- Sermon Notes
Standing on God’s Promises
Intro: Promises, promises!
Our recent study of Acts 23, ended in Acts 23:11. It was a section of Scripture where the Lord came to the Apostle Paul and gave him a powerful promise. The promise was given to Paul while he was in prison and had experienced a couple rounds of being lied about and beaten. He had come to Jerusalem according to the call and will of the Lord, but now he was experiencing great difficulty.
It was there that the Lord came to Paul in the night with a word of encouragement, and a promise in and over his life. He told Paul, which he was in a prison cell in Jerusalem that He had a plan for Him. The promise given was that Paul was going to go to Rome, though at that time he did not know how that would ever come about.
What we see next is challenges and a plot against Paul’s life, but it would be the promise given to Paul in the middle of the night that Paul would need to apply, and just like in Paul life, it is God’s promises that are essential to you and I.
- Hold Onto What He Has Spoken
Acts 23:11, But on the following night, the Lord stood near him and said, “Be courageous! For as you have testified to the truth about Me in Jerusalem, so you must testify in Rome also.”
- What we seen in Acts 23:11, is that the Lord called Paul to a posture, and then pointed him toward a promise.
- The posture Paul was pointed to was that of “taking courage.” The word courage is one that is found over 300 times between the Old and New Testament and the word in Acts 23:11 is translated in various places in Scripture “be courageous,” “have courage,” “be of good cheer,” or “take courage.” It is a word in the Old Testament that describes strength, bravery, boldness, and determination.
- Interestingly, it is a word given several times by Jesus’ personally throughout His ministry. Nearly every time the Lord Jesus told a person to take courage or be of good cheer, He revealed the reason why they could apply courage to their situation.
Illus. Why can I apply it?
- In Matthew 9:2, a paralyzed man was brought before Jesus by his friends. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the man who was paralyzed, “take courage,” and then gave the reason why He could do so, “your sins are forgiven.”
- Also in Matthew chapter 9, a story is recorded of a woman who had been suffering from a severe medical issue for 12 years reached out to Jesus and touched the hem of his garment believing if she could only touch the border of his cloak that she would be made well… Jesus responded to her in Matthew 9:22, “Daughter, be of good cheer, your faith has made you well.”
- In Matthew 14:27, Jesus had sent His disciples onto the sea to cross over the other side while Jesus Himself stayed behind. And when it was evening, the boat was a long distance from land, it was being battered by wind and contrary winds, and in the middle of the night Jesus came toward them walking on the sea, the disciples first thought He was a ghost, then they cried out in fear, and then Jesus spoke to them with these words, “take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
- It is also this word that Jesus gave to His disciples and to you and me regarding the world in which we are living.
John 16:33, These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation but take courage; I have overcome the world.
- In each case, the people Jesus speaks to are pointed toward the posture of taking courage and having good cheer, and then they are given the reason why the courage and cheer could be applied. Because He can forgive sins, because our faith is in Him, because of who He is, and because He has overcome the world.
- We can take courage because He has overcome the world, so the troubles of this world are temporary, I am clinging to that promise.
- In Acts 23, like the other times in Scripture that we have seen, the Lord calls Paul to “take courage” and then gives him the reason why it could be applied, “for as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must testify about me in Rome.”
- The Lord says, “take courage, you are going to go to Rome.”
- The Lord gave Paul a posture to pursue, and then a promise for him to cling to, he was going to Rome!
Illus. Birthday Trip.
- Paul would need to cling to the promise God had given him, because the plot against Paul would thicken quickly.
Acts 23:12-15, When it was day, the Jews formed a conspiracy and put themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who formed this plot. They came to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have put ourselves under an oath to taste nothing until we have killed Paul. Now therefore, you and the Council notify the commander to bring him down to you, as though you were going to investigate his case more thoroughly; and as for us, we are ready to kill him before he comes near the place.”
- The Lord gave Paul the plan in the middle of the night, and immediately, the very next day, a plot is formed that if carried out, would put a real wrench in Paul’s getting to Rome. The plot was formed by forty men who conspired together to kill Paul.
- The reality was that the Roman commander and the soldiers seemed to be intervening for Paul. Each time a riot broke out or Paul was being beaten, he was then removed. He was being held in Roman custody; they were trying to find out if Paul was being persecuted for a worthy reason, but those against him had nothing.
