PROVIDENTIAL DELIVERANCE ASSURES US OF GOD’S SOVEREIGN PLAN FOR OUR LIVES EVEN IN THE MIDST OF DESPERATE CIRCUMSTANCES
Paul had been told that he would experience much suffering in the course of his apostolic ministry and testimony for the Lord Jesus. Here we see him embroiled in contentious trial processes that seem out of control apart from the providential deliverance engineered by the Lord Jesus. Certainly Paul understood his Roman citizenship and used that to his advantage. He also understood the points of division between the different Jewish religious groups in power and was able to use that to his advantage as well. But apart from God’s intervention (without transcending natural laws) in a providential sense, the large Jewish conspiracy would have attacked and killed Paul. But he was invincible until the Lord’s program in using him was finished.
PROVIDENTIAL DELIVERANCE ASSURES US OF GOD’S SOVEREIGN PLAN FOR OUR LIVES EVEN IN THE MIDST OF DESPERATE CIRCUMSTANCES
I. (:1-11) PROVIDENTIALLY DELIVERED FROM THE JEWISH SANHEDRIN
A. (:1-5) Contentious Start to Paul’s Testimony before the Sanhedrin
1. (:1) Autobiographical Report by Paul — Testimony of a Good Conscience
“And Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, ‘Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.’”
Lenski: The meeting [with the Sanhedrin] was called in order to enlighten the chiliarch in regard to Paul and in regard to anything of a criminal nature chargeable against him as expressed in yesterday’s riotous demand for his death.
Cf. Paul’s testimony before the Ephesian elders in chap. 20 – he had a clear conscience
2. (:2) Attacking Response by the High Priest
“And the high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth.”
Bob Deffinbaugh: I think this is the real reason Ananias reacted so strongly to Paul’s claim. Paul, as a Christian, could claim to possess a clean conscience before God. This is due to the saving work of Jesus, which is vastly superior to the sacrificial system of the Old Testament law. No good Jew could ever be good enough to claim a clean conscience before God, and Ananias was not a good Jew. This man was a scoundrel, and an embarrassment to the Jews. He used his office for material gain, and he did not hesitate to use violence to achieve his goals. He was so hated by the Jews that he was violently killed in the Jewish uprising in Jerusalem a number of years later.
Joseph Alexander: Striking on the mouth implies a previous unlawful use of it, as well as an injunction to cease speaking. . . Translated into language it was here equivalent to saying, that Paul’s claim, not only to integrity and innocence as some suppose, but to the highest theocratical fidelity, was false in itself, and grossly insulting to his judges, whom it charged, by necessary implication, with being themselves unfaithful to their great national and religious trust.
Steven Cole: Remember, Paul had just been badly beaten by the angry mob. His face was probably sore and bruised. The blow must have both shocked Paul and hurt terribly. Also, the high priest’s command was grossly unjust and revealed that he was not interested in justice, but only in getting Paul condemned. Ananias was a notoriously corrupt high priest. According to Josephus, he stole from the common priests and used violence and political power to further his goals. The Jewish nationalists hated him because of his pro-Roman leaning. During the Jewish revolt against Rome, some Jewish loyalists assassinated him.
3. (:3) Angry Reaction by Paul
“Then Paul said to him, ‘God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! And do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?’”
Jewish authorities used the law when it was to their advantage … but then ignored the weightier matters of the law when they did not want to be held accountable
Jack Arnold: When Paul said, “God is going to strike you,” this was a hidden prediction for Ananias was killed by an assassin in 64 A.D.
4. (:4-5) Awareness Retraction by Paul
“But the bystanders said, ‘Do you revile God’s high priest?’ And Paul said, ‘I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”
William Barclay: It was indeed a crime to speak evil of a ruler of the people (Exodus 22:28). Paul knew perfectly well that Ananias was high priest. But Ananias was notorious as a glutton, a thief, a rapacious robber and a quisling in the Roman service. Paul’s answer really means, “This man sitting there–I never knew a man like that could be high priest of Israel.”
[Interesting view but probably not correct]
Brian Bell: Possibilities:
 Paul didn’t know his tormentor’s identity because of his defective vision?
 Paul was speaking in irony saying, “He didn’t act like a high priest; so how could I recognize him as such when he was totally out of character.”
 Possible Ananias wasn’t wearing his priestly garments. It’s also probable Paul did not know Ananias personally because he had not had contact with the Sanhedrin for 20 years.
