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As Todd preaches on Acts 23 and 24, he reminds us through the historical, not mythical, life of Paul that God is still alive and working through normal people that know and love Him.
Acts 2018 and Beyond
From Acts 28 to Ad 2018: This Is No Fable
Sailing in the Storm
The Evidence of a Relationship
The True Story of Paul Can Be True of You: Passion, Providence and Peace
Calm in the Midst of Crisis
Courage That Comes From Love
Good morning. How are we doing? I love what we get to do this morning. We get to look at history, and we're going to see a living God interact with a normal guy in history, and it's going to remind us that that God is still alive and he still works through normal people who know him.
There is a tendency when you read the Bible to read it like you're reading the story of Paul Bunyan, some mythical logger who motivates other guys who are chopping trees to get it done like nobody else, or some miner who reads the story of John Henry and it motivates them to work hard. This mythological, exaggerated figure who did things no other man could do.
Sometimes when we read the Bible and read stories of guys like Paul we can think, "Man, wouldn't it be amazing if that really could have happened? Wouldn't that be wild if God could still do that kind of stuff today?" Well, I'm here to tell you he is and he wants to. Paul is going to be persecuted because he's testifying to a resurrected King, who was no man but God himself, who came to reconcile lost man to God so that men could do what God always intended them to do, which is to bring grace on the earth.
Paul was a terrorist. Paul was separate from God. He was destructive to himself and others, and he met Jesus, and Jesus was gracious toward him, and from that moment on his life had meaning, purpose, and every kind of story you would imagine a man would have who is partnered with God to bring grace to the world. This is not a myth.
The reason we study the book of Acts is so we could see the working of God in history through broken men and women, that we might be encouraged to write Acts, not chapters 23 and 24, because those are gone. God has already done what he did in that day and age with that man that was available to him. We study Acts because Jesus is alive. It is the "Acts of the Holy Spirit in Those God Sends Forth." That's the full and appropriate title to the book of Acts.
God is still acting. Even though the early church history wrapped up in chapter 28 of Acts, we are writing Acts, chapter 7,419,712 this morning. God is still alive, and he's working. I love when we see God work. I can remember early after I came to faith… This is a story that's 30 years old. I heard this story and went, "I want to be a part of that." It's the story of a guy who when you look at him is a frumpy, bald guy who is a sociology professor at Princeton University.
Is there a more uninspiring creature than that? This guy looks the part. He's kind of ADD. He's crazy. He's all over the place. I remember him telling a story of when he was in Hawaii. He got done speaking someplace, and he was hungry. This guy is very social, and he stayed and hung out with folks late, and then on his way back to the hotel he wanted to eat, so he dove into a local diner. He goes in there. It's 3:00 in the morning. He's sitting there. He orders a couple of eggs and some bacon, and he's eating, and all of a sudden…
He's in there by himself, and the door opens, the bell rings, and eight prostitutes walk in. He's kind of like, "This is a little bit awkward, because these gals are here and it's just me," but it wasn't awkward for him because he loves people. He just listened to them talk. They walk up. It's clear to him they were regulars there. One of the girls named Agnes said, "Hey, tomorrow is my 39th birthday," and another one of the girls goes, "Do you think we care? Do you think anybody cares?"
Agnes just said, "Hey, I was just telling you, man. Why do you got to be so mean? I've never had a birthday in my entire life. Tomorrow is my birthday. Okay?" A little bit later all of the girls walked out, and that guy walked up to the owner, whose name was Harry. He goes, "Harry, I saw you interacting with those girls. Do they come in here every night?" He goes, "Yeah, they come in here every night about this time, almost like clockwork. They're done working."
He said, "I want to throw a party for Agnes." This frumpy, no-good, "God can't do much with him" sociology professor from Princeton University said, "I want to throw a birthday party for Agnes." Harry yells through the back where his wife was the cook and says, "Hey, this guy wants to throw a birthday party for Agnes." She comes out and goes, "That is a great idea." He goes, "I'll get in here tomorrow night around 2:30 or 2:45. I'll decorate the place. I'll bring a cake."
The wife goes, "No, I'm going to make the cake. I've got the cake." He goes, "Great. You've got the cake." So the next night, about 2:30 in the morning, that guy gets there, our little frumpy hero. He decorates the place with crepe paper (it's the 1980s) and gets some balloons, gets it all up. The wife makes the cake. Word apparently got out, because the place is packed with almost every working girl in Hawaii in this one particular area.
Then around 3:30, Agnes and a friend walk in, and the whole place erupts. "Happy Birthday, Agnes!" They sing, and the girl is stunned. She goes, "No one has ever wished me a happy birthday." The wife brings out a cake, gives it to Agnes. The kind of grumpy guy who owns the place says, "Agnes, cut the cake. We're all hungry," and she goes, "Harry, do you mind if I don't cut the cake? I've never had a birthday cake. Can I just leave it for a little bit so I can look at it?"
She lived right around the corner, so she goes down the street. She literally takes it home, walks out the door. So now we have a room full of prostitutes, our frumpy sociology professor, our grumpy diner owner, and everybody is kind of looking at each other like, "Well, that kind of kills the party right there. Birthday girl just left." So our frumpy sociology professor just goes, "Let's pray."
