- Sermon Notes
Live Your Part in God’s Story
July 23, 2023
As we come back to our study of the book of Acts, Paul has finally arrived in Jerusalem, willing to risk it all for the opportunity to speak of Christ there. But Paul is not in Jerusalem even seven days before the whole city is in an uproar.
The Jews saw him in the temple and took hold of him. The people rushed together and, dragging him out of the temple, they were seeking to kill him, but the report of this came to the Roman commander who took some soldiers and took Paul into custody. At this point, the plot thickens and Paul’s life takes some amazing turns. He will never be freed again, but the purpose of God will be seen in his life.
As we saw before, the book should actually be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit. it was the story of God. Paul was just a part of it. If we can see that our lives are also a part of God’s story, and not primarily about us, it changes our whole perspective of life.
Paul’s life takes some exceptional turns in these chapters, but his whole life has been exceptional. He moved from persecuting the church to being one of the greatest missionaries of all time.
Life takes some amazing and unexpected turns for all of us, but the question is what we will do with it. Paul’s story is really God’s story lived out in his life, his part is living it exceptionally and living it with zeal.
We all have a story that we we’re living. It’s really God’s story in us, but we have a part to play; we have choices to make. These chapters in the book of Acts reveal God’s story, but also, it shows our part in that story.
In Chapter 23:23-31 and following, there is a good summary of what has been happening since Paul arrived in Jerusalem. It’s a letter written by the Roman commander to the Roman governor, Felix, in Caesarea.
I. Our Steps are Ordered of God
- In this letter, the commander speaks about a plot against Paul. The details of that plot bring some very important questions that apply to each of us.
- Some of the Jews were so vehemently opposed to Paul that 40 of them bound themselves with an oath that they would neither eat nor drink until Paul had been killed. They planned to ambush him when he was called before the Jewish leaders.
- But Paul’s nephew got wind of the plot. He told Paul who sent him to the commander. It appears that God is intervening to save Paul’s life.
- But this raises some questions. Why does God intervene here? Why doesn’t God intervene at other times?
A. God accomplishes His purpose in our lives
- When Paul was taken into the Roman barracks, on the night immediately following, the Lord actually appeared at his side, saying, “Take courage; as you have witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.”
- In other words, God has a purpose to accomplish in Paul’s life. Not only would he witness in Rome, but he would also write letters to the churches that make up almost a third of our New Testament.
- At one time they stoned Paul, but he got up and continued teaching.
- Later, after Paul is imprisoned for several years in Rome, Emperor Nero, who blamed Christians when the city of Rome caught fire, also had Paul killed, but this time there was no intervention of God.
- The point is that God is still on the throne and we can trust him with our lives. He is the One who gives purpose and meaning to our lives and He is the one who orders our steps.
Psalm 37:23, The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way.
- But along with that we also need to understand God’s heart and that His plan for us is good.
Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future in the hope.”
- God is not using or abusing us to get His purpose done. This is contrary to His loving heart.
Illus – When water flows through soil, the soil is also changed. For example, look at the Grand Canyon. The water flowed through it and changed the whole area. It made the Grand Canyon a majestic site.
- When God moves and flows through our lives, it changes us. It makes our lives beautiful as well. Paul’s life is a great example as it became a life that has been looked up to for millennia. If he was to be just one more persecutor of the church his name would have been lost in time, or maybe only referenced in some history books.
B. Every life is a precious story
- You were made in the image of God and so dearly loved that He gave His only begotten Son that you might have everlasting life.
- But many people do not understand the value that God has placed on their lives. What is your soul worth?
Illus – eBay has had to make a policy that people are not allowed to sell their souls on eBay anymore, because they tried, and eBay had to pull it. There is this documentary, “They Sold their Sold for Rock and Roll’…
Matthew 16:26, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Illus – Many people do not understand the value of their lives. They believe the lie that they have messed up so badly or their situation is so dire that their lives are WORTHLESS. They do not see that they are made in God’s image and that He has great purpose and plan for their lives and so they want someone else’s life. They think that that will bring them happiness.
