Acts – Paul the Apostle – Wayne Barber/Part 16
By: Dr. Wayne Barber
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©1992|
|It is a wonderful thing to be able to look into God’s Word, to see a man like Paul, to see from the time he is born until the time he dies and to be able to look back through his life and see the sovereign hand of God as He prepared the way and as He took care of those things in Paul’s life. God was always in control of Paul’s life.|
Ephesians 1:1; Acts 21:37-40
Paul: The Messenger – Part 4
We are continuing to look at Paul the messenger. We have looked at Paul the man, Paul the missionary and now Paul the messenger. In Acts 21, we are going to be looking at verses 37-40. It is a wonderful thing to be able to look into God’s Word, to see a man like Paul, to see from the time he is born until the time he dies and to be able to look back through his life and see the sovereign hand of God as He prepared the way and as He took care of those things in Paul’s life. God was always in control of Paul’s life.
Back in Acts 19:21, Paul purposed in his heart to go to Jerusalem and then on to Rome. Now that “purposing in his heart” meant he sensed the leadership of God deep, deep down inside of him. So therefore, he purposed, he took hold of that, and determined to do what he believed God was leading him to do. Once he got to Jerusalem, everything broke loose. The council of elders already knew there was going to be a problem because there were some believing Jews there who were still really hung up in legalism. They knew that, so they asked Paul to go to the Temple and cleanse himself. He is under grace, and he did not have to do that. He did it in order to disarm all of the talk that was going on around town.
Well, he gets to the Temple. Oddly enough, some unbelieving Jews from Asia Minor were in that Temple. They didn’t like Paul. They had heard him and had already rejected his message. They took what they knew about Paul, twisted it and came up with a rumor about Paul’s life that said that he had desecrated the Temple by taking a Gentile into it. Paul had not done this, but they said this to create a stir among the people. A riot broke loose. They laid hands on Paul and drug him outside of the Temple to kill him. In Jewish law, if you desecrated the Temple, the penalty was death. This caused such a stir that now the Romans have moved. We find Paul, in 21:37, under arrest, chained and bound.
Now, this is quite a scene. The Romans had mistakenly thought he was a political fugitive they had been looking for. It turned out that he was not. Let’s read verses 37-40. We find out how they discover Paul was not who they thought he was. Verse 37 says, “And as Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the commander, ‘May I say something to you?’ And he said, ‘Do you know Greek?’” Now this is real interesting. Paul knew Greek. He was born in Tarsus of Cilicia, and he knew the Greek language.
In verse 38 the commander says, “Then you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?’” They thought he was somebody else. Paul said in verse 39, “‘I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.’ And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect.”
Now, I know you are wondering, “What in the world are you going to get out of those four verses?” As I studied this and captured the scene that was going on, there are three things that I want us to look at. Even though Paul was under arrest, even though the whole city was hostile towards him, God was sovereignly in control of everything that was going on. This is comforting. John McArthur said when he was here with us about a year ago, “You know, the most comforting doctrine in scripture to me is the doctrine of the sovereignty of God.” I have to stand up and say, “Amen.” To know that God is in control regardless of what is turning out in our circumstances is comforting. We sometimes think we have missed the Lord. We sometimes think He doesn’t know what’s going on in our life.
God not only was in control, God was orchestrating the events that were going on in Paul’s life. The Christian life is not you and me coming up with our agenda, taking it before the Lord and asking God to bless it. How many times have you heard me say that? The Christian life is learning God is not going to bend to our desires. We must bend to His desires. He is always doing something. We may miss it if we choose not to obey, but it doesn’t stop Him from doing what He’s going to do. We need to cooperate. We need to submit and allow a sovereign God to do what only He knows how to do.
There are three things I want us to look at that may be an encouragement to your life. First of all, look at how God prepared the person that He wanted to use. Of course, this is the apostle Paul. How had God prepared the person He wants to use here in verses 37-40? There is something about the attitude of Paul that we need to capture. For instance, Paul had a deep submission in his heart and respect for the authorities that God had placed around him, whether it be in the church or whether it be in the government. Whatever it was, Paul had a submissive attitude towards them. Look again at verse 37 and notice what we see here: “And as Paul was about to be brought into the barracks [The whole town had followed them. They are all angry. They want to tear Paul to pieces. He is under arrest.] he said to the commander, ‘May I say something to you?’ And he said, ‘Do you know Greek?’”
