I just finished a blog post titled, “The Long and Winding Road,” on my new blog site when I realized I wasn’t done with that particular topic. I finished what I had on that blog as it fit in with the theme for that blog, but there is more to that story, and the rest of it will fit in nicely on this blog.
I found the following article published in 2014 titled, “God on the Move: The Long and Winding Road–Acts 23,” by Randall D. Smith, Ph.D., Professor/Director of Great Commission Bible Institute, Director of Christian Travel Study Abroad, Ltd., and teaching pastor at Grace Church of Sebring, on his teaching blog titled, “The Wandering Shepherd.” I didn’t run into his article until I was just about finished with my previous blog post (mentioned above), but as I looked it over, I knew I wanted to continue on with the theme of “the long and winding road” that I started on my earlier post , so this is a continuation of my blog post titled, “The Long and Winding Road.”
Dr. Smith takes the theme of “The Long and Winding Road” as it relates to the Apostle Paul’s life, specifically in Acts 23, in his article,“God on the Move: The Long and Winding Road–Acts 23.” For a brief outline on the background of Paul you can click on this link. After Paul’s conversation on the Damascus Road to Jesus Christ, for the remainder of his life (approximately three decades) he went on four missionary journeys (click on this link for info on those journeys). It was after Paul’s third missionary journey that he was imprisoned and bound for Rome. As Acts 23 opens up, he is standing before the Sanhedrin addressing them. Here is the text from Acts 23:
Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.”At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”
Those who were standing near Paul said, “How dare you insult God’s high priest!”
Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’”
Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.)
There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.
The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
The Plot to Kill Paul
The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot. They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.”
But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.
Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.” So he took him to the commander.
The centurion said, “Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.”
The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, “What is it you want to tell me?”
He said: “Some Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.”
The commander dismissed the young man with this warning: “Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.”
Paul Transferred to Caesarea
Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.”
He wrote a letter as follows:
To His Excellency, Governor Felix:
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. I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. 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. 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.
So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, 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.
As we can see, Paul is in a very dire situation. On the one hand, the Lord has made it clear to Paul that he would make it to Rome to testify about him (Jesus Christ), yet on the other hand, many were trying to kill him before he ever gets that far.
In this chapter, Dr. Smith gives us a key principle which is this–“God’s will for us is not only about us–it also fits into His larger plan.” He goes on to state:
Christians need humility when looking at the experiences of their life. We often don’t know where things are going, even though we know where all things will end. The Bible offers us the ultimate destination to world history, and to our own final state – but the path to get there is not always clear. We need to be careful not to oversell our understanding of events as they come across our path….
The Apostle Paul faced a mob but was assured by Jesus that he was Rome bound. The encounter with Jesus–like the one long before at Corinth that kept him ministering during the second mission journey–settled Paul. He would not die at the hands of the Sanhedrin. His time was not near; some of his work for the Kingdom was still incomplete. At the same time, the path Jesus took him on was neither straight nor easy. Why not? The answer lies in the truth that God was doing other things – He was also providing solutions to other problems and addressing other needs while dealing with Paul in his series of personal defenses of his faith, imprisonments and delays to be heard.
In Acts 23, Paul stood to defend himself before what had to be considered, from the Jewish perspective, the premiere educational and religious institution of his day. These were ostensibly the leaders of God’s people, yet nothing was as it seemed that day – and it often isn’t in our journey, either. God was at work staging the events – and Paul had to learn to lean on God’s provision – no matter how “long and winding” the road.
Look at how things were so different than they appeared to be. What looked like a setback in Paul’s arrest was actually God providing a paid bodyguard service for him to deliver a message to the Jewish leadership (Acts 23:1-10).
At this stage in the story, Paul had been “rescued” by Roman guards out of a mob scene at the Temple, taken to the garrison building, and held overnight as much for his own protection as to stop any rioting in the city. In the morning, the Apostle was walked under guard to the Sanhedrin chamber…. We “enter the scene” with Paul on a witness dais, while the assembly of leaders was gathering in a less formal array – for not everyone had their full regalia on, signifying their various positions (read their exchange in verses 1-5)….
There are two important thoughts I want to highlight about this brief exchange. First, we must be careful to be humble even when what we are saying is right, and what they are saying is wrong. Many believers spend time learning an apologetic of the faith, and become emboldened to speak truth in difficult circumstances – that is a good thing. At the same time, we who spend so much time around other believers need to be very careful about how we sound, and how we react in particular, to the world. The best evidences are lost in discourteous behavior.
…Let me raise a specific caution flag about how you and I answer when being “struck in the face”. The unanticipated response, and especially the cruel one can drive us to overreact, and we must understand that is ever a temptation. If we do step out of line, we should be humble and accept correction. Meekness is “power under control” – and Jesus said the meek are blessed. In fact, in all of the Gospel accounts, the only self-description of His character Jesus offered was that wor–”I am ‘meek’ and lowly of heart.”
A second truth can be gleaned from the short exchange. We need to learn that God isn’t always doing what we think He is! Think of it! There is certainly irony in the “Apostle to the Gentiles” getting a Roman escort to the Sanhedrin that was currently accusing him of taking a Gentile into the holy precinct of the Temple. This account drips with irony! They had Gentiles in their chambers, but Paul never did. Yet they accused him!