- This, coupled with the fact that Paul was a Roman citizen and had certain protections, caused this group of forty Jews to attempt to take matters into their own hands.
- They went to the Jewish Sanhedrin (Supreme Court), and told them that they had put themselves under an oath. Their oath was that they would not eat anything until they had killed Paul.
- They asked the Sanhedrin to go to the Roman commander who was holding Paul in prison and ask that Paul be brought in for more questioning.
- When Paul was on his way, they would ambush and kill him.
- The oath they took was a solemn vow, like a curse, “may God end our lives if we eat or drink anything before Paul is dead.” We aren’t going to eat until he is gone.
- There was something in the way of their plot, however, it was God’s plan.
- What we know is that it would not be for another ten years or so that Paul would die. He would be imprisoned in Rome for several years. The Emperor Nero would have Paul killed, at that time there would be no intervention, but that time was still ten years ahead, the Lord had a purpose, a promise and an plan for Paul.
- While in Rome Paul would witness for the Lord, he would write letters to many churches from Rome, what is clear is that it was not his time to go.
- The Lord had a plan and a promise for Paul.
- Paul had been given insight into what was ahead for him. He had been clued into what the Lord was going to do for him, he was going to get him to Rome.
- He may not have known exactly how, but he knew he was going to get there. He just needed to trust the Lord until that time.
John 14:1-4, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
- God’s plan was going to be established for Paul, and God’s plan will also be established for us all. Hold onto His promises.
Isaiah 55:11, My word be which goes out of My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the purpose for which I sent it.
Illus. Deleted Tweet.
Job 42:2 “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (NIV)
- Realize that No Plot Can Thwart His Plan
- In verse 16, we learn of how the plot for Paul’s murder was revealed to him.
Acts 23:16-17, The son of Paul’s sister heard about their ambush, and he came and entered the barracks and told Paul. Paul called one of the centurions to himself and said, “Take this young man to the commander, for he has something to report to him.”
- So, there is a plot to kill Paul, but now Paul’s nephew enters the scene. This is quite interesting because it is the only mention in Scripture of Paul’s family. We know that he was the son of a Pharisee, that his dad was a Pharisee, but we know nothing else about his family.
- In walks his nephew who was in the right place, at the right time.
- Paul had a sister, and a nephew, and his nephew was in Jerusalem and heard of the plot. We do not know how he came upon this information, some believe he was moving up the ranks in leadership as a Jew in Jerusalem, but we do not know.
- What we do know is that he went to prison that Paul was being held in and gave him the information that a group of forty men had devised a plan to kill him.
- Roman prisoners were often accessible to their relatives and friends who could bring them food and other amenities. In the next chapter we will see him again imprisoned in Caesarea, where he will be kept in custody with the order, “do not prevent any of his friends from providing for his needs.”
- As soon as Paul hears the news, he calls on a Centurion and tells the Centurion to take his nephew to the Roman commander.
- This is an interesting scene. Here is Paul, prisoner locked up in jail, summoning a centurion who was the commander of 100 soldiers to escort his nephew to the Roman commander. How is this possible?
- Roman citizens had certain privileges when they were arrested. First, you could not be accused of a capital crime without heavy witnesses. Secondly, You could not be scourged for questioning. Third, you could appeal to Caesar directly in Rome. And fourth, you could summon a Roman official to do certain tasks.
- Here we see Paul, proceeding according to the promise, Jerusalem would not be the end, but he was also using what the Lord had given him.
- He had certain rights as a Roman citizen, he was using the information the Lord was giving him. These were all provisions from the Lord, and Paul was utilizing what the Lord had provided.
Illus. Helps those who help themselves?
- Paul was being held in the Antonia Fortress in a prison cell. Interestingly, it was the very same prison that Peter was locked up in. When Peter was in that prison, an angel came to him in the night and told him to get up. His chains fell off, he is told to put his clothes on and to follow the angel out of the prison and into the city. Peter headed to the place where the disciples were praying, and they could not believe what had happened. (Acts 12)
- That was the Lord’s plan for Peter while he was in that prison.
- Earlier in that same chapter, James, the brother of John, didn’t even make it to the prison, he was put to death with a sword. There was no intervention there.
