Three Days of Danger
Living under threat–when under stress, the struggle is not yours to fix
Danger, risk, threat, survival–what is it like to live under the threat of constant danger? Because I love the ocean, I’ve considered what I must do if I became a castaway? Avoid the coral reefs, evaluate my resources, stay in a cave above waterline, and remain in shade during the day. Camp on the windward side of the island to lessen the assault of insects. Catch rain any way you can, don’t camp under coconut trees, dig a beach-well under the sand for water, make use of coconuts, use fire for signals, lay out a large SOS on the island. Build fishing spears, nets and fish traps.
You all know God promises all Christians they will face danger–and now survival when threatened is something each Christian must deal with, right? Read aloud 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” As believers in the USA, it is no longer a stretch to have to prepare you for persecution. And it is not a fantasy to warn families and prepare you as a church to face hardship, threat, difficulties and danger.
In my short life, because I am born again, because of the truth of God’s Word, I’ve been threatened with death and I have been threatened with a lawsuit. Soon we may face fines for our commitment to obey the Word of God in gathering for worship, or to proclaim the Gospel that Christ alone exclusively saves, or to teach the Scripture which clearly declares homosexuality is sin, transgenderism is an aberration to God’s design, and abortion is murder.
As we face these uncertain days, Luke shows us in the book of Acts what it is like to live under danger. Some of you are under threat, and when under stress (from danger) today’s passage, focusing on the apostle Paul (in Acts 23), will prove to you that the struggle is not yours to fix. Each chapter of Acts displays the incredible progress of the Gospel and growth of the Church. But it also demonstrates the increase of opposition from the Jews. It began with their rejection and execution of their long-awaited Messiah, Jesus. Then as the Church was born in Acts 2, they mocked the Gospel message of forgiveness.
From there, the Jewish authorities opposed the apostles preaching. The leaders applied political pressure, but the apostles said, “We must obey God rather than men.” They arrested them (Acts 5), they beat them, they stoned Stephen (Acts 7), they persecuted them (Acts 8), they executed James in Acts 12. After Paul is dramatically converted and sent out to minister, the Jews continued to oppose Paul and his teaching of salvation in Christ in Iconium, Lystra, Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth, Ephesus. And now that he has been arrested in Acts 21, now they will do everything they can to kill Paul.
As chapter 23 opens, Paul has already been attacked in the Temple and savagely beaten by a Jewish mob–only the intervention of Roman soldiers saved his life. The Roman commander, Claudius Lysias, tried unsuccessfully to discover what Paul had actually done, so he allowed Paul to speak to the angry crowd from the steps of the Antonia Fort overlooking the Temple. When Paul mentions his God-given ministry to the Gentiles, a new riot breaks out–so Lysias decides to interrogate Paul by scourging, which is to whip his flesh, tearing his skin off. Paul declares he is a Roman citizen, so Lysias doesn’t scourge, since it is illegal for a Roman citizen to be interrogated by scourging.
This brings us to the last verse of chapter 22 and an exposition of chapter 23 to discover what it is like to live under danger. Here Paul faces three days where the Jews are actively trying to kill him. Put yourself in his situation.
Day One–Paul will face the members of the Sanhedrin and begin to address them. But after one sentence, the high priest orders Paul struck on the mouth. Paul assesses their unwillingness to listen, so he tries to talk about Christ by introducing the resurrection, which then creates a political controversy. Paul is almost torn to pieces and only the Roman commander can rescue him. The Lord Jesus actually visits Paul to encourage him in the evening of day one.
Day Two–the Jews’ plot to kill Paul with assassins. Paul’s nephew hears about the plot and reports it to the commander, who then plans a secret trip to the coast in order to rescue Paul. The Commander writes a letter to Governor Felix and sends the soldiers on their way. The foot soldiers go only halfway, then return to Jerusalem while the cavalry travels all the way to Caesarea with Paul.
Day Three–when they arrive, the officers deliver the letter and Paul to Felix, who places Paul under guard in Herod’s palace, awaiting more trials and threats. Let’s experience what life is like living under three days of danger with Paul.
DAY ONE Verses 1 to 11
Look at . . .
First The scrapping SITUATION Verse 30 The Confrontation
Thoroughly frustrated and perplexed about how to proceed with Paul, Lysias the Roman commander decided to summon the Sanhedrin. Acts 22:30a, “But on the next day.” On day one, “wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews, he released him [Paul].” Commander Lysias most likely released Paul from his chains, since Paul was a Roman.
