Acts #90 (chapter 23:4-11)
The Book of Acts
Paul's Before the Sanhedrin
Acts 23:4-11
So last time we checked in, Paul was making an appearance before the Sanhedrin at the Roman fort in Jerusalem. He has just begun his presentation and made a comment about having a clear conscience before the Lord, when the High Priest gives the order for the guard standing next to him to punch him in the mouth.
Paul responds with what will eventually be a fulfilled prophecy.
verse 3
As we pointed out last week, that was not a God-honoring response. Even though what the high priest commanded was a violation of Jewish law,
The high priest had violated the law. Jewish law carefully safeguarded the rights of a man on trial. He hadn’t even been accused of a crime, let alone proven to be guilty.
So the high priest was out of order in ordering that Paul be punched in the mouth. And the apostle Paul is saying, “God is going to punish you.” He was calling on the vengeance of God. “God is going to punish you for sitting at the seat of authority in the law and violating the law. You are a hypocrite. You have brought me to be tried by the law, and you are in violation of it yourself.
And when he refers to him as a whitewashed wall, he's simply calling him a hypocrite.
Everything looks good on the outside, but there is no stability or foundation. It's a fake.
Obviously, that comment stems from Paul's anger and indignation at what is taking place, and all of us understand that. We've been there, but nonetheless, the response was wrong. In fact, he lost his cool and committed a sin.
By the way, that’s what being a Christian is like. there is a constant battle between doing the right thing that honors God and committing sin.
Some suggest Paul wasn't angry, he was just stating his case legally. But the problem with that is you don't have to be insulting to make a politically point. In fact, try it in today's court and you'll be found in contempt. You don't have to call someone a hypocrite to make your point.
And we can sense the tone of what Paul says through the response that those who were listening give:
verse 4
They knew Paul was "reviling" God's priest. By the way, he was "God's high priest" in that he sat in the seat that God had ordained to be the seat of rule in Israel. His position was a God-ordained position. His person was Satan-oriented and motivated; but the position was the God-ordained position.
But the key word is the word "revile". Paul's attitude about the high priest was easy to see because of the tone of his voice.
The word translated "revile" is an interesting word. It means to respond in anger. It can be translated: “to abuse,” “to slander,” “to insult,” “to curse,” and “to blaspheme.” It is used four times in the New Testament: once here; another time in John 9:28 when the Jews insulted and mocked the blind man who had been made to see by Jesus.
It is used in 1 Corinthians 4:12 to mean the opposite of blessing. What is the opposite of blessing? Cursing. And it is used in 1 Peter 2:23 to refer to the mocking and spitting abuse that Jesus endured at the crucifixion.
In all four of its verb meanings in the New Testament, it means cursing, mocking, insulting, and abusing, including spitting on some one.
In its two noun uses, it appears in the two lists in 1 Corinthians 5 and 1 Corinthians 6 where we are given characteristics of those who will not inherit the Kingdom.
And it has two adjective meanings. One of those in 1 Timothy 5:14 tells us that Satan does it. The other one in 1 Peter 3:9 says Christians aren’t to do it.
So take all eight possible meanings, and they all mean the same thing. The crowd said, “Paul, you have slandered, abused and blasphemed the high priest."
I think it safe to conclude that Paul was mad and he lashes out in anger and mockery, and that is not the conduct of a child of God.
So was that a big deal? As a matter o fact, it was. Now remember, Paul is really on trial because he is accused of being anti-Jew and anti-Moses and anti-God's law.
And now, to add to the list, he is reviling God's high priest, and as a Jew, you just didn't do that.
In fact, when God set up His theocracy, He ordained
ordained authority in Israel through leaders, and required submission to those leaders.
Question: did God know there were going to be bad leaders when He put the system in place? Obviously. But God ordains authority and submission, and God knew there were going to be bad leaders, and bad governments and bad high priests and bad judges, and God still said to Israel, “You submit,” because submission is the principle that keeps the thing together.
And that judge, or that priest, or that leader, will have to answer to God for the way they've done what they've done. Just as they are accountable to God for their leadership, those under that authority are accountable to be for their submission.
And the only exception is when we ought to honor god rather than men.
So, when Paul spoke that way to the high priest, he stood in violation of God's law. The high priest had no right to inflict punishment on him, but he had no right to react the way he did because he was violating the principle that God had established.
Someone says, “But the man was a jerk. He was a terrible person.” That’s not the point. It doesn't make any difference because the office he occupied was God-ordained.
Paul was right when he said “God was going to smite you,” because he had violated the whole role of the high priest, but the tone of what he said was disrespectful, and Paul knew it.
Now Paul's attitude about things is quite a bit different from what mine would have been. I would have said, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!” And I would have done it with a smirk on my face.
And then they would’ve said, “Do you revile God's high priest?” and I would have said, “You better believe do because he deserves it. He has no right to say what he said and command to be done what was done. He’s a hypocrite, and so are all the rest of you.”
