Monday, November 26, 2007
Acts 23:23 Safe In The Arms of Jesus
He summoned two of his centurions and said, “Get 200 soldiers ready with 70 cavalry and 200 spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. 24 Also provide mounts so they can put Paul on them and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” 25 He wrote a letter of this kind:
26 Claudius Lysias, To the most excellent governor Felix: Greetings.
27 When this man had been seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them, I arrived with my troops and rescued him because I learned that he is a Roman citizen. 28 Wanting to know the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down before their Sanhedrin. 29 I found out that the accusations were about disputed matters in their law, and that there was no charge that merited death or chains. 30 When I was informed that there was a plot against the man, I sent him to you right away. I also ordered his accusers to state their case against him in your presence.
31 Therefore, during the night, the soldiers took Paul and brought him to Antipatris as they were ordered. 32 The next day, they returned to the barracks, allowing the cavalry to go on with him. 33 When these men entered Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. 34 After he read it, he asked what province he was from. So when he learned he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing whenever your accusers get here too.” And he ordered that he be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.
I want to turn your attention to the hymn "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" which is in our hymnal. This is a remarkable piece of poetry because it combines such beautiful and memorable and suggestive expressions with such deep and accurate reflection on the Bible's doctrine of divine providence, God's rule over all things and his bringing all things to pass according to his will and plan. "God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform," is a line one hears all the time from the lips of folk who would have no idea that it came from William Cowper's hymn. But see how well the hymn grasps the biblical doctrine and turns it into faith and hope. God is sovereign, he is the Immortal and Almighty Ruler who "plants his footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm."
But as Cowper goes on to explain in vv. 3-5, it is by no means possible for believers themselves to see the end from the beginning of God's plans for them. They must have faith. There will be dark clouds and terrible storms, his providence will often wear a frown, but at the end, when all is seen and known, when God's purposes have unfolded, we will see that behind that frowning providence was always a smiling face and that the clouds that looked so threatening were full of blessing instead. The lesson, as Cowper draws it in v. 6, is that we are all to know our limitations and trust ourselves to God's goodness and mercy. The unbeliever can't see the plan at all, either at the beginning or the end, but the believer can at least see some of God's purposes at the end. God will make it plain to him that He was always in control, always was working his purposes out. Appearances can be deceiving; But God will always communicate his goodness in his plan to those who believe in him.
But, the believer also needs the comfort of knowing that the reason life seems to often dark and threatening to him or her is only because of the limitations of our knowledge and understanding. God's purposes are always wise and good, always loving and merciful toward his children, however impenetrable they may be to us at the time. At one point in the Genesis history, when things seem bleakest, Jacob, now bereft of Joseph and thinking himself to be bereft of Benjamin as well, says in near despair "Everything is against me!" [Gen. 42:36] The reader smiles at his remark, because, of course, anyone who knows the story knows that he is just days away from the most glorious resolution to this apparent calamity and a greater happiness than he has ever known in his life.
We don't know what were, if any, the precise circumstances that prompted Cowper to write his hymn. It has been thought to be connected with a breakdown he suffered in 1773 when he made an attempt at suicide. One story, not verified, has it that he had resolved to drown himself in the river Ouse at a spot about three miles out of town. He called a cab and told the driver to take him to the place. For some reason, perhaps on purpose, the driver could not find the spot and after driving about looking for it for an hour deposited the poet back at his front door.
At the tender age of 15, Shawn Vickers was informed he had HIV. Being born with hemophilia, a genetic disorder that prevents blood clotting, Vickers had been treated with transfusions of clotting factor from blood donors. Unfortunately, sixteen years ago when Shawn was accepting blood transfusions, there were no systematic screenings for HIV contaminated blood. Hence, Shawn contracted the known killer through such blood. To make matters even more heartbreaking, he tested positive for hepatitis C, which attacks the liver. That was the final blow pushing Shawn's life into a tailspin. The news was so devastating, his Mother encouraged him to quit High School and just 'enjoy life' for the meager time he had left. Shawn's spiritual heritage was within the classical Pentecostal Church. He initially responded by turning to his faith, expecting a miraculous healing to be given. He prayed for it and even went to healing crusades to get it all for naught. Nothing changed.
