Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.
I want you to think back to watching cartoons growing up.
And I want you to think about the evil villain. What was he like?
Sure, every once in a while, the evil villain was just some mean, dumb thug.
But typically, the evil villain is some angry, super smart nerd-gone-wrong
Like the nerd in high school that everybody picked on, but now has an evil maniacal plan to take OVER THE WORLD!!!!
So often, when we think of sin and evil, we just think of our flesh acting out of control in some more beastly, uncontrolled way (anger, lust, drunkenness, you name it)
But the cartoons and comic books had it right that so much of evil is really in the mind.
And some of the most evil things ever hatched on mankind came from evil strategists.
WWII never would have gotten so out of hand, if they didn’t first brainwash so many Germans to believe they were the superior race (this is an evil plot of the mind)
Even the genocides of Rwanda were grounded as a mental and philosophical argument about being overly focused on are you a Hutu or Tutsi?
But one of the things that the Bible teaches us is that, God can always overcome any evil plot.
Evil can not outsmart God.
We so often fear that so many great travesties will befall our earth, but if they do, they will only be by the approved hand of God
There is no person, no evil being, NOTHING that can outsmart God and His will.
(1 Corinthians 1:25 – NIV)
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
And we are going to see this clearly in our passage in Acts today.
WE are continuing in the Book of Acts today.
Acts is the 5th book of the New Testament in the Bible, and is the story of the how the early church got started after Jesus ascended into heaven.
When we left off last week, our hero, the Apostle Paul has been arrested in Jerusalem.
He was about to be torn to pieces by the Jews, but a Roman Commander stepped in and saved him
When the same commander who saved him was about to go all Jack Bauer on him and torture him to get some answers as to why the Jews were so mad at Him, Paul mentions that He’s a Roman Citizen, and that the commander can’t flog him.
The commander then has Paul go on trial in front of the Sanhedrin (which is like the Jewish ruling body) and Paul brilliantly distracts them by getting them in a debate on some of their differences.
Then, that night, after the trial, Paul is brought back to the barracks and God comforts him. That’s where we left off.
We are going to be on PAGE 905 if you want to follow along.
Or can follow along on YouVersion.
(Acts 23:12-22) – NIV
12 The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13 More than forty men were involved in this plot. 14 They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul.15 Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.” 16 But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul. 17 Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.” 18 So he took him to the commander. The centurion said, “Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.” 19 The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, “What is it you want to tell me?” 20 He said: “Some Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. 21 Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.” 22 The commander dismissed the young man with this warning: “Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.”
Okay, let’s stop there for just a moment.
The Jews are not happy with Paul, and these supposed “religious” people who supposedly LOVE God are pumping out murderous plots to KILL Paul.
History proves this, and so does the 6:00 news, that “Religion that is without GRACE and LOVE is extremely dangerous.”
It’s just a bad combo.
So they hatch a plot that they are going to “lie in wait” and ambush Paul before he gets to the trial.
They even make an oath to fast until he’s killed.
They say, people do crazy things for love…yeah, well they do crazy stuff for evil too.
When I was in college, someone told me once of a story that was once told to them.
There was a Christian leader who was flying on a plane, and the woman next to him refused the oh so delicious airplane pretzels and drink that were offered to her.
Because we all know how awesome they are…
Sidenote: I think I was flying delta in April, and they gave out, I dare say, some pretty amazing cookie/cracker thing.
It was so amazing that I don’t even remember if it was a cookie or a cracker, but it was good!
But anyway, the man got to talking with the woman next to him, and she eventually said she was fasting.
And he said, “Wow. That’s great! What church do you go to?”
And she replied, “Oh, I don’t’ go to church, I’m a Satanist, and I’m fasting for the decline of Christian marriages.”
Evil is real. And people will go to great lengths to accomplish it.
Just read a history book.
But thankfully, Paul’s nephew gets to the commander, and Paul now has a fighting chance.
The passage continues:
(Acts 23:23-35) – NIV
23 Then he 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. 24 Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.” 25 He wrote a letter as follows: 26 Claudius Lysias, To His Excellency, Governor Felix: Greetings. 27 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. (which is a lie) 28 I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. 29 I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment.30 When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him. 31 So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as An-TIP-ih-tris (about 35 miles NW of Jerusalem) .32 The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. 33 When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea (another 28 miles), they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. 34 The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will hear your case when your accusers get here.” Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.
So Paul is safely taken to Governor Felix, who had been the Governor of Judea the past 5 years or so.
Felix asks Paul where he’s from, probably cuz he just wanted to transfer his case, but when Paul states he’s originaly from Cilicia (which is like South Central Turkey…Paul was from the city of Tarsus there)…
Felix realizes that Paul is indeed under his jurisdiction.
GOD’S PROTECTION / SOVEREIGNTY
One of the really powerful parts of this week’s passage in Acts is that we really see God’s protection against evil in Paul’s life.
