The book of Acts is largely the history of the early church, filled with the activities and journeys of the men and women of God as they taught and preached the Way (as it was called back then). History in and of itself is not usually all that juicy and was very likely your least favorite subject in school. But, when you invite Jesus to sit and visit with you while you read, and if you ask the Holy Spirit to show you something new, those long, dry stories bubble up with life like you never thought was possible. That’s what happened to me this morning while I was reading. I could say the words just jumped right off the page and slapped me, but it was the Holy Spirit teaching me. Acts 23:1-5.
Who are you? And does anyone know?
The apostle Paul was no stranger to the dungeon – or the whip. While he was on the right side of God’s Will, he was on the wrong side of the Jews, which also put him on the wrong side of the government (Rome) because of all the racket he caused. And, in Jerusalem, Paul managed to stir up quite a bit of trouble for himself; so much that he ended up in front of the commander of the garrison. Now, this commander didn’t know anything about Paul. For all he knew Paul could have been an outlaw from Egypt who had been causing trouble. And the commander didn’t know much about the local population of Jews, but he was curious about why the Jews were so upset about this man. So, Paul found himself back on trial. Only this time, the great apostle was under the custody of soldiers where the angry mob of Jews couldn’t lynch him. (Isn’t it cool how God worked that out, to protect Paul by putting him in jail?)
So, as the commander is prepared to hear the case that the Jews had against Paul, things once again got out of hand. The fact is that Paul, himself, threw a lemon into the pie about this time and set the Sanhedrin against itself, instigating an argument between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. (Picture the Democrats and Republicans duking it out in Congress.) And you know Paul, he was not quiet about things either; it’s true, he shouted at one of his accusers. Then things really got hairy. Someone got all up in Paul’s face and questioned him as to why he was talking that way to the high priest.
Oops. That really is a no-no.
So, what did Paul say?
“I didn’t know he was the high priest. It is written ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ (Exodus 22:28 and yes, Paul was guilty even though he didn’t know. Leviticus 5:17)
Wait. Back up the train. Just exactly why didn’t Paul know this guy was the high priest, one of the most powerful and important men in the nation? Most everyone knew about Paul. What’s going on?
Could it be that this high priest just didn’t look or act or even sound like what and who he was?
The apostle Paul was a bit of a rabble-rouser. He was noisy. At least about what he was most passionate about. Even before Paul became a believer he loved and served God – in his words, he was zealous about God, and then later he was zealous about Jesus. No one ever had a doubt about exactly who this great man was.
Do folks around you know that you are a Christian?