Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jul 5 2013 - Acts 23:11-35 – Reading between the lines

During the night, while he was imprisoned in the barracks in Jerusalem, we read that “the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11). I love this phrase “the Lord stood near Paul”. Paul must have been aware that the Lord was always watching over him and that he would never leave him, but on this particular night he was conscious of the Lord’s presence with him in a particularly powerful way – perhaps the Lord even appeared to him visibly. The Lord’s promise to Paul on that night shapes the rest of the story of the Book of Acts. Paul is on his way to Rome to bear testimony to the Lord Jesus before the powers in that city as he has done in Jerusalem. This was the Lord’s purpose for Paul when he appeared to him all those years ago on the Damascus road (see Acts 9:15).

And the first way in which we see this promise being fulfilled is in the foiling of a plot to kill Paul. God’s hand is behind the leaking of the plot to Paul’s relatives and the willingness of the commander to listen to and take seriously the testimony of what seems little more than a child. Instead of him being murdered in Jerusalem Paul is transported to Caesarea to stand before the Roman governor, Felix. He has taken one important step on his journey towards Rome.

It’s important to note also the content of the commander’s letter to Felix. He writes that, “I found that … there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment” (23:29). This will be the continuing verdict of those before whom Paul is brought to stand in judgment, yet he will remain a prisoner all the way to Rome. But, as Paul puts it, God’s word is not chained (2 Timothy 2:9), nor has Paul’s ministry come to an end. Many of his letters will be written from prison and minister to us still.

But the Bible can sometimes be very frustrating in failing to answer some of the questions we want to ask of it. I am always fascinated when I read of the forty or more Jews who plotted together to ambush and kill Paul. Three times in Acts 23 we are told that they took a solemn vow neither to eat nor drink until they had murdered Paul. I want to know what happened to these men. Did they starve to death or did they break their vow? The Bible just does not tell us (though I suspect I know the answer); it does not tell us because it is not important to the narrative concerning Paul.

There are many who seem to make a career of reading between the lines of Scripture. Their elaborate systems, filling in the gaps of Scripture, are diversions from the Word of God. They distract us from what God has said and what he wants us to hear. We need to focus on what Scripture does say; on what it tells us of the plans, purposes and heart of God – his grace towards us in the Lord Jesus Christ and his call upon our lives. It is by paying attention to what God has said that we are trained in godliness and equipped for the mission to which he calls each one of us. There is enough here to keep us fully occupied.

Heavenly Father, thank you that you have not left us in ignorance concerning yourself but have revealed your mind and purposes in the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for the example of the apostle Paul who was determined to testify of Christ in every circumstance, knowing that the Lord Jesus was with him – right beside him. Give us this same confidence and enable us to trust in your promises and to tell others of your saving purposes in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Peter Misselbrook