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Acts 22-23: God is at work

Continuing the Acts Series, pastor David preaches on Acts 22-23 with a focus on God's work on Paul's life. Exploring God's work in Paul's protection, in his purpose, and even in his peccability, this sermon encourages us to trust in God's work and purpose, finding assurance that He is actively involved in our lives, even in the midst of challenges.

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David Herron


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Hi everyone welcome my name is Dave one of the pastors here great to be able to bring God's word to you this morning if you've got your Bible there uh did you get that out open up to uh Acts chapter 22 and we're going to continue our series uh looking at the Acts of the Apostles this morning and uh we'll pick up our reading from acts 22 and verse 22 in a moment as I was reading uh this week and preparing looking at this passage I was reminded of something Paul had said to us earlier um in the acts in Acts chapter 8 28 one of the well-known statements that that paulus said you may be familiar with it actually Romans 8 28 sorry I got my reference wrong there remember Paul said to the the Roman Believers he said we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him who've been called according to his purpose and that phrase in all things God works has seem to have lost itself in my mind as I've studied our passage this week it's a bit of a tricky passage to preach because as you'll find this morning it's it's just a series of movements where Paul is shuffled about by his uh by the Roman Tribune as the the Tribune seeks to get to the bottom of why the Jews have so violently opposed Paul we saw that last week uh Paul that our passage this morning he doesn't have heaps to say there's no great sermon or defense of the Gospel there's a few sentences here and there as he's handled by his Roman Cactus but in our text this morning the thing that we see over and over again is God at work in all things if you're uh taking notes this morning I want to suggest that by way of an outline that we can see three areas where God is at work in Paul's life as he's being shuffled about by the Romans and I had a little bit of fun with the alliteration this morning you might see a strange word up there I'll explain that a little bit later on but if we see God at work in Paul's protection and there's a number of ways in which God protects Paul from being tortured by the Romans from being torn apart into Sanhedrin and uh from being ambushed in transit we see God at work impulse packability and that's the the strange word it's it's just a reference to the the humanness of Paul his his ability his liability to error or sin and we see God at work in Paul's purpose and uh we'll step through those uh three things this morning um Paul's journey to Jerusalem began back in in chapter 20 uh chapter 20 verse 22 you might remember from our series it could be following so long uh Paul said behold I'm going to Jerusalem can strained by the spirit not knowing what will happen to me there except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me but I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I receive from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of the grace of God it was supposed to have his his mission and we see this prophetic word that he was given working itself out now in the life of Paul if we've seen some of the hard and and difficult things that God has has allowed Paul to endure we saw last week in uh sorry I've gone too far last week in chapter 21 God working in all things to protect Paul from the the riotous mob that was whipped up into her frenzy in the temple in Jerusalem was upon his arrival we saw God working in all things to bring him into the custody of the Roman Tribune and the soldiers who saved people's life from the angry Jews who wanted to kill him the last week we saw God working in all things in providing an opportunity for Paul to share his testimony of God's grace to him through Jesus with the crown and that's where we pick up our reading this morning so if you've got your Bible there acts 22 and verse 22 will read some of that in your hearing up to this word they listened to him that's Paul as he's speaking to them when they raise their voices and said awake with such a fellow from the Earth for he should not be allowed to live as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air the Tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks saying that he should be examined by flogging to find out why they were shouting at him like this Sally you might need to think that it's not working there this uh 25 but when they stretched him out for the whips Paul said to the Centurion who was standing by is it lawful for you to flog a man who's a Roman citizen and uncondemned when the Centurion heard this he went to the Tribune and he said to him what are you about to do for this man is a Roman citizen so the Tribune came and said to him tell me are you a Roman citizen and he said yes the Tribune answered I bought this citizenship for a large sum that Paul said but I'm a citizen by birth so those who are about to examine him withdrew from him immediately and the Tribune was also a Frank for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he found him I think what we can see here at the beginning of our text this morning let's put that next slide up as early that God is at work in Paul's protection the Roman Tribune is trying to get to the bottom of this commotion between the Jews and and in the city and why they're so angry with Paul and so he turns to a a Roman technique that they were quite fond of and known for you just flock it out of it it just taught you the truth out of it up until this point the Tribune wasn't sure what all the fuss was about if you remember back in chapter 21 when the riot broke out in the in the temple there the commander of the army comes up and arrests Paul and orders him to be bound with two chains and he asked what what was going on and summoned the crowd was shouting one thing and some were shouting another thing and since the commander couldn't get at the truth because of the Uproar yielded poor to be taken into the balance Paul got a chance to share his testimony and God's grace to to speak to the crowd and in the middle of his speech they get whipped