Acts – Paul the Apostle – Wayne Barber/Part 20
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©1992|
|In our last study we saw how Paul was blessed by being led of God. Having been called, he is now enjoying being led and protected by God. When a man is called by God to do a task assigned by God, he’s absolutely totally invincible until God is through with Him. Nobody can stop him. They can hurt him. They can hinder him, but they cannot stop him until God is through with him. Paul died a martyrs death. I am not saying you won’t die a terrible death. However, until God is through with us and the task He has assigned to us, we are invincible as long as we are surrendered to Him.|
Ephesians 1:1; Acts 23
Paul: The Messenger – Part 8
Turn with me to Acts 23. We are talking about the sovereignty of God. I believe that is the most comforting doctrine to a believer that you can find in scripture. God is on His throne, knows exactly what’s going on and is in control. The devil has to get his walking papers from God Himself. He is in control.
In our last study we saw how Paul was blessed by being led of God. Having been called, he is now enjoying being led and protected by God. When a man is called by God to do a task assigned by God, he’s absolutely totally invincible until God is through with Him. Nobody can stop him. They can hurt him. They can hinder him, but they cannot stop him until God is through with him. Paul died a martyrs death. I am not saying you won’t die a terrible death. However, until God is through with us and the task He has assigned to us, we are invincible as long as we are surrendered to Him.
All of us are ministers when we are surrendered. When we are surrendered to God in the ministry there are three things we have to learn right off. First of all, we have to learn that now we are a part of God’s agenda. I really appreciated what someone said once in our the ordination council. He said, “You know, there are certain things in scripture we just need to go on and do. As we are busy doing what God has told us to do, He will give the special insights, direction and leadership that we need in our walk.” That’s exactly right. People say all the time, “I don’t know what God wants me to do.” Friend, if you have got about 30 minutes, I can show you what He has told you to do. We need to be about those things. As we are about those things, God intervenes and gives us the special direction, the special wisdom and the special insights that He has in our lives. We are now a part of God’s agenda.
We learned that from Paul. Paul had to learn it. In Philippians he said, “I have learned to be content.” Oh, did he ever! As he was trying to get into Bithynia on his second missionary journey, God said, “No, not here.” He slammed the door. He tried to get into Asia, and God said, “No, not here.” He slammed the door and squeezed him in between the two places to a place called Troas. Paul had to learn to say, “I am not on my agenda any more. I planned my way, but God is directing my steps. I am on His agenda, not mine.” God took him over into Macedonia. America is enjoying religious freedom today because of Paul’s obedience to what God said. He was going one way, but God says, “No sir. I want you to go this way. You are on my agenda. You are not on your agenda.”
The second thing we must learn is to adjust to God’s time table. Three months before Acts 23 Paul wrote the book of Romans, if we understand correctly the dating of the book of Romans. In the book of Romans, he told the church he was coming to see them. Little did Paul know of the delays, denials, and detours that would take place over the next several years. As a matter of fact, we haven’t even gotten to it yet. Two of those years he spends as a forgotten man in a jail in Caesarea. He had no idea these things would be ahead of him. You have to learn, it’s on God’s time table that we are now on. We are not on our own. We can’t set it up as if we would want to do it. We are now on His time table. Even though we may know what He is going to do, it’s in His time that it will ever be done.
The third thing is what we are going to major on in this study. A man who has been set apart, called of God, must also understand that he must totally trust in God’s protection and never try to defend himself to escape difficulties. You must let God be God in the midst of them. We saw that in our last study as Paul was in a very precarious position. We are going to find it continues in Acts 23. You see, I don’t have to defend myself. Isn’t that wonderful? If God has called you all you’ve got to do is trust Him. You don’t have to run around covering your bases. You don’t have to defend yourself. Let God protect you. Let God watch over you and let His sovereign hand take you right through all that will be ahead.
