When God Makes Us Wait - Acts 23:12-35; 24 (Sermon)
WELCOMEHi, I am Pastor Rob, and it is a joy and honor to share with you today.
WAITINGHave you ever had this experience? My kids like ketchup. Some like it too much. They get it honestly. Do you remember that Heinz 57 commercial, with the tagline “good things, come to those who wait”? Do you remember that? I do. Is that true?
I remember as a teenager and twenty-something wanting to date. I didn’t want to be single. I wanted to get married. I think if you were one of my friends at the time, I was a broken record in my prayer requests. “God, help me be content. Please help me find a wife. Help me.” The little old ladies at my church were praying for me and offering a few suggestions. It worked, although I had to wait. The commercial came true for me.
What if the waiting was longer than you like? What if you had to suffer while you waited? What if what you are waiting for was not good or didn’t look good?
Today, we come back to the story of Acts, where we heard about a good thing coming to Paul as he waited. At this point in the story of the early church, Paul was in Roman custody in Jerusalem, awaiting trial. At night, Jesus appeared to him, saying, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”
The good news was that Paul was not going to be stuck in Jerusalem and die there. He was going to get to Rome. Jesus himself appeared from heaven to give this message. That is some good news.
It wasn’t the first time Paul heard from Jesus. The first time he encountered Jesus was through a voice in the sky. Jesus said to Paul, “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4) Saul, later renamed Paul, converted and became a missionary. God continued to speak to him in a personal way through the years. The Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, constrained Paul and impressed upon him his mission to bring the good news to the gentiles, the non-Jewish people, at a high personal cost. The Spirit confirmed this call through the body of Christ, the church, in Paul’s life. God told him he would suffer and be imprisoned and go to Rome. That was and is the context of the passage we are about to read. Jesus said Paul he would go to Rome.
I am going to invite J.B. up here now to read for us Acts 23, starting at verse 12. He will be reading from the English Standard Version of the Bible. The words will be projected behind me. We have a tradition of standing in honor of God’s Word. Would you stand now if you are able?
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.”
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.”
PRAYERThank you. Let’s pray. God, I need you now as I share your word. Help it to come off clearly. May it not be me that gets the glory, but you. May it not be we who are the center, but you. Help us to live for you, dear Lord. AMEN. You may be seated.
CONTEXTYou may remember the context. The book of Acts is the story of the early church. More importantly, the story of the Holy Spirit empowering the church to go to the ends of the earth to share the greatest things that we could wait for: Jesus and all that means.
TODAYToday, we pick up right after Paul had this supernatural encounter with Jesus. Imagine Jesus appearing to you today and telling you are going to Italy, the center of the world. Paul already had a sense that was where he wanted to go. He had written to the church in Rome,
I have longed for many years to come to you, 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. 25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. (Romans 15:23-26)
ASSASSINSPaul was going to Rome. Jesus confirmed it. That is good news. Then we get to the shock of verse 12.
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.
That was an assassins’ creed. These Jews were going to do everything in their power to stop Paul from getting to Rome and living another day. The text continues to describe the plot and plotters.
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.”
Wow! Why so many? I think they didn’t want to fail. Hundreds of trained Roman soldiers were guarding Paul. One fasting Jew might not survive or succeed, but forty could do the trick. There is strength in numbers. They wanted Paul dead. Will they succeed? This conflict between verses 11 and 12 drives the story forward and kickstarts my two points. Verses 12 through 32 convey the Plot, the Plan and Protection, and verses 33 through 35, and all of chapter 24 communicates the Governor, the Accuser, and Detention. Those are my two points if you are taking notes.
The Plot, the Plan, and Protection (23:12-32)
The Governor, the Accuser, and Detention (23:33-35; 24)
LEAKWhat happened after these Jews hatched their plot? Look at verse 16.
16 Now the son of Paul's sister heard of their ambush, so he went and entered the barracks and told Paul.
Did you know that Paul had a sister? Honestly, I have read Acts something like 60 times. This year was the first time I noticed that Paul had a sister.