up into his outdoor again and so the tribunes again had a loss what are we going to do about this man what is going on here and so fogging seems to be his answer and yet here we see God work to protect Paul from injury possibly even dead because of his offering as a Roman citizen by birth Paul was entitled to a trial before any punishment could be given what we understand of antiquity of this particular time period Roman citizenship tended to either be by right for those who had a high status or an office or buy a reward was often given for those who certainly am I well citizenship could be passed from father to son which we we hear is the case for Paul he was a citizen by birth but it could also be brought not with a fee but with a bribe to some corrupt official or the Imperial Secretariat or the provincial administrator you might be able to bribe it out of them which seems to be the case for the Tribune uh here because he says the Paul he bought his citizenship with a large self the Saint Paul's citizenship was by birth not bright and so he has an even more legitimate claim than the tribute I think what we see here is that by The Sovereign plan of God Paul's upbringing his status as a Roman citizen by birth saves him from this torture from this flogging and possibly even death God was at work in Paul's upbringing I don't know about you but I read that and it encourages me because when you think about it God's Sovereign plan for Paul began long before he came to Faith in Jesus God was at work in Paul's life even before he began to recognize him Francis saying can be said of you and of me God's Sovereign plan for us began long before we put our faith and trust in Jesus we read that in the scriptures in in Psalm 139 verses 13 to 16 David acknowledges God at work in his life from the moment that he was created you remember David's prayer for you created my inmost being you knit me together in my mother's womb I praise you because I'm fearfully and wonderfully made your works are wonderful I know that forward my frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place when I was woven together in the depths of the earth your eyes saw my unformed body all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be Paul acknowledges God at work even before the creation of the world he writes the Ephesians in in chapter one all praise to God the father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the Heavenly Realms because we are united with Christ even before he made the world God loved us and shows us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ this is what he wanted to do and it gave him great pleasure do you see the hand of God at work in your own life in your upbringing in in your experiences in your personality in your character in the way that God has made you do you see him at work friends we don't need to look very fast here because God works in all things Even in our upbringing even in the things that we might Overlook or take for granted so the challenge for us this morning is when we see those things when we recognize it as as Paul has done to you glorify God and give thanks to him for this we should God continues to work in Paul's protection as he's presented them to the Sanhedrin to the the religious leaders if you look at the beginning of chapter 23 of Acts the Tribune doesn't know what to do with Paulie he can't flog him because he's a Roman citizen so he'll call a meeting of the Jewish leaders and try and get them to get to the bottom of what's going on look at uh at the beginning of chapter 23. looking intently at the council Paul said Brothers I've lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day the high priest ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth and then Paul said to him God is going to strike you you whitewashed wall are you sitting to judge me according to the Lord and he had contrary to the law he'd ordered me to be struck those who stood by said would you revile God's high priest Paul said I didn't know brothers that he was the high priest where it's written you shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people when Paul perceived that one part was Sadducees and the other were Pharisees he cried out in the council Brothers I'm a Pharisee a son of Pharisees it's with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the Dead that I'm on trial when he said this A dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the assembly was divided the deceptices say that there's no Resurrection No Angel nor Spirit but the Pharisees acknowledge them all that a great clamor arose and some of the scribes of the Pharisees party stood up and contended sharply we find nothing wrong in this man what if a spirit or an angel spoke to him when the dissension became violent the Tribune afraid that Paul would be Torn to Pieces by them commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and to bring him into the backs we see God's hand at work again impulse protection from being put apart in the in the Sanhedrin this violent dissension arose between these two groups that had two two different ideas and uh they're gonna rip them apart so the Tribune again steps in and saves Paul it's interesting that God is at work using these Pagan gentiles the Roman military the enemy of his people to bring about Paul's protection and to advance the gospel God continues to protect Paul and we don't have time to read the entire passage this morning but I'd encourage you during the week to have a look at verses 12 to 22 of of chapter 23 Paul is protected from an ambush in transit the Tribune decides that it's time to send him to the to the governor send him to the higher-ups to see if they can figure out what's going on and uh they get wind through Paul's nephew of this assassination attempt that some of these zealous Jews have hatched in verses 19 to 21 of chapter 23. we're told that more than 40 men are involved in this conspiracy along with the chief priests and the elders because they went and told them this is what they're going to do and they're going to go ahead with it anyway and so God works to protect Paul as the the Tribune arranges 400 soldiers and 70 Horsemen to take Paul to safety uh at nine o'clock at night they ride so that they can make it to uh to the governor in safety what we see in all of this is that God is at work in all things I find it so interesting that God uses that enemy of