Then he just prays that God's grace and his love for his daughter, who 39 years ago came into the world, would be known to her and that she would know the intimacy of her heavenly Father, that she would come to faith and that all of her friends would see the love of God poured out on her so that they, too, would come to faith. He prays about the kindness of God who loves all of us, and he says, "Amen."
Harry goes, "Hey, man. You didn't tell me you were a preacher." He goes, "I'm not a preacher. I just love this Jesus." He goes, "You're not a preacher? What kind of church do you go to?" This is what he said. These are the magic words. He goes, "I go to the kind of church that throws a birthday party for prostitutes." The guy said, "Man, I don't like church, but if there was a church like that I'd be all in."
I remember hearing that story in the 80s, and I was like, "Man, that's the kind of church I want to be a part of. I don't want to just run a weekly meeting for a bunch of bored adults. I don't want to get a bunch of white suburban folks together and tell them, 'You're doing what God wants because you're showing up every week.' I want to do what Paul did. I want to turn the world upside down. I want Agnes to cry when she has become aware of the love of God."
I have to tell you guys something. I don't know if you're paying attention, but I'm not reading some myth here. This is a true story, and I happen to believe that the Acts of the Apostles, men sent forth by the Holy Spirit to do the continued works Jesus did, is true. I don't know if you know this or not, but I'm living out Acts, chapter 7,419,713 this week.
If you missed out on that, I don't know what to tell you, but you have to quit paying guys like me to have the privilege of ripping you off from having the privilege of doing ministry, and you have to get in the game. This isn't some Paul Bunyan or John Henry story. This is what God does through men and women who love him.
This week I got an email from a member of our staff who said, "Todd, these are the next four Watermark News stories that are coming out. Which one do you want to use for Christmas Eve?" My response was, "Good Lord! What else would we rather do?" These are the next four options for Watermark News stories that are coming your way.
The first one is about a guy who grew up in Los Angeles. He was abused by his father. He was sent to live with his grandmother. He started rebelling as a homeless teenager. He became your friendly neighborhood drug dealer because he needed to provide for himself because he was homeless. He sold crack and made a lot of money, which, of course, he used on women and more drugs. He got more and more bold with drugs and robberies and other crimes to support his lifestyle.
He wrecked two marriages as he got a little older, which kept him away from two kids, and he had several sentences that had him in jail for an extended period of time. Eventually, he moved to Fort Worth, Texas, from California. When he was in Fort Worth, Texas, he started to own a gym. He was very successful, still idolizing dollars, and then he bumped into somebody who went to this place called Watermark Fort Worth. They shared the gospel with him, and now Freddie is a member, married, and walking with Jesus, using his gym as a location to minister to others in Fort Worth.
How about this one? My buddy Mark, who I've done stuff with here, was making bank as a very successful salesperson here in Dallas. His priorities, though, were making more money, marathons, sports, getting drunk, and having fun. He was married to his sweet wife Amanda, but they lived very separate lives, and neither one of them had any idea who Jesus was.
He was out at a ranch in Louisiana and was in an ATV accident that almost killed him. It shook his wife. She didn't know what to do. They had a friend who invited them both to come to Watermark. They trust Christ. They hear the gospel for the first time. It radically changes the way Mark lives, the way he works, the way he pursues his wife, the way he spends money, the way he spends his time, and now Mark is one of our most faithful disciplers of people here at Watermark in our Equipped Disciple classes.
How about this? Landon had a ton of conflict with his dad throughout his life. His dad was a very successful businessman but left his family when Landon was young. He hated his dad. He had no role models. It turns out as he got older he turned out to be just like his daddy, making six figures, chasing women and money. In fact, he meets a woman, has an affair with her. She's married.
She divorces her husband to move in with him. He goes, "I don't want to move in with you; I just want to sleep with you." She gets devastated. He gets devastated. It brings him to great pain. A friend who sees the pain in his life invites him to come here. He says, "I'll come, because I have to pay back God for some of the destruction I've been involved in." Well, lo and behold, he finds out God doesn't want him to pay back, that God paid for his sins, and Landon trusts Christ.
He pursues his daddy he has no relationship with and invites him to come here last May when he was getting baptized. His dad sits out here and is just torn up as he sees what has happened in his son's life. He walks out. He can't even stay in here. Landon goes ahead and gets baptized. His life keeps growing. He gets involved with re:generation ministries. He continues to grow. He makes amends with his daddy. His daddy comes to trust Christ, and the relationship is restored.
That's three. I told you there were four. How about this one? Amy grew up poor in Weatherford, Texas, with no daddy. Her mom had a lot of guys in and out of the house. She's sexually abused at a young age. She hates men. She hates her mom. She hates God. "Why am I alive? Why are these guys doing this to me?" What do many women who are abused do? Well, they continue to abuse themselves.
At 21 she's been in and out of a lot of relationships. She's divorced. She's bankrupt. She's a single mom. She's working in the porn industry. One night she's on the phone negotiating a new level of activity in human trafficking. She's negotiating a $20,000 escort deal that's going to take her out of town, and she's ready to go, and she says, "I swear to you I heard a voice that said, 'Don't do it, Amy. Don't do it.'"
She cut the deal off. She hung up. Her life is still a mess, but she works with a gal who hangs out at a place where the love of God is known. Sweet Amy Vogelaar, who's a coworker and a nurse, just started reaching out to this other Amy and said, "Amy, I see you're a single mom. I know you want to be a good mom. Why don't you come with me to this thing we do called The Nest? Why don't I help you learn to be a godly mom?"