The next day, (day one), the guard brought Paul to an official meeting of the Jewish council. This group had previously tried Peter, John, the twelve apostles, Stephen and our Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 22:30b, “Lysias ordered the chief priests and all the Council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them.” Somewhere outside Fort Antonia, this meeting with the Jewish leaders goes bad from the start.
Second The sneaky SET-UP Verses 1 to 5 The Conflict
Verse 1a, “Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, ‘Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.’” Don’t forget, Paul had been a respected Pharisee–he is at home at this meeting. Luke says in verse 1, “he looked intently,” meaning to fix one’s eyes on, or to stare. He is focused on them. It might be his poor eyesight. But most likely courageous and bold, Paul immediately spoke in his own defense, reminding everyone right up front–though he had not lived a perfect life, his conscious is clear. There is no public sin he has to confess or intentional hidden habit which mars his character.
Paul’s statement maddens the High Priest, who orders a minion to hit Paul on the mouth in verse 2. Paul is not aware that the man who ordered the slap is the High Priest, so Paul rebukes the High Priest, since he has violated the Old Testament Law in verse 3. In verse 4, they remind Paul–that guy you rebuked is the High Priest. And in verse 5 Paul tells everyone he didn’t know and apologizes–not the start of a good day.
But don’t you love the fact that Paul can declare he has a good conscience? You and I need to understand the conscience in order to understand events happening today. Saying he has a good conscience does not mean all his actions have always been right, but that Paul felt no guilt for anything he had done, in spite of the Sanhedrin’s accusations. The conscience does not determine whether actions are morally right or wrong. But the conscience is the faculty that passes moral judgment on your actions. The conscience is neither the voice of God, nor is it infallible.
A conscience un-informed by biblical truth will not necessarily pass accurate judgments. It is possible for the conscience to be damaged, dysfunctional, even destroyed. The Bible speaks of a weak conscience, a wounded conscience, a defiled conscience, an evil conscience, and worst of all, a seared conscience–one so covered with scar tissue from habitual sin that it no longer responds to the proddings of divine truth.
God wants you to have a clean conscience–the Bible commends a good conscience, a blameless conscience and a clear conscience. Our Lord loves a clean conscience. A spiritually healthy conscience results from the forgiveness of sin based on the atoning work of Christ. Christians’ consciences, informed by the standards of God’s Word, are able to accurately assess their actions. All Christians need to strengthen their consciences by constantly exposing them to the truths of Scripture. Paul had such a rightly informed conscience, and it was not accusing him. Right off the bat, Paul realizes this meeting is a set-up. They are not going to listen to Paul or hear the Gospel. This is a sneaky set-up and . . .
Third The slick SLIP Verses 6 to 10 The corruption
Verses 6 to 8, “But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, ‘Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!’ 7As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.”
Paul uses a political tactic, seeking to divide the council and set the conservative Pharisees against the liberal Sadducees, but does so to share the Gospel. Think about what has already happened to Paul. He had been assaulted by the mob, threatened with scourging by the Romans, now bullied by the High Priest. It’s obvious there was no chance of receiving a fair trial in a court headed by this corrupt High Priest–and it was obvious to Paul he would not be able to share the good news of salvation in Christ. So he comes up with another strategy to introduce truth.
It’s difficult to believe the great apostle to the Gentiles, the minister of the grace of God, would shout, “I am a Pharisee!” He would later call his Pharisaical life “garbage”. Paul states the real issue was the hope of the resurrection. Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead and saw it as the great hope of Israel. Paul believed he might be able to convert some of the Pharisees in the council if he appealed to a discussion on the resurrection–even though verse 8, the Sadducees who were present heartily denied the whole idea of resurrection.
You know this tension today–liberals against conservatives, Republicans against Democrats, agnostics against fundamentalists, the left against the right. The Pharisees took Paul’s part and demanded his acquittal. The legal expert scribes threw the weight of their learning behind Paul. But the Sadducees were infuriated by Paul’s ploy and quickly the shouting and disorder turned violent. The gulf between them back then was as deep as it is now–and as the rancor between these two groups grew in venom, Paul realized he’d have no voice for Christ.
Paul brought the resurrection up to proclaim the Gospel, but the argument that followed didn’t go well and put his life in danger. Verses 9 and 10, “And there occurred a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, ‘We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?’ 10And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.” Captain Lysias had to rescue Paul again and the entire situation looked hopeless. But that night Paul received some great encouragement–Paul knew he’d go to Rome.