In that little phrase, “May I say something to you,” may I, means “is it lawful, is it permitted?” Paul, in asking this, shows respect for the position of authority God had placed that commander in. Paul had it deep in his heart. It didn’t mean he agreed with everything that commander did. As a matter of fact, he was under false arrest, as you will see later on in the scripture. He is a Roman citizen. They have not even tried him. He has been beaten in public. Already they have broken their own law. They don’t know that. Paul knows that. Paul knows that he is under a false arrest, instigated by a false accusation. But Paul has a submission, he has a respect for this position of authority God has put this man in.
Remember Daniel? Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not disobey his own God. Therefore, when Nebuchadnezzar took them over to his land, Nebuchadnezzar said, “You will eat of the king’s table. You will drink of the king’s wine.” Well, Daniel knew that this food was already sacrificed to idols and that would break the law that he was under, God’s law. Therefore, he went to King Nebuchadnezzar and very respectfully requested of him that he might eat a different menu. He did this with total respect for the position that the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar had been placed into.
Now this is important, because what is going to happen in Acts 22 could never have happened had Paul not already been prepared by God. His heart was a picture of the work of grace within a man’s life. He had a respect for authority that was in his life. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord. He turns it wherever He wishes.” It doesn’t matter if he is pagan or not. God knows what to do in the King’s heart. We are to respect to the position, not necessarily the person, but the position that is in authority.
Paul wrote Romans, some people think, three months before this ever took place. Let’s go to Romans 13 and see what he says about authority. In Romans 13:1 it says, “Let every person be in subjection.” The word “subjection” is hupotasso. It means you are equals in the sense of God’s eyes, but yet not equal in the sense of leadership. You choose to get up under this person and be subjected to him. “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”
Now, we are dealing with a time when there was nothing but pagan authorities. We talk about how bad it is in our country sometimes and whether or not we should obey the laws. Listen, it was a whole lot worse in Paul’s day, especially in Rome. Verse 2 says, “Therefore, he who resists authority has opposed the very ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil. Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.” In other words, here is a man who has already been changed by God’s message of grace, a man who not only wrote this about authority, but he lived it out in his life.
As a matter of fact, go back to Acts 21:18-26. That passage tells us a real story about Paul’s submission. This is not in the civil arena. This is within the church. I won’t read all of the scripture, but let’s begin it. Verse 18 begins, “And now the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. And after he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law.’” “Paul, we’ve got a problem here. You are coming into our midst, and we already see some of our congregation here who are still hung up in the Law. Paul, they have heard bad reports about you. There have been rumors about you. Paul, we want to disarm these people.”
So the elders come together with Paul, and they suggest to him that he go into the Temple, cleanse himself, and pay a vow for four men taking a Nazirite vow, thereby disarming some of the criticism that is coming to him. He is trying to show them he is not denying the Temple. He is not denying the things of the Law. He is simply one of them, if you please.
So Paul, wanting to be submissive, does what the elders ask him to do. Now he has appeared to those elders. He is one of them, but he has a great, deep, respect for the position God had put those men into. Paul does exactly what they ask him to do.
Let’s go on to our text. If you will look down in 21:39 again, Paul asks permission. He says in verse 39, “But Paul said, ‘I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you…’” That word “beg you” there means “I ask you” or “I beseech you.” There is an urgency in what Paul is asking, but you also see the submissive spirit he has. It’s not that the people he is submitting to are that much better than he is. It’s not that they know more than he does. He is the most intelligent man you’ll study in the New Testament apart from the Lord Jesus Himself. It’s a position God has placed him into that Paul reveres, respects and cooperates with, so he asked him again for permission to speak to the people.
In Verse 40 it says, “And when he had given him permission [and only when he had given him permission], Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect.” The point I want you to see before we can go on with the study is, God had already prepared a man. It was very obvious that God was in control of his life. That’s why Paul never feared a person in authority. He never feared the civil authorities. He never feared a church authority. He respected the position they were in. Why? Because he was under God’s orders, and he knew God was a God of principle and that God works through authority. He trusted the position God had put these men into. God had prepared that man. Had Paul been like he was before he was touched by the message of grace, he would have listened to no one. Friend, he was a man who did what he thought was right at the time without checking with anybody. But here God’s grace has changed him, and he has a deep respect and appreciation for authority. He had a submissive heart. Okay. God prepared the person.
