GETTING THE MESSAGE/Don’t be surprised at suffering
In Acts 23:11, the apostle Paul is in the Roman barracks to protect him from the Jews, who again had threatened his life. Paul had twice appealed to the Jews in Jerusalem to consider the truth of the gospel, but his message had been rejected in malice. Paul had to be discouraged and overwhelmed by such vehement, violent opposition. The Lord came and strengthened him.
In verse 11 we read, “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.’” The hardness of the Jews who rejected Christ reminds us we must rightly separate God and his creation.
Neither the natural world nor any institution in it is sacred and to be worshipped. God alone is sacred and to be worshipped. The Jews had elevated their institutions and their country above God, so God was on their lips, but their hearts were far from him. Christ was a stumbling block to them. His death proved God was not pleased with them, and this offended their pride.
In verse 11, the Lord promises Paul he will make it to Rome, but in verses 12-15 we see that the Jews conspire to murder Paul. They hatch a plot to persuade the Roman tribune to send Paul to the Jewish council for more examinations, but they plan to ambush and kill Paul before he arrives. Their purposes conflict with the promise of Christ to Paul, and the rest of the passage, Acts 23: 16-35, shows us the means the Lord used to preserve Paul’s life, as he promised.
An important doctrine we see in this passage is that the Lord Jesus Christ has been given all power and authority over this world. The Lord tells Paul he is to testify to the facts about him. One of those facts is that after he was raised from the dead, he ascended into heaven and now is seated at the right hand of God, a position of sovereign authority and power.
Jerusalem and Rome both represent the world’s opposition to Christ’s sovereignty, but they are also fields from which the Lord will harvest a people and redeem them from their rebellion. So he commands his gospel to be proclaimed to all men. We have seen in the book of Acts that the proclamation began in Jerusalem and has spread throughout the Roman Empire.
It is clear that what is happening in Acts 23 is the outcome of neither chance nor the whims of political leaders. What is happening is the out working of the Lord’s purpose to bring Paul to Rome in order to bear witness about Christ. Human plans cannot overrule the purpose of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The book of Revelation depicts for us the clear sovereignty, peace, and blessedness of Christ in heaven, along with the tribulation and turmoil on earth. In Revelation 5 the question is asked as to who can accomplish the purposes of God in a world full of corruption. The answer is the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the root of David, a reference to the promise of Christ in the Old Testament.
The scene in Revelation 5 then shifts to a Lamb, who appeared to have been slain, coming and taking the scroll from the throne of God, which represents the purposes of God. The Lamb is worthy to open the seals of the scroll because he ransomed people for God from every tribe and nation. He is Christ the Lord, and he will accomplish the purposes of God.
The rest of Revelation depicts for us both the rebellion on earth against Christ’s authority, instigated by the devil, and the inevitable victory of Christ. All those who seek refuge in him shall be saved and inherit his eternal kingdom. What we see in Acts is the unfolding of this conflict between the devil’s agenda and Christ’s. Christians shouldn’t be surprised at suffering.
Many Christians in history have walked through blood, suffering, and many afflictions for their faith. The Lord Jesus, the Captain of our salvation, suffered and died, before he ascended into heaven. Christ has borne the complete cross, the wrath of God. Our sufferings for his name are in view of this.
It is the facts of the gospel we live by while we are in this world. Christ’s sovereign grace and rule is the ground of all our confidence and joy. And he directs us to submission to his sovereignty so that we might have hope even in the most adverse of circumstances here, waiting on his Day, and that our preservation in this world, like Paul, might be to use our days to honor Christ.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.