“Harden Not Your Hearts”

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Acts 23-24

Paul, after declaring his testimony of conversion in Acts 22 and how he who was once persecutor of Christ and the church (22:1-8) became an apostle and preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles (22:9-21), faced an uprising of the Jews led by members of the Jewish Sanhedrin (22:22-23).

Led away from the tumult, a Roman commandant ordered soldiers to question Paul by first scourging him (22:24).  However, the order for scourging was withdrawn when Paul revealed he was a Roman citizen, knowing scourging without conviction was a violation of his civil rights (22:25-29).

On the next day, the commandant summoned the Jewish Sanhedrin (22:30) and Paul continued his defense before them (23:1).

Paul’s courage in confronting the Jewish leaders is admirable (23:2-9).  Never one to cower, he declared the hypocrisy of the high priest Ananias who, on one hand pretended to judge him according to the law, but on the other acted in contradiction to the law (23:2-5).

Knowing two factions of the Sanhedrin were bitterly divided over the doctrine of the resurrection (23:6), Paul introduced the question of the resurrection leading to an uprising and forcing Roman soldiers to remove Paul less he be slain by the Jews (23:7-10).

We know Paul as a great preacher of the Gospel, fearless in his demeanor; however, the LORD, knowing his servant better, came to him at night and encouraged him, revealing he would be His witness in Rome (23:11).  Foiling a plot by the Jews to kill Paul (23:12-22), the captain of the guard ordered Paul be provided with an escort of two hundred Roman soldiers (23:23-32).  Conveying Paul safely to Antipatris (23:31), a town thirty-five miles from Jerusalem, the soldiers returned to Jerusalem (23:32).

Far from the volatility of Jerusalem, Felix, governor of that province who resided in Caesarea and was the Roman commandant’s superior, determined to hear the matter that caused such an uproar among the Jews in Jerusalem (23:35).  Acts 24 continues Paul’s trial, this time before Felix (24:1-27).

Five days later, Ananias the high priest and members of the Sanhedrin gathered in Caesarea and put forward “a certain orator named Tertullus” (24:1) who accused Paul of sedition, a crime that would demand his death (24:2-9).

Paul sat in silence as false accusers brought charges against him; and when beckoned to answer them, Paul addressed the Roman governor with diplomacy and discretion deserving of Felix’s office as his civilian authority.  We read,

Acts 24:10 – Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned unto him to speak, answered, Forasmuch as I know that thou hast been of many years a judge unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself [i.e. make his defense]:

Pauls’ defense answered the accusations brought against him by the Jewish Sanhedrin (24:11-20) proving the only dissension between him and the Jewish leaders was not that he had provoked sedition, but he had challenged them on the doctrine of the resurrection (24:21).   After all, it was the fact of Christ’s resurrection from the dead that was the central doctrine of the church…that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, crucified for the sins of the world, buried and raised from the dead on the third day!

In his letter to believer’s in Corinth, Paul writes of Christ’s resurrection from the dead:

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 – For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4  And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

1 Corinthians 15:20-22 – But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.21  For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Acts 24 concludes with Felix retaining Paul in prison, though giving him liberty to have guests (24:22-24).  Having heard Paul, Felix and his wife Drusilla, “which was a Jewess”, came to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ (24:24).  For two years (24:27), Paul had opportunity to converse with the Roman governor regarding the matter of man’s sin, Christ’s righteousness and God’s judgment (24:25).  Though Felix trembled at the thought of God’s judgment (24:25), he delayed his decision to accept Christ as Savior, waiting until it was too late and he was reassigned elsewhere, leaving Paul bound in prison (24:27).

I close with a few brief observations. Paul’s passion and boldness in declaring the gospel is one of the many things I admire in the man; however, we should also note his tact, prudence, and patience in preaching Christ to those who will listen.

Too many 21st century Christians go to extremes in the matter of their witness.  Some are simply silent; when opportunity arises to give testimony of their faith in Christ they mute their lips and allow an opportunity to share Christ to pass that might never come again.

Others witness for Christ, but do so in a manner that is often crude and petulant.  Having spoken before several government bodies over the years, including City Councils, County Commissioners, School Boards, and State Hearings, I am often embarrassed by professing Christians who are rude and offensive in their words and demeanor.

While Paul was bold in addressing the hypocrisy of Jewish religious leaders, he was wise, discerning and patient when speaking to the Roman commandant in Jerusalem and Felix, the governor.

Rather than offensive, those who witness for Christ should be inviting and passionate for men’s souls.

Hebrews 3:7-8 – Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice, 8  Harden not your hearts…”

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith