In today’s passage that we just read, the Roman commander wanted to know why Paul had been arrested by the Jews so he took Paul to the Jewish counsel. What happened at the counsel is recorded in today’s passage. Here it is recorded that the Greek commander was invited and attended the Jewish counsel and Paul was able to speak to the counsel. Both of these things were usually unthinkable things. This passage is often questioned as being historically correct. The Paul in this passage leaves a very deep impression. When Paul stands in front of the Jewish counsel, in front of the priests and elders, he says that until now he has lived before God with a pure conscious.
Paul up until now has lived before God with a pure conscious. He is saying that he hasn’t gotten angry with men who have bothered him, nor has he lived by what others thought was right, nor has he played up to others to get their approval, but before God he stood up for what he believed and lived that way. No matter what others said or how much he was pushed by authorities, before God “yes” was “yes” and “no” was “no” because he could have a free spirit. That is the free conscious that is mentioned in verse 16. How blessed it would be if we too lived with a free conscious. Today let’s look at three things about having a free conscious.
I. Have a pure conscious (vs. 1-3)
First of all the Christian life is a life of having a conscientious lifestyle. When Paul stood before the counsel, he said, “I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” (1) This is really a bold accusation. Paul is saying to the Jewish Priests and elders that he have lived before God with a completely pure conscious.
Before Paul had been thoroughly educated in the Jewish law, and was extremely zealous towards God. When he was going to Damascus to persecute the Christians there, he met the resurrected Jesus. When he heard a voice says, “Saul, Saul, Whey do you persecute me?” (22:7) he fell to the ground and asked, “Who are you?” (22:8) and the voice answered, “I’m Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.” (22:8) Then Paul clearly realized that up until now what he had thought was correct was in reality wrong. Jesus who he thought could not be God in reality was God and the Savior. Then he began to preach Christ, that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, Christ. At first no one believed him. Paul who had persecuted the Christians so severely was now saying the Jesus was Christ. However, through the support of Barnabas Christians accepted him, the Antioch church sent him out, and he gave his life to preaching the good news. He is saying that his actions were all stemmed from the base of a pure conscious. That conscious was not afraid of people, nor was it influenced by what others thought, nor did it play up to others to get their approval, but it was a heart of dignity based upon living before God as he believed he should. He lived with a completely pure conscious before God.
This is one thing that is different between other religions and Christianity. Christians have a pure conscious. Why don’t Christians deceive others, or tell lies? That’s because they have a pure conscious. They want to live with a pure conscious before God who can see to the depths of our hearts. They are living with a pure conscious. The average person is not like that. The average person bases his actions upon whether something is against the law or not. However, Christians are different. Christians think about how they are before God. They think about how God sees them. They think about whether their actions will make God happy or not. Paul told the council, “I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” This should be the base of all that we do too.
When Paul said this, “the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth.” (2) What was the problem or why did the high priest get so angry? Probably it was because Paul said that what he has done was correct before God. He was probably shocked.
Then Paul said to Ananias, “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!”
“A whitewashed wall” is a heart that is like a wall that has been painted to look attractive but in reality it may be ready to fall. Even though the wall is ready to fall, the beautiful paint camouflages it so no one realizes it. Before in Matt. 23:27 Jesus said to the teachers of the law and Pharisees, “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” This means that the teachers of the law and Pharisees looked like they were living correctly, but their insides were filled with “hypocrisy and wickedness”. (Matt. 23:28) Here Paul didn’t say, “whitewashed tombs”, but “whitewashed walls”. However, the meaning is the same. Even though the outside is beautifully painted the inside is dirtied by wickedness and is like a cracked fence that is ready to fall. That is what Paul was saying to Ananias.
This is what a person who lives rightly before God is like. No matter who the other person is, he does not flatter the other person, but follows his own conscience and clearly states what he thinks is right. He doesn’t flatter other people to gain their approval, but before God and before men he doesn’t have a guilty conscious, but a good conscious, and does his best.