Even as the teen's faith was being tested, he was beginning to develop a new sense of faith in a God that was powerful enough to have the situation under control. Despite the terrible possibilities of the diagnoses, Vickers was determined to move ahead with his life, to finish high school and go on to college. "Mom thought I was in denial," he said. "She saw my expression of faith as denial."
Keeping his condition a secret most of the time, Vickers graduated from high school and went on to complete college as well. And his faith grew, even as he tried to reconcile a faith-healing theology with his continuing condition.
"So many things didn't reconcile with religion as I knew it," he said. "There shouldn't be a disconnect between faith and the real world."
He went to various churches, looking for answers.
"I was starving spiritually," he said.
Shawn stumbled across a radio show by noted theologian and Reformed author, R. C. Sproul. All that Sproul said made good sense to him.
Subsequently, Shawn found a Church that taught very similarly to Sproul's view.
"It was strange for me," Vickers said. The formal, structured service was unfamiliar, and the songs — traditional hymns rather than modern praise music — were totally different.
Despite the lack of outward expression, Vickers began to hear a message that answered his questions.
He heard sermons that spoke about "God and his covenant people," a God who is in charge of everything — even Vickers' diseases.
"It put so many things together, especially suffering," he said.
"Even the tragedies and sorrows do not occur by chance or because Satan is working in this world," Grotenhuis said. "God is sovereign; even Satan is under his control."
For Vickers, that message answered the questions that had been haunting him. It solved the puzzle.
"It put so many things into place, especially suffering," he said. "God isn't passive. He brought it to me."
If God is almighty, there is no limit to God's power or authority, he said. That is the sovereignty of God.
"It becomes a bit tangled when you insert human will ... or when it comes to suffering," he said.
If God is not in control, then there are two other possibilities — chance and the power of Satan. But it isn’t so. God is in control. And that is comforting.
In short, a distraught, distressed young man found peace and hope in the Scriptures. Shawn's story is not unique. Many do find rest in a God Whose Sovereignty allows not one single fibre out of place in this vast Universe.
God is in control and that is comforting. But what about the elections? Is God in control in our Australian Government?
1. God Protects Us Through Authorities
God provided the government at the time to protect Paul
Historians have long observed that certain provisions of the Roman Empire allowed Christianity to grow explosively over three centuries: Roman peace (Pax Romana), Roman roads, Roman language (Greek) and Roman law. Roman peace gave security. Roman roads gave access. Roman language gave communication. Roman law gave protection and legitimacy. This is not to say that the Roman government was always favorable to Christians. We know that it was not. The Romans could be vicious, inconsistent and cruel. Sometimes Roman officials persecuted, tortured, imprisoned and martyred Christians by the thousands. But, overall, the Roman government was an enormous asset to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Romans 13: 1 Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. 2 So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do good and you will have its approval. 4 For government is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong.
Romans 8:28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.
The Roman government was surprisingly supportive of religious freedom. Although pagan in practice the Romans didn’t impose faith in Zeus (or Jupiter) upon those they conquered or on their own citizens. As long as people lived by Roman laws they were left alone to believe and practice their religions.
Jews were at the other end of the spectrum. The Old Testament promoted a theocracy where there was no space for religious freedom—everything about God and government were woven together into a seamless cloth. To be a Jew was to be a citizen of Israel and to be a citizen of Israel was to be a Jew.
Then came Christianity. How was this new faith to function with Jewish roots in a Roman world? The choices the early Christians made became foundational to how the church changed the world.
Let’s go back to Jerusalem in A.D. 58. Paul was in protective Roman custody because a radical element of Jewish extremists had formed a terror cell and vowed to murder the man.
