This coming Sunday, we are going to begin a new quarter in our Connect Groups at Southern Calvert Baptist Church. At the beginning of the year, we dove into the book of Acts. Then we moved into the epistles. Now we are going back to Acts and pick up where we left off. We left Acts after chapter 20 when Paul gave his final charge to the church leaders before heading to Jerusalem where he had already been forewarned of the persecution and imprisonment that awaited him. This is where we are going to pick back up this week, in Acts 23. In order to get caught up with what happened in chapters 21-22, I want to give a quick summary of those chapters.
In Acts 21, Paul enters Jerusalem. He was warned by the brethren in Christ that many high ranking Jews were furious with him for preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. They had falsely accused Paul of speaking and teaching against the Law of Moses. Paul actually keeps to the Law of Moses before going to the Temple to worship. While in the Temple, Paul is arrested with no clear motive for the arrest. While being taken away into custody, Paul is given the opportunity to address the crowd. He does so in their Hebrew dialect. Paul is speaking in their heart language. They understand exactly what he is saying. While giving his defense, Paul shares his testimony of how he came to faith in Jesus Christ and was born again. They had no problem with anything he said until he mentioned his calling by the Lord to preach the message of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Upon making this statement, the crowd begins to call for Paul’s death. Paul is taken and stretched out to be beaten. Paul speaks up and mentions that he is a Roman citizen and should not be beaten without a trial. The Roman leaders are forced to cease the beating. This is in direct contrast to what happened to Paul in Philippi. While in Philippi preaching the Gospel, Paul was taken captive and beaten without a trial. At any moment, Paul could have proclaimed his Roman citizenship and the beating would have stopped. Paul kept his mouth closed and as a result, the prisoners heard the Gospel along with the head jailer. The head jailer came to faith in Christ along with his family. Moving back to the situation in Jerusalem, Paul is released by the Romans and now will have to stand trial before the Jewish Council. This is where we move into Acts 23. If you have not done so yet, take a moment to read Acts 23. Now let’s see what we can discover about Paul, the Pharisees and Sadducees, and Jesus Christ.
I. Paul the pesky preacher
Keep in mind, the reason that Paul is standing trial is simply because he preached the Gospel of Christ to the Gentiles, along with the Jews living in the uttermost. Paul is not condemned by his conscience. Paul is being condemned by people who do not see the need to preach the Gospel to others, especially to Gentiles.
Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” (Acts 23:1)
Paul is a sincere man. He has nothing to hide. He is not dealing falsely with anyone. He is not deceptive. In fact, he goes out of his way to keep the purification laws of the Jews while living in Jerusalem. There was no need for him to be taken into custody. The leaders did it anyway. Now, not only is Paul being held for no reason, he is also being falsely accused and assaulted for no reason other than sharing his faith.
The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” (Acts 23:2-3)
Paul calls out the hypocrisy of his accusers. They were accusing Paul of breaking the Law of Moses, while they were actually breaking it themselves. Remember how Jesus responded when asked, “what is the greatest law in the Bible?” Jesus responded that the essence of the Law of Moses is to love the Lord and love your neighbor as yourself. Treat your neighbor as you like to be treated. No one wants to be falsely accused. No one wants to be detained for no reason other than sharing his faith. No one wants to be assaulted for sharing a testimony about how God changed his life.
But the bystanders said, “Do you revile God’s high priest? And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT SPEAK EVIL OF A RULER OF YOUR PEOPLE.’ ” (Acts 23:4-5)
Paul was called out for disrespecting the high priest. Paul called him out but did not realize that he was the high priest. When confronted, Paul apologizes and applies the Law the correct way, once again, demonstrating that he is in the right and that his accusers are in the wrong. Finally, Paul realizes, based on the camps present at the trial, that he is being set up. Keep in mind that Jesus sent out His followers as sheep among wolves. His advice to them was to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. Paul shows great wisdom with his next move.
But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (Acts 23:6-7)
The Pharisees and Sadducees cannot agree on most things yet, they were able to partner up in their attacks on Paul. The divide and conquer method was employed by Paul. This method worked to perfection. The Sadducees and Pharisees began to fight among themselves and they forgot about Paul. The Roman leadership realizes that this is a losing battle and they turn Paul over to the Jewish Council. Paul is going to have another opportunity to share his faith. Just to recap, this is why Paul is being detained and persecuted:
- Preaching faith in Christ
- Believing in the resurrection of Christ
- Teaching the Gentiles the ways of faith in Christ
- Sharing his personal testimony of how he was born again
II. The Pharisees and Sadducees
What was it that got the Pharisees and Sadducees so worked up? They are hung up on the idea of the resurrection of the dead. Paul is being persecuted for his belief in the resurrection of the dead.
8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.
9 And there occurred a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”
10 And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks. (Acts 23)
The Sadducees were people who were so caught up in the spiritual aspects of life that their lives and teachings were not practical for daily life to the common man. They lived with their heads so far in the clouds that their feet did not touch the ground. The Pharisees were the practical bunch. They were steeped in legalism so much so, that, they complained when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath but would not think twice about rescuing one of their prized animals on the same Sabbath. As these two groups were arguing, it got so heated that the Roman leaders feared that people were going to be murdered, especially Paul. In both cases, we see that these people’s faithfulness to their religion superseded their relationships with others. They are not keeping the Royal Law, the Greatest Commandment, the heart of the Law. They are not even keeping the letter of the Law. Yet, they are the ones accusing Paul of not respecting the Law of Moses.
III. Jesus Christ
The central figure to this story is not Paul. The central figure is Jesus Christ, the One whom Paul has been proclaiming. We learn about Christ in this chapter and even though it is just one verse, it is a loaded verse.
But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.” (Acts 23:11)
Jesus stood by Paul’s side while he awaited his defense the next morning. Jesus did not release the chains and open the door. Jesus did not remove Paul from the situation. Jesus came to Paul in the midst of the circumstance and stood beside him to encourage him to continue on with his calling. Jesus reminded Paul that because he preached the Gospel, he is in prison. Paul’s detainment is not punishment for doing something wrong. It is a manifestation that Paul has been doing the right thing. Paul had proclaimed the Gospel to the Gentiles and Jews in the uttermost. He had proclaimed the Gospel to the Jews in Jerusalem and now, he learns that he is going to proclaim the Gospel in Rome. Christ gives Paul the confidence to know that no one can touch him until he makes it to Rome and preaches the Gospel there. Paul has no need to give in to his fears. The neat part about the story, something Paul did not know at the time, is the fact that the Roman Empire was going to pay for Paul’s mission trip to Rome. God is so good. Paul stays faithful and preaches the Gospel every time he is given the opportunity.
Are you a pesky preacher of the Gospel the way that Paul was? Do you realize that no one can touch you unless Christ allows it? Do you see every opportunity as an open door to share your faith? Have you ever been falsely accused because of your insistence in proclaiming the Gospel in every circumstance? Do you spend time with Christ so that He can encourage you to continue to be a pesky preacher of the Gospel?
May the Lord help us proclaim the Gospel to everyone around us in every circumstance in order to make disciples of Christ and impact eternity!!!