We come this morning in our study to 22nd chapter of, again, as we look at the trial of the apostle Paul as it takes its second phase. We remember, if we’ve been studying along in our series in Acts, that the apostle Paul has completed his third missionary tour by returning to the city of Jerusalem with money that he gathered from the Gentile churches; and he brought this along with representative Gentile converts from each of those churches as a sign of love to the Jewish Christians to endeavored to conciliate the two parts of the church, as well as the money being used for the needs physical of the saints in Jerusalem.
When he got there, there was some antagonism to him. Some word had come that he was anti-Jewish, that he was against the culture of Judaism; and, so he endeavored to kind of conciliate even the Jewish Christians by taking a further step, going into the temple to fulfill a Jewish vow. When he arrived in the temple and was carrying out this vow with four other Jewish people, who were also Christians, some Jews from Asia Minor who knew him only as a disturber of Judaism and who hated him, started a riot which was designed to end in his death, – in fact, in his being beaten to death. In the middle of the attempt to beat him to death, the Romans intervened, saved his life, and started to take him into the barracks, ascending the steps to Fort Antonia, which was adjacent to the temple ground.
At the top of the steps, the apostle asked for permission to speak to the Jewish people, and, of course, Claudius Lysias, – who was the commander of a thousand men; who was the head of the riot squad – allowed Paul to do that, figuring that he would then get the testimony he needed to find out what crime this man had been committing that had brought upon this riot. He assumed that he had done something for which the Jews were killing him; and so when Paul spoke, of course, his testimony was completely pure. All he told about was his testimony about how he was a Jew, how he revered his Judaism, how the traditions of Judaism meant much to him. He had not shown himself anti-Jewish. He had not been a desecrator of the temple. He was not against the law of God, – which were the three false accusations that started the riot. And then, of course the people rioted again; and the commander still didn’t have any charge to hold against Paul.
Then he hauled him into the barracks and thought, “I know how I’ll get the charge out of him. I’ll torture him by scourging him.” He had him laid out and framed and stretched for scourging and, at that time, Paul very quietly introduced the fact that he was a Roman citizen; and immediately, in kind of a stir of panic, they cut him loose because it was a crime to do that to a Roman citizen punishable by death. And so still Claudius Lysias has this very disturbing character on his hands, has gotten no closer to anything that would be a crime for which he is to be accused and tried.
He has one other approach. He figures now, if I’m going to get any answers – he couldn’t get any from the mob; they hadn’t the faintest idea why they were rioting, like any mob; as we’ve said, it’s a body without a head – and he hadn’t gotten any closer to the truth in the testimony of Paul because everything that Paul said was completely honest and pure, and there was nothing in it criminal at all. And the torturing method never came off. His only recourse then was to take Paul to the Jewish Sanhedrin, place him before the tribunal of his own people, and have his own people make an accusation against him. So, it would be like a preliminary hearing under which a prima facie cause for accusation would be brought, and then he could be hauled off to Caesarea and tried before the governor for the civil crime, – whatever it was – that was punishable by death.
Now, as we approach this particular passage in which Paul speaks to the Jewish council that has been gathered by Claudius, we’re reminded, I think, of something that runs all through the book of Acts, and I just want to give it to you, so that you can put the whole picture into context. One of the streams that runs from the beginning of Acts to the very end of Acts, – the very last chapter – is the theme of Jewish opposition to the gospel. All the way through the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; we see it, don’t we? It begins to stir with statements about Jesus, such as “Oh, could anything good come out of Nazareth?” And it moves until they begin to be disturbed by Him, and then they begin to plot against Him; and, ultimately, they plan to kill Him; and, ultimately, they kill Him.
Well, in the book of Acts, you have that same kind of hardening process and progress that surges with the apostolic ministry as it goes through the book. The book of Acts is divided into three parts.
The first part, 1 to 7, has to do with the spread of the gospel in Jerusalem. Eight through 12 has to do with the spread of the gospel in Judea and Samaria. Thirteen through 28 has to do with the spread of the gospel to the outermost part of the earth. As the choir sang this morning, those are the phases of witnessing: Jerusalem, Judea-Samaria, the outermost part of the earth.
