Acts 23:1-22
Suffering At Jerusalem

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. "Take heart. Just as you powerfully testified of me in Jerusalem, you must testify also in Rome," (verse twenty-three). These are the words that the Lord spoke to Paul on one certain evening. It was the time Paul was in Jerusalem. When the Lord said, "Take heart," what were the circumstances that Paul was in? What did these words of the Lord mean to Paul? First, let's do a simple review of the events following Paul's arrival in Jerusalem.

Just As You Testified In Jerusalem

2. In the first place, not everyone was in agreement with Paul's visit to Jerusalem. Instead, many people held Paul back because it was exceedingly dangerous to go into the stronghold of the Jews who hated Paul. But, despite that, his one purpose of heading to Jerusalem was to deliver the assistance money from the Gentile churches to the poor church at Jerusalem. In addition, it was also in a certain sense inevitable that Paul go to Jerusalem as he desired the salvation of his Jewish kinsmen above all else.

3. But, when Paul arrived in Jerusalem, what he heard from the elders of the church was that there was a deep rooted opposition against Paul among the Jewish Christians. It was believed that Paul was teaching Jews "Do not circumcise your children. Do not follow the customs." This was certainly a misunderstanding. But, misunderstandings need to be resolved. The elders made Paul a proposal. "There are four men among us who are instituting their vows. Purify yourself with them and bring them and pay the price of shaving your head for them. Thus, the rumors about you will be completely unfounded and everyone will see that you are observing the law and living righteously," (21:23-24). That seems stupid to say. Why would Paul have to do all that? But, he followed their proposal. He believed it was the will of the Lord. The following day, he took the four men along and went to the temple. Paul spent a time of purity with them. However, this brought unwarranted troubles later on Paul.

4. It was the time when the period of seven days of purity was about over. Jews, who had come from the province of Asia, found Paul inside the temple grounds. They stirred up the public, arrested Paul and shouted, "O men of Israel, help us. This man is teaching everybody everywhere to disrespect the people, the law and this place. Because of that, he has let Greeks into the temple grounds and polluted this holy ground," (21:28). All at once they dragged Paul from the temple and acted violently against him. Upon seeing the captain of the guard and his soldiers who had come running to maintain the peace, the crowd gradually stopped hitting Paul.

5. Paul must have run out of air. But, he still made an effort to address the crowd. While he was brought to the barracks, he obtained permission and began to address the people in Hebrew. "You, who are my brothers and my fathers, please listen to the defense that I will give from here on out." Then, Paul testified to them of his personal conversion and spoke to them politely with love and sincerity. Yet, the words of Paul did not reach the heart of the public. When he got to the part that Jesus sent Paul to the Gentiles, those who were listening raised their voices and started shouting, "Remove this man off the face of this earth. Don't let him live." Amid the ruckus, Paul was carried off into the barracks.

6. The following day, Paul was given a chance to defend himself before the leaders of the people who had been called together. One section of them were of the Pharisees, the other section of them were Sadducees. The Sadducees did not recognize either the resurrection, angels or spirits. The Pharisees did. Were Paul to begin to speaking regarding the hope of the resurrection here, then the Pharisees would have to show some understanding for Paul while in front of the Sadducees. Paul slowly began to speak, "O brothers, I have been a Pharisee since birth. While embracing the hope that the dead will rise again, I have been put on trial," (23:6). As a result, a debate arose between the two sects. Some began to rise up, surely among the Pharisees, saying that "We cannot find any bad points at all in this man." But, the debate became all that much more worse. It was no longer possible for Paul to stay there. So, finally, Paul's chance for his defense was lost after his speaking just that once.

7. These were his days in Jerusalem. Not one good thing came out of it, just beatings and more beatings. Of course he was mentally ready for the opposition and danger. Also, he had experienced this same kind of thing in other lands as well. But, that said, his preaching to his Jewish countrymen and women must have seemed quite unproductive while in Jerusalem as they had come with every intention of making good their opposition against him. Also, even the misunderstanding with the Jewish Christians had not been completely settled. Paul was just a man. It wouldn't be strange if he had felt some anxiety and fear. Wasn't his coming to Jerusalem a mistake? If such doubts arose within Paul's heart, it would been for a good reason.

8. But, when you give it some thought, even if Paul had or didn't have such a terrible time, hard work, that always seems like a waste, just comes along with the territory of missions. Unless visible results are evident, doubts will arise even on decisions that were based on one's faith. When people are not welcoming of the messages [we] preach, the work of preaching will seem so very barren. It seems to me that the night Paul had is not all that remote to the church today.