God also prepared the platform that he was to get his message across from. This really blesses me because Paul had come to Jerusalem to preach the gospel of grace. We know that from Romans 9. He said, “Man, my heart is aching for my people. I’d rather be accursed than to see them miss the gospel that God has preached. I want them to accept the Lord Jesus as their Messiah.” He had come there. He had also come to bring a gift that had been taken up among the Gentile churches for the people who were suffering in Judea. His main heartbeat was he had gone there out of the leadership of the Holy Spirit of God.
What happens to Paul in Jerusalem, to me, teaches us something about life. It teaches us something about walking with God. There are no guarantees in this life that we are going to be free from pain, suffering, persecution, disappointment, disillusionment and the like. Now some people get on television and say, “Oh, no. If you say it right, you’ll get it. You can name it and claim it. You can be healthy and wealthy. You can overcome. You can cast it out. It’s all evil. A loving God wants you to have all these things.”
That’s hogwash. It’s garbage. It’s not in God’s Word. Nothing at all is a guarantee while we are down on this earth. All of our guarantees are inward now. Later they will be outward as we will be part of His Kingdom that He establishes on this earth. You see, you may be living a surrendered life and as far as you know, you are doing the best that you can. You are obeying. Some people ask me sometimes, “How are you doing, Wayne?” The best I know how. “What are you measuring it to?” The best I know I am surrendered to the Lord. His Holy Spirit will let me know if I’m not.
Maybe you’re living that way. Maybe you have in your mind God is going to use you if you live that way, but you have in your mind a fabricated idea of how that’s going to be. You think it is going to be one way. God may choose the very thing that you don’t want to talk about. He may choose the pain, the suffering, the disappointment, and the disillusionment to be the very platform through which He gets His message, which is already in you, across to those He wants to hear it. Many, many times we overlook that. You may be outnumbered by people around you. It may be your family. Maybe they just turned against you. Maybe you are imprisoned in circumstances that you can’t get out of. Maybe you are just so frustrated because it’s not like you thought it was going to be.
Paul had gone to Jerusalem with one thing in his heart, to preach the message of God’s grace. In chapter 22 you will see that what he preached was not the message of God’s grace. God had something He wanted to say to the people. It may not have been what Paul wanted to say. God created a platform through which God’s message could get through Paul, not Paul’s message. God could get through to the people what He wanted them to hear. Paul had come to be a witness for Christ.
Look in Acts 23:11. We know this because God commended him for it. We know he must have come there to do it and that he did it. “But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, ‘Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.’” Paul went there to witness, and he did, but I grant you it was not in the way that he thought he was going to do it. It wasn’t exactly what he thought he was going to say. God took a bad situation, and it became the platform through which God could deliver the message He wanted Paul to deliver to the people.
Now, Paul knew it was going to be bad when he got there. We’ve studied this. Paul sensed in his spirit way back in chapter 20. He said, “You know, when I get there, I know it’s going to be bonds and imprisonment. I don’t know what else is going to take place, but it’s not going to be good.” As a matter of fact, when he was in Tyre, in 21:4, the disciples tried to talk him out of going to Jerusalem. When he got to Caesarea, the prophet Agabus came down and very clearly and very emotionally demonstrated how they were going to bind him when he got to Jerusalem. Not only that, Luke and all of his companions, after they heard the prophet Agabus, tried to talk him out of going. Paul was saying, “Listen, guys! What are you doing? I’d rather die in Jerusalem than disobey my Lord. He’s leading me to go there.” Now listen to what I’m saying. What everybody thought was bad was the platform God was preparing for Paul to preach the message that He had for him to preach.
You see, this is all of our problem. In my mind, I am always thinking, “Lord, if I could just do this look how wonderful it would be.” God just drops a hammer right in the middle of it, frustrates me, changes everything, disillusions me, frustrates me and in the very midst of all that frustration, He starts squeezing out of me the message He really wanted others to see and to hear. Where you can’t use the ecclesiastical platform, sometimes He has the platform of disillusionment, frustration, pain and suffering of this life. Don’t kick against the very things God may be using to squeeze His message out of you to get it to the people He wants to hear it.
