Summary: The powerful, inspired writings of the Apostle Paul from his prison cell, and how they can help us to be free! Link included to formatted text, handout, and PowerPoint Template.

Just When I Need Him Most

Acts 23:10-11

Can you imagine being jailed for the cause of Christ? What would you be thinking as you sat there? What would be your attitude?

We don’t have to wonder how it was for Paul. For the majority of the rest of the book of Acts he was a prisoner, and during this time he wrote several books of the Bible, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God. We call them the ‘prison epistles’ because of this.

Let me show you some of the statements he made from jail.

Ephes. 4:1

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord…

That’s how he viewed himself. Not a prisoner of the state. He considered himself a prisoner for the cause of Christ, and counted it a privilege!

Ephes. 6:20

For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

An ambassador is a representative from a foreign land, and Paul considered himself a missionary to the other prisoners during this time, as well as those he could write letters to. Could he have possibly known as he wrote those letters that they would be read by so many, inc. us? What a jail ministry was conducted by a man IN jail!

Philip. 1:12-13

But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; [13] So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places;

Paul was guarded by the infamous Praetorian Guard, the special forces, the elite soldiers who guarded Caesar himself. The average Christian could never have gotten close enough to witness to these, so God did what He had to in order to get His voice heard there.

God gives each of us “in roads” to share the gospel, if we’ll recognize them.

Did it work for Paul?

Philip. 4:22

All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household.

Well, next time you are placed in circumstances that weren’t your first choice…look for a door of opportunity to be opened by God…He has a reason for everything, even your dr’s appt. running an hour late, your plane being delayed, your septic tank needing pumped, or the teachers going on strike!

2 Tim. 2:9

Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.

Paul knew that tho’ they could ‘bind the man’ they could not bind ‘the message!’

In our text, it’s his first night in jail…this is before he wrote all these other verses we’ve just looked at. What’s he thinking? How did he get a good perspective early on?

Paul was a great man, but he was still just a man. He had real feelings, and needed God to be with him and be real to him. He needed to know he wasn’t all alone. Then God showed up in his cell…just when he needed Him the most.

3 things that happened in the jail cell that night:

[let’s dissect v. 11]

1. The Lord stood by Paul

What a beautiful phrase! We are big on commitment around here, and making commitments and keeping them…but let’s not forget that when we make a commitment to Jesus, He makes a commitment to us!

Hebrews 13:5-6

[5] … he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. [6] So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.

Ill.—a woman said to D. L. Moody: “I have found a great promise to help me when I am afraid…Psalm 56:3—‘What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.’”

Moody replied, “I have a better promise than that: Isaiah 12:2 ‘Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid:’”

Both when we’re afraid and even when we’re not…both promises are true!

a. As the sympathizing Christ

Just a few years earlier Jesus was in the same city, before the same council, also being tried for things which are no crime, but for doing good. Jesus had “been there and done that”. Both were called blasphemer, heretic, and troublemaker.

And we have a Savior who knows and understands what we are going thru, because He has been there, and He’s right here with us today!

Lonely? Hurting? Feeling rejected? Grieving? Discouraged?

He’s been there!

The Lord stood by Paul as the sympathizing Christ…

b. As the sustaining Christ

We need others to hold us up sometimes. Some tragedies and trials are so great, we cannot even attempt to make it on our own…either somebody swoops in to help sustain us, or we go down!

How wonderful to know that when we can’t stand it, Jesus stands by us!

2 Cor. 12:9

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Ill.—Steven Covey tells of a NYC subway train ride. A man got on with several rowdy children with him. He just sat there w/ eyes closed and arms folded while those children absolutely went nuts. Rambunctious, annoying, obnoxious, and very loud. They were bothering everybody. He approached the man and said, “sir, could you do something with these rowdy children?” He said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t even notice. We just left the hospital where their mother died an hour ago.”

Compassion begins when we start to think and understand what others are going thru. And we have a Savior who doesn’t just know what we’re going thru because He’s omniscient, but because He’s gone thru it too. And He’s got sustaining grace to help us thru!

Then Paul wrote: Philip. 4:19

But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

Ill.--Suppose you go to the dentist w/ a tooth decay problem. First, he drills out all of that decay, then he makes an inlay that fits perfectly the contour of your tooth, and then he fills it. That inlay is perfectly designed for YOUR cavity. It won’t fit any other tooth in the world.

Well, God understands your problems, and they are as unique and special, and as painful as that tooth. Thank God He has an endless supply to take and fill every need in the most perfect way possible.

