And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome. — Acts 23:11
At some point in life, everyone faces hard places. When such times occur, it is comforting to remember that God knows exactly where we are, and what we need to cheer and encourage our hearts.
Dixie Matthews is one person who has proved that. She recounts, “When my husband, Hal, and I were married, we had a game of matching strides when we walked. He could usually outstep me but it was still fun to try. We always enjoyed walking together, but one day he went where I could not go with him. He passed through the Valley of Death, and then I was a widow — and there were no footprints but my own.”
In those first days after Hal died of cancer, everything seemed unreal to Dixie. Family, friends, and neighbors did their best to help and offer comfort. Business arrangements were made, and the funeral came and went. Then, Dixie had to face day-to-day living. She was a young mother with three small children at the time, and she reflects, “I was amazed to realize that life still went on as usual, even though the best part of me was gone. I was overwhelmed by the responsibilities that suddenly were all mine.” However, just a few days after Hal’s death, God brought her comfort in a very tangible way.
She recounts, “Standing in my front doorway I noticed a hook on one of our front porch pillars. I said, ‘Lord, You know people will be sending us flowers. Please lay it on someone’s heart to give us a plant for that hook.’ Then I forgot my prayer. A few days later, we returned from having dinner with one of my brothers. There, hanging on that very hook, was a large, beautiful fuchsia basket. Tears ran down my face as I remembered my brief prayer, and realized that God had heard it — and He cared!”
In our text today, Paul the Apostle faced a different type of challenge, but in his situation as well, God brought comfort and encouragement in a tangible way.
One day earlier, the crowd in a Jewish synagogue where Paul had been speaking had erupted in anger when he stated that he was turning to the Gentiles with the message of salvation. As the hysteria of the mob escalated, Paul was only saved from being torn in pieces through the intervention of the Roman chief captain. Although he was safe for the moment from physical assault, we can imagine the thoughts that must have gone through Paul’s mind that night as he lay in the Roman garrison. Was his long-cherished desire to preach the Gospel in the great capital of the Roman Empire to be frustrated? No doubt he wondered, What is going to happen? Will my work for God be cut short? Will I be silenced forever because of the malice of the Jews?
With his future in jeopardy and his life hanging in the balance, Paul needed some unusual support. Then the Lord whom Paul loved, and for whom he was suffering, stood by him and spoke simple words of encouragement — the words recorded in our focus verse. The divine message assured him that not only would he live, but God had a wider field of service still before him. Rome must hear his testimony as well as Jerusalem! There might be delay and suffering and a long trial of patience, but the end was certain — he was to reach the goal of Rome with the message of Jesus Christ. What an encouragement that must have been.
There are valuable lessons to learn from Paul’s experience. First, while challenging circumstances will come to each of us, we can be sure that the Lord knows all about them. Whatever distress we face, and no matter who or what aligns against us, if we are serving the Lord, He will be with us. Notice that the Lord stood at Paul’s side in the night hours! We may never see a physical manifestation of Jesus until He comes again or we stand before Him at death. However, the Lord is present with us spiritually, and He understands how we feel in all of our difficult circumstances.
Ask God to open your eyes to the many details in your situation that indicate His presence. Take note of the evidence around you of God’s care. Dixie did so, and it brought comfort to her heart! The more we recognize even the smallest blessings as gifts from God, the more we realize how present He is in our lives. In every conflict, stress, and heart-breaking circumstance, we can lean on God. He is willing and ready to give us strength, encouragement, hope, counsel, and the ability to endure whatever may be facing us.
Chapter 23 can be divided into three main sections: Paul’s appearance before the Sanhedrin, which resulted in a furious dispute between the Pharisees and Sadducees (verses 1-10); the foiled plot to kill Paul (verses 11-24); and Paul’s safe transfer to Caesarea to appear before Felix (verses 25-35).
The “council” Paul addressed at the beginning of this chapter was the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish judicial body in Jerusalem, which operated under the leadership of the high priest. The point of this meeting was to determine whether there were grounds to institute a legal proceeding against Paul. While the Romans respected determinations made by the Jewish council, they did not allow them to sentence a person to death without approval by the Romans.
Historical records indicate that Ananias was a crude, hot-tempered, and overbearing man, and one who was noted for cruelty and violence. He served as high priest from A.D. 48-58. When the revolt against Rome broke out in A.D. 66, his own people assassinated him.
Ananias’ order for those who stood by Paul to strike him was an illegal act, as it was against the law to strike a prisoner before a conviction was handed down. In Paul’s case, he had not even been charged. In verse 3, Paul called Ananias a “whited wall,” which was a metaphor for a hypocrite. A person who stepped on a grave became ceremonially unclean, and for that reason, graves were whitewashed in order to make them visible at night. Thus, while the graves appeared clean, inside they were dirty and rotten. When Paul realized the identity of the one who ordered the striking, he in effect apologized for his words (verse 5), quoting from Exodus 22:28.
In view of the uproar in the Sanhedrin and the uncertainty regarding Paul’s future, the comforting words of cheer when “the Lord stood by him” in the night (verse 11) were accompanied by the promise that Paul would achieve his goal of witnessing for the Lord in Rome (a record of his purpose is found in Acts 19:21).
The conflict between the beliefs of the Pharisees and Sadducees regarding the resurrection has been well-documented by the Jewish historian Josephus. The viewpoint of the Pharisees, which was based on Daniel 12:2, was the one held by the mainstream of Jewish orthodoxy.
Some historians suggest that the conspirators who banded together in a pact to kill Paul were probably from the Zealots who were later responsible for the revolt against Rome. Verse 12 states that they “bound themselves under a curse.” This was a practice of calling down an execution of judgment upon themselves if their pledges were to prove false. Taking such an oath was evidence of extreme religious fanaticism, and indicates the very real danger Paul was in.
As a result of the warning delivered by Paul’s nephew, the Apostle was transferred in the darkness of night to Caesarea where he was to appear before Felix the governor. He was accompanied by an escort of 470 armed soldiers. Claudius Lysias, the chief officer or tribune who prepared the official document that went with Paul, was a high-ranking military officer in charge of anywhere from 600 to 1,000 men. He likely crafted the letter most carefully to present his actions toward a Roman citizen in the best possible light.
(Hannah's Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
IV. The witness “unto the uttermost part of the earth”
E. The journey of Paul to Rome
1. His witness in Jerusalem
c. Paul’s defense
(2) His second defense
(c) The content (23:1-9)
(d) The conflict (23:10)
d. Paul’s deliverance (23:11-35)
(1) The encouragement (23:11)
(2) The plot (23:12-16)
(3) The counterplot (23:17-24)
(4) The letter to Felix (23:25-30)
(5) The deliverance to Felix (23:31-35)
Just as God comforted Paul in the midst of distressing circumstances, He will provide the encouragement we need in our time of trial.