Digging Deeper: Identifying the Main Event in a Narrative

Reading: Acts 21:18—23:35

The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (Act 23:11)

Over the past two Sundays we’ve examined Paul’s time in Jerusalem in Acts 21–23. In trying to discern the main point or points of a longer story like this, there are a guidelines one should keep in mind. They help you understand the point of the text – the primary reason why God gave this particular passage to the church. So this past Sunday, for instance, I let one verse, Acts 23:11, guide our understanding of what is almost three entire chapters. Why? Because it is the main event.

How do we know that Acts 23:11 is the main event in this longer narrative account? Why not the attempt to beat Paul to death, the rescue by the Roman commander, Paul’s speech on the steps of the temple, the revelation of Paul’s citizenship, the meeting before the Sanhedrin, the plot to kill Paul, the intervention by Paul’s nephew, or the trip accompanied by many soldiers to Caesarea? While there is no question, that if these scenes were put into a movie, these events might be more suspenseful, they are not the main event.

Of course in a general sense, it is always good to remember that God is the main character in Scripture, and that it is all ultimately about Jesus Christ. Since Jesus is the one speaking in this verse it is important. But I’m not talking about this only in the theological sense, but also the literary sense. In this text there are three theophanies – three visions of Jesus recounted. Any time you have an appearance of God in a text, that is the main event. Three appearances… Jesus is certainly the main character.

One of those stands out. The appearance of Jesus on the Damascus road receives the most space, but it was in the past. The appearance of Jesus on Paul’s first return to Jerusalem is brief and provoked a great rage from the people, but was also in the past. But the appearance of Jesus that occurs during the time of the text (23:11) is the only theophany within the text. It therefore is the main event.
As the main event, how does Jesus’ appearance in 23:11 shape our understanding of the whole? Paul has been falsely accused; the Jews attempted to beat him to death; he has been put in chains; stretched out for flogging… which can result in either death or life long disability; twice the crowds call for his execution, “Away with him!”; has been slapped in the face before the Sanhedrin, and then nearly pulled apart. Now, he is back in protective custody in the barracks. It is in that context that we read: The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (Act 23:11)

Despite Paul’s sufferings and lack of “supernatural” deliverance; Jesus is still present with Him and guiding. Paul’s future is sure. No matter who appears to be in control, Jesus is! The main event in Paul’s Jerusalem excursion is only one verse, but oh what an important verse it is.

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

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