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Aug 23 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 21, 2016 – Acts 23

Most Important

Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” But the bystanders said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'” Acts 23:1-5

Intro: Imagine a little girl, ten or eleven years old

One day in school she reads a short essay regarding mothers
– how wonderful they are and about all the loving things they do
• there is also some exagerated statements in the essay
◦ like mothers have “eyes in back of their heads,” know what you’re thinking,
◦ their kisses are magic and can make a child’s pain go away
• suddenly the little girl thinks,

“I don’t have a mother! The who takes care of me is nice and kind, but she can’t work magic. So if that lady thinks she’s my mother, she must be a crazy person.”

– meanwhile, she is awakened each morn to soft voice and sweet smile
• clean clothes are set out for her and breakfast is on the table
◦ she continues to be rides to and from school and soccer practice
• all the while, waiting for the arrival of this other person
◦ who can read her mind, tell her future, and work magic

We’ve heard of “blind faith,” but there’s nothing so blind as unbelief
– each morning the atheist and agnostic wakes up to a world God has prepared
• it doesn’t occur to them to give thanks for health and energy to get out of bed
• they have an idea of what God should be if such a being existed
◦ since they don’t see that god, they conclude there is no god
– God lives eternal in the heavens
• but sometimes our concepts of God grow old and dies
◦ and I believe, at least sometimes, it is God who kills them
• now let’s see what this has to do with our scripture

The Roman commander was still trying to figure out Paul’s offense

So Paul now stands before the Sanhedrin, Israel’s Supreme Court
– without being asked, he offered opening statement
• it was a declaration of his innocence
◦ high priest ordered someone to strike him
◦ no doubt to teach Paul who was in charge of that hearing
• literally, Paul said, “Strike you, God will, you whitewashed wall!”
◦ whitewash was thin coat of paint used to disguise what was beneath
◦ it was clearly a metphor for shallowness and hypocrisy (Eze. 13:8-11; Mt. 23:27-28)
– someone nearby reprimanded Paul for scolding the high priest
• Paul immediately apologized
◦ and added the biblical precedent for not doing such a thing
◦ but he did not back down – he was still going to control the proceedings
• he reframed his version of his alleged offense
◦ he was a Pharisee who held to the hope and resurrection of the dead!

Luke provides the backstory for this statement

For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all (v. 8)

– as a result, the courtroom was immediately divided
• the argument was so intense, Paul had to be rescued again by the Romans

The following night, Paul had a Visitor

the Lord stood at his side
– I have been waiting for this – we have been waiting for this
• first, there had been no word from God since the Spirit warned Paul of the problems he would have in Jerusalem
• the apostles made their own plan to improve Paul’s image — it backfired
◦ Paul had exploited a fissure between two religious sects — that backfired
◦ when Peter had stood stood trial, we read:

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them . . . (Acts 4:8)

◦ but there is no similar statement here
– nothing had gone right for Paul in Jerusalem
• each plan backfired – he and others were unable to resist tide of hostility
◦ now his life was no longer in his own hands and his future was uncertain

Second, the story has brought us to a heightened state of suspense
– some of this tension needs to be relieved
• it would ruin the story to carry this suspense all the way to the end
• so the timing for Paul’s encounter with Jesus is perfect
– we will return to this shortly

When it seems things could not get any worse

A plot was formed against Paul’s life
– no less than forty men swore an oath
• they would neither eat or drink until they had assassinate Paul
• the assassins had pulled in priests elders to lie to Romans so they could ambush Paul
◦ this sort of animosity spreads too easily in religious communities

See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled (He. 12:15)

◦ here is religion at its worst, when dogmatism justifies murder
• religions people, in the name of God are capable of doing some very ungodly things
◦ the worst atrocities occur when those people occupy positions of authority and power
◦ do our deepest, strongest commitments make us more loving or hateful?
– the plot was discovered and reported to Paul by his nephew (!)

Paul had a sister living in Jerusalem? and a nephew? The New Testament provides no other information about his family other than this and what he said earlier about his parents being Pharisees.

