Read Acts 23
1 Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” 2 At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. 3 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!”
4 Those who were standing near Paul said, “How dare you insult God’s high priest!”
5 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.’”
6 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” 7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.)
9 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?” 10 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.
11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
The Plot to Kill Paul
12 The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13 More than forty men were involved in this plot. 14 They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. 15 Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.”
16 But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.
17 Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.” 18 So he took him to the commander.
The centurion said, “Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.”
19 The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, “What is it you want to tell me?”
20 He said: “Some Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. 21 Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.”
22 The commander dismissed the young man with this warning: “Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.”
Paul Transferred to Caesarea
23 Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. 24 Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.”
25 He wrote a letter as follows:
26 Claudius Lysias,
To His Excellency, Governor Felix:
27 This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. 28 I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. 29 I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. 30 When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.
31 So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. 32 The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. 33 When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. 34 The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will hear your case when your accusers get here.” Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.
The story of Paul continues to get more and more complex. In this chapter we see Paul in peril once again, this time speaking before the Sanhedrin. God gifted Paul with the ability to find his way out of dangerous situations, and this time is no different. By creating a heated debate between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, Paul is able to slip away from the Sanhedrin. After this, they hatch a plot to kill Paul and he ends up being transferred to Caesarea, where they put him under guard in Herod’s palace.
Think about the emotional rollercoaster that every day had to be for Paul. One has to wonder if Paul ever wanted a do-over, or if he ever thought about taking the easy way out. Whether or not he ever considered it, we know that Paul took the faithful route time and time again. We also know something else that was true for Paul: Jesus was with him every step of the way. The text tells us as much, saying that Jesus told Paul to have courage because he was about to have to testify on his behalf in Rome. This is similar to what happened a few chapters before (Acts 18), when Jesus told Paul to not be afraid and to continue speaking the truth.
It’s human nature to choose the path of least resistance. Sometimes, that’s the more efficient choice. Why balance a checkbook when you can login to your account online? But the problem is, when it comes to following Jesus, the path of least resistance often looks like disobedience. Paul knew this road would be difficult. But he also knew Jesus was there with him, cheering him on. For us, life will be difficult at times. But when we’re pursuing the things of Jesus, when we’re sharing the Good News with those around us, when our lives start to look more and more like the life of Christ, Jesus is right there cheering us on, too.
What are 2-3 things you notice about Paul in this chapter? What sticks out to you about his character and his faith?
This wasn’t the first time Jesus appeared to Paul to comfort him. What are the similarities in this passage to the other times Jesus does that?
How have you chosen the path of least resistance in your own life? What could you have done differently to be more obedient in that moment?
What are the things of Jesus that you need to start pursuing today?
Did You Know?
Once again, we see Paul invoking his citizenship. The story about his nephew is yet another example of Paul always being willing to use the resources at his disposal; in this case, the fact that he was a Roman citizen. In yesterday’s reading, his citizenship gave him an opportunity to speak before the Sanhedrin, and in this passage, it provided for him to be safely transferred from Jerusalem to Caesarea and allowed him the opportunity to continue preaching to a new audience.