- Every story is precious and every story is different.
Illus – After the resurrection, Jesus met the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after they had spent the night fishing. After breakfast, he took Peter for a walk, restoring him after Peter’s great failure.
It is wonderful to see that Jesus didn’t just discard this “failure’, going on to the next person.
He restored Peter and gave great purpose and meaning in his life, “Shepherd My sheep.” Jesus also told him the manner of his death when he was old. But Peter then saw John following them and said…
John 21:21-22, “Lord, and what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
- What’s your story? How will you live it? How will it end?
- Don’t be so focused on others’ lives that you forget to live your own.
- You may not know when it will end, but you can know how it will end. The reason God sent His Son was so that you can know in all confidence that you can have the forgiveness of sin and eternal life in the presence of God and those who have gone before you.
Illus – There is a story of a young girl who impacted her school, dying very young…
- The great truth is that the end here is actually the beginning. It is the beginning of eternity! Pause and think about that.
C. Live with this in view
- When Paul was brought before the Roman governor, Felix, he spoke in his own defense…
- Paul said, “I serve the God of our fathers, having a hope in God, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. With this in view, I do my best to maintain a blameless conscience both before God and before men.”
- In other words, this great truth is always in view and it changes how he lives. With that in his view, he wants to maintain a good conscience before God and men.
- Our hope of eternal glory should be front and center. People are so easily caught up in the temporal that they miss this. This is still the living hope we have!
- Felix used to send for him often, hoping that money would be given to him by Paul, but with the hope in God always in view, he wouldn’t do it.
- Paul knew His life was in God’s hands. He wanted a clean conscience before God. He would not use a shortcut to get out of this. Why would he? It was part of God’s plan. If God wanted him released from this situation, He would do it. He did it before when they sang songs of worship in jail.
- For two years Felix kept him in custody, speaking to him quite often. And as he was discussing righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened.
- Verse 16 – In view of this Paul said that he always did his best to maintain a blameless conscience before God and men. Although Paul was the one teaching righteousness in Christ and the grace of God, he was not using this as a license to sin. He was focused and thoughtful on keeping a tender conscience, not growing calluses on his soul.
- For Paul, such great hope was a beautiful view, for Felix, it frightened him to death.
II. Don’t Kick Against the Goads
- Finally, Felix was succeeded by another Roman governor, Porcius Festus.
- The Jewish leaders saw this as an opportunity to bring charges against Paul again, but Paul, being a Roman citizen, appealed to Caesar.
- Festus replied, “You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go.”
- However, several days later, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived, and Festus laid Paul’s case before him. Agrippa then said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.”
- So, the next day Agrippa arrived at the auditorium with great pomp, accompanied by the commanders and prominent men of the city. Paul was then called, and his speech has now become famous.
- Paul said, I was wrong. I had to correct my course.
A. God will correct your course
- Paul gives an account of his life. He is a man of zeal, but his zeal was misplaced until God corrected his course.
- Don’t misplace your zeal and don’t kick against the goads; that’s the great lesson from Paul’s speech.
- The phrase, “Don’t kick against the goads,” is very appropriate. God wants to direct our steps, but many people resist and kick against God in their lives.
Illus – We went to see the rodeo the other day…
There is one entrance and one exit… The more you kick against the goads, the longer it takes to get you there, running around in futility and without purpose.
Psalm 32:8-9, I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. Do not be as the horse or as a mule which have no understanding, whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check.
Illus – You know as a parent you can direct your kids just with your eyes if they already know your heart.
- God doesn’t want to force you with bit and bridle. He wants you to see through His eyes.
- Everything He does is for your good and the good of the kingdom. Freedom in following God’s purpose. Don’t be so stubborn.
