Promises and Protection – Acts 23:11-35

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

October 22, 2006

Promises and Protection

Acts 21:11-35


Over the ten years that we have had the sign out in front of the church I have had people occasionally call or stop by to say something about it. Sometimes they are complimentary and sometimes they complain. I had someone make an appointment with me this week to talk about the sign. He told me his background and that he was a Christian and which evangelical church he was attending. His stated motive for coming to see me was to give his assessment that the sign had too many messages that caused people to think about their sin and not enough things about the love of God. He believed that we would be more effective if we had more of the later and less of the former. That opened up a discussion that lasted over an hour which even included the nature of the gospel. I thanked him for coming and assured him I would review the messages we have put up in consideration of his thoughts. I looked over the last four years of messages and found that they were very balanced. There were positive things about God and His love, grace and mercy to mankind as well as some pointed statements about sin, but the vast majority of messages were proverbial statements and quips regarding how to live a better life before God and with men.

As I considered some of the other statements the man made that revealed what was really bothering him, I recognized that his misunderstandings were fairly common to Christians in America. First, there is a misconception of the gospel message that has become quite common. Second, there is a misconception about how God wants us to deal with our human frailties.

The Gospel

The gospel is so often presented from a man centered point of view that the reason for it is lost and with it the true nature of its message. One of the most popular tracts in America starts out, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” That is a true statement, but it has to be clearly defined and explained or it leads people to the idea that God exists so that they can have a good life. That is not true. Other popular tracts emphasize God’s love in saving you from the torment of eternal hell. That is also a true message, but that is not the gospel or the purpose of salvation.

The clearest presentation of the gospel is the book of Romans for that is Paul’s stated purpose for writing it (1:11-17). Paul states that he is “not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous shall live by faith’” (vs. 16,17). The starting point of the gospel is God and its revelation of His character of righteousness. Man is not the center or purpose of the gospel.

What is man saved from? Paul continues in vs. 18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Paul then continues by explaining the unrighteousness of the immoral, the moral and the religious concluding in 3:10-12 with a quote from Psalm 14:1-3. “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” It is only after Paul makes it clear that every individual has sinned against the righteous God does he explain how the righteousness of God is manifested “through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe” (3:21,22). They are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (3:24).

Paul explains the nature of this faith that results in justification in Chapter 4 and then its results in Chapter 5 including how Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross demonstrated God’s love for us while we were yet sinners (5:8). Jesus paid the price of your sin so that He might redeem you. Chapters 6, 7, & 8 all deal with various aspects of living the Christian life in holiness for we are no longer to be slaves to sin but rather slaves of righteousness (6:12-23), and though there is still a struggle against sin (7:14-24), God is faithful in delivering us from it for He has adopted us into His family (8:14,15) and is conforming us to the image of His Son (8:29). “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:23).

That is the purpose of our salvation. It frees us from our sin that we might live holy lives before God (Eph. 2:4). Salvation from hell is simply the wonderful consequence of our sin being forgiven by justification through faith in Jesus Christ resulting in our being adopted as God’s children. All of it is “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Eph. 1:6). The gospel is a message about God and His character, and its purpose is to glorify Him. The central figure in the gospel is Jesus Christ. Man is simply the beneficiary of what God has done.

The gospel is the good news of what God is like and what He has done, but it is predicated on the bad news that man has sinned against his holy Creator and remains under God’s condemnation until he repents and turns in faith to Jesus Christ. It is a message that demands man to be completely humble before God, or as Jesus stated it at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:3), “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” When man is made the center of the gospel it perverts the message and adds to man’s pride which in turn hinders him from salvation from sin. The great tragedy is that there are so many that profess to be Christians while merrily continuing to live in their sin while clutching on to a fraudulent fire insurance policy. They have entered through the broad gate and are on the broad road leading to destruction (Mt. 7:13), and despite their protests they will hear the Lord say to them, “Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Mt. 7:23). Yes, God does love you and He does have a wonderful plan for your life. But it is His plan for you, not your own plans. In addition, His love for you is in disregard of who you are and what you have done, not because of it.