Fourth The sensitive SOVEREIGN Verse 11 The consoling Christ
For his own safety, the Romans kept Paul confined in the barracks of Fort Antonia. Alone in his cell, the apostle was physically battered, most likely discouraged, and uncertain of his future. But on the very night following this abortive hearing before the Sanhedrin, the Lord stood at his side. Verse 11, “But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said . . .” And what did the Lord say? He actually didn’t say–He commanded. This is the first command in this section of Scripture and it stands out as a massive encouragement.
“Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.” The Lord blesses Paul with four things. When you’re under threat, when your stress level is the highest, when you are afraid for your life or the life of your children, when you are concerned our society has gone crazy and you don’t know what to do–the Lord will give you the same four challenges. Take courage, be comforted, be commended, and pursue your charge. In other words, 1) depend on the Spirit of God to experience divine courage, 2) be comforted by knowing that God is in control and loves you, 3) recall what He has done in and through you, and 4) get after the work He’s called you to do until He takes you home . . . repeat!
As God had before in times of need, the Lord appeared in person to His apostle. The Lord Jesus began ministering to Paul by commanding him to take courage. True courage comes from a life dependent upon the Spirit of God. You know 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” God will graciously comfort His downcast servants–so much so, Scripture calls Christ “the God of all comfort.” We are courageous when we know God is in control of our life and our death, and continually loves us, no matter what is happening–even unjust beatings.
The Lord also commended Paul, asking him to recall what He had already accomplished in his life in Jerusalem. Paul had not failed, he had been mightily used in Jerusalem. And remembering what God has done in the past, and how he has answered prayers and provided in great ways and used you in ministry is how you keep going when things look bleak. God reminds Paul he had successfully completed the task given him in Jerusalem.
Finally, the Lord gave Paul hope, promising him his life would not end in Jerusalem, but that He’d grant his desire to witness in Rome also. Paul expressed that very desire in Romans. That gracious promise sustained Paul during the many trials that faced him over the next 4 to 5 years of trials and moderate incarceration. The Greek verb for courage means to be marked by confidence–to be resolute in the face of danger. Like Matthew 14:26 and 27, “When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’ ”
Courage comes from confidence in God’s control, power, wisdom and love. Courage comes from knowing your death is totally in God’s hands. Courage comes from knowing you’re invincible until it’s God’s chosen time for you to go home. Courage comes from dependence upon the Spirit of God, living by the promises of God. Courage comes from the reminder of Jesus–you do not need to be afraid, because He has a perfect plan that will be accomplished.
Jesus says to Paul, “For as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.” Paul was encouraged to continue under threat of his life. The next 4 to 5 years would be filled with difficulties, delays, and outright dangers, but Paul would remain triumphant over them all. Nothing could prevent him now from getting to Rome.
Christian, live every day knowing your salvation is secure. John 10:28, “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” You cannot lose what the almighty, all powerful God has given. If it was you who earned it, you can lose it. If it was God who gives it, you can’t lose it.
Christian, live every day knowing your sanctification is secure. Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” The Lord will finish His work in and through your life. No matter what health issue, relational issue, financial issue, or struggle you have—Christian, live each day filled with the Spirit, living by and relying on God’s promises. When under stress (from danger) the struggle is not yours to fix. This does not keep Paul out of danger. This was merely day one.
DAY TWO Verses 12 to 31
In verses 12 and following, the Jews develop an intricate plot to murder Paul.
First The plot DEVELOPED Verses 12 to 15
Verses 12 to 15, “When it was day [day two] the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. 13There were more than forty who formed this plot. 14They came to the chief priests and the elders and said, ‘We have bound ourselves under a solemn oath to taste nothing until we have killed Paul. 15Now therefore, you and the Council notify the commander to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case by a more thorough investigation; and we for our part are ready to slay him before he comes near the place.’ ”
This just demonstrates how morally sick the Jewish nation was. Think about it–if you can get forty men to conspire to murder a godly Jew in the name of religion, with the willingness of the chief priests and elders to be party to first degree murder–just like they did when they developed a plot to murder Jesus . . . this shows you where Jerusalem and Israel were as a culture, much like today.
They needed over forty men to take on the Romans who would be guarding Paul. Yet God is in control and accomplishing His plan, while the leaders plot to kill. Concerning Christ, Acts 2:23 says, “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” God is in control here as well and would get His messenger Paul to Rome, in spite of the opposition of murderous people and Satan, the father of all murderers himself. How would God do it?
