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Verses 22-24: “So the commander let the young man depart, and commanded him, “Tell no one that you have revealed these things to me.” And he called for two centurions, saying, “Prepare two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at the third hour of the night; and provide mounts to set Paul on, and bring him safely to Felix the governor.””

The official last regular episode of the TV show Little House on the Prairie was subtitled The Last Farewell. To sum up the plot (to the best of my recollection…this was some years ago!), a land/railroad baron had obtained legal ownership of the land of Walnut Grove. The townsfolk were distraught to find out that all they had worked for and built up would soon belong to this land/railroad baron. Though some were ready to fight, most didn’t want to see bloodshed, but the baron was bringing the local cavalry to evict them. In a meeting on Easter weekend, the townsfolk fought back the only way they knew. One of the recent new citizens had a wagonload of dynamite, and they all decided to blow up the buildings, which they still owned. In a bitter ending to the episode, you saw the residents blow up their buildings, from Laura and Almanzo’s house to the Olesens’ mercantile store. Only the Little House and the school/church still stood, because Reverend Alden couldn’t bring himself to destroy God’s house (and the townsfolk understood). When the weekend ended, the cavalry, the baron, and leaders from other communities (that the baron was in the process of trying to get their land too) rode back into town to see it demolished. The baron was furious, demanding the commander to arrest them, but Charles Ingalls was quick to point out that the baron owned the land, not the buildings…he was free to rebuild. Of course, the baron was upset that he would have to fork over a lot of cost to use the land with wrecked buildings on it. More so, the leaders from the other towns threatened that he would find their towns in the same shape if he bought their land with his schemes. Reverend Alden tearfully prayed that “thank the Lord, Walnut Grove’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain”. The show ended with all the citizens travelling out of the destroyed town, filing past the Little House on their way.

Somehow this scene came to mind when reading how Claudius Lysias, the Roman commander, decided to deal with the murder-minded Jews. He had had enough, so after dismissing Paul’s nephew cordially, he had two centurions assemble one huge military force to handle any battle…all to make sure that Paul was escorted to the Roman governor Felix. He knew that the Jews wouldn’t be foolish enough to try any shenanigans on the governor’s grounds. Plus, Felix could hear for himself what the charges were by having Paul AND his accusers lay out their cases. Finally, it also relieved him of the headache of having to deal with this dilemma, I believe. This was how Lysias “fought back” in the only way he could; he ensured the Roman law was followed but steered clear of Jewish politics. Amazing how God works, isn’t it?

Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the “gray areas” in our society. Lots of folks on both sides argue back and forth, stating their cases and making their schemes. What we should do as Christians is do as Jesus instructs us. God’s Word has all the answers; we use them and calling on our “governor”, or should I say our High Priest, Jesus Christ, for His power and His wisdom in navigating murky waters.

Something to think about.

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Verses 10-11, 16: “Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks. But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.”…so when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their ambush, he went and entered the barracks and told Paul.”

The following is a fictitious conversation:

Soldier: Sir?
Commander: What is it, soldier?
Soldier: Sir, there’s another disturbance amongst the Jews.
Commander: (sigh) Now what? Let their ruling council handle it.
Soldier: Sir, that is the problem; the disturbance is coming from within their council’s chambers.
Commander: I simply do not understand these Jews! I sent Paul down there this morning for clarification…
Soldier: Sir, that’s just it…their fighting over Paul, and he’s in danger!
Commander: Not a prisoner on my watch, he won’t be! Take soldiers and get him out of there, by force if necessary!
Soldier: At once, sir!
Commander: (to himself) I just don’t see what the uproar is about. Who IS this man?

I often remember that line being used by Major Hochstetter of the SS on the TV comedy, Hogan’s Heroes. He was one of the antagonists that Colonel Hogan would have to outwit. Often, Hogan would just waltz right into Colonel Klink’s office, with Hochstetter stridently demanding “WHO IS THIS MAN?”

Once again, God uses the Romans to rescue Paul. I did some background reading in the Holman New Testament Commentary on Acts (pg. 388-389); now, of course, the conversation probably didn’t occur like I typed it, but it was indicative of what the Romans thought of the Jews. They detested them. And yet, the commander, Claudius Lysias, found nothing against the law that Paul had done. He couldn’t see what the fuss was about; but it was his job to keep the peace and the law (and protect his Roman prisoner!) So, when word of the plot by the forty Jews to kill Paul came to the attention of Paul’s nephew, he came to Paul. Paul sent him straight to the commander. This leads to a most interesting turn of events.

