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Acts 23:12-35: God's Mysterious Ways Print E-mail

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Frederick III, or Frederick the Wise, as history knows him, was a ruler in Germany for most of his life.  He was born in 1463 and died in 1525.  He was a Roman Catholic throughout his life (although there is debate about where he stood on spiritual things when he died).  He is remembered for a couple of reasons.  First, he was known for his collection of relics, or holy objects, believed to grant the owner freedom from years in Purgatory.  His inventory listed over 17,000 relics in 1518 (and perhaps grew to over 19,000).  It included objects like a thumb from St. Anne, a twig from the burning bush, and some hay from Jesusí manger.  Frederick was known for this great collection.  But second, he was also known as the German prince who saved Martin Lutherís life after the Diet of Worms, where he was condemned as a heretic.  Frederick arranged for Luther to be secretly kidnapped and taken to a castle for safety, where he continued to translate the Bible into the German language.  Yet, does it not seem strange that a ruler like Frederick would take an interest in Luther.  After all, Luther was known for his condemnation of relics in particular and the Roman Catholic Church in general.  So, why did Frederick protect him and support him?  Of course, many different answers could be given, but all of them point back to Godís providential care for Luther at this point in his life.  As He often does, God used mysterious and unexpected means to protect Luther from harm.

There are countless examples in the Bible of Godís mysterious providence.  We see it in his protection of men like Abraham and Joseph and Moses and David.  We also see it in the life of Paul.  One example we have already noted in our study of Acts came when Paul was in Ephesus.  Instead of him trying to protect his fellow missionaries from the rioting crowds, the Lord used the town clerk to free the men (19:21-41).  We see another example in our passage this morning.  Jesus had promised Paul that he would be a witness to the resurrection in Rome.  Yet, the very next verses tell us of a plot to take Paulís life.  Look at verses 12-15. 

These guys were serious about killing Paul.  They took a vow to not eat until he was dead.  In order to pull off their plan, they recruited help from the chief priests and elders.  If they could just persuade the tribune to bring Paul back to the Council, then they would kill him on the way.  Their plan appeared to be a serious threat to Paulís life.  Yet, one of my commentators notes: ďBut even the most careful and cunning of human plans cannot succeed if God opposes them.  No weapon forged against him will prevail (Isaiah 54:17).Ē 1  The Lord had promised to protect Paul and bring him to Rome.  So, how do we see his providential protection in this passage.

The nephew discovers the plot

Luke introduces an unexpected character in verse 16.  Look at that verse with me.  The Bible does not tell us much about Paulís family and this is the only place where his nephew is mentioned.  So who is this person and how did he hear about the ambush that was a threat to Paul?  The Bible does not tell us.  Luke does seem to indicate that the boy is young but outside of that we do not know how he came to be aware of the plot.  All we are told is that he was Paulís nephew and when he found out about the plot he went to Paul to warn him.  In this, we see Godís hand of protection in the life of Paul.

The tribune listens to the young man

So how does Paul respond to what his nephew tells him?  Look at verse 17.  When Paul hears of the plot he sends the boy to the tribune.  Now, why would Paul do that?  After all, the Lord told him that he would make it to Rome, so why did Paul care about some threat from the Jews?  Here is an important about Godís sovereignty and manís responsibility.  Did the Lord promise Paul that he would make it to Rome?  Did that mean that the plot of the Jews would fail?  Yes and yes.  Yet, we do not know the means that God will use to preserve and protect and deliver Paul to Rome. 

Paul believed in Godís sovereignty and in His sovereign plan for his life, but that did not mean that he was just going to sit around and wait for the Jews to attack him.  Why?  Because Paul knew that the Lord uses means to deliver his people and in this case He is using Paulís nephew.  Believing that God has a sovereign plan for our lives does not mean that we just sit around and do nothing.  No, because we believe that God uses means, we act on our responsibility and entrust our lives to our sovereign God.  This is what Paul does.

So how does the tribune respond?  Look at verses 18-22.  The tribune listens to the young man.  Now that might not seem like a big deal, but why does the tribune do this?  From what we can tell, the nephew is fairly young and obviously kin with Paul.  So why does the tribune take such drastic action based on what this kid says?  The Bible does not tell us.  Granted, we can make some guesses.  Perhaps the tribune feared letting something bad happen to Paul who was a Roman citizen.  Perhaps he was put out with the Jews and their unfounded attacks on Paul.  Perhaps he just wanted to be done with the whole thing.  For whatever reason, he listened to the nephew and acted upon what he told him.  Again, we see Godís hand of providence in the actions of the tribune.  So then, what does he decide to do with Paul and this plot?

