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Acts 23:1-22 | Part 46




  • Context: Paul had been compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22)

  • In Acts 21, we see Paul at the temple in Jerusalem. There he was seized and beaten by a bloodthirsty mob attempting to kill him

  • Why did they do this? Legalism. The mob cried out, “This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place. What’s more, he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” (Acts 21:28) –a false allegation mind you!

  • The Roman commander took Paul into custody and allowed Paul to make a speech to the bloodthirsty mob (Acts 21:40)

  • Last week PT covered the reality of rejection in the life of the believer from Acts 22:1-29

  • PT said, “When rejection comes, the joy of the Lord gives strength”

  • Paul shared his testimony of Christ transforming him from persecutor of the church to preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ

  • The Jewish people rejected Paul’s testimony at the point when he told them that Jesus said to him, “Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles.”

  • With this single statement, Jesus declared and affirmed that His forgiveness of Paul’s sins was total and instantaneous (namely his sin of approving the stoning of Stephen). Moreover, our sovereign Lord now had a purpose and mission for Paul (to preach Christ to the Gentiles)—remember that because it comes up later in our passage today (verse 11).

30 The next day, since he [the Roman commander] wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and instructed the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to convene. He brought Paul down and placed him before them. -- Acts 22:30 (CSB)

This week we find ourselves in Acts 23:1-22. The main point of the sermon is this:

Jesus is sovereign in the chaos, therefore take courage and speak the truth.

1. Jesus is sovereign over our reactions (Acts 23:2-5 John 18:23)

2. Jesus is sovereign over theological disagreements (Acts 23:6-10 John 4:20-26)

3. Jesus is sovereign over evil (Acts 23:12-22 John 11:47-53)

Acts 23:1-22

Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience to this day.” 2 The high priest Ananias ordered those who were standing next to him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! You are sitting there judging me according to the law, and yet in violation of the law are you ordering me to be struck? ” 4 Those standing nearby said, “Do you dare revile God’s high priest? ”
  • Here we see Paul’s humanity. He reacted in the flesh. John 18:23 shows a parallel event happening to Jesus where He was struck in the face during his examination before the high priest, but Jesus reacted calmly with a question. Christ, the perfect One, shows perfect self-control when being mistreated.

  • But Paul, in Acts 23:3, does not react with self-control and poise

This brings us to our first point:

1.) Jesus is sovereign over our reactions

  • Have you ever reacted poorly with a sinful outburst in a given situation?

  • This past week I reacted poorly in a parenting situation, and I lost my temper by raising my voice at my daughter. I had to apologize to her. After we reconciled there was a new level of sweetness in our father-daughter relationship. When we are stressed to the point where we lose our cool, we must repent and make things right. Look at what Paul does in Acts 23:5.

5 “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest,” replied Paul. “For it is written, You must not speak evil of a ruler of your people.”
  • Here Paul quotes Exodus 22:28 “You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people.”

  • In the wake of Paul’s fleshly outburst, the Spirit reminded him of Scripture (Ex. 22:28). And by God’s grace, Paul humbled himself before the Sanhedrin, and admitted he was in the wrong by quoting Scripture. Point of application: maybe you’re like me and you’ve lost your temper during a tense situation with your children, or maybe with a family member, co-worker, friend, neighbor, or roommate. We must let Scripture speak louder than our emotions in such moments. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you in such moments. Ask Him to help you recall Scripture that speaks directly to the situation. We have a Savior who went through the same exact thing as Paul (being struck in the face during an unjust trial), and He was able to react calmly with poise and self-control. Through Christ, we have access to the same self-control—we bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is sovereign in the chaos, therefore take courage and speak the truth.

6 When Paul realized that one part of them were Sadducees and the other part were Pharisees, he cried out in the Sanhedrin, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am being judged because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead! ” 7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, and neither angel nor spirit, but the Pharisees affirm them all. 9 The shouting grew loud, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party got up and argued vehemently, “We find nothing evil in this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him? ” 10 When the dispute became violent, the commander feared that Paul might be torn apart by them and ordered the troops to go down, take him away from them, and bring him into the barracks.
  • What is going on here? Why did Paul purposely bring up a theological disagreement between the Pharisees and Sadducees? What was the point?

