The Trials of the Apostle Paul - Part 2

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

When accessing the historicity of a document, a matter of ultimate importance is the closeness in time of the writers to the accounts they recorded. Eyewitnesses (or those who received what they wrote from them) recorded the New Testament accounts of the life of Christ (Luke 1:1-3; John 19:35; 2 Pet 1:16; 1 John 1:3; etc.).

The early church not only proclaimed their testimony concerning Jesus Christ among friendly witnesses, but also among those who confronted them concerning the fundamental precepts of the Christian faith, by use of aggressive and violent tactics. The disciples could not risk inaccuracy or manipulation of such vital propositions, since those less than enthusiastic individuals—who regarded the Lord’s person and work as scandalous—could refute these precepts. The foundational element of the apostolic preaching was the bold and confident appeal to the experience and knowledge of their listeners. Not only could they proclaim the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, but also could say, “just as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22, 32).

Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) had an interesting relationship with the United States. When the Nazis rose to power, he was replaced as Lord Mayor of Cologne and imprisoned for a brief time in 1934. The United States liberated Cologne, and reappointed Adenauer as Lord Mayor. Eventually, he formed the Christian Democratic Union as a new political party. Adenauer lived an interesting life as a statesman, with many challenges. When considering the question of “the most important thing in the world,” Adenauer replied, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ is alive, then there is hope for the world. If Jesus Christ is in the grave, then

I don’t see the slightest glimmer of hope on the horizon.”1

Adenauer correctly believed the resurrection to be one of the best-attested facts of history. When retiring from office, he pledged to spend the rest of his life “gathering scientific proof of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is what compelled the early church to go forth as bold and courageous world-changers. They proclaimed that Christ is raised, which is the message of the church every day.

Today, hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not on trial (Acts 23:6). The scorn of those who deny the Bible wilts in the abundance of evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, buried, and rose again. For this reason, the early church continually spoke of Jesus’ resurrection as the only hope.

The resurrection of Jesus is foundational to the Christian faith; yet, oftentimes, it is only given serious thought during the Easter season. I am not a Christian because I was raised that way. In truth,

I opposed any form of Christianity as a young person, only coming to faith in the God of the Holy Bible because of a search for reality and truth. I am a Christian today because of God’s grace and because that is where the evidence led me, as C. S. Lewis said: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”2

Christians do not believe blindly, and the reason is that  has both personal and universal application. Christianity has personal application in that belief is based upon seeing: in Scripture, among God’s people (the church), and in oneself. The Christian faith is not merely a set of propositions to affirm; it is an entire way of life. The universal application of Christianity is seeing everything else through its lens. Christianity has implications regarding all things, since by God “all things were created” and are sustained (Col 1:16; cf. Heb 1:1—2:8). The Bible does not speak on all matters, yet it does reveal “everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3), and provides all that is needed in order to properly view the world and everything in it. Christianity is a complete worldview, because it provides a foundation for everything.

HAVING A STRATEGY
(Acts 23:1-35) Acts 23 begins with Paul in danger. If the Romans did not imprison him, the Jews would certainly kill him (22:22). There is a fivefold manner in which God assisted Paul. First was Paul’s integrity; he had nothing to hide, for his conscience was “perfectly good” before God (23:1). Ananias’ reaction indicates obvious anger toward Paul’s uprightness (v. 2). The high priest behaved inappropriately, yet Paul manifested respect for the office, not the man (vv. 3-5). Nevertheless, one appointed to uphold the law is not to act contrary to it (and Paul’s words were prophetic, because God did indeed smite Ananias).

Secondarily, the strategy evident in verses 6-10 did not result in Paul being freed, yet the resulting “dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees” compelled the Roman commander to provide safeguard for Paul. Thankfully (and thirdly), Paul had the best lawyer available: the Lord Jesus (v. 11). Paul received promise that the Lord was in sovereign control over all the events. One could not exaggerate the encouragement that the Lord’s assurance certainly brought to Paul during his three additional trials, his two-year imprisonment, and his perilous voyage to Rome. Today, the Holy Bible (God’s Word) offers divine grace and unshakeable hope to expel any dejection of spirit.

