Courageously Follow God’s Lead
Big Idea: Courageously Follow God’s Lead
How do we do that?
1. Rely on Godly Wisdom
2. Trust in God’s Providence
- Term from Derek Kidner, referenced by Kathleen Nielson in podcast without source
- ESV Study Bible
- Tony Merida, Exalting Jesus in Acts
- Darrell Bock, Acts
August 6/9, 2020
Good morning! My name is Paul and I’m one of the pastors here at Citylight. It’s an honor to be able to share from God’s word with you this morning.
Please join me in prayer:
Father, we are desperate to hear from you this morning. May your Word be clear. Make the ears and hearts of your people attentive to what you say in it. May we know you and be equipped to follow you. Bring conviction to those who need it, and comfort to those who are hurting. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.
The Apostle Paul is the Jack Bauer of the New Testament. If you’re not familiar, Jack Bauer was the main character of a television series called 24. Each season took place over the course of 24 hours, where Jack Bauer almost single-handedly thwarts a terrorist plot and saves the United States from disaster. Nearly every episode, Jack Bauer finds himself in a seemingly impossible situation and somehow, some way, finds his way out to continue with his mission.
We’re now reaching the point in our journey through the book of Acts where we see something similar happening with the Apostle Paul. In our passage last week, you might recall that Paul was arrested by the Roman tribune and on the verge of being flogged. I’ll spare you the graphic description of what flogging entails, only to mention that it could kill you. Paul is actually stretched out, in preparation to be flogged – and if you’re familiar with the show 24, this is when you see the ticking clock appear on screen and it takes you to commercial break, leaving you in suspense. But now coming back to Paul, being stretched out, with the centurions preparing to flog him, at the last moment he asserts his Roman citizenship and gets out of this situation.
As we near the end of the book of Acts, we’ll see multiple instances of near-death situations that Paul finds himself in, yet he perseveres in order to fulfill the mission he’s been given by Jesus. And that includes today’s passage where we’ll see Paul not only escape an angry mob, but also evade a conspiracy to kill him, only to continue the mission before him.
While you may not be regularly facing life-and-death situations, our passage this morning speaks to whatever challenging life circumstances you’re facing. Maybe even now, you feel stuck or helpless; you need wisdom and you need the Lord to work in situations that are far beyond your control.
The core of our passage this morning is in verse 11, where the Lord appears to Paul with this encouragement: “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” Paul has come to Jerusalem, just as Jesus promised he would, and he will go to Rome, just as Jesus promises.
When Paul is in desperate need of encouragement, the Lord is at his side doing just that. It’s as though the Lord is saying, “Just as you’ve followed me this far, courageously continue to follow me, and I will ensure you get exactly where I want you.”
That leads us to our big idea for this morning:
Big Idea: Courageously Follow God’s Lead
How do we do that?
1. Rely on Godly Wisdom
2. Trust in God’s Providence
The first way we courageously follow God’s lead is to…
1. Rely on Godly Wisdom (22:30-23:10)
If you’ve ever read the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament, you know that godly wisdom is multifaceted – it evades a simple definition. But according to Proverbs, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and from that root, Proverbs addresses everything about life. It starts with the fear of the Lord.
In our passage, we see Paul relying on godly wisdom in 3 particular ways: character, shrewdness, and right priorities. Let’s look at them one at a time.
First, character is at the core of godly wisdom, and Paul demonstrates that here.
Starting in Acts 22:30, we read,
But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them.
23:1 And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” 2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” 4 Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” 5 And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”
I don’t want to take too much time here, except to say:
• Paul’s character is evident to the Roman tribune, who is unable to understand why Paul’s presence in Jerusalem has caused so much unrest.
• Paul, in good conscience, testifies to his own character.
• But Paul also demonstrates his character when, after a momentary lapse in character where he loses his temper, he repents and displays the contrast of his character with the lacking character of his accusers.
Character is at the core of godly wisdom.
The second way we see Paul exercising godly wisdom is through shrewd decision making. Look at verses 6-7:
Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” 7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided.
The key word here is “perceived.” In true Jack Bauer fashion, Paul quickly assessed a sticky situation, saw a way out, and took it.