Claudius Lysias was commander of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem and had already rescued Paul three times in three days. He was getting tired of the uproar around Paul and decided to transport him 60 miles to the Roman provincial capital in Caesarea and turn him over to the jurisdiction of Governor Felix.
Claudius Lysias wrote a good letter. But, did you notice that he used the personal pronoun “I” eight times in four sentences? And, he spun the story to make himself look good. “This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen.” Actually, he didn’t find out that Paul was a Roman citizen until after he ordered torture that could have killed him. Lysias was dumping his problem by kicking Paul up to the Governor and making himself look like a hero in the process.
Felix had a sordid story of his own.
Felix was born a slave and was the first person in history to rise from slavery to become a provincial governor. This happened because he brother, Pallas, was popular in the Imperial courts of the Emperors Claudius and Nero.
Felix was married three times and every wife was a princess: Wife #1’s name is unknown; Wife #2 was the granddaughter of Antony and Cleopatra; Wife #3 was Jewish and the daughter of King Herod Agrippa I (her name was Drusilla).
Felix was famous for his ruthless crackdown on Jewish uprisings. He was aggressive, ambitious and unscrupulous. Felix liked to take bribes to determine how to rule in court cases and was already gearing up to get bribe money from Paul. He also hired hit men to murder those he didn’t like, including some of his closest supporters.
Felix had previously served the government for two years in Samaria. He was five years into his term of office as governor of Judea with two years left to go.
Paul and the church took full advantage of the protection and laws of the government to advance the cause of Jesus Christ. His goal was not to seize the reigns of power but to save the souls of people. He wasn’t trying to make the Roman Empire Christian; he was trying to make the Roman people Christian. He did not see the government as an end but as a means to win his generation to Jesus.
We know that 80% of the town of Meulaboh in Aceh was destroyed by the Tsunami waves and 80% of the people also died. This is one of the towns that was hit the hardest. But there is a fantastic testimony from Meulaboh. In that town are about 400 Christians. They wanted to celebrate Christmas on December 25th but were not allowed to do so by the Muslims of Meulaboh. They were told if they wanted to celebrate Christmas they needed to go outside the city of Meulaboh on a high hill and they can celebrate Christmas there . Because the Christians desired to celebrate Christmas the 400 believers left the city on December 25th and after they celebrated Christmas they stayed overnight on the hill. As we all know, in the morning of Sunday, December 26 -2004 , there was the earthquake followed by the Tsunami waves destroying most of the city of Meulaboh and thousands were killed. The 400 believers were on the mountain and were all saved from destruction. Now [we're told that some of] the Muslims of Meulaboh [said] that the God of the Christians punished us for forbidding the Christians from celebrating Christmas in the city. Others are questioning why so many Muslims died while not even one of the Christians died there. [Other Muslims of course deny this]. Had the Christians insisted on their rights to celebrate Christmas in the city, they would have all died. But because they humbled themselves and followed the advice of the Muslims they all were spared destruction and can now testify of God's marvelous protection.
2. God Protects Us Adequately
A. Paul’s nephew just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Imagine the circumstances of that.
He’s walking down the street, sees a gathering, goes in to hear what’s going on, and hears these 40 guys swearing to not eat until they have killed his uncle.
A friend of mine uncovered Police corruption accidentally when he found a brown paper bag being used to pass on bribes to a Police Superintendent. Right place, right time.
B. Paul was to be protected against 40 hungry murderers. And the government supplied the protection.
Acts 23:23-24 Then [the commander] called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide mounts for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.”
The Secretary General of the United Nations who doesn’t have anywhere near the protection provided for Paul. President Bush had a lot fo armed guards, but no one could protect him against ABC’s Chaser crew. A total of 470 body guards would have taken half of the Jerusalem garrison. That seems like a lot to stop a plot by four dozen assassins who were out to kill Paul. I guess the Roman commander wanted to be sure.