She comes. She hears the Romans Road while she's there. She said, "I just thought I was an evil person. I didn't know God loved people like me." She is now married, she disciples her kids, and she is a member of Watermark Plano. What else do you want to do? If you're not doing that, if you're just coming listening to me talk to somebody you think is some Paul Bunyan figure who isn't real, you're missing the story.
Folks, I'm here to tell you the story, and that's God wants to work in and through you. I don't know if you ever stop in that beautiful little section out there where we talk about what Jesus has done. This is what it says out there. There's a verse, John 14:12, that says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do…"
All the book of Acts is is the fulfillment of what Jesus said in John 14 would come. I don't know if you've been out there, but there's also a verse, John 20:30-31, that says, "Therefore, many other signs and wonders were performed in the presence of the disciples by Jesus, which aren't written in this book, because if they were written in this book there aren't enough libraries and books in the world that could contain them."
I shared this last night. Ann, who helps put together the Watermark News, goes "Bro, if you think the next four weeks are good, wait till you see the three after that." Are you just going to church or are you the church? Do you understand who you are? I don't care if you're a terrorist. I don't care if you're somebody who negotiates a $20,000 escort service.
God wants to interrupt your life, he wants to introduce you to Jesus, and he wants to say, "Do you want to be sent forth with me into the world to change it? I am with you, and there is no condemnation. I will reconcile you to me, and we will get it done, because I love this world. I love the Agneses and the Amys and the Landons, and I want to use you, Agnes, Amy, and Landon, to reach the next others of them." That's Paul's story. That's my story. Don't you dare ever go to church. If you're a believer, you don't go to church; you are the church.
Acts 23. Here we go. To give you a little context where we've been… While we're in chapter 7 million, let's go back and strengthen ourselves. Paul is trying to be faithful, and it has gotten him in Jerusalem. Folks who are committed to certain ways of doing things that give them a sense of comfort don't like what Paul is saying, and there's all kinds of trouble. God supernaturally delivers him using a pagan Roman commander.
Three different times in this short section God uses a pagan commander to pull Paul out of a certain death moment. Why? Because the hearts of kings are like channels of water in the hands of the Lord; he directs them wherever he pleases. Paul had tremendous calm because he knew who he worked with and who he worked for. Let's just tap onto the very last couple of verses we looked at last week to put you into context.
Verse 10: "And as a great dissension was developing…" In this little conversation Paul was having with the religious leaders. "…the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down…" This guy is a battalion leader, and he sends the troops down, the special forces, to go save Paul, take him away from those who want to kill him. You have to think about lions that are tearing apart an individual, and here come a bunch of folks to beat back the lions and rescue him and bring him into the barracks.
What you don't know at this point (and Paul didn't either) was that that was going to be his home for the next four years. Not that particular little local county jail cell, but he was going to be a prisoner now for four years. As a prisoner for the next four years, he was going to have all kinds of opportunities to make disciples.
Two of those four years were going to be spent up the coast about 65 miles in Caesarea, where he was going to minister to kings and governors while he waited to go to Rome. Paul was certain he wasn't going to die before that. Why? Because of verse 11. "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.'"
Paul was absolutely certain he was going to go to Rome. He longed to go to Rome. We know that just months before this, he wrote a letter to the church in Rome that he wanted to come visit on his way to Spain, because there were already a bunch of believers in Rome. Paul wanted to go where the gospel had not yet gotten, so he wanted to go farther west, but he said, "I'm going to stop and give you a high five in Rome, and, by the way, here's the book I'm going to write you to encourage you," which we're going to journey through this next year. Join us.
Paul was certain. He was comfortable. I love being where Paul is. I love being in the mouths of lions when I'm in the will of God, because it's when God shows up. I get to see him be God. In fact, here's the very first principle. This is the overriding principle I want you to get from the two chapters we're going to cover today: the power and providence of God coupled with personal purity and faithfulness to Christ are the source of sustaining peace
If you try and pull your peace through money, through relationships, through temporary power…I don't care what it is…you will not have sustaining peace. The only way to get sustaining peace is to be somebody who knows absolutely in the sovereignty and the power and the presence of God in your life, and you are faithful toward him.
God has not told me, "Todd, you're going to go to Rome," so I might die on the way home today, and I want you to know I'm just fine with that. All I know is that I'm immortal until the Lord is done with me. God doesn't always tell us places we're going to stop until we get home. He just tells us "Don't stop walking with me until you get home with me, and you need to know something: I will get you home."
A while back I tweeted out this little cryptic message. Sometimes I tweet stuff out so people will do a little work. The tweet just said, "Acts 20:26-27 plus Acts 23:1 equals Philippians 4:9 peace," and you can see it encouraged the world, or at least 14 people. I'm not sure it was good stewardship of time, but I'm glad those 14 were encouraged.
The only way they could have been encouraged is they took some time and looked up the Scriptures. What are the Scriptures? Here are the Scriptures. Acts 20:26-27: "Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God."
I taught you the Word of God. I told you there's a commander in chief who loves you and wants to have a relationship with you. I don't care if you're a prostitute or a procreator. I don't care if you're a leader of a nation or you're letting yourself be abused by men. God loves you and wants to reconcile you to him, and he is righteous and holy. He's going to judge you for your sin, but he has made provision for your sin.
