by Roger McCay
22 November 2020
Sermon Passage: Acts 22:23-23:22
Link to Audio Version
It is said we live in a chaotic world. Do we? Francis Schaeffer spoke to this in his book, He is There and He is Not Silent:
The external world is there and it has form and order. It is not a chaotic world. If it were true that all is chaotic, unrelated, and absurd, science as well as general life would come to an end. To live at all is not possible except in the understanding that the universe that is there—the external universe—has a certain form, a certain order, and that man conforms to that order and so can live within it.
Christians, of course, know the why of this from the Scriptures. We know the why because we know the answer of the primary question, “Who?”  We know the One first revealed in Gen. 1:1, “In the beginning God ….” Knowing the answer of the “who,” we can then know his work. Without knowing the who, we cannot know his work and the answers to why and how.
Thus, we have the testimony of God’s ordering all things in the first chapters of Genesis. Thence, the Scriptures reveal and demonstrate his sustaining providence (Heb. 1:3). We also know why disorder and chaos exist in the world: sin from the fall; rebellion against God, in Genesis 3 onwards. But the chaos does not overthrow order. Why? The answer is found in the who. The Lord overcomes chaos, working it into his order, as Joseph said to his brothers in Gen. 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
The Scriptures reveal to us reality. We learn of the one God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s working from before history through the consummation of history and beyond. Thus we are shown the order in the midst of chaos, God’s providential hand working all things towards the good of his people (Rom. 8:28).
At the center of all things we find Jesus Christ. He is the center of all reality. Col. 1:15-18:
15 He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
The Lord Jesus overcomes sin, chaos, tribulation (John 16:33), bringing redemption to his people (Eph. 1:7), reigning over the heavens and the earth, the unseen and the seen (Matt. 28:18). He is the author and perfector of our faith, the very center of a child of God’s life, our primary love, the one whom we follow (Heb. 12:1-2; Mark 8:34), our Lord and Savior.
When one does not have this perspective, or, in the midst of chaos, we lose our Christ-centered perspective, we move into delusion—living and thinking according to a non-reality. And there lies despair.
In our passage today, Paul could have easily found himself falling into despair. Yet, he found comfort, hope, and deliverance, while yet a prisoner. When we understand Paul’s grasp of reality, Jesus Christ as center, we find insight into why he said and did what he did. We also have a framework to understand how and why events unfolded like they did—order over chaos, the Lord Jesus in control and triumphant. From this, we see how we can rely on Jesus in the midst of chaos, relying on his providence, righteousness, and comfort.
We see God’s providence (his guiding hand) actively at work in this passage, in a couple of obvious ways. First, in Claudius Lysias (the tribune), and also with Paul’s nephew. Lysias, in many ways was, after Christ, the hero of this whole ordeal. He was not perfect, but he showed to be a solid military officer of sound character, committed to his duty: justice, order, and the defense of Rome and its citizens.
Lysias, after making a couple of initial wrong assumptions about Paul, displayed a dogmatic drive to get to the truth of the matter. Confused by the conflicting answers of the crowd to his questions as to why they were attacking Paul, what he had done wrong, Lysias somehow came to the assumption that Paul was an Egyptian rebel. Yet, he adjusted his view of Paul when facing the facts, even letting Paul speak to the crowd. Then (assuming Paul was not a citizen) Lysias ordered Paul flogged seeking to get the facts out of Paul as to what he had done to make them riot. Yet, he cancelled the order when he discovered that Paul was a Roman citizen, for whom, in such a case, it was illegal to flog. At this point, Lysias’ view of Paul shifted. He now saw Paul as a Roman citizen first, detained for unsubstantiated reasons. Thus, Lysias took responsibility for Paul’s welfare, seeking justice in the matter: his duty to Rome. In a further attempt to find out what the whole matter was about, Lysias called together the Sanhedrin, to get an answer from them. Yet, all he found there was, like with the mobs, chaos and a violent riot. Thus, Lysias once again rescued Paul, the Roman Citizen, from the violently deranged Jews.