When God sets you apart, you are now a marked man. The Devil cannot use you for his purposes. He knows God is using you for His. You are a marked man. I want to tell you where your persecution is going to come from. It’s not going to come from the world. It’s going to come from religious people who do not honor Jesus Christ in their life. Understand that now. Don’t look for it in the world. Look for it inside the church. Paul warned Timothy in 2 Timothy 3, “In the last days grievous times are coming.” I believe with all of my heart that he speaks of inside the church. He says men will be brutal and treacherous. They are going to be haters of men who do good for others. It’s going to come from within the circles and sphere of religious people. I want to show you this in Paul’s life. I hope it will be an encouragement to you. I know it’s an encouragement to me even to study.
In 2 Timothy 3:12, Paul says if you seek to live a godly life, you shall be persecuted. I wish he had gone on and said, “by those who come to church with you.” They can’t stand the fact you are surrendered to Jesus Christ. There are three things I want us to see in Acts 23:12-35. Can you believe we are going to cover that much scripture? It’s a narrative. It’s a story. We are seeing a doctrine illustrated in Paul’s life. I want you to see this. Perhaps it will help you down the road. I wish somebody had told me this. I wish somebody had told me this 30 years ago. Back then I thought everybody in the church loved Jesus and lived in the Word every day, and there was revival every time you came together. Boy, did I have a new thought coming!
First of all, I want you to see in verses 12-15 the hatefulness of religious people. Now notice this. These are religious people. This is not the pagan Roman soldiers. These are the religious Jews who have rejected Jesus Christ. “And when it was day.” This was right after he had been taken out of the situation with that Council of the Sanhedrin.
By the way, one verse we didn’t look at last time was verse 11. Evidently God put His hand of favor upon Paul. It says, “And 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.’” God says, “You have done good, Paul, but you are not through yet. You’ve got to go to Rome now. You said what I wanted you to say in Jerusalem, now you are going to Rome.”
Well, in verse 12 it says, “And when it was day, the Jews.” Now notice that phrase, “the Jews.” He wasn’t referring to all Jews. Only those who had rejected Christ were there. Why were they so mean towards Paul? Because they rejected his message, and they rejected his ministry. His message was the gospel. His ministry was the Gentiles. The Jews “formed a conspiracy, and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul.” That’s a fast and a half! Some people fast, and it’s a liquid fast. Some people fast, and it’s a food fast. This is a food and a liquid fast. I mean they are not going to drink anything. They are not going to eat anything until they see Paul dead.
It goes on to say in verse 13 that there were 40 of them in this group. I don’t know how if that’s big or small to you, but to me that’s quite a few folks who committed themselves to get rid of Paul. Now remember, these were “religious” people. Paul was a Jew, but he was a converted Jew. They could not stand the Christ in his life. To get rid of Paul was to shut up the message and to shut down the ministry. Don’t be fooled by everybody who runs by, slaps you on the back and shakes your hand. Some of them would as soon cut your throat as look at you. Now, I am saying this straight out. In the church, there are some of the meanest people you have ever been around in your entire life. They know how to fake it. They know how to play the game, but in their hearts, they deny Jesus as being Lord over their life.
I remember when my son was about nine years old. We had been at church, and he came to me at the dinner table that day and said, “Dad, I thought such and such was your friend.” I said, “Well, he is my friend.” I told him about how we did things together. He said, “Well, Dad, explain to me why he said this about you at the drinking fountain today when I was going to get a drink of water in the foyer?” You see, my son had overheard what my “friend” had said about me out in the foyer. It’s amazing how there are always little ears to hear whatever is going on. It began to dawn on me that just because a person has a big smile on their face and sticks their hand out to shake your hand, doesn’t mean they love God. That doesn’t mean they love Christ. Don’t ever be deceived. Don’t let it knock you off your path. There are going to be people who you are going to minister to that are meaner than some of the pagans out in this world because they have never bowed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Well, these people were so serious, they were going to fast until they saw Paul killed. Now the fact that they fasted tells me something. You see, religious people are deceived people. It took me a long time to figure this out. Most churches have a different form of government than we have at Woodland Park. They do not have the elder system. I don’t know what they have in the church you go to. If you are in a business meeting, set up where the congregation rules, I just want you to know something. Don’t get discouraged the first time you go to one of those meetings. There are a lot of people who are deceived. They don’t know Christ. They don’t understand the message. They honestly believe that what they are doing is right. It is religious. It is even pleasing to God. That’s exactly what they believe.