Sometimes we don’t say the truth to the other person. We think it wouldn’t be nice to say how we really feel and thus our conscious bothers us. We need to be like Paul and before God and before man have a guiltless conscious and do our best.
II. A conscious that misses the mark (vs. 4-10)
Next let’s look at a conscious that missed the mark. When Paul called the High Priest, Ananias, a “white washed wall”, those around Paul said, “You dare to insult God’s high priest?” (4) Paul replied, “I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’” (5) Paul who followed his conscious freely and even if the other person was the High priest Paul insisted “no!” “What is bad is bad”, but here he looks very soft spoken.
Paul knew that Ananias was the High Priest. Paul was using pure irony. He is saying, “is this person really the high priest? I would never have guessed so!” He said this because the things that the high priest said was so far from what a high priest should be that it was unbelievable. Paul said this in hope that Ananias would realize his mistake and repent.
We can also see this in the following verses where Paul saw that part of the council was Sadducees and part were Pharisees and thus spoke about the hope of resurrection from the dead. Paul spoke about the resurrection of the dead to break down their core. In other words, their religion was not a pure conscious, but a conscious that depended on what was good for them personally.
When Paul said this “a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees and the assembly was divided.” (7) The Sadducees denied the resurrection, angels and spirits. The Pharisees insisted that all 3 existed. It turned into a great uproar. Some of the Pharisees said, “We find nothing wrong with this man…What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” (9)
In other words, Paul purposely caused a dispute to break out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees so they could break down the wicked parts of their religious baggage. That is to say that their behavior did not arise from pure conscious, but their behavior was determined by their own hearts as they considered what was best for them. As a result it looks like they are following their conscious, but in reality they are following their conscious that is missing the mark.
Many people say that they are following their conscience in what they are doing. However in a lot of cases they are like the Sadducees and Pharisees and are following their conscience which is missing the mark. Even Paul before he met Jesus, he thought that his actions were conscientious and persecuted the church. You may think you are following your conscious and doing the right thing, but it may not necessarily be correct. Conscientious actions are correct only when they are standing on a correct base. Jesus Christ’s cross is the correct base. The conscious of a natural man is like the Sadducees and Pharisees whose conscious missed the mark. Even Christians who believe in Christ and have been changed and who are standing on the base of Christ’s cross, need to continuously check themselves by the Word of God. or else they may go off in the wrong direction. Let’s live by making the cross of Jesus as our base, continually check ourselves by the Word of God, and have a pure conscious.
III. Take Courage (vs.11)
The third point is to take courage. “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.” (10) Then the following night the Lord stood next to Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (11)
Probably Paul was very depressed at that time. He came to Jerusalem and risked his life testifying in Jerusalem, but there were hardly no results. In the temple because of the misunderstanding with the Jews a huge riot occurred. He was sent to the Jewish counsel by the Roman commander, but an uproar occurred there too. He wanted to give his testimony so that the Jews would be saved, but in front of his eyes uproars, and more uproars occurred. I think he spent a very tired and lonely night. The Lord came to him and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (11) Up until now too, whenever something happened, Paul heard the Lord speak to him. Especially the Words of the Lord that came to him at Corinth were left strongly impressed into his heart. “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” (18:9,10)
The Lord always at the necessary time and with the necessary words encourages and helps him stand again. This was true in Corinth. This night too the words of the Lord, enter deeply into Paul’s heart and deeply encouraged him.
Here these words that the Lord gave him didn’t just encourage him. There were certain promises and a commission. There was the promise that this trip would not be over in Jerusalem, but will continue on to Rome. The Lord said, “you must also testify in Rome.” It is a must, a certainty. It is a promise that he will. From such promises and commissions Paul received courage. Those who are able to stand up have received from God such encouragement and are able to encourage others.
Those who have received freedom of conscious before God, and not only have been encouraged by the courage of God, but are also able to encourage those who are suffering, and can live to give strength to others. Let’s remember that we are now being invited to this type of life. Let’s have a good conscious and before God and men be guiltless. Let’s strive to do our best.