Grace Bible Church
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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
October 8, 2006
Contention & Conscience
In our study last week we left the apostle Paul in a very precarious predicament. He had gone into the temple in order to fulfill his vows that would demonstrate his respect for the Mosaic Law and Jewish customs, but instead a riot ensued when certain Jews from Asia grabbed Paul and started making false accusations against him. They claimed that Paul preached to all men everywhere against the Jews, the law and the temple and that furthermore he had brought Greeks into the temple. None of is was true, but truth has never been the concern of evil men who will say whatever they think will help them achieve their goals. The people quickly rallied together to deal with a person they had been told was a great blasphemer. They dragged Paul out of the inner temple courts into the outer court and began to beat him.
The Roman garrison in Fort Antonia, located on the northwest corner of the temple, became aware of the disturbance and came down quickly and rescued Paul from the mob that was trying to kill him. After the commander had put Paul in chains and had restored some order to the crowd he began to ask those around what the disturbance was all about, but some were shouting one thing and others something else so that confusion reigned again. He had the soldiers take Paul back to the fort, but the mob became so violent they actually had to carry Paul to the stairs that led up to the fort.
After they had reached the stairs Paul was able to get the commander’s attention and asked permission to speak to the crowd. The commander was surprised that Paul spoke Greek because he had assumed Paul to be someone else. Paul was then able to speak to the crowd from the top of the stairs. The mob quieted down when Paul began to speak to them in Hebrew. Most of the crowd did not know who he actually was.
Paul then gave them an explanation of his past and what God had called him to do. Throughout his speech Paul emphasized the points of similarity between him and the people. He addressed them as “brethren” and “fathers” because he also was a Jew. Though he had been born in Tarsus of Cilicia he had grown up in Jerusalem under the teaching of Gamaliel according the law of their fathers. He was zealous for God even as they were and had previous also persecuted the church as the Council of elders could testify. Paul then explained how Jesus the Nazarene miraculously met him while he was on his way to Damascus to persecute the followers of Jesus there. He told them about his blindness and it being healed by Ananias in Damascus and God’s commission of him there to be a witness for Jesus. Paul then went on to talk about his return to Jerusalem after that and his desire to preach because they all knew how he had persecuted those who had believed in Jesus and how he had given approval to the murder of Stephen. All through this testimony Paul is showing that he was just like them but that God had miraculously changed him. He was simply doing what God had told him to do. The crowd listed up to the point where Paul related that God had told him, “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” They then turned back into a mob shouting for Paul’s death. They became so out of control that they were throwing what was available to them, their cloaks and dust. If rocks had been available in the outer court of the temple they would have been throwing them too.
The commander still did not know the reason for the trouble so he was going to follow standard Roman protocol. He commanded his soldiers to take Paul into the barracks and examine him by scourging in order to find out why the people were calling for his death. They had the idea that the way to get the truth was through torture. Be glad that we don’t live under such a terrible system of justice. That is where we left off last week. We pick up the story again in Acts 22:25.
Paul’s Use of His Roman Citizenship
25 And when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?” 26 And when the centurion heard [this,] he went to the commander and told him, saying, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman.” 27 And the commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 And the commander answered, “I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money.” And Paul said, “But I was actually born [a citizen.]” 29 Therefore those who were about to examine him immediately let go of him; and the commander also was afraid when he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had put him in chains.
Paul had endured physical suffering before. In 2 Cor. 11:24-25 he says that he had been He had been beaten five times with the lash and three times with the rod, but the practice of scourging was much worse than these. It involved a wooden handle to which were attached strips of leather that had pieces of metal or bone tied to the ends. A rod would bruise and a lash would raise welts and possibly cut the surface of the skin, but a scourge would gouge out hunks of flesh. The victim would have his hands tied and then stretched out. This was usually on a post or sometimes even hoisted up to be hanging above the ground. This would limit the ability of the victim to move while exposing the back and making the sin taunt for increased effectiveness of the torture. In a case like this it was done as a method of interrogation to get the prisoner to quickly answer any question and confess any wrongs in order to get the scourging to stop. It was also practiced as a form of punishment for certain crimes or a preparation for crucifixion. It was not uncommon for a prisoner to die from scourging. Jesus was scourged before he was crucified.
Paul was already stretched out and tied to be scourged, when he reveled to them he was a Roman citizen. This struck fear in their hearts because it was against Roman law to scourge a Roman citizen. It was even against the law to put a Roman citizen in chains without a trial. Cicero said, “To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination. . .:. The centurion quickly got the commander upon hearing Paul’s claim. The commander came and asked Paul about it and accepted his testimony immediately because lying about being a Roman citizen could bring the death penalty.
