Key Verse: 23:11
“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.’”
Today, we see Paul standing before the Sanhedrin. He declared before them that he had fulfilled his duty to God in all good conscience to this day. The main point of his message was his hope in the resurrection of the dead. He used his trial to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus as the core of the gospel. Though Paul was on trial, the Sanhedrin members were on trial because they were like the whitewashed wall. They were lawless, hypocritical, and miserable. Though Paul won the spiritual battle before the Sanhedrin, he felt exhausted and tired in the Roman military barracks. At the right time, the Risen Christ appears to Paul to give him the word of encouragement. Jesus assures him to testify also in Rome. According to Jesus’ word, Rome must be conquered by the gospel to open the door for the world mission. Jesus wanted to send Paul, the battle-tested missionary, to plant the seed of the gospel for the Romans. In the midst of suffering and persecutions Jesus was with Paul and protected him using the Roman soldiers and opened the road to Rome. I pray that we all may fulfill our duty to God in all good conscience and take courage to testify about Jesus in Maryland, Virginia, and China. May God strengthen us to follow Jesus and endure suffering to witness Jesus’ forgiveness and his kingdom in the upcoming fall semester.
PART I. PAUL FULFILLED HIS DUTY TO GOD IN ALL GOOD CONSCIENCE (22:30-23:5).
The Roman commander wanted to find out why Paul was being accused by the Jews. So he ordered the chief priests and the Sanhedrin to assemble and brought Paul to stand before them. It was a kind of trial. Was Paul scared? Not at all. Look at verse 1. “Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, ‘My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.’” The Jewish Sanhedrin was like the U.S. Senate and consisted of 72 members. They looked austere and pompous sitting in high chairs. Paul knew some of them. They had power to condemn Paul and Paul was outnumbered by them. But Paul was not intimidated by the presence of the religious authorities. He called them “my brothers.” In his opening statement Paul revealed his position clearly before them. There was nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of. Why? He said, “I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” Paul was saying that he was right with God and he had completed the mission God gave him, and that his conscience was clear before God. They accused him of teaching the Gentiles against the Jews and the law and the temple. But what he was saying was that he was innocent from their accusations. Preaching to the Gentiles was his duty to God. He was fulfilling that duty faithfully through his three missionary journeys. Spreading the good news was not a crime. It was a glorious mission from God. So he declared that he did everything in all good conscience to this day.
When God made man, he gave him a conscience. The conscience separates man from the animals. Man is created in the image of God. Men feel shame and guilt when they sin. The conscience helps us discern and choose what is good. As the citizens of the kingdom of God we must follow the word of God in all good conscience. As long as we act according to our good conscience, we are happy. But if we do not act according to our good conscience, we are burdened with guilt. We ask our children or sheep, “Tell me the truth in your good conscience by putting your hand on your heart.” Now let’s close our eyes and put our hand on our Bible and ask ourselves, “Am I fulfilling my duty to God in all good conscience?” What is your answer? Sometimes we hear about the declaration of conscience from the political figures or the former mafia gang members by saying, “I have sinned.” One Texas man suffered with his guilty feelings after he watched the movie “The Passion of Christ.” Why? His conscience bothered him because he lied and deceived people to avoid conviction though he murdered his girl friend. His conscience convicted him after he saw Jesus’ death and so he confessed his crime in all good conscience. These days some people live in their bad, corrupted, dead, divided, polluted, and twisted consciences. As a result, they suffer endlessly. It is a great blessing for us to live in all good conscience as God’s servants in this perverse and adulterous generation.
