Acts23:12-35 “God who provides a way of escape”

In today’s passage Paul who was about to be killed by the Jews is rescued and is sent to Caesarea.  Paul after his third missionary trip returned to Jerusalem and here too strove to witness to the Lord.  However, the Jewish resistance was much stronger than he expected. It was like Agabus had once prophesized that the Jerusalem evangelism faced continuous persecution after persecution after persecution. Being in such a situation, Paul must have been depressed. However, the Lord came to such a Paul, stood next him, and encouraged him with the words recorded in verse 11.

              For such a tired and depressed Paul these words must have been such an encouragement and must have given him courage and strength.  With a new spirit, hope, and strength Paul must have been ready to move forward in his commission.  Just then another problem occurred.  That is recorded in verses 12 to 15.

              This seems like we are watching a suspense movie.  Just as we think the disturbance has calmed down, the simmering Jews made a plot to kill Paul. Not only that but they made an oath not to eat or drink anything until they killed Paul.  Today this would be called a “hunger strike”.  To go to the extreme to not eat or drink anything, gives a peek at their desperate efforts. “More than forty men were involved in this plot.” (13)  These men united with the Sanhedrin to have Paul brought before the chief priests and elders “on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case.” (15)  They planned to kill him before he got there.   No one knew what was happening so in the morning when Paul is brought to the Sanhedrin, along the way his killers will be waiting for him.  For Paul this was a dangerous situation and he will be driven into a corner. How will he escape from this dangerous situation? Today let’s look at three truths about God who saved him from this situation.

I.            God used Paul’s sister’s child (vs. 16-21)

              Here Paul’s sister’s child appears.  This is Paul’s nephew.  This is the only passage in the Bible that tells us about Paul’s extended family.  From this passage we can see that Paul had at least one married sister.  Paul’s family were Pharisees. Therefore, may be Paul’s sister married a Pharisee and was living in Jerusalem.  When Paul was studying the law under Gamaliel in Jerusalem, he may have even stayed at his sister’s house.  Therefore, it is possible that he lived with his nephew and they knew each other well. He may have heard of his uncle’s arrest and decided to visit him and bring food and other necessities.

              Paul’s nephew heard of the plot to kill Paul and so “he went into the barracks and told Paul.” (16)  As a result Paul was able to inform the commander and as a result of the commander’s decision, Paul was protected from the conspiracy and was able to escape from the danger of being killed by the ambush.

              Out of chance did Paul’s nephew hear about this plot?  Out of chance did he happen to tell Paul about it?  Of course not.  This was definitely not by chance. It was not an easy thing for Paul’s nephew to know and go to tell Paul about the danger his uncle was in. In a lot of cases the nephew would be putting his own life on the line by going to Paul and telling him about the plot. It was also possible that just by going to Paul that his name would be put on the blacklist.  Even so, despite the dangers, the nephew went to Paul.  He did this because God was working.  God spoke to Paul’s nephew and gave him the desire to tell Paul about the plot to kill Paul.

              This is a little different from the other ways people escaped that we’ve seen up until now in the Bible.  For example, in 12:5 Peter escaped from the prison.  The prison was completely closed.  Herod had thought he would “bring him out for public trial after the Passover.” (12:4) The church continually prayed fervently for Peter.  God sent an angel and helped him out of the prison. “Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains.” (12:6)  There were also guards at the door.  An angel “struck Peter on the side and woke him up.” (12:7) Then Peter’s chains fell off. Peter put on his clothes and sandals and followed the angel outside.  At first Peter thought he was dreaming. However, after getting outside he realized that God had sent his angel and rescued him.  This was a miracle.  Humanly speaking it was an unthinkable thing, a super unnatural work of God. 

              However, in today’s passage neither God, Christ, nor angel does not appear. The nephew of Paul hears about the plot, and tells Paul who is under the keeping of the commander.  Even so, God was working behind the scenes.  God used people to help save Paul.  God like in the case of Peter uses super unnatural ways to help save us and God also like in the case of Paul uses natural ways by working behind the scenes to save us.

              Not only that but Paul’s sister’s child, Paul’s nephew, appears only one time in the Bible. His name is not even mentioned.  He is introduced as only “Paul’s sister’s child”.  Not only that but, he was a “young man”. (17)  The word for “young man” is usually used for boys between 8 and 14 years old.  In other words, a “young man” is about the age of junior high students.  This type of person was used to save Paul.  God uses different people and different methods to help save us.


II           The commanders amazing command (vs. 22-30)

              When the commander heard through Paul’s nephew about the plot to ambush Paul, he ordered Paul’s nephew not to tell anyone that he had told the commander about the plot.  Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them to go to Caesarea at nine o’clock at night.  They were to “get ready a detachment of 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen and 200 spearmen.” (23)  Not only that, but they were to “provide mounts for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.” (24) This required an enormous amount of preparation.  This was about half the amount of infantry, cavalry, and soldiers in Jerusalem.  It was an unthinkable amount of military for taking just one prisoner.  Why would the commander send such a huge force with Paul?

