Acts23v12to35: CLAUDIUS LYSIAS.

(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

The Lord assured Paul that he must testify in Rome: "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." v11. In the providence of God Paul did. It was providential that Paul had a nephew in Jerusalem at the time of his last visit to the city and that Claudius Lysias, a decent man, was commander of the garrison. Claudius was an honourable soldier and God used him to protect Paul and to provide safe conduct on the first stage of his journey to Rome. So in this exposition I am going to draw some lessons from the character of Claudius.

(B) Claudius was highly competent.

Felix the governor of Judea was a political appointment. His brother, Pallas, was the favourite of Nero and secured the governorship for Felix. It is likely that Claudius rose through the ranks to become a Tribune by merit. He was not privileged to be born a Roman but saved his pay and was able eventually to purchase citizenship. There are several indications of Claudius' competence. He was:

    (1) Prompt.
    When news of a riot reached Claudius: He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. Ch21v32. Prompt action is always a sign of competence. Britain is bedevilled by dilatoriness. Nowhere is this more evident than in the National Health Service. The waiting lists are a scandal. I was appalled to read in my daily newspaper of the way that police reacted to a shooting which left two women bleeding to death. A neighbour went to the women's aid but the police, despite reassurances from the neighbour that the killer had fled, refused to secure the property and admit paramedics for a whole hour by which time both women were dead. I don't call that competence.

    It is important for Christians to respond promptly - when someone is in trouble - whether it be an illness, an accident, a bereavement, redundancy, family problems or a failure. I am afraid that we are often slow to act when a brother or sister is drifting or falling away from the faith.

    (2) Brave.
    Claudius ran down into the seething crowd himself. He didn't send others to investigate. He was a 'hands on' commander and as such quite prepared to put himself in danger.

    I am at present slowly working my way through a biography of John Calvin. When Calvin was ministering in Geneva there was a terrible plague. Very few of the reformed divines, including Calvin, were prepared to minister to the dying for fear of the plague. Calvin's biographer claims that he was afraid of sickness and death. Only one divine, Pierre Blanchet, volunteered to bring comfort to the dying two years in succession. He died on June 1st 1543 a victim of duty. What will count for most on judgement day - John Calvin's Institutes or Pierre Blanchet's sacrificial love?

    (3) Reasonable.
    Paul asked Lysias if he might speak to the Jewish people from the steps of the Roman barracks. The commander gave his permission. Many would not have done so. They would have hustled Paul inside the barracks thinking that he had caused enough trouble as it was.

    Dissidents should be allowed their say. If someone disagrees with the policy of a local church they should be heard patiently. Some years ago a church had to leave our association of churches because it could not commit itself to our articles of faith. The pastor of the church wanted a hearing at the Annual Business Meeting of the Association. This was refused and I believe that was wrong. He should have been allowed to make a statement.

    (4) Ruthless.
    Lysias was quite prepared for Paul to be flogged to extract a confession from him. This was a flogging such as Jesus received. The thongs of the whip were studded with bone and metal fragments. A man subject to such a flogging could be ruined for life.

    It was impossible for Lysias to do his job of keeping the peace in Jerusalem without being ruthless. Ruthlessness is not a quality I admire at all but it may be necessary in church life under certain circumstances. A Christian may need to be excluded from church membership if he or she rejects the authority of Christ or the church leadership.

    (5) Approachable.
    When Paul, stretched out for a flogging, questioned the legality of the procedure the centurion in charge went straight to the commander who returned at once to the torture chamber.

    Another centurion had no qualms about taking Paul's nephew to Lysias. He had no fear that the commander would tell him off for wasting his time.

    Claudius was the sort of senior army officer who was always available to his subordinates and ready to listen to what they had to tell him.

    Some people are more approachable than others. It is not easy being approachable. Lots of problems get laid at your door. I was never very approachable as either a schoolteacher or as a church leader. It was not a deliberate policy on my part but something to do with my personality. So I have rarely been asked for advice by anyone with a problem. My brother Paul, on the other hand, who is a more amiable individual, is given many difficult situations to sort out. I have a much easier life than Paul! We all have different gifts and there is a place in the church for the agony aunt/uncle.

    (6) Sagacious.
    Lysias showed good judgement in weighing Paul up and assessing the value of his nephew's testimony. He backed his judgement with the right decisions and appropriate action. He sent Paul to safety the very night he heard of the assassination plot - sending him out of Jerusalem at 9pm under cover of darkness.

    Sagacity is a very valuable quality in many walks of life. Our old village doctor had it. He could discern between those who were genuinely in trouble from those who were malingering. Church leaders need it - to distinguish between those who really want to solve their problems from those who use their problems to seek attention.

    (7) Thorough.
    A handyman was employed at one of the schools at which I taught. He was always willing to help. No one could have shown greater enthusiasm to assist. However, he always bodged the jobs he was asked to do. The commander of the Jerusalem garrison was not like that. He made absolutely sure that Paul arrived safely in Caesarea. Paul was escorted by a detatchment of 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen and two hundred spearmen or auxiliaries. The Greek word translated 'spearmen' is unknown. It is most likely that a squad of 290 soldiers would be accompanied by baggage handlers, water carriers, grooms, cooks and the like. Some would argue that Lysias overdid it! He knew the fanaticism of the Jews and he was taking no chances.