These people fasted. This was a fast to get rid of Paul. I know what I am saying sounds pretty hard. Let me just ask you a question. Have you been in some other church when a business meeting became one of the ugliest times you have ever spent in a church? One of the things I discovered was that most of the people who acted that way honestly thought they were doing the right thing. This is how deceptive religion is. They think they’ve got to do whatever they do to protect the form of the church. All the while they were denying the power that’s there to guide them in their lives. So we find out that sometimes religious people can be full of hatred.
Well, verses 14-15 tell us something even worse. It tells us that the leadership was involved with them. This is where it gets bad. It’s one thing to have a church member that’s in the flesh and doesn’t honor Christ. It’s another thing to have leadership that will back him up. “And they came to the chief priests and the elders, and said, ‘We have bound ourselves under a solemn oath to taste nothing until we have killed Paul.’” They tell the leadership this. “‘Now, therefore, you and the Council [that’s the Sanhedrin made up of the Sadducees and the Pharisees] notify the commander to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case by a more thorough investigation; and we for our part are ready to slay him before he comes near the place.’” Can you believe this? They used the leadership. They told them what they were going to do and said, “Now you be a part of the plan. You send a message to the commander of the Romans and get Paul sent down here under the reason that we need to question him some more. We are going to be laying in wait, and we are going to kill him before he gets here.” The leadership agrees.
Boy, I’m telling you. I’ve been in some situations where they had leaders that dynamite would have to get them out of the spot that they were in. They got there a lot like Ananias. Ananias was the leader of the Sanhedrin because he was a wealthy man, not because he came out of the proper lineage in his family. He was there because he was wealthy, and Herod appointed him there. He was a nasty, ugly, cruel man under the religious cloak of being the high priest. There are a lot of people in religious high offices in the church who are meaner than a snake. They don’t know Jesus. They wouldn’t bow to Him for anything. They use that position. Satan uses them as a pawn to try to stop what God is up to. Just be aware. That’s all I am asking you to do. Just be aware of the hatefulness of religious people. The people you want to be around are the ones who have bowed to Christ. You will see warmth immediately. The hatefulness of a religious person is absolutely incredible.
I spent about 15 years of my life in church recreation. Is there such a thing? There really is. That was my 40 years with the sheep. We used to have church softball leagues. If you want to see some of the ugliest tempers in this world, don’t go to a pagan softball game, go to a church league softball game. I want to tell you something. You’ll find out real quick what ugly flesh is all about. It’s right there. I just want you to be aware.
This is the first church I have ever pastored or served that the pulpit committee and me are still friends 11 years later. That’s right. Every single year for 11 years we have met together, the pulpit committee and myself, at someone’s house and just have the best time fellowshipping and praying together. That’s the first time in my entire ministry that the pulpit committee has been the kind of people who would do that. In other places, it wasn’t five weeks before I wanted to hang everyone of them. They wouldn’t tell you the truth about the church. They told you they wanted you to come in and listen to God. They didn’t mean that. I’m telling you. Watch out. Watch out for the hatefulness of religious people.
Secondly, I want you to look at the awesomeness of God’s omniscience. Now we just need to learn some words. That’s why I threw that one in there. The omnipotence of God means He is all powerful. The omnipresence of God means He is everywhere. You can run away from Him and run right into Him. He is everywhere you go. The omniscience of God means the all-knowing of God. He knows everything that’s going on. This is all a part of the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. That comforts my heart. He knows what these people are saying. Even when we don’t know, He knows. He’s always governing the affairs of His people. He knows what’s going on. He’s so far ahead of us that if we knew where He was, we would just absolutely go take a nap. He knows what’s going on. God knows everything about what men do in secret.