 Paul completely lost his cool? (failure in self-control)
Application: Do not speak evil of the authorities God has placed over us
B. (:6-11) Crafty Strategy Employed by Paul
1. (:6) Driving a Wedge between the Pharisees and Sadducees
“But perceiving that one part 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!’”
Deffinbaugh: It seems clear that Paul has grasped the fact that there is no chance of a fair trial, and thus his outcry is intended to produce the results that Luke describes.
2. (:7-9a) Dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees
“And as he said this, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. And there arose a great uproar;”
Cf. arguments between conservative and liberal parties; between cults and Christianity; between different Christian denominations
3. (:9b) Defense of Paul by some Pharisees
“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?’”
Jack Arnold: Note again God’s providential care for Paul. Just a few words were used by God to cause a fight which in turn divided the Sanhedrin which just a few minutes before was solidly against the Apostle Paul. God just laughs at the plans and purposes of puny men and uses the most simple things to bring about His purposes. “The wicked plots against the righteous, and gnashes at him with his teeth. The Lord laughs at him; for He sees his day coming” (Psalm 37:12, 13).
God uses the smallest, insignificant things to accomplish His purposes. Esther and the Jews were saved in the Book of Esther because the King had insomnia. Because he couldn’t sleep, he called for the records and found that nothing had been done for Mordecai. Out of royal insomnia arose the deliverance of the Jewish people.
Moses’ tears as a baby awakened sympathy in Pharaoh’s daughter and the Jewish nation was preserved and led out of the land of Egypt.
C. (:10-11) Combined Solution – Political Commander and Divine Commander Intervene
1. (:10) Rescue and Relocation – Orchestrated by Political Commander
“And 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.”
2. (:11) Reassurance and Reassignment – Orchestrated by Divine Commander
“But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, ‘Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to my cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.’”
The Lord is always by our side in our most difficult moments
Cf. vision that Stephen had of the Lord (while Paul was holding the coats of those who were casting the stones); now Paul is the one seeing the vision of the Lord Jesus – what extraordinary grace and mercy
Steven Cole: In a sermon on the Lord’s words, “Take courage” (The Westminster Pulpit [Baker], pp. 18-20), G. Campbell Morgan asks the question, “How are we to obey Him?” How can we take courage when we feel fearful or discouraged? He concludes that the only way is to get a clear vision of the Lord Himself. It is to see Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who endured such hostility of sinners against Himself (Heb. 12:2-3). He observes, “All our fear and all our panic result from a dimmed vision of the Lord, a dimmed consciousness of Christ” (p. 19). A few paragraphs later he states, “There is no refuge for the soul of man other than the Lord Christ” (p. 20).
If you’re discouraged about your present difficult circumstances, or feeling down about past mistakes you have made, or anxious about the future, the Lord wants you to take courage. He is with you in your trials, He commends you for your past service, and He promises to use you again in His service as you continue to walk with Him.
Jack Arnold: What did Paul learn here? He learned that God was sovereign and as long as he was breathing God had a purpose for his life. He learned that God keeps His promises for He told Paul he was to witness before kings. He learned something of the providential presence of the overruling Lord. Paul learned what John Wesley learned when he said, “I’m immortal until my work is done!” . . .
Why do men buck so hard at divine providence? They do not want to believe God controls everything because man seems to be a puppet, or they cannot reconcile God’s love with a plan which includes suffering and sickness. Men think this is unfair according to their own standard of reasoning. But what are our choices? There are just two. Either everything happens by accident and man is left to pure chance and fate, or things are planned by God and all things are working out for God’s own glory, for the good of God’s elect and for the return of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. To know that God has a plan and is carrying out this plan brings confidence, assurance and boldness to the Christian, for he senses he is a man of destiny. Let’s face it, it is God’s providence which change the course of history.
John Stott: It would be hard to exaggerate the calm courage which this assurance must have brought to Paul during his three further trials, his two years’ imprisonment and his hazardous voyage to Rome.
Brian Bell: Illustration – Just after WWII, American soldiers found a little cellar where Jews had hid out. Written on the wall one had written, “I believe in the sun, even when it does not shine. – I believe in love, even when it is not shown. – And I believe in God even when I cannot see Him work.”
– Trust this: God is present, and at work thru all your circumstances, just when you need Him the most!
– What promises has God made to you that He will surely keep and you can count on?
II. (:12-22) PROVIDENTIALLY DELIVERED FROM THE JEWISH CONSPIRACY
A. (:12-15) Conspiracy – Jewish Plot
1. (:12-13) Bound by an Oath
“And when it was day, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. And there were more than forty who formed this plot.”