Dealing with Sin

The second misconception that came out in my conversation with this man this week regards how God wants us to deal with our sin. Most people do not like their sin to be pointed out or even brought up for various reasons. They do not like feeling guilty, and if they allow their emotions to control them they can become discouraged or even depressed. That is not how God wants us to react to our sin. He desires that we should feel about it the same what that He does – abhor it (Prov. 8:13f; Rom. 12:9). When we reflect on our sin, it should bring us to godly sorrow and repentance (2 Cor. 7:10; 2 Pet. 3:9) resulting in confession so that we may be forgiven and cleansed from it (1 John 1:9). If our sin or circumstances leads us to become either anxious or despondent then we are demonstrating either an ignorance of God and His revelation of His will or our refusal to believe His promises. As we had put on the sign a few weeks ago, “Anxiety is unbelief in disguise.” That is a statement that should prod those who are anxious to search for a solution in believing God. Becoming upset about the statement or despondent because of it demonstrates either passive unbelief because of ignorance of God or an active refusal to believe Him.

Paul certainly understood the gravity of his sin and Romans 7:14-24 details his struggle with it, but he concludes with thanksgiving to God because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and through Him he could serve the law of God with his mind. Paul also had his share of hardships that could have brought great anxiety, but he had learned to trust the Lord to keep His promises so that he could be calm in dangerous circumstances. We find another example of that in Acts 23:11 where we pick up the story again from where we left off two weeks ago.

Paul in Jail (23:11-22)

Paul had been attacked by a mob in the Temple and then rescued and arrested by the Romans. When the Roman commander, Lysias, found out that Paul was a Roman citizen he kept him in custody because he still did not know why the mob had attacked Paul and he had a responsibility to both keep such a riot from reoccurring and to protect Paul. He perceived that the problem was caused by some religious issue so he brought Paul before the Sanhedrin in order to get some answers. The final result is that the Sanhedrin degenerated into heated arguments between the Pharisees who took up Paul’s defense and the Sadducees who did not believe Paul. When things began to become violent the commander removed Paul from them by force and took him back to the Roman barracks in protective custody. We continue the story in verse 11

The Lord’s Encouragement (23:11)

11 But 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.”

Back in 19:21 we find that Paul had purposed in the spirit to go to Jerusalem and then to go on to Rome. In 20:22 Paul was bound in the spirit to return to Jerusalem, but he did not know what would happen to him there except the Holy Spirit was solemnly testifying in every city along the way that bonds and afflictions awaited him. Paul was ready to lay down his life if that what was needed. This was a very welcome clarification and assurance of what the Lord had planned for Paul’s future. Paul’s desire to go to Rome and witness would be fulfilled. It was not revealed what Paul would have to go through to get there, but he could rest assured that he would go Rome. Paul did not need to fear.

The Conspiracy to Murder Paul (23:12-22)

The Conspiracy Devised (12-15)

12 And when it was day, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. 13 And there were more than forty who formed this plot. 14 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. 15 “Now, therefore, you and the Council 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.]”

The animosity of these men toward Paul is seen in the rashness of the oath they made to carry out their plot to murder Paul. To neither eat nor drink means that they would have to do the deed quickly or they would steadily become weaker and more desperate as time went on. If they were unable to keep it they would be in violation of Eccl. 5:4-6, 4 “When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it, for [He takes] no delight in fools. Pay what you vow ! 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6 Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger [of God] that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands?

For this reason they set up a plan in which they could ambush Paul on the way to a requested meeting with the Sanhedrin. The serious of their plan is seen in that know that Paul would be protected by Roman soldiers. They were well aware of the fact that an attack on Paul would result in a counter attack by the Roman soldiers. That was the reason that there would need to be such a large group of men to carry out the plan. There would be a very high probability that some of the forty would die in the process of trying to kill Paul.

Sin is blind and when mixed with such utter hatred it can result in what is completely irrational. Paul was not guilty of anything of the things he had been accused of while in the Temple. Paul had not done anything against them personally, but these men were willing to die because of an imagined offense against God and Judaism. (This is the same kind of sinful hatred that motivates radical Islamic terrorists against any group that does not agree with them).

With such a determined foe, what hope would Paul have? Not much if he was on his own, but God was with him and had already promised him that he would go to Rome. These men would not be able to keep their vow.

The Conspiracy Discovered (16-17)

16 But the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, and he came and entered the barracks and told Paul. 17 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.”

