Acts 23:1-35 | MY HOPE IN THE RESURRECTION!

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My Hope In The Resurrection!

 

Acts 23:1-35

Key Verse: 23:6b

 

“I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.”

 

The chapter begins with the apostle Paul addressing the Sanhedrin assembly of seventy Jewish elders to his own defense. The Roman commander had ordered that they assemble in the hopes of finding out why Paul had drawn such hostility from the crowd at the temple. No sooner did Paul speak a few words before the hostility of this assembly became apparent as well. So, Paul having full and intimate knowledge of the Jewish religious system before which he now stood, also understood he would find no justice here at all. Let me explain. This is a very interesting observation, even if we have to mention it again. The high priest Ananias had already violated the Law of the Lord by ordering that Paul be struck on the mouth, revealing that he had already prejudged and sentenced Paul. He was misusing the Word of the Lord to advance his own agenda. His agenda was to condemn Paul to death, as was done to our Lord Jesus by this same assembly. When a man in authority misuses the Word of God to his own end, he shows that he has no regard for the Lord or for his Holy Word. He shows that he despised the Lord and his Word. On the other hand, Paul was different. When he was rebuked for what he unintentionally said of the high priest, he quickly humbled himself and repented before God and his word. He even quoted it saying: “Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.” (5) He not only showed proper respect for the high priest who wasn’t worthy of respect, but look what deep and genuine reverence he has for God and his Word! He immediately obeys it without question. As Isaiah would say, Paul was a man who trembled at God’s word! (Isaiah 66:2) On the other hand, these people were in the habit of despising the Word of God. (Numbers 15:31)

 

So many are like that, and some don’t even know it. Some use the Word of God to show off their knowledge; Others use the word of God to beat or cut down others with their knowledge; And still others use the word of God to judge and condemn others with the Word of God; Then there are those who use the word of God to satisfy their own hunger for knowledge; And then there are some who use the word of God just to educate others with their knowledge; Of course there are also those who use the Word of God just to pile up information. And there are a hundred other reasons why a person may similarly use or, a better term might be abuse the Word of God. But as the Lord Jesus frequently said to those who are privileged to hear the word of God: “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear”, (Mark 4:9) since hearing is much more than just knowledge of the Word of God; since hearing isn’t enough! You must listen with the heart and accept with the heart, and you must certainly live out what you hear every time and always. As our Lord also said: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28)   “…. Who take to heart what is written ….” (Revelation 1:3) It is true that: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5) On that day when he had to stand falsely accused before this assembly, Paul first humbled himself before God and his Word. And so he also humbled himself before this devious high priest and this travesty of an assembly. This alone may have been one of the hardest things he had to do thus far. But he did, for the glory of God, and for the honor of his Word. [It’s a pity that some people would rather die in their pride than humble themselves to the word of God, let alone to admit they are in the wrong!]

 

Paul now seemed to be at a disadvantage. The assembly couldn’t be trusted to render a just verdict regarding his situation. So, knowing what divided them on the religious arena, Paul said something that caused an intense conflict and uproar among them even to dividing them one group against another; Some were even provoked to side with Paul against their own peers suggesting that he was innocent. (23:9) Luke tells us that the dispute among them grew so violent that the Roman commander had to rescue Paul lest he would be torn to pieces by them. So what exactly was it that Paul said that set these men off to such frenzy? It was the statement where he says: “I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.” (23:6b) This very confession or faith is at the heart of our Christian faith. Of course, it was very clever of him to use the resurrection to stir up the chaos that ensued among them. But Paul wasn’t trying to be clever at all. He had decided to shed the light on the greatest event since the dawn of time— which is the resurrection of the dead; And to render glory to the one who accomplished it— that is, the Messiah; In other words, Paul intended to draw their attention to the Messiah’s ultimate victory— For he alone fulfilled our greatest hopes; He accomplished the resurrection of the dead— And he ushered in the age of the resurrection! (Luke 20:34-36)

 

On that day when Paul spoke those words, it caused havoc. And ever since till this very day, those words still cause confusion and mayhem whenever they are spoken. It’s the truth about the resurrection that’s got the whole world up in arms against Christians and the Christian faith— particularly the resurrection of Christ from the dead. The world cares little about the Christian teaching about Christian love and peace; in fact the world welcomes them. They pity us for them, but they gladly welcome the teaching of love and kindness, especially if they benefit from them. But the teaching of the resurrection has always been the spark that sets the fire of hostility going, just as it did in that assembly on that day when Paul spoke those words. And especially the resurrection of Christ the Messiah from the dead is a teaching and truth that causes hostility and chaos and flares the world’s temperament. Why? Because the resurrection of Christ is at the heart of our Christian faith! And because we either sink or rise depending on how we view and receive the teaching about the resurrection.

