God of the Gaps
God of the Gaps
Now three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. 2 And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews laid out their case against Paul, and they urged him, 3 asking as a favor against Paul that he summon him to Jerusalem–because they were planning an ambush to kill him on the way. 4 Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea and that he himself intended to go there shortly. 5 “So,” said he, “let the men of authority among you go down with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them bring charges against him.” 6 After he stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. 7 When he had arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him that they could not prove. 8 Paul argued in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.” 9 But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?” 10 But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. 11 If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” 12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.” 13 Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and greeted Festus. 14 And as they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man left prisoner by Felix, 15 and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews laid out their case against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. 16 I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up anyone before the accused met the accusers face to face and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him. 17 So when they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought. 18 When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed. 19 Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. 20 Being at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wanted to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding them. 21 But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.” 22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” said he, “you will hear him.” 23 So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25 But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him. 26 But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him.” (Acts 25:1-27 ESV)
Prop. God’s hand of providence is at work in everything, even when it is not overtly seen and even when people are doing the wrong thing.
- The Hidden Hand of God
A gap is an opening or empty space in solid structure. Might have a gap in your siding. It’s bad because water can get in there. We typically want to fill gaps with something, anything.
Do you know there can be gaps in our experience with God?
I want to begin today talking about what you do not see or hear in this passage… and that is God. This passage has no mention of God. No mention of him acting, speaking, appearing, etc.
The book of Acts begins with a powerful moving of the Spirit of God. On Pentecost Peter is boldly preaching in the streets and thousands are saved. The spirit descends in tongues of fire. When Peter is in jail an angel appears and frees him. a miraculous intervention. There is Cornelius who has a vision to send for Peter and when Peter comes he explains the way of God more accurately and Cornelius believes and is filled with the spirit. There is opposition and set backs but also major victories and miracles.
In this passage there are no angels, no visions, no conversions, no signs and wonders. But those bright and loud acts have now faded to an inaudible whisper. But God is just as present as any other. You may have this in your life. You wait and wait on God but hear on silence. Paul felt that too.
Revivals, awakenings, reformations often begin with a bang. A powerful move of God. They continue and often the spark that ignited them gives way to structures of faithfulness. Paul was sent out on his missionary journeys with prophets and prayer. He continues in unnoticed faithfulness.
This theme occurs in Scripture. God delivered his people from Egypt with great miracles and then guided them through the desert in a pillar of fire. Remember the book of Esther in which God is not mentioned in the entire book, but God’s hidden hand of providence is behind every event.
[Yes, You are a God who hides Himself, God of Israel, Savior. (Isa 45:15 CSB)
Part of the curse of this world. We do not see face to face. Will not be until we are in glory.
Paul remains steady even in the absence. Jesus spoke to him in
[The following night, the Lord stood by him and said, “Have courage! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (Act 23:11 CSB)
It may be all Paul needed. But while Paul has been in jail he has been permitted lodging and company. He has no doubt been working from there.
God is the God of miracles. God is the God of the ordinary. Much of your life will be spent in the ordinary.
In his book “Atomic Habits”, author James Clear says after his baseball career ended, he got in weight lifting, and one day met an elite coach who had worked with thousands of Olympians. Clear asked him “What’s the difference between the best athletes and everyone else?” The coach mentioned things you might expect: talent, genetics, luck, etc., but then said something he wasn’t expecting. “At some point it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day, doing the same lifts over and over.”
You have to be faithful even when the crowds are not watching you. Faithful even when no one else is watching. Faithful even when there is not the miraculous acts and provision. We are faithful because we know God is with us. Most of our life is in this place!
- Trust in God’s Sovereignty
We need to be faithful with what we can control. We need to trust God to control what is outside our control. All that Paul can do here is speak when he is asked. Everything else is in the control of God.
Festus is the new governor. Took over for Felix. But the same things continue. The Jewish leaders continue their opposition to Paul. They want him gone. It’s not enough he has been in jail for two years. They want more. They revisit the bogus charges. They even come up with another assassination attempt.
[3 asking as a favor against Paul that he summon him to Jerusalem– because they were planning an ambush to kill him on the way.
Festus does not agree to send Paul to Jerusalem. Paul’s life is spared. Not because Festus opposes the Jewish leaders, not because of a conviction. Not because of a commitment to justice. Doesn’t say.
Festus also doesn’t free Paul. The Jewish leaders could not prove any of the charges they brought against Paul. Paul makes it clear he has done nothing wrong according to their law, the temple, or to Caesar. He should be released.
Paul knows, Festus knows that Paul has done nothing deserving death. In fact, it even seems Festus knows that Paul knows that Festus knows he has done nothing deserving death.
The Jewish leaders have written to him stating what they have against him. Festus has stated the problem is in regards to religious views not civil law. Rather than exonerate Paul, Festus contemplates political favors for loyalty. He views Paul as collateral. Festus is not willing to let the Jewish leaders have their way with Paul. He also is not willing to free Paul.
Festus is genuinely perplexed at what to do with Paul. Agrippa desires to hear Paul’s case. Paul appeals to Caesar which was his right as a citizen. Paul senses he will not get justice here, probably also a sense of desire to go to Rome.
