Greetings! It’s good to have you with us as we continue our journey through the book of Acts together, this week continuing to look at Acts 23. If you were with us last week, you’ll remember that some unbelieving Jews have just seized Paul and stirred up the crowd against him with false accusations. And that’s a common theme we find regarding the unbelieving Jews Paul comes across. They’re kind of like atoms. They make up everything. And here that leads to Paul being violently beaten, arrested, and taken into Roman custody in Jerusalem. He has addressed the Jewish mob (giving his first defense); and we know that they listened until he shared with them God’s giving him a mission to take the message of salvation to the Gentiles. They react violently to that and he is taken back into the Roman barrack for protection. After that, he is brought before the Jewish governing body known as the Sanhedrin, during which he gives his second defense. But the Sanhedrin is not at all friendly to him. I mean, they had already killed Jesus. And that was a part of an ongoing trend. Jerusalem was one of the first non-prophet organizations, you might say; they killed all those sent to her, as Jesus pointed out. And in the midst of this trial, during which Paul is illegally struck just for saying that he has a clean conscience, he realizes he is probably not going to receive a good verdict from them; and so he, knowing that the council was one part Pharisee and the other part Sadducee (and himself being a Pharisee) emphasizes his having been a Pharisee and that all of this dissension had to do with the issue of the resurrection from the dead, which he knew the Pharisees accepted but the Sadducees rejected. And so an argument breaks out between the two parties and the Pharisees actually end up defending Paul, saying in verse 9 “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” And after this Paul is removed because of how violent things had gotten; and he’s taken back to the barracks. Now all of this is incredibly discouraging for Paul, who remember has this deep desire to bring the message of the Gospel to Rome, the epicenter of the empire and a very important strategic target for Christianity. But things are not looking very promising, as he’s sitting there in imprisonment. He doesn’t know it this point, but he’s going to remain imprisoned for the next four years. However that night Jesus comes to Paul and gives him a word of encouragement and a promise. It says…
Acts 23:11 (ESV)-- 11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”
God’s Preserving Promise-- Now in reflecting on that promise, it suddenly dawned on me that Jesus never promises Paul that he’s gonna get through all this unscathed or anything like that. He doesn’t even tell him that his endeavors will prove successful. He doesn’t promise a great response after he eventually gets to Rome; only that he is going to grant the desire of Paul’s heart to do the next right thing. Now that next right thing was pretty big for Paul, because it meant that God was going to keep and preserve his life for the time being. And so, in a sense, Paul was greater than all the gods of the pantheon; because while they could be killed, Paul couldn’t. He was more immortal than they could ever be; because the One true God, who has authority over all things, was holding him up. No outside force (no matter how strong) could pluck him out of God’s hand or this next step God had promised Paul success in. And you know, that same God holds you and me. Now He may not promise you tomorrow, but He is every bit in control of your tomorrow as He was of Paul’s. And He will be just as faithful to help you fulfill His plan and purpose through your life as well.
Refocusing on Paul— Now when the controversy between the Pharisees and the Sadducees of the Sanhedrin dies down, we find that they re-focus their attention on Paul. They had gotten to the point where all reverence for God and the desire to do His will and to act in way that was in accordance with His written Word took a back seat to what was really the center of their concern; politics and position. A that being the case, they perceived Paul as being a real threat and were ready to dispense with him. And we will see in our passage today that, just as they had done with Jesus, they begin making plans to murder Paul. It says in…
Acts 23:12 (ESV)— 12 When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.
We’ll See-- And so we see that hatred and vengeance is eating them up. And that’s not a good place to be. Somebody recently told me they felt I have an unhealthy preoccupation with revenge. And I said “Well, we’ll see about that.” Okay, kidding. But these guys certainly aren’t. They bind themselves with a very serious oath.
anathematized-- Now the phrase bound themselves by an oath is literally translated “anathematized”, which means to curse or condemn. And so they have invoked divine judgment if they fail in their mission to kill Paul. And we see this thing a number of times in scripture…
1 Samuel 14:44 (ESV)-- 44 And Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan.”
2 Samuel 3:35 (ESV)-- 35 Then all the people came to persuade David to eat bread while it was yet day. But David swore, saying, “God do so to me and more also, if I taste bread or anything else till the sun goes down!”