 

Christ our Savior did rise from the dead. And his resurrection is not just a mere theological item among many other Christian articles of faiths that a person can chew on when time permits. The resurrection of Christ is at the heart of our Christian faith. His resurrection is so deeply meaningful and connected to every human being who’s ever lived; and whose destiny depends on the Savior as well. Christ did rise from the dead, but he was also what the Bible calls “the first-fruit” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23) of those who would rise from the dead according to the promise of God. Here’s the story in a nutshell. We sinned in the Garden and— as we were told by God— if we sinned, sin would enter our lives and then death would follow. And so that’s what happened. We were cast out of the Garden; Sin was already in our blood tempting us to sin all the time; And so was death, now a reality we had to live with. And so death followed us from the beginning of time and still does; death is a part of every human being, a companion from birth. As much as sin was part of our lives— as we sinned, so also death follows our sins, and we die too. Sin and death have been enemies we came to live with and got accustomed to as if they were as normal elements of human existence as life and breath are. But they never were normal; and they never were elements of our God given existence. We invited sin and sin stayed, and death followed sin and also stayed with us. What is normal in that!

 

The people of the world fantasize of the afterlife in many different ways and forms; they make movies and write books about the wonders of escaping into the afterlife after having done some heroic deed. But these people don’t take into account that there is no way to beat death without first beating sin. They go together! No one can escape death unless they first escape sin. They’re a package deal. Why? Simply because death is the wages of sin (Romans 6:23); In other words, death is what we pay for our sins. But of course, it doesn’t stop there. After death, every person faces God’s judgment to determine if one’s sins are forgiven or not. The Bible talks about a Kingdom for the forgiven and a second death for the unforgiven. (Revelation 21:8) But while here on earth still, no one can escape death unless first escaping sin. Who can do that? No one has ever been able to escape sin. So where does the resurrection come in here? Well, there was only One who escaped sin, Jesus. And through Jesus God also provided the way for us to beat sin as well. The world doesn’t believe this. But we do! Sinless Jesus paid for our sins himself when he died for sins he never committed. He did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. We couldn’t beat sin; but he beat sin for us! And God decreed that if we put our faith in him, we share his victory, defeating sin all the way. Faith in Christ beats sin. And once sin is beaten— as we said— then death could be beaten.

 

Jesus beat death too. How? Through his own resurrection! Since he was the first to beat sin, he was also the first to beat death. The Bible says, death couldn’t keep him. Couldn’t hold him down. Death had to release him! (Acts 2:24) So he rose from the dead. So now Christ Jesus accomplished that first resurrection. He became “the first fruit” of those who would rise from the dead. And so God decreed that faith in him not only beats sin but beats death as well. Death will not be able to hold anyone whose sins are forgiven, anyone who died in Christ and rose in him— in faith. That is why the resurrection was such a revolutionary truth— the very truth Paul threw out there that’s at the heart of our Christian faith, yet at the same time, it was the devil’s worst nightmare!

 

Paul set the whole assembly into a great conflict over this teaching, that wasn’t only a teaching but a revolution since it’s that the very thing that would change the world from a graveyard into the gateway to life and hope and glory and sinless eternity in the presence of our Lord Christ where every human being belongs. Paul’s statement shook the world. It still shakes the world today. It is not a small thing to declare this truth and to also believe it, since there are many who may declare this truth with their mouth but hardly believe it in their heart! That’s why Paul later emphasized to the Roman church that believing in one’s heart that God raised Christ from the dead is essential to one’s salvation! (Romans 10:9) The resurrection of the body isn’t a joke, let alone the resurrection of Christ in bodily form from the dead. It is as we said at the core of our belief, at the heart of our faith, the very foundation of our church teachings. When Paul spoke these words to the assembly, he wasn’t just being clever. He believed every word. He laid before them perhaps the most important news the world could or would ever hear. He started a revolution! It could have changed them. It could have drawn them out of the grip of sin and death and into the glory of Christ. But they were agitated and all fell into disorder.

