Paul got off to a bad start by claiming that he had lived his life “with a clear conscience before God to that [very] day.” How can that possibly be? Yes, you have heard how Jesus has redeemed you and now you stand as a child of The Almighty! The Spirit of God confirms to you that you are His. What was it that Michael Card sang? “Jesus love me, this I know. But it’s just the Bible that tell me so. I can feel it, feel it in my soul!” What a delight; what a joy! But in the Jewish mind, that just wasn’t possible! That is why they had to do all those sacrifices, because man’s heart was rebellious and evil. How dare Paul make such a statement! Ananias, the high priest, was so incensed, he ordered those standing close to Paul, to strike him on the mouth. That is anger! This led to Paul giving an angry retort:
“’God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit there judging me according to the law, and in violation of the law you order me to be struck?’” (Acts 23:3)
Whoa! When Paul found out that Ananias was the high priest, Paul quickly acknowledged he was wrong. At the moment he spoke those inflammatory words, he did not know that Ananias was the high priest; to speak against a ruler of the people was sin—even if he did deserve it. Someone and slaps you in the mouth . . . sure they deserve to be punched back, but you are called to live above that and you must forgive them! With Paul’s sharp retort, he was showing dishonor to the position of authority. As much as I dislike our current administration, and I shout rotten things at my TV, I am dishonoring their authority.
After telling them his testimony, and then he sharp remark, Paul knew there was no chance of getting a fair and impartial hearing, so Paul shouted out, “I am a Pharisee, and I believe in the resurrection of the dead.” Well, that split the Sanhedrin into two fighting factions: the Pharisees, sided with Paul and declared him to be innocent; and, the Sadducees condemned him as guilty and wanted to kill him.
Well, after breaking up another riot (albeit a smaller-scale riot), Claudius Lysias took Paul back into custody. The following night Paul had a very encouraging visit:
“The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Have courage, for just as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome’ ” —Acts 23:11
Who would have ever imagined that God would arrange for Paul’s journey to Rome as He did? Oh, those “mysterious ways” our Lord works.
However, while Paul was in custody, a band of more than 40 assassins vowed not to eat or drink until they had killed him. They knew just how they intended to do this, but it required the full knowledge and cooperation of the Sanhedrin. The members of the Sanhedrin were instructed to ask the commander to return Paul to the Council, so that they could obtain further testimony from him. On his way from his confinement to the Council, these assassins would see to it that Paul would be killed.
The plot was coincidentally overheard by Paul’s nephew, who first reports it to Paul, and then to the Roman commander. The commander assembles a large force to escort Paul safely out of Jerusalem, and then on to Caesarea, where he will stand trial before Felix, the governor of Judea. Up until now, Paul has only stood before religious authorities. Now he will stand before kings, as God had indicated at the time of his conversion. This is where we take up the story in chapter 24, which we will begin with our next message.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Story of Acts