Paul weathers the storm of Jewish hatred

INDEX

Acts 23

In the previous chapter, we saw how the Roman law helped Paul when he was about to be lynched by the Jews. Paul had become used to hardship, so this situation in which he found himself was no novelty. Even so, it must have been a shock to him to discover that, even when he gave his personal testimony and reasons as to why he had chosen to follow Jesus, the Jews were abusive.

John recorded in his gospel the following words that Jesus spoke:

"I demand that you love each other, for you get enough hate from the world! But then, it hated Me before it hated you. The world would love you if you belonged to it; but you don't - for I chose you to come out of the world, and so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? "A slave isn't greater than his master!' So since they persecuted Me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you! The people of the world will persecute you because you belong to me, for they don't know God who sent Me." (John 15:17-21)

Paul was not the first person who was hated by the world. Neither was he the last; nor will you be the last. Christianity and the "world" are like chalk and cheese – they do not mix. You have been called to live in the world, but to love God as you do. People will misunderstand you and hate you for the stand that you take. In the West, at this point in time, you will probably not die for your faith, but people have lost their businesses for their stand of faith. It may not come to dying for our faith but, in other countries, that is always a possibility. Many thousands, millions even, are prepared to suffer for the sake of the gospel. They are thrown out of their homes, disowned, beaten, treated as dead people and suffer abuse accordingly. They are crucified, murdered and their families and children are tortured before their eyes. But, as Jesus said, "if they did it to Me, they will do it to you!"

James encouraged us that, when we go through trials of any kind, we should choose to be happy. The power of patience will grow in us, training us to face any difficulty. (James 1:2-4) There is something about suffering for the sake of the gospel that toughens us, so that we can be used to reach those that others never could reach. How is it with you? Is your life easy? Then perhaps you need to be a little more outspoken about your faith, or perhaps you need to speak about it for the first time?

no condemnationRemember what happened to Peter when he denied Jesus during His illegal trials and as he said, for the third time, that he didn’t know Jesus? The cock crowed. "At that moment Jesus turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered what he had said - 'Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny me three times.' And Peter walked out of the courtyard, crying bitterly." (Luke 22:54-62) Stop and think how he must have felt, especially after his promises of undying love. (Luke 22:33) We can look back and, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that Peter repented and Jesus reinstated him. He became the man on whose revelation Jesus was able to build His church. Jesus knows the importance of our words, so He asks Peter three times if he loves Him - to cover the three times that he denied Him. Finally, Jesus uses the Greek word, "agape" to ask Peter if he loves Him. That is the kind of love that Peter requires to do all that Jesus now wants him to do. (John 21:15-17) But you and I do not now need to go through such heartache. We have Peter’s example to look to. So, be bold and strong and stand up for the one person who can release people from the bondage to sin.

Acts 23:1-11

Paul was now standing before the Sanhedrin at the insistence of the Roman commander. He immediately took the initiative and stated his absolute conviction with divine boldness. (Read Acts 23:1.) This provoked an immediate and massive reaction in the high priest, Ananias. (Acts 23:2-5) Josephus, a respected first-century historian, described Ananias as "profane, greedy, and hot-tempered". Paul's outburst came as a result of the illegal command that Ananias had given. Ananias had violated Jewish law by assuming that Paul was guilty (without a trial) and ordering his punishment. (Deuteronomy 19:15) Paul didn't recognise Ananias as the high priest, probably because the command from Ananias broke the law that he was pledged to represent.

As Christians, we are to represent Jesus – to be His ambassadors. When those around us say, "I didn't know you were a Christian", we have failed to represent Him as we should. We are not merely Jesus’ followers; we are His representatives to others. We need to consider our ways. What would God say of our lives if, at this instant, were to die and be called before His throne of judgment to account for our actions (or lack thereof) as Christians? We would not lose our salvation, but our works of "wood, hay and stubble" would be burned up. Paul wrote this to the Corinthian believers:

"God, in his kindness, has taught me how to be an expert builder. I have laid the foundation and Apollos has built on it. But he who builds on the foundation must be very careful. And no one can ever lay any other real foundation than that one we already have - Jesus Christ. But there are various kinds of materials that can be used to build on that foundation. Some use gold and silver and jewels; and some build with sticks and hay or even straw! There is going to come a time of testing at Christ's Judgment Day to see what kind of material each builder has used. Everyone's work will be put through the fire so that all can see whether or not it keeps its value, and what was really accomplished. Then every workman who has built on the foundation with the right materials, and whose work still stands, will get his pay. But if the house he has built burns up, he will have a great loss. He himself will be saved, but like a man escaping through a wall of flames." (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)

The Sanhedrin included both "Sadducees" and "Pharisees". The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (so they were "sad, you see"!) whilst the Pharisees did believe in it ("Far I see-s"!) Paul was aware of the differences and exploited them, creating confusion amongst them. This is often the way God works, pitting one enemy against another. (Compare Acts 23:6-10.) The confusion must have been extreme because Paul was taken back to the safety of the barracks. That night the Lord stood beside Paul and said, "Don't worry, Paul. Just as you have told the people about me here in Jerusalem, so you must also in Rome." (Acts 23:11) That must have been an amazing encouragement to Paul. As he lay there, he must have rejoiced in the fact that his life was exactly on track. He would also have known that his work was not yet complete and that his next assignment was to be in Rome. He must have had times when he wondered if he had heard right, just like we do when things don’t seem to work out how we thought they would.

