1/3/10

Acts 25:1-13 - Paul, A Wanted Man

Diving Deeper Lesson Outline for Acts 25:1-12

The title is drawn from Acts 25:3 of our text.
We will find that this is the eighth attempt on Paul’s life that we know of.
In today’s Diving Deeper, we will try to explore the Bible’s perspective on these murder attempts as it relates to God’s role in protecting Paul’s life.


1) PAUL – WANTED DEAD OR DEAD

Acts 25:3 (ESV) — 3 asking as a favor against Paul that he summon him to Jerusalem because they were planning an ambush to kill him on the way.

In our text today, we find yet another plot to kill Paul by the Jewish religious authorities of Jerusalem.
This latest plot is all the more remarkable because Paul had been out of the public eye and in prison for 2 years.
In spite of that, they still harbored such a hatred for Paul and Jesus that they couldn’t let it go.

Quick review of “Paul & Jesus on Trial” lesson:
Here is an excerpt from the “Paul & Jesus on Trial” lesson.
It will serve as a reminder for why the Jews despised Jesus, and therefore Paul, so much that even after 2 years they still wanted him dead.

Jesus’ View of His Authority - Review:
A typical rabbi’s teaching style was seen to be authoritative because the source material from which they taught was deemed to have authority.
They would quote the law, the prophets or oral law and explain what it means.

Jesus, in stark contrast, taught as one who was the very source of authority – even above that of the law and the prophets.
The best example of this is seen in the Sermon on the Mount.
In Matthew 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, & 43, we see the following method:
“You have heard that it was said…///…But I say to you…”
Here we see that Jesus “placed his personal authority on a par with that of the divine law” and “he adjusted the Law on his own authority.” - Craig

We get a Scriptural glimpse of the crowds recognition of this authority in Matthew 7:28-29:
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

Jesus authority was evident to others.

But Jesus’ view of His authority is even more profound than this.
Take, for example, Matthew 5:31-32.
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
Here, Jesus claims the authority to actually change, correct and reinterpret the law! (See Mark 10:2-9)

Jesus seems to assume an authority over Torah that no Pharisee or OT Prophet assumed – the authority to set it aside.” – Ben Witherington.

The extent that this would have offended the Jew cannot be understated or exaggerated.
For a man to claim the authority to change, correct or reinterpret the law would have been outrageous!

Now back to today's lesson.
So we see that Jesus was a heretic as far as the devout Jew was concerned.
And they were duty bound by God to have Paul killed because he was teaching this heresy.

Just how determined were both Jews and Gentiles to kill Paul:
Acts 14:5–6 (ESV) — 5 When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, 6 they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country,

Acts 14:19 (ESV) — 19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.

Acts 9:23–25 (ESV) — 23 When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.

Acts 9:28–30 (ESV) — 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. 30 And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

Acts 16:22–23 (ESV) — 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely.

Acts 21:30–31 (ESV) — 30 Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. 31 And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion.

Acts 23:12 (ESV) — 12 When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.

From these examples, we see that Paul was almost murdered 7 other times, in addition to our text today.
In almost every instance, it seems that something happened so that the attempt was foiled.
  • They learned of it and fled.
  • Dragged him out, supposing he was dead.
  • Plot became known to Saul.
  • The fellow believers learned of this.
  • They ordered the jailer to keep them safely.
  • Word came to the tribune.
  • The son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush.
  • Appealed to Cesar in Rome.

I can’t help but ask, was Paul just lucky to get away with his life or was something else going on?


2) PAUL – UNDER THE PROTECTION OF GOD

Psalm 37:32–33 (ESV) — 32 The wicked watches for the righteous and seeks to put him to death. 33 The LORD will not abandon him to his power or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.

Psalm 97:10–11 (ESV) — 10 O you who love the LORD, hate evil! He preserves the lives of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked. 11 Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.

Psalm 34:19–20 (ESV) — 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. 20 He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.

Psalm 52:1 (NET) — 1 Why do you boast about your evil plans, O powerful man? God’s loyal love protects me all day long!

Psalm 66:8–9 (CEV) — 8 All of you people, come praise our God! Let his praises be heard. 9 God protects us from death and keeps us steady.