And along with the apostolic preaching of the cross in each of the three sections came the rising tide of Jewish antagonism. For example, in the first section, we find that on the Day of Pentecost when the gospel was first introduced in Jerusalem, there were 3,000 people saved. Now, really, there wasn’t any opposition. The miracle of languages was so remarkable and left the people so dumbfounded and so perplexed that the best they could come up with was some ridicule. And they ridiculed the apostles as if they were drunk. But when Peter introduced the fact that this that they had seen was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel, the ridicule ceased. In fact, there grew kind of a gnawing fear that maybe they had, in fact, crucified their Messiah. And when 3,000 people were saved, the Bible says, “Fear came upon every soul,” and it says that they had – the church did – “Had favor with all the people.”
So, beginningly, there was rather a placid, if there was at all, an antagonism. But it didn’t take long. Peter stood up to preach in chapter 3 and it blew the lid off. In chapter 4, the Pharisees, the Sadducees got upset; particularly the Sadducees, because he preached resurrection, which they did not believe. And, of course, when he announced Jesus as Messiah, this irritated them; they could see the terrible consequence if that were true, and so the persecution began in 4 and in 5. And with the persecution came the spread of the gospel. Finally, in chapter 7, it culminated. When the gospel had filled Jerusalem, they reacted by stoning Stephen, which was kind of the climax of Jewish opposition in Jerusalem.
Then in the second phase, beginning immediately after that in chapter 8, the persecution blew from there under a man by the name of Paul, and he scattered the church. And the church was scattered, you’ll remember, into Judea and Samaria, which brought the gospel to the next area, and the preaching outran the persecution. Persecution only affected the scattering of the church, which meant evangelism in new dimensions and new territories. And so from chapter 8 on to chapter 12 you see the fomenting of opposition in that dimension, finally climaxing as it goes on into chapter 13 with the Jews cursing and blaspheming in Antioch of Pisidia, and stoning Paul in Lystra in chapter 14.
Then as you go further in the book, the third phase of Jewish opposition comes as the gospel goes to the world, and everywhere Paul goes, the people – some Jews are saved, but the majority of the people turn against him in violence. Finally, Paul takes his journey all the way to Rome, and it all ends up – Turn in your Bible to Acts 28 – it all ends up with a final denunciation of Israel because of their opposition.
In chapter 28 verse 25, there is a Scripture quoted that is quoted for the fourth time in the Bible. The first time, it was stated by Isaiah. The second, time Jesus said it. The third time John, said it. The fourth time, it is recorded here by Paul. Acts 28:25, “And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed after Paul had spoken one word” – that is; the Jews departed – “...well spoke the Holy Spirit by Isaiah the prophet unto our fathers, saying, ‘Go unto this people and say’ – that is unto Israel – ‘Hearing, you shall hear and shall not understand; seeing, you shall see and not perceive. For the heart of this people has become obtuse, indifferent, set apart, going a different direction. Their ears are dull of hearing, their eyes have they closed lest they should see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.’ Be it known therefore unto you that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and they will hear it’.”
Now, here you have almost a climactic statement of the running progress of Jewish antagonism ending in a turn to the Gentiles. This is the fourth time such has been stated in Scripture. And, of course, this comments on the indifference of Israel.
So, we see then, that one of the themes running all through the book of Acts is the same as it was in the gospel: Jewish antagonism. And you know, as much as our hearts go out to Israel, and as much as we love the people of Israel – and indeed we do – we see it today, don’t we – The same kind of antagonism.
Well, Claudius Lysias comes to himself in chapter 22 and introduces to us a situation that fits into this overall theme. We see here the antagonism of the Jews toward Paul – and I just gave you the overall view so that you’d just be able to put this in context. This is just typical of the reaction to the gospel, and what is so astounding about it is that the Messiah Christ fulfilled every Messianic prophecy. He was an absolute completeness – everything that they anticipated the Messiah to be and more – and yet they rejected, and continued to reject, and continued to reject, which shows that the religion which God gave them to lead them to Messiah, they had blunted into an end in itself.
Now, here we find that in this context, Claudius Lysias figures “The only way I’m going get a testimony out of this guy that is going make any sense is to take him to the tribunal of his own people.” And so he places him before these folks. Look at verse 30. “On the next day, because he would have known the certainty for what reason he was accused by the Jews...” – that is, he wanted to know what the crime was - “he loosed him from his bands.” That is, he loosed Paul from the bands that he’d been kept in which of course, Agabus, you remember, had prophesied would happen; that he would be bound. “He let him go, and he commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, brought Paul down, and set him before them.”
