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Acts 23-24

June 19th, 2010 by Vic

“Midnight Ride”

June 20, 2010

A mob of Jews had tried to kill Paul in the temple area.  Paul was rescued and taken into custody by the Roman army.  On the way to prison he was allowed to preach to the Jews from the Tower stairs.  The sermon ended with a blaze of mob anger when Paul mentioned God’s love for the Gentiles.  The Roman commander interviewed Paul and did not understand why the Jews were so upset so he called a special meeting of the chief priests and the Sanhedrin to get more facts.

Throughout the book of Acts, the Romans respond reasonably and kindly to Paul.  If you have lived very long you have found that many people who don’t claim to be Christian act more Christlike than some professed Christians.  As you listen to Paul’s speeches you hear him say that God did not send Jesus to make you more religious but to change your selfish heart, offer you forgiveness for your sin and give you abundant life and freedom.  God’s plan is creative harmony in diversity not the monotone of the inflamed mob.

Acts 23:1-10

As Paul got up to speak before this special called meeting, he looked intently at the group to see if he could recognize anyone.  It has been almost 25 years since Paul had been part of this group and had participated in the stoning of Stephen.  He now saw the hate in their eyes, but with genuine love and a feeling of equality he calls them “brothers”.  Paul claims to be equal to his accusers in his efforts to please God.  Then as a Pharisee he claims a clear conscience before God.  As a conscientious Jew he persecuted Christians.  As a conscientious Jew he obeyed his heavenly vision.  He is not a renegade Jew.  He does not oppose the Law, the people, or the temple.  He is just before God.

At that point the high priest ordered those near Paul to strike him on the mouth.  Paul was claiming a clean conscience and the high priest did not have one.  However, it was against the Jewish law to strike a Jew anytime because you were striking the glory of God.  So Paul reminded them of their law and pointed out the incongruity of their claiming to be a legal body and yet not keeping their own law.  He called Ananias a white-washed wall.  That is a wall about to fall down, but looks good from a distance.

The historian Josephus says that Ananias was known for his greed and violence.  He would steal the tithes to bribe the Romans and pad his own nest.  He was removed by the Roman governor Felix 2 years later and murdered by his own son within 5 years.

It was also against the Law to insult the high priest.  We do not know why Paul did not recognize the high priest, but the important thing is to note how quickly he apologized when he realized he had been wrong.  In his apology, Paul quotes Exodus 22:28.  Some argue that Paul couldn’t help but recognize the high priest.  He sat in a special seat and had special clothing.  Others argue that this was a quickly called meeting and was not a formal setting so the high priest was without his formal robes and normal chair.  Maybe Paul knew Ananias’ reputation and refused to believe that he could be the real high priest even though he wore the clothes.

Paul knew he was not going to get a fair hearing so he goes on the offensive.  He is a Pharisee and strongly believes in the Law, angels, visions, and life after death.  He states before the Roman commander that the root of this current conflict and hatred toward him is his belief in the resurrection of the dead.

The Sadducees were the rationalists.  They did not believe in a future life because that was not logical.  They lived by the 5 books of Moses.  Their denial of resurrection made it impossible for them to be Christians “for if the dead are not raised, neither is Christ raised” (1Cor 15:16).

This dignified council of very educated, religious men started fighting just like our congressmen or members of the British Parliament.  The Roman commander had been watching from a distance, but now had to send in the troops to rescue Paul, a Roman citizen.

When people refuse to look at any facts that contradict their paradigm, all logical arguments end and emotional arguments begin.  Paul must have realized at this point that only the Spirit of God can change hearts and convict of sin, righteousness and judgment.  These themes are in his defense before Felix in the next chapter.  He could see these Jewish leaders were not into change.

It seemed like Paul’s life was about to end in Jerusalem.  The Roman commander concluded there were no legitimate charges against him.  It was obvious that Paul had not broken any Roman laws.  But Paul realized that if he was released from Roman protective custody in Jerusalem, he was a dead man.  Then another surprise!  The Lord stood next to Paul and encouraged him to keep preaching.  God had plans for him to preach in Rome.

Acts 23:12-24

The word ‘conspiracy’ means a combination or binding together like twisted cords.  These Jews were determined to be the rope that murders Paul.  They felt that murder was justifiable if a man was a public danger to others.  These 40 men put themselves under a vow by saying, “May God curse me if I fail to do this.”  Assassinations were common in Jerusalem at this time

Jews made all kinds of vows but they had interpreted their laws to provide ways to get out of four types of vows: vows of incitement, vows of exaggeration, vows made in error, and vows that cannot be fulfilled by reason of constraint.  So their vows did not mean much.

It is interesting to note the contrast between the hysterical, fanatical hatred of God’s chosen people with the cool, impartial justice of the Roman commander.

As a Roman citizen under protective custody, Paul could receive visitors and talk with the centurions.

It is usually assumed that when Paul wrote Phil 3:8 that he had “suffered the loss of all things” he meant that when he became a Christian, his family disinherited him.  Maybe his nephew was going to school in the Jerusalem temple and heard about this plot.  Maybe Paul’s sister was very wealthy and that is why Felix later expects a bribe from Paul.

The commander realized he had an explosive situation on his hands.  He was going to send Paul to the Roman procurator in the capital at Caesarea.  His immediate action and extreme caution is an indication of his mistrust of the high priest.