Roman citizenship was something to be proud of in that world. It could be attained by birth, by meritorious service to Rome or by purchase. As the commander states he had gained his citizenship with a large sum of money. We learn in Acts 23:26 that his name is Claudius Lysias. His first name indicates that he had gained citizenship during the reign of Emperor Claudius. Paul, on the other hand, had been born a Roman citizen which gave him a higher status in that society. Upon hearing this they immediately let him go and treated him with care.
But commander Lysias still had a dilemma to solve. Something had caused the riot to occur and he had to find out what it was and keep it from happening again. It was his responsibility to maintain order in Jerusalem. Verse 30 tells us how he thought he would find the answer to his questions.
Paul before the Sanhedrin
Paul is Brought In (22:30)
30 But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them.
Paul is kept in protective custody that night. It appeared that this was some sort of dispute in the Jewish religion, so the next day Lysias orders the chief priest and the council to assemble. They should be able to answer his questions. Paul has been released so he is not in chains though he is still in the protective custody of Lysias who brings him in and sets him before the council.
Some have questioned whether the commander had the authority to call an assembly of the Sanhedrin. The very fact that he did and they came proves his authority. Roman law was superior in every area of the empire to any local laws which were only permitted as the Romans allowed. Lysias would not turn a Roman citizen over to a local authority for trial without having his own inquiry first. That is was the purpose of this assembly.
Josephus tells us that the meeting place of the Sanhedrin was located to the west of the temple complex. There is some question as to whether they met there or at another place designated by Lysias. Wherever it is they met, it was in a location that the Roman commander was able to have troops on hand as he needed them.
Paul’s Integrity (23:1-5)
His Claim (1)
Acts 23:1 (NASB) And 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 statement that Paul was “looking intently” at the Council comes from a word [ atenizw / atenizô ] that means “fixed his eyes” or “stared.” This carries the idea that Paul carefully looked over the council before he began to speak. Some have suggested that this is evidence of Paul having poor eyesight, but that would be a strange thing for Luke to emphasize in a text like this. Rather it refers to Paul carefully looking to see who was present. Remember that had grown up in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. He had been an active Pharisee, and he had previously worked for the Sanhedrin in persecuting Christians. Though all that had been some twenty years earlier, there is no doubt there were men present that he knew personally. That is why he addresses them as equals saying, “brethren,” instead of “rulers and elders” as Peter did in Acts 4:8.
Paul begins his defense with a statement of his integrity. He was not a violator of the law. It is not a statement that Paul had always done right and never sinned for he described himself as the chief of sinners in 1 Tim. 1:15. This is a statement that his conscience was clean and he did not have any guilt for anythingr, as he phrased it in 2 Cor. 1:12, he had conducted himself in holiness and godly sincerity. In Acts 24:16 Paul will tell Governor Felix, “I always do my best to maintain a blameless conscience before God and men.” Paul worked hard to live a consistent moral and religious life. There could be no truth to any accusation they might make against him that he had violated the law and customs for, as he states in Phil. 3:6, “as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” His point here is that His decisions and actions were guided by his understanding of God’s will. In essence this is picking up his defense where it had been interrupted the day before. In his zeal for God he had also been a persecutor of the followers of Jesus, but God had miraculously intervened in his life, corrected him and called him to be His witness in proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles. In short, he is telling them that he has been consistently obedient to God throughout his life, so if they have a problem with anything he has done, then they should take it up with God.
The Nature of the Conscience
Let me take a few moments here to expand on what the Bible says about the conscience for there are a lot of wrong ideas about it. The two most disturbing ones are the extremes of either ignoring it or making it the supreme standard. Conscience is important, but Jiminy Crickett was wrong when he said, “and always let your conscience be your guide.”
The conscience has been defined as the seat of moral intent. It is that immaterial portion of man which receives and reflects values of what is morally right or wrong and therefore is an internal moral monitor. There are at least two levels in the conscience.
The first is what I will call the innate conscience which is placed into man by God. Paul speaks of this in Romans 2:14-15 when he says, “For when Gentiles who do not have the law do naturally the things of the law, these not having the law are a law to themselves, in that they show the works of the law written in the hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.” All men are born with a basic sense of right and wrong even when they do not have God’s written law. Adam and Eve demonstrated this in Genesis 3 when after eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge they went and hid from God because they were naked. God had not told them nakedness was a sin (vs. 11), but their conscience convicted them of it.
The second part of the conscience we will refer to as the “trained conscience” since it receives and assimilates instruction from outside sources to form a standard of what is right or wrong. When a person is learning to drive they are trained that it is wrong to go through a red light because it impedes the flow of traffic while also putting themselves and other people at risk of injury, and to insure they learn the lesson they are warned they will be fined if they violate that traffic rule. A major task of parents is to train their children’s conscience. That is why we instruct them and praise them for doing right and correct them when they do wrong. The conscience will be trained to whatever standard of morality they are instructed.
