Right at the beginning of the books of Acts, the Lord Jesus instructed the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit would give them the power they needed to be his witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. And sure enough, after the Lord’s ascension to heaven, he poured out the Holy Spirit upon them on the Day of Pentecost. And the apostles, who were once nervous and scared, began to preach with boldness and courage and with power.
Now, at first they confined their ministry to Jerusalem. But, whenever the church in Jerusalem began to be persecuted, they soon began to move out of Jerusalem into the surrounding areas. And wherever they went the apostles and other preachers bore witness to the Lord Jesus and to all he had said and had done. And though many who heard refused to believe, others did believe and churches were established.
And so, Luke is showing us how the Risen Lord Jesus, from his throne in heaven, was building his church on the earth through the preaching of men like Peter and Paul and Barnabas and Philip and Apollos and Timothy. Wherever they went, they proclaimed the message of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for sinners and his resurrection and ascension afterwards and how he’s coming back one day to judge the living and the dead. And little churches were being formed in Judea and Samaria and in Antioch and in Cyprus and Pisidian Antioch and Iconium and Lystra and Derbe and then into Europe and places like Philippi and Thessalonica and Athens and Corinth and Ephesus. Just as the Lord had promised, the Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to be his witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. The Lord Jesus was building his church through the preaching of his word and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In chapter 21 we read how Paul ended up back in Jerusalem. And in Jerusalem, some Jews from the province of Asia stirred up the people against Paul by making false allegations against him. And Luke tells us that the whole city was aroused by what they said and the people wanted to kill Paul. But the Roman commander came and rescued Paul from the hands of the rioters. But the commander assumed that Paul must have done something wrong, so he had Paul arrested. And chapter 21 ended with Paul asking the commander if he could speak to the people in Jerusalem.
And so, chapter 22 — which we began to look at the last time — contains Paul’s defence. And that’s important. He’s not giving his testimony in the sense that we mean testimony today when people tell the story of how they came to believe. No, Paul is defending himself against the charge that he was a false teacher and a troublemaker. And so, he explains that the Lord God chose him to see with his own eyes the Messiah who is Jesus of Nazareth, who died and rose again; and God has appointed him to go and bear witness to what he had seen. So, Paul was making his defence against the accusation that he was a false teacher and a troublemaker. And his defence was that God had called him to preach about Jesus Christ to all.
The last time we reached verse 22 of chapter 22 which tells us how the crowd didn’t like what they heard from Paul and they began to raise their voices and shout:
Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!
And look at verse 23: Not only were they shouting, but they were throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air. Throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust about may be related to the practice of shaking dust off your feet as a gesture to show that you’ve had enough of a person or a groups of people and want nothing more to do with them because of their blasphemy and faithlessness. And so, perhaps that’s what they’re doing here to Paul. However, whatever their actions meant, it’s clear that they’re very angry with Paul. And so, the commander of the Roman soldiers ordered that he should be taken into the barracks, to keep him safe from this angry mob who want to rid the earth of him.
However, the commander still needs to find out why the crowd were shouting at Paul like this. You know, he’s thinking: ‘Paul must have done something wrong. He must have done something to make the crowd so angry.’ And the only way the commander knew of to get the information he needed was to have Paul flogged and questioned. He thinks that a little flogging will loosen Paul’s tongue. And so we in verse 25 we read how they began to stretch Paul out in order to flog him. However, the next words out of Paul’s mouth gave the centurion reason to pause what he was doing, because Paul, at that moment, revealed to the centurion that he, Paul, was a Roman citizen. And, according to Roman law, it wasn’t right to flog a Roman citizen who hadn’t been found guilty of a crime.
Back in verse 3 of chapter 22, Paul told the crowd that he was born in Tarsus which is in modern day Turkey. So, how could a Jew from Tarsus hold Roman citizenship? Well, in those days it was possible for someone who did not have Roman citizenship by birth to buy it. And you’ll see from verse 28 that the Roman commander paid for his Roman citizenship. However, Paul informs the Roman centurion that he had been a Roman citizen from birth. And so, one of the commentators suggests that perhaps Paul’s father, or another relative, might have been granted citizenship as a reward for having performed some kind of special service to Rome.
So, that’s perhaps how Paul came to have Roman citizenship. But anyway, however he came to have it, the fact was that Paul was a Roman citizen and it wasn’t right to treat him this way. And look at the reaction of the soldiers in verse 29:
Those who were about to question him withdrew immediately.
They didn’t want to be involved anymore in case Paul got them into trouble. And what about the commander? Well, verse 29 again:
The commander himself was alarmed when he realised that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.
‘What have I done?’ he was perhaps thinking to himself.
If Paul were not a Roman citizen, or if Rome did not provide protection for its citizens, then who knows what would have happened to Paul that day. But because he was a Roman citizen he knew that the commander ought to protect him rather than harm him.
Unfortunately, of course, it’s not always that way and we know of many places around the world where believers are not afforded the same rights, and where Christians cannot count on the governing authorities to protect them. And so, we ought to remember to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters who cannot count on the governing authorities for protection. And we ought to remember to give thanks to God for the fact that, like Paul, we can rely on the governing authorities to protect us. We often complain about the government. However, we know that if anyone created a disturbance on Sunday when we were trying to worship the Lord, of anyone tried to harm us because of what we believe, we could call the police and they’d respond to our complaint and do what they can to help us.
So, we ought to give thanks to God that our governing authorities are prepared to protect us just as Paul was protected because of his Roman citizenship.
Look now at verse 30. You see, the fact remained that the Jews were angry with Paul. And they were accusing him of something. And it was the Roman commander’s duty to find out what it was. And so, he ordered the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to assemble together. And he brought Paul before them. The commander was going to get to the bottom of this disturbance.
And in verses 1 to 10 we read what happened. And first of all, we have the altercation with the High Priest in verses 1 to 5. And Paul, once again, shows his knowledge of and respect for God’s law when he quoted from Exodus 22:28 where the Israelites were commanded not to speak evil about their rulers. By contrast, the High Priest was so enraged at Paul that he forgot that God’s law also forbade a person from being punished without first being tried and found guilty. So, we have this odd situation where the defendant is law-abiding and the prosecutor is a lawbreaker.
But Paul then moved on to introduce the topic of the resurrection of the dead. Do you see that in verse 7? He said to them:
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.
Whereas back in chapter 22, the crowd accused Paul of being a false teacher and a trouble-maker, Paul makes clear now that the real reason why so many people were against him was because he believed that God raises the dead.
Now, the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is taught in the Old Testament in places like Ezekiel 37 and Daniel 12. In Ezekiel we read the following:
Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.
And in Daniel 12 it says:
At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
So, it’s there in the Bible. And the Pharisees therefore believed in the resurrection of the dead. But as we learn in verse 8, the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.
And so, by introducing this doctrine, Paul was perhaps hoping for some support from the Pharisees. But, of course, whether he was seeking their support or not, the fact is that the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead really was at the heart of Paul’s message, because the heart of Paul’s message was that the Lord Jesus died and was buried, but God raised him — bodily and physically — from the dead. Paul’s message was that the Lord Jesus was the first to rise from the dead, but he won’t be the last, because God promises to raise from the dead all who believe in him.
Whether or not Paul hoped for support from the Pharisees, his words certainly divided the Sanhedrin and a dispute broke out between them. In fact, Luke tells us in verse 9 that there was a great uproar. And look at verse 10: The dispute even became violent and the commander once again had to intervene in order to protect Paul who, it seemed, was going be torn to pieces by the members of the Sanhedrin. And so, verse 10, Paul was brought into the barracks for his own safety.
What the Roman commander did for Paul reminds us to give thanks to God for our own governing authorities who protect us and allow us to worship the Lord in peace. But the reaction of the Pharisees and Sadducees in the Sanhedrin in chapter 23 and the reaction of crowd of men and women in Jerusalem in chapter 22 remind us also of the dangers many preachers of the gospel encounter around the world. Just as Christ our Saviour suffered at the hands of wicked men, so his preachers may also suffer persecution and suffering. And so, we ought to pray for them to remain faithful to their calling and to declare the unsearchable riches of Christ with boldness and courage and with perseverance.
But look now at verse 11, before we close. That night the Lord Jesus spoke to Paul and said to him:
Take courage! As you have testified to me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.
Isn’t that what Paul needed? Though so many others hated him, the Lord was pleased with Paul and his message and the Lord intended to lead him to Rome where he would continue to preach his word. Well, the Lord no longer speaks to us from heaven. And he does not appear before us in visions. But he speaks to us through his word, the Bible, which contains innumerable promises to remind us of the Lord’s presence with his people and his willingness to lead us and guide us and to help us. And in his word he assures us that he is in heaven, and he rules over all his enemies and ours, and he will continue to work through the preaching his word to build his church here on the earth.