The Lord stood by Paul, sympathizing, and sustaining him…

2. The Lord spoke to Paul

v. 11 “and said”

What a blessing to have a God Who speaks to us. Throughout history the Lord has spoken to His people. Whether audibly thru a bush, or on a wall, or across the sky, or by means of ink on paper or the Holy Spirit in the heart…He speaks, and often!

Hebrews 1:1-2

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, [2] Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…

a. A message of cheer

“be of good cheer” = “take courage” Jesus said it many times during his earthly ministry: to the man sick w/ the palsy, the woman w/ the blood disease, during the storm to the disciples, etc.

And He does the same in our hearts, or thru preaching, or an encourager in the church, or in our private devotions as just the right message leaps off the page!

Sometimes I preach hard messages, and worry about how some of the facts might be received [or not received!] I try to be encouraging, but sometimes what God tells me to say doesn’t seem too encouraging. And one time, recently, as I myself felt discouraged, wondering how a message was received, I got an encouraging card from one of you, telling me how much you appreciate the plain truth spoken w/out apology and sugar coating. That was a huge blessing to me…and I, who always want to be encouraging, ended up the one encouraged!

How many of you know of someone right now that could use a card like that this week? Raise your hand. Take time to do it!

People love encouraging, uplifting, positive people. And sometimes they dread seeing a negative person even enter the room. A pat on the back is as valuable as a kick in the pants!

Ill.—a boxing coach tried to believe in all his students, but had one student who got his bell rang all the time, he always thought the round was over because of the bells he heard! He got knocked around in every way imaginable. One round he came to his corner and the coach said, great job, “he never even laid a glove on you! Now get back out there and finish him off!” “OK, coach,” said the big dumb boxer. Next round ended, same result. Next round, almost knocked out, was saved by the bell. Back in his corner, the coach was the same kind of encourager. “Coach,” the boxer said, “I’ll go back out there, but would you keep an eye on the referee…’cuz somebody’s beatin’ the tar out of me!”

Encouragement can make us do a lot more, and keep on going! And it’s at it’s very best, just when we need it the most!

A message of cheer…

b. A message of commendation

Congratulations, that is!

“as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem”. We don’t know of anyone who got saved because of Paul’s ministry this time in Jerusalem. It looks like he failed, from a human perspective…yet, the Lord says, good job witnessing.

This tells us 2 things about our witnessing:

• When we witness, God notices, and appreciates it. And someday, standing before God, He will personally thank us and reward us!

• When we witness, God doesn’t require us to be successful, only to be faithful!

I used to think if I witnessed to somebody and they didn’t get saved, that I had failed, but now I realize that I didn’t fail…they did! And one plants, and one waters, and I should make sure I don’t burn the bridge, but set them up for the next witness that comes along.

We have to leave the results in God’s hands…He’s the One Who gives the increase! In the invitation, I have to remember I don’t have to “produce fruit” every single time. God considers faithfulness as fruit, and also promises that if I consistently give the message faithfully, I will “doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing my sheaves with me.”

Ill.—D. L. Moody was approached by a drunk who introduced himself, saying “I’m one of your converts.” “Well, you must be one of my converts, because you’re certainly not one of the Lord’s!”

The Lord spoke to him a message of cheer, of commendation…

c. A message of confidence

v. 11 “at Rome” Wow! That’s what he’s wanted all along, and was starting to wonder if he’d ever get that privilege…but now all doubts are erased, because God has said it, and that settles the matter.

If you’re not sure about something, do this: get a promise from God, and hold on tight!

Just when he needed it the most, the Lord stood by Paul, and spoke to Paul…

3. The Lord secured Paul

v. 12-14 These 40 men enter into a death pact together against Paul. The Lord had said “you’re going to Rome”, but these 40 say, “nah, you’re not going anywhere”. I wonder who’s gonna win?! 

It’s amazing how God works. You know, there’s not one more mention of God in this passage, and yet you can see His hand at work on Paul throughout all the rest of this chapter. And God worked in a way Paul never imagined.

Did God smite them w/ leprosy or blindness, or swallow them up in a fiery hole in the earth? No, nothing that dramatic…in this case, God used a little boy…

v. 16 The 40 men are huddled together conspiring, and they wouldn’t worry about this little boy who overheard them, but Paul’s nephew gets the word to the right people!

v. 23-24 A 470 member posse was put together, and all because of 1 little boy eavesdropping!

You may be going thru circumstances in which you don’t see if God is anywhere around…but don’t doubt for 1 second that He’s there… “standing somewhere in the shadows”!

Ill.—just after WWII, American soldiers found a little cellar where Jews had hid out. Written on the wall one had written, “I believe in the sun, even when it does not shine. I believe in love, even when it is not shown. And I believe in God even when I cannot see Him work.”

Trust this: God is present and at work thru all your circumstances. Just when you need Him the most!