The Plot Against Paul
Open Your Bible
Acts 23:12-35, Job 33:4, 2 Corinthians 4:8-12
When I was a girl, I was not good at sitting still. If I had a good book, I could get lost in its pages for an hour or two. Television, with all its mindless cartoons and gaudy commercials, only inspired an even deeper sense of ennui. I wanted to go somewhere. I wanted to do something. I was always standing at the hem of my mother’s skirt, asking, “What are we doing next?”
“This,” my mother would say, pointing around the kitchen, or the living room, or the pile of clean laundry in need of sorting, folding, and putting-away. “This is what we’re doing.”
Life can often feel like one long series of mundane tasks. In contrast, Paul and his life in prison reads like one magnificent action-packed screenplay. Suddenly, there is a plot among the Jewish people to ambush Paul and murder him in broad daylight. But, through deft maneuvering, the tribune is altered, and in the dead of night, Paul is sent away on a two-day trip from Jerusalem to Caesarea under heavy guard. Though all of this must have been supremely terrifying in the moment, there is also a sense that God is up to something—something purposeful, something meaningful.
It’s easy to look at Paul’s dramatic, purposeful life and think that he was doing something right. But I think that would be missing the fuller story. Luke (the presumed author of Acts) includes a tiny detail in this narrative that can nearly escape the eye. It wasn’t just any young boy who alerted Claudius Lysias of the plot to kill Paul. He is unnamed, but we’re told he was “the son of Paul’s sister” (Acts 23:16).
We do not know how Paul’s nephew heard of this ambush. Did he walk through the market and overhear someone whispering? Was he buying eggs from a woman who let the gossip slip? Or did he happen to hitch up his donkey near some loud-talking would-be-murderers? We will never know. But nonetheless, at great risk to himself, he bravely informed Paul of the plans, and then informed a centurion and the tribune as well. He snitched. I wonder, when all was said and done, if that mob of forty men learned of this young boy’s actions. Was he safe after this? Even if no one learned of his identity, I have to imagine the boy went through the next few years of his life worried that the Jewish leaders might find out what he’d done. If they were willing to kill Paul, what would they do to this nameless young kid?
Oh, to be an unnamed character in God’s great story. What I wouldn’t give to play such a supporting role in the work God is doing in the redemption of the world! I think, as a child, that is mostly what I wanted. Not activity or entertainment, but meaning. I wanted to believe that God might put me to use.
And the great news is—He does! He prepares good works for me to do in advance, works that will require great courage. And I do not have to go looking for those works. Just as the son of Paul’s sister found an opportunity for faith and courage, I do not have to strive to find God’s plan for my life. After all, it’s His plan, not mine. I can stay where I am—doing “this,” as my mother always said—trusting that God is with me, and that if I am present to Him, He will give me and guide me in everything I need to fulfill His calling on my life.