Summary: This message continues my series through the book of Acts.
“Of Guilt and Innocence”
August 3, 2008
When we finished up last week, we found Paul being visited in prison by Christ Himself, encouraging Paul and promising that Paul would testify in Rome as well. Little did Paul know that he’d be imprisoned, in some form or fashion, for the next four years of his life. As Paul remained in prison in Jerusalem, the events that would take him to Rome in time were set in motion, not by Paul himself, by his friends, or by the leaders of the Jerusalem church, but instead by Paul’s bitterest rivals! Of course, as we talked about last week, behind the scenes, the invisible hand of God was working to accomplish His perfect, sovereign will.
There are a number of characters involved in our passage today:
• Plotting conspirators
• A “harmless kid”
• A corrupt Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court
• Roman soldiers
• The ruthless Roman governor, Felix
• Ananias, the also ruthless high priest
• A skilled orator, Tertullus
• And, of course, Paul the apostle of God
And the plot line is one filled with intrigue and deceit, cunning and deliverance, flattery, pomp, & vindication. We begin w/ attempted
I. Ambush – 23:12-15
12 When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. 14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul. 15 Now therefore you, along with the council, give notice to the tribune to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case more exactly. And we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”
More than 40 fanatical Asian Jews took an oath to ambush Paul and murder him in the narrow streets of Jerusalem, a fish-in-a-barrel situation. Not only a wanted man, but a hunted man!
We notice several things here:
o The fanatical devotion of some Jews to killing Paul
Jesus had promised His followers that they would suffer persecution and be hated by men, and this is exactly what is happening here. Fanaticism blinds us to reason; in the name of serving God’s law and God’s truth, these men were willing to throw God’s law and God’s truth to the wind. Christians are persecuted, even killed, today; what prompts such animosity? It is this: the claims of Jesus Christ and his gospel run counter to any competing way, any other faith scheme, and supersede all other allegiances.
Notice as well
o The complicity of the “religious leaders”
What the conspirators needed were accomplices, and they found ready ones in the religion boys. Their supposed zeal for the law of Moses did not preclude them from being willing accomplices to attempted murder. And for us, here’s another reminder to trust God and His Word, and to hold our attachments to any/every “religious leader” with an appropriate tentativeness. Let God be true, and every man a liar.
II. Deliverance – 23:16-35
A. God uses a kid
16 Now the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, so he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. 17 Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the tribune, for he has something to tell him.” 18 So he took him and brought him to the tribune and said, “Paul the prisoner called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, as he has something to say to you.” 19 The tribune took him by the hand, and going aside asked him privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?” 20 And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire somewhat more closely about him. 21 But do not be persuaded by them, for more than forty of their men are lying in ambush for him, who have bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they have killed him. And now they are ready, waiting for your consent.” 22 So the tribune dismissed the young man, charging him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of these things.”
We don’t know a whole lot of the details of Paul’s family life. Some have assumed with some merit that Paul’s family disowned him when he had his Damascus Road experience. But apparently somewhere deep in her heart, Paul’s sister had some sympathy for her brother. We don’t know either just how this young man came about his knowledge of the plot; was he a “mole” on the “inside” in some way, privy to such details as were made known to him by unsuspecting conspirators? It’s difficult to speak with any level of certainty. Regardless, God used a relatively young man to accomplish His purpose in sparing Paul. Paul, aware that God uses whom He chooses, wrote to young Timothy, “don’t let anyone despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in your speech, faith, conduct, love, and purity.” And because of this young man, Paul’s life was spared.