Friday, June 15, 2018

Acts 22:30- 23:12 ”Living Before God With A Clear Conscience!”

Paul’s travelling missionary career abruptly   ended  when  he  came to  Jerusalem. He had been pleaded with and warned against going  [e.g. 21:4,11], but he went nevertheless, saying, “I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the Name of the Lord Jesus.” [21:13] We saw that when Paul was in the temple he was recognized by some Jews from Asia, who then stirred up the whole crowd in the temple against him   (21:27). As they were seeking to kill him a band of Roman soldiers  from the adjoining Fort Antonia came to rescue him. The Romans thought that they might have found a political agitator in him and were ready to deal with him  in form of torture, but when he was given a chance to speak to the people (21:39 – 22:22) they saw that he  was in fact   a Roman  citizen (22:26-29)  protected by the Roman  law.

After this, in Chapter 23 follows  another opportunity for Paul to speak in public. It was  a hastily convened meeting with   the Jewish Council also known as the  Sanhedrin – a group of 70 scholars, scribes who were  the  revered keepers and interpreters of the Law. Among them were members  of the party of the  Pharisees and the  Saducees. The high priest was the leader of this council and so Paul is brought before this group, which is the highest religious court of the Jews. 

Now observe what happens here.  
Paul begins to speak immediately (23:1).  There appears to be no formal introduction, no protocol observed. Perhaps this is so, because as we already said, this court is hastily convened, and because of this  they were probably not in formal dress. The high priest, was not wearing his high priestly outfit. More about that in a moment...
And so we  read in  23:1 that as  the court meets somewhat randomly,  Paul takes charge. We read that  Paul is looking intently at the council and at once he begins to speak, and his opening words are these: ”Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all  good conscience up to this day.”  

This phrase needs some context and explanation. He is not saying that he has never sinned and that he never has had  any sense of guilt about anything.  We  know that  he has,  for instance,  prior to his conversion in Acts 9  had a hand in the  persecution of Christians. He represented the  authority that put Stephen to death.  That must have weighed heavy on his conscience all the days of his life. What  he is saying here however  relates to the charges brought against him.  Remember, that he is charged  for violating and showing disrespect to the Law of Moses and even  for bringing a  gentile into the  Jews-only part of the temple (21:28). This is what Paul denies, saying that  he has not broken any Law of Moses, nor had he taken a Gentile into the Court of Israel. He has a clear conscience with regard to these charges. All these charges are   trumped up. They are plainly wrong, but the problem is that he is the  company of  a council and  of men  who will hear nothing of what he has to say – just as was the case of Jesus.  This was going to be a complete waste of time …

Furthermore notice that Paul  in taking charge of the conversation  clearly infuriates the high priest Ananias (23:2).Ananias  orders  those  that stand close to Paul to strike him on the mouth.

A word about Ananias the high priest:  Josephus[1], called him "Ananias ben Nebedeus" – Ananias, son of Nebedeus. He officiated as high priest from about AD 47 to 52, and he was a very controversial character. I quote from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia : “In 52 AD he was sent to Rome by Quadratus, legate of Syria, to answer a charge of oppression brought by the Samaritans, but the emperor Claudius acquitted him. On his return to Jerusalem[2], he resumed the office of high priest. He was deposed shortly before Felix left the province, but continued to wield great influence, which he used in a lawless and violent way. He was a typical Sadducee, wealthy, haughty, unscrupulous, filling his sacred office for purely selfish and political ends, anti-nationalist in his relation to the Jews, friendly to the Romans. He died an ignominious death, being assassinated by the popular Jewish  zealots (sicarii) at the beginning of the last Jewish war.”

To this high priest, who has Paul slapped on the mouth, Paul responds, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting  to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” (Paul knows the law!) Paul utters this curse against him. He calls him a whitewashed wall – looking all good on the outside but rotten on the inside – that’s the implication here, and he is accusing him rightly for  disregarding the law in  a session of the court  by having him struck. But as soon as somebody reprimands him, “Don't you know that you’re reviling  the high priest?”, Paul  immediately apologizes and says, “I didn't know he was the high priest.”

Here is a question: Why did Paul not recognize the high priest? As indicated earlier,  the most likely answer is  that the Sanhedrin gathered hastily and they weren't wearing formal robes. The high priest wouldn't have been wearing his robe, so Paul didn't recognize him as the high priest.  John Stott thinks  that it may have to do  with Paul’s  eyesight.  In his letter to the Galatians   Paul says, “See in what large letters I have written to you,” and some think that this  may  be  the thorn in the flesh of which he speaks in his second  letter to the Corinthians   so it is thought that he can't see very well and has to write in large characters. And when he says “whitewashed wall” that's literally all he could see.

