THE WITNESS OF THE PRISONER

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28 (NIV) The Living Bible translation words it this way: “And we know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans.” 

No one knows this Truth better than Paul, who penned these inspired words.  We believers quote this verse often while walking through a personal battle with challenging troubles that are not understood while we are going through them.  Let’s backtrack a bit.  Paul, led by God’s Holy Spirit, but warned of the dangers, has come to Jerusalem.  He brough offerings to the poor.  He went to the Temple to pray.  As soon as he is spotted by the religious leaders, a riot occurs.  They want blood.  He is hated by the Jewish zealots who do not believe in Jesus.  He knows that full well and enters Jerusalem anyway.  He is shouted down by those who want to kill him.  However, because he is a Roman citizen, he is protected! 

Friends, think about it…God is so amazing!  By transforming Saul, a former zealot enemy of God’s new believers to Paul the now completely devoted follower of Jesus, Paul’s witness is all the more powerful!  Paul is an “insider” citizen of Rome, protected from being murdered, who can tell God’s story, even in prison!  What a plan!  “And we know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans.”  Paul “gets it” and gratefully continues in the work God gave him to do.  Paul makes the most of EVERY opportunity and teaches others to do the same.  (See Colossians 4:2-6) Paul, describes himself in his letters to the churches, as a “prisoner for the Lord”.  Now we understand why.  All is done in Jesus Name for the glory of God!  ALL things work together for the good of those who love God and called by God to finish what God gave them to be and do—His purpose for us.

“Paul the prisoner” (Acts 23:18) was the name the Roman soldiers used for the apostle, a designation he himself often used (Eph. 3:1; 4:1; 2 Tim. 1:8; Philem. 1, 9). Paul was under “military custody,” which meant he was bound to a Roman soldier who was responsible for him. Prisoners under “public custody” were put in the common jail, a horrible place for any human being to suffer (Acts 16:19–24). Paul’s friends could visit him and help meet his personal needs. It is sad that we don’t read, “And prayer was made fervently by the church for Paul” (see Acts 12:5). There is no record that the Jerusalem church took any steps to assist him, either in Jerusalem or during his two years in Caesarea. This is an exciting chapter…read, led by God’s Spirit.

ACTS—God’s Actions through His Disciples

Acts 23, The Message

Before the High Council

23 1-3 Paul surveyed the members of the council with a steady gaze, and then said his piece: “Friends, I’ve lived with a clear conscience before God all my life, up to this very moment.” That set the Chief Priest Ananias off. He ordered his aides to slap Paul in the face. Paul shot back, “God will slap you down! What a fake you are! You sit there and judge me by the Law and then break the Law by ordering me slapped around!”

The aides were scandalized: “How dare you talk to God’s Chief Priest like that!”

Paul acted surprised. “How was I to know he was Chief Priest? He doesn’t act like a Chief Priest. You’re right, the Scripture does say, ‘Don’t speak abusively to a ruler of the people.’ Sorry.”

Paul, knowing some of the council was made up of Sadducees and others of Pharisees and how they hated each other, decided to exploit their antagonism: “Friends, I am a stalwart Pharisee from a long line of Pharisees. It’s because of my Pharisee convictions—the hope and resurrection of the dead—that I’ve been hauled into this court.”

7-9 The moment he said this, the council split right down the middle, Pharisees and Sadducees going at each other in heated argument. Sadducees have nothing to do with a resurrection or angels or even a spirit. If they can’t see it, they don’t believe it. Pharisees believe it all. And so a huge and noisy quarrel broke out. Then some of the religion scholars on the Pharisee side shouted down the others: “We don’t find anything wrong with this man! And what if a spirit has spoken to him? Or maybe an angel? What if it turns out we’re fighting against God?”

10 That was fuel on the fire. The quarrel flamed up and became so violent the captain was afraid they would tear Paul apart, limb from limb. He ordered the soldiers to get him out of there and escort him back to the safety of the barracks.

A Plot Against Paul

11 That night the Master appeared to Paul: “It’s going to be all right. Everything is going to turn out for the best. You’ve been a good witness for me here in Jerusalem. Now you’re going to be my witness in Rome!”

12-15 Next day the Jews worked up a plot against Paul. They took a solemn oath that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed him. Over forty of them ritually bound themselves to this murder pact and presented themselves to the high priests and religious leaders. “We’ve bound ourselves by a solemn oath to eat nothing until we have killed Paul. But we need your help. Send a request from the council to the captain to bring Paul back so that you can investigate the charges in more detail. We’ll do the rest. Before he gets anywhere near you, we’ll have killed him. You won’t be involved.”

16-17 Paul’s nephew, his sister’s son, overheard them plotting the ambush. He went immediately to the barracks and told Paul. Paul called over one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the captain. He has something important to tell him.”

18 The centurion brought him to the captain and said, “The prisoner Paul asked me to bring this young man to you. He said he has something urgent to tell you.”

19 The captain took him by the arm and led him aside privately. “What is it? What do you have to tell me?”

20-21 Paul’s nephew said, “The Jews have worked up a plot against Paul. They’re going to ask you to bring Paul to the council first thing in the morning on the pretext that they want to investigate the charges against him in more detail. But it’s a trick to get him out of your safekeeping so they can murder him. Right now there are more than forty men lying in ambush for him. They’ve all taken a vow to neither eat nor drink until they’ve killed him. The ambush is set—all they’re waiting for is for you to send him over.”

