The only survivor of a shipwreck landed on a deserted island. He prayed desperately to God for rescue and every day he looked out to sea for help, but every day he was disappointed.
Finally, the man decided to settle in to life on his lonely island. He built a shelter for himself, as best he could with his limited skills in that area, and he put his few possessions, which had washed up on shore, in the hut. Then one day, after going out hunting for food, the man returned “home” only to find his shelter going up in smoke. He sat down on the sand feeling utterly defeated.
In the midst of that defeat, early the next day, a boat arrived at the man’s island and rescued him.
Flabbergasted, the man asked his rescuers, “What drew you to the island?”
His rescuers replied: “We saw your smoke signal, of course.”
Oftentimes God uses what seems like our greatest defeat to bring about his good purposes. In Acts 22 we see what seems to be the great defeat of all Paul’s plans. He is arrested in Jerusalem. But in Acts 23 we begin to see how God, in his sovereign goodness, uses this seeming defeat to bring about his purpose….
The next day, since the commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.
Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”
Those who were standing near Paul said, “You dare to insult God’s high priest?”In Acts 23 we see several truths which flow naturally out of the sovereign rule of God. By God’s sovereignty I mean God’s good rule over all of his creation and his ability to bring about whatever he so desires. Paul talks about God’s sovereignty in Ephesians 1:11 where he mentions “. . . the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” God has given to human beings freedom. We are free to reject God’s plan for our lives or to accept it by his grace. Yet, at the same time, God works in and through and beyond the free choices of human beings to bring about his purposes. So let’s examine how God’s sovereignty and our human freedom work in a specific situation by examining Acts 23. The first thing we see here is that because of God’s Sovereignty we can be bold.
Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’”
Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.)
There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.
Paul knew that God was in charge of his situation and that no one was going to harm him unless God allowed it for some good reason. So Paul dared to be bold in his testimony before the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. Ananias didn’t like Paul’s boldness and so in his human freedom he had Paul struck on the mouth.
What did Ananias not like about what Paul was saying? Ananias probably didn’t think it was possible for anyone to have a clear conscience as Paul was claiming. And he certainly didn’t think that Paul was in the right. After all, Paul was a Christian, he was claiming that Jesus was the Son of God, and to Ananias that was blasphemy.
But Paul didn’t let a little blood on his lip stop him from testifying about his Savior. Not realizing it was the high priest who ordered him struck (remember Paul suffered from some sort of impairment of sight) he condemned Ananias’ action. He called Ananias a white-washed wall.
What did Paul mean by this statement? The Jews, believing that they would be defiled if they touched anything having to do with a dead body, white-washed the walls of their tombs so they would be warned not to touch them. So Paul was basically saying that Ananias was like a white-washed tomb–he looked good on the outside but on the inside he was spiritually dead.
Once Paul realized his error in referring to the high priest in this fashion he decided to take another approach. Paul knew that the Sanhedrin was made up of Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection of the body (that is why they are “sad you see”!) and Pharisees like himself who did believe in the resurrection. So Paul very cleverly divided his accusers in their opinion of him. At the same time Paul probably spoke of the resurrection for a more important reason. Notice that Paul doesn’t waste time arguing with the Sanhedrin about the reasons for his arrest. What he is more eager to do is witness to them about the central belief of the Christians: the belief in the resurrection of the body and the fact that part of God’s resurrection plan had already taken place in Jesus of Nazareth. Paul was always thinking about how he could share the good news about Jesus with anyone with whom he came in contact. And he was bold in his witness.
The response of the Sanhedrin to Paul’s witness was that the Sadducees and Pharisees were bitterly divided. So much so that the Roman commander was afraid they were going to tear Paul to pieces. So he had Paul removed from the assembly.
I wonder: are we like Paul? Do we realize that God is fully in charge of our lives and that therefore we can dare to be bold for him? I’m not talking about being obnoxious in our witness for Jesus and purposely offending other people. I’m just talking about being clear. When I highlight something in bold print on my computer that word stands out more than all the rest. The print is darker, clearer, easier to read. It jumps out from the paper. That’s the way we need to be in our witness for Christ. And we can afford to be bold because in Jesus we have nothing to lose.