If you'll just cry out for grace and mercy, he'll save you by grace through faith, not according to any deeds you have done in righteousness or sin you've avoided, but according to his kindness. By the way, when you know his kindness you will live in relationship with him, and if you live in relationship with him, this is how you relate to God, and the way you relate to God is evidence that you really have a relationship with him. Paul preached it.
Secondly, Acts 23:1: "Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, 'Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.'" I am not worried about when I meet the sovereign Judge, and I'm not worried about what you might bring forth. I am good, because I have walked with God, not perfectly but with a good conscience, and when I screw up I acknowledge it.
Paul had this tremendous ability to go, "I'm right with God. I'm living rightly before men." Paul in a moment is going to outthink a highly regarded litigator, but Paul is not comfortable just because he can outthink people. He is comfortable because by the grace of God he is outliving people. He says, "You can hate me for what I say, but you're not going to hate me for what I do."
Philippians 4:9 is when Paul says, "If you are faithful for Jesus in declaring what he wants and you live faithfully with him, you will have peace." "The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the [peace of God] will be with you [as it is with me] ." Paul had the peace of God because he believed absolutely in the power and providence of God, and his personal purity and faithfulness to Christ made him go, "I'm ready. I'm ready for somebody to accuse me."
There are times… I've told you this before. I'm standing in the kitchen. My wife and I are going through the mail. There's one that's kind of addressed in a weird way. I open it up. It's just a blank piece of typing paper, kind of like an Agatha Christie novel, and there are just a couple of words in big type, and it says, "We know what you have done." I'm two feet away from my wife and I'm reading this.
I take it and kind of fold it, and she goes, "What does that say?" I go, "They know what I've done." I wasn't concerned that about that time the phone would ring or there would be a ding-dong and there would be a package there with perfume and pictures. My wife goes, "What have you done?" I go, "I don't know, but I hope they're encouraged." That's all I could tell her. They know what I've done. That's a good way to go.
God wants us to live according to his wisdom because he wants it to go well with us. That's what the Scriptures say from beginning to end. In Proverbs, chapter 3… You're going to see this with Paul, and this is so important to where we're going in this text, because I want you to live… As you live powerfully with God and for God in writing Acts, chapter 7,413,719, I want you to do it with great peace.
You're going to find out that Paul gets to certain moments, and you're like, "How is that brother so chill?" Here's the reason why. Because it says when you live a life of wisdom… "Then you will walk in your way securely and your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid…" Even if it's in a barracks, even when the lions are at the door, even when you're about to see a plot by a bunch of passionate people coming after you. "…when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet."
Why? Because Paul knew, "I'm going to Rome, baby, because Jesus told me I'm going to go to Rome." I don't know if I'm going to Rome. I told you I don't know if I'll make it home today, but I'm not threatened by random actors. I'm not threatened by cancer. I don't stay up worried about drunk drivers for myself or for my kids.
We try to live wisely, and we just go, "When God wants me home, I'm done traveling to wherever my Rome is, but if God wants me in Rome I don't care what you throw at me; I'm getting there. I am immortal until the Lord is done with me, and while he is doing something with me I want to be faithful, and I want to be preaching the whole counsel of God." Are you in? That church will change the world.
In Mark, chapter 4, Jesus is discipling his boys. They're hanging out, and then he says this. "On that day, when evening came, He said to them, 'Let us go over to the other side.'" Watch what happens. "Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And there arose a fierce gale…"
Even when you're doing what God wants you to do there will sometimes be fierce gales. Acts 23 and 24 have fierce gales in them. The waves were breaking over the boat so much that professional fishermen were freaking out. But not Jesus, who was a rabbi. He is taking a nap, like he's being rocked to sleep in his mother's bosom.
They weren't really happy, and they went back to the stern and said, "Man, don't you care that we're perishing?" Jesus responds compassionately. "What's wrong with you? Don't you have any faith?" He stands up. He rebukes the lion's mouth. He rebukes the corrupt governor. He rebukes the angry mob. He rebukes the winds and the waves that are outside of the competency of brave men.
Then he says, "Didn't I tell you we were going to the other side? I didn't tell you you were going to get to fish. Look at the stars. I just told you we were going to get there. Now go to bed." Don't you love that? Quit acting like if you do what Jesus wants it's going to be this beautiful moonlight cruise. Sometimes it's going to be a fierce gale, but you just have to go, "Am I going where Jesus told me to go? Am I acting the way Jesus wants me to act?" Then sleep well, child.
Matthew 10:28 says, "Don't fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul, but rather fear the one who can both destroy the body and cast the soul into hell forever." I know he's going to get me home. I don't know; it's going to be after I go to Rome. I just know he's going to get me home. If they kill me, I'm going home. To live is Christ and to die is gain. Are you all in?
I don't need to keep my job. I don't need to be popular. I need to be as loving and on point and faithful and pure as I, by the grace of God, can be and love Agnes and Landon and Amy and Mark and Freddie. My chapter is every bit as good as Paul's, and it's a blast.
"When it was day, the Jews formed a conspiracy…" We're going to find out in verse 13 there were 40 of them. "…and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul." Jesus says, "We're going to Rome," and then 40 guys say, "We aren't eating or drinking until that scallywag is dead." These weren't just scallywags; these were well-connected scallywags. They knew the chief priest.
