- Sermon Notes
Courage On Demand
Intro: On Demand?
As we turn to Acts 23 this morning, we will see Paul placed on trial before the Jewish Supreme Court in Jerusalem, called the Sanhedrin. Paul, after traveling to world starting ministries and raising up ministers in many cities, came back to Jerusalem. His arrival there, as we have seen, was met with a great deal of controversy.
Paul had come to Jerusalem because he sensed a call to go there from the Lord. We first read in Acts 19:21, that Paul was purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem, saying, “after I have been there, I must also see Rome.” There were many warnings for Paul, that difficulty was coming when he arrived to Jerusalem.
When saying goodbye to the Ephesians elders, Paul said the following:
Acts 20:22-24, Now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of God’s grace.
Then in the very next chapter, a prophet named Agabus comes to Paul when he is in Caesarea on his way to Jerusalem. The prophet came to Paul, took his belt, bound his own hands and feet, and then said, “thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. Paul’s friends then beg him not to go to Jerusalem, but Paul responded by revealing his commitment to God’s call for him to go to Jerusalem, despite the difficulty ahead.
Acts 21:13, … “I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
True to what Paul had said in chapter 20, there were chains and afflictions awaiting Paul in Jerusalem. It seems like everything is against him upon his arrival. Those in the church had heard a rumor about him and as he is trying to clear it up, he heads to the temple in Jerusalem and a riot breaks out. Those in the temple had heard that he was instructing people against the law of Moses, against the temple, and that he had defiled the temple by bringing in Greeks, which was not true.
The people were provoked, they dragged Paul out of the temple with the intention of killing him. After Paul is pulled out of the temple and beaten, the riot is seen and then stopped by Roman soldiers and their commander. Paul was immediately bound with two chains, and the commander begins asking what Paul had done. From Acts 21:34, we know that his charges were inconclusive, some were saying one thing, and others were saying another. So, the commander ordered that Paul be taken to the Antonia Fortress. They had lifted Paul up above the violent crowd that was shouting “kill him, kill him!” and that is when Paul, on the steps to the Antonia Fortress asked if he could address the crowd.
And he addressed the crowd, sharing his testimony, but the crowd went wild when he told them that the Lord said these words to him, “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” The moment he said “Gentiles” they yelled, “away with him, he isn’t fit to live,” they threw off their coats, and began throwing handfuls of dust into the air. (Acts 22:22-23)
The commander then took Paul inside the Antonia Fortress and ordered that he be interrogated with whips to find out why he had stirred people up, but as he was stretched out, he revealed that he was a Roman citizen, and pointed them to the truth that what they were about to do, was unlawful. The Roman commander then backed away and was afraid because he had put a Roman citizen in chains without trial.
The Roman Commander, named Claudius Lysias, we learn later in chapter 23 still did not know the reason why people were rioting against him. So, he decided to call an informal meeting where Paul would stand before the Jewish Supreme court, the Sanhedrin. This would be a unique type of trial, or questioning. This would not be in their usual meeting place, but near the Antonia Fortress, which Roman troops readily available to rescue Paul, as we will see. This brings us to Acts 23, where we see Paul stand before the Sanhedrin, and when things get stirred up again, the Lord will point him to courage on demand.
Read: Acts 23:1-5
Clearly, as Paul is standing before the Sanhedrin, things quickly heat up again. I can just picture the scene, Paul before the 71 members of the Sanhedrin. They wanted to condemn him, to end him. As he begins, however, he points to the One who he has lived his life for, the One whose call he was committed to, the One who had gone before him.
- Set the Lord Always Before You
- From verse 1, we know that Paul stands before them and “looks intently at them.” Other translations say he “looked straight at them,” or “gazed intently.” They don’t like him, they want him killed, but Paul looks directly at them.
- First, he looks at them, then he speaks to them, “Brothers, I have lived my life with an entirely good conscience before God up to this day…”
- Immediately, the high priest Ananias ordered those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth.
- Paul gets hit for saying that he had lived with a good conscience before God.
- When Paul said this, that he lived with a “good conscience,” it is important to know what he meant.
- First, he did not mean that he was sinlessly perfect, or had never made a mistake.
- What he is saying that in his conscience, internally, as he looked within himself, he had not willfully gone against the externals of the law.
