Today we’re studying Acts 22 & 23. It’s the next part in Paul’s unexpected missionary journey. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Paul’s Story
Last we left Paul he had reignited the Jerusalem mob’s hatred of him.
They were thinking violent thoughts…
Shouting violent things…
And shaking their fists in a violent motion...
All because Paul told about how Jesus was his Savior.
When they started shouting and throwing off their cloaks and throwing dust into the air, the commander ordered that Paul be brought into the barracks. (v.23)
The commander had already tried asking the crowd what the problem was.
He had let Paul speak for himself.
But he still didn’t understand why they were so violent towards Paul.
He decided to try the most common method for getting to the truth in the Roman empire.
He directed that Paul be interrogated by whipping, in order to learn why the people were shouting at him like this. (v.24)
The whip that the Romans government commonly used was called a scourge. It was seven leather straps braided together at the end so that you could hold onto it. That means the 7 straps could hit you at various places on the back and maximize the pain that was inflicted.
At the end of each of those seven leather straps were scraps of metal and/or pieces of bone. The theory was that the sharper the pieces were, the more pain it would inflict, and the quicker you’d get the truth…
…Or a lie…
…just so you’d stop the whipping.
As they stretched Paul for the whipping, Paul asked the centurion standing by, “Is it legal for you to whip a man who is a Roman citizen and who has not been found guilty by a proper trial?” (v.240
Roman citizenship was deeply desirable. You could obtain it through payment, by bribery, by submitting to a complicated legal agreement, or by birth. Citizenship meant you would receive better treatment by the Roman government and a legal right to due process of the law.
In Paul’s case, it meant he shouldn’t be whipped.
Immediately, those who were about to interrogate him moved away from him. The commander was also alarmed when he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen, because he had tied him up. (v.29)
This was good news for Paul, because his back remains intact.
But for the Roman commander it was bad news. He still didn’t know why people were so angry at Paul.
The next day, since the commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he untied him and ordered the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to meet. (v.30)
The Sanhedrin was a powerful group in ancient Israelite society.
It was like a community watch group.
Only instead of watching for suspicious activity.
They were watching for anti-traditional Judaism activity.
The commander had Paul stand in front of the group and give his defense.
Paul spoke, “Gentlemen, brothers, I have lived my life before God with a completely clear conscience to this very day.” (23:1)
Paul didn’t get any farther in his speech before the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. (v.2)
Paul replied, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there judging me according to the law, and then you order them to strike me contrary to the law!” (v.3)
Because that Law that you love so much?
Don’t you know the 5th commandment in that law?
Thou shalt not murder.
God doesn’t support violence.
Like ordering someone to smack me on the mouth.
Those who were standing nearby said, “Do you dare to insult God’s high priest?”
Paul replied, “I did not know, brothers, that he is the high priest. Indeed, it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil about a ruler of your people.’” (v.4-5)
Paul didn’t defend himself.
He didn’t launch into a sermon.
He didn’t show them an angry meme showing how they were “wronger” than he.
But as he apologized, Paul noticed some of the group glaring angrily at him, while a few others were smirking. He remembered – the Sanhedrin consisted of two entirely different group. One group called the Pharisees and the other group called the Sadducees.
They were like Ancient Israelite versions of a political party.
And there some differences.
Pharisees believed in eternal life.
Sadducees did not.
Pharisees believed in angels and demons.
Sadducees did not.
If only, he could get them to discuss those differences…
“Gentlemen, brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope for the resurrection of the dead!” (v.6)
It was a very true statement.
The actual complaint was about Paul’s preaching resurrection in Jesus.
Not that any Pharisees believed in Jesus.
But they certainly believed in a resurrection.
And they weren’t going to miss an opportunity to argue.
“Is that all it is? Then, the issue is the Sadducees.”
“What are you talking about? You Pharisees are the fools who believe in eternal life.”
“Of course, there’s a resurrection God grants it to all good Pharisees.”
“There is not. There is no resurrection.”
“OK. I agree. There is no resurrection... for Sadducees.”
“Well, you’re a stupid head.”
“And you have mush for brains.”
The uproar became so great that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He commanded the soldiers to go down, take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks. (v.10)
Not that it says this in the text…
But then, I imagine the commander went out for a drink.
Meanwhile, Paul was taken into the barracks.
He was locked behind bars.
But Paul had to have breathed a sigh of relief.
He would live to fight another day.
He would live to share the Gospel another day.
II. What Now?
There’s a lot going on in this lesson from God’s Word. Before we get too deep into application, take a moment to appreciate this master missionary in action.
It’s like watching The Last Dance, a documentary all about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ six world championships. As I watched, there’s all kinds of moments where I just started smiling:
His 1988 free throw line dunk that became the inspiration for the air Jordan logo.
Game one of the 1992 NBA finals when he hits six 3 pointers in the first half and after the 6th, he just shrugs.
In 1997, when he had the flu, needed to drink extra fluids on the sideline, but still scored a game high 38.
Reading this part of Acts is similar.
We get watch Paul work as a master of sharing the Gospel.
We get to watch God work through Paul as a master of sharing the Gospel.
We get to watch Paul further the cause of the Gospel when an entire room full of people is ready to kill him.
But our time today should be more than just:
“Wow. Paul’s pretty sweet. What else is popular on Netflix?
As we reflect on his story, we see him put into practice some incredible principles.
Principles that God had already commanded of his people.
Principles that any believer can put into practice.
Principles that will help us better Plant the Message of Jesus in North Raleigh.