Now, they have formed this plot in verses 12-15. Look in verse 16: “But the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, and he came and entered the barracks, and told Paul.” I heard someone say one time, “Coincidence is when God decides to remain anonymous.” It’s incredible to me. He will mess up their plan every single time. If we surrender to Him, don’t be knocked off the track because they are out there. We know they are out there. They are going to be out there until Jesus comes back. Keep your eyes on Him and remember He’s the one who is going to mess up all their plans to do what they are trying to do to you.
I have found in the past years that I have had people out in the community defending me, and I didn’t even know I needed to be defended. Somebody would come to me and say, “I heard such and such the other day, and he was just defending you.” I said, “About what?” It caught my interest. He would begin to tell me something that was going on. I didn’t even know I needed defending, but God had already gone ahead and taken care of what was going on.
Paul’s nephew just happened to be where he overheard the plot to kill Paul. Well, he comes and tells Paul. Paul takes it from there. Verse 17 says, “And 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.’” Now remember, this is not the first time this has happened to Paul. If this was the first time, I’m sure Paul would have been really excited. Look back in Acts 20:3. On his third missionary journey he was about ready to come on across to Syria, but look what happens. Verse 3 says, “And there he spent three months in Greece. And when a plot was formed against him by the Jews to kill him, as he was about to set sail for Syria, he determined to return to Macedonia.” Somebody got the news of the plot to him. Every time he needed to know something, God made sure He knew it and told him exactly what to do. That’s the awesome omniscience of God.
Verses 18-22 of our text tell us what happens. “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 since he has something to tell you.’ And the commander took him by the hand and stepping aside, began to inquire of him privately, ‘What is it that you have to report to me?’ And he said, ‘The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down tomorrow to the Council, as though they were going to inquire somewhat more thoroughly about him. So do not listen to them, for more than 40 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.’ Therefore, the commander let the young man go, instructing him, ‘Tell no one that you have notified me of these things.’” You see, God spoils their plans.
When I went over to Romania several years ago I did not know the three years that we were there under Ceausescu that they were trying to put me on what you call a “black list.” The black list means either they don’t let you in the country or they do let you in the country and erase you as if you never showed up. They don’t know who you are. That’s kind of what the black list meant. Well, my contact had felt like it would be better for me to go under the name of Allen instead of Wayne or Barber. They never knew my first name. They never knew my last name. I was Pastor Allen. The secret police over there thought that I was a member of the CIA. I kind of liked that. They thought that since I was so big, I looked evidently big and important to them. I can’t imagine. They had never seen anybody important, I guess. They thought I was a part of the CIA. So they started following me from church to church. A pastor from Aradia told us this years later. The secret police told him this after Ceausescu was killed. They kept trying to find a Pastor Wayne Barber. The church people would say, “We don’t know any Wayne Barber. All we know is Allen.” They said, “No, no, no. We are looking for a Wayne Barber. They didn’t have the smarts to look at my middle name. It’s incredible. They are really good at their job. For three years, the Lord kept their minds blinded as to who I really was. They never could put their finger on it. They thought I was the same guy they were following, but when they talked to the pastors, they would get confused. It’s amazing to me how God confused them for three years.
Of the five pastors we worked with, three of them are the heads now of the Romania Baptist Union. All five of them are helping to rewrite the constitution in the country of Romania. God frustrated them and kept their plans from succeeding for three whole years until He could get His task accomplished. That’s the thing that blesses me.
You know, sometimes I tell my wife, “I am really glad I don’t know what’s going on sometimes.” Nobody stops God when He sets a man about a task. He’ll see to it that it gets done as long as we’ll stay surrendered to Him.