So Claudius Lysias, who is the commander of this particular garrison of soldiers at Jerusalem, brings the Sanhedrin into the Fort Antonia. That’s interesting, now. Hang onto that thought. Usually, the Sanhedrin met in the Hall of Hewn Stones, which was the place set aside for them – a sort of an amphitheater kind of forum-type thing where the 70 members of the Sanhedrin – it’s from sunedrion in the Greek which means to sit together. – These were the men who sat together in judgment. They would sit in kind of a forum. The high priest was the president – he was the 71st member – would sit in front. Two people would sit there as secretaries taking down the count on the vote. The prisoner would stand in the middle. That was the usual format. But on this occasion, it seems apparent that Claudius Lysias gathered the Sanhedrin down in the basement of Fort Antonia, that he called them to come there and brought Paul down to them.
Now, it’s interesting to hang onto that thought, because it brings to bear on a future act of Paul. Now, this is the fifth time that the Sanhedrin – the Jewish council, the brains, the wisdom of Israel – has been put in a position to have to evaluate the claims of Christ. This is the fifth time.
The first time was at the trial of Jesus. The second time was in Acts 4 with Peter and John when Peter said, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there’s none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” The third time was before the Twelve in chapter 5. The fourth time was Stephen. The fifth time was Paul.
Now, if you want to talk about responsibility, folks, they had heard the truth from Jesus, Peter, John, the Twelve, Stephen, and Paul; and you don’t get any better preachers than that. They were really responsible. They had made wrong judgments based on impure motives all the way through, and here they are for the fifth time.
You know, in a sense, you have to say that God is gracious, don’t you? Five times, the peerless communicators of the gospel, the greatest who ever lived, were face-to-face with those men and they were allowed the privilege of hearing the truth. Five times they condemned themselves – in the language of John 3, “Because they believed not,” which shows you the hardness of heart of the Jewish opposition. They were against it. They had set their minds against it. They were blinded by Satan. Therefore, the light of the glorious gospel could not shine unto them, not even in the face of Jesus Christ.
And so here they are again, for the fifth time, having to make an evaluation of the claims of Christ and the claims of Christianity. The mob had accused. Yes, in chapter 21:28, they had accused Paul of being against the people, against the law, and against the temple. But he didn’t know that==and those were false charges; Paul had already refuted them, hadn’t he, in his testimony in the temple courtyard; he already told them that he was a Jew, that he was identified with Israel, that he was not against Israel, and that he had done all of the things which God had led him to do. He was not against God. He was not against the law of God, the Word of God; and he was not against the temple. He himself had gone to the temple to make a Nazarite vow. In fact, he was in the temple at the time he was taken in the riot.
So, he comes before the Jewish council to give some kind of an answer, to get some kind of information across so that he can have some conviction, or some crime – at least – assigned to him. The Sanhedrin, then, comes together to meet.
Incidentally, just as a footnote, the first time we see the Sanhedrin – they take their roots way back to Moses’ time – but the first time they really appear in history is in the Greek period sometime after Alexander the Great, and they’re abolished in 70 AD and do not exist since – that time.
The council was made up, and we’ll see why this is important – of high priests, which would be: the acting high priest, the former high priest, and some special members of the family of the high priest. And it was made up also of elders. Now, an elder was the head of a family or the head of a tribal family. It also included scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. So you had: high priests, elders, the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees; and the high priest was the moderator or the president.
The Sanhedrin had its own police, its own police for arresting people. They could take care of all such arrests and punishments except capital punishment; that they had to defer to the Roman government. That’s why, in the case of Jesus, they had to go to the Roman government to get Pilate to execute Jesus, because they did not have that right.
Now, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the only time they were allowed to take a life – this is interesting – was when somebody desecrated the holy temple. Remember? When a Gentile entered the temple, they had the right at that point, to take a life. And that is the very thing they were attempting to do to Paul. So, if they could come up in this Sanhedrin meeting with proof that Paul had brought a Gentile into the temple, then they would have gone ahead and killed Paul, even though they really had no right to do that because Paul wasn’t a Gentile. He only would have been accused of bringing a Gentile in, which was not a punishable crime – at least punishable by death. But they twisted it to come out that Paul would die for desecrating the temple by bringing this Gentile into the inner part.
