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Acts 23:12-35 - Homiletics

Special providence.

It is difficult to define exactly what we mean by a special providence. Not one sparrow falls to the ground without our heavenly Father, who works all things after the counsel of his own will, and makes all things "work together for good to them that love him, to them who are the called according to his purpose" ( Romans 8:28 ). And yet there are times and occasions when the overruling and controlling hand of God is seen more clearly and more markedly than usual, and when the interposition of human will and intention is more conspicuously absent. And perhaps this is what we mean when we speak of a special providence. Let us mark some of the circumstances detailed in this section, which seem to bring St. Paul's escape from the Jews at this time under the category of a special providence. The danger was great and imminent. In the feverish excited state of the Jewish mind at this time, and when they were unable, through their weakness, to give effect to their intense hatred of their heathen masters, they were all the more ready to wreak their vengeance upon any more helpless victim who might fall into their hands. Such a victim was St. Paul; and already in the temple court and on the castle stairs, he had nearly forfeited his life to their violence. Again, in the council-chamber he was on the point of being torn in pieces by them. The danger, therefore, was very great which he had already escaped. But a greater was at hand. More than forty Jews, in whom guile, hatred, and fanaticism were a triple cord not easily to be broken, bound themselves together by a terrible curse to " remove " that obnoxious life, and seemed to make their own lives dependent upon the fulfillment of their atrocious vow. It was nearly certain that a request, coming to Lysias from the chief officers of the Sanhedrim, to bring Paul down again for some further inquiry into his case, would be complied with, and, if so, his death was certain also. Now mark the providential circumstances by which this plot was defeated. Paul had a sister, and this sister had a son. We hear nothing and know nothing of either of these persons except on this critical occasion. Where the young man lived, how he happened to be at Jerusalem (unless it were to keep the Feast of Pentecost), whether he had been influenced by his uncle to embrace the Christian faith, or whether, as seems more probable, he was a zealous Jew, and as such entrusted with the secrets of the party, we know not. All we know is that he became acquainted with the conspiracy, and went immediately to the castle to inform Paul of it. His ready admission to the prisoner, the good-natured compliance of the centurion with Paul's request to him to bring the young man to the chief captain, the chief captain's courteous attention to the young man's tale, and his instant determination to send Paul off by night to Caesarea, were the further links, each absolutely necessary, in the chain of providence, by which Paul's escape was accomplished. But one other circumstance must be noted. It seems strange at first sight that the tribune of the Roman garrison should take so much trouble about one poor Jew, whom, moreover, he had only to keep a close prisoner in the castle to ensure his safety. But we have a ready explanation of this in Lysias's own letter, and in what happened the day before, as recorded in Acts 22:24-26 . Lysias, not a Roman by birth, had committed a grave mistake in threatening Paul, a Roman citizen, with scourging. Such a mistake might have had grave consequences to himself. He therefore adroitly and promptly took a step to show his respect and reverence for the dignity of a Roman citizen, and also for the office of the Roman procurator, by sending Paul off to Caesarea. At the same time, by so doing he avoided the chance of a riot at Jerusalem, and threw the whole responsibility of dealing with Paul and his Jewish enemies upon Felix. Nothing could be more politic. What, however, it is to our purpose to observe is that, by this tangled tissue of motives and interests, and by this accidental combination of circumstances, God's gracious purpose was brought about which he had announced to Paul in a vision of the night, saying, "Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast borne witness of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome." The violence of the Sanhedrim (though they knew it not); the conspiracy of the Jews (though they knew it not); the courtesy and policy of Lysias (though he knew it not); as afterwards the intrigues of Felix, the weakness of Festus, and the urgent malice of the Jews,—were all necessary steps, moving in a direction that they little suspected, for brining the apostle of the Gentiles to the capital of the Gentile world.

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