They went to him and said, "We have bound ourselves under a solemn oath to taste nothing until we have killed Paul." That's less than 12 hours this is going down, or maybe at the same time Jesus is saying, "We're going to Rome. I just pulled you out of the mouths of the lions when they wanted to destroy you in public." Now there are 40 guys who said, "We're getting him," and they have a plan. They have a method and the means and they are well connected.
They say, "Now therefore, you and the Council…" The Sanhedrin that was just trying to kill him. "Then dadgum Lysias pulled him out with great force, but we're going to get him. We'll be Jack Ruby, you be the district attorney, and we're going to kill that Lee Harvey Oswald named Paul. You tell him you want more examination, and before he ever gets to examination we'll put a .38 slug in his belly." That's the plan.
"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 [with a little more sanity this time] ; and we for our part are ready to slay him before he comes near the place."
Here's a point: passionate and intense enemies (and they are out there) provide a perfect opportunity for a providential and irresistible God to show himself strong and sufficient. I love when I run up against, while I'm in the will of God, living faithfully, passionate and intense enemies. I'm never surprised. Truth sounds like hate to those who hate the truth. They hated Jesus. He says, "They're going to hate you just like they hated me."
Now listen. If I do things poorly, if the way I do things is the problem, I want to fix the way I do things, but if I try to determine whether or not I'm doing things correctly based on how the world or specific groups of people respond to me, I'm not listening to the One I serve, and I won't lie down in peace. But I'm never bothered by folks who are against me.
I tell people all the time, I would rather be at the edge of the Red Sea with two million people going, "Good job, Moses! Nice turn," while the most powerful army on the face of the earth is storming down to destroy me and two million of my friends until they get to me than I would be sitting in a king's palace in the springtime when I should be at war.
When you are where God has led you… When God wants you to go and lead people to a place of promise and you followed him and you find yourself at loggerheads and you have nowhere to go and you have two million people who are not happy with your leadership, even though you've followed Jesus, and you have an army that is ticked off and able to destroy you coming down, you have no other options except to just pray.
By the way, we don't pray because we're disciplined; we pray because we're desperate. The reason most of you guys aren't praying is you think you're not desperate. No, you're desperate. You can't change Agnes' life or Landon's life. You can't do anything this week apart from Jesus. If you aren't praying, it tells me you don't know who you are and who God is. You ought to be praying all the time.
Moses, as you know, was like, "God, you have to do something," and God showed up. He parted the Red Sea. Why? Because Moses had a stick? No. That stick was a pacifier. "God, I can't do anything." God is like, "Shut up, Moses. You have me. I told you, with you and me together we can do anything."
"I don't know, Lord!"
"Here, take the stick."
"Okay, I'll be okay now."
Babies aren't okay because they have pacifiers; babies are okay because they have mommies. That stick was just a pacifier God gave Moses. You don't need a stick; you need a relationship with the living God. That's your stick. You just go where God wants you to go and say, "Okay, Lord. I don't know how we got here. It doesn't look like there's a great opportunity," but God is going to show up.
I love when I come against passionate, intense enemies. I was walking across this campus not long ago, and I see this guy wandering, not really engaging, and I just walked up and went, "Hey, man. How are you doing?" He goes, "I'm fine." I go, "Can I help you?" He just goes, "I'm the great prophet. I've come to kill the white Jesus." I said, "Well, is the white Jesus six-five and about 50 years old?" He looked at me and goes, "No." I go, "Great, bro. Let's go work this out together," and we just walked on. True story.
We worked it out. We got the "great prophet" some truth and helped him and got him in places where he could be cared for. I'm like, "I don't care. Let's say he thinks I am the white Jesus. Send me home, man. I'm going to do what I can to not let you do it right now, but if you win, you win, because I'm done. That was just God's gift to me." Passionate and intense enemies. Don't be upset by them. It is a perfect opportunity for your God to remind you who he is. Paul knew that.
I love verse 16. "But the son of Paul's sister heard of their ambush…" What? I didn't even know Paul had a sister. What do you mean a nephew happens to be right there with them in Jerusalem at that particular time, and what do you mean he heard about this plot about the 40 guys who were well connected who wanted to kill him on the way to be…? What?
Here's what's so great about that. God always has people you don't even know. Paul, I am sure, was sent to Jerusalem to be a rabbi. He was trained under Gamaliel. He's hanging out there, and he trusts Jesus on his way… After becoming very famous as a rabbi, he now becomes this Christian. I am sure his Jewish daddy heard about that and went, "What? You've embarrassed the family name." I'll bet you he was cut off, but Paul had a sister.
This kid was probably from Tarsus, just like Paul, and that benefacting grandfather, who wanted his son to be a great Jewish leader, probably sent the nephew down to Jerusalem to the same school. And guess what? Because he's a good student, just like his gifted uncle, he probably was hanging around with those folks who were trying to kill Paul, and God had this all worked out all the time.
Paul didn't even know he had a nephew, and the next thing you know, his nephew is well connected with guys who want to kill him. Does that surprise you? If it does, you didn't listen to my last point. There is no other mention of Paul's family in Scripture, but when God needs somebody who just goes, "That's my uncle…" God probably, in his grace, had sparked in this young nephew a sense…
When Paul argued before the Sanhedrin and took the Law and the Prophets, that same keen understanding of the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets being in the Messiah, that Jesus fit all the characteristics… He probably was the same thing. He wasn't as bold as his uncle yet, but I bet you he was beginning to come to faith, and he goes, "Hey, uncle." So he goes, and watch what happens.