Acts 23:25-35

In his letter of explanation, Lysias reversed the order of the events surrounding Paul and omitted the order he gave to scourge Paul to make himself look a little better.  He presents himself as a protector of a fellow Roman citizen.

Antipas is a city between Jerusalem and Caesarea, about 35 miles.  This was the treacherous part of the trip and the most susceptible to ambush.  The rest of the trip was across the Plain of Sharon and was occupied by less Jews so there was not much threat of ambush and half the soldiers returned to Jerusalem.

Paul was delivered to Felix.  For 6 years Felix was governor or procurator of Judaea (52-57) and for 2 years before that he had served in Samaria.  He was the first slave in history to become the governor of a Roman province.  He was an evil man.  His period of rule was characterized by a growing spirit of insurrection, and he governed with a ruthless and heavy hand.  He had 3 wives (all of royal birth).  One was the granddaughter of Antony and Cleopatra and the 3rd was Drusilla, the youngest daughter of the Herod Agrippa that murdered James.  Her great-uncle Herod Antipas killed John the Baptist, her great-grandfather, Herod the Great, killed the babies in Bethlehem.  She left her first husband and married Felix when she was not yet 20 years old.

Acts 24:1-9

The Sanhedrin must have felt inadequate to debate Paul.  They hired a professional Roman lawyer.  Tertullus used nauseating flattery to tell Felix what they thought he wanted to hear.  Tertullus tried to define Paul as a political trouble maker.  Every word he used was a distortion of truth.

Tertullus charged Paul with insurrection (treason) against Rome.  He said Paul caused civil disorder.  Secondly he described Paul as a ringleader of the Nazarene sect (heresy).  He tried to infer that Paul was like other false Messiah’s that have frequently been a problem to Roman peace.  And thirdly Tertullus said Paul tried to defile the Temple (sacrilege).

Acts 24:10-21

Paul does not start with flattery but with facts.  Just 12 days ago he came to Jerusalem with the full intent to worship.  He had been in the Temple for 6 days with 4 other Jews fulfilling a purification vow.  It is impossible to organize a revolt from the Temple in so short a time.  And the last 5 days he has been here in Caesarea.  There was no crowd around him in the Temple until his accusers stirred one up.  He was arrested while worshipping.  He had spoken to no one in public.  His accusers had formed the mob.

Then Paul refuted any heresy.  He admits that he is follower of the Way which is the fulfillment of what the prophets had foretold.  He again claims that his conscience is clear (24:16) because his belief is in agreement with the Law and the Prophets.  This is what got his face slapped before.

It had been 5 years since his last visit to Jerusalem.  He came this time to bring another offering for the poor in Jerusalem.  The accusers could not prove with witnesses that he had caused any trouble.  He protested the absence of appropriate witnesses (24:19).

24:22-23

Felix knew about the Christian faith but postponed a decision until he got more facts from the Roman commander in Jerusalem.  We have no record that he ever asked the commander to come.

24:24-27

Maybe Drusilla was curious about the fulfillment of John the Baptist’s prophecy so Felix arranges for an informal meeting with Paul.  Paul gave a summary of faith in Jesus Christ (24).  Then he began to preach about righteousness, self control and the judgment to come.

Paul boldly proclaimed righteousness in thought word and deed before an unjust, wicked, cruel governor.  Paul expounds on purity and self-control before a beautiful, selfish, manipulative woman who would not claim to be pure.

Paul declares the need for a clear conscience to prepare for the judgment to come.  But he makes no personal application and gives no personal denunciation.  He trusts the Holy Spirit to convict.  So there was no anger against Paul, but a dreadful fear came on Felix.  He did not ask, “What must I do to be saved?” like the prison warden did at Philippi.  He just said, “That’s all I want to hear right now.”  But the same feeling never returned to Felix.  Today is the day of salvation.  The word of truth was not rejected but obedience to its requirements was put off to a more convenient time.

The teenaged Drusilla was unhappy with her first husband and was captivated by Felix’s ruthless power.  Felix was attracted to her beauty.  Her Jewish upbringing was set aside or rejected for a perceived higher position in life.  But she and Felix still had qualms of conscience and sent for Paul to hear his message.  Apparently Drusilla was offended by what she considered Paul’s moralistic ranting.  The situation may have been similar to John the Baptist’s preaching to Herod and Herod’s wife. Herodias schemed to get John the Baptist beheaded.

Felix sent for Paul frequently and talked with him but apparently was never terrified again.  Maybe he knew that Paul’s family had some connections and he hoped to get a bribe.  We don’t know Felix’ motive for leaving Paul in prison.  Was it to please his wife or to please the Jews?

The basic foundation for Paul’s belief in Jesus Christ is his hope in the resurrection.  “There will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” (24:15)

Paul’s simple message to Felix and his wife Drusilla brought powerful conviction, but they put off deciding for Christ.

1. righteousness – they had to do something about past sin.

2. self-control – they had to overcome today’s temptations.

3. judgment to come – they had to be prepared for resurrection judgment.

Many today are like Tertullus, who flatter people and distort the truth.

Others are like Felix, who hear, understand, feel conviction, but refuse to obey.

Others are like Drusilla, whose youthful sins have already hardened their heart.  (Historians tell us she died in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.)

Paul has stated the facts.  Can you hear the Spirit speaking through the living Word or has selfishness hardened your hearing?  There will be a resurrection.  You will stand before God.  God hates sin.  Is your sin cleansed and your conscience clear?  Today is your day of salvation.  Jesus is still inviting us to come and follow.

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