Now the question is how we can fulfill our duty to God in all good conscience. That’s the point of this message. Let’s look at Paul’s example. As we know, Paul was stamping out Christians with the approval of the high priest in Acts 9:1-2 because he thought that it was his duty to God. Then he met the Risen Jesus on the way to Damascus and realized that he was a terrible sinner (1Ti 1:15). Then how could Paul say he had fulfilled his duty to God in all good conscience? Paul thought that God was a frightening judge condemning all sinners. He did not know the grace of loving God. When he met the Risen Christ who forgave all his terrible sins, he learned the grace of loving God. Through the grace of Jesus he had the right relationship with God and became an apostle of grace. Because of the grace of God he was able to fulfill his duty to God. When he knew God and the grace of Jesus and loved the word of God, his good conscience was restored as a new creation. We cannot follow our good conscience with our human efforts because we are not good. We need God. Hebrews 9:14 says, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ...cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God!” In the past we committed many rebellious acts lead to death. But the blood of Jesus cleansed our consciences from acts that lead to death. The blood of Jesus enabled us to serve the living God. Though Paul was falsely accused, he did not shrink back because his conscience was clear before God. He was not afraid of the corrupted religious leaders because he lived before God.
In the same way we may be falsely accused when we serve God sacrificially. We may be misunderstood by the worldly people and even by the family members. But we can overcome all kinds of trials and persecutions and even misunderstanding as long as we serve God in all good conscience. We know the truth will prevail in the end. God gave us duty to raise up young spiritual leaders like Paul today to make America a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Of course, we will be accused when we give our hearts to fulfill our duty to God. One time Chicago T.V. station had an interview with S. Teddy Hembekides in the midst of many false accusations and slanders by the former UBF members. He said confidently, “We study the Bible. So what?” He said this because his conscience was clear before God. As Jesus and Paul were on trial when they served God faithfully, so we may receive all kinds of trials and persecutions when we fulfill our duty to God in all good conscience. But we must stand firm because it is evident that we are following the footsteps of Jesus and Paul.
Paul’s opening statement irritated the pride of the high priest. How did he react? The high priest, Ananias, ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth (2). He was afraid of hearing the truth. He became physical and abusive. Ananias tried to silence the truth of God with the physical force. He was supposed to be in charge. But after hearing that Paul served God faithfully, with a good conscience, he lost his minds and composure as a leader. He was nothing but a religious salesman. He did not examine his heart due to his pride. He did not repent of his sin.
How did Paul respond? Look at verse 3. “Then Paul said to him, ‘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!’” But the high priest could not silence the truth of God by striking Paul’s mouth. Paul spoke the truth of God boldly and rebuked Ananias severely by calling him “whitewashed wall.” Ananias was a whitewashed wall. He was a hypocrite. He looked very religious and prestigious wearing a white flowing robe outwardly, but inwardly he was corrupt and unclean in his heart. He betrayed his own conscience and compromised with the Romans in order to maintain his power. Though he was a leader, he misled God’s people and brought injustice to all people. His end was tragic because he was killed by the Jews later. Another was Paul who fulfilled his duty to God in all good conscience. He followed Jesus faithfully and regarded God’s mission more than his own life. God used him to spread the gospel to the Gentiles. He received the crown of life in the end. Let’s examine our hearts before God daily so that we can repent our sin daily and live in good conscience. I pray that we all may follow Paul’s exemplary mission life.
PART II, PAUL’S HOPE IN THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD (6-10).
Look at verse 6. “Then 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.’” As a former Pharisee, Paul would be well aware of the strong disagreement that existed between these two major Jewish parties: Sadducees and Pharisees. The sticking point was the subject of the resurrection. They seemed united in their attack on Paul, but they disagreed strongly on issues of spiritual substance. They were united to do evil though they did not like each other. The Sadducees said that there was no resurrection and that there are neither angels nor spirits. They were secular pragmatic people. But the Pharisees acknowledged them all. They were very religious. When Paul identified himself clearly as a Pharisee and declared his hope in the resurrection of the dead it caused a dispute to break out that threw the Sanhedrin into confusion. Some Pharisees began to side with Paul, saying, “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him? Maybe he is innocent.” When some of the Pharisees supported Paul’s innocence, the reaction of the opposing party became so violent that the commander had Paul removed by force. In this way the trial ended.
