow, only one day.
• And the surprise upon surprise is that this plot was discovered by Paul’s nephew.
• This was the first time we heard of Paul’s relatives; so he has a sister and a nephew.
• This young man “happens to be” in the right place, at the right time to have overheard or heard from someone, about the plot.

This is not luck. This is not coincidence. This is not chance, but the providence of God.
• God has already said, ‘Paul would testify in Rome.’ That’s His plan and He will work to preserve Paul’s life, until he reaches Rome.
• God ordains the end and also the means to that end. And this was just the beginning.

Paul’s nephew took the news immediately to him. Paul called the centurion and asked him to take his nephew to see the commander because he has something to tell him.
• The centurion was not told what the message was but he trusted Paul’s advice.
• Imagine this captain of 100 soldiers, who commands his soldiers, now listening to what Paul said without questioning much.
• I believe Paul’s character and behaviour must have given him a good impression.

The commander’s response was equally surprising.
• 23:19 The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, “What is it you want to tell me?”
• He treated the young man with kindness. He held his hand and drew him aside where they could talk privately, knowing that the boy has something important and sensitive.
• It’s amazing. We have both the centurion and the commander treating this Jewish young man with respect. This is the favour of God.

Over the past few chapters, we saw how Luke highlighted the favour of God through the Roman commander:
• When the commander first heard of the chaos in the Temple court, 21:32 “He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.”
• When Paul was on the steps to the barracks, the commander granted him permission to speak – Luke wrote 21:40 “Having received the commander’s permission…”
• After the speech when the mob turned wild, 22:24 “the commander ordered Paul to be taken into the barracks…”
• And having realised that Paul was a Roman citizen, 22:29 “The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.”
• 22:30 “The next day, since the commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to assemble.”
• 23:10 “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.”

We can’t help but see Luke’s contrast of the kindness of the Roman commander with the evil intent of Paul’s kinmen. Sadly, a pagan Roman soldier behaved better.

The young man told him everything he has heard – Acts 23:20-22
20 He said: “The 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 and cautioned him, “Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.”

Paul’s nephew did a great job. He played a very critical role in saving Paul’s life and God used him mightily. Yet we were not given his name.
• Many today want to make a name for themselves; but we can do great things for God without a name.
• We don’t need to aspire to be a ‘somebody’. We can be a ‘nobody’ (nameless), fully devoted to God and doing His work, and the Lord will recognise us as ‘somebody’ in His Kingdom, the ‘good and faithful’ servants.

Acts 23:23-30
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 mounts 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.

By God’s providence, the commander trusted the young man and decided to devise a plan to protect Paul and move him to a safe place.
• Again we see his genuine concern for Paul and the favour of God. Whatever that has happened was beyond Paul and his nephew.

The commander ordered TWO of his centurions with their soldiers (200 soldiers), 70 horsemen and 200 spearmen, to escort Paul to Caesarea at night. (23:23)
• And provide mounts for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix. (23:24)

Can you imagine this! 470 men escorting a prisoner. It’s almost an army for one man!
• This is the protection God provided for Paul. We have 40 men trying to kill him and 470 men protecting him. God’s protection is more than 10 times stronger.
• And they have to form up this army escort within the day, leaving “at nine tonight” (23:23), the commander said, before the enemies could form up the ambush.
• But even if they were there, 40 men would be no match for 470 soldiers!

No one can touch Paul because God has declared, one night ago, that he would testify in Rome (23:11). See how Luke recorded it: The Lord stood near Paul (ESV stood by) and said, “Take courage!”
• How comforting and reassuring, to have the word from the Lord before you face a moment of crisis.
• Imagine the Lord giving you His Word one day before you face a serious trial.
• You read what He said in your devotion yesterday, and today you face the storm with the assurance and strength from the promises of God you heard the day before.
• The Lord stands BY us in our trials. He stands with us and is watching over us.

Let’s read the rest of the account – Acts 23:31-35. [map]

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.

The soldiers escorted Paul as far as Antipatris, about 60km away, covering the more dangerous part of the journey, and then they returned back to the barracks.
• The cavalry took Paul for the rest of the trip, safely into Caesarea.

We see in today’s passage God’s providence and His protection.
• Paul’s life was preserved, not by chance or good luck (there is no such thing), but by the providence of God over his life.
• God worked through Paul’s nephew and the Roman soldiers to carry out His will and fulfil His purpose.
• Nothing can frustrate the plan of God, which was spoken to Paul a night ago, that he would testify in Rome.

What does this mean for us today? God is in control of our trials.
• It means God is not distant, passive or unconcerned with what is happening to us.
• He watches over us, without in any way robbing us of the freedom to make choices.

The trials in life are sanctioned by God to grow us and mould us, not to harm us.
• James 1:2-4 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
• We do not go through the trials of life for nothing.

Noticed this, the Lord did not say a word about the impending threat against his life (when he met Paul the night before).
• Nor about any of the other trials that he would face before he finally reached Rome.
• Paul has to trust God, for God’s means to that end. God orchestrates the circumstances to fulfil His plan for his life.

We can trust in the providence and protection of God.
• Prov 21:30 “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.” We can trust Him.

Someone made this interesting comment: You know why Jesus was able to sleep in the midst the storm? He was fully aware of His Father’s control over any and all circumstances of life.
Ps 121:3-4 “3…HE who watches over you will not slumber; 4indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

We pray that our faith in you, Lord, would be strengthened, as we see your sovereign work of protection over Paul’s life. Nothing in our lives happen by chance. You are with us, watching over us.
Help us see you in all our difficult circumstances, to lean on you and trust that your grace is sufficient for us, for your power is made perfect in our weaknesses. (2 Cor 12:9)
Grant us the wisdom we need when we are lost and confused. Give us the faith and strength to face the challenges of life with confidence and courage.
Give us peace, knowing that you are with us. Thank you, Lord. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN.

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