We are continuing our study of the book of Acts. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Eternally Important Work of Paul’s Nephew
This section of Acts has been detailing the mission work of a pastor named Paul. Recently, things have been rough:
He had to escape downtown Jerusalem where an angry mob tried to kill him.
He was narrowly able to avoid a seven-stranded flogging at the hands of the Roman soldiers.
He had to turn a nerve-wracking trial on its head allowing him to escape with his life.
Unfortunately, the trouble was only beginning.
The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot. (23:13-14)
Take note of a few things:
Some men were involved in a CONSPIRACY. That’s a word used in usually reserved for politics and spy movies.
Kill a pastor.
They are so serious about killing Paul that they take an oath NOT to eat or drink.
Have you ever tried that before? There’s this fast called the GAPs diet. It starts with a three day fast where you only drink water and eat chicken broth. I tried it once. The book told me that it would have the excellent benefits of restoring my gut health, reigniting my metabolism, and possibly resetting my seasonal allergies.
But one thing the book didn’t tell me was that I would get hungry! As a result, the diet lasted a total of about 11 hours.
You must be serious to go on a fast.
These men go on a fast, because they are that serious about their conspiracy to commit murder.
There are more than 40 men involved in the conspiracy. With that many people a part of the scandal it would be easier to cover up.
Easier to execute.
Easier to develop a foolproof plan.
Here’s what they came up with:
They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. 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.”
Did you follow that?
The religious leaders of the area would ask the Roman commander for a retrial with Paul. But there wouldn’t be a retrial. Instead, the conspirators would be hiding in the dark stairwells as Paul approached the courtroom where they’d jump him and kill him.
The religious leaders like this plan. Because they wouldn’t even have to get their hands dirty.
Political corruption at its finest.
As the conspirators brought this idea to the Pharisees, a young man took note.
I like to imagine he worked there as a page.
Shuffling quietly past the tables.
Handing out papers.
Getting paper clips.
Tossing out coffee cups.
On this day, he was at work in the courtroom,
And no one gave him attention.
But maybe they should have.
Because had they looked closely, they would have noticed that he looked kind like the target of their conspiracy.
His eyes matched Paul’s eyes.
His forehead matched Paul’s forehead.
His jaw structure matched Paul’s jaw structure.
He was Paul’s nephew.
And he liked his Uncle Paul.
Not only did he remember family meals with Uncle Paul where Uncle Paul sat him on his knee, tweaked his nose, and pretended that he stole it from his face.
But he also like the message of his uncle.
He liked the Gospel about Jesus.
And he couldn’t keep what he was hearing to himself.
When the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul. (v.16)
Paul, there’s a plot.
Paul, they’re trying to kill you.
Paul, when they take you into the Sanhedrin tomorrow, they’re going to jump you.
Paul’s eyes got big.
But nephew, what am I supposed to do? I’m on lockdown.
I can’t leave the barracks.
I can’t tell the commander not to have the trial until it’s too late.
Nephew, would you be willing to speak on my behalf?
Would you be willing to go to the Roman commander?
Could you save me?
Paul’s nephew paused.
He wasn’t bold like Uncle Paul.
He couldn’t preach like Uncle Paul
He couldn’t write beautiful letters like Uncle Paul.
He didn’t have the courage to go on the missionary journeys like his Uncle Paul.
Maybe he didn’t have to do those things to do eternally important work.
Paul’s nephew nodded.
Paul called to the guards.
Paul asked the guards to take his nephew to see the Roman commander.
As they entered, Paul’s nephew saw an impressive room.
Decorative Roman designs on the walls.
Fancy gold adorning the columns.
It was an important looking place.
And at the focal point of the room?
The Roman commander.
Seated on his important-looking chair.
Talking to important-looking people.
While signing important-looking documents.
The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, “What is it you want to tell me?” (v.19)
Paul’s nephew took a deep breath.
He closed his eyes.
He swallowed the lump in his throat.
“Some Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. 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.” (v.20-21)
I’m out of here.
Please don’t hurt me!
But before he could leave, the commander gave the order for the soldiers to close the door.
He called the young man back to his desk.
He looked him directly in the eyes and said.
You probably saved his life.
“Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.” In the meantime, we’ll develop a way to keep our Uncle safe.
II. The Eternally Important Work of You
They do keep Paul safe.
For many more chapters in Acts.
For many more years.
And because Paul is kept safe…
He gets to preach the Gospel in even more places that didn’t have the saving message of Jesus.
Paul writes the letter to the Romans which has been sharing the saving message of Jesus to millions of people for millennia.
Paul also writes three “pastoral letters” which specifically uplift and encourage two young pastors who share the Gospel of Jesus and that have been preserved in Scripture for young pastors to read and be encouraged about Gospel ministry years later.
None of this would have been possible without Paul’s nephew.
A guy that didn’t have a preaching degree.
A guy that didn’t write any books of the Bible.
A guy that whose name we don’t even know!
Yet a guy that God knew.
A guy that God died for.
A guy that God worked through to do eternally important work.
What does all of this mean for you?
(1) You are Eternally Important to God no Matter how Insignificant You Feel
The other day Julianna gave me a grocery list. I drove 5 minutes to Food Lion, spent 10 minutes in store buying the groceries, spent 5 minutes looking longingly at the Dorito display, spent 5 minutes checking out and 5 minutes driving back to the house.