We will comment more on these later.
But to suffice it to say, there is no doubt a sense here in which David is teaching that God will “protect us from death.
And certainly, based on David’s own life and the 8 attempts to take Paul’s life, we see that this is true.
However, something happens with Paul that leads us to our next point.


3) PAUL – WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PROTECTION OF GOD

The problem is, of course, that Paul was ultimately murdered.
He was martyred; probably beheaded in Rome in the mid 60’s.

The prophet Isaiah puts our apparent contradiction like this:
Isaiah 57:1a (NLT) — 1 Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why [not to mention, “What happened to God’s protection?”].

Well, I am wondering why.
If God’s aim (as revealed in the Psalms) was to protect Paul, why did he linger in prison and ultimately have his head chopped off?
I can’t help but ask if Paul had an opinion on the question raised by Isaiah?

To find the answer, we turn to the last letter Paul ever wrote – 2nd Timothy.
In this letter Paul, yet again, languishes in prison, but this time in Rome.
Interestingly, he knows that his time has come.
2 Timothy 4:6 (ESV) — 6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.

It is in this backdrop that Paul makes what I find to be an astonishing theological statement while counseling Timothy.
In a weird way, it reminds me of a quote by Ronald Spiers from the “Band of Brothers” series.

When offering advice to a replacement, Spiers states:
The only hope you have is to accept the fact that you're already dead. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you'll be able to function as a soldier is supposed to function: without mercy, without compassion, without remorse. All war depends upon it.

Here is Paul’s council to Timothy, his replacement:

2 Timothy 1:8–12 (ESV) — 8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.

POI - I am in complete agreement with the ESV translation of verse 12 above.
1st - To accept the NASB, KJV, NIV, etc., translations is to say that Paul would be alive until the Lord’s return.
2nd - I agree with the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament:
A first point to decide is whether παραθήκην μου means “the good thing that I have entrusted” or “the good thing entrusted to me.” Mention of the eschatological day (v. 12) and regard for the generations which follow (2:2) definitely suggest the second, passive interpretation. Christ is able to protect and keep the Gospel committed to the community not only up to the time of the first apostle who will soon depart, but through the storms of coming generations right up to the last day. The genuineness of continuity is established not by the transmitted teaching as such but by the One who is Himself its content. In terms of this insight the Pastoral Epistles can repulse the false doctrinal traditions of the Gnostics without absolutising their own tradition. TDNT.

So, having cleared that up, God’s “purpose and grace” for us is to believe and teach Jesus Christ manifested through the Gospel.
Paul is declaring that it is not ourselves that will necessarily be protected; after all he equates the Gospel as a “share in suffering”.
But “he is convinced” that the one thing that God will sustain and “guard until that Day” is the Gospel!
So any protection we receive is not necessarily for our sake, but for the sake of God’s “purpose and grace”.
BTW – This is one reason why the prosperity gospel is such a huge pile of rubbish.

Knowing this about God’s purpose, I want to go back to the Psalms from point 2 above.
With Paul’s perspective, I think we can get a fuller grasp of what God “protects”, “delivers” and “does not abandon”.
I think it is fair to say that God will protect our lives when His purpose warrants it.
And, conversely, we know from Paul that He will allow us to suffer and even to die when His purpose warrants it.
But whatever happens, the Gospel of Jesus Christ will endure until Judgment Day.

What was at least 1 reason, God did not allow King Saul to kill David?

And finally, we finish with the concern of the prophet Isaiah mentioned earlier about the untimely death of believers.
Isaiah answered his own concern by bringing an eternal perspective to death.

Isaiah 57:1-2 (NLT) — 1 Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. 2 For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die.

Or as Paul put it:
Philippians 1:21 (ESV) — 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Philippians 1:12–14 (ESV) — 12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 AND most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Or as Jesus put it:
Luke 12:22–23 (ESV) — 22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.

Summary:
So we have both the eternal perspective of life and the “life is not about us but about the purposes of God” perspective.
These perspectives are, admittedly, extremely hard to stomach.
Yet without them, there is little comfort or perspective when faced with hardship and death.

So as Spiers exhorted his replacement and as Paul exhorted his replacement, the word of God also exhorts us.
Acts 20:24 (ESV) — 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

The sooner we “do not account our lives of any value” except for the purposes of God, the better "replacement soldiers" we will be.