Second The plot DISCOVERED Verses 16 to 22
Read verse 16, “But the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, and he came and entered the barracks and told Paul.” Luke follows with the details of how the plot was discovered. We know nothing about Paul’s sister or his nephew–we’re not even sure they were believers. But God used them to foil the conspiracy and get Paul away from dangerous Jerusalem.
We must certainly admire the honesty and integrity of that Roman captain, Lysias. He could have scorned the boy’s message or listened to the lies of the Jews. But instead, he did his job faithfully. Often God’s servants are helped and protected by unbelievers, who are honest and faithful. Paul had now been delivered into the hands of the Gentiles, just as His Lord was in Jerusalem years before.
Third The plot DEFEATED Verses 23 to 31
Read verses 23 and 24, “And he called to him two of the centurions and said, ‘Get two hundred soldiers ready by the third hour of the night to proceed to Caesarea, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen.’ 24They were also to provide mounts to put Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the governor.”
In verses 25 and following, the captain Claudius Lysias wrote a letter to Felix. Lysias tells how he rescued Paul from the Jews because the apostle was a Roman citizen. Lysias further states the issue was one of Jewish law and not Roman law, and Lysias did not feel Paul was worthy of arrest or death. But in order to keep Paul safe, Commander Claudius sent Paul to Felix for trial. When under stress (from danger), the struggle is not yours to fix.
Can you picture this procession? Lysias writes a letter to Governor Felix, then sends the soldiers on their way. The foot soldiers go only halfway, then return to Jerusalem, while the cavalry travels all the way to Caesarea with Paul. When they arrive, the officers deliver the letter and Paul to Felix, who places Paul under guard in Herod’s palace. Paul was carried safely to Caesarea, where he’d face his Jewish accusers under Felix the governor.
Don’t you wonder how hungry and thirsty the forty assassins were before they broke their vow? Do you see God’s providence in all of this? God uses Paul as the missionary to the Gentiles. His Roman citizenship gave him the protection of the Roman laws and army, and it also gave him opportunities to witness to the Gentiles.
Your background, your skills, your schooling, your upbringing, your skills, your birthplace, and your citizenship are all God preparing you for His ministry, through you, for His glory. You might have been born in Hemet to reach those in Hemet. Paul has made it to Caesarea, but his troubles are not over.
DAY THREE Verses 32 to 35
The coming trials ahead. Read verses 32 to 35, “But the next day [day three], leaving the horsemen to go on with him, they returned to the barracks. 33When these had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. 34When he had read it, he asked from what province he was, and when he learned that he was from Cilicia, [listen to the next verse] 35he said, ‘I will give you a hearing after your accusers arrive also,’ giving orders for him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.”
More troubles to come, more accusations, more controversy–Antonius Felix had been appointed procurator of Judea in AD 52. He governed the country with cruelty and treachery for seven years. He was a man of servile origins, owing his high rank to the influence of his family. As Paul arrived back in Caesarea, he stayed for two years as a prisoner. His case was in limbo and his patience tested to the utmost.
His detention was lenient, and he could communicate with his friends. He hoped the saints at Caesarea were more hospitable than those at Jerusalem. We don’t know–we can only see this caged lion impatiently pacing back and forth, wondering where this would all lead. And for the answer to that, come back next week. When under stress (from danger), the struggle is not yours to fix.
1 Danger causes Stress, Fear and COMPLICATIONS
Worry leads to bad health, bad behavior, bad decisions, and a poor witness. Proverbs 29:25, “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.” And Proverbs 28:1, “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” You must not live in fear–this is how the media is controlling society. You must trust the Lord, be objective and depend on God’s Word and the Spirit.
2 Danger often leads to fleeing or fixing, but needs DEPENDING and focusing
Often we want to run away to Texas or Idaho, or try to fix the issue. But what God wants is for you to depend on Him and fix your eyes on Him. First Peter 5:7, “Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”
3 Danger is under the control of your loving, wise and all-powerful FATHER
Put your efforts into living courageous
1) depend on the Spirit of God to experience divine courage
2) be comforted by knowing that God is in control and loves you and is all-wise
3) recall what He has done in and through you (remember those times), and
4) get after the work he’s called you to do until He takes you home
Living under threat demands you surrender to Christ to become His child or cling to Christ and trust His wisdom. If you are a non-Christian, then 2 Corinthians 4:4 describes you—“In whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” If you are a Christian, then Psalm 115:11 describes you—”You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield.” Let’s pray.