Acts22v22toActs23v11: PAUL BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN.

(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

When Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time he went as a lamb to the slaughter. He did not defend himself when he was arrested nor at his various trials. Jesus was going to Calvary in the will of God to make the ultimate sacrifice for sin.

Paul had no such saving work to do. It was entirely appropriate that he should defend himself against his Jewish enemies. It was God's intention that he should live to fight another day.

(B) Paul insisted on his rights.

After the Jewish crowd flared up when Paul mentioned his ministry to the Gentiles the Roman Commander in Jerusalem ordered that the apostle be removed into the barracks. He then gave instructions that Paul be tortured to loosen his tongue. He directed that he be flogged and questioned in order to find out why the people were shouting at him. Ch22v24. Sadly such methods are used today even by soldiers of the United States and Britain in Iraq. It is called, 'softening up the opposition.'

To be flogged by leather thongs to which pieces of bone and metal were attached was a horrible ordeal. It would certainly speed up most interrogations. Paul protests: "Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty."

Paul's protest was effective. It stopped his torturers in their tracks. The Roman commander was alarmed that he had put Paul in chains. Paul's citizenship protected him from arbitary punishment throughout the Roman Empire.

In Philippi Paul and Silas, who were both Roman citizens, accepted a flogging without remonstrating. Paul caused consternation by informing the authorities after his beating that he and Silas were Roman citizens. It is possible that in Philippi Paul accepted punishment as an example to the local church many of whose members would not enjoy the privileges of citizenship. He probably also ensured that the city officials would treat the Christians more cautiously in the future. Thirdly the flogging at Philippi was no where near so severe as that facing Paul in Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem Paul was specially targeted by Jewish nationalists for violence. He was singled out for rough treatment. The zealotes were going to get him. The Jerusalem church did not want to get involved. Paul decided that there was no virtue in being savagely beaten and so he insisted on his rights as a Roman citizen.

There are times we should insist on our rights as citizens of Britain. We have a right to worship, to witness in the open air and to protest peacefully. We shouldn't let anyone take away these rights. Christians are too pacific. We should not let those who hate organised religion get all their own way. Christians pay their licence fee to the BBC like everyone else. We ought to insist on hearing the occasional good sermon on Sundays. If football supporters got the same wishy-washy coverage of their sport as we Christians get of our religion there would be an outcry.

(C) Paul had a clear conscience.

The Roman commander was puzzled; he did not understand what Paul was accused by the Jews of doing. So he decided to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, to discover the charge against Paul.

It is important to picture the scene. Paul stood before the Council and I imagine that the leading Sadducees stared at him in disdainful and contemptuous silence. This is a favourite method by which those in authority attempt to intimidate their opponents.

Paul was not having any of it. He said, "My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day." Ch23v1. He did not address the members of the Sanhedrin in the way to which they were accustomed - rulers of the people and elders of Israel. Paul spoke to them as an equal. He was not going to be put down because he had done all God demanded of him. Paul had a clear conscience because he had done his duty. It is doubtful whether the members of the Sanhedrin had done the same.

The apostle's forthright, confident and defiant statement nettled Ananias. It was not the sort of demeanour the high priest expected. He was sufficiently nettled to instruct one of the court's security men to smack Paul in the mouth. (At this the high priest ordered those standing near Paul to strike him in the mouth v2.)

We need never be on the defensive if we have done our best to serve Jesus. We should hold our heads high and refuse to be intimidated by our critics. I cannot say that I have a clear conscience about the way I played cricket. I wasn't a good loser! I haven't a clear conscience about my teaching career. I lacked self-control. But I am confident that I have done my duty by my church.

(D) Paul showed righteous indignation.

The little apostle was not happy about being punched in the teeth.

(a) He told Ananias what he thought of him.

    (1) He called Ananias a whitewashed wall. One of the ways of covering up the defects of a wall was to give it a coat of whitewash. Every spring it was my job to give the damp, stained, mouldy walls of the Brockley Cricket Club changing rooms a coat of white emulsion. I just slapped the paint on to hide for a while the deplorable state of our premises. So a whitewashed wall is not all that it seems and has much in common with a hypocrite. Paul accused Ananias of being a hypocrite.

    (2) Paul accused Ananias of showing no respect for the law and acting contrary to law. He the judge was behaving lawlessly. "You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the laws by commanding that I be struck." v3.

    (3) The apostle prophesied God's judgment upon Ananias - God will strike you. The high priest was a notoriously bad man. He was a glutton, thief and collaborator with the Romans. Ananias was eventually assassinated by zealotes for his Roman connections.

Some commentators huff and puff at Paul's anger. They think Paul lost his temper and that this, although understandable, was regrettable. Some scholars believe that Paul should have been like Jesus and maintained a dignified silence before his accusers. They overlook that Jesus could be very sharp with his critics. One Sabbath Jesus was teaching in the synagogue when he healed a woman who was bent over and unable to straighten up. The synagogue ruler said to the congregation, "There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath." Jesus did not accept this implied criticism meekly. The Lord answered him, "You hypocrites! Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?"
When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated......Luke13v10to17

As far as I am concerned Ananias deserved every word of Paul's censure. He was a nasty piece of work - irreligious, a crony of the Romans and thoroughly corrupt.

(b) Was he then contrite?
One of the guards said to Paul, "You dare to insult God's high priest?" Paul replied, "Brothers, I did not realise that he was the high priest; for it is written: 'Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.'" v5.

Some commentators like John Stott believe that Paul was being genuinely apologetic. His eyesight was so poor that he did not recognise the high priest as the one who ordered him to be struck. I don't believe this for one minute. Paul sounded as if he knew precisely whom he was addressing when he said, "You whitewashed wall...."

Paul spoke ironically. He laid stress on the, 'he' - "Brothers, I did not realise that HE was the high priest." Paul was implying that he, the person who ordered the guard to strike him in the mouth, was some sort of high priest. Paul was aware that rulers should be treated with respect but he couldn't believe that such a man as Ananias was a ruler of his people.

There is no need for Christians to apologise to the likes of Ananias. He was a dreadful, ungodly man. Who was he to condemn God's chosen servant, Paul. Under certain circumstances we all have a right to be indignant. We should never apologise for criticising those that play false - who are hypocrites.

In the Daily Telegraph for June 14th 2004 I read an article by Michael Parkinson about the upheaval in world cricket caused by the D'Oliveira crisis in 1968. I quote from the article:

Anyone reading Oborne's fascinating book, Basil D'Oliveira: Cricket and Conspiracy - The Untold Story, will be hard pushed to disagree. D'Oliveira's 158 guaranteed him a place in the team to tour South Africa. Or so we thought.

The selectors disagreed and didn't pick him in the squad. Uproar. Then Tom Cartwright withdrew. The selectors chose D'Oliveira. John Vorster, the then prime minister of South Africa, said the selection was political and designed to embarrass South Africa, and he banned the tour.

That was the beginning of South Africa's 20-year sporting isolation. .........

Wherever he turned, D'Oliveira found himself surrounded by people who either betrayed him or tried to blackmail him. His captain, Colin Cowdrey, promised he would support him. He did not. In the crucial selection meeting he spoke against him.

Colin Cowdrey played false and his duplicity makes me feel angry now. So how must D'Oliveira have felt? He would have been perfectly entitled to express his righteous indignation.

On June 14th I also happened to watch a program on TV about the boy soldiers who served in the British Army in the First World War. Nearly a quarter of a million boys between the ages of 14 and 17 illegally enlisted. 120,000 of them were killed. Arthur Markham MP campaigned in the House of Commons to get these boys withdrawn from the trenches. He asked Arthur Tennant, Secretary of War, question after question in Parliament. On every occasion Tennant denied the problem existed - although it was common knowledge in the War Office. Tennant was playing false. Markham's indignation grew at every hypocritical, untruthful response from the Secretary of War. He was a courageous and tenacious MP but he paid a heavy price for his one-man crusade. Markham died, aged 50, of a heart attack.

