In today’s study, we conclude our look at Paul’s encounter with the Sanhedrin. The first thing we looked at was Paul’s claim to have lived his life in good conscience.
2. The resurrection. The second thing I return to is the resurrection. Some of the commentators are very unhappy with what Paul did at this point. For example, W. A. Farrar says that it was unworthy of Paul to have acted in such an unscrupulous manner. It was a case of his stooping to a dirty trick when he threw out something irrelevant merely to divide the assembly.1
This was not the case. The riot which led to Paul’s arrest had been caused by people claiming that he had brought a Gentile into the temple area. That was against Jewish law. But Paul had not done that, and, in fact, the Sanhedrin never accused him of it. The reason, of course, is that fundamentally that was not the real problem. The real problem was actually wrapped up in this whole matter of the resurrection.
When we talk about the resurrection (and when Paul talked about it) we are not merely talking about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, though it has bearing on it. The resurrection of Jesus proves a general resurrection. Rather we are talking about resurrection itself. And what that means, to put it in contemporary terms, is that there is a reality beyond what we see and know physically. Our age focuses on what is visible. It only believes in what it can observe. So the great division in our day (as in Paul’s) is between those who are willing to be bound only by what they can see, measure, touch and feel, and those who believe there is something beyond what is tangible, something which is intangible and has to do with God.
Francis Schaeffer, one of the great apologists of our age, described this as those who are above and those who are below a “line of despair.” This line has been drawn through all areas of thought—in philosophy, art, literature and science. Before that line was drawn people were willing to reason about spiritual things. Dialogue could take place. But once that line was drawn, faith was separated from reason. And now, although a person can still talk about God, for most of our contemporaries spiritual things no longer have any tangible meaning. They are just one’s opinion.2
People in our world, particularly in our universities, say, “If we cannot observe God, we must discount him. He exists only in some fantasy land of the imagination.” Christians do not agree with this. We believe in an unseen world, a world linked metaphysically and rationally to the truth of the resurrection. This is the great division of our day. Therefore, Christians must be able to stand up and say, along lines similar to Paul’s speech, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead.”
In the last verse of this section (Acts 23:11), we find Paul with the Lord, that is, with the risen Jesus in whom his very skeptical world (and ours) would not and will not believe. It tells us that “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.” I suppose that when the Lord Jesus Christ spoke those words to Paul, all He was really doing was giving a specific application of what He had said earlier to the disciples in what we call “the Great Commission.” At the very end of Matthew’s gospel we are told that when the Lord had gathered His disciples together, He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).
Jesus did not say, “Well, Paul, you did a very good job. Thank you. Now you’re off duty because, after all, you’ve been arrested.” No, he said, “I have called you to be a witness, and that is what you shall be. You have witnessed here. You will witness in Rome also. You are to be a witness for me until the day you die.”
And Paul was! Paul witnessed to the grace of God in Jesus Christ until the day of his death, and God blessed that witness. Moreover, the Lord Jesus Christ stood with him and strengthened him as he made it.
When I look at the world and think of the way our culture has fallen away, not only from spiritual values but even from rationality, I can almost find myself sinking down into despair. I ask myself, “How can anyone speak to a culture like ours? How can anyone speak reasonable spiritual words to those who will not reason, or even listen?” Humanly speaking, I suppose the task is impossible. But we are not left to merely human resources. Jesus says, “Take courage! Don’t give up! Keep witnessing! I am with you, and I will bless your witness, even to the end of the age.”
When Paul stood before the representatives of Rome, he appealed to his Roman citizenship. When he stood before the Sanhedrin he appealed to his conscience. But over and above that and at all times, Paul appealed to and relied upon the Lord. If we rely on the Lord, He will be with us also, give us the words we need to speak and bless that witness, however uncertain and stammering, to the conversion of other needy individuals.
1W. A. Farrar, The Life and Work of St. Paul (1879), 541. Cited by E. M. Blaiklock, The Acts of the Apostles: An Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1963), 175.
2Francis A. Schaeffer, Escape from Reason (Chicago, IL: InterVarsity, 1967), and The God Who Is There (Chicago, IL: InterVarsity, 1968).