In our study of Acts chapter twenty three, we look at the start of his legal trials and we will see how God's hands are at work behind the scenes. We will see how God protects His servant as well as providing him with opportunities to tell people of God's grace.
Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, 'My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.'
Paul opens this first court appearance by telling the leaders that he has a clear conscious as he has done what God asked him to do. We, like Paul, must understand that we answer to God as we are His servants because we love Him.
At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth.
The high priest didn't like what Paul had to say and so he ordered that Paul be slapped in the mouth. We may ask ourselves why Ananias took such offense to what Paul said but it really comes down to power. If people know that they have freedom in Christ and answer to God directly instead of to an earthly priest, that priest will lose his power and in many cases wealth. The same is true today in many cases and was condemned by Jesus in the letters to the churches (see Revelation 2:6) when he spoke of the practices of the Nicolaitans.
Then Paul said to him, '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.'
This is the same type of thing that Jesus said to the teachers of the law in Luke 11:37-52. A whitewash is simply like a cheap paint on the wall as it makes the outside look good for a while but can hide its supporting structure. There are people like this even today as they say the right "church phrases" but it is all talk and there is no faith behind it to put the words into action. This is also what James was warning about in his letter to believers (see James 1:19-27).
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."'
The command that Paul quoted was given to Moses, in Exodus 22:28, and, even though Paul was not under the Law, he did his best to keep the Law as a witness to others. Paul realized and was a great example of the fact that our obedience to God does not depend on the actions of others. He apologized for breaking this law and explained that it happened because of his ignorance of the identity of the high priest.
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.'
Paul understood the people that he was on trial before because he was trained and raised to be a Jewish religious leader. He gets to the heart of the matter which is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.)
The Sadducees believed only in the physical body and the here and now while the Pharisees believed in resurrection and the spirits. After Paul spoke, they started arguing with each other about these things. There are those that say that Paul did this so that he could get away from them but that is not true as we know that Paul knew he was going to be kept and sent to Rome for trial. Even in the face of this trial, Paul was simply stating the facts about Jesus and the resurrection and it was not some clever plan that he dreamed up to escape what he knew God was calling him to do.
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 said. 'What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?'
The Pharisees thought that it was possible that a spirit or angel had given the message to Paul and so defended him. The Sadducees (who did not believe in spirits and angels) are like many Christians today who say that God doesn't talk to His people. We were given the Holy Spirit which is our Counselor and the way that God speaks to our hearts every day.
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.
The argument over resurrection and spirits got so bad that the commander was afraid for Paul. He had Paul taken into protective custody and kept in the barracks with the soldiers.
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.
Before he came to Jerusalem, Paul knew that he was going to be arrested for sharing the gospel. He boldly went ahead because he knew that was God's will for him. Now, the Lord tells him that he must do the same thing in Rome. We may try to elevate Paul as some sort of super Christian as God was using him in a mighty way but God has prepared things for all of us to do (see Ephesians 2:10).It is the same for all of us in that we are all called to testify about Jesus Christ wherever the Lord sends us and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.
The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot.
A group of forty Jews made a pact to kill Paul. They pledged that they would not eat or drink until he was dead. These days it seems like people take oaths and give their word with no intention of keeping it but it was not like that during these times. The men were serious and intended to kill Paul before the end of the day.
They went to the chief priests and elders and said, 'We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.'
The forty men needed the help of the religious leaders to carry out their plan. They asked them to have another trial and while Paul was on his way to appear they would ambush him. This is the same way that Satan usually attacks Christians in that it is rarely a direct frontal assault.
But when the son of Paul's sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul. Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, 'Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.' So he took him to the commander. The centurion said, 'Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.'
Paul's nephew learned of the plot to kill him and went to tell him about it. Paul then sent him to tell the commander what he knew. This is a wonderful example of how God takes care of His own people. God had Paul's nephew where he needed to be at the perfect time to hear of the plan. That same God is at work in our lives today; we just need to slow down and be alert to see Him at work.
The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, 'What is it you want to tell me?' He said, 'The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. Don't give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.'
Paul's nephew repeated the story to the commander. Given the facts, the commander now has a choice to make and this is a picture of our job in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. We, like Paul's nephew, are called to tell people what we know but we cannot make them do the right thing and accept Christ. No matter how many fancy words we can come up with it is still comes down to people hearing about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The commander dismissed the young man and cautioned him, 'Don't tell anyone that you have reported this to me.' Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, 'Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide mounts for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.'
The commander decided to do the right thing and so he sent Paul to the governor under heavy guard. It would not have went well for him if he had let Paul, a Roman citizen, be killed by a bunch of Jews and so he sent the problem to his boss, the governor. Sometimes, God uses people that don't even know Him to do His will and that is what happens here as God's will was for Paul to testify in Rome. This is the first step in that journey.
He wrote a letter as follows: Claudius Lysias, To His Excellency, Governor Felix: Greetings.
The commander wrote a letter to the governor to send with Paul to explain the situation. This was his boss and so he wanted to get rid of the problem and to make himself look good.
This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen.
The commander puts an interesting spin on the story of Paul's captivity. He makes it seem like he was a hero that saved Paul because he knew that he was a Roman citizen. He left out the part where he had him bound and was going to be flogged by the troops.
I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment.
The commander explains that he held a hearing and found that the charges against Paul did not stand up. It is odd that, instead of releasing him, he was still being held even though he was innocent. This is the same thing that happened to Jesus as He was not found guilty of anything yet He was still held and crucified. God was in control of both situations and both Jesus and Paul were being obedient.
When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.
The commander finishes his letter to the governor by explaining that he has ordered a hearing to be held at Caesarea.
So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. The next day they let the calvary go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. When the calvary arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him.
So, Paul begins his journey from Jerusalem to Rome. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that, through all of this, God is still in control. God is using these people to carry out his purpose in this which is for Paul to testify to rulers about Jesus Christ. It is also a good reminder to us that God can use all people even those that do not know Him such as these soldiers.
The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, he said, 'I will hear your case when your accusers get here.' Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod's palace.
The governor asked where Paul was from to make sure that it was his area. Once he found out that it was territory that was under him, the governor agreed to having a trial.