[“You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!” (Act 25:12 NIV)
Then the king comes by and he is like, why don’t you help me figure out what to do. Just kidding, Paul. One more trial!
Agrippa and Bernice. Agrippa is the King of Judea. He is part of the Herodian Dynasty. His Father is Herod Agrippa who threw Peter in jail and had James the son of Zebedee killed. Related to Herod the tetrarch who had John the Baptist beheaded because he had taken Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. Bernice is Agrippa’s sister and they are known to have been in an incestuous relationship. I can’t imagine how intimidating it may have been for Paul to stand there and look him in the eye.
Paul is riding a wave of civil fortune and good favor. He is a Roman citizen and has rights. He has a right to trial, a right to face his accusers. His accusers must provide legit charges that are substantiated. It is not lost in all of this that Jesus appears to Paul in a dream in Acts 23.
In the midst of the evil plots of these people God’s provdence uses the rails of Roman law to guide Paul to Rome. There may be rails that you need to hold on to. Rails that God uses. Work, be faithful, trust God.
One day Paul will be martyred for his faith, but that day does not come until God is through with him. Your day will not come until God is through with you.
In this climate there are things we need to be faithful with. There are things that we trust him with our lives and rest in him.
There may be things God is calling you to do and you don’t undestand why things are as they are. Be faithful. Rest in him. Surrounded by problems. He can get you through.
In certain ways I feel like Paul right now. We have debates on every issue now. And if you have a position it means half the population differs with you, but also want you silenced, removed, canceled out. We all feel this pressure. And who is right??? Everybody has their own list of facts. Somebody is lying to you. And I don’t know how to tell the difference.
We need to be faithful to share our voice. We need to be faithful to God and be respectful. We also need to trust God that the truth will prevail. We need to be praying for that. The only way we can do that and not lose our sanity, or our joy, is to rest in God’s sovereignty.
- God is at Work
You can trust God with your life. You can trust God with what is uncertain. What is God up to in your life? It appears God is doing all of this to get Paul to testify in Rome.
Be faithful even when serving God is like drudgery. God promises to refine us.
[I will refine them as silver is refined (Zec 13:9 CSB)
Anybody that likes to grill? Any body like to smoke meat? You know anything about the stall period? In smoking you take meat that has a lot of fat and you cook it low and slow. That process helps break down fat and ligament that makes meat tough. It takes time. A lot of people get frustrated because they put the meat on and they see the temperature rise steadily. 80, 90, 110, 120, 150, 150, 150, 140, 150. They panic. What’s happening is its like sweating. You perspire and it decreases your temperature. The fat is breaking down and absorbing the heat. People panic and start throwing on the wood. They stop. Now that meat is doing exactly what needs to happen. Typically you don’t need to do anything different. Just let the process do what it does. When the fat is rendered the temperature will begin to rise. Maybe you are in that stall period in life. Don’t doubt the promises of God. Don’t doubt the power of God. Don’t doubt the presence of God. Paul is exactly where God wants Paul.
If you want an instant meal don’t get into smoking. If you want amazing ribs or brisket be in it for the long haul. Most people want the smoked flavor with the work of a microwave. Contradictory. God is not just using you. He is making you into something. Learn faithfulness even when it is quiet and unseen. When you feel like you are breaking down. Marriage, children. Be in it for the long process.
God is holding Paul. He is holding him fast. People are trying to take him out of God’s hands but you can’t do that.
*Do you see God’s hand or do you just see the enemies?*
*Do you see his workings or do you see the enemies working*
*Do you see what God is doing or do you only see what he hasn’t done.
For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: (Acts 26:21-22 ESV)
What was that help that comes from God: Jesus appearing in a dream. Jesus telling him he would suffer much. His nephew hearing about the plot to kill him. Claudius Lysias the military commander escorting him with 470 troops. The benefit of having his friends meet with him while he was in prison. Citizenship.
God doesn’t always provide what you want, but he provides what you need.
Be grateful for that. Don’t let bitterness creep in.
In all our troubles my joy knows no bounds. (2 Cor 7:4)
Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV)
Not going to take my joy. Not going to let my work rob me of my joy. Don’t let those Felix and Festus get you down. Don’t let the religious people like Ananias mess with your head. Rest in God’s plan. A lot going on in the world. I don’t know what it is.
I have been held to the flames in way I never thought I would. I thought it was too long and too hot. We have been through that as a church. We are moving forward now and it feels good. And I believe what we went through has made us into something we never would have been before. He has changed me.
We don’t always get what we want. We don’t always see God working. But faith leads us to trust him and know he is working. There may be seasons that feel like gaps or stall periods, but it is in those times that God often does a great work. God used this mess to get Paul to take the Gospel to Rome. He can do the same thing in your life.
We rest in the gaps because Jesus stood in the gap for us. He experienced the absence of God so we would never have to. We don’t look to things to convince us of the love of God because they will always let us down. His blood gives us peace. His blood gives us hope. Nothing else. Not better circumstances. Not better stuff. Better friends. Him and his blood.