HOW TO LIVE BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
SERIES: PAUL, AN INSTRUMENT OF THE RISEN CHRIST
by Ron Ritchie
I receive a magazine called Mission USSR which contains the
stories of Soviet Christian prisoners. One of the stories this month is
"Surviving the 'Valley of Death,'" the testimony of Valentina
who was arrested at the age of 28 for transporting Christian Literature
within the Soviet Union. After awaiting trial for six months, she was assigned
an atheist public defender. Valentina knew this would not work for their
philosophies clashed violently. She realized at her trial that the judge
and his assistants were prejudiced against her, and it was clear that the
case was being directed by someone behind the scenes. She was finally sentenced
to five years imprisonment beginning January 28, l982.
After her trial, she was transported to a Siberian camp called the "valley
of death" by the prisoners because of the high mortality rate and spread
of tuberculosis. She was completely cut off from her physical and spiritual
families and all the things familiar to her. Without the comfort of her
Bible and surrounded by prisoners spying on and cursing each other, she
said, "There were periods when it seemed I couldn't pray, that the
heavens were sealed up and silent."
That is what I call living between a rock and a hard place. Valentina was
separated from all that brings joy to the heart and soul. Being cut off
from her family, friends and fellowship, she was cast into the very "valley
of death" surrounded by the spiritually dead. There she discovered
her soul had no desire to pray. At this point, the believer feels cut off
from the Lord Jesus Christ, our only source of life. I am sure most of us
have experienced this ourselves from time to time.
As believers, how are we to live between a rock and a hard place--a place
where there appears to be no hope from heaven or earth? This is the subject
I want to address. Many of us have been there, are there, and shall be
there in the days ahead. That is what life is about on this earth.
In Acts 23:11-35, we will continue our study in the life of the apostle
Paul of whom our Risen Lord said, "A chosen instrument of Mine to bear
My name before the Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel for I will
show him how much he must suffer for My name sake." In studying the
life of Paul, as in the study of all the men and women of Scripture, we
can glean spiritual principles that will strengthen us in the most difficult
of times, the seasons of suffering between a rock and a hard place. Not
only will we be strengthened in our own lives, but we will also be able
to strengthen others as well.
Before we look at the passage, let us set the stage by putting it in context.
The year was 57 A.D. Paul was at the end of his third missionary journey.
He had gone through all the churches in Greece to collect funds for the
"Jewish Famine Relief Fund" which he planned on delivering himself
in Jerusalem. He also wanted to go in order to share the gospel with the
Jews one more time during the celebration of Pentecost.
When he arrived, he met with James and the elders and then proceeded to
the temple area in order to dispel rumors that he was against the Jews and
the law. He went with four brothers to participate in purification rites.
While there, some Ephesian Jews who had rejected his message about Jesus
being the Jewish Messiah spotted him. They grabbed him and knocked him to
the ground. They gathered thousands of Jews around them, and said, "This
is the man who is against the Law of Moses and the Temple. He proclaims
Jesus as the Christ. This man has even taken a Greek beyond the 'Dividing
Wall' within the temple. That calls for his death!"
They would have killed him there on the spot were it not for the Romans.
Knowing the nature of the Jews, the Romans had built a garrison on the grounds
near the temple. From there, they saw the riot, ran down the steps, and
rescued Paul. As he was being lead back up the steps overlooking the temple
grounds, Paul asked permission to speak and gave his testimony to the angry
crowd. He also spoke of Christ's resurrection and Messiahship. This caused
another riot! The Romans grabbed him and took him inside in order to save
his life. There they discovered he was a Roman Citizen.
Finally The Roman Colonel Claudius Lysias took Paul to the Jewish Supreme
Court and placed him before the High Priest, the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
He asked them to solve his dilemma. Again Paul stepped up and for the third
time took the opportunity to share about Jesus Christ and said, "Am
I on trial today for speaking about our hope and the resurrection from the
dead?" As soon as he spoke these words, another riot broke out because
the Sadducees and Pharisees held opposite views on the resurrection. The
Sadducees did not believe in it and the Pharisees did. Claudius again had
to rescue Paul and take him back to the Rome barracks.