              According to the letter that the commander wrote to Felix the reason given is that Paul was a Roman citizen so he helped Paul escape.  In other words, Paul was arrested by the Jews.  After investigating the commander realized that the problem was over the Jewish law, and that Paul had committed no crime worthy of death or imprisonment so he helped Paul escape from the lynch.  In other words, what the commander had done was because Paul was a Roman citizen so he did his responsibility faithfully to protect a Roman citizen.  His motives and prudence was that he wanted to be recognized or appreciated by his superiors. He wasn’t thinking about Paul. However, even though he had such motives and prudence, by this special method Paul escaped danger because God was working behind the scenes and was leading.  God controls all things.  God used the commander’s calculated motives to help Paul flee from the Jewish ambush and send him to the Caesarean governor where he would be safe.  Therefore, you could say that this was the road of escape that God prepared for Paul while he was in the trials of having his life at stake. 

I Cor. 10:13

              Paul’s nephew’s sudden appearance, and the commander’s actions rooted in his thinking at one glance seem as if there is no connection between the people and events, but in reality it is the Lord God Himself who prepared a road of escape for Paul.

              Why did God use such a method?  We wonder if God was going to save Paul, why he didn’t use a more exciting method. For example, suddenly superman came in the sky and like an eagle scooped Paul up and flew back in the sky and took him to a place that no one knows.  Rains came from heaven upon the Jews and they died so Paul didn’t feel any danger and lived a long life.  I’m not a novel writer, but God’s thinking is tremendous.  It’s deep. It’s perfect.

              When we think about why God chose this method, we remember Acts 23:11. “As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

              In other words, this series of events: Paul being, accused by the Jews, arrested, fleeing and being sent to Caesarea was in reality, so Paul could have confidence that from Jerusalem, that God would fulfill this promise and that he would go through Caesarea and continue on to Rome. Now Paul isn’t going heroically to Rome. Paul is going as a prisoner in chains.  However, even though he is in a situation that he can do nothing about, the Lord’s hand is actually working.  In the midst of this condition, he is definitely moving toward Rome. God is definitely leading forward towards his goal.  It is for this reason that God chose this method.

              This is a huge encouragement to us who are living in the forward movement of the kingdom of God. When we meet various trials, and in the daily perseverance as we daily pray for help, we sometimes wonder whether God has forgotten us or not?  However, in reality the Lord’s hand is working.  Not only that but God’s hand is not just working so we can flee, but for the purpose of the advancement of the Kingdom of God.  It has real meaning.  Things occur that we never thought of, we have nowhere to turn, but even so the Lord’s hand definitely supports us, leads us, encourages us, and comforts us. Even if we live each and every day as it comes, in reality, we are moving closer to the will of Jesus Christ because everything is a part of the plan that God has for us.  Even if in our present situation we are facing obstacles that we have no strength to cut down, and have no strength to stand up to, still it is not meaningless to pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It will become a fulfillment in the advancement of kingdom of God.

III.  Trust in the Lord (vs.31-35)

              Therefore, the third point is no matter what situation we are in to trust in the Lord. Then the soldiers did what was commanded and took Paul “during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris.” (31)  The next day the soldiers let the cavalry take Paul on and they returned to the barracks.  Antipatris was a military outpost about half way between Jerusalem and Caesarea. According to the command of the commander, the soldiers left in the middle of the night and took Paul to Antipatris.  They took him in the middle of the night because the Jews planned to kill Paul as quickly as possible.  They thought by leaving in the night they could avoid that from happening.  Even so leaving Jerusalem at 9:00 at night and going 55 kilometers to Antipatris was quite a hard schedule.  Then on top of that the next day they left Paul in the hands of the cavalry and returned back to their starting point. To walk 100 kilometers in 24 hours is impossible so they must have gone by horseback.  They left the rest of the trip in the hands of the cavalry. “When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him.” (33)  After Felix read the letter he asked Paul what province he was from.  Paul answered that he was from Cilicia.  Therefore, Felix said that he would hear Paul’s case when his accusers came.  “Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.” (35) By this the plot to kill Paul was completely destroyed. Humanly speaking, Paul was in a helpless situation, but by God’s method, Paul was saved from danger and was being led to complete his commission of witnessing in Rome.

              Here neither God nor Jesus appears. Also supernaturally God does not enter the situation.  Only Paul’s nephew found out about the plot to kill Paul and informed him and the commander is used to send Paul away from the danger.  However, behind the scenes God was working and leading.  God used these people and events to save Paul from danger.

              When you are in such dangerous situations, how do you try to flee from the situation?  Humans have an instinct to protect themselves.  Therefore, they rely on people and things. They rely on their own knowledge and wisdom, but those things won’t really take care of us.  Only God can protect us from such things.  God by amazing methods will protect us from all misfortunes.  He will take care of us.  Therefore, let’s keep our eyes on God who can really protect us, and trust in Him. When we pray to Him, we not only can overcome all earthly powers, but we can continue to walk strongly. Let’s believe that God is working behind the scenes, and leave everything in His hands.  If so we will see God’s works and glory greater than we ever imagined.  The way of escape that God prepares is a road of victory that we as brave soldiers walk on.  Let’s remember this and move forward taking one step at a time, looking more and more to heaven, and keeping our hearts up.