Yesterday we saw Paul preaching the gospel to a highly antagonistic crowd of hyper-fundamentalist Jews. Today we see him out of the frying pan and into the fire. The commander has brought him before the Jewish high council to try and determine what he has done.
The first thing Paul states is simple: Brothers, I have always lived before God with a clear conscience! Oh – how I wish that I could say the same. Certainly, there were things in Paul’s past that must have pricked his conscience – for instance the way he went about persecuting the church. But as soon as God revealed the validity of the gospel to him personally, Paul changed the way he lived. A clear conscience doesn’t mean a sinless life – it means that when God opens our eyes to our sin, we change: we don’t keep living in that sin.
But notice the response. They high priest Ananias has Peter slapped on the mouth. He has prejudged Paul, and finds Paul’s claim to be an exemplary Jew a horrible thought. He is what a “good” Jew looks like – not this Paul who not only follows the Way of Jesus, but also teaches that God’s salvation is for all peoples!
Paul rebukes Ananias – and then apologises. And his very apology shows how much more exemplary he is than Ananias. Ananias has broken the law by ordering that Paul be struck. Paul will not even knowingly speak evil of a patently evil man ruler, in keeping with the law.
Obviously this is a kangaroo court. Paul is condemned before a trial. So what does he do? He causes a ruckus! He shots that he is a Pharisee, on trial for hoping in the resurrection of the dead. And, of course, the old rivalry between Pharisees and Saducees comes to the fore. The Pharisees suddenly start backing Paul (to a degree at least). What’s important for them isn’t the truth – but their theology.
The chapter finishes with Paul being sent to Caesarea. The leaders of the Jews – supposedly God’s representatives! – have sanctioned his murder. What irony that it is their very rebellion against God and their spiraling sin that eventually causes Paul to preach the Good News in Rome as well. (Acts 23:11)
Father – oh, that I could say as Paul that I have always served you with a clear conscience. I haven’t. But thank you so much that you are the God who forgives. That my conscience cannot now condemn me for the past; for you have washed it as thoroughly as you have washed my sins away through Jesus’ death: completely. Thank you that because of you there is hope for the future: you, Jesus, are alive forever – and you have promised that all those who trust you – me! – will one day be raised to be with you forever.
Keep me until that day. Keep me safe, I pray. But even more, make me bold to speak your truth righteously and boldy.