It is often in the darkest moments that God reassures us and encourages us. He never promised that He would deliver us from the storms of life, but He did say that He would go through them with us. King David knew this. While he was still a shepherd he wrote what we know as the 23rd Psalm:

"Even when walking through the dark valley of death I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me, guarding, guiding all the way." (Psalm 23:4)

and:

"Happy are those who are strong in the Lord, who want above all else to follow your steps. When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of springs where pools of blessing and refreshment collect after rains! They will grow constantly in strength, and each of them is invited to meet with the Lord in Zion." (Psalm 84:5-7)

Acts 23:12-22

Gods timeEven though God knew exactly what would happen, the question now for the governor was what to do with Paul. As he considered it, however, circumstances conspired to make the decision for him. Some Jews decided to hatch a plot to kill Paul. They included the chief priests and elders in this plot by going to them and sharing with them their plans. What they were about to do was clearly illegal, yet none of the authorities was prepared to stand up for what was right and honourable. However, a little boy heard their plotting – Paul’s nephew. He immediately went to Paul and told him. Paul then asked his guards to take the boy to the commander.

This is the only biblical reference to Paul's family. Some scholars believe that Paul's family had disowned Paul when he became a Christian. Paul wrote of having suffered the loss of everything for Christ: "But all these things that I once thought very worthwhile - now I've thrown them all away so that I can put my trust and hope in Christ alone. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have put aside all else, counting it worth less than nothing, in order that I can have Christ and become one with him, no longer counting on being saved by being good enough or by obeying God's laws, but by trusting Christ to save me; for God's way of making us right with himself depends on faith - counting on Christ alone." (Philippians 3:7-9) This does sound as though Paul had chosen to let go of his family, his business and possessions - in his head, his heart and by the way he lived - rather than them giving him up. Paul's nephew was able to see Paul, even though Paul was in protective custody, because Roman prisoners were accessible to their relatives and friends, who could bring them food and other amenities.

The Lord had already spoken of what would happen, as we have seen, so no human devices could foil God’s plan. The plotters had been discovered and it was an easy matter to surround Paul with an armed force to prevent any of the would-be assassins from daring to attempt what they had sworn on oath to do.

Never, ever, get into a position where you are going against God’s plan. As a Christian, if you do not understand something, ask God, then wait for the answer. Too many of us speak without thinking, let alone praying. God’s plan is the one that will work, regardless of circumstances. If it is necessary for someone to be removed, God will arrange for the removal. Sometimes the waiting taxes our patience, but events have to come to full fruition before God’s plan will work.

The Bible tells us of David being anointed king of Israel when he was still a shepherd - a young man looking after a flock of sheep. Samuel was called by God to go to Jesse’s family and to find the son who God had already chosen as the king who would succeed Saul (who had disgraced himself by doing things his way rather than doing what God said). Samuel found all the other sons at home, but none was God’s choice. David had to be called in from the fields. God confirmed His choice and David was drenched in anointing oil, much to the disgust of his brothers who thought that they would all make a better king than David. (1 Samuel 16) It was some seven years later (during which time David has been hunted down as an animal by Saul and many of his future people had rejected him) before he became king of Judah. It was a further seven and a half years before he finally became king over Israel. God’s plan will always work. Even when it looks as if He has missed it and is late again, wait for Him. His time is always the right time! The full story is told in 1 Samuel 16 through to 2 Samuel 5.

Acts 23:23-35

Paul was transferred to Caesarea by night, under the protection of a large detachment of soldiers and horsemen. Jerusalem was the seat of Jewish government, but Caesarea was the Roman headquarters for the area. God works in amazing and amusing ways. There were infinite possibilities by which God could have arranged to get Paul to Caesarea, but he chose to use the Roman army to deliver Paul from his enemies. God's ways are not our ways. Ours are limited - His are not. Don't limit God by asking Him to respond in your way. When God intervenes, anything can happen - so much more and so much better than we could ever anticipate.

The commander ensured that Paul was safely delivered to Governor Felix. Felix was the Roman governor (or "procurator") of Judea from A.D. 52 to 59. This was the same position that Pontius Pilate had held. While the Jews were given much freedom to govern themselves, the governor ran the army, kept the peace, and gathered the taxes.

The governor, Felix was responsible for keeping the peace, and I would imagine that the army commander in Jerusalem was glad to be rid of a man over whom the entire city was in turmoil, who had nearly been lynched twice and was now the subject of a plot. So the commander’s letter to Felix speaks volumes. By ordering Paul’s accusers to present their case to Governor Felix and transferring Paul to Caesarea, he neatly sidestepped the responsibility for any rebellion that might arise over this issue.

no fearLuke was probably not privy to the letter sent to Felix, but it may well have been read in court and, because Luke was so meticulous, he would have copied it down word for word.

When the Governor read the letter and met Paul, he discovered that he was from Cilicia - a different province - and he determined to hear the case when Paul’s accusers arrived. Meanwhile, Paul was kept under guard in Herod’s palace.

The nations and their rulers may conspire together but God is ultimately in control. Nothing happens without His approval. Whatever happens to you as a Christian is for the strengthening of your character, for the work that lies ahead. Satan has no authority over you, only what he is permitted to do by God. As we read in the book of Job, when we acknowledge God’s authority, there is nothing that Satan can do about the outcome, either temporally or eternally.

"But I am trusting you, O Lord. I said, 'You alone are my God; my times are in your hands. Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly. Let your favour shine again upon your servant; save me just because you are so kind! Don't disgrace me, Lord, by not replying when I call to you for aid. But let the wicked be shamed by what they trust in; let them lie silently in their graves, their lying lips quieted at last - the lips of these arrogant men who are accusing honest men of evil deeds.'" (Psalm 31:14-18)

You and I need to understand that we have nothing to fear when we put our trust in the Lord. (Proverbs 3:5-8) He is far bigger and more powerful than we could ever imagine and His way is the one of righteousness and truth. He will see His enemies vanquished and His people raised up at the "Last Day". Do not fear! (Isaiah 43:2-5)


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