God prepared the platform. Paul was a man surrounded by hostile people. Verse 30 of chapter 21 says the whole city was aroused. He was a man bound in chains. Verse 33 says they bound him in two chains. When the world looks at that kind of a man, they see him as a failure. Can you imagine what the church at Jerusalem had to say about that? Maybe they had a deacon’s meeting and all the deacons got together and said, “We are kind of worried here. We’ve got a reputation in this community, and here is this apostle Paul. Look at this guy. The whole city hates him, and he’s under arrest! Let’s kick him out of the church. Man, we’ve got to protect our reputation.” In the world’s eyes this is a failure. In God’s eyes, it was a great success. Why? Because Paul was simply doing as God led him in the situation. It’s not our creative ability God is looking for. It’s our surrendered response to Him in the midst of difficulty. That’s when the message can be preached the clearest in our life. When things are going not as planned, God is preparing a platform through which He has a message to preach.
A friend of mine is the pastor of a church in Florida. Bill grew up as a farmer. I’m not talking about the kind of farmer that I tried to be one time. I’m not really a farmer. I decided to have a garden one year when I was in another city working. The whole community voted and decided to ask us never to have another one. I didn’t realize how much work it is. I mean, we planted enough food there for four states, not enough just for two families. I’m not talking about that kind of farmer. Bill was a big industrial farmer. In other words, he had hundreds and hundreds of acres that he managed, and he had big huge equipment. They would supply grocery chains nationwide. God called him to preach several years ago. When God called him to preach, he just has a heart that is different than some of the pastors I know. His heart is for that farmer out there. His heart is for that policeman that works third shift. His heart is for those guys he used to knock elbows with. Now that he is saved, now that he is called, he still has a burning desire to get to those people.
Well, he thought the platform God was going to give him was going to be there at his church. So every week he goes out and cultivates the people and invites them to come in. I had the joy of doing a Bible conference there at his church. It was wonderful. He would take me out to eat. It wouldn’t be where everybody else would go. He’d go to where all the farmers hang out. I mean, it was one of those places you’d feel funny if you didn’t have a pair of blue jeans on. I loved it. We would go in, and you could have all you wanted to eat. They would just give you whatever you wanted.
I mean, he was one of them for so many years. He lost his home and his church to Hurricane Andrew; 98% of the people that were in his church completely lost everything. About 15 families in his church have left and gone on to other places. They were renting or leasing, and they are afraid to stay there. I talked to him on the phone. He said, “I want to tell you something. I have never had a greater ministry with these people than I have right now. It is amazing to me how a storm can come in, devastate a whole area, and see how God used that to give me the opportunity I never had in the platform of the church. He’s given me the platform of a Hurricane by the name of Andrew.”
You see, God knows what He is doing, folks. God knows how to create the diversity. God knows how to frustrate the situation. God knows how to take you in the midst of your planning and say, “Hold it!” Then He will frustrate you, change your course and put you on a course you never thought you would be on. Why? Because God knows what platform you ought to be on. Whether you are a layman or whatever, God works in all our lives the same. We are all ministers when we are surrendered to Christ. Our ministry has to be left in the hands of God. If God’s got you right now in a very disappointing, disillusioning circumstance, that’s probably the platform He’s got you on, trying to squeeze out of you the message of grace that He has within you.
Brother Spiros Zodhiates is a man who modeled this before me for all the years that I have known him. He had diabetes 35 or 40 years of his life. He had to have four injections a day. Over and over and over again he would say to me, “This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.” I used to think, “How can you say that! Look what you could do if you didn’t have this!” Now, the more I know him, I realize it’s the opposite. God knows how to put you under the right kind of pressure. He knows what platform to put you on to squeeze out of you the message that He has drilled within your heart. What He has squeezed out of Spiros in the last several years will bless Christianity until Jesus comes again. I hurt for him, but he always tells me, “You get up there, and you preach the Truth.” He also said, “You tell the people I’m not worried about the future. I’m trusting in the perfect and sovereign will of God.”
Hey, folks, does the message come across? Oh, yes. He may not be in a pulpit somewhere with a huge audience, but he is obedient on the platform God has chosen to put him on. God is squeezing out of him the message that He has already prepared within his heart.
We go to South Africa every year, and I am always talking about diamonds. We used to have a lot of folks go with us. A group always went out to the diamond factory. There are different kinds of diamonds. There is the kind that I buy for my wife because that is all I can afford. Then there is the kind that some folks buys, I don’t know where they get it, called investment diamonds. I don’t know if you know the difference. Those are the kind of diamonds they have. I can’t tell the difference between the two. If you want to show the difference between an investment diamond and one that’s not, they say take a black piece of cloth and put the diamonds on it. The blacker the cloth is, the more it enhances the beauty of that diamond.