Paul looked like using the tactic of divide and conquer to end the trial at the outset. But in reality he was using this trial to witness the resurrection of Jesus. Paul was eager to plant the resurrection hope to his fellow brothers. Paul wanted to make the hope of resurrection the center piece of discussion in spite of their vicious attacks. Paul believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah through the resurrection of Jesus. Paul prayed for his fellow Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah sent by God. They did not have to wait for another Messiah. The resurrection of the dead was his ultimate hope. Because of his hope in the resurrection, Paul endured all kinds of hardships and sufferings. Because he had this hope, Paul was bold and courageous even in the face of death.
Most apostles focused their message on Jesus’ suffering and his resurrection from the dead. St. Peter also had this hope. He said in 1 Peter 1:3,4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade---kept in heaven for you....” Those who believe the resurrection of Christ can see the kingdom of God. They have a living hope in the kingdom of God. As long as people have hope, they overcome all kinds of trials. Hope is a driving force for people to immigrate to U.S.A. to achieve their American dreams. But there is no more hope when they achieve their American dreams. Then they despair. Their hope is limited to this perishing world. One swimmer trained himself day and night with hope of winning an Olympic gold medal in the swimming competition. But he missed it in a fraction of a second. He cried in his deep despair. But the resurrection of Christ gives us a living hope. We have eternal life in the kingdom of God. So we can be generous with our time and money. We Christians serve Christ sacrificially because of our hope in the resurrection. However, sometimes we expect tangible blessings from God. God blesses us to buy a dream house like Dr. Luke and Helen. M. David Y. lives in a dream house in a dream street called Davidson with dream children and a dream job. God blesses us to drive a dream car like Honda Civic. Surely, God blesses our lives on earth abundantly. But these things cannot be our ultimate hope. Houses start to give us many headaches and cars began to break down. Our ultimate hope is resurrection from the dead and eternal life in the kingdom of God. This hope makes us courageous and strong. With this hope, both Peter and Paul gave their lives to pioneer Rome. With this hope, we can give our lives to pioneer UM, GMU, Baltimore, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and 206 East Coast campuses and to send missionaries to Latin America and China and North Korea.
PART III, “TAKE COURAGE! YOUT MUST TESTIFY IN ROME” (11).
Paul’s resurrection message knocked the Sanhedrin members off balance. Paul used every opportunity to become a faithful witness of Jesus. He gave everything to the Lord. But after working hard for the Lord, the devil’s temptation is the strongest. How did Jesus help Paul at this critical juncture? Look at verse 11. “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.’” According to the Risen Christ, Paul needed to take courage. Why? Paul was a human being like us. He was not a super man. He was discouraged in the dark prison cell. Satan threw many poisoned arrows to him by saying, “See! Paul, why do you suffer endlessly without any visible fruits? Do not waste your life and be selfish and enjoy the world.” Paul must have been drained spiritually and emotionally. Paul had risked his life to serve God in Jerusalem without seeing the desired result. He came to Jerusalem to share the gospel of Jesus with his own people but they rejected him and he was arrested and on trial. He may have felt a sense of loss. Jewish and Gentile Christians were not united as he expected. The persecutions from the Jews did not subside but intensified. They became more anti-Christian. Paul was a prisoner in a Roman barracks, not knowing what would happen next. The hatred towards Christians grew stronger. He probably was tired and exhausted in serving God wholeheartedly. This is the very moment that God’s servant can fall into fear and despair. This happened to Abraham after he used material and his men to rescue Lot. He felt a sense of loss when Lot left him and he fell into fear because he made many enemies. At that time God appeared to him and said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Gen 15:1) God encouraged Abraham to trust him as his protection and reward. If God is our shield, no one can attack us. If God is our reward, we are rich.