- Conscience is that which passes moral judgement on a person’s actions (Romans 2:14-15).
- It is that which gives feelings of guilt, or anguish when our actions violate our value system, and feelings of pleasure and well-being when our actions, thoughts and words are in conformity to our value system.
- It is important to note that conscience alone does not determine what is truly morally right or wrong. Paul’s conscience had once permitted him to persecute Christians.
- Conscience rather, is based only on the highest standards of morality and conduct perceived by that person. It is not the voice of God, nor is it without error.
- A conscience without biblical truth, is an uninformed conscience.
1 Corinthians 4:4, My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. (NIV)
- It is possible for a conscience to be wrong and in error.
- The Bible sheds light on consciences that are weak (1 Cor. 8:7), wounded (1 Cor. 8:12), defiled (Titus 1:15), seared (1 Timothy 4:2), and evil (Heb. 10:22).
- The Bible also sheds light on the importance of a good conscience (1 Tim. 1:5), a blameless conscience (Acts 24:16), and a clear conscience (1 Tim. 3:9).
- Twice in the book of Acts and twenty-one times in his letters, Paul referred to his clear conscience. He wanted those before him to know that he was committed to the moral choices he made and had resulted in his trial before them.
- He was ready to stand before God, because he had lived his life before God up to that very day.
Acts 23:1, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” (NIV)
- When Paul said I have lived my life before God, I have fulfilled my duty to God, he spoke a word from which we get our English word, “politics.” It refers to doing one’s duty as a citizen.
- Paul was essentially saying, “I am here today, because I have been fulfilling my duty as a kingdom citizen, I have been doing God’s work!”
Acts 23:2-3, At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”
- Ananias had violated Jewish law by assuming that Paul was guilty without an official trial and by ordering a physical punishment.
- Paul responded to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall!”
- When Paul got stuck, he immediately reacted. He did not appreciate what was happening, and he responded with some strong words.
- It is likely that Paul was referring to Ezekiel 13:10-16, when he spoke out against the false prophets who were plastered over with whitewash and were doomed to divine judgement.
- In other words, “God is going to judge you, he is going to strike you!” Paul doesn’t hit back, but he bites back. We can relate to that. But we also must reconcile it.
- Because some will take a Scripture like this and respond to wrongs like this at will. Jesus, however, showed us a better way.
John 18:22-23, But when He said this, one of the officers, who was standing nearby, struck Jesus, saying, “Is that the way You answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?”
- Surely Paul was an incredible model for us all, but it must be the standard Jesus set and called us to that we endeavor to pursue.
- Jesus said, “if someone strikes you on the cheek, turn to him the other also” ( 6:29), Jesus was reviled, but did not revile in return (1 Peter 2:23).
- Paul himself would write about the best way:
1 Corinthians 4:12, when we are verbally abused, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we reply as friends…
- Paul gave an incredible example, modeled a great way, but Jesus is THE way.
- This is important for us to see, because sometimes we get out in front of Jesus, and it happens quickly. Though we see things flair up, and then we see Paul place the Lord back before him.
Acts 23:4-5, Those who were standing near Paul said, “How dare you insult God’s high priest!” Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’”
Illus. Could Paul See? (Galatians 4:15; 6:11)
- Paul learns of his error and places the Lord before him. He didn’t say, “I didn’t know, its not my fault.” He said, “I didn’t know, my fault.”
- He clearly did not like the man, but he respected the position and honored the office.
Exodus 22:28, You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people.
- And when it comes to the authorities in our world, I encourage you to put the Lord and His word before you as well.
1 Peter 2:17, Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
Romans 13:1, Every person is to be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
1 Timothy 2:2-4, First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made on behalf of all people, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
- Paul was willing to recognize his error, he accepted responsibility, and showed his submission to the Lord and His word clearly.
Psalm 16:8, I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Deuteronomy 31:8, The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
- Lean into Wherever He Leads You
Acts 23:6-7, But Paul, perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, began crying out in the Council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” When he said this, a dissension occurred between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.
- As Paul is standing before this group, it would have been abundantly clear that he was not in line for a fair trial.
- Already being beaten the day before, and now struck while before the supreme court, he could have given himself over to fear, but rather, he pursued the sound mind and wisdom God gave him.