So if they can get this accusation across, then it’s hands-off for Claudius Lysias and the Romans; they can execute Paul. It’s fascinating to find out that they can’t do it. They can’t get any accusation across, and we’ll see how it works as we go through the trial.
Well, I divide it into four parts. Here’s an outline. You can follow along on your little paper if you want and take some notes. What happens here is exciting, and we see four parts, or aspects, to the trial: the confrontation; the conflict; the conquest; and, the consolation.
Let’s look at the confrontation. I guess I like Paul because he’s that kind of a person, because that’s kind of the way I am; I like to confront situations, and that’s the way he was. He could’ve been scared. I mean let’s face it; he’d been beaten up just short of death. His body ached. He’d been put on a frame, stretched – as it were – to be scourged, and then cut down. He’d been in the barracks overnight alone with his thoughts. I mean, he’d gone through tremendous trial, even with the Christian Jews there who didn’t quite understand him. His life had been one hassle all the way along, and now in this physical pain that he was suffering from the beating and in the anxiety of what was happening, this could have been a time when he just kind of fell apart. When maybe his head was bowed a little bit; when maybe we could have said, “Paul, you got a right to be a little scared, and a little cowardly, and to back off a little bit and be sort of withdrawn.” But then, that’s not Paul. He’s courageous. He’s bold, and confrontation is his style, and he stands nose-to-nose with the Sanhedrin, eyeball-to-eyeball, and dominates them.
Now, this is the kind of courage that changes things. This is the kind of man that comes along once in a while, who makes a dent in the world, who makes waves in society.
Look at verse 1, “And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, ‘Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day’.” Now, that doesn’t sound like much at first glance; let’s look at it. That’s not pussyfooting around. The statement “earnestly beholding” means he stared at them. It’s a very strong word. Atenizō means to stare at, to gaze at, to fix your eyes on. I mean, you could imagine him sort of twiddling his thumbs behind his back and rocking from foot to foot with his head down saying “Uh, er, I, well, I don’t know how I got into this mess, uh, er.” That isn’t him.
He stood up; looked them eyeball-to-eyeball. You might be able to call this kind of thing the look of conscious integrity. You see, he knew he was innocent, and he knew God was with him, and so he was completely confident. He just stared at them, and you know, those were people he knew. Some of them were the students of Gamaliel, who had studied with him when he was younger. Many of them were Pharisees, and the camaraderie and esprit de corps of the Pharisees was really amazing; and they were buddies. They all knew who he was.
In fact, he had been the arch persecutor of the church and had worked in association with those people in that Sanhedrin. And now they thought he was a traitor; they thought he was an apostate; they thought he was a blasphemer. But he never flinched. He stared them right in the eye. And you note the first thing he said? “Brethren, men and brethren.”
You say, “What’s so significant about that?” Well, the proper way to address the Sanhedrin was not that. The proper way was Acts 4:8, “Then Peter filled with the Holy Spirit said to them, ‘Ye rulers of the people and elders of Israel’.” Now, you see, the formal title “You rulers of the people and elders of Israel,” gave them their dignity; it put them up where they belonged, and so you were supposed to acquiesce to that.
The Sanhedrin was composed of the high priest; any former high priest still living; certain members of the high priest’s family; elders – and elders were tribal elders or family elders; the heads of tribes or families – Pharisees; Sadducees; and ,scribes. Now, that was the hoi polloi; I mean that was the uppity-up – not the hoi polloi – that was the...the mucky-mucks, you know, of society. And Paul looks at them and says, “Fellows.” He brought them right down where he was.
Now, I don’t think this was antagonistic. I think it was just bold, and he just wanted to establish right then that he was not in deference to their authority; that he was not in a situation of submission. And then his assertion is even more bold. He says to them, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” That is bold. He says “You know, all through my life, until now, I have done what my conscience has told me God wanted me to do.” Now, you see what that does to them? Now, they’re not judging Paul; they’re judging whom? God, you see. So he really puts them in a corner. “Now, my conscience is clear,” he says.