 

This is what happens when the hearts of men are closed to the God’s Word or occupied by idols of wealth or of self glory; This is what happens when men’s hearts are inclined towards compromise by the devil and are naturally hostile to God; This is what happens when people’s hearts are filled with self pride and arrogance, with self gratification and delusions of self importance; This is what happens when hearts are callous to God’s cry of mercy for people living in the deadness of the world; How then does the news of the resurrection fall on their hearing? For most they either regard the resurrection as nonsense and totally ignore it, because the Evil One has deprived them of their senses (John 12:40); or they fiercely reject the news of the resurrection because the Evil One has made them slaves to their own worldly desires. In either case they cannot accept the resurrection because resurrection faith requires willingness to change in heart, in life and in life style. Paul had often declared this on his journeys as he preached the resurrection: “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:21) “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20-23) Faith calls for repentance, a willingness to humble your heart turning it to God. Those who turn their hearts to God often leave the world behind. Their spiritual deeds are obvious.

 

After being rescued by the Roman commander and brought to his cell, Paul had a visitor that night. The Lord himself stood near him and said to him: “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” Who knows why Paul was so discouraged at this time in his life! I think anyone, even the greatest of saints might be discouraged if he found out that the majority of Christians in the city didn’t trust him, that the Jews everywhere hated him and were intent on killing him, and that the assembly that once were his closest friends and allies were now his worst enemies. After all, he’s only human, and we’re certain that the devil didn’t give him a moment without tormenting him with doubts and fears. So It’s not hard to see him discouraged at all. And it’s not hard to see that the Lord who once said to his apostles, and to every Christian thereof: “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20) would visit his faithful servant Paul while discouraged only to encourage him. “Take courage” was exactly what Paul needed to hear.  The Lord told him another crucial thing as well. “As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” Paul had once set his heart on visiting Rome. He had made a decision of faith saying: “After I have been there [to Jerusalem], … I must visit Rome also.” (Acts 19:21) It was his hearts’ desire to preach the gospel there. How could the Lord ignore such a noble desire! Perhaps Paul was now discouraged not knowing how he could carry out this decision of faith before the Lord. So the Lord assured him that as he had once decided to visit Rome with an “I must” heart, so also the Lord himself now assured him that the Lord has turned it into a solid assurance with the words: “You must” also testify in Rome. The Lord never underestimates our decisions of faith when made with sincerity of heart. Even if we aren’t able to fulfill them, he is able to help us fulfill them. Later he would write these immortal words to the Philippians: “I can do all everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) This is a truth we can never forget!

 

Look at verses 12-35. The Jews wouldn’t let this incident rest, and Paul’s life was in danger. The next day, forty zealous Jews formed a conspiracy and made a plot to kill Paul. But by the Lord’s help their plot was discovered by Paul’s nephew, and the Roman commander was made aware of it. What happened after that was amazing. Let’s not forget that Paul was a Roman citizen and so privileged as such. The commander arranged for him to leave for Caesarea immediately in the middle of the night with an escort of 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen and 200 spearmen. In all, 470 well-trained Roman soldiers, perhaps half the Roman garrison in Jerusalem, were spared just to ensure Paul’s safety and his safe passage to the city of Caesarea where the Roman governor lived. When they arrived, Paul was handed over to the Roman Governor Felix with a letter from the commander explaining a few things. He explained that there was no charge against this man. However his case was too controversial to be settled in Jerusalem. So Paul was kept under guard in Herod’s palace to await the arrival of his accusers and a trial by Roman officials. It’s amazing that while Paul was a prisoner, God himself was in charge, protecting him from all harm, providing everything he needs, and guiding his footsteps accordingly to fulfill nothing less than the will of God in his life. Paul was a living witness to Christ and his resurrection.

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