B. Don’t be an “almost” believer
- God has opened Paul’s eyes, He has corrected his course and he’s sharing that light with Agrippa and all the prominent men of the city.
- Paul has some big fish in his net and wants them to turn from the dominion of Satan to God.
- Agrippa was an “almost” Christian; he almost believed. But “almost” has eternal consequences.
Illus – I almost bought that property, if I only bought Apple stock instead of Enron. If I only pressed “submit” on that transaction. Almost means nothing. Don’t stand before God and one day say, I almost accepted you. I almost gave my life to you.
- This is not to usher in fear, because God does not want to turn you by fear. It is His goodness that leads to repentance. But the truth is that all have sinned and fallen short, and all are on the highway to hell, and it is not a wonderful party place as AC/DC wants you to believe. It will be a place of eternal gnashing of teeth and torment. But God made a way to beautiful redemption.
- Some people are stuck in the middle, I call it the miserable middle. They’re almost ready to commit their lives, but not quite. How many times have I heard people say, “I just need some time to figure this out”?
- They believe there is a God, they know about God, but they haven’t committed their lives.
- But as Joshua said to the people of Israel, “If the Lord is God… then serve Him.”
- Paul says that with the hope of God in view, it changes everything.
Illus – When you fly to a destination, they put tracking labels on your suitcases. These are then automatically sorted by that tracking label. That suitcase can try and go to another plane with all its might, but the label determines its destination.
Illus – Some people live their lives by the words of Bon Jovi’s song – It’s My Life. I have news for them. After you die, you cannot say it is my life. It is an illusion. The reason I know this is because we cannot even decide how long we want to live. We cannot “choose” to live forever. After you die you belong to someone Either the enemy or God.
- What name is written on you? Does it say, “God’s property”? There is no ‘almost’ to get to heaven. Your life has to belong to Christ, having trusted Him as Lord and Savior.
Acts 23:23-26:32 NASB
23 And he called to him two of the centurions and said, “Get two hundred soldiers ready by [a]the third hour of the night to proceed to Caesarea, [b]with seventy horsemen and two hundred [c]spearmen.” 24 They were also to provide mounts to put Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the governor. 25 And he wrote a letter having this form:
26 “Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor Felix, greetings.
27 “When this man was arrested by the Jews and was about to be slain by them, I came up to them with the troops and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman. 28 “And wanting to ascertain the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their [d]Council; 29 and I found him to be accused over questions about their Law, but [e]under no accusation deserving death or [f]imprisonment.
30 “When I was informed that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, also instructing his accusers to [g]bring charges against him before you.”
31 So the soldiers, in accordance with their orders, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. 32 But the next day, leaving the horsemen to go on with him, they returned to the barracks. 33 When these had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. 34 When he had read it, he asked from what province he was, and when he learned that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing after your accusers arrive also,” giving orders for him to be kept in Herod’s [h]Praetorium.
24 After five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders, [i]with an [j]attorney named Tertullus, and they [k]brought charges to the governor against Paul. 2 After Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying to the governor,
“Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for this nation, 3 we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness. 4 But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you [l]to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing. 5 For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout [m]the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 And he even tried to desecrate the temple; and [n]then we arrested him. [[o]We wanted to judge him according to our own Law. 7 But Lysias the commander came along, and with much violence took him out of our hands, 8 ordering his accusers to come before you.] By examining him yourself concerning all these matters you will be able to ascertain the things of which we accuse him.” 9 The Jews also joined in the attack, asserting that these things were so.
10 When the governor had nodded for him to speak, Paul responded:
“Knowing that for many years you have been a judge to this nation, I cheerfully make my defense, 11 since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 Neither in the temple, nor in the synagogues, nor in the city itself did they find me carrying on a discussion with anyone or causing [p]a riot. 13 Nor can they prove to you the charges of which they now accuse me. 14 But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve [q]the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets; 15 having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16 In view of this, I also [r]do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men. 17 Now after several years I came to bring [s]alms to my nation and to present offerings; 18 in which they found me occupied in the temple, having been purified, without any crowd or uproar. But there were some Jews from [t]Asia— 19 who ought to have been present before you and to make accusation, if they should have anything against me. 20 Or else let these men themselves tell what misdeed they found when I stood before the [u]Council, 21 other than for this one statement which I shouted out while standing among them, ‘For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today.’”
