The word of the day is “beneath.” When we are under duress, we call for the Lord’s mercy. Yet, what do we do when we have been delivered from disaster? As time goes on, the remembrance of how the Lord answered our prayers often fades into the background. Instead of God’s mercy, how we endured and overcame the calamity remains in our memory.
In today’s passage (Acts 23:1-11), we read Luke’s report that Paul stood before the high priest and council of the Jews. The Jewish leadership was determined to put an end to Paul and his teaching. The apostle did not seem to have a chance to defend himself. But Paul found a way to divert the fury of his persecutors. Paul’s words raised such a commotion that the Roman commander, “fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces, commanded his soldiers to go down and take him by force among them, and bring them into the barracks” (OSB vs. 10). Thus, Paul was saved for another day.
Today we reflect on how God works invisibly beneath our actions to deal with desperate circumstances. He uses our striving to face troubles and perils to carry out His will.
Roman Soldiers Rescue Paul from a Mob
In today’s reading, we find that Roman troops saved Paul from the rage of the Jews, who believed that he had defiled their temple. The commander of the occupying Roman forces tried to deal with the uproar and restore peace in the city, but he could not find out what is going on (OSB 21:31-34). The Roman officer stopped the mob from beating Paul and even let him speak to the crowd to understand the situation. At Paul’s preaching, though, the mob went wild. But the commander still wanted to know the reason for the commotion. So, he whisked Paul away from the crowd and brought him into his garrison.
The commander intended to scourge Paul to get him to divulge why he had caused such commotion. But Paul appealed to his Romans citizenship. He reminded the centurion of the prohibition of scourging Romans without convictions. The next day, the commander ordered the chief priests, the council, and Paul to appear before him. Immediately, Paul got into an altercation with the high priest (Acts 23:2-3). And the fury of the Jews against him only intensified.
Paul Causes a Division Among His Accusers
But then, Paul noticed that part of the group consisted of Sadducees who do not believe in the resurrection and the other part was made up of Pharisees who do. So, to deflect the anger against him, the apostle claimed that he was a Pharisee and that he was charged because he believed in the resurrection. With that, the Sadducees and Pharisees began fighting among themselves. The Pharisees turned from accusing to defending Paul as one of their own. They said that if “a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God” (OSB vs. 23: 9).
At that, the argument became so fierce that again the commander feared that the mob would tear Paul apart. So, he ordered that Paul be seized from them and taken back to the barracks. Again, Paul was saved.
If we read on, we would find that Paul’s nephew learned that some Jews had vowed not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul (OSB Acts 21:23). In response, the commander decided to get Paul, who is a Roman citizen, out of danger. So, he arranged for an escort of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to take Paul to the legion headquarters in Caesarea.
This series of episodes is like an action movie, full of riots, intrigue, plots, courtroom debates, and armed bodyguards. And we might be impressed not only with the bravery of Paul but his cleverness. He has a remarkable presence of mind to use the situation to his advantage.
Paul Has a Divine Vision
But lest Paul’s cunning takes us in, Luke reports that Paul had a divine vision, “Be of good cheer, Paul, for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, you must also bear witness in Rome” (OSB vs. 11). This message reminds us that it is the will of God and the power of the Spirit at work here. The Almighty was in control. Certainly, the commander was not in charge despite all the men and arms at his disposal. The high priest and the council were not in control, for they were beside themselves with rage, and they had to obey the commands of the clueless Roman commander. And Paul, as clever as he was, was not directing the action. First, he was bound with chains. And then the soldiers had to carry him through the angry crowd. After that, the soldiers bound him with thongs and took him to their barracks. He was beaten and almost scourged, hauled into court to face the false accusations of the Jews, and removed from the same court by force.
The director of this action movie can only be God, who has the script. His will is that Paul get to Rome, and we must hold our breath at all the things that will happen to get him there.
Likewise, it is the same with us. We may act skillfully or clumsily. We may live wisely or foolishly. We may be clever or clueless, but the Almighty is with us. He is always working beneath what we do to fulfill His will in our lives. So let us abandon our pride and give Him the glory whether what we do turns out well or badly. Thus, let us trust that ultimately his will be done in our lives.