  • He was making a bold step to leverage his background as a Pharisee to his advantage. He perceived that he would not be treated justly before the Sanhedrin. He needed support. By bringing up the resurrection of the dead, Paul incited the Pharisees to side with him and even defend him before the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection of the dead. So intense was the theological disagreement between the two factions that the crowd became violent and Paul’s very life was in grave danger. But the commander protected Paul and ordered him to be sequestered into the barracks.

This brings us to our second point:

2. Jesus is sovereign over theological disagreements (Acts 23:6-10 John 4:20-26)

  • Here’s the takeaway for us: have you ever found yourself in the midst of an intense theological disagreement? If so, you’re in good company. John 4:20-26 shows how Jesus used a theological disagreement between Himself and the Samaritan woman to lead to her salvation. She came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, who declared all things to her. She said, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done;” (John 4:29).

  • Here in Acts 23, the theological disagreement about the resurrection of the dead took a violent turn, but it’s clear from the text and the rest of Acts that Jesus exercised complete sovereign control over everything that happened to Paul. He superintended all of the details in Paul’s life. Do you believe that Jesus is working and causing all of the situations in your life to work together for your good and the glory of God? Do you believe that Christ is involved at a very intimate level in the details of your life? You might just find yourself with your family in a broken-down minivan in the middle of the road with no place to go. Is Jesus still in control when we can find no way out? Do you believe that He’s still working when life spirals out of control? I’m convinced, from this passage and the rest of Scripture, that Jesus is sovereign over every situation in our lives.

Jesus is sovereign in the chaos, therefore take courage and speak the truth.

Now, how do we know from this passage that Jesus is sovereign in the chaos and intimately involved in the details of our lives? Acts 23:11 provides the answer. Look at verse 11.

11 The following night, the Lord stood by him and said, “Have courage! For as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so it is necessary for you to testify in Rome.”
  • Acts 23:11 is the cornerstone verse of the entire passage. Indeed, this vision of Christ was another turning point in the life and ministry of Paul. Think about the stress he was facing in the midst of these trials. In the past few chapters, Paul’s very life has been threatened multiple times. He needed encouragement. He needed reassurance. Jesus gives Paul exactly what he needs in verse 11.

  • Verse 11 says “the Lord stood by him…” What a magnificent phrase! Jesus is with us (Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…and lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matt. 28:19-20)

  • Do you believe this? Do you truly believe that Jesus is standing with you in the chaos? How does His presence—His being with you make you feel?

  • The first words Jesus utters to Paul in verse 11 is, “Have courage!”

  • This phrase “Have courage!” is one Greek word:

  • tharséō (from the root thar-, "bolstered because of being warmed up," derived from 2294 /thársos, "emboldened from within") – properly, bolstered within which supports unflinching courage – literally, to radiate warm confidence (exude "social boldness") because of being warm-hearted.

  • tharséō ("emboldened to show courage") refers to God bolstering the believer, empowering them with a bold inner-attitude (to be "of good courage"). For the believer, 2293 /tharséō ("showing boldness") is the result of the Lord infusing His strength by His inworking of faith ("inbirthed persuasion," 4102 /pístis). Showing this unflinching, bold courage means living out the inner confidence (inner bolstering) that is Spirit-produced.

Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” -- Joshua 1:9 (CSB)

  • In Acts 23:11, Jesus told Paul to have courage to do what? Courage to testify about Christ in Rome as he had done so in Jerusalem.

  • Through every trial moving forward, Paul had these reassuring words of our sovereign Lord to fall back on. He could remain rooted and grounded in the truth of Christ’s promise.

  • We also as followers of Christ must remain rooted and grounded in the truth of Christ’s promises given to us in Scripture.

  • In verse 11, Jesus says “it is necessary for you to testify in Rome.”

  • The Greek word for “necessary” means: properly, what must happen, i.e. what is absolutely necessary ("it behooves that . . . ").

  • This word implies divine orchestration at work. God sovereignly had decided that it was absolutely necessary for Paul to make it to Rome and testify about Christ. The redemptive plan of Jesus Christ will never be thwarted.

  • Now we have the beauty of hindsight! Spoiler alert! Paul does make it to Rome (see Acts 28). Look at how the book of Acts ends:

30 Paul stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And he welcomed all who visited him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. -- Acts 28:30-31 (CSB)

Jesus is sovereign in the chaos, therefore take courage and speak the truth.

