The New Testament reading for Thursday, October 19 is:

Acts 23

23:1 And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God's high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”

Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees' party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” 10 And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks.

11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

A Plot to Kill Paul

12 When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. 14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul. 15 Now therefore you, along with the council, give notice to the tribune to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case more exactly. And we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”

16 Now the son of Paul's sister heard of their ambush, so he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. 17 Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the tribune, for he has something to tell him.” 18 So he took him and brought him to the tribune and said, “Paul the prisoner called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, as he has something to say to you.” 19 The tribune took him by the hand, and going aside asked him privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?” 20 And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire somewhat more closely about him. 21 But do not be persuaded by them, for more than forty of their men are lying in ambush for him, who have bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they have killed him. And now they are ready, waiting for your consent.” 22 So the tribune dismissed the young man, charging him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of these things.”

Paul Sent to Felix the Governor

23 Then he called two of the centurions and said, “Get ready two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea at the third hour of the night. [1] 24 Also provide mounts for Paul to ride and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” 25 And he wrote a letter to this effect:

26 “Claudius Lysias, to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. 27 This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen. 28 And desiring to know the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their council. 29 I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. 30 And when it was disclosed to me that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.”

31 So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. 32 And on the next day they returned to the barracks, letting the horsemen go on with him. 33 When they had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. 34 On reading the letter, he asked what province he was from. And when he learned that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” And he commanded him to be guarded in Herod's praetorium. (ESV)

Footnotes

[1] 23:23 That is, 9 p.m.


English Standard Version: Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Text provided by the Crossway Bibles Web Service.

New Testament Pastoral Commentary for Acts 23
Author: Pastor Zach
"Anyone can get in to Mexico, but it's much tougher to get back out," said my buddy the first time he took me on a trip across the border. I immediately thought to myself, "Great! What have I gotten myself in to?" But he was right. Getting into Mexico was a snap. All we had to do was pay a nominal crossing fee, pick up a couple of visas for our travels, and we were in. No fuss. No muss. Getting out, however, was a different story. For starters, the line of vehicles in to Mexico was a five minute line. The line of vehicles out of Mexico was an hour. When we finally arrived at the border crossing, our vehicle was instantaneously flanked by border crossing agents and their drug-sniffing dogs. A man wearing sunglasses peered into our truck. "US citizens?" he asked in a serious tone. "Yes, sir," we responded in unison. After examining our driver's licenses, birth certificates, and running a check on our vehicle's license plates, we finally made it through. But we were both shaking a bit. After all, getting out of Mexico can be an intimidating experience. For there is always this fear, latently looming in the back of your mind, that you won't be able to get out of Mexico. Thankfully, our appropriately documented US citizenship got us out when we wanted to get out.

In our reading for today from Acts 23, Paul encounters a couple of situations from which he needs to get out. In the first, Paul is standing before the Sanhedrin, the religious ruling body of that day, accused of soiling the purity of the Jewish temple in his dealings with unclean Gentiles (cf. Acts 21:29, 22:21). In a masterful rhetorical move, Paul, "knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, 'My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead" (verse 6). With this statement, Paul pits the Pharisees and the Sadducees against each other, for the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead while the Sadducees did not. The Jewish historian Josephus explains:

The Pharisees... believe that souls have an immortal rigor in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments, according as they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life; and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to revive and live again... But the doctrine of the Sadducees is this: That souls die with the bodies. (Josephus, Antiquities, 2.14-16)

Thus, "a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees... 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" (verses 7, 9). Of course they didn't. Paul was one of them. Thus, Paul's status as a Pharisee gets him out of what would have been a certain condemnation.

The next morning, however, Paul encounters yet another situation from which he needs to get out. Apparently, an angry mob of Jews, infuriated at Paul's ability to escape their former lynching attempts (cf. Acts 21:30-34, 22:22-24), hatch a plot to ambush him (cf. verse 20-21). Mercifully, some Roman soldiers, learning of the plot, smuggle Paul out of Jerusalem before the mob can execute their nefarious plan. Why is he treated so kindly by these Roman soldiers? Because "he is a Roman citizen" (verse 27). The Roman orator Cicero said this about the benefits of a Roman citizenship: "To bind a Roman is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to slay him is almost an act of murder" (Against Verres 2.5.66). It is no surprise, therefore, that Paul's status as a Roman citizen prompts a contingent of Roman soldiers to get him out of what would have surely been his untimely demise.

As helpful as my status as a US citizen might have been to get me out of Mexico, or as helpful as Paul's status as a Pharisee or a Roman citizen might have been to get him out of his precarious positions, there is a status - a citizenship, in fact - that is more precious than any of these. Paul writes of this status, this citizenship: "Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body" (Philippians 3:20-21). Paul says that we, as believers in Christ, have a citizenship in heaven. And this citizenship gets us out of the transcendental terrors of sin, death, and the devil and gets us in to the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day. And this status - our status as citizens of heaven - is more precious than any earthly status and citizenship. Give thanks to God for your status and citizenship in Christ today.