HOW DOES THE NEPHEW LEARN OF THE PLOTNow, why does Paul’s nephew hear of that plot? We don’t know. However, we do know where Paul came from. He hailed from Tarsus, the region of Cilicia. Yet, Paul said in chapter 22, verse 3, that he was brought up in Jerusalem. His sister was likely too. Paul’s family was probably still in the area years after his relocation. At least his nephew was. Family tends to settle down together. We see that here in southwest Michigan and northern Indiana. Now, do you remember what Paul was like before he became a Christian? He was a hater. He hated Christianity. He oversaw the deportation, imprisonment, and death of Christians. People feared him. Do you think his family had similar sentiments? That is likely. How do families in persecuted countries deal with relatives who convert? Often they disown or destroy them. Maybe some of the 40 were related to Paul or thought the nephew was onboard. If they didn’t tell him, any one of these men or the court of elders whom they consulted could have leaked the information. We don’t know who had loose lips, but someone said something, and the word got out to a sympathetic nephew.
NOW WHAT - PAUL ORDERS THE ROMAN GUARD AROUNDNow what? What do you do when 40 starving men are going to kill your uncle or you secretly? This is when you would like to be a ninja or have some super sixth sense. Paul had neither. He was in his 50’s, had terrible eyesight, no weapons, and lots of enemies. Jump to verse 17 to hear what Paul did.
17 Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the tribune, for he has something to tell him.”
Paul told the guard to take his nephew and have him talk to his boss. Centurions typically were in charge of 100 soldiers, hence the name. Rome didn’t kowtow to anyone. Commanders command. How did the centurion receive Paul’s instruction? Look at verse 18.
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.”
The centurion followed Paul’s order. Why? How does a prisoner order a guard around? To understand this, you have to understand who Paul was. The Jews had accused him of a crime, but he was not convicted. He was innocent. But that was not the primary reason this centurion is responding this way. Paul was a Roman citizen, as we saw last week. If he had any other nationality, he would be dead.
THE POWER OF CITIZENSHIPAs American citizens, we can understand the power of nationality. Imagine being arrested in almost any country, as long as you didn’t break any laws, as an American. Your country will protect you. International politicians fear the wrath and curry the favor of America. Even closed countries are careful about how they handle us. Likely, they would kick you out before they cause an international scene. So, as an innocent Roman citizen, Paul could order a centurion to go to the tribune, and that is what he did.
MESSAGE FOR YOU TRIBUNEThe tribune was the next level manager overseeing several centurions. How did he react? Jump to verse 22.
22 So the tribune dismissed the young man, charging him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of these things.”
He dismissed the nephew and made a plan for Paul’s protection. Go to verse 23,
23 Then he called two of the centurions and said, “Get ready two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea at the third hour of the night. 24 Also provide mounts for Paul to ride and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” 25 And he wrote a letter to this effect:
26 “Claudius Lysias, to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. 27 This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen. 28 And desiring to know the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their council. 29 I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. 30 And when it was disclosed to me 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.”
The tribune believed Paul and sought to protect him. I don’t think the tribune was a believer. Yet, he heard this appeal for justice and responded on Paul’s behalf. Letter bodes well for Paul’s case. A good thing was coming to Paul as he waits.
470 MENLook at the plan he made to protect Paul.
23 “Get ready two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea at the third hour of the night.
The third hour is between 12 and 3 AM. The tribune secretly ordered some 470 men to travel 62 miles, which they made 35 miles on the first leg to protect Paul. To give you perspective, that is similar to three of these sanctuaries filled with burly men huffing it to Portage or South Haven to protect one suspect and then traveling almost the same distance the next day of their journey. In these verses, we have seen
The Plot, the Plan, and [now] Protection (23:12-32)
Nothing can stop God, not even 40 fasting assassins. God will stop at nothing to accomplish His purposes.
SECOND POINTWe arrive at verse 33, Cesarea, and the tension builds back up. Luke, the author of Acts, introduces us to
The Governor, the Accuser, and Detention(23:33-35; 24)
GOVERNORIn verse 35 the Governor said,
35... “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.”