Now back to Acts 23. The timing of Jesus appearing to Paul for reassurance and bolstering is impeccable! Look at what happens next. Paul cannot catch a break.

THE PLOT AGAINST PAUL 12 When it was morning, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under a curse not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty who had formed this plot. 14 These men went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have bound ourselves under a solemn curse that we won’t eat anything until we have killed Paul. 15 So now you, along with the Sanhedrin, make a request to the commander that he bring him down to you as if you were going to investigate his case more thoroughly. But, before he gets near, we are ready to kill him.”

16 But the son of Paul’s sister, hearing about their ambush, came and entered the barracks and reported it to Paul. 17 Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander, because he has something to report to him.”

18 So he took him, brought him to the commander, and said, “The prisoner Paul called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, because he has something to tell you.”

19 The commander took him by the hand, led him aside, and inquired privately, “What is it you have to report to me? ”

20 “The Jews,” he said, “have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the Sanhedrin tomorrow, as though they are going to hold a somewhat more careful inquiry about him. 21 Don’t let them persuade you, because there are more than forty of them lying in ambush ​— ​men who have bound themselves under a curse not to eat or drink until they have killed him. Now they are ready, waiting for your consent.”

22 So the commander dismissed the young man and instructed him, “Don’t tell anyone that you have informed me about this.” -- Acts 23:1-22 (CSB)

This brings us to our third point:

Not only is Jesus sovereign over our reactions and theological disagreements but also:

3. Jesus is sovereign over evil (Acts 23:12-22 John 11:47-53)

  • Acts 23:16 tells us that the son of Paul’s sister overhead the conspiracy and plot to kill Paul. A coincidence? Absolutely not. Jesus is completely sovereign over evil. Christ’s plan to have Paul testify about the truth of the gospel in Rome could not be thwarted. Evil is on a leash. The demonic schemes of this world will only go as far as the sovereign Lord allows and even orchestrates (Genesis 50:20). The plot to kill Paul and the Roman commander’s awareness of it allowed Paul to receive heightened protection. It is clear how the Lord orchestrated these events for His own purposes and glory.

  • Now let’s be careful how we apply the events of this historical narrative to our own lives. We are not promised heightened protection as followers of Jesus Christ. God is sovereign and we are safe in His sovereignty, but that does not guarantee physical safety for us at all times. We have many biblical examples of people suffering harm, but still being firmly held by the sovereign hand of almighty God.

  • Let’s briefly consider another conspiracy and plot to kill someone who was undoubtedly living for the will of God.

John 11:47-53 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and were saying, “What are we going to do since this man is doing many signs? 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 One of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! 50 You’re not considering that it is to your advantage that one man should die for the people rather than the whole nation perish.” 51 He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to unite the scattered children of God. 53 So from that day on they plotted to kill him. -- John 11:47-53 (CSB)
  • Can we just marvel for a moment at the beauty and brilliance of God’s sovereignty over evil men? He takes what man intends for evil and brings salvation out of it. In Acts 23, Jesus delivered Paul out of the hands of bloodthirsty men so that he could testify about Christ in Rome. In the gospels, God the Father sovereignly orchestrated Jesus to fall into the hands of bloodthirsty men to bring us salvation and unite the scattered children of God. Jesus is sovereign over evil.

Indeed, Jesus is sovereign in the chaos, therefore take courage and speak the truth.

What is the truth? The truth is a Person. Jesus told us He is the truth in John 14:6. This means that ultimate reality is found in Him alone.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “I’m not like Paul. I haven’t had a vision of Jesus telling me that I must testify about Him in Rome.” How can we know that Jesus is sovereign in the chaos of our own lives? How can we be courageous to share with others the good news of Christ’s perfect life, sacrificial death for our sins, and triumphant resurrection? How can we know of His sovereignty for ourselves and have boldness for Him as a result?

I would like to suggest two ways we can know Jesus is sovereign over our own lives:

1. The infallibility and truth of the Bible witnesses to the fact of His sovereignty

2. The Holy Spirit reveals Christ’s sovereignty within our own hearts (He makes Jesus real to us)

For non-Christians I would suggest this: read through the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for yourself and discover if Jesus really is who He say He is. Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:18, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me…” That…is…shocking!

Jesus is sovereign in the chaos, therefore take courage and speak the truth.


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