22 But Felix, [v]having a more exact knowledge about the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the [w]commander comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 Then he gave orders to the centurion for him to be kept in custody and yet have some freedom, and not to prevent any of his friends from ministering to him.
24 But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his [x]wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.” 26 At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him. 27 But after two years had passed, Felix [y]was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned.
25 Festus then, having arrived in the province, three days later went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. 2 And the chief priests and the leading men of the Jews brought charges against Paul, and they were urging him, 3 requesting a [z]concession against [aa]Paul, that he might [ab]have him brought to Jerusalem (at the same time, setting an ambush to kill him on the way). 4 Festus then answered that Paul was being kept in custody at Caesarea and that he himself was about to leave shortly. 5 “Therefore,” he *said, “let the influential men among you [ac]go there with me, and if there is anything wrong [ad]about the man, let them [ae]prosecute him.”
6 After he had spent not more than eight or ten days among them, he went down to Caesarea, and on the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. 7 After Paul arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him which they could not prove, 8 while Paul said in his own defense, “I have committed no offense either against the Law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.” 9 But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and [af]stand trial before me on these charges?” 10 But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you also very well know. 11 If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is true of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar.” 12 Then when Festus had conferred with [ag]his council, he answered, “You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go.”
13 Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea [ah]and paid their respects to Festus. 14 While they were spending many days there, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man who was left as a prisoner by Felix; 15 and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. 16 I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face and has an opportunity to make his defense against the charges. 17 So after they had assembled here, I did not delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought before me. 18 When the accusers stood up, they began bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting, 19 but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own [ai]religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive. 20 Being at a loss how to investigate [aj]such matters, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these matters. 21 But when Paul appealed to be held in custody for [ak]the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him to be kept in custody until I send him to Caesar.” 22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” he *said, “you shall hear him.”
23 So, on the next day when Agrippa came [al]together with Bernice amid great pomp, and entered the auditorium [am]accompanied by the [an]commanders and the prominent men of the city, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 Festus *said, “King Agrippa, and all you gentlemen here present with us, you see this man about whom all the people of the Jews appealed to me, both at Jerusalem and here, loudly declaring that he ought not to live any longer. 25 But I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death; and since he himself appealed to [ao]the Emperor, I decided to send him. 26 [ap]Yet I have nothing definite about him to write to my lord. Therefore I have brought him before you all and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the investigation has taken place, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems absurd to me in sending a prisoner, not to indicate also the charges against him.”
26 Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense:
2 “In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today; 3 [aq]especially because you are an expert in all customs and [ar]questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
4 “So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; 5 since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion. 6 And now I am [as]standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; 7 the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. 8 Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?
9 “So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And this is [at]just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the [au]saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to [av]foreign cities.
12 “[aw]While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, 13 at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, [ax]brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the [ay]Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? [az]It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have [ba]seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; 17 rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’
19 “So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. 21 For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death. 22 So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; 23 [bb]that [bc]the Christ was [bd]to suffer, and [be]that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”
24 While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus *said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind! [bf]Your great learning is [bg]driving you mad.” 25 But Paul *said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words [bh]of sober truth. 26 For the king [bi]knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a [bj]corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you [bk]do.” 28 Agrippa replied to Paul, “[bl]In a short time you [bm]will persuade me to [bn]become a Christian.” 29 And Paul said, “[bo]I would wish to God, that whether [bp]in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.”
30 The king stood up and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them, 31 and when they had gone aside, they began talking to one another, saying, “This man is not doing anything worthy of death or [bq]imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”