22 The captain dismissed the nephew with a warning: “Don’t breathe a word of this to a soul.”

23-24 The captain called up two centurions. “Get two hundred soldiers ready to go immediately to Caesarea. Also seventy cavalry and two hundred light infantry. I want them ready to march by nine o’clock tonight. And you’ll need a couple of mules for Paul and his gear. We’re going to present this man safe and sound to Governor Felix.”

25-30 Then he wrote this letter:

From Claudius Lysias, to the Most Honorable Governor Felix:

Greetings!

I rescued this man from a Jewish mob. They had seized him and were about to kill him when I learned that he was a Roman citizen. So I sent in my soldiers. Wanting to know what he had done wrong, I had him brought before their council. It turned out to be a squabble turned vicious over some of their religious differences, but nothing remotely criminal.

The next thing I knew, they had cooked up a plot to murder him. I decided that for his own safety I’d better get him out of here in a hurry. So I’m sending him to you. I’m informing his accusers that he’s now under your jurisdiction.

31-33 The soldiers, following orders, took Paul that same night to safety in Antipatris. In the morning the soldiers returned to their barracks in Jerusalem, sending Paul on to Caesarea under guard of the cavalry. The cavalry entered Caesarea and handed Paul and the letter over to the governor.

34-35 After reading the letter, the governor asked Paul what province he came from and was told “Cilicia.” Then he said, “I’ll take up your case when your accusers show up.” He ordered him locked up for the meantime in King Herod’s official quarters.

WHAT DO WE LEARN?

Paul, the Prisoner, is encouraged by Jesus.  “That night the Master appeared to Paul: “It’s going to be all right. Everything is going to turn out for the best. You’ve been a good witness for me here in Jerusalem. Now you’re going to be my witness in Rome!” 

Warren Wiersbe, Commentator, relates, “A few years after Paul’s conversion, when Paul’s life was in danger in Jerusalem, Jesus appeared to him in the temple and told him what to do (Acts 22:17–21). When Paul was discouraged in Corinth and contemplated going elsewhere, Jesus appeared to him and encouraged him to stay (Acts 18:9–10). Now, when Paul was certainly at “low ebb” in his ministry, Jesus appeared once again to encourage and instruct him. Paul would later receive encouragement during the storm (Acts 27:22–25) and during his trial in Rome (2 Tim. 4:16–17). “Lo, I am with you always” is a great assurance for every situation (Matt. 28:20).”

The Lord’s message to Paul was one of courage. “Be of good cheer!” simply means “Take courage!” Jesus often spoke these words during His earthly ministry. He spoke them to the palsied man (Matt. 9:2) and to the woman who suffered with the hemorrhage (Matt. 9:22). He shouted them to the disciples in the storm (Matt. 14:27) and repeated them in the Upper Room (John 16:33). As God’s people, we can always take courage in times of difficulty because the Lord is with us and will see us through.

Paul the Prisoner isn’t perfect, but is perfectly forgiven.  Paul lives, speaks and acts as a repentant, fully devoted follower of Jesus.  When we read the account of Paul’s days in Jerusalem, we get the impression that everything Paul did failed miserably. His attempt to win over the legalistic Jews only helped cause a riot in the temple, and his witness before the Sanhedrin left the council in confusion. But the Lord was pleased with Paul’s testimony, and that’s what really counts.

Paul’s confidence comes from Jesus, His Lord and Savior.  Paul would go to Rome! This had been Paul’s desire for months (Acts 19:21; Rom. 15:22–29), but events in Jerusalem had made it look as though that desire would not be fulfilled. What encouragement this promise gave to Paul in the weeks that followed, difficult weeks when leaders lied about him, when fanatics tried to kill him, and when government officials ignored him. In all of this, the Lord was with him and fulfilling His perfect plan to get His faithful servant to Rome.

And we know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans.”  Romans 8:28

“Lo, I am with you always” –Jesus  Matthew 28:20

I don’t know what you are going through right now, but for me, I’m clinging to this truth and Paul’s witness as a prisoner.  God knows who we are, knows our name, what we have or have not done, and loves us completely.  He will not fail us.  He will see us through it all.  And somehow, all will work for good as we love, trust and obey.  We plan, but God decides what is best.  Because of His unending love for us, He is with us, always. 

In Jesus Name, For God’s Glory, Amen

Thank you, Lord.

And I’m singing…(Resurrecting by Elevation worship)

By Your spirit I will rise
From the ashes of defeat
The resurrected King, is resurrecting me
In Your name I come alive
To declare Your victory
The resurrected King, is resurrecting me…

About randscallawayffm

Randy and Susan co founded Finding Focus Ministries in 2006. Their goal as former full time pastors, is to serve and provide spiritual encouragement and focus to those on the "front lines" of ministry. Extensive experience being on both sides of ministry, paid and volunteer, on the mission fields of other countries as well as the United States, helps them bring a different perspective to those who need it most. Need a lift? Call us 260 229 2276.
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