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Sketches From The Life of Paul

by Ellen G. White

Chapter 20: Paul a Prisoner.

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A nephew of the apostle, to whom he was strongly attached, heard of the murderous conspiracy, and without delay reported the matter to his uncle. Paul immediately called for one of the centurions, and requested him to take the young man to the commandant, saying that he had important information to give him. The youth was accordingly brought in before Claudius Lysias, who received him kindly, and taking him aside, inquired the nature of his message. The young man related the particulars of the conspiracy, and with deep feeling entreated the commandant not to grant the request which would be surely made, that Paul be again brought before the council. Lysias listened with close attention. He saw the difficulties of the situation, and instantly formed his plans. Choosing, however, not to reveal them, he dismissed the [p. 227] youth, with the single admonition: "See thou tell no man that thou hast showed these things to me."

When the young man had gone, the commandant "called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night; and provide them beasts, that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor."

Lysias gladly improved this opportunity to get Paul off his hands. He was the object of so great animosity, and his presence created so widespread an excitement, that a riot might occur among the people at any time, with consequences dangerous to the commandant himself. The Jews as a people were in a state of excitement and irritation, and tumults were of frequent occurrence. A short time previous, a Roman knight of far higher rank than Lysias himself, had been violently taken and dragged by the maddened Jews around the walls of Jerusalem, and finally beheaded, because he received a bribe from the Samaritans. Upon the suspicion of similar crimes, other high officials had been imprisoned and disgraced. Should Paul be murdered, the chief captain might be charged with having been bribed to connive at his death. There was now sufficient reason to send him away secretly, and thus get rid of an embarrassing responsibility.

It was important that no time be lost. At nine in the evening, the body of soldiers, with Paul in the midst, marched out of the fortress, and through the dark and silent streets of the city, and at a rapid pace pursued their journey toward Caesarea. At Antipatris, thirty-five miles [p. 228] from Jerusalem, the travelers halted. There was now little danger of attack, and in the morning the four hundred foot-soldiers were sent back to Jerusalem, while the horsemen continued their journey.

The distance from Antipatris to Caesarea was but twenty-five miles, and it was in the broad light of day that Paul, attended by "threescore and ten horsemen," entered the city. How unlike his present escort was the humble Christian company that had attended him on the journey from Caesarea but a few days before! Notwithstanding his changed surroundings, he was recognized by Philip and others of his Christian associates, whose hearts were shocked and saddened at the swift realization of their forebodings.

The centurion in charge of the detachment delivered his prisoner to Felix the governor, also presenting a letter with which he had been intrusted by the chief captain:—

"Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix sendeth greeting. This man was taken of the Jews, and should have been killed of them; then came I with an army, and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman. And when I would have known the cause wherefore they accused him, I brought him forth into their council; whom I perceived to be accused of questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bonds. And when it was told me how that the Jews laid wait for the man, I sent straightway to thee, and gave commandment to his accusers also to say before thee what they had against him. Farewell."

After reading the communication, Felix inquired to what province the prisoner belonged, [p. 229] and being informed that he was of Cilicia, he ordered him to be kept in Herod's judgment hall, stating that he would hear the case when the accusers also should come from Jerusalem.

The case of Paul was not the first in which a servant of God had found among the heathen an asylum from the malice of the professed people of Jehovah. In their rage against Paul, the Jews had added another crime to the dark catalogue which marked the history of that people. They had still further hardened their hearts against the truth, and had rendered their doom more certain.

There are but few who perceive the full import of the words of Christ, when in the synagogue at Nazareth he announced himself as the Anointed One. He declared his mission to comfort, bless, and save the sorrowing and the sinful, and then, seeing that pride and unbelief controlled the hearts of his hearers, he reminded them how God had in time past turned away from his chosen people, because of their unbelief and rebellion, and had manifested himself to those in a heathen land who had not rejected the light from Heaven. The widow of Sarepta and Naaman the Syrian had lived up to all the light they had. Hence they were accounted more righteous than God's chosen people who had backslidden from him, and sacrificed principle to convenience and worldly honor.

It is impossible for the worldly and pleasure-loving to rightly value the messages of warning and reproof which God sends to correct the errors of his people. They cannot distinguish between the earnestness and zeal of the faithful servant, and the trifling, superficial spirit of him who is unfaithful. One declares that the sword [p. 230] is coming; the other puts far off the evil day. One faithfully reproves sin; the other excuses and palliates it. As the professed people of God depart from him and lose the simplicity of the faith, the words of his messengers seem to them unnecessarily harsh and severe. They cherish prejudice and unbelief, and finally place themselves fully on Satan's side. His suggestions seem pleasant and palatable; they are controlled, in spirit and opinion, by the arch-deceiver, and having permitted him to direct their thoughts, they soon permit him to direct their actions.

Christ presented before the assembly at Nazareth a fearful truth when he declared that with backsliding Israel there was no safety for the faithful messenger of God. They would not know his worth, or appreciate his labors. While they professed to have great zeal for the honor of God and the good of Israel, they were the worst enemies of both. They were by precept and example leading the people farther and farther from obedience to God and purity and simplicity of faith,—leading them where he could not reveal himself as their defense in the day of trouble. God sent Elijah to the widow of Sarepta, because he could not trust him with Israel.

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