Have you ever found yourself in a no-win situation? It’s a bad feeling. That is the situation Paul found himself in. He was in Jerusalem and the Lord told him that he was going to face some really big problems. The Jews formed a mob and wanted to kill him. The Roman army saved his life then found out that Paul was a Roman citizen so they had to treat him fairly.
At the end of chapter 22 Paul was sent away for the night and told to come back the next day and explain to the Sanhedrin why everyone was so upset with him. The Sanhedrin was the Jewish governing authority and it was led by the high priest. Members of the Sanhedrin were either Sadducees or Pharisees. The word Sadducee means “righteous one.” They represented the Jewish aristocracy and the high priesthood. The other half of the Sanhedrin was made up of Pharisees. Pharisee means “separated ones,” and they kept themselves pure of any corrupting influence, including Greek or Roman influences, which were considered pagan.
In Acts 23 the Sanhedrin had assembled and Paul was called in to face them. It must have felt like a no-win situation. It was Paul against everyone else. This section of texts gives two life lessons that pertain to anyone who has ever faced a no-win situation.
“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.” 2 At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth.”
Paul was a man of strong character. He can say that he has fulfilled his duty to God because he had done God’s will. After he says this Ananias the high priest ordered some other Pharisees and Sadducees to strike him. Such abuse of prisoners violated ancient legal ethics. Striking someone on the mouth was considered a huge insult.
So those who are called righteous ones and separated ones struck Paul on the mouth. These are the religious leaders. “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!” Paul calls the high priest a hypocrite.
The first life lesson is that your actions reflect your character.
A person’s real character always comes out under pressure. If you are living a Christ centered life when you face a no win situation, you will lean into it with faith and conviction like Paul. He spoke the truth even when it wasn’t popular.
What Paul did next is pretty interesting. “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, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” 7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.) 9 There was a great uproar, 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. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 10 The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.
This brings us to the second life lesson, you should pray for wisdom whenever you need it. Paul knew that everyone he was speaking to wanted him dead. So he gets them to argue with each other.
“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.”
It was a dark time for Paul. Certainly his hopes of continuing to testify for the Lord in Jerusalem were squashed by the proceedings before the Sanhedrin. Yet in this disheartening moment, Jesus encourages him. Those words gave Paul strength and hope. No matter how discouraging circumstances appear, we can trust that God will be with us.