The Overcurrent (sermon text version)

Today’s message is about how God’s sovereignty can change your life, your attitudes, and give you courage. It did for Paul.

overcurrent.jpgLast week, Paul was standing trial and he was the only witness stepping forward. He talks about having done his duty to God and gets in big trouble with the high priest. We observed that sometimes there’s more going on than meets the eye.

There’s an overcurrent above the heavens, known only to God, and an undercurrent of faith, invisible in the human heart, yet amazingly on display in one’s life when pressed for witness.

Acts 23:6 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.”

I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead?

OK, let’s do a bit of a rewind because it’s not obvious how Paul got there. Those don’t seem to be the charges at the time. And yet, there’s an overcurrent and an undercurrent…both reflecting Paul’s hope in the sovereign Lord and it has to do with the Resurrection. In Acts 21, Paul has arrived in Jerusalem and the brothers have warned him that people think he’s teaching everyone to abandon the Law: They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, 28 shouting, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.” 29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area.) 30 The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut.

crossHow did Paul turn this and a retelling of his conversion story… into standing trial because of his hope in the resurrection of the dead? Is he just spinning a new narrative? You may remember from last week, I said that Paul was witnessing to more than just doing his duty to God by preaching to the Gentiles. Not a new narrative at all! It was WHAT he was preaching to all men everywhere. It was the Gospel revealed to Paul by the Risen Lord himself that Paul was teaching. We can see that was Paul’s mindset all along.

It was Paul’s hope in God’s sovereign overcurrent proved in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, forging a deep undercurrent of faith that steered his thinking and speaking.

7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.) 9 There was a great uproar…The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.

That went well. Maybe not on first blush, but God says it did, so it must be true. God is never wrong. He knows and it’s His overcurrent, His sovereignty running over, around, under and through Paul’s life. An overcurrent of God’s sovereignty producing an undercurrent of Paul’s faith…his strong hope in Christ.

Acts 23:11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

Courage is the result of believing in God’s sovereignty, goodness, and love.

Little did Paul know that what was about to happen in God’s sovereign plan is that this would take him to Rome, not as free man, but most often in the custody of others. Paul was embarking upon 4 years as a prisoner beginning as something done for his own protection and then as a miscarriage of justice.

How do you feel when you’ve been wronged or falsely accused?

How do you react? Do you get mad? Do you get even? Do you punch back harder and make them pay? Do you crawl into a hole and wait for it to go away? Do you get depressed? Do you look to the heavens at God’s sovereignty or inward to your own pitiful situation?

Paul was being wronged on all sides (Pharisees, Sadducees, the crowd, the soldiers!) and yet, God was still sovereign and Paul’s response was faith. Verses 12-15 tell us of a plot forming against Paul.

12 The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13 More than forty men were involved in this plot. 14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. 15 Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.”

They’re going to do a little vigilante justice and there were 40 Zealots in charge of it…and they had the help of the Sadducees, both the chief priests and elders as well as the whole Sanhedrin. Everyone was in on it. Well, almost everyone. God was still sovereign.

16 But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.

Paul was an uncle. We didn’t know that before now. We didn’t know his family didn’t entirely disown him upon his conversion. We didn’t know that his sister and his nephew lived in Jerusalem. But God knew. And a current of God’s sovereignty runs over and through it. Paul’s nephew was not only near and available, but also very brave. Never named, never identified, but instrumental here in saving Paul’s life. A silent hero from an identity perspective here on earth, but God knew. This nephew would be forever remembered from a historical perspective. His actions are recorded for all time in our Scriptures.

17 Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.” 18 So he took him to the commander. The centurion said, “Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.” 19 The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, “What is it you want to tell me?”

There is a tenderness with which the commander reassured Paul’s nephew about something any young man might have found somewhat frightening. It’s not easy to be a whistle-blower and the more powerful the person you must speak to, and the more powerful the ones you’re speaking against, the more frightening it is. I just thought it would be good to pause in the action and mention it. Maybe forged by Paul’s keeping the commander from committing a crime against a Roman citizen or just an awareness that Paul is in prison and has not done anything wrong, who knows? But God’s overcurrent of sovereignty revealed in the commander’s kindness may very well have emboldened Paul’s nephew to speak.

20 He said: “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. 21 Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.” 22 The commander dismissed the young man and cautioned him, “Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.”

The centurions and the commander—Romans–showed greater kindness to Paul than his own people–the forty men of Israel who were bound by an oath to kill Paul. Perhaps it is because Paul was a Roman citizen in the commander’s charge, but perhaps just to record for us that sometimes those who might be our ideological enemies turn out to be greater friends than those whose heritage looks like our own. And all the while God’s sovereignty is a powerful current over human history.

23 Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. 24 Provide mounts for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.”

Paul would go to Rome to testify, but for now by way of Caesarea where the governor named Antonius Felix presided over Judea. The commander sent a huge contingent–470 men—to protect Paul and to safely deliver a letter the commander who is now named, had written:

25 He wrote a letter as follows: 26 Claudius Lysias, To His Excellency, Governor Felix: Greetings. 27 This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. 28 I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. 29 I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. 30 When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.”

