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The First Trial, Paul before the Sanhedrin, Acts 22:22 - 23:11

The Weekend, May 6 –

We come to the weekend in our reading thru the New Testament.   We have one reading from Acts 22:22 – 23:11 for the weekend.  After you have finished reading, please come back and we’ll walk our way through it one more time.

 

Paul is arrested, in part to save his life from the mob that sought to kill him.  “...they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live” (22:22).  When you think back to yesterday you remember that the trigger was Paul’s statement that God told him “for I will send you to the Gentiles” (vs 21).  The Jewish hatred and bigotry towards the Gentiles was firmly entrenched in the code of the Pharisees.  To be with Gentiles was to defile oneself.  It is to cut oneself off from the purity of God’s holiness – so it was assumed.  The crowd had gathered around Paul, pushing and shoving him, yelling (shouting) at him, hitting him, kicking him, until the Roman commander had come to his rescue.  Since the Commander had no idea of what Paul had done to incite this violence, he made the assumption that it was all Paul’s fault. 

The Romans used torture as a standard means of interrogation.  Luke writes that the soldiers took Paul back to the barracks and ordered that he “be examined by flogging” – a standard Roman means of interrogation where the accused person is stretched out with hands tied to a post and a whip, sometimes with bone chips attached to leather straps were used to beat the accused until he confessed to what they had done.  Probably when Paul was stripped and beginning to be tied to the post that he realized what was about to happen, and he spoke up to proclaim that this sort of punishment is illegal to be done to a Roman citizen – it stopped everyone in their tracks.  Roman citizens had rights and privileges that are not dissimilar to our own country.  They could not be tortured, and they were presumed innocent until proven guilty.  They could not be punished without due process and if they were found guilt their punishments differed greatly from those who were not citizens.  When the Centurion realized that Paul was a Roman citizen, he not only stopped, but he sent word to the Commander and we can sense that the news was both startling and produced a certain amount of consternation in the soldiers – a sort of “what have we done?”.  The Commander assumed Paul paid for his citizenship which was one way a non-Roman could become a citizen, but Paul was born a citizen.  It probably means that his Father had procured citizenship in Tarsus before Paul was born.  Regardless, it stopped everything, and “...the commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains (22:29).

Now that Paul’s rights had been established, the Commander still had the problem of why the crowd wanted to kill him, so he ordered Paul to appear before the Chief Priests and members of the Sanhedrin.  The Sanhedrin was the ruling body of the Jewish people.  They were divided by the elite wealthy Sadducees and the Pharisees.  It was a quasi-trial for the purpose of the Roman Commander determining whether Paul had seriously done anything.  Because the Roman Commander was present, the trial probably happened in the Temple common areas – non-Jews were prohibited from entering the Temple, and only a foolish Gentile would do so. 

Paul began his defense by proclaiming, not only his innocence but his purity in doing all things perfectly right when it came to appearing in the Temple.  When the crowd originally had surrounded him, it was because some Asian Jews (again think modern-day Turkey) had recognized Paul, and had seen him walking with a Gentile friend – Trophimus – who they accused Paul of bringing him into the Temple, an act of betrayal and defiling (21:28-29).  Thus Paul begins by proclaiming he had done nothing wrong in both coming to Jerusalem and in coming to the Temple.  This was met by the High Priest’s signal to an officer to hit Paul in the face!  Paul’s angry response was justified and he used the language Jesus used when He had spoken harshly to the Pharisees in Matthew 23, calling him a “white-washed tomb” – a tomb that was white-washed on the outside, but dead inside.  The High Priest must have hated Paul, and one cannot help but wonder if the legend of Saul becoming Paul was well known among the Jewish leaders – they considered him a traitor and a blasphemer. 

Paul was “good on his feet”.  He was rebuked by someone for insulting the High Priest, and to that Paul replies, “I didn’t know he was the High Priest”.  That was probably a sarcastic response.  It was Paul’s way of saying, “if he was the High Priest, then why didn’t he act like one?”  Paul quoted an Old Testament passage (Exodus 22:28) as a form of confession, but perhaps also, to make the point that while he stands in front of them to make things clear, they are unwilling to even listen to him – they’ve already made up their minds of what they want to do to him. 
Paul’s eyes and mind scan the crowd and he “sees” that they are mixed as Sadducees and Pharisees, and brilliantly realizes how to change the atmosphere.  He speaks loudly to all of those assembled:   ...“My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead” (vs 6).   The bait is cast into the water and it doesn’t take a minute for the fish to bite!  “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 believe all these things (vss 7-9).   

Luke writes, and I can see him smiling as he writes it, “there was a great uproar...” (vs 10).  It worked.  No longer was Paul the focus of the dispute, it was the two opposing groups who fought it out.  In fact, some of the Pharisees even began to defend Paul!  I cannot imagine the look on the High Priest’s face as he realizes that all of this is out of control and Paul is still free! 

The Commander ordered his troops to protect Paul, remove him from the milieu and bring him back to the barracks.  It’s important to realize, the Commander had previously released Paul from custody (22:30), so Paul’s stay in the Roman barracks was his choice – probably because he felt safer there than being released into Jerusalem.  The night came and Paul stood to wonder where this was all going.  “Lord, what is it that you want to do here?  How do I serve your will in this?”  That prayer is not in the Scripture but I cannot help but wonder if it was not in Paul’s mind and on his lips.  As the garrison is fast asleep, Paul is met by Jesus.  Three things are said:  One, you will not be a free man, and two, you will stand before a tribunal in Rome, but know this, I will be with you all the way.  Paul had wanted to visit Rome and do some work in the city, and he will, just not the way he anticipated.

It is so crucial that we see that when events unfold in ways that are confusing, even frightening, that God’s Grace has not disappeared.  Paul knew he was not guilty and he knew that he was begin accused of something that was not true, but it made no difference to those who hated him. 

Paul is to face five trials on his way to Rome. This was the first of those five.  Each time he was on the defensive, and each time he relied upon God for what to say and what to do. Luke wrote down all of these.  God moved Luke to record all of these trials, and he had a reason to do so.  More than history being recorded, Luke is writing down Theology – a story of how God was at work to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth and to leave a record of it for over 2000 years of Church that had yet to take place.  WE need to read it, and we need to “take courage, for I am with you.”

At first, it was the Jews who were the ones who sought Paul’s life and the Romans who were the ones who exercised restraint and to a certain point protected Paul.  Think of Paul in Philippi, (16:35ff); and in Corinth (18:12ff) and also in Ephesus, (19:35ff) where each time a Roman official stepped in to protect Paul’s rights.  God had been with Paul all through these journeys and each time a Roman was used by God to keep the journeys going.  The journey for Paul is not over, and while he is protected – in part – now, the journey will culminate in Rome – it is Jesus’ word to him.  Think about it – Jesus came to Paul to stand by his side, and spoke to him that it was all ok...don’t worry...don’t be discouraged...it is all going to come to good – and Paul doesn’t know that the end is his home-going to be with Jesus!

 

Peace


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