Fourth, by God’s providence, Paul’s nephew lived in the city, and he overheard plans of an ambush by more than forty Jews, who took “an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul” (vv. 12-16). “Paul called one of the centurions to him,” requesting that he lead his nephew “to the commander,” who then determined to send Paul “safely to Felix the governor” (vv. 17-24). You never know what friend or relative God may use to provide help. Sometimes the most casual and normal occurrences truly reflect divine intervention in our lives.

In his letter, Claudius Lysias omitted any haste in binding Paul, but simply mentioned the facts of the case, and his judgment that death or imprisonment was not deserved. Nine of the principal verbs in the letter are in the first person, thus demonstrating that the correspondence was quite honorable, yet particularly self-centered. He correctly judged that the issue was a matter of Jewish law (vv. 26-30). The Roman attitude toward Christianity is noteworthy, because nothing in Paul’s life or message threatened their law.

Fifth, when purposing to do so, God can cause duplicitous individuals, a young person, government officials, or large numbers to preserve and protect His people. “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov 21:1). Paul had the protection of 472 Roman soldiers, and the entire authority of the government, which eventually led to his arrival in Rome (cf. Acts 23:11). Government is nowhere close to perfect, yet it does promote order; for that everyone can thank God (cf. Rom 13:1-4).

HAVING A DEFENSE
(Acts 24:1-27) Acts 24 contains two speeches: a sycophantic prosecution by Tertullus (a hired orator representing the Jewish Council) and the explanatory defense by Paul. Tertullus began with flattery (vv. 2-4), knowing that many influential and powerful individuals are susceptible to it (cf. Luke 6:26; Acts 12:20-24). He continued with slander, accusing Paul of being “a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension” (thus threatening the Pax Romana). He falsely claimed that Paul “even tried to desecrate the temple.” Finally, he urged Felix to examine Paul, and the Jews joined with Tertullus as false witnesses in their censures against Paul (vv. 1-9). If a person knows how to flatter, it is certain he or she also knows how to slander. Whatever hinders slander often leads to the stealthier approach of flattery.

Paul spoke politely and truthfully, not sycophantically, appealing to easily ascertainable facts (vv. 10-12). His defense was threefold: his life, faith, and service to his nation (vv. 10-21). He challenged his accusers to prove their accusations, which he knew they could not. Being strategic to proclaim the gospel message of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, he did admit that he affirmed the truth of “the Way ... in accordance with the Law and [everything] that is written in the Prophets” (v. 14); therefore, Christianity should not be regarded as a “sect” (as his opponents declared, v. 5), because Paul worshiped the God of the patriarchs and believed all the teaching of Scripture.

Paul was not an innovator, for he was loyal to the ancestral belief. Furthermore, he admitted that he believed the doctrine of the resurrection, which some of those before him also cherished (v. 15), and thus he could not be regarded as a heretic or sectarian. Paul then asked why the Jews from Asia Minor were not present, since they actually started the riot (vv. 17-21); their absence was a serious breach of Roman law.

Felix understood Paul’s defense, since he had “a more exact knowledge about the Way.” Unfortunately, he was not truthful when saying he would talk to Lysias the commander (v. 22). Paul remained in prison, even though Felix knew he was not guilty (vv. 23-27). During this time, Felix was intrigued by the truth claims of Christianity, yet sadly delayed belief (cf. Isa 55:6-7; 2 Cor 6:1-2). God’s purpose for keeping Paul in prison is that it was the safest place for him. Why the Lord will sometimes allow falsehood to triumph is not readily apparent, yet in those situations the believer can trust God’s sovereignty. Throughout his imprisonment, Paul was not depressed, for he continued to depend upon the Lord and continued witnessing to Felix. Paul is a stellar example of waiting patiently for the Lord’s will to be accomplished.                      

ENDNOTES
1 As quoted in Billy Graham, The Reason for My Hope (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013) 91.
2 C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: Collier, 1980) 92.

Midnight Call - 02/2019

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