his people he uses these Pagan Gentiles these Roman military to protect Paul and to ultimately Advance the gospel just goes to show us that God works in all things it's not the first time that God does this right throughout the scriptures we see God working out his purposes and his Sovereign plan through the most unlikely of people and stances just a casual look in his seat see that at so many different places back in the Old Testament we see God use King Cyrus of Persia to build the second temple in Jerusalem you can read about that in in Ezra or as I am God used a donkey to get the prophet balaam's attention God God used Joseph's being sold into slavery to bring about the preservation of his family and as we reflected this morning around the communion table we we know that God used the death of Jesus to bring about salvation for all we would believe God works in all things Paul wants to share the gospel in Jerusalem and and his ultimate goal is to get to Rome and here he finds himself this prisoner in Chains caught between an angry hostile Jewish religious group and and these Roman occupiers who just wanted to get to the bottom of the issue to create like some sort of civil peace I don't know about you but if I was poor I'd probably feel a bit helpless or even anxious about the future in the midst of all this maybe I'll be thinking am I even gonna make it to Rome maybe he was wondering about if this mission that he'd been given from God had come to an end this key truth that we see in Paul's story that God works in all things even in the trials and difficulties of life we can have hope in God because it's his purpose and his plan that prevails wonder if you need that reminder today I find it's been something the Lord has been reminding me of almost daily over this past year as I've been struggling with my health God is at work in the challenges and the difficulties of Our Lives he's even at work in the midst of our suffering because God is at work in all things friends we need to hold on to that in those seasons of of Challenge and struggle we need to trust in The Sovereign God who works in all things I think we'll be face challenges and difficulties there's two ways we can go and you let them distract us from God or from the call that he's placed upon Our Lives or we can let them help to shape us to be more christ-like as we trust our heavenly father to accomplish his will in and through us came across this quote by aw Tozer that really challenged him he said when I understand that everything happening to me is to make me more christ-like it resolves a great deal of anxiety foreign we need to choose daily the trust in the sovereignty of God and rest on the fact that he will accomplish his plans and purposes both for our good and for his glory even when it's hard to see it that way God worked in Paul's protection we also see him work impulse packability have a look at chapter 23 verses 3 to 5. as I mentioned earlier I had a bit of fun with the alliteration this week that packability is not normally a word we would use often but one that all of us who are human will understand to be packable just means to be liable to sin or error you think about it we say something is impeccable or someone is impeccable they're talking about perfection that's not not error so packability is just the liability to sin or everything as we learned last week There's a danger that we face when we examine the lives of some of these great Heroes of the faith like Paul and others we can put them up on a pedestal Pastor Adrian reminded us last week we need to remember that Paul was just a man he was human and thus liable to sin he was a sinner saved by grace just like us if you look at verses three to five of chapter 23 I think we see something of the reality of Paul's humanness come out in the midst of what would have been a a really stressful and difficult situation have a look at Paul's harsh response to the high priest in verse 3 again and then note his apology in verse 5. so I looked at the test this week it's been a little bit difficult to decide just what's going on here what Luke has recorded for us I kept hoping as I find in my commentaries or study helps a clear consensus on what Luther was trying to show us in this account so that's not really a clear answer at least there's three possibilities as far as I can see it first one is that Paul was simply calling out the hypocrisy of the high priest Josephus who's a first century Jewish historian he tells us that ananias the high priest was a thoroughly unsavory character he described he's described as a great quarter up of money and he even took away tithes that belonged to the priests by violence here in in Luke's account with Paul we see another example of the violence that this high priest commits As He commands Paul to be struck on the mouth as he begins to speak second possibility Paul lost his his cool he responded in anger put yourself in his shoes is is easier to see if that could be the case the third possibility Paul didn't know in the clamor of what was going on who spoke because his vision was poor some Scholars speculate as to what ailment Paul struggled with if you recall as he writes to the Corinthians in second Corinthians 12 he had his Thorn In the Flesh that he prayed to God about to take away some suppose it could have been an issue with his vision maybe related to the Damascus rodents and that he had there because later on in Galatians 6 11 Paul would write see with what large letters I write to you with my own hands I think whichever way you look at it all three are you can make convincing arguments about why all of those could be the case we don't have time to to nut into that this morning but the thing that struck me as I looked at it this week was that there's a this real possibility that Paul in this moment of frustration having just been smacked on the mouth lost his cool and responded with anger I don't think it was a a nice response God will struck you your whitewash War comes off the back at a rather dramatic statement that Paul gave to the leaders in the beginning of verse one then look at what he says he starts off his speech quite kindly quite calmly quite respectfully Brothers I've lived my life before God in all conscience all good conscience up to this step that's a fairly dramatic statement of Paul demand I was reminded of Micah 6 8. he has shown you a man what is good what does the Lord require of you but to do justly to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God Paul makes this statement in in verse 1 of chapter 23 up until this point I've lived my life before God in all good conscience to this day Paul has a lot to say about his conscience if you look at his writings in in Corinthians chapter 4 and verse 4 he said my conscience is clear but that doesn't make me innocent it's the Lord who judges me later in Acts 24 we'll see him highlight the importance of a clear conscience before both God and man what we discover is that Paul only gets as far as this opening statement about his clear conscience and then he's rather unceremoniously struck on the mouth think about it it's a it's a bizarre scene it's an unprovoked attack there's nothing in that statement that that demands an attack like this Paul is speaking rather kindly rather respectfully and then when in concert he would have expected that the people who represented God the the high priest the least the religious leaders they would have had control of themselves to behave properly and orderly they didn't we might also have expected Paul to respond differently with what we know about him Paul knew his Bible he would have known that Proverbs 15 1 says a gentle answer turns away Roth but a harsh word says I think Paul doesn't reply gently doesn't he he blurts out God is going to strike you you whitewashing your where is this turning the other cheek great Theologian John Calvin he probably sees himself a bit in Paul's reaction he said uh in his commentary the command of Christ to turn the other cheek does not stop us complaining about injuries we have suffered and convicting the ungodly of their guilt providing we do so calmly and without ill will I don't know about you I don't know how you do that our first instinct when we're attacked is to respond in times we want to fire back Paul was in a mighty Apostle yes but he was also a man like us he was not a perfect man it's surely not inconceivable that he lost his temper Paul would write to the Romans in Romans 7. verses 18 to 23 I have the desire to do what is good but I cannot carry it out I do not do the good I want to do but the evil I do not want to do this I keep on doing if I do not do what I want to do it's no longer I who do it but it's sin living in me that doesn't so I find this law at work although I want to do good evil is right there with me for in my inner being I Delight in God's law but I see another law at work in me Waging War against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me you can understand what a Wretched Man am I how many of us can relate to the peckability of Paul I certainly can how many times have I known that I should stay silent and yet blurted out in England how many times have I known the good that I ought to do and simply not done it yet friends even in Paul's propensity to sin we see God at work in spite of this look at verse 11. the following night the Lord stood by him and said take courage for as you've testified to the facts about me and Jerusalem so you must testify also in Rome how good is the Jesus turns up and we see finally got a word in Paul's purpose came across this quote during the week from Thomas Watson in his body of the Divinity and believe his privilege at death certain random I don't know how I came across it but it struck me Watson's talking about all the wonderful things that will be out when we dine one of them is freedom from sin Watson makes these few statements about Sin which I found helpful so I thought about Paul's peccability and my own Watson says sin adheres to us we cannot get rid of him it may be compared to a wild fig tree going growing on a wall the roots of which are pulled up but some of the fibers of it are left in the joints of the stonework which cannot figure out sin mingles with our desires and graces it makes a child of God weary of his life and makes him water his couch with his tears to think that sin is so strong a party and he often offends the God He Loves this made Paul cry out Miser Ergo omo o Wretched Man that I am he didn't cry out for his Affliction or his prison chain but for the body of sin how wonderful is it in verse 11 that Jesus turns up stands near the pole and reaffirms his calling and purpose he encourages him take courage Paul we're not finished yet how gracious is Jesus amid what has surely been a challenging time for Paul amidst the violence that the hostility the Outburst the disappointments we see in verse 11 what we've been seeing all morning as we've examined this text that in all things God works oh the deep deep love of Jesus friends I wonder as we think about the challenges that we're facing at present the fee is that we may have for the future as we reflect on the week that was and how we've dealt with things this week maybe like me you find yourself at times failing to honor God with your thoughts and actions maybe you've lost your cool spoke a word in Anger instead of gentleness and Grace maybe like Paul you found yourself doing the things you don't want to do or failing to do the good that you know that you should have have text this morning calls us to look again to Jesus and the grace that he gives to find him in his word and and stand on the promises that he speaks friends he knows our challenges he knows our problems he knows our failings the Bible says he knows us just as we are and yet he loves us just the same he showed his Amazing Grace and he gives our lives purpose as he calls us to follow him as his desires will you trust this week that in all things governments let's pray father we thank you for your word to us this morning Lord for the wonderful way in which we see you at work in the life of Paul thank you for protecting him thank you for restoring him when he failed to live according to your ways father thank you for the plan and the purpose that you gave to him because without that Lord we may not have been recipients of of your grace because of Paul's Ministry to the Gentiles the gospels spread and we thank you Lord that we can this morning acknowledge that you are at work in our lives father would you help us this weekend to remember these truths to hear your voice to not be distracted from the purpose to which you've given to us to leave us your disciples while we wait for Jesus we thank you that in all things you work help us to trust in you this way in Jesus name. Amen.