Sermon for Sunday Evening, November 12th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 22:30 ESV] 30 But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them.
[Act 23:1-11 ESV] 1 And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” 2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” 4 Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” 5 And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'” 6 Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” 7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. 9 Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” 10 And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks. 11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”
Last week we had “Paul’s Defense to the Jews.” Now we have “Paul’s Defense to the Council.” That is the council of Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem.
It is a day later and the Tribune, the Roman leader in that place, sends for the chief priests and all the council to meet so he can find out what is going on. So he can find out what these charges against Paul are. This has been his goal all along. He’s not on the side of Paul, nor on the side of the Jews. He’s a Roman, he has no interest (or so he thinks) in whether Jesus is the messiah or not.
This now gives Paul a chance to speak to the council. Maybe we can even say a chance to “preach” to them.
Isn’t this fascinating, God is using these difficult situations as opportunities for Paul to preach. First to the people of Jerusalem and now to the Jewish religious leaders.
And what does Paul say?
He looks intently at the council and says”Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” He has put in his plea: INNOCENT.
But the High Priest Ananias has his cronies strike Paul on the mouth. It isn’t THAT Paul spoke (for he was given permission to do), it is what he said. It is thought that Ananias didn’t like Paul’s claim of a good conscience, thinking Paul was in fact guilty. So he would have thought of Pauls statement as a lie.
This is the response of a man who doesn’t have the winning argument. Physical violence comes out what verbal methods end, when intelligence and knowledge fail. He we should learn to be like Paul, speaking rather than striking.
But Paul didn’t exactly turn the other cheek. He said “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?
You’ve struck me … but GOD IS GOING TO STRIKE YOU.
Then there is an insult you don’t hear very often: “You whitewashed wall.” Has anyone ever called you that? What does this mean? This is a dirty wall that is covered over with a thin coat of white paint. “You whitewashed wall.” Paul is saying that they are sinners pretending to be holy, but are only outwardly holy.
I remember at L’Abri in Switzerland, where Priscilla and I met, in one of the building there, a project was under way. There was some sort of mold in the stairway corner. And I was shocked that they were covering over it! That’s not going to work! You have to get rid of the mold! Isn’t that true with us as well? We can’t just block out our sins from other’s view; we must excise them. We must cut them out. We must mortify our sins. Otherwise, we are the whitewashed wall. Instead, let us be holy throughout.
Next, after calling Ananias a whitewashed wall, Paul points out the “performative contradiction” in the man’s actions. He strikes Paul alleging him to be contrary to the law, when that very strike is contrary to the law.
I love this term, by the way. “Performative contradiction.” It is usually saying “I can’t speak.” Well, the very act of speaking proves that wrong. Proves it hypocritical; prove it to be a lie.
Here is the law probably in view, regarding the impropriety the strik: [Lev 19:15 ESV] 15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.
But Paul has misstepped because he unknowingly has reviled the high priest. So he apologizes saying he didn’t know it was the high priest, and that he intends to follow the law.
It is not that Paul believes Ananias is the true high priest. Jesus Christ is the only priest Paul needs. But Paul still desires to obey the law and not cause trouble; hence the apology.
But Paul never retracts for the comment itself. He still believes the man is a whitewashed wall, even if he wishes he wouldn’t have said it.
Then, here Paul is very clever. He ties his faith in Jesus back to the long-running debate between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Each of these two religious-political parties are on the council.
So Paul, again calling them all “brothers.” says “I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees.” And then he says “It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.”
The Pharisees were like the Jewish fundamentalist of the age. And they believed in miracles and the resurrection.
The Sadducees were the Jewish liberals of the age, denying miracles and the resurrection.
So Paul aligns essentially with the Pharisees. He was one of them, as was his father. But he has not only the Biblical promises of the resurrection to fall back upon, HE HAS SEEN THE RISEN CHRIST!
The two parties then are going at each other, rather than at Paul. The Pharisees even say “We find no fault with this man.” They are willing to admit the possibility, “What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?”
The Pharisees are often keen and seemingly wise in their answers. Remember the Pharisee Gamaliel himself earlier in Acts saying
[Act 5:38-39 ESV] 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”
And this sounded wise. But it proved to be foolish, for while God had made himself clearly known, Gamaliel was still saying “IF it is of God.”
Now again the Pharisees are sounding wise, saying “What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him.” Just like with Gamaliel they have theology that is right. A spirit or an angel could have spoken to him. And God’s will will be done (as in Gamaliel’s saying). But it is what is missing that is notable and shows their lack of faith in God. They says “what if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” But they are missing that Paul’s claim is not a spirit or an angel, but the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth who is the Christ, the very messiah of Israel spoke to him, and appeared to him.
As violence then returns, Paul is again saved by the triune and the soldiers.
Then, the following night, Paul gets confirmation that he is on the right path.
The Lord stood by him and said, ‘Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.’”
I mentioned last week that Paul would go to Rome, perhaps even to speak to Caesar. Here it is from the Lord: “so you must testify also in Rome.” And if there is a parallel in the context, we should note that Paul is testifying both to the Jewish people and to the Jewish leaders. So in Rome, might he also preach to both the people and to the leaders?
Here the word is going to all nations and all peoples. That is a primary message of the Book of Acts. The Gospel is for the Jews and the Gentiles, all peoples. It is to be declared to the nations.
I love this phrase in Acts: “men of …”
[Act 2:14 ESV] 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.
[Peter again] [Act 2:22 ESV] 22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know–
[Act 13:16 ESV] 16 So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: “Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen.
[Act 17:22 ESV] 22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.
Now in our text Paul doesn’t say “men of Jerusalem.” He just say’s brother. But the emphasis is the same: LISTEN. Listen, for here is the good news of Jesus Christ declared to you this day. THE RESURRECTION!
The Pharisees hope there will be a resurrection, Paul KNOWS there will be. And the firstfruits, Jesus Christ, has already risen from the grave. UP From the grave he arose.