[Now read verses 6-10] God sent Paul with a specific message to give to the Sanhedrin leadership – and it was successfully delivered. The message was that Jesus’ resurrection was their key offense, but not all Jews disagreed with it. That belief didn’t put Paul and other Messianic believers “outside” of Judaism – so they needed to be careful about tossing them all away as though they were not faithful Jews. Some who were not believers began to defend Paul, and the meeting escalated. The Roman commander stepped in and “pulled the plug” on the meeting.
Yet that is not the only thing that was not as it appeared… Paul was whisked away to a quiet place, his heart pumping fast from the whole highly-charged incident. Eventually, he settled down and the day passed by. Follow Paul down the hall to a place to rest, and Luke recorded what happened next… What looked like an arrest was actually a guarded and secure meeting place to meet with God (read verse 11).
The Roman tax sesterces provided a bed in seclusion for Paul to have a meeting with Jesus. That simple verse reminds me of how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego got a private meeting hall provided by Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3. Now it’s true, the meeting hall looked like a fiery furnace – but nevertheless God provided a place at government expense to meet the Savior and have a chat. Here God did it again!
What looked like a discouraging abandonment by family and friends was actually the stage for an encouraging opportunity to show hidden support (read verses 12-15). We know much about Paul and his companions, but little about his extended family. Interestingly enough, in this one instance we see one of his nephews saving Paul. The plot had to bother him a bit, but after all – this wasn’t exactly new to him. He had been dodging men who wanted his head for years! The encouragement was that God used his family – however distant to him in belief at the time – to send a message of rescue. Yet, there is more…
What looked like a threat to his life was actually a select invitation to an otherwise “closed” palace (read Acts 23:17-24). Paul eventually had to stand before Roman authorities – so this back story bode well for Paul. It was clear, at least in the report of the commander, that Paul was being “set up” and the Roman guards were preventing an injustice. Seeing this, the commander responded (read verse 23).
Paul is staying in style and traveling in the most secure fashion he has ever traveled – and all this was provided by God! It is true that he was not free to leave yet, but it was clear in the narrative that the commander helped Paul escape alive, and his continued intervention kept Paul well.
We have to remember that God doesn’t always provide the way we think He is going to – because there are issues beyond the scope of our own understanding that He is also carefully monitoring and caring for.
By all accounts, eagles are very responsive to their eaglets. The “mother eagle” dotes over the eggs, then over the hatchlings. That same “mother” knows that to help them, she must force them into discomfort to get them flying. She does so by taking them as high as possible and then drops them. They have never flown before, so they plummet downward. As they gain their senses, the ground is approaching quickly, so she swoops to save them and takes them high in the air again. After several drops, they begin to use their wings to fly. She is providing a way for them to live as they grow. She is giving them experience while keeping them from the ground.
Consider this: Sometimes God places us in situations that are terribly uncomfortable, so that we can learn, step by step, how to follow Him better for the next encounter. Paul was receiving help and assistance from the Romans to reach Rome with the Gospel – and we must remember that the Gospel DID reach and transform Rome – all in God’s time. God kept “giving” Paul help that didn’t look helpful, but it was.
What looked like an arrest warrant was actually a letter of introduction (read Acts 23:25-35). Paul was escorted to the palace at Caesarea with a safe escort, and a letter accompanied the entrance.
I am certain that Paul did not want to be kept under guard, but it was better than being dead on the road somewhere, which is what would have happened had God not stepped in to rescue him from his countrymen. God works, very often, in mysterious ways… but we need to be aware that it is STILL GOD at work. Let me illustrate…
A cheerful but elderly, Christian widow was financially struggling. Her house was in desperate need of repair, yet she praised the Lord continually for His provision for her. There was an old man who lived next door who had no time for God, and he kept deriding her in conversation, saying there was no God – and she was wasting her life in belief of a fantasy. One day, the old man happened by her window moving his hose around his yard and overheard the old woman in prayer. She called on the Lord and asked for provision, for her cupboards were bare, and no additional money was expected until the following week. She simply prayed: “Lord, somehow, if You would, can You send some groceries.” Her neighbor crept away and thought to himself: “That is perfect! Now I can show her there is no God, and she is wasting her time!” He went to the nearby grocery and bought milk, bread, and some other food essentials, and placed them at her door. He rang the doorbell, and hid from view. As she opened the door and observed the provisions, she cried: “Oh, thank you God! You have done it again!” Just then, the old man came around the corner and said to the woman: “You see! I heard your prayer. I bought these things! God has nothing to do with it!” He sneered at her, but she smiled back and said: “Oh my, how exciting!” The old woman stopped and looked at the frumpy old man. “Jesus not only got me these groceries, but he got an unbeliever to pay for them! Isn’t He grand!”
You can’t go by what things look like–God may be doing many other things at the same time! God’s will for us is not only about us–it fits into His larger plan.
Let me close this lesson by urging all of us to make the effort to seeing things differently. That’s hard to do – but it’s the best way for us to begin to humbly admit that most of our complaints about how things are happening are unjustly blaming God when He is busy doing what is best. (Quote source here.)
So you see, even our own “long and winding roads” are not just about us. We just don’t get to see what else is going on behind the scenes until God finally chooses to show us His larger plan. I’ll close this post with the words from Psalm 34:1 . . .
I will bless the Lord at all times . . .
His praise shall continually . . .
Be in my mouth . . . .
YouTube Video: “God is on the Move” by 7eventh Time Down: