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Acts 22-23

by Chuck Smith

Shall we turn in our Bibles now to the twenty-second chapter of Acts. Pick up on Paul where we left him last week in that very dramatic moment. Paul in spite of repeated warnings from the Holy Spirit has returned to Jerusalem where he has received a very cool reception from the church and a very stern reception by the Jews. For while he was in the temple minding his own business, not doing anything to disturb anyone, going through the rite of purification according to the Jewish law in order that he might celebrate the feast of Pentecost that year, some of the Jews from Asia, when they saw him there, were incensed because they have been following Paul all over Asia trying to undo the work that he was doing among the Gentiles.

And they began to cry out, “Men and brethren, this is that fellow we’ve been telling you about, who among all of the Gentiles has been preaching salvation and all.” And so the Jews grabbed hold of Paul and were endeavoring to beat him to death. And someone reported to the Roman guard up at the Antonio Fortress that there was a raucous going on down in the temple mount and the Antonio Fortress was actually a part of the temple mount area. It was at the northwest corner of the temple mount area. Steps came right down to the temple mount.

During the feast they always had extra soldiers there because that was the time when people’s emotions were apt to become inflamed and the time of rebellion against Rome. So they always brought in extra soldiers at that time. And so a captain of the guard with some of the soldiers came running from the Antonio Fortress down onto the temple mount where they by force took Paul from the angry mob who were endeavoring to beat him to death. They bound him with two chains and brought him back to the steps of the Antonio Fortress. As they were going up the steps, Paul said to the captain of the guard, “Would you grant me permission to speak to these people?” He was surprised that Paul spoke in Greek to him and he said, “Do you speak Greek? Aren’t you that Egyptian that led a rebellion here a while back?”

Paul said, “No, I’m a citizen of Tarsus.” An important city. So he said, “Go ahead and speak.” So Paul beckoned with his hand to the angry mob of Jews that had followed them on up to the Antonio Fortress. And standing there on the porch, he began to address the Jews.

This was something that Paul had been longing to do ever since he found Jesus Christ. Paul felt that having an understanding of the Jew, being one, understanding their zeal, understanding their desire to persecute Jesus Christ, he felt sure that he could convince them of the truth of Jesus Christ. And so this was Paul’s great moment, the moment he had been looking forward to, the moment that he had been pushing and pressing.

I think that it is possible for us to just push our way into situations that the Lord hasn’t necessarily called us into. There are some people who just have that kind of a tendency to just push themselves in to what they desire. “I’m going to get there no matter what it costs. I’m going to do it.” And so Paul is here. I don’t know if he’s here by the will of God or here by the will of Paul at this point. When Paul was on his way back to Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit was warning him not to go every place he would stop. He said to the elders at Ephesus, “I don’t know what awaits me, except I know everywhere I go, the Holy Spirit warns me that there are bonds and afflictions awaiting me there.”

And when he came to the city of Tyre and met together with the church, there was a word of prophecy and the Spirit again told Paul, “Don’t go to Jerusalem.” When he came to the house of Philip in Caesarea, Agabus the prophet came down from Jerusalem. One of the recognized prophets in the church in Jerusalem, took Paul’s girdle and tied himself up and said, “So is the man to be bound who owns this girdle when he gets to Jerusalem.” And so they were trying to dissuade Paul from going, but he was determined. It would seem that perhaps even the Holy Spirit was seeking to dissuade Paul. I could not say for sure. It would be presumptuous of me to say it wasn’t God’s will that he go to Jerusalem. But at least there is that possibility to consider. It is always a sad thing when my will is in conflict with God’s will. It’s even sadder when I push my own will over God’s.

Paul is standing there, though this is his desire. This is his lifelong ambition, that is, Christian life-long. And so we left him last week beckoning with his hand to the people and a great silence coming over the people and him beginning now to speak to them in their Hebrew tongue. To the captain he spoke in Greek. Now to the people he’s going to speak to them in their Hebrew tongue. Chapter twenty-two begins Paul’s impassioned plea to his brethren.

Men, brethren, and fathers, hear my defense (22:1)

The word defense in the Greek is apologia and that is why the argument for the Christian faith is often called apologetics. It comes from this particular word, and you’ve heard of apologetics. It has its origin in this Greek word apologia that is translated here defense.

which I make unto you. (And when they heard that he was speaking in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept even more silent: and he said,) I am verily a man which am a Jew, I was born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet I was brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel (22:1-3),

Gamaliel was one of the highly respected Jewish rabbis of that day. In fact, probably the most highly respected Jewish rabbi of that day. The Scripture mentions Gamaliel on one other occasion, and that is, when in the early church history they were seeking to silence the witness of the apostles and Gamaliel stood up and he said, “Now let’s be careful what we do. There have been other sects arise and they dissipated at the death of their leader. Now that this leader is dead, it’s apt to dissipate. So I suggest that we just let it alone, for if it is not of God, it will just disappear. If it is of God, then we would find ourselves to be fighting against God.” And so that sagacious advice by Gamaliel was followed by the Sanhedrin which gave the church a bit more toleration in the proclaiming of their message in its very early history.

Gamaliel has written concerning Paul as a student. Gamaliel said of Paul that he had only one difficulty with him as a student, and that was keeping him supplied with enough books. Paul was just a real bookworm of sorts and as a student, was an avid reader. And so Gamaliel’s only problem was keeping him supplied with the books. Paul here speaks of his early training at the feet of Gamaliel.

and I was taught according to the perfect manner of the law of our fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day (22:3).

Paul is seeking to identify with them and letting them identify with him. “Men, brethren, I know what it’s all about. I know your zeal for God. I was just in the same place you are. I’m a Jew. I sat at the feet of Gamaliel.”

And I persecuted this way unto the death (22:4),

Or those who walked in this way, I persecuted them to death.

binding and delivering them into prisons both men and women. And also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all of the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and I went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, to be punished. And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come near to Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. And I fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me (22:4-9).

In another accounting of this, it said that they did not hear the voice and people then imagine a discrepancy in the Bible. There are a couple of Greek words employed. One is phone, which is the phonetics which is used here. They did not hear the phone, that is, they heard the sound of the voice but they didn’t hear the phonetics. They didn’t hear the word. They did not understand what the voice was saying to Paul. And that is what is being declared here. They heard the sound of the voice but did not understand the voice that spoke to Paul.

And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all of the things which are appointed for thee to do (22:10).

I think that here we have an interesting point that we should bring out again as far as the leading of God in our lives, and that is, that God usually leads us just one step at a time. We brought this out when we were in the earlier part of the book of Acts when Philip was in Samaria holding a successful revival and the Spirit said unto him, “Go down to Gaza” (which is desert). Didn’t give him any further instruction until he got to Gaza, and then the Lord gave him the next step.

We so often want God to spell out the whole thing. We’re not willing to walk by faith. We want God to spell out the entire mission, tell us everything that’s going to be transpiring all the way along. And probably so that I can choose whether or not I want to do it. But when you are a servant of the Lord, you take the orders one step at a time if that’s the way the Lord gives them.

When Peter was on the housetop in prayer at the house of Simon the tanner, and the Lord spoke to him and He said that, “There are men at the gate that have been sent for you. Now go with them asking no questions.” The Lord didn’t tell him what He had in store. “That’s all the further you get at this point, Peter.”

God leads us so often just one step at a time. But often I hesitate to take that first step and I just continue to say, “Oh Lord, now show me Your will. Oh God, I want Your will to be done in my life.” God doesn’t give us step two until we’ve taken step one. After you’ve taken step one, then God will give you step two. God said to Abraham, “Get out of the land of your fathers and journey to a land that I will show you.” So by faith, Abraham left the land of his fathers not knowing where he was going. Now that’s real faith. “God just told me, ‘Get out.’” “Where you going?” “I don’t know.” “Why are you leaving?” “God told me to leave.” “But where are you going?” “I don’t know.” “Man, that doesn’t make sense.” It does if you’re a servant of God and you’re getting your orders from Him. He’ll give you step two when you’ve taken step one.

And so we must step out in faith. If God has given us step one, then step out in faith. Take that which you understand and know at this point and when you get there, God will give you the next step. He leads us step by step. The will of God is usually a progressive revelation to each of our hearts. It is a continuing progressive revelation.

I would prefer that God didn’t do it that way, because I don’t really enjoy walking by faith. I trust much more in my intellect and understanding than I do faith. And so I would prefer that God would just lay the whole thing out in advance so I’d know each step and each turn that was going to come in the road. But God hasn’t seen fit to lead me that way; He just says, “Go to Damascus and then I’ll show you there. Take step one, then you will receive step two.” The progressive revelation of God’s will to our lives. Because God wants us to walk by faith. For “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).

“Arise, go to Damascus, and there you’ll get step two. It will be told you what is appointed for you to do.”

So when I could not see for the glory of that light (22:11),

This brilliant light blinded Paul for a period of time.

I was led by the hand of them that were with me, and I came unto Damascus. And there was a man by the name of Ananias, who was a devout man according to the law (22:11-12),

He was just like you guys.

and he had a good report of all of the Jews which dwelt there (22:12),

Paul is building up Ananias now. He’s not some renegade; he is a man who was devout and of good reputation among the Jews there in Damascus.

And he came to me, and he stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive your sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him. And he said, The God of our fathers has chosen you, that you should know his will, and see that Just [or that righteous] One (22:13-14),

Paul saw Jesus there on the road to Damascus. Paul, as he is giving the list of those who had seen the resurrected Christ, talks about His appearance to Mary, then to the disciples, then to over 500 people at one time. And then Paul said, “And finally unto me as one born out of due season.” And when he is giving his proof for apostleship or for the right of being called an apostle, he said, “Have I not seen the risen Lord?” Ananias said, “God has chosen you.”

When Paul is writing his letter to the Ephesians, and he begins in chapter one after his opening greeting, he began saying, “Thanks be unto God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ in heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). The top of the list of Paul’s thanksgiving list to God for the wonderful things that God had done, for all of the spiritual blessings he had received, the very top of the list, Paul put having been chosen in Him before the foundations of the world. That headed the list of Paul’s thanksgiving, and probably should be the head of all of our list, if we really understand what it means to be chosen of God.

Now here Ananias is declaring this to Paul. “God chose you, Paul.” Jesus said to His disciples, “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you” (John 15:16). So Paul writing to the saints declares that we’ve been chosen in Him before the foundations of the world. You see, if the Lord didn’t choose me, then everything else would be totally wasted. How grateful I am that God chose me. “The God of our Fathers has chosen you, that you should know His will and see that Just One,”

and should hear the voice of his mouth (22:14).

So Paul, there on the road, God chose him. And Paul realized the grace of God in choosing him because when Paul was chosen, he was breathing out murders, threats against the church. He was highly incensed against Christianity, against Jesus Christ. And yet the Lord chose him that he should not only see Jesus, but that he should hear his voice.

For you shall be his witness unto all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you tarry? arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord (22:15-16).

So Paul, to these Jews, is recounting to them his own personal experience of meeting the risen Christ. “I know the way you’re thinking; I understand your attitudes. I was where you are. I also persecuted the church, putting to death those that walked in this way. And I was on my way to Damascus to imprison those who called upon the name of the Lord when the Lord apprehended me.”

And it came to pass, that, when I came again to Jerusalem (22:17),

It sounded like, from the text here, that Paul returned immediately to Jerusalem from Damascus, but that was not so. He stayed in Damascus for a short period of time, but then he went out into the desert. He went out into Arabia, and there he spent close to three years as God revealed to Paul during that period God’s will for Paul’s life as God corrected his whole understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures. Paul returned from Arabia to Damascus, began to preach Christ boldly in the synagogues, got the Jews all upset who decided to kill him. So his friends let him down over the wall in a basket so he could escape from Damascus, because the Jews were waiting at the gate of the city to ambush him when he went to leave. And so he came down to Jerusalem, but that was some three years later. But Luke passes it all over, leaves a lot of the history absent, and perhaps Paul did in his witness here. “And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem,”

even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance (22:17);

There are other places where a trance-like state is mentioned by those in prayer. And it was in this state that they received visions and that they received the voice of the Lord speaking to their hearts. I understand what a trance is by definition. To my knowledge, I have never been in a trance. That’s not to say that I am opposed to being in a trance. I’m open to anything God wants to do in any way God wants to speak to me. If God would want to put me in a trance and show me a vision or speak to me in a trance, I think that would be absolutely exciting. And the Lord knows I’m open to that if that’s what He wants.

However, the Lord does speak to me quite often; He speaks to me through His Word. And I get just blessed beyond measure as God speaks to me right out of His Word. Again, I’m not opposed to visions, dreams, or trances. I am really open to them and I would frankly admit that I would enjoy such an experience. I would find it quite exciting indeed. Lord, You heard that now. But as yet, I have not experienced it. But that’s not to say that a person can’t experience it or any experience would be invalid. I do not believe that. However, any experience that I have must be subservient to the Word of God. Paul said, “If I or an angel from heaven preach unto you any other gospel than that which you have already received, let him be anathema, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).

I mentioned a while back about some guy that used to send out these things on visions where he has this packet of all of these amazing visions and revelations that God has given him. This guy has these for sale, $5.95 special, or $9.95 pack, or $14.95 for the whole caboodle. He built a million dollar church in Phoenix off of the gullible people who sent him for these little vision packets. But would you believe, this last week I got a card from the guy and he’s still in business? I haven’t heard from him for fourteen years. But Neil Frisbie is still getting visions of very interesting and exciting things, and they’re still packed in $5.95, $9.95 and $14.95 packages. “Learn what God…” “It’s better than the Kiplinger Letters. Cheaper!”

Years ago when I was getting almost on a weekly basis these little advertising flyers of the man’s visions, I would look at them and then throw them away. But one day, as I was on my way to a luncheon appointment, running a little late, I stopped by the church, and that was the first little church over on Church Street in Costa Mesa where we had a box out there. And I stopped by and pulled the mail out of the box and started off. And here was one of these Neil Frisbie flyers and so I wadded the thing up and tossed aside. And then I stopped, and I said, “Lord, now I want to be open to You. I don’t want to have a closed mind to everything. I hate being a cynic, though I have to admit that I am cynical about anybody who packages visions and sells them. But Lord, if this man has something to say that I should know or hear, I’ll venture for the $5.95 pack. That’s not too much, I can spring for that.” And the Lord spoke to my heart (not in a trance, just straight, I haven’t had any trance yet), He spoke to my heart His word, Jeremiah: “If a prophet hath a dream, let him tell his dream; but he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. For what is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:28). I got so excited when the Lord spoke to me that Scripture, I pulled off the road because it was dangerous to drive in that condition. And it was just a time of rejoicing in the fact that God has given me His Word. All that we need for life and for godliness is right here, according to Peter.

So any vision or dream or trance experience that I may have, and if I should come to you next Sunday night and say, “Folks, let me tell you, it happened. This last week, it happened. Went home Sunday night and as I laid down, I went into a trance and all these colors began to merge and then I began to see.” And I began to reveal to you some dream or trance or vision that I had, if it was not in complete keeping with the Word of God, then I should be accursed. Secondly, if you would get more excited about that than you do the Word of God, then there’s something wrong with your experience, because I’m giving you chaff, this is the wheat. Did you get that? “If a prophet dreams a dream, let him tell his dream; but he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:38). Don’t set aside the wheat for chaff.

What can you say about chaff? Have you ever tried to swallow it? I’m a fresh wheat fan. When I was a little kid we had chickens. And I’d go out to the chicken feed and I’d pick out the wheat because I found that we could chew the wheat for a while and it turned into a gum. And so, I was always chewing wheat gum when I was a kid. And sometimes as I was pulling out the wheat to chew it into a gum, you get some chaff with it, some of that little hull. But if you try to swallow that little hull, it always sticks some place in your throat and you almost gag trying to get it back up. It’s just hard to swallow. So what is the chaff to the wheat? The chaff is hard to swallow.

So I saw him saying unto me (22:18),

He’s in a trance. He has gone back and he’s in the temple, and he’s gone into this trance and the Lord appeared to Paul again and He said, Make haste, and get quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive your testimony concerning me (22:18).

Now Paul had gone down to really lay the witness on these guys. Because it was three years ago that he left to imprison all the Christians, and now he’s back and he’s really souped up to really, fully charged to lay the witness of Christ. The Lord’s saying, “Get out of here. They’re not going to listen to your testimony concerning Me.”

And I said, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on you (22:19):

Lord, You’re mistaken. These guys know how zealous I was against You.

And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death (22:20),

In other words, “I voted for his death,” which shows that Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin, that council of religious leaders. “I was consenting, I was voting for his death.”

and I kept the raiment of those that were killing him (22:20).

“God, they know me. They know how I’ve persecuted the church. Surely, Lord, they will believe me.” And so here is Paul arguing with the Lord. Always a mistake, because, as I said this morning, anytime you find yourself arguing with the Lord, just know you are wrong. The Lord’s always right. And yet, there are times I find myself arguing with the Lord. I’m trying to persuade the Lord to see it my way. “Lord, can’t You see? This is a natural, Lord.” But whenever you argue with the Lord, you’re wrong. So Paul found himself in that totally inconsistent position of arguing with the Lord, because if He’s the Lord, really, there’s no argument. You just do what He says if He is truly the Lord.

And he said unto me, Depart (22:21):

Didn’t argue with Paul. He just said, “Get out.”

for I will send you far hence unto the Gentiles (22:21).

And that word was like waving a red flag before a bull as far as the Jews were concerned; when that word Gentiles was mentioned, it was lighting the match to the gasoline--immediate explosion.

And they gave Paul audience up unto this word (22:22),

And the moment he said Gentiles,

they began to scream, Away with such a fellow from the earth: it is not fit that he should live. And they took off their clothes, and began to wave them in the air and throwing dirt into the air (22:22-23),

Just really kicking up dirt, waving their clothes, and this big commotion.

The chief captain commanded Paul to be brought into the castle, and he ordered that he should be examined by scourging; that they might understand why the people got so excited (22:24).

“What did he say?” He was talking in Hebrew. The captain didn’t understand Hebrew. All he saw was Paul’s talking away, everybody’s listening intently, until all of a sudden everybody starts to scream. They start taking off their clothes and waving them and throwing dirt in the air and trying to surge towards Paul to get him. And so he takes him in, he says, “Scourge him. Find out what he said.”

Scourging was a method of inquisition. It used to be called the third degree. Now the prisoner has so many ritesthat if the officer doesn’t say, “Please,” the judge will let him off. But in those days, the Roman government would scourge a prisoner, which was a method of eliciting by torture the confessions from a prisoner.

Most generally, they would tie his hands with thongs, the leather thongs, and then they would tie him to this post--they call it the whipping post--where his back was in a bent-over position, totally exposed. They would then take a whip called the cat of nine tails that had these leather straps with the little bits of broken glass and lead embedded in it that were designed to rip the flesh off of the body when the whip was laid down hard upon the body. They would tie the prisoner in this position, exposed back, and then the fellow would begin to lay the lashes on and standing there would be a scribe, a court reporter, who would then record every confession of the prisoner. And after each stripe, the prisoner would then cry out a confession, they would write it down, then they would lay another stripe on, and he’d cry out something else that he had done. And as long as the prisoner cooperated and would cry out his confessions, they’d lay it on a little easier until they had elicited from him a full confession to everything. And then they would just sort of lay it across his back until he had received thirty-nine stripes.

Quite often the prisoners died in this inquisition. It was very painful and it did cause a tremendous loss of blood. If a prisoner would refuse to confess to a crime, then the executioner would lay the stripe on heavier and heavier and heavier until he would be forced in agony to cry out his crime. A real torturous device of the Roman government by which prisoners were interrogated and Rome was able to solve a lot of crimes.

In thinking of Jesus, Pilate ordered that He be scourged. Isaiah said, “But as a lamb before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). He had nothing to confess. And so as they laid those thirty-nine stripes on Jesus, each one was heavier and heavier until His body was broken, broken open. Bones weren’t broken by this process, but the body was broken open. The back was like hamburger meat, ripped to shreds by this beating. “He was wounded for our transgression, bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

They ordered that they scourge Paul. However,

As they bound him with these thongs (22:25),

That was in preparation to scourge him.

Paul said to the centurion that was standing by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and not condemned? (22:25)

A Roman citizen cannot be scourged unless he had first been adjudged condemned by the court, guilty by the court. And then before the crucifixion, they would usually scourge him to solve a lot of the unsolved crimes.

When the centurion heard that, he told the chief captain, he said, You better be careful what you do; for this man is a Roman citizen. And the chief captain came, and he said to him, Tell me, are you a Roman citizen? And Paul said, Yes. The chief captain answered and he said, With a great sum of money obtained I this freedom. Paul said, I was born free. Then immediately they departed from him those which were going to examine him: and the chief captain was also afraid, after he knew that Paul was a Roman, because he had bound him (22:26-29).

Which was contrary to the Roman law to bind a Roman citizen until formal charges had been made. On the morrow, because he would have known the certainty of the accusations of the Jews, he loosed Paul from his bands, and he commanded the chief priests and all of their council to appear, and he brought Paul down, and set him before them (22:30).

Chapter 23

And so Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day (23:1).

Paul was indeed a remarkable man. As Paul is writing to the Philippian church and sharing with them the natural advantages that he had before he accepted Jesus Christ as far as having a righteous standing before God by works, he said, “Those things which were gain to me,” talking about the fact that he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a Pharisee, and he said, “and concerning the keeping of the law, I was blameless.” Quite a remarkable man. To be able to say I have had always a good conscience before God up until this point. Now, I can’t make that kind of a statement. Paul was really some kind of a fellow to be able to state…and I don’t know how many of you could make that kind of a statement; I’ve always had a good conscience before God up until this point, up till this day. The high priest didn’t believe him.

Ananias commanded those that were standing by him to hit him in the mouth. And Paul said unto him, God will smite you, you whitewashed wall (23:2-3):

Jesus made reference to the Pharisees as whitewashed sepulchers. The Jews were very careful about touching a dead body or anything that had touched a dead body. For according to the Jewish law, to touch a dead body or anything that had touched a dead body would make you unclean, and you would not be able to go into the temple to worship God until you had gone through a ceremonial cleansing. And this ceremonial cleansing had to be done in running water.

Our last trip over to Israel, we had gone down into the spring of Gihon and the people were looking down the bottom of the shaft at the spring of Gihon there in the Kidron valley, and as we were there and talking about the spring and the cave that went from the spring of Gihon over to the pool of Siloam, some 1700 feet by the King Hezekiah and all, there was this young Jewish fellow with his black robes and black hat and curls and all who came into the spring. He was wanting to bathe in order to make himself ceremonially clean so he could go and pray at the Western Wall. And he got very impatient with us and our group taking so long looking at the spring, so he started disrobing. And so he could get in the water, and you got to dip in running water in order that it might make you clean. We got the message and got out of there as he was getting into the water.

But it’s just one of those things to become clean so you can worship in the temple, you’ve got to go through this ceremony of washing in running water. So they didn’t want to touch a dead body or anything that was touching a dead body or near a dead body and therefore, when they would put up the tombstones, they would always paint them with whitewash so that people would see them and be careful not to touch them. So they would whitewash them so people wouldn’t touch them accidentally.

And so Paul said, “You’re just a whitewashed wall. You’re unclean; you’ve got death.” He lost his cool, really, and just didn’t really turn the other cheek, but he said, “God will smite you, you whitewashed wall.” Paul was upset because:

you’re sitting here to judge me concerning the law, and yet you have commanded me to be smitten contrary to the law? (23:3)

It was unlawful to just hit the prisoner during interrogation. So Paul was upset. Here a guy is supposed to be a judge of the law and he’s violating the law himself, and it just snapped in Paul and so he flared and called him the whitewashed wall.

Interestingly enough, in two years God did smite old Ananias, his whitewashed wall; he was assassinated within two years of this time.

And they that stood by said (23:4),

They were probably shocked. They said,

Revilest thou the high priest? (23:4)

This perhaps is an indication that Paul did have eye trouble, because Paul said,

I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people (23:5).

There are other indications that Paul did have eye problems. This is thought by many to have been his thorn in the flesh, “the minister of Satan buffeting him”. He, writing his Galatian letter, said, “You had such love for me. Some of you would have, if possible, given me your own eyes” (Galatians 4:15). And it could be a very direct reference to severe eye problems. So according to some of the early stories, Paul was a short, bony, little Jew with constant running eyes from his eye problems, squinting, with a very large angular nose. I don’t care what he looks like. I love the guy. Oh, what a mind.

Isaac Watts was a short, little fellow, less than five feet tall. And yet, probably one of the greatest minds of England. He was always sickly, Isaac Watts, just a short, sickly little fellow. And that is why he wrote, “Were I so tall to reach the pole or span the ocean with my hand. I must be measured by my soul, for the mind is the standard of a man.” You see, he didn’t have much of a physical prowess, but oh, what a mental prowess this man had.

