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Good morning! It is July 13th and it’s time for our Daily Dose of Good News! So today we’re reading from Acts 23:12-35. I’m going to give you a smidge of back story, so you can understand context.
Acts is (as you may already know), the book that describes the formation of the Church. In it, is a lot about Paul, who goes on multiple missionary journeys. At this point in the text, he’s done three of those. He has now returned to Jerusalem, there has been an uproar at the temple, and they have begun to try him with the council. In that, he gets struck in the mouth at instructions by the High Priest, because they think he’s saying something blasphemous. Paul responds a little heatedly to that and they say: “how are you insulting the high priest?”. Basically the soldiers take him by force and take him to the barracks. I’m going to skip 1 verse, and circle back to it, but I’m going to start here, at verse 12.
In the morning the Jews joined in a conspiracy and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who joined in this conspiracy. They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the council must notify the tribune to bring him down to you, on the pretext that you want to make a more thorough examination of his case. And we are ready to do away with him before he arrives.”
Now the son of Paul’s sister heard about the ambush; so he went and gained entrance to the barracks and told Paul. Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the tribune, for he has something to report to him.” So he took him, brought him to the tribune, and said, “The prisoner Paul called me and asked me to bring this young man to you; he has something to tell you.” The tribune took him by the hand, drew him aside privately, and asked, “What is it that you have to report to me?” He answered, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire more thoroughly into his case. But do not be persuaded by them, for more than forty of their men are lying in ambush for him. They have bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink until they kill him. They are ready now and are waiting for your consent.” So the tribune dismissed the young man, ordering him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of this.”
Then he summoned two of the centurions and said, “Get ready to leave by nine o’clock tonight for Caesarea with two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen. Also provide mounts for Paul to ride, and take him safely to Felix the governor.” He wrote a letter to this effect:
“Claudius Lysias to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them, but when I had learned that he was a Roman citizen, I came with the guard and rescued him. Since I wanted to know the charge for which they accused him, I had him brought to their council. I found that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but was charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. When I was informed that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.”
So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him during the night to Antipatris. The next day they let the horsemen go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. When they came to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. On reading the letter, he asked what province he belonged to, and when he learned that he was from Cilicia, he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” Then he ordered that he be kept under guard in Herod’s headquarters.
Here ends the reading.
In this text, it’s complicated isn’t it? It’s overwhelming! Paul is doing what he thinks he is supposed to do in the temple. The Sadducees and the Pharisees are in a disagreement as they debate whether resurrection life is actually going to happen or not. There’s a great clamor and they debate whether or not they find offense with Paul. Paul is arrested. Paul could look at this scenario and think he’s in way over his head. Now he’s in the barracks, he’s locked up. Now he hears that there are forty men who aren’t going to eat until he’s dead. They are plotting to kill him. They have a strategy, they have a plan. It’s basically evolving right in front of him. There’s little time for Paul to have any defense. And yet, his nephew finds out about it, tells Paul, and Paul directs his nephew where to go, to convey the information to the person who can impact what happens next. But it’s complicated. It seems overwhelmingly difficult. He’s facing pretty bad odds. Is he really going to be rescued? Is he going to be taken care of? Is he going to be killed? He could wonder all of those things. And he might!
Except, that I skipped a verse. I did not read verse 11 to you. I started the story at verse 12. Verse 10 is when he’s arrested and taken to the barracks. Verse 12 is when the Jews have this conspiracy against him. But in verse 11, God talks to Paul. This is what happens in verse 11: “That night the Lord stood near him and said, ‘Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome”.
So without that verse, without verse 11, it can look pretty dismal and pretty bleak for Paul. Overwhelming, scary, frightening ,and it might seem super intimidating. But that verse 11, reminds Paul, and reminds us the readers, that God is in charge of the situation. God is unfolding a plan, the way God wants to. God wants Paul in Rome to testify and witness in Rome, and that’s part of God’s purposes. So even though and Paul’s eyes, it might seem bleak and like things are taking a turn for the worse… God let him know ahead of time: ‘this is My plan. I’m with you in it. I want you to testify and witness to me in Rome’.
I just want to emphasize that today. Because we don’t often have God standing next to us and saying audibly so that we can hear it: ‘Keep up your courage, this is My plan for you’. Or ‘This is My plan for the world’. Or ‘This is My plan for right now’. We often don’t have verse 11 ourselves, in our own individual daily lives.
But that does not mean that verse 11 isn’t present. That doesn’t mean that our lives are not unfolding the way God plans and wants and desires for us. So, I challenge you even in the midst of whatever may seem bleak or difficult or troublesome or complicated in front of you, to imagine God next to you and God’s words specifically to you: ‘keep up your courage’. Remember that God is in charge. Let God’s plans unfold before you and be actively engaged and a part of them for the mission of God in this world. Enjoy the day everybody. Bye-bye.