As Paul stood before the council, he knew that even though the council was united in their disdain for him, they weren’t united on everything. He knew they disagreed on the supernatural, including the resurrection. In one brief sentence, Paul was not only able to testify about his hope in Jesus’ resurrection, but also drive a wedge between those who were united in their opposition against him. All of a sudden, it was no longer a united council against Paul, but a divided council against itself. In acting decisively, he was able to find his way out of a situation that could have easily escalated to endanger his life.
Which leads us to the third way Paul exercises godly wisdom: through right priorities. Even though Paul acknowledged earlier in Acts that he was willing to die in Jerusalem, if need be, he also knew that the Lord had called him to go to Rome after Jerusalem. Despite his willingness to give his life for the mission, he knew the Lord had more for him beyond Jerusalem.
Because of his priority to go to Rome, he knew this wasn’t the hill he would die on. Instead of taking this opportunity to defend himself before the Roman tribune and Jewish council, he finds a way out of the situation to ensure he had the opportunity to fulfill what he knew the Lord was calling him to. Had he defended himself, it could have turned ugly quick, and Paul may not have made it out of there alive.
In all of this, Paul is relying on godly wisdom he’d cultivated over the course of his life. There’s no sign or direct guidance from the Lord about what he should do – and that’s been the case for a couple chapters now. Paul operates out of his acquired wisdom, and acts accordingly.
The tricky thing about wisdom is that by the time you need it, it’s too late. Wisdom needs to be cultivated over the course of a life lived in relationship with the Lord.
As we look to Proverbs, we see that knowing God is a near synonym for cultivating wisdom. In a podcast I recently listened to, Kathleen Nielson defined biblical wisdom as “letting God’s truth seep into every part of our lives.” When we live in this relationship with the Lord, growing in our knowledge of Him and our love for Him over the course of our lives, it results in wisdom.
That’s what we see in the life of the Apostle Paul – the character he’s developed, and the ability to make wise decisions in line with his God-given priorities come from a life lived in worshipping submission to the Lord.
When we’re faced with sticky situations or difficult decisions, our temptation is to look for some kind of external guidance in order to come up with the perfect decision. We want to know God’s specific will for our specific situation.
While God does occasionally provide that, the normal path of following the Lord is living in light of what He’s already revealed and making decisions based on the priorities He’s given us. In fact, as Kevin DeYoung writes in his book Just Do Something, “Apart from the Spirit working through Scripture, God does not promise to use any other means to guide us.”
Likewise, in 2 Peter 1:3, we see that in Christ “[God’s] divine power has [already] granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” If you are a Christian, walking in fellowship with Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, you already have everything you need to exercise godly wisdom.
So my question for you is this: Are you cultivating godly wisdom? Godly wisdom comes from a life lived in fellowship with Jesus. Are you walking that path, regularly engaging with God’s Word, and keeping in step with the Spirit?
You may be facing a challenging situation right now and need to make some weighty decisions with major consequences.
Right now, in the midst of the pandemic, I know there are a lot of parents wondering what to do about their kids’ schooling, and a lot of engaged couples wondering what to do about their wedding – what do you do when there are so many things beyond your control that also may change without much notice?
I want to share a couple stories related specifically to these situations, but that could apply to anyone facing a challenging situation or decision – whether that’s your career, your education, or where to live.
First, a story about a couple getting married during the pandemic. One of the blessings of being one of your pastors is getting to walk with couples as they prepare for marriage, and with covid, this year has been a little crazy. There are several weddings within our Citylight family that have been affected since March.
One Citylight couple, as of your viewing of this service, will have Lord-willing been married Saturday. We are actually recording this on Thursday night, so I told them they better not get cold feet or else they’d ruin my sermon!
Back in late spring they reached out to me unsure about what to do. The virus had lasted longer than they anticipated, but things were looking hopeful that they’d be able to have their wedding in August as they’d planned. But what about size limitations? Is this wise? Is this safe? Is this financially responsible? What about our vendors? So many questions!
Eventually, they made what seemed at the time to be a wise decision, based on what they knew, and chose to move forward and sent out their invitations. But weeks later, the virus remained, there were threats of a second wave, and ultimately the state where the wedding was to take place was added to Pennsylvania’s quarantine list – again, it was decision time!
Their highest priority was to glorify God through marrying one another, so they changed their plans and decided to hold a small ceremony with immediate family here in Pennsylvania and just get married, and postpone the reception until next year.