Paul the apostle, not much to look at physically, but spiritually he’s beautiful. And so he’s probably squinting, “I didn’t know that was the high priest. Sorry about that, fellow, because the Bible says I’m not supposed to revile the ruler. Sorry about that.”

Now when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, and the son of a Pharisee: and of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question today. And when he had said this, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angels, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both. And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees' part arose, and they strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let’s not fight against God. And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest they would have torn Paul to pieces, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, to bring him into the castle (23:6-10).

So again, Paul’s endeavor to bear witness ends in riot. His lifelong dream and ambition to preach the Gospel to the Jews, he felt he could be successful. It was an absolute, total, miserable failure. Both endeavors ended in riot.

There are some who perceive this as a very clever move on Paul’s part to bring a division among his accusers. They look at it as a clever, clever scheme by Paul to pit the Sadducees against the Pharisees, so while they are all fighting, he can slip out under the table and get out and leave the whole room going at each other. That’s possibly so. I personally don’t believe it. I believe that Paul was intending to preach the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the Pharisees. And so he brings up the fact, “I’m a Pharisee.” Again, seeking to identify. “And it’s because I believe in the resurrection that I’ve been brought here.” And I believe that he wanted to go on and preach to those Pharisees the truth of the resurrection through Jesus Christ. But before he had that chance, the whole thing exploded and he had to be taken by force from among them before they tore him to pieces. Paul must have been extremely discouraged, brought back to the Antonial Fortress, placed back into protective custody of the Roman government. As night began to fall, Paul must have been extremely discouraged sitting there, not knowing what the future held. Only aware of his failure to fulfill his lifelong dream to bring salvation to his brothers according to the flesh.

Paul had such an intense love for the Jews, that he said in his Roman epistles that he could wish himself accursed from God for his brethren’s sake according to the flesh. He testified of his great love for them. He had had a yearning to preach to them and finally the opportunity came, perhaps forced by Paul, but nonetheless, that was his big moment. And it ended in disaster.

Here you’re confident that you’re able to do something. You’re so sure, “If I just got a chance, I just haven’t had the chance. If I just had a chance. Give me the chance.” You’re a halfback, and you know that you could run through that line and outrun the backfield and you could score. “Oh, let me have the ball; let me carry the ball.” Every time you go back to the huddle you’re telling the quarterback, “I want to carry it, I want to carry it. Give me a chance, give me a chance.” So he finally calls the play. Your number, you get the chance. Quarterback receives the ball from center, hands off to you, you start through the line and one of the big tackles grab you, strips the ball, you fumble, the other team recovers. The coach pulls you out. You’re sitting on a bench. “My big moment; I blew it.”

Discouraged, dejected, Paul sat there. In that time of dejection and discouragement, the Lord came and stood by him. How beautiful. How beautiful.

And the Lord said, Be of good cheer, Paul (23:11):

The word in Greek has been translated in another place, “Be of good courage.” Jesus said this on many occasions, and it might be a little interesting study for you to go back and see the various places where Jesus said, “Be of good cheer, be of good courage.” When the disciples were in the ship trying to go across the other side, and Jesus came walking on the water and they were frightened, they thought they were seeing a ghost, He said, “Be of good courage.” You guys are scared to death. “Be of good courage; it’s I” (Matthew 14:27).

 “Paul, be of good courage.” Shows that he was discouraged. He probably thought, “This is it; this is the end. I’m no good. I can’t do anything for God. I finally got my chance and I just, why did I say Gentile? Why did I blow my cool? Call the high priest a whitewashed wall. What’s wrong with me? If I had not said Gentile, if I had just done this, if I just said that.” Oh, how easy it is to sink in the quagmire of the why’s and the if’s of life, as we go back and try to change what is. But all it can do is take us deeper into that slough of despair. Paul was sinking, and so the Lord came and stood by him. “Be of good cheer, Paul, be of good courage.”

for as you have testified of me in Jerusalem (23:11),

“Alright, Paul, you’ve done it. You’ve had your chance and you testified of me in Jerusalem.” Now the Lord isn’t making light of it. The Lord is acknowledging it. The Lord is not condemning Paul. The Lord doesn’t join Paul in his why’s and if’s. He didn’t say, “Paul, why did you lose your cool, man? Paul, how could you have been so stupid as to mention Gentiles. You know their attitude towards Gentiles.” He didn’t come in condemning Paul. He came in commending him, which is so true of Jesus.

How is it that we always seem to picture Jesus as condemning us. Probably because of all the preachers we’ve heard in the past. I know that that’s true in my own case. Man, I’ve been condemned by so many preachers during my whole lifetime. The finger was always pointing at me. And so, I, in my mind, just associated that with Jesus and I figured Jesus was constantly condemning me for good reason. But one day I read, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). And I read where Jesus said, “I did not come to condemn the world, but that the world through Me might be saved. And he that believeth is not condemned” (John 3:17,18). And then I read Paul’s question, “Who is he that condemneth?” And I read his answer, “Not Jesus, for He died, yea rather, is risen again, and is even at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for me” (Romans 8:34). He’s not my condemner; He’s my intercessor. And my whole life changed. My relationship with Jesus changed completely when I found out that He was there to lift me up instead of to push me down. He was there to draw me in instead of push me out. He was there to lift me up. How thankful I am for Jesus.