- Here with Paul, God will intervene, but differently. He will be in the same prison as Peter, but no angel will come and lead him out of there into the city.
- We do not always know why the Lord does what He does when He does it, but what we can do is choose to trust Him, to take His hand, even when we don’t understand.
- The reality of their situations are, that the Lord had different plans for each one of them.
- Peter had been given specific insights into what the end of his life would look like.
John 21:18-19, Truly, truly I tell you, when you were younger, you used to put on your belt and walk wherever you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will put your belt on you, and bring you where you do not want to go.” Now He said this, indicating by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had said this, He said to him, “Follow Me!”
- James did not have the same promise of dying at an old age and living a long earthly life.
- In Matthew 20:20-23, the mother of James and John comes to Jesus, kneels before him and asked Him to say that her sons are to sit at His right and left hand in His kingdom. Jesus asked James and John directly…
Matthew 20:22-23, But Jesus replied, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.” He said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit at My right and at My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.”
- At that time, they did not know what Jesus meant, they did not know that He meant suffering and death.
- In each case they all did what they could do, but also in each case, what God was doing was different.
Illus. Jeremiah 29:11, a great promise in a bad chapter.
- The Lord was directing Paul’s path. So, after the news is given, Paul did what he could do, and left the rest up to God’s next move. Here is what the Lord would do, He made a way for the centurion to take Paul’s nephew to the Roman commander.
- In verse 18 to 22, we read the conversation between the commander and Paul’s nephew.
- As Paul’s nephew stood before the commander, he was no doubt stirred up. The commander gently took Paul’s nephew by the hand, stepped aside with him, and asked him what he had to report about Paul.
- Keep in mind that this commander had been asking around about Paul, but nobody could provide him any concrete information.
- And Paul’s nephew reveals the plan that was being plotted against Paul.
Acts 23:20-22, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down tomorrow to the Council, as though they were going to inquire somewhat more thoroughly about him. So do not listen to them, for more than forty of them are in hiding to ambush him, and these men have put themselves under an oath not to eat or drink until they kill him; and now they are ready and waiting for assurance from you.” Then the commander let the young man go, instructing him, “Tell no one that you have notified me of these things.”
- In verses 23 to 33, we see the commander call two centurions and order them to get 200 soldiers, 200 spearmen (javelin throwers) and 70 horsemen ready to escort Paul to Caesarea by the third hour of the night, 9pm.
- The commander dispatched 470 men to guard one prisoner, the Apostle Paul.
- Paul’s destination was Caesarea, about 65-miles from Jerusalem. Caesarea was the Roman headquarters in that area, and this journey would get Paul out of Jerusalem, which was the seat of the Jewish government.
- Paul would be brought before the Roman governor named Felix. Felix held the position that Pontius Pilate held when Jesus was on trial.
- Along with Paul and the 470 guards, was a letter from the commander to the governor. The 470 would go about halfway, and then the 70 horsemen would take Paul the rest of the way.
- Paul had received the promise of God that he was going to go to Rome. He did not know how he would get there. And he wasn’t there yet, but he was one step closer. The Lord said to Paul, take courage, you must go to Rome.
III. Believe that Every Promise He Has Given, He Will Keep
Acts 23:33-35, When these horsemen had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. Now when he had read it, he also asked from what province Paul was, and when he learned that he was from Cilicia, he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive as well,” giving orders for Paul to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.
- Paul was in chains, in prison. He would be kept there until his case could be heard at the arrival of his accusers.
- In the chapters to come we will see Paul on trial before many, and in several places we will see Paul was being “kept here” or “kept there.” But the reality was, that God was working in Paul’s life, and though Paul was being “kept here” and “kept there,” the Lord had come near, and the Lord was keeping Paul according to His promises for Paul.
Acts 23:11, “Be courageous! For as you have testified to the truth about Me in Jerusalem, so you must testify in Rome also.”
- Jesus stood with Paul, “be of good cheer, I am going to get you there.” And through the highs and lows, it was what Paul could rely on and apply in his life and situation.
John 10:27-29, My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.
- Paul was being kept in various places, but through it all, he was being kept by the Lord.
Psalm 121 powerful illustrates how the Lord as keeper of His people…
Psalm 121:1-6, I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever. (NASB 95’)