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PAUL STANDS BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN

Acts 22:30-23:35
Key Verse: 23:11

In the previous passage Paul defended himself before the crowd of his people. His defence was sharing God’s personal grace upon him, how he met Jesus and surrendered his life to Jesus and how he was called to be sent to the Gentiles. At this some Jews became furious and Paul was on the verge of being killed. God protected him again through the commander and his Roman citizenship. In today’s passage Paul stood on trail before the Sanhedrin, before whom the Lord Jesus had stood for the trial and received death sentence. In this awful trial we see Paul’s hope and the Lord Jesus’ encouragement. After this trial Paul was again in danger of being killed. Yet, God protected him without fail, foiling a wicked human intrigue.

First, Paul’s hope. Look at 22:30. “The next day, since the commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Sanherin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.” This would be the third time for the commander to try to find out the reason for Paul to be accused. He had tried questioning the crowd, but had got different answers from them (21:33-34). He was about to use torture, but Paul’s Roman citizenship blocked that avenue (22:24ff). So now he opted for a third method—trial by the Sanhedrin, as recorded in this passage.

Look at 23:1. “Paul looked straight at the Sanherin and said, ‘My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.’” The Sanherin as a whole was against Paul. The Sanhedrin had sentenced innocent Jesus to death. In that abhorrent atmosphere Paul embraced them and showed his affectionate heart, calling them, ‘my brothers.’ Then he said, “I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” What a beautiful confession! Christian life is to live by faith from first to last. Yet, it is not ignoring our conscience. Faith and conscience should go together. Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:9 to encourage Timothy, “Timothy, my son,…you may fight good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.” And he said Acts 24:6, “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.”

Look at verse 2. “At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth.” The high priest Ananias was a thoroughly unsavory character. He was described by Josephus as ‘a great hoarder up of money’; he even ‘took away the tithes that belonged to the priests by violence’. Some may wonder why the high priest ordered that Paul be stricken on the mouth. Here the most likely explanation is that Ananias understood Paul’s words as a claim that, though now a Christian, he was still a good Jew, having served God with a good conscience all his life (since, as well as before, his conversion), even ‘to this day’. It seemed to Ananias the height of arrogance, even of blasphemy. So Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you white-washed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!” Paul knew that God is the God of justice and he had confidence in this God. Those who were standing near Paul said, “You dare to insult God’s high priest?” Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’”

Look at verse 6. “Then, Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, ‘My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.’” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. Luke commented in parentheses, “(The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.)” Here we are surprised at Paul’s wisdom. Yet he did not speak out of expediency. He spoke what was deep in his heart. He said, “I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.” He stood on trial, not because of his any crime but because of his hope.

As you know, hope is very important in life. Future hope influences present life. For example, those students who want to get professional positions or to become great in the world study hard in their university days. But those who have no hope live just day to day’s life like a chaff being blown here and there. However, nothing in this world can be true hope because all end in death, success, fame and beautiful families, etc. Death swallows up everything. Paul, once, pursued the greatness in the world. He wanted to be recognized by the top leaders of the nation. This was one clear reason he persecuted the followers of the Way: to get their recognition and climb up the ladder of success. However, he could not deny the deadened state of his soul under the power of sin and death. His soul was desperate to find a way. Then when he met the risen Christ, everything was changed and there was no ambiguity in life. In the past, as a Pharisee he also recognized resurrection. However, it was not a reality, but just an idea or wish. But through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he was assured that death has been conquered and the dead are raised. The resurrection of the dead became his true hope and he certainly believed that this is the true hope for all mankind. So he gave his whole life to the proclamation of Christ in the hope of the resurrection of the dead. And it was true because of this hope he suffered much and now stood on trial before the Sanherin.

At the old aged question, “If a man dies, will he live again?” (Job 14:14), no one could give a definite answer before Christ Jesus. But since Jesus rose again from the dead, the answer is 100% yes in Christ. That’s why believing in the resurrection of Christ Jesus is crucial in one’s life. As we have studied in the book of Acts, this book so emphatically speaks of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in various occasions, even writing Paul’s meeting the risen Christ three times. Those who truly believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ can have the hope of the resurrection of the dead. They are not under the power of death. The distinguishing mark of a born again Christian is their hope. Peter said in 1 Peter 1:3 and 4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you.” And the hope of the resurrection of the dead is directly related to the hope of entering kingdom of God.

When people have no hope of the resurrection, the best kind of life style is the hedonistic life: to enjoy the pleasures of the world to the maximum degree and then die, for to them death is the end of everything. Their philosophy is, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” The week before the last week was a frosh week. The purpose was to help freshmen to prepare for university life. But some who actually care about young people questioned about what was going on in that frosh week. We also wonder why such a chanting in the frosh week. Those who passed by U of T campus and heard the chanting of fresh young men and women felt embarrassed and disgusted to hear the words. Why not words of the hope and great vision spoken for their lives ahead? Can this kind of thing be a preparation for freshmen, for their university life? Will it be helpful? Will it not be harmful? We see the nasty influence of the pleasure-seeking lifestyle of our time permeate into the university more and more. When people have no true hope of the resurrection, such a thing is natural tendency. This is more than a moral problem. It is a spiritual problem under the power of death and evil spirits that become rampant even now in our universities. May God help us to be assured of the hope of the resurrection of the dead and pray that this hope be planted in the hearts of many freshmen.