The tribune delivers Paul to Felix

We see the tribunes plan to save Paul in verses 23-24.  Look at those with me.  The tribune decides to send Paul to Caesarea where he will appear before Felix the governor.  In order to do this safely, he orders a number of soldiers to ride with Paul for protection.  The Jews will not be able get to Paul through these men (and would be foolish to even try).  The tribune also sends a letter to Felix.  Look at verses 25-30.  The tribune tells Felix about what has happened concerning Paul.  Yet, some of his statements are interesting. 

First, notice when he claims to have discovered that Paul was a Roman citizen.  He tells Felix that he rescued Paul from the Jews in the Temple because he learned that Paul was a Roman citizen.  Is that true?  Actually, no.  He did not learn about Paulís Roman citizenship until after he had ordered to have him flogged.  Felix conveniently left that detail out. 

Second, notice the tribuneís judgment concerning the Jewsí accusations: I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment.  Did the tribune think that Paul was guilty of illegal activity?  No, he did not.  This is significant for Luke.  He is showing his readers again that Christianity was not guilty of breaking the Roman law, which was true of Paulís Savior too.  When Jesus was on trial, it is plain that He is not guilty of the charges brought against Him.  Yet, Pilate gave in to the will of the people and had Him crucified anyway.  As for the tribune, I think we can conclude that even though he was self-centered, the Lord still used him to save Paulís life on four different occasions.

Felix decides to give Paul a hearing

But Felix was a different Roman ruler.  He had risen to power by having the support of the right people in the right places.  So how would he respond to Paul?  We will be looking at Paulís appearance to him in the weeks ahead, but we see how he first received him in verses 31-35.  Look at those with me.  Felix receives Paul well.  He asks him the necessary question about where he was from to be sure that the matter was within his jurisdiction.  When he found out that it was, he agreed to give Paul a hearing when the accusers arrived from Jerusalem.  Again, here is a man who did not have that great of reputation as a leader, but the Lord used him to provide protection for Paul and to continue his journey to Rome.  We will look at Paulís hearing before Felix next week.


So then, we see Godís mysterious ways at work in this passage.  In fact, just think about the people that God used to protect Paul.  First, the Lord used Paulís nephew.  We now very little about this boy, but Luke does seem to indicate that he was young.  Thus, it is somewhat surprising that the tribune listens to such a young person, but he does.  Second, the Lord used the tribune.  Again, this man is a Roman, the fierce enemy of the Jews in the first century.  Yet, the Lord used him to save Paulís life on four different occasions.  Finally, the Lord used Felix to get Paul out of Jerusalem and to Caesarea, where he would remain for several years.  None of these people would be the ones that we might expect God to use in getting Paul to Rome.  But God works in mysterious ways.  He accomplishes His Sovereign purposes in His Sovereign way.

One other story of the Bible that bears this out is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  When Jesus was born, how did the Lord get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem?  He did this through Caesar Augustus and the registration that he ordered.  How was Jesus betrayed into the hands of sinners?  Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, sold the information needed for thirty pieces of silver.  And how did Jesus end up being crucified?  Pilate gave him over to be crucified, even though he found no guilt in Him.  We see in these events the providential hand of God.  It was His plan to have Jesus born in Bethlehem, betrayed by Judas, and crucified on a cross.  These men were responsible for their actions, but the Lord used their sinful intentions to provide a Sacrifice for our sins at the cross.  Paul was on trial for his belief that Jesus really did pay for our sins in this way and really was raised from the dead.

So what do we do with this?  How does this apply to our lives?  Let me close with just a couple of thoughts.  First, believing in Godís sovereignty, in His mysterious ways, does not mean that we just sit around and wait for Him to act.  Yes, we are to be patient at times, but we are not to be inactive in our patience.  Paul knew he was going to Rome because Jesus had told him.  But that did not keep him from sending his nephew to the tribune to warn him about the plot against his own life.  God uses means to accomplish His purposes.  Thus, we should act in obedience to Him at all times.  Second, as we act in obedience to God, we should trust that He will indeed keep all of His promises.  We need to especially believe this when we cannot see the plan.  It will be four years before Paul makes it to Rome.  Four years of imprisonment and trials and travels.  Where did Paul find encouragement during those years?  I am sure he found it in the promises of God.  He believed in a God that keeps all His promises, so he endured.  What about you?  If you are in Christ, then God has promised to conform you into the image of His Son and to send Him back for His Bride?  Do you believe He will keep those promises?  I pray that we will.  Amen. 

1 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts TBST (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), p. 355.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Sunday, 09 November 2014 )

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