Evil is rearing its ugly head, and a master plan has been hatched.
They are going to ambush Paul and kill him. So much for the trial, let’s just murder him on the road.
But is that too much for God? Absolutely not!
So God starts doing work.
It starts with Paul’s nephew hearing of the plot.
Wait: Let’s pause right there even.
How do you think Paul’s nephew heard of the plot?
We aren’t told exactly who he heard it from, but who do you think orchestrating him hearing it in the 1st place?
Now, could God have just miraculously opened up the gates for Paul, and walked him out of prison?
He even did that once for Peter in Acts 12.
But most of the time, God prefers to use humans…people like us to do His work. He works through us.
Nowhere is this better seen than the Book of Esther in the Bible.
If you haven’t read the book of Esther, go home and read it before the night is over.
It’s SOOO good!
If you have kids in say upper elementary school, gather them around and read it to them tonight.
It’s an awesome book.
But one of the fascinating things about the book of Esther, is nowhere in the book is God mentioned.
YET, His hand is all over EVERYTHING that happens.
And that’s what we see here as well.
It’s God who helps Paul’s NEPHEW of all people find out about the plot.
I mean, even the fact that his nephew could get to Paul in prison is a big deal!
Or the fact that the centurion even came to listen to Paul (a prisoner) and his nephew, or that he ACTUALLY took the nephew to the commander, and that the commander listened to some young RELATIVE saying there’s a plot.
I mean, the Commander very, VERY easily could have just dismissed this as some last ditched effort by Paul’s family to get him out of harm’s way.
But He doesn’t, cuz God’s hand is all over this, and even though the evil plan is hatched, EVIL CAN’T OUTSMART GOD.
See, our God, works in ALL things. Even in the little things.
I always have a hard time when people say that God doesn’t work in the little things. Or that he doesn’t’ care about the little things.
People say, “Well, God’s too busy with world peace and natural disasters to care about something as simple as a conversation”
But that’s not only completely NOT true, but it’s philosophically silly.
“See, God’s working in the large things, is simply a massive combination of working together little things.”
Even, as they take Paul out of prison…God continues his rescue of Paul…
The devil was probably thinking, “I’ll kill Paul on the road… I’ll use those zealous Jews and get Paul when the Romans aren’t looking. Even if they bring a couple of soldiers with…I’ve got 40 men all riled up to kill him”
You know what God does in response to evil?!?
He somehow puts it in the mind of the commander to send 470 soldiers to guide Paul to Caesarea!
Who sends 470 soldiers to guide some random guy you just met a few days ago who you don’t even know much about?!?
You know who?!?
GOD. God does.
He’s in control. Defeating evil’s plot at every turn.
When evil tries to take us down, God wants to be our defender and protector.
I mean sure, there is the other side…
Sometimes evil DOES wreak havoc on us. Evil is real. In a free will system, God does allow evil. BUT…even then, the aftereffects of evil can be redeemed for the glory of God
But you could still say….”Yeah, but what about the people who DO die…or something bad happens?”
Well, that doesn’t’ mean that God abandoned them…it just means they had a different story.
And this is exactly where I think we sometimes miss it: Just because God’s story for people can sometimes does involve tragedy, DOES NOT mean that we shouldn’t then STILL look for God’s provision at all times.
We absolutely should. If anyone can rescue us from evil. It is our God!
But…we do praise Him no matter what His story is for us.
But He can indeed rescue us, and He’s pretty good at it.
We see it in today’s passage, and we see it all over the news…in magazines…and in books…especially when tragedies happen.
Nowhere has this been more prevalent in our lives than during 9/11
I mean seriously, how many stories have you heard of people who were supposed to die in 9/11, but then something really out of the ordinary happened, and they didn’t die?
For instance, let me tell you the story of Lara Clarke.
Lara Clarke has been exercising the morning of Sep 11th and was rollerblading along the Hudson on the way to her train station. While she was crossing in the middle of a West Village street in New York, she saw actress Gwyneth Paltrow driving in her Mercedes SUV.
She was so excited, as she was a fan, that she stopped and talked to her, and Paltrow, politely, even talked with her for a moment.
However, this delay of just a minute, caused to her to unfortunately just miss her train to work at the World Trade Center Building 2, where she worked on the 77th floor.
She arrived just as the train was pulling away. She caught the next train when it finally came, and when it arrived at her stop, she stepped off the platform just in time to see the first plane fly into the first tower
Or, here’s another famous story: Ian Thorpe, the famous Australian swimmer, also know as the Thorpedo, was in NYC on 9/11/01.
He had made plans to go for a jog that morning and then go to the observation deck at the World Trade Center.
However, he realized that he foolishly forgot his camera, and knowing it would be an amazing place to take pictures, and also wanted his friend to go with him, he jogged back home to get it.
When he got home, there on the TV was the footage of the first tower getting hit.
And there are countless other stories like this. And plenty more with other events.
