I am slowly learning to press delete or cancel before posting something on social media. I have caused upset with political posts in the past. Paul makes a similar mistake insulting the High Priest.
Just a few verses before today’s passage the Roman commander orders the Jewish council to meet with Paul and the Roman authorities – that’s never going to go well.
Paul begins to speak. This is a ridiculous kangaroo court of an innocent man. The High Priest Ananias orders a slap for Paul. Angry, frustrated, Paul responds, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall” – God is going to slap you, you hypocrite! Paul’s not perfect. Jesus has told us if we are slapped to turn the other cheek. But Paul gives a verbal slap initially.
Commentators gives a number of explanations for this – John Stott reminds us that Paul had bad eyesight Gal 6:11 hints that he has to write with big handwriting. The whitewashed wall words is as much an accusation of hypocrisy as an allusion to the white robed figure across the room that he can only dimly perceive.
Paul is challenged that he has just insulted the high Priest Ananias – “Would you revile God’s High Priest?” Paul apologises with a reference to Ex 22:28 that we shouldn’t speak evil of a ruler of the people.
If like me and Paul you have said or posted something that you shouldn’t have, apologise and change tack.
Paul carries on this time wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove. Obviously not wanting us to be like Satan who came as a serpent! There’s a wisdom about how snakes work – they bide their time, shrewdly taking in their environment. They back off if they aren’t going to win – slithering off if walkers are making enough noise! They can only strike once – and they when they do – Boom!
So Paul gets to strike once and he does it wisely.
He’s on trial in front of the Jewish council made up of Pharisees who are strict legalists but open to the supernatural and believing in resurrection.
There’s also Sadducees who don’t believe in the resurrection at all.
So wise as a serpent Paul says – I’m on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead – not I’m on trial because of the resurrection of Jesus. That would have antagonised both Pharisees and Sadducees. By just saying general resurrection, he has split the council – the Pharisees siding with him and the Sadducees going nuts.
If you think our political scene is rough with the way people speak to each other – at least they aren’t throwing shoes at each other! Paul has chucked in a verbal hand grenade and steps back. They start screaming and ranting and getting violent.
Sadly the religious people go nuts and Paul has to be rescued by an evil pagan army v10
The story continues with Jesus appearing to him at night to give him courage. He must testify!
Next, our emotions can make us so self-righteous, that we end up doing unrighteous things.
So a bunch of Jewish hotheads, come up with a stupid plan to violate some of the ten commandments – to kill Paul, to get the Jewish Council to lie to get Paul to come to them so they can kill him. There’s 40 of them who join together to make an oath. An oath is when you bind yourself to do something stupid – not always, but often, which is why Jesus forbids it in Matt 5 – let your yes be a yes and your no be a no.
So these 40 Jewish hotheads, bind themselves not to eat until they have killed Paul. I wonder what would have happened to them. Did they starve? Probably not. There are provisions in the Jewish system to break an oath of circumstance are beyond your control!
Because Paul must testify, God works behind the scenes v16-22
a series of unlikely things happen
* a boy overhears the plot
* The boy was Paul’s sister’s son
* The boy has the courage to come to the roman Barracks to tell his uncle
* The centurion listened to Paul and took the boy to the tribune
* The tribune listened, took note of it and took action.
So we have 40 hotheads up against 200 soldiers, 200 spearmen (good luck coming close) and 70 horsemen. No contest!
So when God says you must, you will!
Marinate on that