Scripture

Acts 23:23-35

23 Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen[a] to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. 24 Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.”

25 He wrote a letter as follows:

26 Claudius Lysias,

To His Excellency, Governor Felix:

Greetings.

27 This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. 28 I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. 29 I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment.30 When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.

31 So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. 32 The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. 33 When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him.34 The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will hear your case when your accusers get here.” Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.

Reflection

Earlier this week, in Acts 23:11, Paul heard from the Lord in a vision, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” This had to provide comfort to Paul as he endured mobs, plots against his life, and imprisonment. But comforting words only go so far when your life is in danger. In the rest of Chapter 23, we see the many ways God provided protection for Paul, not through some divine miraculous intervention, but through the response of everyday people.

It began with Paul’s nephew who overheard the ambush plot. He reported it to Paul, who then sent him with his message up the chain of command through a centurion to the commander. Since Paul's imprisonment, like most in ancient times, was not a punishment but a custody until his case could be determined, his nephew's access to him was not unusual. That Paul could call for a centurion to take the young man to the tribune, and that the "command" would be obeyed, reflects Paul’s status as a Roman citizen.

As the centurion reported to the commander, he gave Paul a title that will become both a mark of persecution and a badge of honor. For the remainder of Acts, Paul is consistently "Paul, the prisoner.” For freedom-loving ancients to identify with someone in prison, deprived of liberty because of alleged or proven wrongdoing, could be a matter of shame, but this tagline is turned into a title of honor when it is later lengthened to say, "Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus" or "prisoner for the Lord.”

Discreetly, the commander interrogated the nephew and took the plot seriously. He ordered a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to make certain Paul arrived in Caesarea safely. The thirty-five-mile nighttime leg of Paul's transfer proceeded without incident.

In a recent sermon, Pastor David said, “We often pray for God to do what God sends us to do.” Here we have an example of God’s work in protecting Paul, through the courageous nephew, the determined apostle, the compliant centurion and the discerning tribune. They all played a part in seeing that the plot to attack Paul was foiled. Once again, Paul’s life is spared. Were all of these participants following God in their actions? I don't know if they were consciously doing so or not, but I know God used them to protect Paul. God does most of his work, if not all, through people. Sometimes it is through people completely sold out to God and making every effort to follow God’s ways. Other times it is through the everyday actions of people who may or may not know their part in the bigger scheme of things. This doesn't give us an excuse to do whatever we want because God will make it all work out regardless. Rather it gives purpose to each of our actions, thoughts, words and efforts. You can have little impact or you can have great impact. Pray that God will use you every day toward his purposes, not your own. 

Prayer

Dear God, Give me the wisdom to take steps toward you and your plans for me. Give me insight when I need to change paths, and strength to endure hardships along the way. Share your vision with me and let me join you in your work. I offer all I am and all I have to you for your purposes. I know you are with me every step of the way, even if it is not the right step. Thank you for your daily grace and mercy, Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.