INTERESTING FACTS : Congress, U. S. House Judiciary Committee, 1854;
"Had the people, during the Revolution, had a suspicion of any attempt to war against Christianity, that Revolution would have been strangled in its cradle... In this age, there can be no substitute for Christianity... That was the religion of the founders of the republic and they expected it to remain the religion of their descendants."[1
Daily Reading : ACTS 21 - 23
TEXT : Acts 22:6 And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. 22:7 And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? 22:8 And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. 22:9 And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me. 22:10 And I said, What shall I do, LORD? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do. 23:9 And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees' part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God. 23:10 And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle. 23:11 And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.
THEME : GOD'S PRESENCE
We have, with a great deal of pleasure, attended the apostle in his travels throughout the Gentile nations to preach the gospel, and have seen a great harvest of souls gathered in to Christ; there we have seen likewise what persecutions he endured; yet still out of them all the Lord presently delivered him, 2Ti_3:11. But now we are to attend him to Jerusalem, and there into lasting bonds; the days of his service now seem to be over, and nothing to remain but days of suffering, days of darkness, for they are many. It is a thousand pities that such a workman should be laid aside; yet so it is, and we must not only acquiesce, as his friends then did, saying, "The will of the Lord be done;" but we must believe, and shall find reason to do so, that Paul in the prison, and at the bar, is as truly glorifying God, and serving Christ's interest, as Paul in the pulpit was. In this chapter we have, I. A journal of Paul's voyage from Ephesus to Caesarea, the next sea-port to Jerusalem, some places he touched at, and his landing there (Act_21:1-7). II. The struggles he had with his friends at Caesarea, who mightily opposed his going up to Jerusalem, but could not prevail (Act_21:8-14). III. Paul's journey from Caesarea to Jerusalem, and the kind entertainment which the Christians there gave him (Act_21:15-17). IV. His compliance with the persuasions of the brethren there, who advised him so far to compliment the Jews as to go and purify that it might appear he was no such enemy to the Mosaic rites and ceremonies as he was reported to be (Act_21:18-26). V. The turning of this very thing against him by the Jews, and the apprehending of him in the temple as a criminal thereupon (Act_21:27-30). VI. The narrow escape he had of being pulled to pieces by the rabble, and the taking of him into fair and legal custody by the chief captain, who permitted him to speak for himself to the people (Act_21:31-40). And so we have him made a prisoner, and shall never have him otherwise to the end of the history of this book. (Matthew Henry)[2
In the close of the foregoing chapter we had Paul bound, according to Agabus's prophecy of the hard usage he should receive from the Jews at Jerusalem, yet he had his tongue set at liberty, by the permission the chief captain gave him to speak for himself; and so intent he is upon using that liberty of speech which is allowed him, to the honour of Christ and the service of his interest, that he forgets the bonds he is in, makes no mention of them, but speaks of the great things Christ had done for him with as much ease and cheerfulness as if nothing had been done to ruffle him or put him into disorder. We have here, I. His address to the people, and their attention to it (Act_22:1, Act_22:2). II. The account he gives of himself. 1. What a bigoted Jew he had been in the beginning of his time (Act_22:3-5). 2. How he was miraculously converted and brought over to the faith of Christ (Act_22:6-11). 3. How he was confirmed and baptized by the ministry of Ananias (Act_22:12-16). 4. How he was afterwards called, by an immediate warrant from heaven, to be the apostle of the Gentiles (Act_22:17-21). III. The interruption given him upon this by the rabble, who could not bear to hear any thing said in favour of the Gentiles, and the violent passion they flew into upon it (Act_22:22, Act_22:23). IV. Paul's second rescue out of the hands of the rabble, and the further course which the chief captain took to find out the true reason of this mighty clamour against Paul (Act_22:24, Act_22:25). V. Paul's pleading his privilege as a Roman citizen, by which he was exempted from this barbarous method of inquisition (Act_22:26-29). VI. The chief captain's removing the cause into the high priest's court, and Paul's appearing there (Act_22:30). (Matthew Henry)[3
The close of the foregoing chapter left Paul in the high priest's court, into which the chief captain (whether to his advantage or no I know not) had removed his cause from the mob; and, if his enemies act there against him with less noise, yet it is with more subtlety. Now here we have, I. Paul's protestation of his own integrity, and of a civil respect to the high priest, however he had upon a sudden spoken warmly to him, and justly (Act_23:1-5). II. Paul's prudent contrivance to get himself clear of them, by setting the Pharisees and Sadducees at variance one with another (Act_23:6-9). III. The governor's seasonable interposal to rescue him out of their hands likewise (Act_23:10). IV. Christ's more comfortable appearing to him, to animate him against those difficulties that lay before him, and to tell him what he must expect (Act_23:11). V. A bloody conspiracy of some desperate Jews to kill Paul, and their drawing in the chief priests and the elders to be aiders and abettors with them in it (Act_23:12-15). VI. The discovery of this conspiracy to Paul, and by him to the chief captain, who perceived so much of their inveterate malice against Paul that he had reason enough to believe the truth of it (Act_23:16-22). VII. The chief captain's care of Paul's safety, by which he prevented the execution of the design; he sent him away immediately under a strong guard from Jerusalem to Caesarea, which was now the residence of Felix, the Roman governor, and there he safely arrived (Act_23:23-35). (Matthew Henry)[3
TRUTH FOR TODAY : "CHRIST THE GREAT SHEPHERD WILL NEVER LEAVE HIS SHEEP."
One of the great promises made by Jesus before he ascended into Heaven was that he would never leave his Church. He said - "lo, I am with you alway, even until the end of the world." This was one of his final promises. No doubt, during periods of great persecution, the early Church must have wondered - "where is God now?" This would be only natural. All human beings, at least those who believe there is a God, when they are distressed they look to him for help. In particular, when a person is alone, they want the presence and comfort of God even more. Therefore, this promise of Christ to never leave his Church, although once again, perhaps doubted at times by many Christians, is still one of great consolation and encouragement.
