Paul doesn’t turn the other cheek.
He turns on the high priest: God will strike you, you whitewashed wall (Acts 23:3). Did Paul lose his temper? Or was this a prophetic rebuke? According to historical sources, Ananias was not such a bad high priest. But he was hot-tempered, insolent and greedy. His servants stole tithes of grain so that some priests actually starved. Jewish terrorists murdered Ananias in AD66. Some of Luke’s readers probably saw this as a fulfilment of Paul’s rebuke.
Paul’s next move is equally surprising. He hacks the operating system of the Supreme Court of Israel. His comment about the resurrection detonates a heated argument between the Pharisees who believed in the resurrection and the Sadducees who denied it (Acts 23:8). Soon they are at each other’s throats while Paul catches his breath.
This same Council had heard the Gospel from Jesus, Peter, John and Stephen. They had repeatedly rejected the Message and its messengers. Now they are left to their own devices, as Jesus pronounced in Matthew 23:38. See, your house is left to you desolate. Also, the very thing Gamaliel warned them against in Acts 5:39 has come to pass. They are fighting against God.
When all hell breaks loose, it doesn’t mean you are out of God’s will.
This lapse of judgment by Israel’s highest ups is essential to the narrative of Luke and Acts: Jesus is the true fulfilment of Judaism. Three times Pilate declares him innocent (Luke 23:13-22). And in three trials of Paul, the Romans find him not guilty (Acts 23-26). But the guardians of Israel have lost their spiritual and moral compass. Only God and the Romans now stand between Paul and the fanatics who would tear him to pieces. The Romans rescue Paul a second time (Acts 21:35; 23:10). And now he finds refuge and encounters Christ, not in the Jewish temple, ironically, but in the Roman citadel that crowns the temple mount.
For years, Paul had a sense of destiny about Rome. Now his itinerary is confirmed: That night the Lord stood near him and said: Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome (Acts 23:11 NRSV).
Where is Jesus in times of trouble? Very near. But not necessarily to rescue you. And not just to comfort you. But to commission you as His witness to the ends of the earth. Keep up your courage.
Fast and pray
- Keep up your courage! When all hell breaks loose, it doesn’t mean you are out of God’s will. It’s not the end of the world. Quieten your soul. Lift up your eyes above your woes and foes. Ask yourself: From where do I draw courage? Tell yourself: My courage can only come from one source: The Lord who saves me for His purpose to do His will and to finish His work. Tell yourself: Keep going! My confidence is in Christ. His cause will not fail. He is my ever-present hope. He is my very present help – to the ends of the earth, to the end of the age. Sing aloud:
In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My comforter, my all in all
Here in the love of Christ I stand
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand
- We are supposed to give honour where honour is due and rebuke where rebuke is due. But nowadays we zip lip and tolerate injustice, scandal and lapses of reason in the Church. Are we afraid to correct those who abuse authority? Do we fear bruising and losing the strawberry generation? Reflect deeply on this wise counsel from Gordon MacDonald: A genuine rebuke is a noble communication. We speak truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). I worry for the leader who doesn’t want to hear hard things, who surrounds himself or herself with people who only say pleasant, positive things. Sooner or later, such leaders neutralise themselves. A good rebuke is issue-specific … It is framed in prayer and sometimes in tears. If the rebuker finds the task easy, the rebuker may need a rebuke of another kind.
Does your church culture allow speaking truth in love? Or is there a gag rule? What is the state of leadership? Do leaders reprove, rebuke and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (2 Timothy 4:2)? Pray for your church. What is the attitude of fellow believers? Examine yourself. Do you cringe at correction? Or do you embrace it as a blessing? Pray that we will heed God’s Word and not delay the promised revival: If you turn at My reproof, behold, I will pour out My spirit to you; I will make My words known to you (Proverbs 1:23). Pray that we will wise up and not diminish ourselves: The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise … he who listens to reproof gains intelligence (Proverbs 15:31-32).
- The Church faces a public that’s increasingly discerning, critical and sometimes cynical. Pray that in all aspects of personal conduct and church governance, we will be above reproach. That no one can throw any accusations against us that will stick. May we be blameless, having a good conscience – for the glory of Christ!
Read the devotional from Day 31: Witness in blood here.