Protection of citizens is a primary responsibility of government. The Roman government saved Paul’s life which meant that he could multiply churches and Christians and write much of the New Testament. Seven years later (A.D. 65) Paul wrote a letter to his protégé Timothy. He may have been remembering the trip from Jerusalem to Caesarea with 470 bodyguards.
1 Timothy 2:1-4 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Paul made a direct connection between prayer, government power and salvation.
He valued the protection government gives.
3. God Protects Us Absolutely.
Safe in the Arms of Jesus.
Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on His gentle breast, There by His love o’ershaded, sweetly my soul shall rest. Hark! ’tis the voice of angels, borne in a song to me.
Over the fields of glory, over the jasper sea.
Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on His gentle breast
There by His love o’ershaded, sweetly my soul shall rest.
Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe from corroding care,
Safe from the world’s temptations, sin cannot harm me there.
Free from the blight of sorrow, free from my doubts and fears;
Only a few more trials, only a few more tears!
Jesus, my heart’s dear Refuge, Jesus has died for me;
Firm on the Rock of Ages, ever my trust shall be.
Here let me wait with patience, wait till the night is over;
Wait till I see the morning break on the golden shore.
On Wednesday I shared with Norma from the 34rd Psalm
Psalm 34:7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them.
The Lord encamps Around Us.
He is all we need for every situation.
Lysias had 500 men. All he needed for protection.
Every danger anticipated in your spiritual warfare.
He provides for your comfort.
Mission USSR contains the stories of Soviet Christian prisoners. One of the stories this month is "Surviving the 'Valley of Death,'" the testimony of Valentina who was arrested at the age of 28 for transporting Christian Literature within the Soviet Union. After awaiting trial for six months, she was assigned an atheist public defender. Valentina knew this would not work for their philosophies clashed violently. She realized at her trial that the judge and his assistants were prejudiced against her, and it was clear that the case was being directed by someone behind the scenes. She was finally sentenced to five years imprisonment beginning January 28, l982.
After her trial, she was transported to a Siberian camp called the "valley of death" by the prisoners because of the high mortality rate and spread of tuberculosis. She was completely cut off from her physical and spiritual families and all the things familiar to her. Without the comfort of her Bible and surrounded by prisoners spying on and cursing each other, she said, "There were periods when it seemed I couldn't pray, that the heavens were sealed up and silent."
That is what I call living between a rock and a hard place. Valentina was separated from all that brings joy to the heart and soul. Being cut off from her family, friends and fellowship, she was cast into the very "valley of death" surrounded by the spiritually dead. There she discovered her soul had no desire to pray. At this point, the believer feels cut off from the Lord Jesus Christ, our only source of life. I am sure most of us have experienced this ourselves from time to time.
Valentina was in "the valley of death." Talk about a rock and hard place! She went on to say:
The conditions in camp were disheartening...I had prayed before being sent there that wherever God sent me, He would give me the strength to fulfill the work quota. At first, things were very hard physically, of course, but [italics mine] God preserved me in His mercy, through the prayers of my friends and the church. Sometimes I didn't even have the strength to pray, but could only raise my eyes to heaven in a silent cry. In His mercy the Lord sent me a Christian sister...Natasha...a wonderful Christian, of sterling character, full of peace, and it was evident that the Lord was present with her. We always tried to support one another in the arms of prayer. Valentina our Soviet prisoner stayed in the "valley of death" for the full five years. She was finally released in l987 at the age of 32. When she was asked, "Don't you regret the years that you wasted here?" she answered,
If the Son of God willingly went to Calvary for me, what in comparison is giving five years of my earthly life?...The ministry He gave me in the prison camp was the work He wanted me to do. He put me there and required only that I be faithful to Him....He gave me the health and strength to remain faithful to Him. And through His mercy and power through the prayers of His people, He enabled me to be victorious.
8 O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him