• alerted to the plot, Paul sent his nephew to inform the commander

Safe transportation was quickly arranged for Paul

Jerusalem was now a hotbed of trouble and they had to get him out of there
– the commander’s letter was not consistent with the account we read
• he made himself out to be the hero who rescued a Roman citizen (v. 27)
• I think Luke found this amusing and knew his readers would too
– but that was not the most important feature of his letter
• rather, that it exonerated Paul of any crime deserving death or imprisonment
◦ this is a theme that runs through Paul’s encounter with Roman authorities
• so Paul was whisked off to Caesarea where, still in Roman custody, he was held over for trial

Now I want to backtrack and return to verse 11

I realize this is shortest event reported in story
-but to me it is more important than everything else
• all the other events are the stuff of our human predicament
◦ issues that make for an interesting plot when telling a story
◦ history, sociology, a legal syste and a system, false allegations, a clever defense, etc.
• but in this brief moment the night following the trial
◦ a door opens between heaven and earth
– of all the events that occurred, this one is the most important
• Jesus came to Paul — stood at his side — spoke to him
◦ Paul heard Jesus — knew he was right there — and carried on
• for me, time stops with their encounter

Did Paul see Jesus? Did he hear a voice in his ears?
– we do not know and it probably does not matter
• it is possible that the words came to Paul
◦ perhaps as thoughts that made an unusually strong impression on his heart
◦ and–maybe–it was those words of assurance that made him aware of Jesus’ presence
– their interaction was brief and one-sided
• although few words spoken, the encounter is characteristic of Jesus
◦ we sense his sympathy for Paul – his love and support
• what would we feel after five minutes with Jesus?
◦ forgiven — understood — accepted — radically inspired and motivated
• it matters to me, because for years I have wanted the “real deal”
◦ and I have gone from Pentecostal to Fundamentalist to Charismatic to Contemplative
◦ anywhere that promised a genuine encounter with Jesus Christ

Typically, if you go to a church and tell someone, “I want God,” they first direct you to a pastoral counselor or the prayer room and some may suggest that you say the “sinner’s prayer.” If you’ve been through all of that and still say, “I want God,” you are told, “We have a great Bible study on Wednesday nights” or “Have you been to our prayer meeting?” or “In three weeks we will be hosting a course on spiritual formation.” We are offered an education, a worship service, a Bible verse, a small group meeting, or some other program. But if we insist that we want God and what we are after is the real deal, all we get is a quizzical look and perhaps a recommendation to try another church in town.

Did Jesus say, Take courage or did he simply say the word Courage? 
– I ask because if he said Take courage, then it was something Paul had to do for himself
• if he said, Courage, he may have spoken it into Paul’s heart, mind and body

Helmut Thielicke observed that when Jesus speaks, “his Word has the character of an act.”

• Jesus’ words are dynamic and creative
◦ this sort of speech has been labeled, “performative” — it creates the condition contained in the word/s

“. . . be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. – “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. (Mk. 1:41-42; 2:5; 4:39)

• I have a new understanding of the Lord’s command, Go. From now on sin no more (Jn. 8:11)
◦ it is like when he frees us from anxiety, then tells us Now stop dwelling on those same negative thoughts
• Paul did not have to work up courage
◦ the word instilled something in him that he did not have a moment before

Conc: Two reciprocal ideas are presented in the Scriptures

  1. We walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7–cf. Hebrews ch. 11)
  2. In faith, we walke by a new kind of sight


The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice;
Let the many islands be glad.
Clouds and thick darkness surround Him . . .
(Ps. 97:1-2)

God calls, I follow, looking for him as I go
– eventually I find myself in total darkness
• and there it is that he surrounds me – but why does he hide himself from me?
• many reasons perhaps
◦ but the darkness reveals my emptiness, my limitations, my spiritual disabilities

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been known. (1 Cor. 13:12)

◦ no one can get past this – no apostle, theologian, biblical scholar or saint
– what happens when we can’t see? We rely on our other senses
• feeling way with my spirit I may bump into something hidden from my eyes
• after all, why do we pray with our eyes closed?


Thus says the LORD who made the earth, the LORD who formed it to establish it, the LORD is His name, “Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” (Jer. 33:2-3)

– God throws out challenge
• I had assumed that God did not want to show me great and mighty things
◦ that being surrounded by darkness, he did not want to show me anything
• I assumed that he had left me without any direction or support
◦ that he meant to give me nothing but faith — and that faith would constantly be tested
– but if I must always make myself believe, my religion starts to feel like make-believe
• yet I realize, God has shown me, and continues to do so
• also, I’ve found it happens more frequently when I ask, seek and knock

I cannot tell you how to experience Jesus or what that experience will be like,
I can only urge you to accept God’s challenge
and to open that door

One Comment

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  1. joanna tupman / Sep 1 2016

    As I am certain you know… my dialogue with God was the most awesome experience of my life! One that doesn’t leave even for a minute… after all these years! I still, “Thank you for a wonderful place to worship”… But… I don’t run around telling people… they would think me daffy!

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