Here we find Paul between a rock and a hard place--alone and without his
Christian friends. He was discouraged over the Jewish response to his good
news about the Messiah. He was in between a rock, the protective custody
of the Romans, and a hard place, the murderous intent of the Ephesian Jews,
as well as that of the Supreme Court. At this point, we will be encouraged
to see through Paul's adventures in the age of the Spirit how we can live
between a rock and a hard place.
I. Take courage in the protection of the Risen Lord, Acts 23:11-22
But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his
side and said,"Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to
My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also." And when
it was day, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under an oath,
saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul.
And there was more than forty who formed this plot. And they came to the
chief priests and the elders, and said, "We have bound ourselves under
a solemn oath to take nothing until we have killed Paul. Now, therefore,
you and the Council notify the commander to bring him down to you, as though
you were going to determine his case by a more thorough investigation; and
we for our part are ready to slay him before he comes near the place."
But the son of Paul's sister heard of their ambush, and he came and entered
the barracks and told Paul. And Paul called one of the centurions to him
and said, "Lead this young man to the commander, for he has something
to report to him." So he took him and led him to the commander and
said, "Paul the prisoner called me to him and asked me to lead this
young man to you since he has something to tell you." And the commander
took him by the hand and stepping aside, began to inquire of him privately,
"What is it that you have to report to me?" And he said, "The
Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down tomorrow to the council,
as though you were going to inquire somewhat more thoroughly about him.
So do not listen to them, for more than forty of them are lying in wait
for him who have bound themselves under a curse not to eat or drink until
they slay him; and now they are ready and waiting for the promise from you."
Therefore the commander let the young man go, instructing him, "Tell
no one that you have notified me of these things."
1. Take courage: Jesus is our Risen Lord
First, we want to look at verse 11. Luke says that on the night immediately
following all this pressure, the Lord stood at Paul's side and said, "Take
courage." Why was Paul to take courage?
Jesus Christ is alive and present! Jesus Christ is aware of who you are
and where you are and what is going on. This is the same Lord Jesus Christ
who in his resurrection gave the disciples the Great Commission of Matthew
28 and added, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
He is next to us, inside of us, and around us! This is why he could tell
Paul to take courage. This was the fourth time in the book of Acts that
the Lord shows up for Paul during a time of hardship and discouragement.
Paul was defeated and helpless, sensing his ministry was over as he sat
in the chains of Rome.
Why can we take courage? Jesus is our source of encouragement. One of the
most exciting aspects of the Lord's ministry to his disciples in every generation
is the foundational truth that he is our consistent source of encouragement
in the midst of life's most difficult experiences.
Remember the story of the paralytic whose life had been so filled with sin,
shame and guilt that it had caused him to be in a state of spiritual and
physical helplessness and hopelessness. Seeing him in the midst of this
rock and a hard place, his friends took him to Jesus who had come to Capernaum.
They carried him on a stretcher to the house where Jesus was staying. Because
of the crowds, they went up on the roof, cut open a hole and lowered him
down before Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, "Take
courage, my son, your sins are forgiven." Take courage! Because Jesus
is the only one who can forgive sin.
I love the story of the disciples crossing the Lake of Galilee. A great
storm came up and battered them all night so that by morning they were in
peril of their lives. Just as they realized they were between a rock and
a hard place, who should be walking by on top of the waves? None other
then Jesus himself! When the disciples saw him, they thought they were
looking at a ghost and cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to
them, "Take courage, it is I. Do not be afraid." Take courage!
Because Jesus is the only one who can calm the sea.
On the night he was betrayed, Jesus said to his disciples, "In this
world you have tribulation, but take courage. I have overcome the world."
Take courage! Because Jesus is the only one who has overcome the world system.