"But the son of Paul's sister heard of their ambush, and he came and entered the barracks and told Paul." Because Paul wasn't really a prisoner. He's a Roman citizen being protected from the lions. "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.' 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…'""I don't even know who he is." The commander is about to find out.
He began to inquire of this young nephew privately, saying, "What is it you have to report to me?" God is at work here. "And he said, 'The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down tomorrow to the Council…'""And Jack Ruby is going to put a slug in his belly." Verse 21: "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."
So the commander said, "Tell no one what you have notified me of," and he called two of the centurions… I love this. Here we go with another amazing rescue. God is going to use a pagan commander, who's going to use 25 percent of his resources to give Paul a police escort that would make the queen of England look unprotected. Don't you love this? It's like God keeps going, "Do you see? I've got it covered. We're going to Rome. I know it looks like this world is going to hell. We're going to Rome."
Insert. I'm sitting out here three weeks ago taking notes, listening to my friend JP teach me Acts 21, and I'm looking up there at that, and I recognized that, because by the grace of God I've been to Rome. I remember sitting, eating amazing olives and great bread and great olive oil, looking at that. I knew what that was. That's the Pantheon. There it is. Let me just explain that little deal. I took 13 hours of Latin in college, so I have no idea what that means, but here's what it means.
If you fill it in… They abbreviate sometimes. The M is for Marcus. Agrippa is who he is. Lucius is his daddy. He's the son of Lucius, the consul, during his third term. That's exactly what that means. It just says the guy who built this built this or at least commissioned it to be built about the time Jesus was hanging out. Watch this. This is so amazing. I was sitting there, and I just started making a note to myself. "The Pantheon." Here's what I know about the Pantheon.
The Pantheon means the house of many gods, because the Romans stole their belief system from the Greeks. They believed in many different gods. Remember Acts 17, when Paul was walking through the Acropolis and saw the Parthenon, the great building to Athena the Virgin? There was also an idol there on Mars Hill to an unknown god, because they wanted to cover all their bases. They wanted to make sure nobody was upset.
So in Rome, the capital of Roman paganism, they built the Pantheon, which is basically a temple to all the gods, or to any god we might have missed. Matthew 16. Paul is still a terrorist, or he's becoming one. Jesus is with his boys at Caesarea Philippi. By the grace of God, I've been there not many years ago. Caesarea Philippi is a Roman encampment where there was a pagan Roman altar built to the god Pan.
I've taught on this before, but this is a picture of the temple to Pan, which means all gods or this little player that you would go and worship with temple prostitution. On the left, that little thing is built over a spring. You can see the cave behind it. Water would come out and go down and feed the Jordan. It's one of the mouths of the Jordan that would bring refreshment to the land. So they worshiped the god that was giving them life in this area.
The Romans had come into God's land and had put pagan idolatry and prostitution there, and that little place is called the "gates of hell," because it was a bottomless pit, and they didn't know how deep it went. They didn't have enough rope that could go down to get to the bottom, so it was called the gates of hell. Here's the thing. Jesus in Matthew 16 says to everybody, "Who do you think I am?" and they go, "Well, some say you're Elijah."
"No, no. Who do you think I am? Because that's the only thing that matters. Boys, I've been pouring into you. I've been showing you. Remember the deal? I said 'Let's go to the other side.' We went to the other side. The winds and the waves listened to me. Remember the crazy guy? He listened to me. Remember the lame people? They walk if I tell them to. Who am I?" You think this is an easy question, but only one of them has the courage to go, "God?"
"Right, Simon. Good. Very God of very God. Let me tell you something. If you believe in me and walk with me, even the gates of hell will not stand against us." Why do I insert this right here? Because when I'm sitting out there thinking about God is going to send Paul to Rome… We have the Pantheon behind. It's one of the most famous buildings that still exists in Rome. It was finished probably about 50 years from the time Luke wrote this story about Paul, but here's the thing.
Do you know what the Pantheon is today? The Pantheon, which is, in effect, the center of pagan worship, since the sixth century has been a church dedicated to the mother of Jesus and the martyrs of Christ. It's the longest actively used building in all of Rome, and it's a church. Jesus did what he said he was going to do. He did it without Paul. He doesn't need Paul. "But, Paul, you want to be part of the story? Let's be part of the story. I will do what I'm going to do."
When you sit there and see the Pantheon, you just go, "That is the fulfillment of him doing it." There were just twelve guys and Jesus. Rome has come to Jerusalem. You're telling me that the Messiah is going to go to Rome? "Oh, he's going to go to Rome and the uttermost parts of the world. In fact, in 2017, some brother with a crooked nose who some guy thought he was the white Jesus is going to be telling people about me, and we're going to change the world." That's your God.
So Lysias calls two leaders of a hundred and says, "Get 200 soldiers ready by the third hour of the night, and you take 70 horsemen and 200 spearmen and give this brother a police escort to safety, because he's going to Rome. I don't really care what the mob says." He wrote a letter to Governor Felix. His name is Claudius Lysias. We know now the name of this Italian commander.
