Acts 23

  • 26 October 2021
  • Stuart Robinson

A mandate from Jesus

October 24th, 2021


Claudius Lysias was a career soldier. 

He’d reached the first century Roman rank of Commander and that meant 10 or so Centurions (each commanding a 100 soldiers) reported directly to him, and he thus had oversight of around 1,000 men. 

Claudius Lysias was the Commandant of the Roman barracks in the city of Jerusalem; a role that required great skill, diplomacy, wisdom, and courage.

This was because Claudius needed to deal with the various Jewish religious sects, zealots and terrorists, regional uprisings, issues of governance and government, the morale of his troops, and the running of a complex organisation.

What then, in Claudius’ judgement, was of such merit and importance that without hesitation, he commits half of his fighting force: 200 soldiers, 200 spearmen, 70 horsemen – for immediate deployment to the coast (a journey of around 100 kilometres)?

Answer: One man. The apostle Paul.

Why? Because the risen and living Jesus had determined that Paul would preach the gospel in Rome, and nothing would overturn his purposes and plans. 

In Acts 23: 11 we read this,

The Lord [Jesus] stood near Paul and said, ‘take courage. As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify about me in Rome’.

Now, let us look at the context – because everything in Paul’s world at that moment would cast doubt on the veracity or the likelihood, of Jesus’ promise being fulfilled. 

You may recall from last week that Paul had been arrested after a religious riot (indeed a series of them) in Jerusalem, and that the Roman authorities sent him to the Jewish ruling council to sort it out.

In that dialogue with the ruling council (the Sanhedrin) Paul condemns the high Priest for his violence and godlessness before he (Paul) then declares his hope in the resurrection from the dead.

The mood was already electric, but that declaration caused deep internal division and confusion within the council, as some in the room dismissed the notion of an afterlife (they were anti-supernaturalists), whereas others held firmly to a belief in heaven, and angels, and demonic personages.

That disastrous interview led to Paul being removed from the Sanhedrin by force and it served as a catalyst – a vicious and negative one, for more than 40 men, incensed by Paul’s preaching and ministry, to conspire against him; to plan his assassination. 

These supposedly God-fearing believers went to the ‘all-too-ready-to-listen’ senior religious leaders and stated, 

we have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul”. Acts 23:1-15.

Now, there is, I want us to note, another unseen player in all of this.

The evil one. 

The satan. 

The accuser.

The devil.

The diabolical strategy on view here is one that Jesus himself identified and exposed when he confronted corrupt and cynical religious leaders 20 or so years beforehand – again in Jerusalem, again in the temple precinct. 

To those who opposed him, Jesus declared (and this is a direct quote from John 8:44-45):

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar, and the father of lies.

Again, from John’s gospel and referring to the evil one as a ‘thief’, Jesus declares:

The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy’. John 10:10.

40 deluded, enraged men – pawns in the cold grip of the murdering and deceiving evil one, are on a course, probably inadvertently, to fulfil his infernal will. 

But let us not forget that Paul has received a mandate from Jesus to preach the gospel in Rome.

And God’s word reminds us (in Proverbs 21:30) that:

There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan, that can succeed against the Lord.

And so, I love the way that the Lord, in a very gentle and completely unobtrusive manner, routes – utterly – the forces of darkness.

It just so happens that Paul has a sister based in Jerusalem, and she just happens to have a young son who is also domiciled in the city, and he just happens to be in the right place at the right time – such that he hears of the plot to kill Paul!

He then immediately informed his uncle Paul, who in turn briefed a centurion, who then explained the matter to our ‘friend’, Commander Claudius Lysias.

And Claudius, with all his responsibilities and his busyness, immediately made time to see Paul’s young nephew; he listened carefully to his report of the planned assassination, he enjoined the lad to now keep quiet about the matter  – and then without hesitation or consultation, gave the order that committed 470 of Claudius’ soldiers to serve as Paul’s bodyguard, thus ensuring Paul’s safe passage to the governor, Felix, in Caesarea, for his case to be heard in a way that befitted the Roman citizen that Paul was by birth. 

Remarkable right?

And not a drop of blood was shed.

Did you notice that?

And in the next few weeks we’ll see how Paul – after legal trials, appeals, and shipwrecks, indeed arrives in Rome intact, and full of faith. 

The last two verse of the book of Acts read as follows:

For two whole years Paul stayed there [in Rome] in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ – with all boldness and without hindrance! Acts 28:30-31.


Well beloved, we too have received a mandate from Jesus, and we too are embroiled in a spiritual battle.

Here is the mandate: We are to be Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth – Acts 1:8.

Here is what we are up against: Paul said to his friends in Ephesus (and to us) that our struggle is against the dark spiritual forces of this world – Ephesians 6:12.

Here is how the Lord, through us, in a completely unobtrusive manner, routes – utterly – the forces of darkness:

Prayer. Ephesians 6:18-20.

Yes, empowered and emboldened by the Holy Spirit, we are to pray on all occasions for each other, and for the people of God. 

And we are to pray specifically for all, who like St. Paul, make known the gospel; that they (and we) may share it with great clarity, and with great courage. 

Says Paul,

Pray that I many declare it fearlessly, as I should (Ephesians 6:20).

May we do just that?

Lord we declare that you are the risen Christ – the Saviour of the world. And we thank you that you are working out your plans and purposes – in and through our situations and circumstances. We acknowledge that we are indeed in a spiritual battle, and we ask for great courage and wisdom to withstand the temptations and deceptions of the evil one. We ask that you might embolden us as a community of faith, to be faithful witness to your mercy and grace as we, like your servant, Paul, live out your gospel, fearlessly, as we should. Amen.

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