He stood by Paul and He said, “Be of good courage, Paul: for as you have testified of Me in Jerusalem…” And He acknowledged, “Paul, you have testified of Me here; you’ve given them the testimony.”

so must you also bear witness of me in Rome (23:11).

“Rome? Lord, did You say Rome? Alright!” Because when Paul began this whole journey back in Ephesus, taking off first from Macedonia and then to Greece to collect the offerings from the churches that he might bring them to the poor saints in Jerusalem, as he was leaving Ephesus he said, “I am going to head off this way because,” he said, “I want to get to Jerusalem before the feast of the Passover.” And he said, “And I must also see Rome.” He was expressing there a deep desire in his heart, “I want to see Rome.” Paul was always challenged by the centers of the world, by the population centers and by the cultural centers. “If I can only bear witness of Jesus in Rome.” And Jesus said, “Be of good cheer, Paul, you’ve testified of me here in Jerusalem, now you’ve got to bear witness of Me in Rome.” “Rome?” The new courage, the new hope, the new faith, the new calling. Back on the road. The new zeal, the new drive. Ready to go again.

It’s always comforting when the Lord sets out a destination for us, because we know that nothing can deter us until we reach that destination. There were a lot of things that come in Paul’s path before he gets to Rome as we’ll find out this next week. One of them in the next verse.

And when it was day, there were certain of the Jews that banded together, and bound themselves under a curse (23:12),

What they do is say, “May God curse us if we don’t accomplish this task.” So they bind themselves with this curse. “God curse us if we don’t do it.” And so, they bound themselves under the curse.

saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul (23:12).

They really were out to get him.

And they were more than forty which entered into this conspiracy. And they came to the chief priests and the elders (23:13-14),

Who evidently weren’t that honorable of people.

and they said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have killed Paul. Now we want you with the council to signify to the chief captain that he bring Paul down to you to morrow, as though you would enquire something more perfectly concerning him: and we, before he ever gets here, will pounce on him and we’re ready to kill him. Now Paul's sister's son (23:14-16)

This is the only mention of any relatives of Paul in the Scriptures, but his nephew, his sister’s son,

heard of this plot to ambush him, and so he entered into the castle, and told Paul (23:16). Remember, the Lord said to Paul, “You must bear witness of Me in Rome.” Because the Lord said that, you can be sure Paul’s going to bear witness in Rome. The word of the Lord has to come to pass. The Lord speaks with that advantage of foreknowledge, or what they call precognition today, so that when the Lord said, “You must bear witness of Me in Rome,” Paul will surely get to Rome. Now here’s an obstacle. No little obstacle, forty guys taking this curse upon themselves, not going to eat or drink till they kill him.

God works His supernatural ways often in the natural. I was talking with a pastor this week who had come in to just sit down and share some time together in the Word and exploring some of the things of God. And I said to him, “It’s very important that we as Christians learn to discover how that the supernatural works in natural ways. The danger many times is not to recognize the work of God because it seems so natural. But in reality, it is God’s work; therefore, it is supernatural. But sometimes people are so spiritually dull that they don’t recognize the supernatural unless there is some kind of spectacular phenomena. But a person who is keenly attuned to spiritual things will learn to see God and recognize the hand of God in very natural circumstances. And we must not look for God only in some kind of spectacular phenomena, but begin to look for Him in the very natural things. For God works His supernatural works in very natural ways.”

And so it seems quite natural that this little boy listening to these men talk, and they’re talking about my uncle Paul, and so he listens to their plot. I see the supernatural in that. God has to protect Paul from the plot, so he plants this little kid. And who knows what the little kid was doing when suddenly he got the idea to run over and play with his little friend. And when he got over to his little friend’s house, his dad was in there with a bunch of guys and here they were plotting, talking about, “We’ll get him; we don’t need…” And by what method God got that little kid where he heard it, I don’t know. But it was supernatural, and yet it seems so natural.

So he came and he warned Paul.

Paul called one of the centurions, and he said, Take this little boy to the captain: for he has some things to tell him. So he took him, brought him to the chief captain, and he said, Paul the prisoner called me unto him (23:17-18).

