It’s Monday and I hope you had a good God weekend. Our reading thru the New Testament continues, picking back up in Acts 23:11-35. After you read that first, please come back and we’ll look at it more closely.
I began our reading where we left off on the weekend. Jesus “stood near” Paul - literally meaning he “stood over him”. We get the picture of Paul wondering what is going to happen in all of this and Jesus comes to him to tell him that this is not ending here, for Paul will eventually testify of him in Rome. Luke proceeds with the words in vs 12, “The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath...to kill Paul.” Jewish Zealots were called the “Sicarri” - “dagger men” - because they were known to have carried within their outer cloaks sharp daggers which they could use to assassinate someone even in a crowded place. Jesus had a disciple named Simon, the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot was also a Zealot. These were committed to the overthrow of the Roman rule in Israel.
These men probably were enlisted by either the Chief Priests or someones on the Council. The “oath to not eat or drink” was largely symbolic of their commitment to kill Paul. They concocted a plan to have Paul be brought back by the Romans to stand before the council - only Paul was to never make back - they would assassinate him before he could arrive. It was a bold plan, but it demonstrated the fear Paul brought to the Jewish leaders in his commitment to share the Gospel. As for fulfilling the oath, obviously, it didn’t happen for Paul would live on for several more years.
We’re introduced to a new character - Paul’s nephew - his Sister’s son. How did he hear about it? We can assume that God led him to the source. Among all the aids to Paul’s safety, God used a “boy” - “nenias”, a young boy. Paul took his words immediately to the Roman officers, and they - knowing the many accounts of Sicarri assassinations took the boy seriously and told him to not say a word about it to anyone. The reference to the boy as Paul’s nephew, his sister’s son, is the only place in all of Luke’s writings as well as Paul’s epistles that we get a little picture into Paul’s family life. We can’t make any strong statements about who they were, or whether or not they also had become Christians - after all, the boy lived in Jerusalem and must have had some contact with Temple people. Paul’s comment in Philippians 3:8, that he “had suffered the loss of all things in coming to Christ”, may have included more than his status as a Pharisee, but even the disowning of his family. Orthodox Jewish parents often had funeral services for their children who walked away from Judaism.
While we don’t know anything else about his nephew, we do know that the word Luke used - “nenias” - was used of boys who had not yet begun to grow their beards. This unknown boy appears at the right time, and God is the one who used him to change the geography and course of events that would get Paul to Rome. The Roman Commander knew exactly what to do. We can see the threat these Sicarri represented by his orders. He called in two Centurions - each was a soldier who commanded a company of 100 soldiers. These 200 soldiers were to be accompanied by seventy men on horseback, and 200 spearmen...that is a contingent of almost 500 soldiers. They were to take Paul, by night, to the Roman fortress at Caesarea - the main headquarters of the Roman rule in Palestine where Governor Felix, lived.
The letter the Roman Commander wrote to Governor Felix was in a typical Roman style that recognized both rank and honor for Felix’s position. He alludes to his attempt to protect Paul - as a Roman citizen - and that the charges brought against him were religious in nature. The Romans had little interest in trying to solve religious questions, but they were interested in keeping order and maintaining the rights of their citizens. To this end, the Commander, Claudius Lysias (vs 26), sent Paul on under guard of his infantry until they reached a military outpost about 35 miles northwest of Jerusalem, Antipatris, and then the rest of the journey was carried out by the cavalry as the foot soldiers returned to Jerusalem.
They traveled another twenty-seven miles to Caesarea where Paul was officially turned over to Felix. They had returned to the city Paul left a couple of weeks before. Two weeks or so before, Paul had been in Caeserea and a Prophet (Agabus) had bound Paul’s wrists to prophesy of what was ahead. Now Paul indeed had been bound and was no longer free to do what he wanted to do. For now, Paul was safe from the Jewish plotters, but was he safe from Felix?
Antonius Felix was governor (procurator) of Judea. He was married to Drusilla, a Jewess who was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:1) and who left her husband to become Felix's third wife. She was the sister of Herod Agrippa II (Acts 25:13ff). The Roman historian Tacitus said that Felix "exercised the power of a king in the spirit of a slave." Felix was called "a vulgar ruffian" and lived up to the name. He received Paul but we can read into the text a sense that Paul represented a nuisance to him. Felix tells him they’ll summon his accusers and hear his case when they arrive and puts Paul under house arrest.
Paul wrote later of “counting everything but loss for the sake of knowing Jesus as Savior”, and loss was what he experienced. I think, if we’re honest, we all like to have control of our own lives and both fear and resent intrusions that take that control away. Paul was no different, except that he had Jesus appear to him a few nights before to encourage him and remind him that there was a greater purpose to yet occur. Plots to kill Paul had happened before, and each time God had stood in and provided protection and a way out.
We have all been there when life brought us to our knees wondering what will happen next - the worst has taken our control from us. It is crucial that we have a theology of God’s Sovereignty over all things. If we are to live beyond our fears it is because we really believe that “all things work together for good to those who God loves...” (Romans 8:28). Paul wrote this, but most of all he lived it and believed it...counted on it when things were dire and doubt could have won the day. How? We have to learn to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) and “be still and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 37:7). Being still means to turn off the restless mind of “what ifs” and turn towards God in prayer. Don’t spend time trying to wrest control back, but learn to trust in waiting upon God.
Paul learned how to trust in these places of pressure, tension, and in these places where he was not in control. Later he proclaims to the church in Corinth: “He (God) has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10). May you likewise find your strength in your weaknesses.