The Training of the Conscience
Now at this point we need to understand the interaction between innate conscience and trained morality. While God places within man’s conscience a basic standard of morality, man will train that conscience in a way that will either enhance that standard or reject it for a different set of standards. God calls on us to train the conscience to be good according to His standards, but men often defile and sear their conscience by training it to their own standards.
In Psalm 119:11 David makes a simple but powerful statement about the method and importance of training the conscience. The statement is the answer to the question he asks in verse 9 about how a young man could live a pure life. The answer is, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.” The Hebrew word for “heart” here speaks of the moral conscience. It is to be trained in God’s word so that it will function according to God’s standards and in that way it will keep you from sinning against God. When the conscience is good then it can be your guide. That is why Paul so often mentions it in his writings. It is his conscience that bears witness to his compassion for the lost (Rom. 9:11), and his faithfulness in living in holiness and godly sincerity in his conduct with others (2 Cor. 1:12). It was his clear conscience that gave him comfort and confidence as it did here in Acts 23 and other places. The goal of his instruction of others included a “good conscience” as well as “a pure heart” and “a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). It is vitally important that we have the same goals in our training of others, especially you parents with your children.
The danger is that the conscience can also be trained to reject God’s standards and replace them with man’s standards. Titus 1:15 speaks about religious people who defile their mind and conscience because they exchange God’s standards for their own. They profess to know God but their disobedience to Him and impure thought life demonstrate that they do not.
A step down from this are those spoken of in 1 Tim. 4:1-3 that have seared their conscience by means of the hypocrisy of liars. These are people that depart from the faith and pay attention to deceitful spirits and the doctrine of demons. Verse 3 states this includes “those who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.”
The step below this are those with an “evil conscience.” This is not just an aberration of God’s standards, but a rejection of it for what is opposite of it. A good example of this is what those in several forms of Islam teach to their people that have resulted in groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Al Queda and such. They glorify death to the point of honoring homicidal maniacs who blow themselves up in the midst of marketplaces, restaurants, hotels, buses and other public places or fly planes into office buildings because they have the deranged belief that murdering people in such ways will advance the cause of their religion and ensure them of a place in heaven. The only word to describe such people is evil. The good news is that Hebrews 10 tells us that even those with an evil conscience can have their hearts sprinkled clean through repentance and faith in the person and sacrificial work of Jesus Christ.
It is the Word of God itself that is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate and equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16,17). It is a good conscience trained to the Word of God that will prompt us to do what is right before God and will confirm it to us when we do. A good conscience will also warn us when we about to do something contrary to godliness and convict us when we do, so that we might repent and confess. Paul had such a conscience and he begins his defense here in Acts 22:1 by stating so. His life was marked by striving to obey God and he was still doing so. That claim greatly irritated those whose consciences were defiled, seared or evil.
Their Illegal Action (2)
2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth.
This action was illegal as Paul will point out in the next verse. Leviticus 19:15 states, “You shall do no injustice in judgment,” and verse 35 adds, “You shall do no wrong in judgment.” Physical abuse during a hearing was contrary to proper Jewish legal practice for a defendant was presumed innocent until proven guilty and only after that could there be punishment. Ananias was a man who was quite the opposite of Paul. It is no wonder that he had no hesitancy to break that law if it suited his whims.
Ananias, son of Nedebaeus, was made the High Priest by Herod of Chalcis, (younger brother of Herod Agrippa) in A.D. 47 and he held the post until A.D. 59. He was pro-Roman, prone to violence and a greedy thief. Josephus tells us he even stole the tithes from the threshing floor that should have gone to the common priests. He was also known to use assassination to further his interests. Paul was a man of good conscience. Ananias was a man of evil conscience.
Ananias disrupted proper court procedure when he had Paul struck for making an opening statement, especially one that he did not like for Paul’s statement put the council in the position of having to demonstrate that Paul had violated what God had told him to do. It was an attempt to control, but it was the very thing that made him lose all control, for Paul was not a man to be so easily silenced.
Paul’s Error (3-4)
3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! And do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” 4 But the bystanders said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?”
Paul had been beaten before, so his anger shown here by his strong reaction is more due to the violation of the law than any personal injury. The phrase “whitewashed wall” is a reference to the Jewish practice of painting tombs with whitewash so that people would take notice and avoid them for touching something that contained the dead would make them ceremonial unclean. As Jesus explained in Matthew 23:27,28 when he used the same terminology in describing the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees, they appeared beautiful on the outside, but they were full of dead men’s bones and uncleanness on the inside. They appeared to be outwardly righteous but they were inwardly evil.
Paul’s outburst turned out to be prophetic, for God did strike Ananias. He was deposed as High Priest by King Agrippa in A.D. 59 and then was murdered in September A.D. 66 during the Jewish uprisings of that time. They found him trying to hide in an aqueduct and put him to death. But Paul was also corrected for reviling God’s High Priest. Paul’s godly character is shown again by his response to the correction.
Paul’s Apology (5)
5 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.'”
Paul’s apology is immediate and sincere. Some have criticized Paul for not acting as Jesus did in John 18:23 when the same thing happened to Him. But Paul is not Jesus and is subject to emotionally reacting as we do, and his example is exactly how we should respond when we do react improperly. For whatever reason Paul had not recognized the High Priest and so states his error in improperly speaking to him even citing the law he had violated found in Exodus 22:28. Paul’s respect for and commitment to keep law himself was greater than his disdain for a man who was violating it. He would not knowingly violate the law even if the other person was violating it against him.
There are several possible reasons that Paul would not have recognized the High Priest by sight. Some suggest it is evidence of Paul having poor eyesight, but that is just speculation. More probable is the fact that Paul had not been in Jerusalem in many years so he would not have known the man by sight, and the High Priest was not in the correct place or wearing the correct clothing. If either of these had been true Paul would have recognized it and known who it was.
After this action by the High Priest it was clear to Paul that he would not get a fair hearing by the Sanhedrin. He then used his knowledge of the politics and theological differences to quickly gain advocates among some of the members.
Paul’s Wisdom & Hope (6)
6 But perceiving that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul [began] crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!”
Paul wisely identified himself as a Pharisee for they were a major party within the Sanhedrin. Though his statement was not directly related to the accusations that had been against him in the temple, they were underlying reason why he was hated. If all the Jews had the hope and resurrection of the dead they would have believed the testimony that Jesus was resurrected and accepted Him as Messiah. Since they rejected those truths they also rejected Paul’s claim to have been directly told by God what he was to do.
Contention in the Council (7-10)
7 And as he said this, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. 9 And there arose a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and [began] to argue heatedly, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 10 And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.
Paul’s plan was effective because the Pharisees begin to defend him. Even those that would not acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah argued that a spirit or angel may have talked to Paul so there was nothing wrong with him. However, things quickly went beyond what Paul had intended. Instead of just generating a debate that would vindicate him, the two sides break down into a heated argument. It finally got so heated that the commander was afraid for Paul’s safety and so ordered him to be taken back to the barracks.
Paul’s example in our study gives us several principles that can be applied in our own lives.
First, Paul used his Roman citizenship to avoid scourging. It is legitimate to use legal advantages available to us to avoid persecution. It is right and proper to uphold the law and warn others about violating it.
Second, Paul’s integrity in following God was part of his defense. Integrity is important to each of us as well, and while it is the word of God itself that is to be our guide, training the conscience to follow God’s standards is extremely beneficial to being able to live in godliness and develop a character of integrity.
Third, Paul used the common beliefs he held with the Pharisees to his own advantage against the unbelief and evil of the Chief priests and Sadducees. It is legitimate to use to your advantage those who share common cause with you in some areas even if they do not agree with you on everything.
Next week we will see how God brought comfort and confidence to Paul in the midst of bad circumstances and yet another plot to kill him.
Sermon Study Sheets
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Keep track of how many times the Roman Commander, Lysias, is mentioned. 2) Talk with your parents your conscience and how it can be trained to be good.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Why did the Jews from Asia make accusations against Paul? What was the response of the people? What did Paul emphasize in his defense to the people? Why did the commander order Paul to be scourged? Describe Roman scourging. How was Paul able to avoid it? What did the Roman commander, Lysias, do when he found out Paul was a Roman citizen? Why did Paul stare at the Sanhedrin before speaking? Why was Paul’s conscience important to him? What is the conscience? What is the “innate conscience?” How is the “trained conscience?” How do they affect each other? How can the conscience be trained to be good? How can it be trained to be defiled, seared or evil? Give examples of each type of conscience? What was the character of Ananias the High Priest? What was Paul’s response to his illegal action? Why? What did Paul do when he found out Ananias was the High Priest? Why? What does that tell us about how Christians should act when they react incorrectly? Why did Paul cry out that he was a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee? Why did he say he was on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead? Was that true? Why or why not? What was the result among the members of the Sanhedrin? What lessons do you learn for your own life by Paul’s example in this passage? Explain.
Sermon Notes – October 8, 2006
Contention & Conscience – Acts 22:25-23:11
Paul’s use of His Roman Citizenship (22:25-29)
Paul Before the Sanhedrin (22:30-23:10)
Paul is Brought In (22:30)
Paul’s Integrity (23:1)
Its Definition and Nature
The High Priest’s Response (23:2)
Paul’s Error & Apology (23:3-5)
Paul’s Wisdom and Hope (23:6)
Contention in the Council (23:7-10)
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