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.” (Acts 23:11)
The scene in the assembly of the Sanhedrin is intense and chaotic, starting with a very personal confrontation between Paul and the High Priest. Paul, understanding the latent tension between Pharisees and Sadducess over theological issues, fans the flames by declaring the key issue in his own case to be the hope of resurrection. The theologically liberal Sadducees are incensed. The more orthodox Pharisees spring to his defense. “What if a spirit or angel has spoken to him?” they protest (verse 9). So violent are the emotions that the Roman commander intervenes, extracting Paul from the storm, fearing for his life.
The scene that immediately follows contrasts starkly. Gone is the violently shouting horde. Instead, Paul quietly alone, receives divine revelation. Not according to the Pharisees expectation – a visitation from spirit or angel. Rather, with intimacy and immediacy, it is the Lord himself. Luke reports that “the Lord stood near Paul,”making this scene so tangible, so immediate, so intimate.
“Take courage!” When the Lord speaks this, you know you’re covered. It’s not just a wishful “buck-up-and-get-on-with-it” slap on the back. There’s foundation – unshakable foundation. The road ahead may not be easy (as the succeeding chapters attest), but the Lord has you covered. Indeed, this sentence, short as it is, covers all the lead-up to this moment as Paul received the balancing revelations from the Spirit of encouragement to press forward and warning of what was to come. If Paul had ever questioned his own commitment to press on to Jerusalem, this short phrase would seal it.
We have received similar words:
“Go and make disciples of all nations … And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus … Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1, 3).
“Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God …”(Ephesians 6:10-11).
And more. Much more.
The Lord stands near. The Lord has spoken. He has us in his sights. His calling is on our lives. Take heart, our Lord has overcome the world.
Dear Lord, thank you for the immediacy of your presence. Thank you for your calling and revelation and promises. Praise you that you are strong. I place my trust in you, renewing it this day, choosing to follow wherever you lead.
Reflect: Take one of the verses above (or another promise of your choosing) and pray into it right now. Call it to mind throughout the day. Walk in its encouragement.