(E) Paul used spoiling tactics.

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." v7.

The Pharisees were not displeased by Paul's attack on Ananias. There was no love lost between the Pharisees and Sadducees. They were bitter rivals. The Pharisees probably considered Ananias an especially obnoxious character. Perhaps a few of them smiled at Paul's ironical remark.

Paul probably noticed the Pharisees' reaction and this prompted him to introduce a controversial subject about which the two parties violently disagreed, namely, the resurrection of the dead. By doing this the apostle set the orthodox Pharisees against the liberal Sadducees.

Two questions need to be answered:

(1) What did Paul hope to achieve?
There was no chance that a sensible, reasonable discussion on the resurrection would follow from Paul's introduction of the subject. Paul was not invited to explain the grounds of his hope in the resurrection of the dead. He wasn't able to talk about the Jesus, the first fruits of them that sleep. The result was mayhem: A dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, ........ There was a great uproar, ...... The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces.....

I believe that this was Paul's aim - to disrupt proceedings. Some would call it making mischief!

(2) Was Paul justified in what he did?
Yes he was. There was no chance that Paul would get a fair hearing from the Sanhedrin. The Council was no more sympathetic to Jesus than when it engineered his crucifixion in the time of Pilate. Pharisees and Sadducees were united in their opposition to Christianity. The Pharisees were legalistic and the Sadducees rationalistic. Not even the Pharisees would admit that Jesus had risen bodily from the dead. They suggested that Paul might have spoken to a spirit or an angel: "What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?" It was the risen Christ who had spoken to Paul!

When disputes with the opponents of Christianity arise there comes a time to withdraw from the fray. It is pointless arguing with those who just want to show us up and ridicule or denigrate our beliefs. Dr Donald Soper, the Methodist open-air preacher, used to give as good as he got when heckled by those who were hostile to Christianity. Jesus said, "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces."

(F) Rescued and encouraged.

(1) Paul stirred up a hornet's nest.
One of the abiding memories of my boyhood is what transpired when my friend Kenny Boreham went to relieve himself in a ditch and stood on a wasp's nest. He stirred them up and they stirred him up!

Paul's assertion that he stood on trial because of his hope in the resurrection of the dead caused uproar. Such was the violence of the dispute that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. v10. So he had to rescue Paul again. I doubt very much that he was any the wiser for bringing Paul before the Sanhedrin. I hardly think the hatred generated by a difference over doctrine, commended religion to the commander.

It is very bad when Christians squabble over doctrine. The ill will and bad feeling that so often results is a shocking witness to the one who said: "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." John17v23.

(2) The Lord stood near Paul.
These words of Luke are very precious to me: 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." v11.

Jesus acknowledged that Paul had testified about him to the Jews. We could understand Jesus confirming the significance of Peter's testimony on the day of Pentecost when 3000 were converted but here he is approving a witness that failed. Paul gave God's chosen people one last opportunity to repent and turn to Jesus as Lord and Saviour. It is an encouragement to all those whose ministry has not been singularly blessed that Jesus appreciates faithfulness.

The Lord promised Paul that he must testify in Rome. So, in spite of his failure in Jerusalem, there remained work for the apostle to do. Paul was reassured that he was still of service. It is important to receive this reassurance from time to time - especially after failure. It cheers me up, at my advanced age of 62, when I am told that I still have a part to play in my cricket club! It is a far greater privilege to be of abiding use to the King of Glory!

Finally, Jesus gives Paul two words of advice - "Take courage!" Courage is a much underestimated virtue in Christian circles in the West. It is a sad fact that the hymn, 'Onward Christian soldiers,' is rarely sung today. It was the quality that Arthur Markham needed in his unrelenting campaign to get the boy soldiers withdrawn from the trenches during the First World War. It was supremely the virtue the apostle to the Gentiles exhibited during the final stages of his triumphant testimony to the saving work of Jesus Christ and indwelling power of his Spirit.