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.” ~ Acts 23:11
The Roman government takes some rather extraordinary measures to protect Paul, a Roman citizen. Seeking an understanding of the charges of the Jews, the commander brings Paul before the Sanhedrin so they can explain the charges and question Paul. But before they ask their very first question, Paul declares, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” (23:1) The chief priest orders another to slap Paul in the mouth, and Paul rebukes the chief priest. Paul then artfully turns the group on itself, Pharisee versus Sadducee, declaring, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” (23:6) The session erupts into a “great uproar” with Pharisees declaring they find nothing wrong with Paul as a group of 40 form a conspiracy and take an oath not to eat or drink until they kill Paul.
Paul’s nephew learns of the conspiracy, reports it to Paul, and then at Paul’s request to the Roman commander. The commander sends Paul to Caesarea under cover of night with military protection to be tried by Governor Felix. The journey to Caesarea is successful, and Governor Felix places Paul in protective custody until his accusers arrive to present their case against him.
I continue to be struck by Paul’s steadfast faith. Standing before the Sanhedrin, he does not waiver. In the face of a conspiracy against his life, he does not waiver. Paul knows that God is with him, and he knows that the Gospel is worth dying for, should that be God’s will.
Christians today face pressure from a different source. Our society scorns the Gospel. Believers are expected to mute the message of Scripture in order to fit into a secular system of norms and values. Those who resist or refuse face persecution, sometimes intense persecution. There are Christian churches that have given in to this pressure to various degrees. Others, like Paul, remain steadfastly faithful to God and His good and perfect will as revealed through Scripture. The divisions within the Church on these matters concern me deeply. False and watered-down doctrine gives the enemy a foothold as many believers and would-be believers are led down a dangerous road of deceitful false teaching. Jesus warned about this when He said, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)
Christians, we must faithfully pray for the Church, for fellow Christians who have been led astray by false or watered-down doctrine, and for our nation. As we pray, we must seize opportunities to share God’s Truth – the Gospel – as the Lord presents such opportunities to us.
Ponder this: Although the battle is ongoing, Jesus Christ has already won the war. How is God calling me to serve?
My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, I lift up Your church and those in leadership within it. I pray that Your Word would be the sole authority for preaching and teaching, and that false teaching would be exposed and removed. I pray specifically for my pastor, our staff, and our teachers. Guide, direct, and bless them so that the Gospel is always at the forefront of our teachings. Help us, Lord, to stand steadfast on Your Word when persecution comes our way. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.