And if you would have said that or something like it, I promise you, you'd have been thinking it! It is the tendency of the human nature to defend ourselves and point out the shortcomings and wrongdoings of those who accuse us.
“Well, you’re not perfect, either. You’re not so hot. I’ve seen you do a lot of things, too.” That’s us retaliating in self-defense. We just don't like to accept responsibility for our sin! It's a lot easier to just bring others down to where we are.
But that's not what Paul did. And jsut as quickly as the old man lashed out, the spiritual man rose up to do the right thing. And immediately, he submitted to the Word of God and apologized.
verse 5
He says “Hey, I didn’t realize I was reviling the high priest. If I had known, I wouldn't have done it because the Word of God says not to."
In fact, he condemned himself in front of the whole court. He said, “I’ve sinned. I've violated God's law, and I’m sorry.” That’s a hard thing to do, isn’t it? Especially if you have to do it publicly.
Here he is in front of all of his enemies, he's been accused of being anti-Semitic, and now he has to confess that that he’s in violation of God’s Word, and all of that immediately after he has talked about having a clean conscience.
That illustrates for us that the next best thing to not sinning at all is to confess it immediately when you’ve done it. Confess it the moment you’ve done it and submit to the authority of the Word of God and turn from it. That’s what Paul did.
Now watch this: We see his humanity when he said what he did, but we see his spirituality when he immediately caught himself in the sin and openly, publicly confessed his sin, and turned from it.
That's the tension all of us live with and it is a great mark of spiritual maturity when we don't sin, but also when we immediately recognize it and confess it.
In fact, if we could learn to deal with sin in our lives that way, we could save ourselves a lot of discipline in life.
By the way, that's exactly what Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11:31 when he said, “If we judged ourselves, we would not be judged.” In other words, if we would take care of our own sin we wouldn’t have to have God to whip us into shape.
We’re going to sin and fail,, and violate God's law, but the next best thing to not sinning is to immediately deal with that sin and accept responsibility for it. Repent, submit to the Word of God, and go from there. And if you don’t do that, then your sin will continue.
And another lesson we learn here is not to deal with our sin in relation to the sin of others. After all, you can always find some lousy person somewhere to make you look good by comparison.
"Lord, I know I did this, but did you see what he did?" Don’t think of your sin in relation to how bad others are; always think of your sin in relation to how holy God is.
Notice, Paul didn’t say, “Well, you forced me into it” or “He deserved it” or "I was just telling the truth."
Paul said, “I’m sorry I sinned. I didn’t know he was the high priest, and I stand in violation of the Word of God.”
Just before we close, let me deal with one more thought here that bears some explanation. So why didn't Paul know he was the high priest?
I'll give you a couple of possibilities.
First, the Sanhedrin is not meeting where they normally did. I think it is probable, according to verse 30 of chapter 22, that Claudius Lysias called the Sanhedrin to come to Fort Antonia where Paul was being held.
So here they wouldn’t be in their normal configuration with the high priest in his special seat, and since it was an informally-called session, the high priest wouldn’t have his special robes on.
So I think it is likely that, because of that, he was unrecognizable, and that the voice just came out of the crowd of the 71 people gathered there.
  1. possibility is that Paul had poor eyesight, maybe as a carryover from the blindness at the time of his conversion. In Galatians, he writes about writing with large letters. Some believe that is a reference to the length of his writing, while others believe it refers to the size of his writing. And maybe he wrote with large letters because he didn't see well.
In fact, he also says in Galatians 4:15, “You and I had such a good relationship that you would’ve plucked out your eyes and given them to me.”
That may be an indication that he had a eye problem, and had there been transplants possible, they would’ve afforded him the eyes.
So it may have been that he had an eye problem. He just couldn’t see that well. I think it’s probably best to assume that that’s possible, but that likely they were mixed together. Without their formal robes on, he wouldn’t have been able to tell who it was.
I mention that only to say, he didn't make excuses for his sin. He doesn’t say, “Well, I didn’t know it was the high priest because he was indistinguishable in the crowd or I just don't see well, so I am not to blame.”
He says, “I didn’t know it was the high priest, and I’m still to blame for my ignorance. I should’ve found out.” God is so honored, and you will find yourself spiritually-minded and growing when you are willing to take that approach to your sin.
The prodigal son came home, and he says to his father, “I have sinned against God, against heaven, and against you, Father,” period. He didn’t say, “Dad, you drove me out. You gave everything to my crummy brother, and I know I made some mistakes, but, man, you made it tough.”
He didn't offer excuses. He just said, “I did it, and I'm responsible.”
The thief on the cross looked over at the other thief and said, "We are here because we deserve to be here." And that’s the one that went to be with Jesus. God is honored when we acknowledge sin and turn from it. Your sin is only to be seen in the light of a comparison of the holiness of God.
Let's pray.
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