Paul’s nephew heard about the planned ambush and came and told Paul who then directed him to tell the Commander. We do not know how he found out about the conspiracy. We do not know his motivations of whether he was also a believer or just wanted to protect his uncle. We do know that this was the providence of God at work.

It is easy to fall in the trap of thinking that God is only involved if there is spectacular supernatural event that occurs. Even worse, we think we would be more obedient to God if He directed us in supernatural ways. The truth is that God’s usual method of intervening in the affairs of men is through His providence. God is so powerful that he can control the smallest details of the mundane things of life in order to accomplish His will. God had supernaturally visited Paul and assured him that he would go to Rome, but in this case there were no supernatural signs or angels. God simply arranged for Paul’s nephew to hear about the conspiracy so that the information could eventually be relayed to the proper authorities. Paul did not know what he would have to endure to get to Rome. He would have to be content in God’s providence. It is the same for us in trusting the promises of God found in His Word.

The Conspiracy Disclosed (18-22)

18 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.” 19 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?” 20 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. 21 “So do not listen to them, for more than forty 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.” 22 Therefore the commander let the young man go, instructing him, “Tell no one that you have notified me of these things.”

The respect the Romans had already gained for Paul is seen in the responses of both the centurion and the commander. The centurion followed Paul’s request without question or hesitation. The commander also quickly heeded Paul’s request and deals with the young lad very gently. The fact that he took the boy by the hand gives indication that he was very young. He then speaks to him privately to both ensure that anything said would remain private and to give the boy greater confidence to tell his story. Paul’s nephew reveals the whole plot including the details of the oath the men took. After hearing the news he sent the boy away with instructions to keep it secret that he had revealed the conspiracy to the Romans. The commander wasted no time in coming up with an appropriate response.

Secret Departure (23:23-35)

The Chilliarch’s Plan (23-24)

23 And he called to him two of the centurions, and said, “Get two hundred soldiers ready by the third hour of the night to proceed to Caesarea, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen.” 24 [They were] also to provide mounts to put Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the governor.

The goal was to move Paul away from the immediate danger in Jerusalem to the safety the Roman controlled city of Caesarea where Felix the governor resided. The commander quickly arranged for a military escort of 200 Roman spearmen and 70 horsemen to protect Paul. This may seem like a large contingent for an escort, but he took the threat seriously. A band of 40 men under such a rash oath could be dangerous and he had to assume that they could be watching for any opportunity to strike. The 200 spearmen would provide a nearly invulnerable wall of protection in case there was an attack, and by having Paul mounted with the 70 horsemen he also had the speed to quickly get away if necessary.


The Chilliarch’s Letter (25-30)

25 And he wrote a letter having this form:

26 “Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor Felix, greetings. 27 “When this man was arrested by the Jews and was about to be slain by them, I came upon them with the troops and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman. 28 “And wanting to ascertain the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their Council; 29 and I found him to be accused over questions about their Law, but under no accusation deserving death or imprisonment. 30 “And when I was informed that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, also instructing his accusers to bring charges against him before you.”

Lysias plays loose with the facts in order to present himself in a very positive manner to the governor, so he leaves out the part of the story about arresting Paul himself and putting him in chains before preparing to scourge him. He just jumps ahead to finding out that Paul was a Roman citizen and making out like that was the reason he intervened and rescued Paul from the mob. Lysias may have been a good Roman soldier, but he was still a sinner subject to twisting the truth for his own benefit. However, the purpose of the letter is to try to give some explanation to Felix of why Paul was being sent, and he does accomplish that faithfully. His assessment is clear. Paul had not done anything deserving death or even imprisonment. He had not broken any Roman laws though there was some question about breaking a Jewish law. Paul was being sent to Felix under protective custody because of a conspiracy to kill him, and his accusers were being directed to go to Caesarea to get the matter straightened out in Roman court before the governor.

Paul Moved to Caesarea (31-35)

Acts 23:31 (NASB) So the soldiers, in accordance with their orders, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. 32 But the next day, leaving the horsemen to go on with him, they returned to the barracks. 33 And when these had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. 34 And when he had read it, he asked from what province he was; and when he learned that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing after your accusers arrive also,” giving orders for him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.