Jesus is telling Paul, "I understand who you are and what you have
been doing. Take courage. I know you have been faithfully witnessing in
Jerusalem. You have witnessed in word and deed by going to the temple. I
am with you and I see it." Paul was faithfully witnessing to his Lordship
and to his being the Appointed One. Yet Paul never experienced one conversion
in all of that witnessing. We are responsible to witness everywhere we
go, every chance we get, every person we meet. But the results are not the
issue. The issue is that we are to be witnesses. We cannot save anyone.
Jesus is the only Savior. The commandment in Acts 1:8 is: "You shall
receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be of
Me Witnesses." The issue is that we are to have a life style of witnessing--only
the Lord is able to save anyone.
Jesus tells Paul he will be a witness in Rome as he was in Jerusalem--in
chains. He says, "You will be held captive, but I will bring an audience
to you." Not only are we to take courage in the fact that Jesus is
alive, we are to take courage in the reality that Jesus is our protection
in the most amazing ways.
2. Take courage: Jesus is our protection
Verse 16 says, "But the son of Paul's sister heard of their ambush..."
The Jews had taken a vow to neither eat or drink until they had killed Paul.
Paul not only faced the pressure of the Romans and the pressure of the supreme
court, now he had the pressure of some forty zealots who wanted to kill
him. Then there is verse 16.
First, Paul is to take courage because Jesus is aware of evil men. Second,
Jesus provides the but's in living. God is in charge! This happens again
and again throughout Scripture. But--what a wonderful word when placed in
the hands of Jesus Christ! How many times in the Scripture have you read
of God's wonderful but's that appear in the midst of the rocks and hard
Look at Joseph in prison in Egypt. He was there because his jealous brothers
had sold him into slavery, but he ended up being the vice president of Egypt
in charge of the grain bins in preparation for the coming seven-year famine.
How did he get there? Joseph tells how he got there in Genesis 15:18-20.
When his brothers found out who he was, he replied, "Do not be afraid,
for am I in God's place. And as for you, you meant evil against me, but
God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result to preserve
many people alive."
Paul writes about the prisoner Jesus in Acts 13:28-30: "And when they
found no grounds for putting Him to death , they asked Pilate that He be
executed. And when they had carried out all that was written concerning
Him they took Him down from the Cross and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised
Him from the dead."
Peter was arrested and faced imminent execution. King Agrippa had just killed
James the brother of John. Peter was next in line. Agrippa was going to
make the Jews happy by killing him. While in prison, the apostle was surrounded
by four squads of soldiers. There was no chance for escape. But prayer
for him was fervently being offered by the church of God, and an angel of
the Lord was sent to free him.
We too were prisoners once. Ephesians 2:1-4 says, "We were dead in
our trespasses and sins...But God, being rich, because of his great love
with which He loved us,...made us alive in Christ..."
"But the son of Paul's sister..."--I looked everywhere for references
to Paul's sister and his nephew. There is no mention of them anywhere. They
were set on the side of history all of Paul's life so that they would be
in the right place at the right time, when Paul was between a rock and a
hard place. God said, "Nephew, it is time to go on stage. Get out there!"
That is incredible!
We have to live with that reality. That is possible because Jesus Christ
is alive and he is in charge of history. It is his story! When he writes
a story, no matter how difficult the plot appears, he just says it is time
and moves in with a but. He could use an angel, a brother, an earthquake,
or a fish. The rock and the hard place dissolves--spiritually guaranteed!
Emotionally we may still suffer and physically the hard place may still
be there, but spiritually we will be freed.
Remember our Soviet sister Valentina who was in "the valley of death."
Talk about a rock and hard place! She went on to say:
The conditions in camp were disheartening...I had prayed before
being sent there that wherever God sent me, He would give me the strength
to fulfill the work quota. At first, things were very hard physically,
of course, but [italics mine] God preserved me in His mercy, through the
prayers of my friends and the church. Sometimes I didn't even have the
strength to pray, but could only raise my eyes to heaven in a silent cry.
In His mercy the Lord sent me a Christian sister...Natasha...a wonderful
Christian, of sterling character, full of peace, and it was evident that
the Lord was present with her. We always tried to support one another in
the arms of prayer.
