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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sermons: Shim Habte, November 6, 2011: Trusting God When Facing Danger

Acts 21:18-26 & 23:12-24
Roger Staubach led the Dallas Cowboys to the World Championship in 1971, and he admitted his position as a quarterback who didn't call his own signals was a trial for him. His Coach Tom Landry sent in every play. He told Roger when to pass, when to run and only in emergency situations could he change the play--and he had better be right! Even though Roger considered coach Landry to be a genius when it came to football strategy, his pride said he should be able to run the team. Roger later said, "I faced up to the issue of obedience. Once I learned to obey, there was harmony, fulfillment, and victory."
The issue in Coach Landry’s mind was winning, and the one concern in God’s mind was and is saving people from sin. God chose Paul as His ambassador to go to Jerusalem, the center of religion, and from there to Rome, the center of the world.
Paul went to Jerusalem in obedience to God knowing that he would suffer for testifying for Jesus. Why Jerusalem? It was the center of religion for the Jews and Christians. To Paul disobedience was neither an option nor a guarantee for safety.
1) Paul obeyed his assignment to preach the Gospel: Acts 21:11-26
a. God warned Paul about persecution and suffering: At the beginning of Paul’s conversion to follow Christ, God let him know that he would face suffering for preaching the Gospel. Acts 9:15-16, “The Lord said to him, go, because I have chosen you to serve me, to make my name known to Gentiles and kings and to the people of Israel. And I myself will show him all that he must suffer for my sake.” It is important to notice that God in predicting Paul’s suffering, was preparing Paul to be aware of what he would face. Paul understood. Romans 14:7-8 says, “For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” Despite the danger, went to Jerusalem. Eight Christian friends accompanied Paul. We are not called to go it alone. The early church practiced the principle of spiritual teamwork. Jesus had twelve men who worked with him. Paul followed his master’s example. We ought to do the same. No church can grow to its God-given potential without united efforts by its members.
b. Paul never shrank from his duty to preach the gospel: Acts 21:11-15
A prophet named Agabus warned Paul before he went to Jerusalem. “He came over, took Paul’s belt, and bound his own feet and hands with it. Then he said, ‘The Holy Spirit declares, ‘So shall the owner of this belt be bound by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and turned over to the Gentiles.’’ When we heard this, he and the local believers all begged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. But he said, “Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart! I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus.’” These verses demonstrate Paul’s deep commitment to honor Christ’s name, even in the face of danger.
Was Paul disobedient to the Lord when he went to Jerusalem, ignoring the prophet Agabus and his friends’ warning? The answer is no. He was urged by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem to witness for Jesus; he chose to do God’s will despite the suffering he would face.
Paul obeyed: “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task that Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” Paul went to Jerusalem, witnessed for Jesus, and faced storms and trials as the Holy Spirit warned. Some estimate that Paul might have spent 25 years of his life making Jesus known in prison. What are you doing as a free person to make Jesus known?
c. Paul faced slander and false accusations by the Jews: Acts 21:20-26
When Paul arrived in Jerusalem he was kindly received by the Leaders of the church. They listened to Paul’s testimony about the thousands of Jews and Gentiles who converted to Christ. They rejoiced and gave thanks to God. But there was a vicious rumor about Paul in the Jewish community. In order to stop the false accusations, the leaders gave him this advice, “They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs so do what we tell you: “There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law.”
Paul was willing to compromise in non-essentials to keep the unity of the church. The leaders of Jerusalem asked him to join those who needed purification according Jewish custom. However, when his enemies saw him in the temple they vowed to kill him. His willingness to do what the church asked him to do showed his Christ-like character, not his weakness. Paul did as he was asked to do by the church leaders but his act to do the right thing did not satisfy, his enemies, they still vowed to kill him.
2) Paul’s suffering was caused by his own people: Acts 21:27 -29
The people plotting to kill Paul were Jews who thought killing was their service to God.