2 Samuel 19:13 (ESV)-- 13 And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my bone and my flesh? God do so to me and more also, if you are not commander of my army from now on in place of Joab.’”
1 Kings 2:23 (ESV)-- 23 Then King Solomon swore by the Lord, saying, “God do so to me and more also if this word does not cost Adonijah his life!
2 Kings 6:31 (ESV)-- 31 and he said, “May God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today.”
Serious Resolve-- Yikes! Those are some pretty serious threats and curses. And the last is most like the one we find here in Acts 23. These Jews who have set themselves Paul are absolutely determined, which we see in their resolve to engage in a total fast from all food and drink until their mission is complete. And it’s not a small group of men either. It says in…
Acts 23:13-14 (ESV)— 13 There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. 14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul.
Going To The Sadducees-- Now note that they do not go to the Pharisees. Why? Well, the Pharisees had just sided with Paul during the trial before the Sanhedrin; and so they have shown their willingness to defend Paul. And so these Jews go to those of the chief priests and elders because (remember) the chief priests and elders are of the other party, the Sadducees. These Jews knew that the chief priests and elders would be more likely to join them in this murder plot. Note also they do not go to the scribes because the scribes also were mostly Pharisees. No, they go to those of the Sadducees. And they tell them of their oath and their fast and then give their request, saying…
Acts 23:15-16 (ESV)— 15 Now therefore you, along with the council, give notice to the tribune to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case more exactly. And we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”
16 Now the son of Paul's sister heard of their ambush, so he went and entered the barracks and told Paul.
Paul’s Family-- Now amazingly, this is the only clear reference in the Bible that we have to any of the members of Paul’s family. Romans 16:7 and 11 possibly give us a few others, as he makes reference to Andronicus, Junia, and Herodion as being his kinsmen. But there are no other references. Some scholars believe that when Paul became a Christian he was disowned by his family. His father, probably a wealthy person, very likely cut him off and wanted nothing to do with him. Paul may indicate some of this in Philippians 3:8 when he describes how he had suffered the loss of everything for the sake of Jesus Christ. But, you know, that is the case for a lot of men and women who have chosen to follow Jesus. Families do not always understand, which is why Jesus said…
Matthew 10:35-39 (ESV)-- 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Crucified by Family-- And interestingly, that is what Jesus Himself had experienced. His own family was at odds with him. John 7:5 tells us that not even his brothers believed in him. Now that eventually changed, as His half-brother James converted and became a very important leader in the Church. Jude (another half-brother of Jesus) also was converted and wrote the book of Jude. But before that Jesus carried the weight of his siblings’ scorn and that enmity against him during much of His life and ministry. And that’s a hard burden to bear. And it’s interesting that Jesus seems in this passage in Matthew to be equating that kind of familial pain to taking up your cross. And keep in mind, that was before He had been crucified on an actual cross, which leads me to make the assumption that before being crucified in the body on the cross, He had first been crucified in a metaphorical sense by his family. And Paul definitely seems to be bearing that same kind of cross now.
Meeting The Folks-- I don’t know if any of you every brought your boyfriend or girlfriend home to meet your parents, but that can be pretty tense. You’re wondering if they are going to like her, And if momma doesn’t like her, you’re in trouble. But bringing Jesus home to meet the family is often just as hard (if not worse); and especially in Paul’s culture. Paul had become an outcast for the sake of Christ. I mean it must have been hard. But if that is what needs to happen for you to follow Jesus, then you have to do it. That is just part of what it means to be a Christian. And if we are faithful to suffer like that for Jesus, we will be blessed.
1 Peter 4:12-14 (NKJV)-- 12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are [a]reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. [b]On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.
Romans 8:16-17 (NKJV)-- 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
Sharing in Christs Sufferings & Glory-- So let us gladly share in Christ’s suffering, so that we also will share in His glory. Let’s do so. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.