What a testimony of God's presence, encouragement and protection!
How do we live between a rock and a hard place? We take courage in the protection
of the risen Lord. There is a second reason for our courage.
II. Take courage in the provision of the Risen Lord, 23:23-35
And he called to him two of the centurions, and said, "Get
two hundred soldiers ready by the third hour of the night to proceed to
Caesarea, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen." They were
also to provide mounts to put Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the
governor. And he wrote a letter having this form:
"Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor Felis, greetings.
When this man was arrested by the Jews and was about to be slain by them,
I came upon them with the troops and rescued him, having learned that he
was a Roman. And wanting to ascertain the charge for which they were accusing
him, I brought him down to their Council; and I found him to be accused
over questions about their Law, but under no accusation deserving death
or imprisonment. And when I was informed that there would be a plot against
the man, I sent him to you at once, also instructing his accusers to bring
charges against him before you."
So the soldiers, in accordance with their orders, took Paul and brought
him by night to Antipatris. But the next day, leaving the horsemen to go
on with him, they returned to the barracks. And when these had come to Caesarea
and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him.
And when he had read it, he asked from what province he was; and when he
learned that he was from Cilicia, he said, "I will give you a hearing
after your accusers arrive also," giving orders for him to be kept
in Herod's Praetorium.
Once the murderous plot was uncovered, the risen Lord cranked up the Roman
Empire to provide transportation and protection for the new Chairman of
his Evangelism Committee dedicated to spreading of the gospel among the
Gentiles, Kings and Jews within the Roman Empire. The Romans provided an
abundance of free body guards. There were 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen, and
200 spearmen--470 men assigned to protect Paul. Even if you attacked the
group, you probably would not have been able to find Paul among them! The
Romans also provided free transportation. Paul was given two or more horses
for the sixty-mile journey. And they provided a letter of introduction to
Felix, the Roman Governor of Caesarea.
The Lord even provided a wonderful hotel room--Herod's personal quarters.
G. Campbell Morgan says, "The Palace of Herod was used by the Lord
as a safe place for His Servant. It was a prison, but a prison is a palace
when the Lord provides it for his servant Paul." If you ever go to
Caesarea, you can see the ruins where Paul was imprisoned.
Valentina our Soviet prisoner stayed in the "valley of death"
for the full five years. She was finally released in l987 at the age of
32. When she was asked, "Don't you regret the years that you wasted
here?" she answered,
If the Son of God willingly went to Calvary for me, what in comparison is
giving five years of my earthly life?...The ministry He gave me in the prison
camp was the work He wanted me to do. He put me there and required only
that I be faithful to Him....He gave me the health and strength to remain
faithful to Him. And through His mercy and power through the prayers of
His people, He enabled me to be victorious.
Jesus is alive! And Jesus, our Risen Lord, is at work, regardless of where
we are. For those of you who are at this moment between a rock and a hard
place, when it seems that the heavens are brass and that you have been forsaken
by your family and friends, you need to remember that the Risen Lord is
invisible but present. Take courage for he will protect and provide in the
midst of the pressure. In time, we will have the blessing of experiencing
in the midst of the spiritual, emotional and physical pressure the "but's"
of God. Then we will be able to encourage others when they find themselves
in the same place. We will be able to say, "Yes, that happened to me
too, but do you know what our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus did? Be encouraged!
Not only did he protect me, he also provided for me. All this is possible
because he is alive!"
Catalog No. 4108
Ron R. Ritchie
July 10, 19888
Copyright © 1988 Discovery
Publishing, a ministry of Peninsula
Bible Church. This data file is the sole property of Discovery Publishing,
a ministry of Peninsula Bible Church. It may be copied only in its entirety
for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must
contain the above copyright notice. This data file may not be copied in
part, edited, revised, copied for resale or incorporated in any commercial
publications, recordings, broadcasts, performances, displays or other products
offered for sale, without the written permission of Discovery Publishing.
Requests for permission should be made in writing and addressed to Discovery
Publishing, 3505 Middlefield Rd. Palo Alto, CA. 94306-3695.