What would they say? How would the case be decided? The tribune already in his letter said there were no grounds for punishment, imprisonment, or death. How is this going to end? After five days and 62 miles, the prosecution arrived.
THE CASETertullus, the spokesperson, began opening arguments flattering the Governor. Verse 2 of chapter 24,
“Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, 3 in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude.
Those smooth words prepared the hearer to accept the false accusations that would soon fly from his mouth. Tertullus continued,
4 But, to detain you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly.
The case was clear. Paul was guilty. They didn’t want to bother Rome. They didn’t want to belabor the Governor. I imagine him offering words like “Just hand him over. We will take care of this. Don’t worry about it or waste your time.”
NAME CALLINGTertullus continued,
5 For we have found this man a plague,
Paul was not a person. He was a disease to be eradicated. He was a scourge on society. He was evil incarnate. His comment was like a tweet on twitter about an enemy.
OFFENSEWhat was Paul’s crime? Tertullus explained
[he was] one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world
and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes
6 He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him.
According to Tertullus, he was a rioter, a ringleader, and a would-be profaner of the Temple had they not stopped him.
ARCHEOLOGYIn 1871 archeologists discovered in Jerusalem a rock with an inscription on it. It was 22 inches by 33 inches engraved with a warning.
“No foreigner is to go beyond the balustrade and the plaza of the temple zone whoever is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his death which will follow.”
That stone engraving existed around the time of Paul. Had Paul brought Trophimus, the Gentile, into the Temple, as he was initially rumored to have, the Jews would have grounds to execute him on the spot. Tertullus changed the alleged desecration of the Temple by Paul to an attempted. Tertullus’ complaints were mostly religious in nature, not civil. The only charge that may have concerned Felix was that Paul incited riots.
YOU HEAR HIMTertullus concluded,
8 By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him.”
I love the soft sell. Seek the truth yourself, Governor. Paul will demonstrate his guilt.
RESPONSE EQUALS A REBUTTALThe Governor gave the floor to Paul. Paul began,
“Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense."
Paul lacked the flattering flourish of speech of his opponent. He turned quickly to his defense with an attitude of cheer. Can you picture being cheerful in a moment like that? I would be fearful, not cheerful. That tells you how he looked at this. He didn’t fear the Governor or accusers. He trusted Jesus’s word to him the night before. Paul had a bigger perspective. He was joyful in his trial. He took courage as Jesus command. How would you respond? How do you respond when attacked or slandered? How do you wait under trial? Paul was cheerful. I want to be like that.
PROOF IN THE TIMINGPaul continued,
11 You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem,
Paul responded to his accuser’s argument with the specific length of time he came to Jerusalem. He purified himself for seven days and waited for his accusers for five days. Seven plus five is twelve. He was not in Jerusalem long enough to cause a rebellion. It was twelve days ago, that was all. Paul went on. Verse 12,
12 and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city. 13 Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me.
Paul was saying they have no proof. “I didn’t do it. I did nothing wrong.”
WHAT WAS PAUL DOING?That leaves the question for the Governor what was Paul doing? Paul answered that in verse 14 and following,
14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. 16 So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man. 17 Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. 18 While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult.
Paul said he came bringing money for the poor after being away for years and again was not causing a riot. They didn’t have a case. He did nothing wrong.
Paul went on,
While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult but some Jews from Asia—19 they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, should they have anything against me.
In verses 18 and 19, Paul was saying they needed a witness. Some witnesses were walking around 62 miles away. Why were they not here? This event had just happened days ago. Where were the witnesses? Tertullus was not a witness. He was a tool. The case should have been thrown out, and Paul released because they had no evidence. It was all hearsay and made up. They had no proof. It is his word verse theirs.
WHAT IS THE CHARGEPaul concluded,
20 Or else let these men themselves say what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council, 21 other than this one thing that I cried out while standing among them: ‘It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.’”
Paul had done nothing wrong. He was standing up for spiritual truth, and he wouldn’t back down. God had promised Paul he would go to Rome and to Rome, he would go. They could not kill him or convict him.