The centurion brought him in and he said,

Paul called me and he asked me to bring this little boy to you, who has something to say unto you. So the chief captain took him by the hand, and he went aside privately with him, and he said, What is it that you need to tell me? And he said, The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring down Paul to-morrow to the council, because they are going to pretend that they want to enquire somewhat of him more perfectly. But don’t yield to their request: for they’re lying in wait, about forty men, which have bound themselves with an oath, that they’re not going to eat or drink until they have killed him: and so now they’re going to be coming real quick for a promise from you to bring him down. So the chief captain then let the young man depart, and he charged him and he said, Don’t tell anybody that you have showed me these things. So he called to him two centurions, and he said, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen, at the third hour of the night; And provide them with animals, that they may set Paul on them, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor. And he wrote a letter after this manner: Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix I send greetings. This man was taken of the Jews, and would have been killed by them: and I came with an army, and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman. And when I would have known the cause why they were accusing him, I brought him forth into their council: And I perceived that all they were doing is accusing him of questions about their law, but have laid no charges against him that are worthy of death or imprisonment. And when it was told me how that the Jews were ready to ambush the man, I sent him straightway to thee, and I gave commandment to his accusers also to say before you what they have against him. Farewell. Then the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul, and brought him by night to Antipatris (23:18-31). From Jerusalem to Caesarea is a journey of about sixty miles, of which some forty miles are through mountain country where the Jews lived and would have been easy to ambush Paul. From Antipatris, that is at the foot of the Jerusalem mountains, and from there to Caesarea is just flatland and be difficult to ambush someone in that area. So, “Paul,” the Lord says, “You got to go to Rome.” And he starts off in a royal way with an escort of four hundred and seventy soldiers. Seventy cavalry men and there are two hundred spearmen and two hundred foot soldiers, infantry troops that are accompanying Paul out of Rome, the forty miles to Antipatris where the foot soldiers and the spearmen leave and the cavalry men take Paul on then from Antipatris to Caesarea that he might be tried before Felix.

This fellow Felix, before whom Paul was to be tried, was at one time a slave. He had a brother Pallus, and Pallus was one of Nero’s favorite persons. His brother Pallus interceded with Nero, and Nero freed Felix from his slavery. Through the continued intercession of his brother Pallus, Nero made him the only slave to become a governor in the Roman Empire up to that point. He was the first slave who became a governor.

However, he was a very crude person. He was corrupt. And Tachitus the historian said he governed like a slave. Felix had three wives in quick succession. We do not know the name of his first wife, the second was the granddaughter to Cleopatra and Anthony, whom he divorced and married finally Druscella, who was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I. At this time, Felix had been reigning as governor over the province for five years. Very corrupt reign. He was to reign for two more years before being deposed and banished by the Roman government because of his corruption. So this is the man before whom Paul must appear now to make his next defense.

When they came to Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor, and they presented Paul also before him. And when the governor had read the letter, he asked what province Paul was from. And he answered Cilicia; And he said, I will hear thee, when your accusers are also come. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod's judgment hall (23:33-35). 

Herod had built a palace in Caesarea, so Paul’s stay wasn’t too bad there in Caesarea. It’s a beautiful Mediterranean port. He was there in Herod’s palace, the judgment hall that was made by Herod there. Herod made a fabulous city; the ruins of Herod’s period in Caesarea are awesome. The hippodrome, the stadium, and those ruins that date back to Herod’s time are absolutely awesome there in Caesarea. So Paul is now a prisoner in Herod’s palace in Caesarea to await this crew who come down next week in our lesson and make their accusation, having hired this sharp attorney who is a silver-tongue groggier.

So next week let’s see if we can finish the book of Acts. That’s your assignment, and we’ll see how far we can go.

I believe that we’re really on the verge of seeing another great marvelous move of God. I really feel that God is desiring to do more, even more than we’ve already seen, and what we’ve already seen is just so phenomenal, I can’t handle it. But I really feel that God wants to do even more for us, and I want to be open to God. That’s my desire. I really don’t have any ambitions for greatness or power or notoriety. I just want to do what God wants done. I really feel that God is wanting to do more. I want to be open to whatever God might want to do. So I would just encourage you, fellows, come on out and let’s just pray. Let’s make ourselves available to God to just see what God might want to do. Maybe He’s satisfied with what He has done. I don’t think so, but maybe. But that’s alright too. Let’s give Him a chance anyhow.

I always like to just make myself available to God. “Here I am, Lord, want to do anything? I’m available.” It’s an exciting life. That life of availability to God. Because you never know what God is going to call upon you to do any given time.

My wife and I were going home from church Thursday night. We got down here to Baker and Adams, and actually what happened was a police car passed us as we were going home. And we were right at the freeway, and this police car came screaming by with lights and siren and the whole thing, and I saw him make a quick U and park there on Baker, so we knew that we were going to come up on whatever was there. There was a car parked there in the intersection and there was a guy lying there on the pavement. And my wife says, “Honey, go see if you can do anything. See if he’s alright. He’s just lying there.” A lot of people run up and gather around. She said, “Go see if you can do anything, Honey.” So I started to park, and she said, “Oh, God, help that poor guy.” I’ve never seen such a quick answer to prayer. Before I got there, the guy was standing up and limping off. Real power through prayer. But you never know what God might have in store. So availability to Him. God bless you. May He give you a good week. And may He use your life and may each of our hearts be open to the Spirit, that God might work in us His supernatural works in supernatural or natural ways, whatever way He sees fit. But that God will just use my life and work through my life His work this week.

Chuck Smith

Pastor Chuck Smith began his ministry at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, in 1965, with just twenty-five people.