There are lots of stories of people who were supposed to ride on the Titanic, or people that would have been on the 35W bridge that day, but something happened… and they weren’t.
But here’s the piece that we often logically AND theologically don’t put together with these events.
Listen, it’s not like God just sits on his hands…and then once every ten years goes, “Ooo ooo….a tragedy! Earthquake! Terrorist attack! Better go orchestrate an INSANE amount of details into 150,000 different lives!”
..and then goes and sits back on this throne for another 10 years
No, this is happening every day!
The very fact that God can weave 7 billion stories together at once and not have us in constant nuclear war is evidence enough of His existence for me.
And everyday He’s got our lives worked out to the finest details.
It’s just that we’re usually not even aware of it.
You ever watch the news, and once in a while when they’re not showing you the story of the waterskiing squirrel, they will sometimes have a story on how there was a foiled terrorist plot?
Just in May, the CIA foiled a plot by Al Qaeda in Yemen to smuggle an experimental bomb aboard an airliner bound for the US.
And in the same way, there are so many times in your life, that God is delivering you from evil plots the enemy has hatched against you.
He is so faithful.
I just think to my own life
Especially after living 18 years of my life not knowing Christ…I could have ruined my life in countless different ways…and yet, I believe my God spared me from doing so
I was making some pretty stupid mistakes and drifting farther away from ever even thinking about God as high school rolled on…
I sometimes feel like I eventually would have been unreachable for a time if I would have went to college still a non-Christian.
I think I might have just jumped off in the deep-end of the sin-pool at that point…
And yet, God in his perfect timing, foiled that evil plot against me.
And I because a Christian just a few months before I left for school
See, it’s not just about the foiled plots you’re aware of, I mean, how many times do you think the CIA, or whoever, has foiled a plot that we’ll never even hear about!
It’s got to happen all the time! It’s like a good sci-fi movie where they save the world 3 times and all the ignorant people of earth never even knew we were under attack!
It’s the type of thing that oughta make us nervous about saying things to God like:
“Why don’t you do anything for me?”
“Where were you? You’re never there. You never show up!”
I’ve got this feeling that when we get to heaven, we might be embarrassed of those complaints when God shows us a list of the 750 times he stepped in (without us knowing) to save us from a car accident, from the devil’s plot against us, from the person who tried to slander us, from us getting completely ruined by our sin…and on and on….
So much of the protection of God, we’ll never be aware of this side of heaven…and our passage today shows us yet another example of how intricately God works to protect and deliver us!
CALL ON GOD
Isn’t God awesome??
He does so much for us…maybe so much that you were even unaware of.
And not only that, this is a GOD that is capable of the impossible.
So maybe you’re in a place where you feel like evil has plotted out against you
The evil plan has been hatched.
Maybe it was initially by your own-doing.
Maybe it was from someone else…
Maybe it’s spiritual warfare.
There’s all sorts of ways that so many of us can feel stuck.
Almost as if you’re like Paul…feeling trapped…with no place to turn.
Maybe you’re stuck in an addiction right now.
To lust…to drugs…to alcohol…to your body image…
Maybe you just feel like you’re in a hopeless situation
Maybe you’ve been stuck in depression
Maybe someone IS mistreating you right now
If any of these are true, I’ve got incredible news for you…God is REAL!
He is REAL!
And there is NO evil on the face of this PLANET that He can’t outsmart.
There is NO evil out there that He can’t overcome.
I don’t care how complex the plot looks, or how deeply you feel caught in addiction or depression, TURN TO HIM!
Seriously, if there’s anyone…ever….who could find a way out…it’s GOD!
If he needs to send 470 soldiers, he’ll send 470 soldiers.
If he needs to get word to someone who can help you, he can get word
If He needs to change someone’s heart to make your escape from evil happen, He can do it!
Do YOU believe that?!?
He can do all things!
We’re too often guilty of thinking…oh…this is too much for God…. I don’t see how this gets better.
Don’t think that!
There’s NEVER something that is too much for God!
He gets Paul out of this ridiculous jam, and he can do the same thing in your life!
Turn to Him! Trust in Him! Rely on Him!
My challenge to you this week is this: “Don’t fight evil ALONE”
Too often, we just picture ourselves trying to fight ourselves out of this complex prison we’ve gotten trapped in.
See God with you!
When you’re in the car…look over at that passenger seat, and imagine him with you.
When you’re in your cubicle…picture Him playing solitaire on the computer next to you.
When you’re at home, washing dishes…picture him drying them with u
Start visualizing Him w/ you at all times, because He IS with you at all times.
And when you start to see Him with you as all times, you’ll start to believe and remember that He is NOT just rushing in in times of disaster
He is with you, every day, every second, weaving out your life, and HE can get you out of any jam, any situation, or any evil plot that has come up against you.
Trust in the Rescuer this week…and may He do great things in your life!
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
You may use this material all you like! We only ask that you do not charge a fee and that you quote the source and not say it is your own.