“When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, ‘Fellow Israelites help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.’ (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple).”
a) The Jewish gave three false reasons for attacking Paul.
1. They accused him of teaching against the Jewish people.
2. They also accused him of teaching against the Temple.
3. They said that he defiled the Temple by bringing the gentiles there.
We can observe that Paul’s opponent’s accusations were false and baseless. But Paul's enemies were in charge, and they interpreted the law as they saw it fit. We hear about the abuse and the misapplication of the law here and everywhere. The unfortunate thing is that even religion is used to hurt people, today as in the past. How could anyone justify killing in the name of God who commanded, “Thou shall not kill?” If religion is used to kill something made in the image of God, it contradicts the two laws of God. The most important is to love God as priority and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. Radicals and false teachers are only interested in advancing their own agenda. Paul’s philosophy of life was love. His description of love in First Corinthians 13 is without comparison: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Love never fails.” If a man who was committed to promote such love could be subject to hatred and persecution, how would we fare if we were dedicated to share the Good News of Jesus Christ? The name Jesus still raises emotions of love and hate.
b) Radicals and false teachers joined against Paul. Acts 21:30-32
“The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. 31 While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.”
3) Paul’s Protection came from the Romans - God’s mysterious ways. Acts 21:33-36
Paul’s rescue came from the Romans who were occupiers of the Jewish state, but God in His divine knowledge arranged for Paul to be born as a Roman Citizen. When Paul put his trust in God to protect him until he finished his work he did not depend on the Romans to come to his rescue, but God knew, and he directed the Roman commander to do His will.
“The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Get rid of him!”
a) The plan to kill Paul by the Jews was repeated again and again: Acts 23:12-15,
“The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot. They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.”
The Jews plot to kill Paul surfaced again and again. However, the Roman commander intervened, saved Paul’s life, and provided protection for him by sending him away to King Felix for a fair trial.
b) Paul was sent away from Jerusalem to Caesar ea to escape death. Acts 23:23 -24
The distance from Jerusalem to Caesarea is about 65 miles, far enough to avoid immediate danger for Paul. The commander made his plans and ordered the centurions to proceed.
“Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spear men to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.”
With a letter of recommendation from the Roman commander, 470 soldiers accompanied Paul Governor Felix, “The soldiers carried out their orders. They got Paul and took him that night as far as Antipatris. The next day the foot soldiers returned to the fort and left the horsemen to go on with him. They took him to Caesarea, delivered the letter to the governor, and turned Paul over to him. The governor read the letter and asked Paul what province he was from. When he found out that he was from Cilicia, he said, "I will hear you when your accusers arrive." Then he gave orders for Paul to be kept under guard in the governor's headquarters.”
Paul honored the Lord with his obedience and the Lord showed up to protect him at the right time. Even Governor Felix showed Paul favor by ordering him to stay at the governor’s headquarters.
The plan to save Paul was in God’s mind way before he commanded Paul to go to Jerusalem. God has a way to reach to the secret place of each person’s heart. The Romans were at God’s disposal regardless of their plan to conquer and rule the Jews. God rules all!
Here is a lesson for all of us to learn: God watches over us even when He seems absent. Another example of God’s presence in our suffering and deliverance is found in Daniel 4: 16-27. God allowed his three servants to be thrown into the fire to be burned, but He went with them into the fire. They took a risk when they chose God instead of temporary freedom. What a surprise it must have been when they came out of the fire unharmed. What away to glorify God!
God allowed Paul to suffer for the sake of the gospel, but he protected him using the Romans. The most unlikely people to serve God's purpose were the Romans who oppressed the Jews under their rule. Yes, God can protect us through our suffering. The book of proverbs 16:7 puts it like this: “When a man's way pleases the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” Pleasing God should be our goal if we plan to live with him forever. Paul always kept as his life goal to be with Christ forever, so disobedience was not an option for him. What about you? Is pleasing God constantly in your thinking?
Pastor Shim Habte, First United Methodist Church, 544 N. Shasta St., Willows CA 95988