Take courage! – Acts 23:11 ESV
Circumstances can have a powerful impact on us. When things are going well, we can be cheerful, upbeat, and confident. Then in a matter of minutes, our mood can change dramatically. We can become downcast, dark, and depressed – all as a result of one simple change to our circumstance. In many ways, we are controlled by our circumstances – by what is happening around us and to us. The same thing was true for Paul. He had good days and bad days. Acts 23 records one of his bad days. He has been dragged out of the Temple by a mob of irate Jews who mistakenly think he had taken a Gentile into the Temple. They are so angry, they intend to kill him. He is rescued by the Romans, but things continue to heat up as Paul attempts to defend himself before the High Priest and the Sanhedrin. Once again, the Roman commander has to step in and rescue Paul to keep him from being "torn to pieces." Now that's what I call a bad day!
A Gentle Reminder
That night, under guard and the protection of the Romans, Paul gets a visitor. It was Jesus Himself. Verse 11 tells us "the Lord stood at his side." In the midst of his difficult circumstances, Paul finds he is not alone. At the time when Paul could have been at his lowest emotionally, the Lord shows up. Sitting alone in that barracks in the darkness of night, knowing that the Jews are out to kill him and his ministry could come to a violent end at any time, Paul was in need of a reminder. He needed to be told once again that Jesus was at his side. But he also need to hear the words the Lord had to say to him:
Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome. – Acts 23:11 ESV
Not only was Jesus with Paul, He had words of encouragement for him. He told Paul exactly what he needed to hear at that moment. He tells him to "take courage!" Other versions translate that word, "be of good cheer." "be of good heart," and "be encouraged." The word literally means to be courageous or bold. Jesus would not have shared these words if Paul had not needed to hear them. Paul was probably suffering from a lack of courage. He wasn't feeling particularly bold. He was probably not experiencing a lot of "good cheer" as he thought about what the next day might hold.
But Jesus said, "take courage!" Why? Because He had other plans for Paul. He wasn't going to let a few bent-out-of-shape Jewish religious leaders derail His plans for Paul's life. Paul had a job to do in Rome and the Lord reminds Him of that.
A valuable lesson
Paul's visit from the Savior didn't change his circumstances. In fact, the next morning was going to bring more bad news. Not only were the Jews out to kill him, a group of forty of them had made a pact not to eat or drink until they murdered Paul. So things actually got worse, not better. But that didn't really matter for Paul, because he had the guarantee of the Lord Himself that nothing was going to prevent him from going to Rome. So Paul wasn't going to let his circumstances dictate his outlook.
Paul learned a valuable lesson that day – one he later shared with other brothers and sisters in Christ who were also going through difficult circumstances. You find Paul using this theme of courage throughout his letters. What Jesus shared with him that night in a Roman barracks became the message he shared with persecuted believers throughout the world. And it a message we still need to hear today. Paul uses the same words (tharseo) that Jesus used in his own letters.
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. – 2 Corinthians 5:6 ESV
Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. – 2 Corinthians 5:8 ESV
I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you. – 2 Corinthians 7:16 ESV
So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” – Hebrews 13:6 ESV
So we can be hopeful and confident in the midst of our circumstances. Why? Because Christ is with us and because He is not done with us. He has a plan and He is working it out to perfection. We do not fear what men will do to us. We don't have to fear circumstances. We can trust the Lord. We can be bold, confident, and hopeful of the future, because the Lord is at our side.
Father, help me believe that. Let me find my confidence and hope in You and not my circumstances. Because circumstances change, but You do not. Circumstances can disappoint, but You never do. Circumstances are a lousy test of truth, but You are truth. Help me see Your Son Jesus Christ at my side each and every day, regardless of what is going on around me. Keep reminding me that You have a plan for me and You are working it out in Your time. I can trust You. Amen