There was no sign from the Lord that led them to the perfect decision. They had the Word, the Spirit, and the wisdom they’d acquired from walking with the Lord.
A second story comes from a mom who has been forced to make a decision about her kids’ schooling heading into the fall. Some school districts are going fully virtual, some fully in-person, some hybrid, and all of these options come with significant things for families to think through and hard decisions to make.
This mom, after her school district’s reopening plan was released went for a walk to clear her head and pray. On the walk, she called a friend who was facing the same thing. She writes:
As I voiced my fears of getting it wrong this school year, my friend offered some sage advice. “God isn’t waiting to see if you make the wrong decision,” she told me. “He’s waiting for you to trust him with the decision you make.”
“God isn’t waiting to see if you make the wrong decision; He’s waiting for you to trust him with the decision you make.”
Isn’t that freeing? We believe in a good God who has not left us hanging. You are not alone; your fate does not depend fully on the weight of your decision, but is in the hands of a good God who is working all things to His desired end.
In both cases, wisdom didn’t come from some magical sign, but from a life lived with Jesus where godly wisdom was cultivated over time. It came from intimately knowing our good God and living in light of that.
Not only does courageously following God’s lead require us to rely on godly wisdom, but it also requires that we…
2. Trust in God’s Providence (23:11-35)
Coming back to our passage, put yourselves in Paul’s shoes following verse 10. He’s made it to Jerusalem, testifies to the truth about Jesus, but is met with fierce opposition and imprisoned. After escaping with his life for the second time in as many days, he’s alone in the barracks, unsure of what’s next. You can imagine he’s in need of some encouragement, perhaps some reassurance from the Lord.
In verse 11, we read, The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” A simple, yet sweet reassurance from the Lord that he’s going in the right direction. Just as Paul testified about Jesus in Jerusalem, he’s commanded to “take courage” because he “must testify also in Rome.”
The Lord has gotten Paul this far, and the Lord will get Paul where he’s called him. But he doesn’t promise it will be uneventful. Following this encounter with the Lord, a complex series of events beyond Paul’s control begins to unfold. Yet, because of Jesus’ promise to Paul in verse 11 that he would testify in Rome, we know that behind the scenes the Lord is orchestrating all of this to bring about his desired end.
Just hours after the Lord meets Paul with words of reassurance, we learn that more than 40 of Paul’s opponents have now conspired to ambush and kill him, vowing not to eat or drink until they’ve done so. But Paul’s nephew overhears this plot, goes to Paul in the barracks to warn him, and is then brought to the tribune to alert him. Upon hearing of this plan, the tribune organizes nearly 500 of his troops to deliver Paul to Caesarea for a hearing with the governor, Felix.
Geographically, Caesarea is a coastal city on the Mediterranean where (spoiler alert) Paul will eventually begin his voyage to Rome. So not only does this Roman tribune go to great lengths to safely deliver Paul from this plot and to Caesarea, but he also sends a letter to the governor defending Paul and requesting an official hearing before his accusers. Starting in verse 29, we read,
I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. 30 And when it was disclosed to me that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.”
Let me ask you this… How is it that Paul’s nephew just so happened to overhear this plot? And not only that, but when this Roman military leader learns of the plot, he goes to such great lengths to safely deliver and defend a man he essentially owed nothing to? And on top of all of this, it just so happens that Paul is delivered to a port city in the direction of Rome? What a strange series of coincidences, right? No!
This is God’s providence at work! John Piper defines God’s providence as his “wise and purposeful sovereignty.” Not only is God sovereignly able to whatever he desires, but he does so in such a way that is wise and purposeful – it brings Him glory, and us good.
Through the real and consequential actions of people – even unbelievers doing what is right in their own eyes – God is orchestrating all things to fulfill his own purposes.
So it’s for good reason that the Lord commands Paul to “take courage” because it’s the Lord himself working out the end from the beginning. And as believers in Jesus we have this promise from Romans 8:28: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Just as the Lord guaranteed Paul that he would testify about him in Rome, the Lord also is orchestrating all of this to bring about what He’s promised. We know that God is at work for our good, for the sake of his purpose.
When you’re in a difficult situation, the wisdom we talked about earlier works in conjunction with a deep and abiding trust in God’s providential hand. We wisely follow the Lord, trusting that he’s leading us exactly where
He wants us.