Add to this the fact that, by now,  Paul had been away from Jerusalem for many years. He was no longer familiar with the Jewish hierarchy which changed every few years. Whatever the case and reason may have been – as soon as he hears that he has spoken harshly to the high priest, he apologises.  Note how quickly the apology was made. And note the reason given. He bows to the authority of Scripture:  It is written, “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people” [reference to Ex. 22:28]. 
Here is something that our modern world has generally forgotten. In our age of naming, blaming and shaming it is hard to be a leader, and leaders in turn also become hardened in response to constant criticism and battering. Have you ever thought through and pondered a biblical response to dealing with our leaders?  If the governing authorities (whether state, church, home) are instituted by God [Rom. 13:1-7], how do you deal with them except through God's eyes and by His Word  and by faithfully praying for the political rulers [1 Tim. 2:2]? 
  • Do we really believe that, “the King’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD, he turns it wherever he will?” 
  • Do we really believe that God can remove evil leaders in response to our prayer? 
  • Do we really believe that we are not at liberty   to gossip and tear down the authority of our church leaders in an underhanded manner? [1 Tim. 5:19; Heb. 13:17]. 
  • Do we really believe that men (even unconverted men)  are fundamentally instituted by God to be the rulers  and heads of their households? How many women really believe that an unbelieving husband can be best dealt with by means of  a respectful and pure conduct, by a gentle and quiet spirit, in prayer  hoping in God  [1 Peter  3:1-6]. All this  is Paul’s fundamental understanding  of  authority and leadership, and it forms the basis of his apology.  

But Paul is not finished as he pleads his good conscience. As he stands before the Sanhedrin he knows that he is standing before a theologically divided group consisting of  Pharisees and Saducees.  
In a nutshell the Pharisees believed in the  doctrine of resurrection and the  Saducees did not.  Neither did they believe in the existence of angels or demonic spirits [23:7,8]. The Pharisees were in a sense the theological conservatives, and the Saducees were the theological liberals.  

Now what is Paul doing here by raising the issue of the resurrection [23:6]?
2 things:  
1.    Paul is  testifying here to the  grand work of the Lord Jesus, who is ultimately  the prime exhibit  from God,  and living  proof that men do rise from the dead. This Jesus said that He was in fact  the resurrection and the life, and  by believing in Him  men would receive eternal life  and thereby enter into the Father’s heaven [John 11:25]. Jesus' exhibit was the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The hope of the resurrection  is a huge feature in the Christian faith and hope. It is Paul who wrote to those Corinthians   who doubted the resurrection [1 Cor.  15:12], “If in Christ we have hope  in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied  [1 Cor.  15:19]. Paul 's hope  in the resurrection was much more profound than that of the Pharisees. He not only believed with the Pharisees in the resurrection, but in  Christ's example  he had seen  the resurrection  exemplified! So, in the first place   Paul would have  had an opportunity to remind the whole council  of  the  Sanhedrin that behind His faith there stood the grand doctrine of the resurrection. of Jesus Christ Himself! The Christian faith proved that the resurrection was true. What business  do they have to condemn  him  then, when he believed in a central tenet  which was held by most Jews? Incidentally, the Pharisees were a majority party in the council of the Sanhedrin.

2.     Paul is  getting more time for the gospel  by getting an escape from the hostile Jews! Notice the confusion  and dissension that now ensues in verses 7-10. Now you may say that  Paul used an age-old strategy in politics –the  divide and rule  technique to confuse his enemies, but in a far higher sense it  is this doctrine that the Holy Spirit now used to  help Paul from being killed. If he was going to land up in the hands of a united Sanhedrin, he would be killed and his voice would be silenced. But now, as chaos  ensues  between Saducee and Pharisee, over this doctrine of the resurrection,  God uses the Romans  once more to rescue  Paul  [23:10].  God has been known to do this before. God preserved the life of David from Saul through the Philistines. This does not mean that the Philistines  or the Romans or the Egyptians   are  just in God’s eyes.  It simply means   that  God used   them as an escape route for his greater purposes. Paul needed to stay alive for a little longer. He still needed  to testify before governors, counsels and kings. 

Paul With  a Good Conscience  before Jesus [v.11]
Let’s close  with this thought. After Paul has been literally rescued by the Romans  and brought back to the holding barracks , the following night  the Lord stood by him  and said: ”Take courage, for as you have  testified  to the facts  about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”  It is  a beautiful thing that the Lord  Jesus would now come to him and tell him to take courage and not to be afraid. What an encouragement the vision of our  dear Saviour  provides   when we  begin to wonder whether  all that we have done and said  in our gospel labours  was  in  in fact the will of God?  Here the Lord assures Paul, ‘I have seen how you testified  concerning the facts about me… and you will indeed  complete  the work I gave you to do  in Rome.'  

Truly, brothers  and  sisters, in that sense   we are immortal until our work is done!  Stand then with a clear conscience before men and  regardless, testify to the work of  our Lord Jesus.  He will keep   you from the wolves until He calls you home to your eternal reward. Oh what a homecoming  and what  a rest that will be!

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