You or I would probably worry about what’s next. But when God Himself “stood by [Paul]” and guaranteed that he would live to witness in Rome…well, what better reassurance can you have?

More to come!

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Verse 6: “But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!””

In French Rarebit, Bugs Bunny is in Paris and walked right between two French cafés, whose chefs, Francois and Louis, were both determined to make Bugs the main entrée that day. Bugs pulled a typical maneuver and got both chefs arguing with each other over who owned the rabbit. This led to physical insults (nose tweaking, beard pulling) and, of course, led to cartoon violence with frying pans and the like. Bugs just calmly watched, noting the “terrible display of temper”.

You might say Paul pulled the same maneuver. He knew about the simmering rivalry between Sadducees and Pharisees, especially when it came to religious doctrine. All he had to do was claim honestly that he was a Pharisee and what he stood for (resurrection of the dead). Non-cooperative minds and partisan defenses did the rest. Soon, the council wasn’t even debating why Paul was brought before them, but back to common infighting. The Pharisee scribes, not fans of Paul, nevertheless claimed in council that they could find no fault with this man.

I find it remarkable that God blessed Paul to use the gifts and training he had to not only stand for Christ, but to also point out the hypocrisy of religious leaders of the day…much like Jesus did.

Something to think about.

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Verse 25: “And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?””

In the 1979 TV special The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t, Count Dracula (played comically by Judd Hirsch) and the other monsters are trying to stop the Wicked Witch (played equally comically by Mariette Hartley) from leaving his castle; if she doesn’t fly over the moon, there will be no Halloween. The Witch is tired of being seen as ugly and unimportant, and wants to quit. As all the monsters corner her in the hallway and attempt to dogpile her, she causes the lights to go out briefly. Igor (played comically by Henry Gibson) has a stranglehold on her, gloating, “I got her. I got her! Now she’ll never get away!” As they all get up, the caped figure turns out to be a snarling Count Dracula, with Igor meekly saying, “She got away.” The look and reaction on their faces is the typical screwball comedy ploy of “whoops, we caught our leader”!

Once more, Paul uses his legal knowledge in God’s service. About to be scourged to ascertain why the mob is out for his blood, he calmly asks the centurion if it’s legal to scourge a Roman citizen who is uncondemned. You could almost hear the figurative “brakes screeching” as all the soldiers backed away and the commander realized the trouble he was in and could be in, even worse! Romans loved their laws and prided themselves on applying that to conquered societies as part of the Roman way. They saw it as part of their “civilized” structure. And if you broke that law…big trouble. Though not out of the woods yet, Paul used what he knew and used it in the service of the Lord, as a way of furthering the Gospel.

Like the old joke about the man threatened by a flood, when God told him “I sent you two rowboats and a helicopter”, God wants us to use what we know and what we have in His service.

More to come!

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Verse 21: “Then He said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.’”

“God has sent me to minister and to witness to the Nazis!”

How would you feel if you heard a fellow American say that? Confused? Angry, upset? Fearful?

You could about fill in the blank of “to the ____” with a group or individuals you felt strongly against. I remember back after 9-11-01, our church had a prayer vigil. Our pastor asked deacons to pray for specific groups. And he wanted someone to pray for Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. I chose that one, because I knew it would be through only God’s love and His strength that I could pray for enemies who did such a heinous crime. God reminded me though…isn’t that what Paul was before his conversion? An enemy who killed Christians?

Here, his fellow Jews are in an uproar. “Minister to Gentiles? WHAT? Was he crazy? The Gentiles??? Away with him!” Needless to say, without God’s intervention, Paul probably would’ve been martyred that day. In this case, we see an interesting form of rescue. Whom did God use to save Paul? To paraphrase that great secret agent, Maxwell Smart: “wouldja believe…the Romans?”

More to come!

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Verses 1-2: “”Brethren and fathers, hear my defense before you now.” And when they heard that he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, they kept all the more silent.”

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

As Christians, we all claim sentiments to the meaning of this old hymn. Paul, probably more so than anybody, lived this hymn almost verbatim. Here he is now, laying out his defense, by telling the mob where he came from, how he persecuted Christians, how he was saved, and how he lived and preached for Christ now. Just the story, the witness, of Paul is incredible. Maybe the mob might have been calmed had he left it at that…but Paul must tell them all the story, of how God has called him to spread the Gospel to not just the Jews, but the Gentiles, too. In the next few verses, this is where circumstances take an interesting turn.

More to come.

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