Monday, September 19, 2022

Paul Stands Before His Accusers

“The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them.– Acts 23:10

As much as we might hate to admit it, mob violence has been on the rise in the United States in recent years. It was just over 2 years ago, in June 2020, that a mob took over six city blocks in downtown Seattle. Over the course of 23 days, The Capitol Hill Occupational Protest (CHOP) evolved into CHAZ, The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. The mob chased the police out of their precinct, trashed public and private property, and several people were shot and killed. Just seven months later, on January 6th, 2021, we saw a horrifying scene in Washington D.C. as a mob of around 2,000 protesters stormed the Capitol building. In the melee, five people were killed. And a few months ago, in the wake of the leaked Supreme Court draft overturning Roe v. Wade, small mobs vandalized pro-life clinics around the country. Several were even fire-bombed. 

Sadly, in this world we live in, we are no strangers to mob violence. And neither was the Apostle Paul. Just a few days after his arrival in Jerusalem, a mob was calling for his lynching, and a Roman commander stepped in to save Paul’s neck. But since the commander couldn’t figure out what Paul was being accused of, he called on the chief priests and the Jewish Ruling Council—the Sanhedrin—to hold a hearing.

Some 25 years earlier, Paul had been carrying out the Sanhedrin’s orders to hunt down and arrest Christians. He was likely on track to become a member of the Sanhedrin before Jesus Christ shook up his plans. So, as Paul stood before the Sanhedrin in Acts 23, he probably recognized many of them. And what he said next immediately got him into hot water with their head honcho, the high priest Ananias: “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day” (v. 1). Ananias promptly “ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth” (v. 2).

As Pastor Warren Wiersbe explains, conscience is our inner judge of whether we’re doing right or wrong. Conscience doesn’t set the standard—it only applies our own standard. “Conscience,” he writes, “may be compared to a window that lets in the light. God’s law is the light, and the cleaner the window is, the more the light shines in. As the window gets dirty, the light gets dimmer.”

Paul’s hearing before the Sanhedrin went downhill fast. Paul’s remarks came across to his accusers as arrogant and hypocritical. The slap across Paul’s mouth came across to Paul as petty and unbiblical. So, Paul retaliated by turning to the High Priest Ananias and saying, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!” (v. 3). These are pretty harsh words. They seem out of character for Paul, who usually submitted to local authorities as long as he could still preach God’s word.

Eventually Paul’s confrontation with the Sanhedrin sparked a heated dispute between the Pharisees and the Sadducees in their ranks. The Roman commander stepped in once again and ordered that Paul be taken to the safety of the barracks before this latest mob could tear him to pieces (v. 10). By now, Paul must have wondered if the Roman soldiers wouldn’t come to his rescue next time. He had dreamed of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Rome, but that was beginning to look like a pipe dream. So, Jesus spoke to Paul the following night with the perfect, timely message: “Take courage! As you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (v11). And that’s all Paul needed to hear.

Here are a few insights we can gain from this passage:

Insight #1: Treat your conscience like a close friend. Don’t allow it to be tainted and clouded by ongoing, unconfessed sin. In 1 Timothy 4:2, Paul warned Timothy about hypocritical liars whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. That’s a tragedy—to have a God-given conscience that has been exposed to so much sin that it has become completely desensitized to it. Your conscience is a gift from God. So, make sure that you guard your heart from the hardness of sin, and stop filling your eyes and mind with immoral junk. Because if your heart is hard and your mind is full of trash, your conscience window will become grimier and grimier to a point where it doesn’t let the light in anymore. So, confess your sins and turn from your sins every day to keep your conscience clear and the light of God’s word shining through.

Insight #2: Even when your leaders do things that are disrespectful, God’s Word calls you to show respect to your leaders. Throughout God’s word, we are commanded to honor, respect and obey our government leaders. Not just the government leaders we like. Not just the government leaders we agree with. Not just the government leaders we voted for. ALL government leaders. Over the past few years, Christians across our country have come across just as divisive and disrespectful as nonChristians—in some cases, even more so. As I’ve mentioned before, we’ve given Christianity a really bad name. The gospel is controversial enough. We don’t need to make it MORE controversial by acting like a bunch of hate-spewing, disrespectful jerks. Remember: Your number-one political duty as a Christian is to PRAY for your leaders. So, pray for our President, pray for our Governor, pray for our local leaders. And show them respect—even when they do things that you find disrespectful. 

Insight #3: God’s message to Paul is also God’s message to you: “Take courage! You still have important work to do. I’m not through with you yet.”

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook. Dane’s latest book, “Called to Persevere: One Man’s Journey to Overcome Pain, Disease and Disappointment with God,” is scheduled for release on Amazon in October.

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