As we were unpacking the groceries, Julianna noticed that I had bought non-Organic, non-farm raised, cheap eggs.
She had really hoped that I would have read the list closer and seen that she wanted the Organic, farm raised kind.
I shrugged. “We’ll just use these. It’ll be ok. We don’t need to spend 15 minutes going back to get the right kind.”
She suggested, “But…we could.”
Guess which thing we chose to do….
The more important someone is to you;
The more you are willing to do for them.
What was God willing to do for you?
He left his perfect, amazing heavenly throne room…for you.
He came to this sin-infested, hate-filled earth…for you.
He suffered backstabbing, violence, and hatred…for you.
He had three nails pierce his body…for you.
He died on the cross…for you.
And yes, I do mean you.
He didn’t just do it for kings.
He didn’t just do it for celebrities.
He didn’t just do it for people with over 10,000 Twitter followers.
Jesus died for non-famous, non-royal, non-Twitter powerful, you.
When faced with the choice of saving you or saving his life, God chose saving you.
That’s how important you were to God.
And how important you still are to God.
In fact, check out this passage:
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Because if ever there’s a time to feel insignificant to God, it’s after sin.
When you’ve had too much to drink for the 277th time.
When you’ve cheated on your spouse.
When you’ve gossiped about your friends.
When you’ve said something racist.
When you’ve slept with someone you aren’t married to.
When you’ve been caught in the sin of porn again.
The guilt of sin can make you feel about as significant as a slug.
Despite whatever sins you have.
Despite whatever flaws you have.
Despite whatever failures are in your past
Despite whatever seeming insignificance you feel.
God died for you.
You are that eternally important to the Divine Ruler of the Universe.
(2) God has an Eternally Important Purpose for You
Have you ever noticed how some body parts get more attention than others?
The heart is important. We try to take care of it.
The lungs are important. We try to take care of them.
Our muscles are important. We try to take care of them.
What about those lesser body parts?
Like nose hairs. When’s the last time you ate a breakfast cereal that was good for your nose hairs?
Or the chin? When’s the last time you did an exercise aimed at improving your chin fitness?
Or your pinky toe! When’s the last time you grabbed Instagram photos about how impressive your pinky toe is?
But without your nose hairs, your immune system would be shot.
Without your chin, you wouldn’t be able to talk.
Without your pinky toe, walking gets a lot more difficult.
The Bible says that even the pinky toes of God’s kingdom are important to his eternal purposes:
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? (1 Cor. 12:15-17)
If these seemingly unimportant body parts are not a part of the body, the body suffers.
Because these seemingly unimportant body parts are not actually unimportant.
They are essential.
During COVID, there’s been a lot of talk about essential workers.
Essential workers are ones that we have deemed so important to society that if they stopped working, society would collapse.
But maybe you aren’t an essential worker.
Maybe you aren’t a doctor working with COVID patients to keep them alive.
Maybe you’re not a scientist working for a vaccine to COVID.
Maybe you’re not a member of congress working legislation to remove racial injustices.
Maybe you aren’t a pastor with a wide reach of 100,000 subscribers on YouTube.
Maybe you feel insignificant.
Maybe you feel like your influence isn’t that great.
Maybe you feel like there’s nothing you can do for God’s kingdom.
You have a purpose.
There’s a reason God placed you in his kingdom.
In his mind, he has labeled you: essential.
(3) Often God Works through Seemingly Insignificant Moments
I don’t know that Paul’s nephew woke up that day thinking: “I’m going to do something amazing today.”
He went about his work in and around the Sanhedrin as planned.
While there, he heard about the plot and acted to save Paul’s life.
God did eternally important work at a seemingly insignificant moment.
But God has always been working through seemingly insignificant moments.
Like the prepping of an insignificant, dirty stable as a bed and breakfast for a family in need, that God used to bring the Savior into the world.
Like the insignificant grunt work of lugging around some big jugs of water through which God worked to transform the liquid into wine and announce Jesus’ presence in the world.
Like a young boy sharing his lunch to his disciples, allowing Jesus to prove his divinity through an incredible miracle feeding over 5,000 people by miraculous multiplication would never have happened and Jesus wouldn’t have proven his divinity to all in attendance.
Like a dirty, bloodstained, insignificant piece of wood. With a guy hanging on it just like many guys had hung on them before. As insignificant looking as any other criminal. But…through whom your eternal salvation was won. You have forgiveness with God. Through which, the most eternally significant moment of history was accomplished.
The truth is then:
God has always done eternally important work through seemingly insignificant moments.
God has done, is doing, and will continue to do important work through your seemingly insignificant moments…
That coffee shop Bible reading with your friends.
That encouraging Scripture text to your spouse.
That Bible story with your kids.
That sharing of a YouTube sermon.
That moment where you tell your child it’s wrong to judge someone based on the shade of their skin.
That five-dollar bill in the offering plate.
That insignificant looking water poured over someone’s head in God’s saving name.
That insignificant looking cup of wine given in connection with God’s own blood.
That mowing of your neighbor’s lawn that helps him come one step closer to the realization that maybe, “this Jesus guy isn’t so bad.”
You are ESSENTIAL.
You are of eternal significance to God.
Pay attention. Find the eternal significance in what you do this week. Amen.