RESPONSE BY G.How did Governor Felix respond? Detention. He stated that he needed to talk to the tribune before making a ruling. Paul had to wait. Did Felix ever speak to the tribune? We don’t know. Not in chapter 24 or anywhere else in Acts. What was he waiting for? Verse 26 tells us what he was waiting for. Look at verse 26.
26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him
He wanted a bribe, not truth and justice. It was all about the money. So Paul waited. The Governor detained him.
During this detention, we read verse 24,
24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.
They asked him questions about his faith. Paul seized this opportunity to share Jesus. Paul grabbed ahold of this divine invitation to continue to share the good news that Jesus rose from the dead as he said. He conquered the grave rescued us from our sin. So the waiting became a platform to spread the good news under the protection of Rome. Paul could now preach to the highest men and women in the land.
How did Felix and his wife respond? Read verse 25.
25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present.
Felix was alarmed and sent Paul away. Paul figured out that Felix and Drusilla could use self-control, righteousness, and awareness of God. Historically, we know that this was Felix’s third marriage. He scandalously began it extricating Drusilla from her previous marriage. Judgment was coming on both. They would live only for so long. In fact, Rome would remove Felix from power in the next few months, and he would die in a year or two. Judgment was approaching. Paul was trying to prepare them to meet their maker. He had the gospel, the good thing, the greatest thing, God. We know he said more than those few words in those few visits. He spoke to their hearts. I am convinced he invited them to turn from their sin and trust in Christ as their only savior.
For some of you, you need to hear Paul’s message. God calls you and me to right living. Yet, we fail. We are not always self-controlled. We are selfish and self-centered and broken. So we must turn from our sins and trust in Jesus’s death on our behalf alone. Our wealth, jobs, a family cannot save us from coming judgment. God is our only hope. There is no promise you will live tomorrow. We have this moment now. We all are not righteous enough to get to God. We need Jesus’s perfect payment on the cross for our salvation. Felix was looking for a bribe for hope. He saw money as the ultimate thing. He missed the true riches Paul offered. Felix and Drusilla had a worldview that had no room for a holy God who sent his one and only son to pay the penalty for their sins and offer forgiveness and strength to say no to ungodliness and live rightly. That was the truth and riches they needed desperately. They were the ones really in prison 2,000 years ago facing judgment, not Paul. Where are you with God? What are you hoping for? Maybe you are alarmed because you are not where you should be. Turn to God, not away. Turn from sin and embrace Jesus’s forgiveness. You can do that in your heart right now. You can talk to God as you speak to anyone. You can tell him you are sorry for your sin, and you need his saving. And he promises to give you the good thing you need, himself. Forgiveness and grace and mercy are yours in believing Jesus died for you. Today could be the day of your salvation. You are not too young or too old to far gone for God to reach you. Turn to Him and believe. Felix and Drusilla did not.
Chapter 24 ends with Paul waiting and waiting and waiting for Jesus’s words to come true. He was stuck cheerfully in Cesarea. He would wait two more years the chapter says. Two years. That is 24 months, 104 weeks, 712 days, 17,000 hours in prison for something Jesus promised. Why would God allow him to wait in jail for so long? I think we see why when we hear about Paul’s witness. When would he get to Rome? You have to come back next week to find out.
Brothers and sisters, what are you waiting for? How do you wait for the good things God promised? What has God promised? God has promised that he went to heaven to prepare a place for you and me who believe. He promised communion with God, and one day the annihilation of sin, sickness, sorrow, and pain. There will be no more cancer or aids. There will be no more poverty or hunger. There will be no more abuse or shame. God will wipe away every tear. He will right all wrongs. He will be your God, and you will be His people. And you will spend eternity enjoying and worshipping our great Creator, God, Savior, and Friend. Good things are coming to those who believe. Do you believe it? Take courage.
We wait. God has given us a mission and platform for us to serve and speak on His behalf. He doesn’t promise receptivity to our testimony, but He does promise to be with us and guide us and lead us home to Him. Great things are coming to those who wait in faith.
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