Thinking again about the book of Proverbs, perhaps the most well known passage in Proverbs is in chapter 3, verses 5-6:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Exercising godly wisdom and trusting in God’s providence work hand in hand! This is especially the case when you’re feeling stuck and aren’t really sure what the future holds.
If you are a follower of Jesus who loves God, you can know, with absolute certainty, no matter what you’re facing, that God is working all things together for your good because you are called according to his purpose.
Just as the Lord was present with Paul, the Lord is present with you. And just as he orchestrated all of these events to spare Paul’s life and eventually get him to Rome to testify there, he is at work in ways you cannot see – and may never see – to bring you exactly where he wants you.
Some of you may know that my wife and I recently adopted twin girls. They’re 4 months old and are doing great!
But adoption has been a long journey, with lots of unexpected turns. Last fall, prior to connecting with the birth mother of our daugthers, we’d connected with another birth mother interested in making an adoption plan. She became pregnant prior to going to prison, and is likely to be in prison for a long time. As excited as we were to finally match to adopt a baby, we were especially excited about the picture of redemption we imagined this particular baby would be.
We were finally going to meet the birth mother for the first time at the prison. On our way there, a strange thought came to mind – it had been a while since I’d witnessed the Lord answer a prayer directly and immediately. I even recalled a time doing ministry where a friend prayed for the rain to stop so we could do the ministry we’d planned, and as he said “amen,” the rain stopped. It was a random thought, and I didn’t think too much of it.
But when we arrived at the prison we found out that our clearances hadn’t yet fully processed and the prison was not going to allow us in the same room with the birth mother – it would have to be behind glass with phone receivers, like what you may have seen on tv. You can imagine our disappointment. We’re about to meet a woman considering to place her baby with us for adoption, and it has to be so impersonal, with glass separating us.
So before we went in to the prison, we prayed that God would make it possible for us to meet face to face. Once we got through security, we asked if there was any way we could meet in the same room, pleading with the guards about how important this was, but they said there was no way.
Eventually our escort came down to get us and led us up to a tiny booth with a phone receiver. After a couple minutes, the birth mother was led into the booth across the glass from us. But as we picked up the phone receivers on our respective ends, we couldn’t hear each other. After several minutes of investigating among the guards, they realized that the phone system had been disabled.
This visit had to happen – the birth mother was only a couple weeks from her due date and could go into labor at any moment. After some deliberating among the guards, they told us that we would be able to meet face-to-face in an adjoining visitation room with some basic precautions.
That day, the Lord showed us his presence, and his providential hand. Looking back, I know that God planted that random thought about answered prayer in my mind just before he would work out circumstances far beyond our control to show us that his hand was on us.
But it was also this evidence of God’s hand that I clung to when that adoption fell through at the last minute. Seeing God’s providential hand at work that day allowed us to trust again in his providential hand the day we walked out of the hospital with an empty car seat, and also over the course of the months that followed before we adopted our beautiful daughters.
Just as God was working all things together for Paul’s good and for his own purpose, and just as God has done the same for us on our adoption journey, if you are in Christ you can know that God will work things for your good and his purpose for you. Take courage and follow his lead!
As I consider Paul’s journey – courageously following God’s plan by exercising godly wisdom and trusting in God’s providence – I can’t help but think of Jesus.
It’s Jesus, the embodiment of godly wisdom, who displayed godly character by fulfilling the Law perfectly, who dealt shrewdly with his opponents, and remained laser focused on the reason he came in the first place – to give his life for us on the cross.
But it’s also in Jesus that we see the providential hand of God at work. In Galatians 4, we read that “when the fullness of time had come” – at just the right time in the course of all of history – “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” God sovereignly orchestrated all of history to bring about the moment when Jesus would come, live the perfect life we are not able to live, and die the death that we deserve, only to be resurrected on the third day.
It’s because Jesus died in our place and rose to new life that we can find the confidence today to courageously follow God’s lead in our own lives. God is true to His promises, gives us everything we need to follow Him, and the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us today.
Courageously follow God’s lead!
Father, we thank you that you are good. Even as we wade through challenges and uncharted waters, we know that you remain faithful and steadfast, and we know that you are for us. Anchor us in hope, empower us with your Spirit, give us wisdom as we need it, and in all of this give us the grace to trust in your good and sovereign hand to work out all things for our good and your glory. We praise you, Father. Amen.