Tuesday, March 12

Paul, the Prisoner of His Own Making

22:30 The next day, since he wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and instructed the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to convene. He brought Paul down and placed him before them.

23 Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience to this day.” The high priest Ananias ordered those who were standing next to him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! You are sitting there judging me according to the law, and yet in violation of the law are you ordering me to be struck?”

Those standing nearby said, “Do you dare revile God’s high priest?”

“I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest,” replied Paul. “For it is written, You must not speak evil of a ruler of your people.” When Paul realized that one part of them were Sadducees and the other part were Pharisees, he cried out in the Sanhedrin, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am being judged because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead!” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, and neither angel nor spirit, but the Pharisees affirm them all.

The shouting grew loud, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party got up and argued vehemently: “We find nothing evil in this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 

10 When the dispute became violent, the commander feared that Paul might be torn apart by them and ordered the troops to go down, take him away from them, and bring him into the barracks. 11 The following night, the Lord stood by him and said, “Have courage! For as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so it is necessary for you to testify in Rome.”

12 When it was morning, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under a curse not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul.13 There were more than forty who had formed this plot. 14 These men went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have bound ourselves under a solemn curse that we won’t eat anything until we have killed Paul. 15 So now you, along with the Sanhedrin, make a request to the commander that he bring him down to you as if you were going to investigate his case more thoroughly. But, before he gets near, we are ready to kill him.”

16 But the son of Paul’s sister, hearing about their ambush, came and entered the barracks and reported it to Paul. 17 Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander, because he has something to report to him.”

18 So he took him, brought him to the commander, and said, “The prisoner Paul called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, because he has something to tell you.”

19 The commander took him by the hand, led him aside, and inquired privately, “What is it you have to report to me?”

20 “The Jews,” he said, “have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the Sanhedrin tomorrow, as though they are going to hold a somewhat more careful inquiry about him. 21 Don’t let them persuade you, because there are more than forty of them lying in ambush—men who have bound themselves under a curse not to eat or drink until they have killed him. Now they are ready, waiting for your consent.”

22 So the commander dismissed the young man and instructed him, “Don’t tell anyone that you have informed me about this.”

23 He summoned two of his centurions and said, “Get two hundred soldiers ready with seventy cavalry and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. 24 Also provide mounts for Paul to ride and bring him safely to Felix the governor.”

25 He wrote the following letter: 

26 Claudius Lysias,

To the most excellent governor Felix:

Greetings.

27 When this man had been seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them, I arrived with my troops and rescued him because I learned that he is a Roman citizen. 28 Wanting to know the charge they were accusing him of, I brought him down before their Sanhedrin. 29 I found out that the accusations were concerning questions of their law, and that there was no charge that merited death or imprisonment.30 When I was informed that there was a plot against the man, I sent him to you right away. I also ordered his accusers to state their case against him in your presence. 

31 So the soldiers took Paul during the night and brought him to Antipatris as they were ordered. 32 The next day, they returned to the barracks, allowing the cavalry to go on with him. 33 When these men entered Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. 34 After he read it, he asked what province he was from. When he learned he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing whenever your accusers also get here.” He ordered that he be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.

Act 22:30 - 23:35 (CSB)

“Paul was imprisoned for his faith” is a common refrain, but the reasons for Paul’s imprisonment are more complex. First, Paul *kind of* causes his own arrests. His bold (some might say combative) personality riles a lot of people up. Other preachers, including those travelling with Paul, do not have the arrest records Paul does (especially at this period in history, before Rome’s persecution of Christians had begun).  The first time Paul preached the Gospel, way back in Acts 8, Jews began plotting against him in just a few days; when fellow believers finally shipped him back to Tarsus, Luke comments that the Church in Judea, Galilee and Samaria “had peace.” In other words, Paul wasn’t likely to bring peace to town with him. And when he left, everyone relaxed.

When he was in Philippi (Acts 16), Paul freed a slave girl from an evil spirit and consequently got himself and Silas arrested. Exorcism seems like a prime example of WWJD, except that Luke prefaced the miracle with “Paul was greatly annoyed. Turning to the spirit, he said…” Nobody requested the exorcism. Paul was just annoyed. Here and elsewhere in Acts, a reader can’t help but occasionally shake their head and think, Paul, you might have avoided this.

Even in today’s reading, Paul riled up his Jerusalem audience so much that the commander thought they were going to tear him apart. But…the whole bruhaha really was Paul’s strategic doing. Every other time he addressed Jews, he argued Scripture to prove that Jesus is the Messiah; this time, though, he frames the theological disagreement as an issue of the resurrection, a volatile dividing line between the Pharisees and Sadducees. Paul knew it and exploited it. Remember, Paul was a Pharisee who trained in Jerusalem. When Paul was in front of the Sanhedrin, he was in front of his old teachers and colleagues. He knew who was a Pharisee or Sadducee because he knew most of them personally. The conflict was not just theological—it was personal. Paul had not only betrayed the faith—he had betrayed them. That history combined with Paul’s personality was a recipe for disaster, and perhaps the prophetic warnings weren’t necessary to know things wouldn’t end well in Jerusalem.


Reflection

Paul could have avoided a lot of the problems he caused for himself (and, let’s be honest, others). Except, if Paul had avoided them, he wouldn’t have been Paul. God knew exactly whom He was calling when he called Paul. Paul wasn’t charismatic or diplomatic—and God used that. Perhaps Paul’s methods weren’t the best ways ‘to make friends and influence people,’ but no one can fault his effectiveness at preaching the Gospel and making disciples. God made Paul’s personality and our personalities, and he does not demand or expect us to conform to one perfect Christian stereotype. As long as we submit our whole person to Christ, growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control, we need not apologize or attempt to change the person God made us to be. What areas of your personality do you need to submit to God’s transforming grace? What areas do you need to simply accept with grace? How might God want to use your uniqueness?

Prayer

Father, You created us all so differently. Forgive me for the times I judge others’ actions and personalities based upon the standard of my own personality. Our personhood is good and created by You, so help us to accept ourselves and others for the unique strengths and personalities You have given us—and then to use them for Your glory! However, keep us ever mindful that our personhood is also fallen and flawed, and may we submit daily to Your Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Megan NessonComment