Later, when he was on trial before the governor, Felix – and we’ll see that in weeks to come, chapter 24:16 – he says “I do this all the time. I always want to have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward men.” In other words “I do what my conscience tells me is right. My motives have always been pure.” Chapter 3 and verse 6 of Philippians, he said, “I was even more zealous than my contemporaries,” and he says the same thing in Galatians 1:14, doesn’t he? He says in 3:6, “I was as considers the law, blameless.” And, you know, there’s a sense in which he’s saying to those guys “You know this is true. You know me. You knew all my life from the time I studied with Gamaliel. You know all the story of my Pharisee days. You know how I operated within the Sanhedrin, of which I was a member when Stephen was stoned. You know how I persecuted the church. You know my zeal for God. You know that I’ve always lived in good conscience before God, and it hasn’t changed.”
In fact, previously – when he gave his testimony to the Jews from the steps, he had said to them – “Everything that’s happened in my life, God has done to me. The Lord stopped me on the Damascus road. The Lord told me to do this. I came to Jerusalem. The Lord spoke to me in a trance and told me to be a minister to the Gentiles. If you’ve got a quarrel, don’t talk to me, tell God. He’s doing all this, and I’m still living in good conscience before God.”
Well, I’ll tell you something; that’s good. But boy, that really made them mad, because – you see – that made him right. He was saying, in effect “I’m right. I’m doing what’s right,” and they knew this. They were saying in their minds “Oh, you know, the guy’s got a point. I mean I’ve known him for years, and that’s how he is. He is zealous toward God. I’ve never known him to do anything he didn’t think God wanted him to do. He even made the statement that, ‘I felt it was necessary to persecute Jesus of Nazareth, to do many things unto Jesus of Nazareth’,” he says later in Acts. “I felt it was right to do that” even when he was going around breathing out threatening and slaughter against Christians, he thought he was doing the right thing. He was a man with a tremendous sense of conscientiousness toward God. “I’ve always done what I believe God wanted me to do.”
Now, that gives us an interesting point, folks. Conscience is not always the key to truth. Did you know that? There are a lot of conscientious people who are dead wrong, and they’ve tricked their conscience. They’ve looped their conscience around the truth. Now, you can play games with your conscience. Now, the conscience can be used by God, and God has used it; and, if the conscience is as God designed it, it will convict. But you can mess your conscience up. You can have a defiled conscience, an evil conscience. Now, no matter what kind of conscience you have, that isn’t going to save you. People always say, “Well, if a guy believes he’s right, he’s right.” That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard. That’s Chicken Little. He believed the sky was falling. It just wasn’t falling. Sorry, Chicken Little; you’re wrong. It’s good that you believe that, and some people would say “Wonderful, whatever; he believes it is wonderful.”
Having a good conscience towards God isn’t going to save anybody unless truth is involved. Listen to what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:4, “For I know nothing against myself.” He says, “As far as my conscience is concerned, I’m clear.” I don’t have a guilt complex. I don’t have a guilty conscience. I’m clear. I don’t know any accusation against myself. “Yet, I am not by that justified.” You see what he’s saying? Even with a clear conscience, that doesn’t justify me in the next statement, “He that judges me is the Lord.”
Your conscience can play tricks on you and get around the truth. You may have no guilt from the standpoint of conscience toward God. You may think you’re doing right and be doing wrong. You say, “How does your conscience get so messed up?” Well, the New Testament talks about it this way. The New Testament says you can have a weak conscience. You can have a weak conscience, First Corinthians chapter 8 – the New Testament says you can have a defiled conscience. Titus 1:15, “You just sinned so much that the conscience gets so defiled that it can’t give pure impulse.” The New Testament says, Hebrews 10:22 “you can have an evil conscience.” Once your conscience is defiled, then it becomes evil and it talks you out of what is right and gives you wrong messages.
Lastly, 1 Timothy 4:2 – and this is the worst disease of all – you can have a “”seared conscience. You know what a seared conscience is? That’s a conscience that is covered with scar tissue. I had a car accident, as you know, and I have scar tissue all over my back. You can poke me with pins on the back. You don’t have to test it, but it’s possible. You can poke me with pins on the back, and I don’t feel a thing because scar tissue has built there. The same thing can happen in the conscience. Scar tissue covers the conscience, and the prickings and pokings of divine truth no longer create any sensation. You have so defiled your conscience that it has become an evil conscience and is seared against truth.