I believe Paul could tell us the same thing. As he said in Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good, but only to them that love God and are called according to His purpose.” God has a purpose in it. As dark as your circumstance may be, it may be the very backdrop, the platform, God is preparing through which He is going to squeeze out the message He wants to speak to the people. It might not be what you want to tell them, but it’ll be what God wants to tell the people.
God prepared the person, but also God prepared the people that were going to listen to the message. I want you to see this in verse 40. I don’t think I’m reading anything into scripture. It is something that caught my attention, and I believe we need to look at it. Verse 40 says, “And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand [Now watch!], and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect.” Normally you would just read through that and not think another thing about it. The interesting thing here is that there is no mistake as to what is going on. God knew that those people of Asia Minor were going to be at the Temple. God knew that Paul was going to be arrested. He had everything arranged. God has orchestrated this thing like a conductor with an orchestra, taking all the different pieces and putting it together to play out the hymn and the melody that He wants to come out.
Well, when it says “a great hush fell”, that term “great hush” is only used one other time in all of scripture. There is another word used later when they got silent, but it is not the same word. I think it would behoove us to look at it the other reference of “great hush.” Look at Revelation 8. I think this says something to all of us. Revelation 8 is not a message of encouragement. Revelation 8 is a message of God’s judgment. I think it has the same message Paul is going to share with these people. Paul does not stand up and preach the gospel of grace. You know he wanted to do that. You know he was burdened for all of his people. God did not let him do it. He stood up and defended why he had a ministry to the Gentiles, which every Jew there should have known. The promise to Abraham was not “I’ll bless you.” It was, “I will bless all nations through the seed that comes from you.” Israel had rejected the seed. The Gentiles were a part of the everlasting covenant through Abraham.
A message of judgment falls in Revelation 8:1: “And when He broke the seventh seal [Who is “He”? The Lamb, the Lord Jesus in heaven] there was silence [same exact word] in heaven for about a half an hour.” Why was it so silent? God’s judgment was about to fall. A divine act, I think, takes place right here in Acts 21:40. Paul had been prepared by God. The platform had been prepared by God. God knew that he would be arrested. Hey, listen, how else could he get the whole city to hear what God wanted to say? He couldn’t have gone in and canvassed the area and gotten everybody there. It wouldn’t have worked. But God stirred them up in the Temple, the place that was so dear to them and got them mad, which stirred up the whole city. God had them set up for what He wanted Paul to say to them. It was a divine act. God prepared the person; God prepared the platform; and God prepared the people. He shut them up. There was a hush to where you could hear a pin drop. Paul had the opportunity to tell them some things.
You see, the sovereign hand of God on someone’s life is encouraging. I can’t see it in my life all the time. Can you see it in your life? I couldn’t foresee when we were in Greece why Spiros was so concerned about us stepping alongside him and taking over his television ministry. I could not see that, folks. I couldn’t understand that. I couldn’t understand the importance of some of the events that have happened. But when Brother Spiros had his stroke, I can’t help but say, “The timing of God is perfect.” God knows what He is doing, folks. We have got a problem when we can’t trust people who are not as gifted as we are, who are in positions of authority. Can you believe God does this anyway?
Why did God pick Aaron who built the golden calf to be the first high priest of Israel? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It has something to do with the position, I guess. It sure doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the abilities of the person. There are things going on in our church, I’m telling you. I’ve been trying to say it, but I don’t know how to say it. It’s far beyond what we understand. Take all of our frailties and all of our inabilities and put them in a big bucket, and you’d think God could never use this group. God’s got an agenda that we don’t have. He creates His own platforms. He does He own message and ministry, and He does it His own way. That so overwhelms me, I don’t even know what else to say.
God prepared the person; God prepared the platform; God prepared the people who were to hear what He wanted them to hear. It was not what they thought they were going to do. It was what God decided they were going to do. That’s what experiencing God is all about. It’s an adventure. If you are not walking that way individually, it’s tough to walk that way corporately, I’m telling you. But praise Him.
What’s God up to? I don’t know, but isn’t it wonderful we can trust Him with whatever results come out of it because He is the only one who knows. We don’t.