- The people were upset at Paul and were implementing fear tactics. In addition to that, Paul had mistaken the high priest’s identity, he had blown it, he was on his heels.
- But the Lord had given him a sound mind and would provide wisdom to him.
2 Timothy 1:7, For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
- With his sound mind intact, Paul realized was that within the group in front of him, there were some strong differences of opinion.
- If he couldn’t see or recognize it before, now he did, the group before him was the Sanhedrin, and this group was made up of both Pharisees and Sadducees.
- These two groups did not agree about many things. They were on opposite ends of the political, philosophical, and spiritual spectrum.
- Paul, realizing the make-up of room he is in, employs a strategy, wisdom.
Mark 13:9-11, You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
- What came to mind for Paul was to bring up a topic that divided the room, it was the topic of the hope and resurrection of the dead.
- Paul tells the group, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee, and I am on trial for the hope of the resurrection.
- The resurrection of Jesus Christ is an essential truth of Christianity. Paul stated that the issue he was on trial for, was his belief and proclamation of that truth.
- Luke noted in verse 8, that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, nor angels, nor spirits, but the Pharisees believed in them all.
Illus. Words with weight.
Acts 23:9-10, And a great uproar occurred; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and started arguing heatedly, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”
- Paul was given wisdom in the situation. He was given the words to say as he stood trial.
- In pointing those in the room to the resurrection, he was also giving another opportunity for those present to understanding the truth about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- He was making the most of his opportunity. And even though the Pharisees right then and there some seem to believe and gives their lives to Christ, it seems that a seed was planted.
- If Jesus spoke to Paul after he was crucified and died on a cross, He then, must be resurrected. Paul is affirming that Jesus Christ is resurrected. And amongst the Pharisees, there is a slight admission of sorts in the form of “what if” or “maybe.”
Ephesians 5:15-17, So then, be careful how you walk, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
- Paul could have said many things in that room. He could have centered his defense on the differences he had with them all.
Proverbs 2:7, He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity.
James 1:5, But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
Acts 23:10, And when a great dissension occurred, the commander was afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, and he ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.
- If the commander was confused before about the charges being brought against Paul, I would imagine he was only more confused at that moment.
- The supreme Jewish authorities we not even able to agree when it came to the charges against him.
- Think about it, there were two riots because of him, then someone in the Sanhedrin hit him, and now the Pharisees in the group are standing up for him.
- The argument got so heated that the Roman commander who was standing by and listening in had to remove him.
- Concerned the people are going to tear Paul to pieces. He then orders his soldiers to remove Paul and take him back to the Antonia Fortress to be held in the barracks there for further questioning.
- Paul would be placed in a cell that night, not sure of what was ahead, but what he could be confident of was that he had come to Jerusalem at the instruction and direction of the Lord.
- In a cell he sat alone. He would sit in that cell, locked up for that night, the next day, and into the following night.
- And I wonder what Paul might have been thinking as he sat there. I wonder if he would have thought of all of those people who asked, begged, and pleaded with him to not go to Jerusalem.
III. Trust Him to Perfect His Plans for You
Acts 23:11, But on the following night, the Lord stood near him and said, “Be courageous! For as you have testified to the truth about Me in Jerusalem, so you must testify in Rome also.
- What Paul was thinking exactly prior to the Lord standing near to him with words of encouragement we do not know.
- But what we do know is that the Lord was comforting Paul and then confirming the call He had given to Paul. That Paul was in the right place, at the right time, and that Paul was also going to testify about Him in Rome.
- Whatever thoughts we, or Paul may have had about whether or not Paul should have gone to Jerusalem are now cleared up. The Lord made sure that Paul knew His view on things, Paul had given testimony about Him in Jerusalem, and he would also give testimony in Rome.
Illus. I am with you.
- Each time the Lord appeared to Paul, it was a time of crisis. A situation of difficulty, there were all times and situations where Paul was in need.
- The Lord comes to Paul here with these words, “Be courageous!”
- That is translated elsewhere, “cheer up!”
- Paul may have though, I came to Jerusalem, gave it my best shot, the people just rioted, then they beat me, then they rioted again, then I was arrested, then beat up again, look at this mess I am in!
- The Lord said, “Paul, you testified of me, and I have plans for you to continue testifying!”
Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
John 16:33, In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.