In that situation, a person can believe what he’s doing is right and be dead wrong, and that’s a sad state to get into, a seared conscience. People can go to hell and not even realize it.
Now, conscience is a very important thing. You say, “What is conscience, John? Exactly what is it?” Let me just give you a simple definition. Conscience is that which makes moral judgment on your action. Conscience is that faculty that makes moral judgment on what you do. You do it, Romans 2:15 says, and your conscience either excuses you or accuses you, right? Romans 2. Your conscience makes a moral valuation of your action.
Now, if you have a defiled, weak, evil, or seared conscience, that moral valuation is wrong, you see? And so for a long time in Paul’s life, his conscience was fouled up, and his conscience was telling him what he was doing is great, and it wasn’t. You say, “How did his conscience get corrected?” Well, his conscience, when he got saved, became a -1 Timothy 1:19 – “good conscience’; Acts 24:16, “conscience void of offense toward God, a conscience that didn’t want to offend God.” I love this, 1 Timothy 3:9 “a pure conscience.”
You say, “Well, John, how do you go from a weak, defiled, evil, seared conscience to a good, void of offense, pure conscience?” The key, friends, is in Romans 9:1, and I’ll show you this, because I think it’s worth our look. Romans 9:1 – and it’s not the context that’s important; it’s the statement that he makes. Paul says, “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not.” Now, Paul’s going to say something, okay? He’s going to make a statement. His statement is going to be verse 2, that “I have continual heaviness and continual sorry in my heart for Israel.” He’s going to tell everybody that he really has a heart for Israel. Now, there are some people who are going to say, “Oh, baloney, you don’t have any heart for Israel or you wouldn’t be going around condemning the Jews all the time.” So he says, “Look, I do care for Israel. I say the truth. I’m not lying.”
You say, “Well, how do you know you’re not lying?” “My conscience also” – what – “bears me witness.” You say, “My conscience tells me. My conscience makes the moral judgment that my action is proper.” You say, “How can you trust your conscience, Paul?” What are the last four words of verse 1? “My conscience also bears me witness in the Holy Spirit.”
Now what happens when a person becomes a believer is that conscience is purified by the Holy Spirit; and, as a Christian, I believe conscience is giving pure information. I believe that the Holy Spirit, in conjunction with your conscience, is going to send pure impulses. That’s why a Christian who sins is going to suffer far more intense guilt than a non-believer who’s got a seared conscience. The Holy Spirit will operate in and through your conscience and make moral judgments on your action.
Now, when people violate that – you’ve heard people say, “So-and-so has got a guilt complex.” You know what that is? That is simply a person who continually violates the impulse of conscience, and they realize that conscience is saying “You’re doing no-nos all the time.” Conscience is making negative moral judgment on action. Consequently, the person begins to pile up the guilt, pile up the guilt.
When you can say, “I have a clear conscience. I have a pure conscience. I have an undefiled conscience. I have a conscience void of offense toward God,” what you’re simply saying is that “I don’t sense any guilt. My conscience tells me my acts are morally valuable to God.”
Now, that really is important. Your conscience as a Christian is that tool in connection with the Holy Spirit which makes moral value judgments on your actions. Respond to it because your conscience will not only make the judgment – it’s not only the judge; your conscience is also the executioner. If you don’t listen to your conscience, you’ll suffer from your conscience. Your conscience will continue to accuse you, and you’ll have a guilty conscience, and a guilty complex, and you’ll wind up needing psychological or psychoanalytical help, which isn’t really the out, either.
In conscience then, the Christian acts in agreement with the Holy Spirit. And Paul could say in his life as a Christian that he operated on this principle.
Second Corinthians 1:12, “Our rejoicing is this.” You want to be a happy Christian? You know how to really be happy? “Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience.” You see, the conscience is the thing that messes you up, that makes you unhappy because if you’re sinning, it is telling you that, and that is making you unhappy because you’re having to live with constantly being told, “You are a crumb. You are a sinner. You are defiled” and so forth.
So he says, “Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience: that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have behaved ourselves.” I behaved myself in accord with what the Spirit was doing through my conscience.
Let me tell you something, beloved. You ought to be able to say what Paul said, “I have lived in good conscience before God until this day.” You say that; and, in any situation, you’ll rejoice. You’ll rejoice.