The letter basically says in verse 29 (this is the key point you need to know), "I found him to be accused, but he is not guilty, and yet we have to figure this out, because these Jews are really stirred up." Verse 31: "So the soldiers, in accordance with their orders, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris." It's a 35-mile journey with 200 spearmen and 70 horses. The next day, the 70 horsemen went back, and they took the 200 men and marched forward another 30 miles to Caesarea.
We are 65 miles away from Jerusalem. We are up there at Caesarea by the sea. It is where the governor, King Felix, lives. He reads the letter Lysias had written. In verse 35 he says, "I'll give you a hearing when your accusers come." Remember 40 of these guys had taken an oath to not eat or drink. How do you think that's working out for them? If they're still hanging on to their oath, it's five days later. I think they're angry. They're hangry.
They came with Ananias and some elders and an attorney named the "Third." That's what Tertullus means. It's tertius. It means this brother was probably a descendant of a great Roman law firm. If Ananias was an expert in Jewish law… They probably went and said, "We're going to go argue before a Roman king. Let's get the Third to come with us." This is who Paul is up against: 40 hangry guys, the high priest, the Sanhedrin, and the Third. How is it going to work out? Let's read. Chapter 24. Paul was summoned. Felix starts court.
"…Tertullus began to accuse him, saying to the governor, 'Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for this nation, we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness. But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing.'" Blah, blah, blah.
Verse 5: "We've found this guy to be a pest, and he stirs up dissension everywhere throughout all the Jews everywhere in the world, all over the Roman Empire, and he's a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes." We know this guy is an expert in Roman law, because he basically says, "He is promoting a sect that refuses to partake in the imperial cult. He has no king but Jesus." That is a capital offense.
Secondly, Rome is famous for its religious tolerance. You can worship whatever you want as long as you bow to Caesar, which was a judgment on themselves and the people he was representing, but he said, "He's been messing with the Jews' temple." Also a capital offense. To a Roman king he's making a pretty compelling argument. That's their take. Verse 7: "But Lysias the commander came along, and with much violence took him out of our hands…"
He said, "You hear that, King?" This is a veiled threat. He's saying, "O King Felix, your commander had to use excessive force to put down the riotous Jews. I know that you are judge on whether or not there's peace in this land and you can collect taxes. You need to know something. There's trouble brewing, and if you want to continue to make Caesar happy you'd better keep peace. Lysias has already used a lot of resource to keep peace. What are you going to do, King? You'd better get rid of this guy. Is he worth it to you?" That's the argument.
At that point, the 40 hangry guys spoke up, probably. "The Jews also joined in the attack, asserting that these things were so. When the governor had nodded for him to speak, Paul responded: 'Knowing that for many years you have been a judge to this nation, I cheerfully make my defense…'""Because I'm going to Rome, and I'm not worried I'm going to lose. I have nothing to be ashamed of."
Paul is about to outargue and outthink these guys, but his peace comes because he's outliving these guys. "I'm okay. Go ahead and say what you want. I am at peace with God and with men. Not these men, because these men… You decide." "…since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. Neither in the temple, nor in the synagogues, nor in the city itself did they find me carrying on a discussion with anyone or causing a riot."
"I didn't do what they said I was going to do. They can't prove any of the charges they now accuse me of, but I admit this to you. I am a follower of the Way, which they call a sect, but it's not a sect; it is the fulfillment of what they say they believe, and I've been trying to help them understand. If they just believed, they would be followers of the Way as well." When you talk to a Jew, don't be ashamed. You haven't introduced something new. Christianity is the oldest faith in the world. The most Jewish thing you can do is believe in Jesus.
That's Paul's entire argument. "I'm not trying to get you to quit being a Jew; I'm trying to show you that I believe in a Jewish Messiah. This is my case: that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the suffering servant Isaiah wrote about in Isaiah 53. He came to reconcile you to God. He's the great deliverer, and God raised him from the dead, that you might take note of him. So I am guilty of that. I have hope in God, which these men also say they do, but I'm telling you, Felix…"
Listen to what Paul does. I love this. He says, "I know you're in a position of authority, but you really have no authority unless God gives it to you, and you need to know something: God is righteous, and he's a good Judge, so you might want to do the right thing, O judge, because you work for him, not for Caesar." I love that. Doesn't that remind you of Jesus?
Pontius Pilate is saying, "Bro, answer me! Don't you know who I am?" and beaten Jesus just reaches up. He grabs him by the scruff of his little pontifical robe and goes, "I know who you are. Do you know who my Father is? You have no authority unless my Father gives it to you. Now do what you must. Carry on. No one takes my life. I'm laying it down." Come on! This is our God. This is a true story, and I'm writing the next chapter, and it's the most amazing thing I could ever do.
He says in verse 16, "In view of the fact that there is a righteous God, I do my best to maintain…" The word is askeō. It is a word that means you purposefully, actively, continually work, as an athlete who engages in preparation for a battle, stridently works with great effort to be what he should be. Does that define your life? If you want to have Acts 23 and 24 stories, you need to do what Paul did.
God's eyes go to and fro throughout the earth, looking for those whose hearts are completely his, that he might strongly support them. Paul is saying, "God is using me for one reason: he's gracious, and I'm willing." Paul says, "I do my best to maintain a blameless conscience before both God and men. I recommend the same to you, Felix. I'm not worried about what you're going to do with me. I am worried for you what you're going to do with God." That's the way you argue before a supreme court.