Deffinbaugh: More than 40 men formed a conspiracy and bound themselves by oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. How interesting. Paul joined himself with four men by the taking of a vow. Then there are the more than 40 men who bind themselves in an oath and fast until it is fulfilled. Paul’s kind of religion is vastly different than that of these assassins.
2. (:14-15) Bullying the Officials
“And they 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. Now, 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.’”
Bock: From a narrative standpoint, the effort to take matters into their own hands flies in the face of God’s program as revealed in Acts 23:11. Those who seek to take events into their own hands do not have as much control as they think (Gaventa 2003: 322). And in seeking to take matters into their own hands, they also overstep the divine law they think they are defending, by agreeing to lie and murder. The irony is that they take an oath before God that actually violates God’s standards and will.
B. (:16-18) Counterintelligence – Exposing the Ambush
1. (:16) Informing Paul
“But the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, and he came and entered the barracks and told Paul.”
2. (:17) Informing the Centurion Guard
“And Paul called one of the centurions to him and said, ‘Lead this young man to the commander, for he has something to report to him.’”
Probably Paul picked a guard that was more favorable to his cause;
Did not tell him everything but enough to convince the centurion that there was a story worth telling to the commander
3. (:18) Informing the Commander
“So he took him and led him to the commander and said, ‘Paul the prisoner called me to him and asked me to lead this young man to you since he has something to tell you.’”
Brian Bell: Amazing, watch how God pulled this all off:
 The otherwise unknown nephew just happened to overhear the plot
 He somehow entered the heavily guarded barracks to tell Paul.
 A centurion was willing to take him to the commander.
 The busy commander listened to him right away & believed him.
 Then the commander ordered a small army to escort Paul out of town under cover of darkness.
C. (:19-22) Confidentiality
1. (:19) Inquiry
“And the commander took him by the hand and stepping aside, began to inquire of him privately, ‘What is it that you have to report to me?’”
2. (:20-21) Intelligence (Information)
“And he said, ‘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 lying in wait for him who have bound themselves under a curse not to eat or drink until they slay him; and now they are ready and waiting for the promise from you.’”
3. (:22) Instruction
“Therefore the commander let the young man go, instructing him, ‘Tell no one that you have notified me of these things.’”
Bock: In sum, this passage is rooted in God’s providence, which moves to protect God’s children, although the means are not always known as they are here. God works behind-the-scenes here. Stephen’s martyrdom shows that providence also does not always mean physical rescue as here with Paul.
III. (:23-35) PROVIDENTIALLY DOCKETED FOR THE ROMAN COURT
A. (:23-24) Preparation to Take Paul to Felix in Caesarea
1. (:23) Soldiers
“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.’”
Thomas Constable: This is the third time Paul left a city secretly at night (cf. Acts 9:25; Acts 17:10).
2. (:24) Saddles
“They were also to provide mounts to put Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the governor.”
B. (:25-30) Penmanship of the Transfer Letter
1. (:25-26) Salutation
“And he wrote a letter having this form: ‘Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor Felix, greetings.’”
2. (:27-29) Substance
“When this man was arrested by the Jews and was about to be slain by them, I came upon them with the troops and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman. And wanting to ascertain the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their Council; and I found him to be accused over questions about their Law, but under no accusation deserving death or imprisonment.”
3. (:30) Signoff
“And when I was informed that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, also instructing his accusers to bring charges against him before you.”
C. (:31-35) Process for the Hearing
1. (:31-32) Securing Paul at Antipatris
“So the soldiers, in accordance with their orders, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. But the next day, leaving the horsemen to go on with him, they returned to the barracks.”
William Arnot: Paul is now in the hands of a thoroughly bad man; but the Roman laws are around him, and these suffice to protect him, in the meantime, alike from the foul treachery of the Jews, and the mean avarice of Felix. The law will not permit him to be tried, far less to be condemned, until he and his accusers are brought face to face before a regular tribunal. Paul is placed under arrest indeed; but it is for the protection of his life, rather than for the restraint of his liberty.
2. (:33) Staging Paul Before the Governor at Caesarea
“And when these had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him.”
3. (:34-35) Scheduling the Hearing
“And when he had read it, he asked from what province he was; and when he learned that he was from Cilicia, he said, ‘I will give you a hearing after your accusers arrive also,’ giving orders for him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.”
Deffinbaugh: As I think about this passage [Rom. 8:28], one word in particular comes to mind – HOPE. This passage gives me great hope because it demonstrates God’s sovereignty in such a way that I am greatly encouraged. God’s promises and purposes will be accomplished, in the midst of chaos, confusion, conflict, and human blundering.