Our passage today is Acts 23:23-35.
How we get our news has changed in recent years. For most of my life it was the TV news, before that it was radio, before that it was newspapers and before that I suppose it must have been word of mouth. These days more and more people are accessing the news online. It makes sense; breaking news can be delivered straight to your phone and the material is there for our convenience. We can read it at a time that suits us rather than to wait for the six o’clock or ten o’clock news. It’s is also possible to scan the news and read the stuff that we find interesting. There has also been a major change in that anyone can post news on the internet. It has been invaluable in places where governments has sought to suppress the truth as we have watched the truth before our eyes filmed and uploaded in almost real time. The problem is that this kind of news is not subject to the same scrutiny as major news outlets; in other words it can be very biased. In today’s passage news is sent to the Governor but some of it is a little biased.
For those who wanted Paul dead, the transfer to Caesarea was bad news. Forty of them had taken an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. When they made the vow it all seemed so simple. All they had to do was wait until Paul was brought again before the council and ambush him on the way. Now he was out of their reach. Whatever did happen to these men; did they starve or break their vows? The chief priests and elders were involved as well; they didn’t intend to risk their own lives of course but they were quite happy to see these others do it. Is it too far to say there is a parallel between them and the evil men inciting young people to carry out suicide bombings today? It provides more evidence that faith and zeal are useless if they are focused on the wrong thing; without repentance, it can only end in tears.
The commander of the Roman garrison acted impeccably towards Paul once he discovered that Paul was a Roman Citizen. Prior to that however, he had been quite willing to have Paul flogged and essentially interrogated under torture. Strangely, he seemed to forget that in his letter to the Governor where he portrayed himself as a fearless defender of Rome’s citizens. I suspect it’s a natural human trait to ‘accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative’, not many of us enjoy recounting our failures. The commander just wanted to be viewed in the best possible light but are we like that? Do we seek the approval of human beings rather than God? Do we ‘sell’ ourselves or proclaim Christ? I have to challenge myself, ‘is this about me or about Jesus?’ I know what I want to be like and I know I need to change, perhaps you do too? We need to ask the Lord to sanctify us by his Spirit to be more like Jesus.
For Paul, all of this must have been strange. The Spirit had led him to Jerusalem; he had even had an appearance of the Lord Jesus. He knew he was where he should be and he knew that he would go to Rome but it wasn’t easy, they were trying to kill him. He didn’t remain passive when told of the plot, he informed the commander. There is a balance here of course and there are plenty of incidents in Scripture of people trying to help God out and things going pear shaped, think of Abram, Sara and Hagar or Moses and his misguided attempt to help his own people but these are cases where people entered into sin to achieve their aims. Paul, on the other hand, behaved with integrity and openness. It must have been bewildering and traumatic but in the middle of it, Paul held on to the promise that he had received; pretty much the same as us then.
I’m so secure
You’re here with me.
You stay the same
Your love remains
here in my heart.
So close I believe
You’re holding me now,
in Your hands I belong.
You’ll never let me go;
So close I believe
You’re holding me now
in Your hands I belong,
You’ll never let me go. (So Close – Rueben Morgan)