"After several years I came to bring alms to my nation. That's what I was doing down in Jerusalem. I was bringing gifts to poor people who were being oppressed by these guys. Then they found me occupying the temple, and I was in the temple, purified, as they want me to be, because I don't want to disrespect their temple, without any crowd or uproar, but there were some guys from Asia who had been following me around, because I've been preaching this thing about the resurrection, who ought to have been present before you today.
If there's a problem with me, you should hear what I did in Ephesus. Where are those guys? Or else let these guys tell you again what misdeed they found me doing. I did do this one thing. I talked about how the resurrection of the dead is going to happen and all are going to stand before God, and I think that's what they're upset about. So you do what you want."
"But Felix, having a more exact knowledge about the Way…" Because his wife was a Jewess, we're going to find out, so he had heard about this Nazarene sect. He says, "When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.""So you boys keep being hungry. Paul, go back to your little seaside prison," which is where he went.
"Then he gave orders to the centurion for him to be kept in custody and yet have some freedom, and not to prevent any of his friends from ministering to him. But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul…" This is what kept happening. Felix was touched by Paul's discussion, and he goes, "I want to hear more, because you talked about this God who is righteous…"
Look at verse 25. Paul talked about the righteousness, self-control that men should have in response to the righteousness of God as they yield to the power of God, and the judgment which comes, and it frightened Felix. He kept sending him away, wrestling with it, and then going, "Let's go get Paul again." He's hearing about grace and Jesus and a solution.
Felix, just so you know, was a slave, probably a Greek slave, who had been given Roman citizenship. His brother happened to be in a very strategic place, also a slave who worked for Caesar's daughter, who eventually gave him his freedom, and then he arose, and he talked to Caesar and gave Felix, his brother, this great command up there in Caesarea.
All that to say… He goes, "No matter how much power or pleasure I have, I'm not righteous. You say there's a judgment. You're pretty convinced. I don't show self-control. I'm a letch." He kept asking for the Christian to come back, because he knew that Christian had something he and his kingdom didn't have: peace. That's what you do when you talk to kings.
At the same time, he really didn't want to hear. He also knew… Remember what Paul said he went to Jerusalem for? To deliver a lot of money. So Paul was either wealthy himself or he had some well-connected friends, and he was hoping Paul would eventually get sick of being in jail and offer Felix some cash.
Let me close with this. I think when Paul was writing his last letter to Timothy he thought of Felix. There are some of you in here today who are like Felix. You're kings. Things are going well, but you have not yet responded to the judgment of God. You don't understand the righteousness of God and how your sin, your lack of self-control, puts you at his mercy.
He wants to offer you mercy, but unless you humble yourself and get a good conscience before God by faith that is then evidenced by works as a testimony that your faith is real, you're not going to sleep well. I think when Paul was writing to young Timothy, these words in 1 Timothy came to his mind, because he had stood before kings his whole life.
I want to just say this to you, Felix. If you really are just hanging around God because you want a blessing or Christians because you think if you listen to a Christian God will give you what you want… If what you really want is money or a bribe or something to get out of some way and that way is not judgment for sin, then you're in trouble.
Paul wrote to Timothy, "But those who want to get rich [like Felix] fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction." What you need to know, if I read the last verse, is that in two years Felix was summoned to Rome because there was a new caesar who heard about the corruption of this guy who was not self-controlled, and probably, if he wasn't as well connected as he was, he would have been killed. He just said, "That guy had a chance to respond to the grace of God. He didn't, and he who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken without repair." Paul is writing to Felix and to you, and he says,
"For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate [like I did before Felix] , that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time…""I don't know when that time is. I know I'm going to Rome."
"… [the one] who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion!" I guarantee you he preached this to Felix.Verse 17: "Instruct those who are rich in this present world…" I'm teaching you, church, to not be conceited or to fix your hope on the uncertainty of riches but on God, who supplies us with all things to enjoy.
I'm instructing you to do good, to be rich in good works. There are poor among us. There are kids in El Salvador. There are boxes to be packed. There are buildings to be built. There are churches to be planted. Let's go, church. Be generous and ready to share, and store up for yourself treasures in heaven and lay on the good foundation for the future so that you may take hold of life indeed. Come on. Acts, chapter 7,413,719, is waiting to be written. Let's go, church.
Father, I pray for my friends, that we would live our lives this week on mission, men and women who know the living God and are ready to go. Will you, the living God, use us to do the works you have done in greater ways than we can even believe? We thank you, Lord, that you had us around for Amy, for Landon, for Mark, for Freddie. Lord, I thank you that you were around in the 1980s for Todd Wagner.
I thank you for your grace that has largely held me, that has let me preach the full counsel of the Word of God and to live with a good conscience before God and men. Thank you for the peace that comes with that. I thank you for the thousands of brothers and sisters who share that peace with me, but, Lord, we don't live for peace; we live to properly respond to the grace we have been given. We are going home, and we are immortal until that day.
So let us not just outthink but especially outlive, by the grace of God, those who do not know what we by grace have come to see. If there is a Felix here who is entertained by talks of salvation but who still loves this world more than you, would you be gracious to them now, that their heart may not be pierced with many pangs on this earth and something far worse in the world to come? Let us be your church. Bring your people. We love you, amen.
Have a great week of worship. We'll see you.