Interesting, isn’t it, that people will cover their tracks and craft a paper-trail and that this practice goes way back? Paul told the commander he was a Roman citizen and the commander was alarmed because he’d already put Paul in chains. But now, the commander places his own actions in the best possible light, bending the truth so as to protect himself from the actions he had taken and the near beating he’d authorized which was only thwarted by Paul announcing his Roman citizenship.

But the letter serves God’s purpose to get Paul before Felix. Seventy-five miles closer to Rome where Paul was assured by God that he would testify. Imagine the confidence that this overcurrent of God’s sovereignty and the undercurrent of Paul’s hope in Christ would give to Paul. God told him he’d get to Rome and nothing would kill him before he’d done that. Of course, it doesn’t rule out Paul experiencing hell on earth in beatings and all the things Paul outlines as he defends himself before church people at Corinth, too:

2 Corinthians 11:23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

So here Paul is, at the very beginning of what will be four years of imprisonment. He’ll spend more time under arrest, house or otherwise, for the remainder of his life than he will as a free man. The heavily armed contingent will take him as far as the outpost at Antipatris and then the cavalry alone will escort him to Caesarea,

33 When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. 34 The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will hear your case when your accusers get here.” Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.

In life, it can seem like we encounter problems and there’s no resolving it. Like there’s no way out. But here are some good lessons here about the overcurrent of God’s sovereignty and the undercurrent of our faith.

  1. When we don’t understand why things are happening, we cannot assume God is equally ignorant. God knows what’s going on and what we’re going through. And He knows how He’s going to resolve it. His overcurrent is over everything!
  2. When we believe the overcurrent is true, that is God is in control and has total sovereignty, it builds an equally powerful undercurrent of faith and hope.   We do not develop one without the other. God IS always sovereign, but the more powerfully we witness God’s sovereign hand, the more powerful our faith, our hope, and our witness will become!
  3. Now, just because we know God is sovereign and we have strong faith doesn’t mean we’re immune from experiencing emotions of sadness or frustration. It’s not a sign of Christian failure when we experience these human emotions. And it’s not sin. Two weeks ago, a security vulnerability in my website was exploited. I was maliciously hacked. There was no reason for it. I don’t collect personal information and I don’t sell anything. It was malice, plain and simple. I knew God was sovereign over that and I’d like to believe my faith is strong….and yet, I was sad. And angry and frustrated. All that work over years and years, building a body of writings to give others hope. But then Google blacklisted me because of this hacker. And it took time and effort and money and a security firm and my hosting company to audit things and scrub every last inch of my web site for malware in order to finally get my site off Google’s blacklist. For two weeks, I cried a lot. I was angry because someone falsely portrayed me as an attack site. Violated. Victimized. But here’s the deal: As I was praying, trusting that God was not surprised and I was just asking Him why??? Why me? I’m so insignificant it’s not even funny! I can’t claim any kind of reach for the Gospel that I can see beyond what I do here at Plymouth. Each week, I trust that the words I speak for Him won’t return to Him empty even if I can’t see a thing. What was God’s response to me? Did He tell me I was a failure? A fraud? Deserving of being hacked? No. He showed me kindness. He told me that this happened now because the devotional series I am doing for Advent this year needed to be protected. This happened now so that I’d buy the services of a company who will monitor my site every 3 hours and keep it protected. God said, “Those devotionals on My Incarnation are very important to me. They will now go out safely and do the work I intend for them to do.” While it doesn’t remove the sadness I felt, I have greater courage and reassurance that what I do matters to God. It built faith. The overcurrent builds the undercurrent.
  4. And finally, a strong overcurrent of God’s sovereignty and a strong undercurrent of faith in Christ and hope in Him will not prevent us from suffering, but it will give us strength through it. Because suffering has a purpose. Romans 8:16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs– heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

What’s the take home from all of this?

We can see that Paul lived out a trust in the sovereign Lord and his faith would nourish and sustain him as he waited these next 4 years in prison. But there’s a practical outworking too. Stay strong and trust in God. His sovereign overcurrent will not let you down. It will grow your faith and get you through the tough times. God will go with you. He will never leave you or forsake you.

  • Do you feel confused? Trust in Him.
  • Do you feel weary? Trust in Him.
  • Do you feel insufficient for the daily grind ahead of you? God is growing your faith and storing glory up that will be revealed in you on the other side!
  • Are you sad and troubled? Do as the song this morning says, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus!” God is more than enough for what you are facing. His powerful overcurrent of sovereignty and love is forging a faith and hope in Him—a glory you will see and share when you see Him face-to-face!

The overcurrent is powerful to wash away sins and sorrow and replace it with faith and hope in the Resurrection. Paul knew it. Do you? Let’s pray.

Categories Chapel Worship/News | Tags: | Posted on October 27, 2015

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