Well, we see the hatefulness of religious people. Secondly, we know the awesomeness of God’s omniscience. He knows long before you ever get there. He’s gone before you. The third thing I want you to see is the creative deliverance of God. He creatively delivers Paul. We saw in our last study how He did it. Paul was there with the Council. They had the Sadducees on one side and the Pharisees on the other side. Paul was sitting there, and God said, “Paul. Do you remember? They don’t agree with one another over the resurrection.” Paul remembered, and he just stood up and said, “Fellows, I am a Pharisee.” He got the two groups fighting one another. The troops had to move in and get Paul out. I love it.
Well, God does it again right here. It’s just as good. The commander says, “Don’t tell anybody what’s going on.” Paul needs help, and God’s is going to use the whole Roman army to get him out of there. Forty men are after him. Look at this. It says in verse 23, “And he called to him two of the centurions, saying, ‘Get two hundred soldiers ready, by the third hour of the night [That’s about 9:00 p.m.] to proceed to Caesarea, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen.” Four hundred seventy Romans soldiers are about to get around him and sneak him out of town. Now you tell me if that isn’t creative on God’s part. God looks down and sees His man. He sees a bunch of religious people who don’t honor Him trying to get Him, and God said, “Watch this.” He puts a little boy down there and spoils their whole plot. The little boy goes to the commander. The commander says, “Shhh! Don’t tell anybody.” He orders 470 men to escort Paul out of town. Now 40 is a lot of folks, but not compared to 470. Not only that, Paul gets to ride on a horse. I mean, he gets to drive out of town in a Cadillac and not even worry about what’s going on in the situation.
I was listening to Christian radio one night as I was going home, and a preacher was preaching. I don’t know who he was. He’s got sort of a foreign voice. He is good, though. It was around 9:00 or so on Sunday night. I can’t think of who it was. He was talking about back in the Vietnam War there was a missionary there in a very hostile area. So he began to build a barge to get his people out of there. They were going to take him to safety. Two soldiers, however, one night caught him as he was building that barge. They came to him and said, “Are you building this barge to set your people free and to escape this area?” He lied and said, “No.” That night he went back to his room and felt so convicted that he had lied that he asked the Lord to forgive him and said, “Lord, I won’t do it again. I’m just going to ask you not to have them ask me that anymore.” So they finished the barge. They have all the people on it and lo, and behold, here come those same two guards. He’s got a barge full of people. They are about ready to push off. They stop him at gunpoint and said, “We are asking you a question. Are you using this barge to take those women and children to safety? Are you causing them to escape?” He had promised the Lord he would not lie again. He said, “Yes, I am.” They said, “Praise God, we want to go with you.” They laid their guns down and got on the boat. They were believers. The man using the illustration said they wouldn’t have made it without these two men because it was mainly women and children on board. It was such a long journey. He was an older fellow. The soldiers were the ones who literally got them to where they were going.
God is creative when it comes to protecting His people. He’ll use the pagan world if He has to, to do whatever is necessary to assure that the task is going to get done. Now, isn’t that great! You can go to whatever church you are going to, walk in there and know that if God called you there, that’s His business. You are on His time table. You are on His agenda, and as long as you stay surrendered to Him, He’ll protect you in ways that you won’t even know you are being protected. You don’t have to defend yourself. You don’t have to look over your shoulder. You can just trust the fact that God is before you. He is behind you. He is above you. He is within you, and He’s beneath you. There’s not one single thing they can do to a hair on your body unless God says it’s all right. You can trust Him all the way through.
I won’t tell you how many nights I have gone home and worried about what I have “heard.” I have wasted hours trying to figure out what I am going to do when God had it all figured out if I would have just learned to trust Him.
Well, in verses 25-30, the commander sends a note that gave them the clearance to get over to Caesarea. Verses 31-35 just simply leads you right on in. It says in verse 31, “So the soldiers, in accordance with their orders, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. But the next day, leaving the horsemen to go on with him, they returned to the barracks. And when these had come to Caesarea, and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. And when he had read it, he asked from what province he was. And when he learned that he was from Cilicia, he said, ‘I will give you a hearing after your accusers arrive also,’ giving orders for him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.”