Now, believe me, as I said before, if you’re not a Christian, your conscience can get messed up. You say, “Well, can you support that scripturally?” I think so. John 16:1. Jesus is talking to His disciples, and He’s got a lot of warning about what’s going to come to them in chapter 15 at the end. And then He goes into 16, and He says this. “These things have I spoken unto you, that you should not be offended.” In other words, don’t be shocked when you get persecuted. Watch. “They shall put you out of the synagogues” – they’re going to un-synagogue you, excommunicate – “Yes,” He says – watch this one – “the time comes that whoever kills you will think he’s doing God service.”
Do you see how warped the conscience can get? Here’s a guy who thinks he’s serving God, and he’s going to kill you. You know who that guy was He’s probably talking about here? Paul. Paul said, regarding Israel in Romans 10 – he says, you know “my heart’s prayer for Israel is that they be saved. They have a zeal for God, but not according to – what – knowledge.”
You see? Conscience without information is going to run amok. So Paul says, “I had pure motives.” He’s making them evaluate him. They know his lifestyle. They know this is true. He’s got all these guys thinking “You know, this guy is” just – he’s – “right. He’s not a bad guy. He’s certainly been a conscientious character. I’ve got to admit that.” So they’re all sort of turning into witnesses for the defense; very silent ones, but maybe mulling it in their minds.
Well, the confrontation. Let’s look at point two, and at least we can shoot it out at you. We won’t get very far; but anyway. What happens when he says this? Well, boy, the old high priest blows his bonnet at that in verse 2, “And the high priest Ananias” – not to be confused with Ananias and Sapphira, and not to be confused with Annas, who was the former high priest at the time of Jesus’ trial; this is a new one, the son of Nedebeus who started in 47 AD and went about 11 or 12 years after that, and then was assassinated.
But, anyway, “The high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.” Boy, the high priest lost his cool. Now, this Ananias was really just a profane, foul, filthy character; one of the most disgraceful and foul profaners of the office of high priest. The historians, the ancient historians, have all bad to say about him.
Josephus says “he took all the tithes that were to be distributed for the living of the common priests and stole all of it.” H kept it for himself. He assassinated anybody and everybody who got in his way. He lined his own pockets every way possible. In fact, he started a war; at least was in on the beginning perpetration of a war, and Rome got upset with him; and so Rome hauled him over to bring him to trial, and they couldn’t get anything against him. He was clever, and they had to let him go, and that was five years before this account. He came back, and he was still ruling – very, very evil, tyrannical man.
He became very pro-Roman, however, and really bowed and scraped to Rome, so much so that his own people began to hate him. Imagine a Jewish high priest who is pro-Roman. They hated him. And finally, when in 66 AD – four years before the destruction of Jerusalem – a group of Jewish insurrectionists started a war against Rome, one of the people they wanted to get was Ananias. They found him hiding in an aqueduct, dragged him out, and murdered him and his brother. So he had a rather hasty demise.
Now, here this character Ananias commands one of his henchmen to smite Paul on the mouth. Now, it’s interesting to look at the word smite, tuptō. The word means “a blow with a full fist, or a weapon.” This isn’t just a slap. This isn’t no-no, you know. No. This is, you know, foom – with a full fist. Or one of the temple police, if it was, could have hit him with the clubs that they carried, right across the mouth.
Now, it is implied that that’s what happened in response to his request. The word “smite” is the same word used in 21:32 of Acts when it says, “The mob was beating him.” So, this isn’t just slapping him. This is a full shot in the mouth, and it must have come as a shock to Paul who had just finished his opening sentence when this guy belted him in the mouth.
Now, let’s face it, Paul is human, right? And he’s been through an awful lot. We’re going to assume that he’s going to react, and we’re going to assume right. He just kind of lost it for a minute; which is good, I’m glad he did because I’m glad his humanness comes out now and then. Verse 3 it says, “Then Paul said unto him, ‘God shall smite you, you whited wall!” Now, if you want to translate that in the vernacular, what it says is the high priest said, “Punch him in the mouth,” and Paul said, “God punch you in the mouth, you phony.” That’s what he said. Now that is strong language.