    It is always a great pleasure when someone does a thorough going good job. We have a grass-cutting rota for the graveyard of our chapel. Ken never forgets. He picks up all the cut grass and carries it away. He strims the narrow spaces between the graves. He leaves the graveyard in which his teen-age daughter is buried in apple pie order.

    On Thursday, June 24th 2004 I read in the Daily Telegraph of the death of Eva Lancaster, a Red Cross nurse whose career took her from wartime hospital ships to strife-torn Kenya, Cyprus and Vietnam. She served in the Seychelles, where malnutrition and TB were rife. The terrain was so rocky that even her Land Rover refused the slopes. Thus she walked, carrying her medicines in a rucksack, to every part of the island. Her mission to eliminate TB was successful. In each trouble spot to which she was sent Eva did work of outstanding quality.

    Christians should adopt this approach when serving the Lord. Nothing excuses us from being bodgers in Christ's service - however humdrum the task.

(C) Claudius was humane.

Claudius showed he was benevolent by:

    (1) Allowing Paul to have visitors. Paul's nephew had access to his uncle. It is possible the young man was between 12 and 14 years old. He may have been left, like Paul, to study in Jerusalem after his 12th birthday.

    (2) His tender treatment of Paul's nephew. The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, "What is it you want to tell me?" I think the phrase, took the young man by the hand, is very revealing. It shows Claudius was a kind-hearted man who dealt with the young and inexperienced gently and affectionately.

    (3) The trouble he took to protect Paul. He rescued him from danger on three occasions. Perhaps, we should show more appreciation towards those who rescue men and women in danger - mountain rescuers, paramedics and life boatmen.

Christ in his humanity had compassion on sinners. Out of loving pity he died to save us.

            In loving kindness Jesus came,
            My soul in mercy to reclaim
            And from the depths of sin and shame
            Through grace He lifted me.

            From sinking sand He lifted me;
            With tender hand he lifted me;
            From shades of night to plains of light
            O praise his name, He lifted me.

(D) Claudius had a good relationship with Paul.

Claudius appears to have formed a good opinion of Paul. He was kind to Paul's nephew. Years ago people who liked my father were good to me. I had several preaching engagements on the strength of my father's popularity. Claudius informed Felix, the governor, that Paul had done nothing that deserved death or imprisonment.

Some commentators have wondered how Paul and Luke knew the contents of Claudius' letter to Felix. There are several possible explanations. Perhaps the Governor read the letter out loud in Paul's presence. Luke informs us: "The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, he said, "I will hear your case when your accusers get here." v34. However I like to think that Claudius showed Paul the letter that he had written to Felix. He came down to Paul's cell and said, "Look, this is what I have written to the governor."

Claudius was well disposed towards Paul because:

    (1) He was sympathetic to anyone who fell foul of the fractious Jews.

    (2) He had witnessed Paul's courage and spirited behaviour. Courage was a quality they had in common.

    (3) The apostle was unlike most Jews. He was friendly towards the Gentiles. He was not prejudiced against the Romans. Neither was Paul the sort of man to threaten the commander for stretching him out for a flogging. Paul was magnanimous and forgiving. We shall see later in the story of the Acts how Julius, the centurion who conducted Paul to Rome, respected his prisoner.

It is to Cladius' credit that he admired a good man. I am afraid that there are many things we may admire before goodness - beauty, charm, accomplishments ..... . I had my hair cut today - a rare event! As I sat waiting to be shorn I picked up the local paper. In it was the story of a woman who had been in agony for nearly 10 years because of the appalling incompetence of her dentist. She had paid him 58 visits to have her teeth capped. The dentist had stuffed her cavities with cotton wool and the caps were so badly fitted the cotton wool rotted and infected her teeth. Asked to explain why she had not made a fuss earlier the woman replied, "He seemed such a nice man!"

The greatest tragedy of all was that Jesus was not respected for his goodness. Perhaps he wasn't nice but he was full of grace and truth - yet rejected. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. John1v11.

The men and women we should admire are the humble-hearted and self controlled, those who long for God and serve him with integrity, the actively kind and those who help others to succeed. They according to Jesus are the truly blessed.

(E) Claudius was not perfect.

Claudius Lysias' letter to Felix was not quite accurate. He portrayed himself in the best possible light even if this meant bending the truth. Claudius wrote: I came with my troops and rescued him for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen! That wasn't exactly true. Claudius was not keen to admit the mistake he made.

Very few tell the whole truth if it shows them in a bad light. We hate admitting that we have made a mistake. In the Daily Telegraph of Thursday June 24th was the headline, 'Cricketers still argue over 51-year-old dropped catch.' Robin Marlar, a former captain of Sussex County Cricket Club, reckoned that Sussex failed to win the County Championship in 1953 because of a dropped catch off his bowling by wicket keeper, Rupert Webb. Mr Webb denies he ever dropped the catch! Somebody is mistaken but neither party is going to admit it!

The reason we find it so hard to acknowledge a mistake is down to pride. It was pride that caused our downfall in the first place and it was pride that kept both Adam and Eve owning up to their disobedience.

Many Christians who are prepared to confess that they are sinners in general find it excruciatingly difficult to apologise for a mistake in particular.

(F) Conclusion.

However good, admirable or worthy a man is he still needs saving. The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us: whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake. In some walls the snake may be buried deep - but, be sure - it will be there somewhere. See exposition on Eccles10.