We don’t know much about this. However we do know that God is getting him from Jerusalem to where? To Rome. God has His own way of getting him there. Now, if Paul had planned it himself, he would not have planned it quite this way. He had to be escorted at night by 470 Roman soldiers to Caesarea. He is going to have to spend two years in a jail cell in Caesarea, almost as a forgotten man, before the story even picks up. God was in charge and doing eternally what He had chosen all along.
I turned on the television set to see how the Atlanta Braves were doing one night. They were playing Pittsburgh in the seventh game of the best of seven series. They were tied up 3 to 3 in the series. They were down 2 to 0. I was tired, and I told my wife, “You know I am just going to go on to bed.” About that time the phone rang. My son was on the phone, and he said, “Dad, are you about to go to bed?” I said, “Yeah, I just got in, and I’m tired. By the way, the Pirates are killing the Braves.” He said, “Dad, don’t go to bed.” Now I don’t know whether he’s gifted with something or not, but he said, “Dad, they are going to win the game in the bottom of the ninth, 3 to 2.” I said, “Right!” He said, “I’ll tell you what. You stay up until I get home.”
So I watched the game, the bottom of the seventh, top of the eighth, bottom of the eighth, top of the ninth, and I’m thinking, “Oh, come on, son. It’s 2 to 0. They are going to lose.” Since I told him I’d stay up, I didn’t get discouraged by what I saw. I just sort of held on for the last half of the inning and lo and behold! When they got up and that boy made that error at second base, I was thinking to myself, “Oh, self. They are going to win this game. They are going to win this game.” Sid Breem is on base. He’s a Christian and graduated from Liberty University. A friend of mine down in Jackson, Mississippi said he was praying with his wife, and his wife started praying. She was so excited. She said, “Oh, Lord. You know he’s a Christian. Let him win the game.” I don’t really think God cares about baseball, but He did it, didn’t He. Sid Breem has had three operations on his knees. The slowest man on the team is the one who slides in and makes the winning run.
I thought to myself, how much an illustration this is to the Christian life. A lot of guys will go into the ministry so fired up, and they will forget about those hateful religious people. They will forget about the fact that God has already covered their bases. What will happen is, it is the top of the ninth, and they are down 2 to 0. They will check out before the inning is over. They have forgotten even if it is in the bottom of the ninth, God always wins with His people. Don’t miss what God may be doing. You may go through some tough times.
I was thinking of our ministry. There are two ways of communicating. One is by what you say, and one is by what you write. I’ve tried to write it, and I tried to say it, but evidently I’m not doing very well. Four or five years ago, God put on our heart to establish an outreach equipping conference ministry of our church. For the last four or five years, it has been like the top part of the ninth because it seemed like nothing would get off the ground. We tried everything to make it happen. God said, “It will only happen when I choose for it to happen. You can’t do a thing about it.” I’m so glad we stuck around and hung on because now it must be the bottom of the ninth. He has certainly kicked this thing into gear.
You wait upon the Lord. Your agenda is His. Don’t look over your shoulder and don’t worry about the mean religious people. They are a dime a dozen. God knows it. God’s ahead of you. He’ll protect you, and if you’ll stay surrendered to Him, He’ll take you through, even if it has to be in the bottom of the ninth when things are bad.
I have told my wife many times, “If it wasn’t for people, I could live the Christian life.” I finally learned. God knows. God knows all of these things. God protects, and God takes care. I could have told you a lot of other things, but to me, that was as appropriate as anything. That’s the hardest lesson to learn. I think the thing that is the most gut wrenching to somebody who loves Jesus is to find somebody who will smile at you, shake your hand, take you to a ball game, do things for you and cut your throat when you turn your back. Just get ready. It’s there. They are there, and they are going to be there until Jesus comes back. I guess the only reason He leaves them in churches is just to keep us honest and trusting Him. That’s the only thing I can figure, because if everybody just loved Jesus, I think I would get too used to it. You just have to live it that way.