The journey to Caesarea is a long one so it is made in two parts. That night they go on a forced march as far as Antipatris which is about 35-40 miles northwest of Jerusalem and a little more than half way to Caesarea. This was a military outpost built by Herod the Great as a resting place between Jerusalem and Caesarea and dedicated to his father, Antipater, hence its name. The next day the spearmen return to Jerusalem while the calvary contingent continues on to Caesarea.

When they arrive Felix the governor read Lysias’ letter and then asked where Paul was from. Felix could have sent Paul to his home province for trial, but since both Judea and Cilicia were under the Legate of Syria at that time Felix did have the authority to try Paul there, and for various unstated reasons he decided to keep Paul there for a hearing. One reason may have been to avoid antagonizing the Jews who would have had to travel to Tarsus if he had sent Paul there. Another possible reason is that he did not want to bother the legate, Ummidius Quadratus, with such a trivial court case.

The governor then order Paul to held in Herod’s Praetorium. This had been constructed by Herod the Great and now served in several capacities including the governor’s residence. On the basis of Paul’s Roman citizenship he should have been freed then, but Felix kept Paul under guard while he waited for the Jews to come and make their accusations. This would begin what would become a series of Roman trials that would give him the opportunity to present the gospel to the most powerful people in the land.



If Paul had been on his own he would have had many reasons to be anxious. The Jewish leaders were antagonistic toward him. There was a band of 40 men that had taken an oath to murder him. The Romans had rescued him from that danger, but they were still keeping him under guard to be tried even though as a Roman citizen there was no basis for that. But Paul was not alone. The Lord was with him and Paul was able to be at peace because he was holding to His promises.

The same is true for us. Certainly there are those times when we feel like we are alone. We may have a “dark night of soul” like missionary David Brainerd described in which he felt his prayers were not getting past the ceiling, but God’s promises are true regardless of how we may feel.

Jesus has promised His disciples that He will be with us always even to the end of the age (Mt. 28:20) and that he would never desert or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). He has sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us (Rom. 8:11), seal us (Eph. 1:13), and teach us (1 Cor. 1:13; 1 John 2:27). He has assured us of our salvation from sin and the gift of eternal life in Him (1 John 5:12,13) so that we need not fear the devil (James 4:7; 1 John 4:4) or those that can kill our bodies (Mt. 10:28). We can be confident that when we pray according to His will that He both hears and will answer (1 John 5:14-15). And though too many people use it as a cliche, it is a precious promise that “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to [His] purpose.” Any thing that causes me anxiety can be cast on Him (1 Peter 5:7) by going to him in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving and then letting our requests be made known unto Him. The result is the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension and which will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:6,7). We can rely on God’s promises, and when we act on our belief in them we find His peace.

Sermon Study Sheets



Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Keep track of how many times anxiety or worry is mentioned. 2) Talk with your parents about how you can trust God with the things that make you worry or fear.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

Evaluate the statement, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” What is the starting point of the gospel according to Paul in Romans? Outline how Paul presents the gospel in Romans. What is man saved from? What are the consequences of that? What is the nature of saving faith? How does that result in justification? How does God prove His love for man? What are the main purposes of salvation? What is required of a man before he can be saved? How does God want us to deal with our sin? Explain. Why was Paul in jail? How did God encourage Paul (23:11)? Why did the men form a conspiracy to kill Paul? How committed were they to killing Paul? How was the conspiracy discovered? How did this show God’s hand at work? How does God usually intervene in the lives of people? How have you seen God intervene in your life? How did the Romans demonstrate respect for Paul? How serious did the commander believe the threat against Paul to be? Explain the reason for the number of spearmen and horsemen. What was wrong with Lysias’ letter? What was good about it? Why didn’t Felix release Paul? What things could have caused Paul to be anxious? Why wasn’t he? What makes you anxious? What promises of God can help you overcome those worries? Pray with someone about them.

Sermon Notes – October 22, 2006

Promises & Protection – Acts 23:11-35

The Gospel


Dealing with Sin


Paul in Jail (21:27-23:35)

The Lord’s Encouragement (23:11)


The Conspiracy to Murder Paul (23:12-22)

Devised (12-15)


Discovered (16-17)


Disclosed (18-22)

Secret Departure (23:23-35)

The Commander’s Plan (23-24)


The Commander’s Letter (25-30)


Paul Moved to Caesarea (31-35)



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