(1) Be Shrewd as Snakes
Do you know about the puff adder? It has an interesting way of catching its prey. Upon spotting a frog nearby, “the puff adder begins flicking its tongue unusually slowly, seemingly mimicking a small worm. To frogs, juicy worms are irresistible, and their eagerness to eat them leads them straight into the waiting mouth of the viper. This hunting strategy is known as lingual luring.” (https://theconversation.com/five-ingenious-ways-snakes-manipulate-their-bodies-to-hunt-and-survive-90052)
It’s not just puff adders.
Snakes are sneaky.
Snakes are clever.
Snakes are good at “snaking.”
Jesus said, “Be as shrewd as snakes...” (Matthew 10:16)
What does shrewd mean?
It has nothing to do with morality.
God isn’t calling us to be deceptive
God isn’t calling us to be liars.
God isn’t calling us to be poisonous.
Snakes are animals.
They have no morality.
Besides – this is Jesus talking.
He hates sin.
He’s not encouraging you to sin.
But simply to be clever.
Like Paul. Paul avoided having his back torn to shreds by telling the Roman soldier that he was a Roman citizen. And it was at just the right time to give that revelation, such, that the commander overreacted for fear of his job and immediately demanded Paul’s release.
He acted shrewdly when he mentions the resurrection and drives a wedge between the members of the Sanhedrin. Suddenly, they can’t focus on what Paul was on trial for because they are too concerned with being right.
To put it simply:
God wants us to be clever in sharing the Gospel.
Whenever he does something, he thinks – how will this affect my ability to Plant the Message of Jesus?
And if we want to act shrewdly, the same question has value – how will doing this thing affect my ability to Plant the Message of Jesus?
It means if buying someone a Food Lion gift card gets you an audience for a Gospel, you do it.
It means if organizing two different styles of worship services gets you an audience for the Gospel, you do it.
It means if putting my political alignments all over Facebook immediately turns off half of the people I am friends with and now I’m not able to share the Gospel with them? Pretend you’ve never even heard of politics.
(2) Be Innocent as Doves
Doves are very beautiful.
Doves are very gentle.
Doves are released at weddings and parades and make everyone happy.
What I mean is…
I don’t know the last time a dove has been convicted of any kind of crime.
Jesus said, “Be...as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)
Because if we’re preaching the message of the innocent Jesus, then being innocent in our day to day dealings is integral!
Paul was innocent among the people.
It’s why he starts his speech by saying, “I have lived my life to God with a clear conscience.”
And then, when he speaks harshly to the high priests, even though what he spoke was truthful, he immediately apologized to the high priest.
He lived in innocently in order to share the Gospel.
God calls us to do the same.
But before we get into it, let’s define innocent here:
To live innocently means to live blamelessly, not sinlessly.
Because if sinless were the case, even Paul failed miserably.
But innocent has to do with a courtroom. It means that if you were put on trial by your peers, by the public, by the people in whom you are trying to plant the message of Jesus, live in such a way that they would judge you as innocent.
Because if they can’t judge you as innocent….
This kills your witness of the Gospel.
A while back there was a pastor that led a fairly large church. He held four worship services on a weekend, preached to thousands of people and was even on local cable access television.
Then, a male prostitute he had visited for the past 10 years explained to everyone what he had been up to in his private time.
Very few people wanted to remain and listen to the pastor who had preached purity in Jesus but lived a life far from it.
Public moral failures ruin your witness of the Gospel.
And it isn’t just a truth that affects pastors.
If you’re at a bar and start telling someone about Jesus, but you’re slurring John 3:16 and smell like booze, you’ve ruined your message.
If you post something on Facebook about how we should listen to God’s Holy Word, but your next post drops 3 f-bombs, you’re ruined your message.
If you tell your kids that you believe the message of the Bible, but they know that the Bible says sex is reserved for marriage and they also know that you aren’t reserving sex for marriage, you’ve ruined your message.
If you want to tell a friend that Jesus loves all, but then your Twitter account repeatedly claims that Black Lives Don’t Matter, you’re ruined your message.
You’re ruined God’s message.
Thankfully, do you know who was really good at this innocent stuff?
Even better than Paul?
In fact, Jesus was so good at it that he wasn’t declared innocent by a human courtroom, but by a heavenly courtroom.
And because Jesus was declared innocent.
But rather than celebrate his innocence, Jesus changed in his verdict.
He became guilty in order that you be declared innocent.
It means that if you haven’t been innocent.
Jesus forgives you.
He lived innocently before God.
He died innocently at the hands of men.
He rose triumphantly to proclaim you as innocent.
This is your identity:
Live out your identity as innocent.
(3) Be Courageous as a Lion
Lions are impressive.
I was at the Greensboro zoo not that long ago and the big old male lion was at the top of the highest rock.
He was laying there with his giant baseball mitt paws folded in front of him.
He literally looked like the king of the zoo.
When he roared – and he did roar – it caused everyone to pay attention.
He was louder than the peacocks.
He as louder than the monkeys.
He was louder than the seals.
The lion was bold.
The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion. (Proverbs 18:1)
Did you notice what it says first?
It says, “the wicked flee.”
Running away situations where you have the truth of the Gospel because you’re afraid.
But the righteous, God’s people, believers are BOLD.
We speak the truth of God’s Word.
We speak the truth of the Gospel.
We boldly confess that we believe in Jesus.
Just like Paul did.
In front of the angry Sanhedrin.
He wasn’t afraid.
He spoke boldly.
Maybe he didn’t always feel bold.
Especially that evening after being on trial.
He was locked in a jail cell.
He was all by himself.
I’m sure the devil got him to think:
“Is this really worth it?”
But before Paul could pen his letter of resignation,
Jesus showed up, stood next to Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have solemnly testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (v.11)
Paul, you aren’t alone.
Paul, I am with you.
Paul, as I boldly died and rose for you and now boldly claim you as my child, so I will boldly be with you wherever you go.
Friends, that same Jesus is with you. Amen.