“Grow” Series articles are not expositions. They are efforts to take one aspect of the passage and expound on its application for us today. Join the study for a more in-depth conversation!

Acts 23

Every first inning, as I jotted to my position between first and second base, I was nervous. The nerves went from my arms down to my shaking hands. To kill the anxiety, I would bend my glove, jump up and down, and look into the crowd. Was he there? 

My dad never missed a game. He was my biggest fan, my greatest cheerleader, and a source of great comfort. His presence settled the shaking. I knew I could put my head down and play to the best of my ability. 

People, phrases, and places are often sources of great comfort in times of trouble. They offer a sense of security, assurance, or grace when we need it most. A certain phrase may point to a bigger picture. A place may bring memories of better times. On the field, the presence of my dad reminded me I was more than the sum of my stats. 

The point is that we can’t remain in a constant state of safety, joy, purpose, and endurance on our own. We need something outside of ourselves to orient us to reality and bring perspective. 

In Acts 23, Paul found himself in jail discouraged, weary, and probably doubtful. Paul, a man of great conduct, endurance, and passion needed comfort. We are reminded of Paul’s humanity, and our humanity, as Jesus enters the scene. 

A Person

Paul has walked through many trials. He has experienced a level of persecution most of us will never understand. His mission was clear: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name (Acts 9:15-16).” 

People are Paul’s mission. He travels, ministers, encourages, teaches, and gathers. But amidst the many, there is only One who can comfort him. In Acts 23, Paul is ripped from an angry mob–again–and placed in the barracks to await the authority’s decision. Likely discouraged by the hostility of the Jews, weary from constantly being on guard, and doubting whether or not he was fulfilling his calling, Scripture says that Jesus stood next to him. 

Jesus knew Paul’s heart, predicament, and future. He promised in Matthew 28, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus wasn’t absent before this moment. Paul was not abandoned or forsaken but had the helper, the Holy Spirit, dwelling inside him and Jesus himself ruling and reigning in heaven. Paul’s situation was not out of touch with the sovereignty of God. But in his kindness, Jesus made a direct appearance to comfort him.

Jesus is the person we look for in the crowd to calm our nerves. His grace, wisdom, sympathy, mercy, and love are available at all times to quiet our souls.1 

A Phrase

How does he comfort? He tells Paul “take courage.” A phrase that can also be translated “good cheer.” Jesus is known for this phrase right before he proves himself to be the Son of God full of power, grace, and truth. He gives this command before healing a paralytic man, a woman suffering from bleeding, while he walks on water, and so on2

Far better than cultural phrases like “it’ll all be ok” and “you can do it” is the exuberant command “take courage.” Courage in what? In the reality that Jesus is the Son of God who holds the power we need, the grace we need, and the truth we need to endure, press on, and heal. In other words, look to Christ. 

Jesus stood with us and for us at the cross so surely he stands with us and for us now. 

This is the phrase Paul needed from the only person who could give it–take courage. 

A Place

Jail is not where one would typically find comfort. But in Paul’s life, this is a full-circle moment. Up until this chapter, Paul has been divinely spared3 longsuffering in jail. The time has come and the narrative is turning on a hinge. Paul will learn that God is not just for us when we are freed from physical suffering but also while we endure it4

Jail becomes the place where Jesus sheds light on the bigger picture, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).”

Jail does not trump the gospel. And likewise, all suffering of any kind does not trump the gospel, but it is through those circumstances that we are reminded of God’s sovereign good. He will use the jail cells, the valleys, and the corners as a springboard for the gospel. 

As we wake up to another day of whatever discouragement, weariness, shame, doubt, or trial we face, take courage. Jesus stood for you on the cross and he stands with you now.

  1. Matthew 11:28-30 ↩︎
  2. Matthew 9:2; Matthew 9:22; Matthew 14:27; John 16:33 ↩︎
  3. Acts 14,16 ↩︎
  4. Paul has certainly walked through suffering but this turn in his story makes one wonder, is God still in control? Is God still accomplishing his mission if Paul remains in jail? He is! ↩︎

Comfort In a Jail Cell


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