The Apostle Paul, once the great antagonist and persecutor of the Church, then of course, one of the greatest preachers and teachers of Christ, certainly knew what it was like to be left alone. Persecuted more frequently than he ever persecuted in the Church before he committed his life to Christ, hand in prison more often than the other Apostles, Paul had his share of deprivation and loneliness. Christians have a tendency to read the Bible romantically; meaning, they do not contemplate what the emotions, feelings, and fears these early Christian leaders had. Remember, the Church was not worldwide as it is today. Neither was it has populated. It was just beginning. Therefore, there were scant resources to make their lives more comfortable. There were not too many Christian agencies, or other amenities that could help the persecuted and afflicted people of God.
For this reason, there was by necessity, the need for total dependence on Christ. However, that does not mean the early Church as well as the Apostles did not have moments of doubt and frustration. For instance, in the text of Acts chapter 22, as the apostle poll recounts his conversion on the road to Damascus, keep in mind how fearful those he can present and persecuted must have felt. The early Christians were just like you. They have feelings, emotions, and the common garden variety of fears and apprehensions.
However, the Apostle Paul was converted by the direct intervention and appearance of the One who said - "I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." When word of what had happened to Saul of Tarsus continued to reach the ears of the early Church, and once they were convinced the Apostle Paul was now truly a Christian, it must have greatly encouraged their hearts to see the power of God in his care and ability to protect and defend them from this great persecutor of the Church, and in even more so, by converting him. Notice in Acts 22:7 the words of the Lord Jesus Christ says - "Saul, Saul why persecutest thou me? The Apostle Paul, not knowing who was speaking to him asked who he was. Then, in Acts 22:8, the response that comes from Jesus is - "I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest". In this statement of the Lord Jesus Christ, you will find great encouragement.
The reason is, Jesus so closely identifies himself with you (that is, the Church), that any persecution against any individuals that belong to Jesus Christ, is considered a direct attack on Jesus himself. So intimately is Jesus Christ bound to his Church, that to assail the Christian is to afflict Christ himself. Thus, you are not only have a promise that Christ will never leave you or forsake you, but that you and he ought bound together has flesh and bone. The Apostle Paul would write of this mystery (that is, that Christ considers his people to be "his body") in these words -
Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it; Eph 5:26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, Eph 5:27 That he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. Eph 5:28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. Eph 5:29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church: Eph 5:30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. Eph 5:31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. Eph 5:32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.
During this time on the Damascus road as Jesus appeared to the Apostle Paul converted him, Jesus also told the Apostle Paul what great things he would suffer for Christ sake. He also told him that he had a ministry that was appointed by God for him to do. Further, when Ananias came to the Apostle Paul and called him - "brother," he stated - "the God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard."
Keep in mind, while all of this is transpiring - namely, the conversion of the Apostle Paul and his being given a commissioned by Christ, that the Christians at Damascus were waiting to be brought to Jerusalem and to be punished by the Apostle Paul. This means, while the Christians at Damascus (who, where no doubt praying and interceding to God) waited for Saul of Tarsus to arrive and arrest them, Christ is at work converting him. Obviously, these two events were going on simultaneously. That is, as the Christians at Damascus wait to be punished, God is busy delivering them through but, conversion of their persecutor. You should take note of this principle. Namely, God is always at work doing his will, for his purposes, both in the world and in the Church. Thus, when Jesus said - "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee," that is what he meant. On your part it takes faith to believe this truth. Otherwise, you will be prone to excessive fear and worry.
After his conversion, even the Apostle Paul frequently needed the encouragement of knowing Christ was at hand to help him. For instance, in our text, after the Apostle Paul is nearly pulled in pieces by the angry mob and he is brought into the barracks of the roman soldiers ("castle") the next night the LORD stands by him. In Acts 23:11, it states that Jesus said to Paul - "Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must tell bear witness also at Rome." Of the fact that there was more work for the Apostle Paul to do, alerted him that he would not die, at least not yet. There was more for him to do, thus, his life would continue to be protected and preserved until Christ was finished with him.
When the Apostle Paul was a prisoner, while in transport during a great storm at sea, and angel of God stood near him at the height of the storm and said to him - "... Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee." (Act 27:24) Again, you see Christ always with his Church.
Perhaps, one of the greatest words of encouragement that you can take for yourself from the life of the Apostle Paul is earlier in his ministry when he was in the city Corinth. Evidently, the Apostle Paul was somewhat fearful even though many of the Corinthians are becoming Christians and being baptized, including the ruler of the synagogue whose name was Crispus. You would think the Apostle Paul would be at the height of satisfaction. Yet, once again, he obviously was fearful for his life. This is inferred, as Christ appears to him in a vision of the night saying -
"Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city." (Act 18:9 - 10)
Notice, that Jesus tells the Apostle Paul several things. First, do not be afraid. This is often the case throughout the entire Bible when God appears to his people when they are in fear. Second, Jesus tells the Apostle Paul to speak boldly. Thirdly, he comforts Paul by stating he is with him. Lastly, Jesus tells the Apostle Paul - "no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city." Only God himself can declare that no man will hurt thee. This demonstrates the sovereign control of God over all people, places, living creatures, and the entire extent of the earth and the cosmos. It further illustrates Christ is God. In addition, it once again elucidates the truth that Christ is with his Church at all times.
Christ is the great shepherd of the sheep. He will never leave his flock. More than that, Christ has every intention of caring, comforting, and providing for his own. Therefore, be encouraged. Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep is with you today.