When Paul felt weak and lonely, the Risen Christ visited him to give him the word of encouragement. At the right time, the Risen Christ stood near Paul. Paul was not alone. Whenever Paul needed encouragement, Jesus appeared to him. (18:9-10, 22:21) This means that Jesus knew Paul’s sufferings very well and was with him all the time. Jesus understood his fear and Jesus never left him in his mission life. Jesus kept his promise to be with his followers to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20b) The Lord spoke to him, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” When the disciples were fearful in the stormy sea, Jesus said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” At the words of Christ, “Take courage!” Paul was restored. Sometimes we are fearful in serving God’s mission. We are fearful of our sheep. We are fearful of our health and financial situation. We seem to go nowhere. Fall semester is approaching. We can see any vision and our fellowship seems to be the same. At that time we have to hear the word of Jesus, “Take courage! You must testify in College Park.” Fear is the opposite of faith. Satan wins when we are fearful. But we win when we have faith in Jesus. We can overcome many mountains when we take courage in Jesus. We can take up the cross of school, job, and feeding sheep when we take courage in Jesus. 25 years ago I was at the gun point while working alone in the 7-11 store around 2 A.M. At that moment I was fearful saying, “Lord, I am dying without fulfilling my mission.” But Jesus was with me and protected me from the hands of robbers. Jesus encouraged me, “Take courage! You must testify me in the nation’s capital.” We have many challenges ahead of us. But we can do it when we take courage in Jesus. When we were tired after the MSU conference, Jesus said, “Take courage.” Jesus’ word revived us to serve all the precious delegates sacrificially.
Then the Risen Christ said, “As you have testified about me in Jerusalem....” This was a great encouragement to Paul. Paul thought that he failed in his Jerusalem mission but Jesus said, “You succeeded. I accepted your testimony about me in Jerusalem.” There is no failure in Jesus. God accepts our service as it is and uses it for his redemptive work. We feed sheep but it is up to God who brings salvation to them.
The Risen Christ concluded, “...so you must also testify in Rome.” This is the word of challenge. Jesus gave Paul direction and vision to pioneer Rome, the capital of the Gentile world. Paul would not die until he would testify in Rome. God was leading Paul to Rome step by step. More important and challenging work was waiting for Paul. Paul had a plan to visit Rome but he might not go there because he was arrested and became a prisoner. But God had a better plan. God had a better way. Paul would not die until he would testify in Rome. God protected Paul from the hurricane later in the stormy sea and the snake and Paul began to have 121 Bible study in Rome. God used the Roman Empire to protect Paul and provided free rides until he reached Rome later. Today, our modern Rome is where the gospel is prohibited. Jesus is saying to us, “You must testify in Beijing also.” Jesus is with us in our spiritual battle. Who can be against us if Jesus is with us in our spiritual battle? We must trust Jesus’ assurance and fight the spiritual battle in the fall semester.
In conclusion, the next day, forty very zealous Jews formed a conspiracy and made a plot to kill Paul. They were like Al Quada terrorist cell. However, God uncovered their plot through Paul’s nephew. The Roman commander knew about the plot and he arranged for Paul to leave for Caesarea with an escort of 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen and 200 spearmen. In all, 470 well-trained Roman soldiers ensured Paul’s safe passage to Caesarea. What a tight security God provided! It was better than the presidential secret service security. Outwardly, the Sanhedrin and the Roman commander seemed to take charge of Paul’s life. But God was intervening every step of Paul’s life. God was carrying out his world mission plan for the Gentiles through Apostle Paul. In Caesarea Paul was handed over to Governor Felix. The letter from the Roman commander explained that there was no charge against Paul, but the commander did not free Paul because Paul had to go Rome. Here we learn that God was Paul all the way. Sovereign God leads his servant where he wants him to be.
Today we learn how God used Paul to be Jesus’ witnesses. May God bless us to take courage and serve world campus mission with prayer. We must depend on Jesus for courage, direction and protection. Let’s read the key verse 11.