You say, “Paul, didn’t you know that Jesus, when He was reviled, reviled not again?” “When He was threatened, He threatened not,” 1 Peter 2:23. You know what my answer to that is? This isn’t Jesus. This is Paul; let him be Paul. This is a good illustration of how the old man, the old self, can activate itself without the will. You know, it’s just there. You get hit in the mouth after you’ve been beaten and hauled around and gone through what he’s gone through, and your first reaction is, “Whoa,” see? And if you read 1 Corinthians 9 where Paul gives a description of boxing, he may have had boxing in his background; and his reaction might have been just that, you know.
But he’s human, and certainly he had an old self. He had an old will, and his will in Christ, his Christian principles, just couldn’t stop the old thing from just firing out. Jesus didn’t have that problem; there was no old nature to react. But you study Jesus’ life, and you’ll find that there were times when He had righteous indignation. He made a whip and scourged the temple. He did that twice, and He had a few choice words for the Pharisees – not unlike this statement. He said, “You are not whited walls, but whited sepulchers. Outside, you’re nice and painted. Inside, you stink, and you’re full of dead men’s bones.” They used to paint the tombs because if a Jew touched a dead body or something defiled by a dead body, he got a defilement. So, in order to keep you from leaning on a tomb or stumbling into one, they painted them white, so you could avoid them. So Jesus said, “That’s what you are. You’re phonies. Outside, you’re clean. Inside, you’re defiled.” That’s Matthew.
But here Paul says, “You’re a whited wall,” and I don’t think his reference is to the words of Jesus, but to the words of Ezekiel in chapter 13 verses 10 to 16 where Ezekiel pictures a wall all built with bad mortar. And you can see the picture; here’s a lovely wall. It’s all built, and all the mortar’s rotten in it. Bad, and he paints it nice, and the first guy that comes along and leans on it, and the whole wall falls down. He says, “You’re a phony. You look good on the outside. There’s nothing there. There’s no substantiation.”
The high priest had violated the law, so he says to him, “You sit in judgment after the law over me, and you command me to be smitten against the law?” In other words “Here you are, the great judge who’s going to bring me to the law, and you’re breaking the law.” You know what Jewish law said? Jewish law said, “He who strikes the cheek of an Israelite, strikes, as it were, the glory of God.” That’s Jewish law. Jewish law said, “He who strikes an Israelite strikes the Holy One.” The Jewish law safeguarded the rights of a man, and he was innocent until proven guilty. And Ananias had no business touching him by way of the Jewish law; he had no business touching him by way of criminal punishment, either. He wasn’t even accused of anything, let along judged of it to be guilty.
Incidentally, what he said turned out to be a prophecy. “God smite you, you whited wall!” That was a prophecy. It wasn’t long until that’s exactly what happened. God took his life, and he was murdered. Let’s give Paul a little bit of room to be a man. He had a fiery temperament. Earlier, before he was a Christian, you know, he was breathing out threatening to slaughter. He was like a dragon – breathing in and out slaughter, like a fiery dragon. He was a fiery guy. I’m amazed that we’ve made it from chapter 9 to 23 before we’ve seen this. Since his conversion, the Holy Spirit just made a different person out of him, transformation.
So his flashes of anger and his flashes of absolute honesty can be excused in a sense; and if you stay with us next week, you’ll see one of the most beautiful responses to what happens, which we don’t have time to show you. But look what happens, – and I think it’s just interesting to mention it – “They that stood by said, ‘Revilest thou God’s high priest’?”
What was Paul’s reaction to that? We’ll tell you next week.
What am I saying to you this morning? Well, I wanted to say more, but let me say this. If you learned about conscience, maybe you learned a good thing. If you learned about boldness, maybe you learned another good thing. I hope that God would give us that same kind of boldness that Paul had, and that same kind of commitment to live before the world with a good conscience. Let’s pray.
Father, we recognize that the Word of God speaks so pointedly, so dramatically through our lives. We thank You for this man Paul, who is to us such a beautiful example, so undaunted, so courageous, so bold to face-to-face confront the world and speak what he knew to be true and to be able to say “My life gives evidence that what I say is real.”
Oh God, may we be able to stand before the world and to say “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day,” and to be able to say it to the people who know us best and have them believe it. Make our gospel credible, because our lives are believable.
Help us, Father, to be willing to stand in front of the world and name the name of Jesus Christ, boldly. Help us to live with a pure conscience, void of offense toward God, toward man; and, thus no rejoicing because of it. We pray in Christ’s blessed name. Amen.
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