Second, the Lord’s encouragement. Look at verse 9. “There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. ‘We find nothing wrong with this man,’ they replied. ‘What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?’” They seemed to begin having a right mind to see Paul. Many others still did not. The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks. It was likely that Paul was perfectly protected by Roman commander.

But what happened next? Look at verse 11. “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.” When we think about Paul, it seems that he was courageous enough to stand alone even in this situation. But the Lord knew him very well. The violence of the last two days, and especially the enmity of the Jews, must have made him wonder anxiously about the future. There seemed little prospect of his leaving Jerusalem alive, let alone of his travelling on Rome. So in this moment of discouragement the Lord Jesus stood near him. In this trial, the servants of the Sanhedrin stood near him and annoyed him. But now the Lord stood near him. While he was in Corinth, the Lord spoke to Paul, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent…” (18:9). That was in a vision. But this time the Lord stood near him. The Lord’s presence itself must have great encouragement to Paul. In addition the Lord said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” Jesus comforted him with the straightforward promise that, as he had borne witness to him in Jerusalem, so he must also bear witness to him in Rome. It would be hard to exaggerate the calm courage which this assurance must have brought to Paul during his three further trials, his two years’ imprisonment and his hazardous voyage to Rome. Indeed the Lord Jesus appeared to him at the right time and encouraged him to stand firm to the end.

When we think about Paul’s life, his life has been the life of testifying about Jesus since he met the Lord Jesus. He had testified about Jesus in Damascus at the very time he was converted. Then making three mission journeys, he testified about Jesus, in Cyprus, Pisidian Antioch, Inconium, Lystra, Derbe, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and Jerusalem. It was full of hardships and suffering along with the wonderful experiences of the Lord’s soul saving work. Until now he had been in Jerusalem three times and this time was his fourth visit in Acts. He was a courageous and uncompromising witness of Jesus. His life as a witness of Jesus bore much fruit as he participated in the sufferings of Christ. Visiting Rome and preaching the gospel there had been his vision. After seeing the powerful gospel work in Ephesus, he said, “After I have been there, I must visit Rome also” (19:21). Now the Lord confirmed it saying, “…you must also testify in Rome.” His life would be continuously testifying about Jesus to the end.

We can say that Paul’s life is in short testifying about Jesus. He said in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Christ has been the meaning and purpose of his life. Christ was his life. Then testifying about Jesus was everything to him in life. It was because testifying about Jesus is the way to save perishing souls. Only Jesus saves souls. Jesus who died for man’s sins and rose again from the dead is the only hope for all perishing mankind. The hope of the resurrection of the dead is given to all, but, it comes through those who testify about Jesus. The book of Acts is about testifying about Jesus. We can say that the Bible is testifying about Jesus. Jesus said to the Jews that the Scriptures testify about him” (John 5:39). And we can say that from God’s viewpoint history is testifying about Jesus. So it is his story. Then what is our life? We can find that our life is also to testify about Jesus. Our Lord Jesus is most pleased when we testify about him. How precious the life of testifying about Jesus is. To testify about Jesus does not require full knowledge of him. We can testify about Jesus as much as we know him. Thank God for Jeremy’s and Peter’s whole hearted invitation of freshmen for Christ. Each of them invited two freshmen to Bible study. I believe that it was pleasing to the Lord Jesus. May we testify about Jesus wherever we are, and live as his witnesses in this world.

Third, a human plot foiled. In this part the Jews formed a conspiracy to kill Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot and they took a solemn oath not to eat or drink until they have killed Paul (13,14,21). But the commander was informed of it through the son of Paul’s sister. Then the commander ordered that a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen be ready to go Caesarea at nine that night. It sounds like an extraordinary overprovision, representing about half the garrison. Were four hundred soldiers and seventy horses really necessary for the security of a single prisoner? This was none other than God’s perfect protection. Caesarea was the provincial capital of Judea. It was 60 miles from Jerusalem to Caesarea and Antipatris was 25 miles from Caesarea. Felix ruled as Judea’s procurator (ancient Roman official) for seven or eight years from A.D. 52. Paul would be tried before him.

Proverbs 21:30 says, “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord.” Even the most careful and cunning of human plans cannot succeed if God opposes them. No weapon forged against him will prevail. By foiling such a thorough yet crafty plan the Lord protected Paul, his witness as he promised. God absolutely protects those who testify about the Lord Jesus, whoever they are.

In this study we thank and praise God for the hope of the resurrection of the dead through his Son Jesus Christ. May we grow in this hope and our life be the life of testifying about the Lord Jesus in this generation.

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