9. But, that night the Lord Jesus appeared to Paul and said, "Take heart." The Lord himself told Paul to "Take heart" as he was in such a complete need of comfort and encouragement. The words of Jesus to "Take heart" do not mean "Tough it out," "Be strong," or "Have self-confidence." One time when the disciples had been rowing so hard on a lake all night long because of the head winds, these were the same words that Jesus spoke as he was walking upon the water to them. In the New Interconfessional Version it is translated as "Have peace," (Mark 6:50). We should have peace. We should have peace because Jesus is present. Standing by Paul's side, the Lord said that.

10. Then the Lord said, "Just as you so powerfully testified of me in Jerusalem..." How could they be words filled with comfort? Paul's activities while in Jerusalem only looked like defeat as seen from the human side. But the Lord said, "haven't you powerfully testified of me in Jerusalem?" The Lord had certainly kept his eye tight on Paul. The Lord was listening hard to the words of his testimony which seemed like it had only brought confusion, and which seemed to vanish into the universe meaninglessly. The Lord directed Paul's gaze into the future. After Jerusalem there was Rome. The Lord said, "Just as you powerfully testified of me in Jerusalem, you must testify also in Rome."

You Must Testify In Rome, Too

11. But having said all that, when viewed objectively, the circumstances that surrounded Paul were in fact quite severe. In verse twelve it says, "As dawn came, the Jews plotted a conspiracy and made a vow that they wouldn't eat or drink until they killed Paul. There were more than forty men joined in on this conspiracy," (23:12-13). Outside the barracks in which Paul was held in custody, there were more than forty men about to kill Paul willing to risk to their very lives. They didn't just stop eating or drinking. Their very plans put their lives at risk. They will summon Paul, who is confined in the barracks, to the high court and while he is being transferred, they intend to assassinate him. Paul will go [to court] while escorted by Roman soldiers as might be expected. If they make a rush on Paul, they may have to let go of their own lives. This is the assassination plan for which they are mentally prepared to do. The cooperation of the priests and the elders in this plan was requested. The entire authority structure of the Jews had begun to work for the murder of Paul. They could not halt this work now. Before such a great power, Paul was powerless. He could do nothing to protect himself. While it was an impossible situation for him to even live through and leave Jerusalem, how could he ever even go to Rome?

12. But, the Lord lives. In ways that exceed the human intellect, the Lord would open the way to Rome. The story continues on like this: "But, Paul's sister's son heard about the conspiracy, went into the barracks, and informed Paul," (verse sixteen). We shouldn't simply read over this part because this isn't just a nephew of Paul hearing about a rumor of the plot. When we read verse twenty, we see that he had accurately gotten hold of the very details of the assassination plan. In the first place, these plans did not just leak outside the group. Therefore, Paul's nephew was either privy to these plans by being in the group or at least he had a close tie to someone on the inside. So, we should not think it natural that Paul's nephew came to his aid. Paul was originally raised in the home of strict orthodox Jews. It must have been that even those of his very household and his close relatives were the ones who most strongly opposed Paul's preaching activities. But, Paul got help through one of those close relatives. God had prepared a person to help Paul from within those who were hostile to Paul. When Paul was in a situation in which he could no longer do anything to protect himself, God's help had it all prepared beyond every and any possibility that Paul might think of.

13. So the Roman captain of the guard and his soldiers started working to protect Paul. He wasn't brought to the high court, but was at once put into a convoy unto the governor in Caesarea. The captain of the guard didn't handle the situation like this because of any possible sentiments for Paul, but rather because his own accountability might be brought into question should Paul's life be snuffed out while Paul, a man with Roman citizenship, was under the protective care of Rome. Furthermore, what Paul was seeking from the court was clearly not in violation of Roman law. The captain understood that this was an issue of Jewish law. In the first place, problems pertaining to Jewish law were totally annoying for the Roman authorities and they really didn't want to be bothered with them. Even this captain of the guard wants to be done with this problem as soon as possible and to send it up to the governor for good. But, the Lord even used this decision of a Gentile man so completely secular, self-protective, and political in his thinking to send Paul to Rome!

14. The Lord's hand is not visible to our eye. So, it might look like only the human expectations of those with the zeal or the authority are carried out in the real world of life. But, the Bible tells us that that is not the way it really is. The risen Lord lives. He is alive and at work in this secularized world right now. Just as Paul said, he keeps his eye on us and says to us to "Take heart."

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