Angry crowds bring out the worst in people. A riot is a crowd with a mob mentality and it is unpredictable. That is exactly what the Apostle Paul faced in Jerusalem after he had fulfilled his purification vow to show the Jews that he was not demanding that they stop all of their Jewish customs and traditions. While he was fulfilling his vow by ritually purifying himself in a Mikvah [ritual purification tank] someone from Ephesus recognized him and stirred up the whole crowd.
Since Paul was in a very public place and the Jews were adamant to protect their way of life and customs, it didn’t take much provoking to convince people that Paul opposed them even though he did not. The Gospel opponents used three triggers they knew would fire off the Jewish crowd - exaggerations, lies and sensationalism – as seen in Acts 21:27-30: “27 When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, 28 shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.” 29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.) 30 The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut.”
“31 While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.”
The Roman soldiers chained Paul to themselves to take him away. As they were about to go into barracks Paul asked for and was given permission to speak. Continuing in Acts 22 Paul says,“1 “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.” 2 When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet. Then Paul said: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.”
Paul goes on to tell them his conversion story and they actually listen to the point when he tells them that God told him to go witness to the gentiles. This was another trigger for the rioters and they tried to get at him again, forcing the Romans to bring him into the barracks.
In this section of text, Paul shows us three ways to respond to gospel opponents. First, pray for wisdom. Second, be bold with the truth of the gospel. And, third, share your story.
You don’t have to be eloquent or super educated, just tell others what God has done in your life. Your faith story has three parts to it. Describe your life before Christ, your conversion experience, and your present hopes.
Sharing your faith will encourage you because it will drive you back to the heart of your relationship with Jesus. I think that is why even when Paul faced the angry crowd he could still speak to them with boldness and clarity, because he knew God had him there for a reason.
And, finally, trust God with the results. God never wastes pain and he never wastes a story. God will never waste your story because your story is important. You matter to God and what God has done for you he wants you to share with others.
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.
Whenever God moves, Satan is always close by. John 10:10 records Jesus saying: “10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Satan and his demonic realm want to steal your freedom putting you in slavery to sin and killing your potential so that you aspire for average and never fully follow Christ in every area of your life.
As the church was forming shortly after Jesus ascension, Satan was attempting to silence believers so they would stop making disciples. It didn’t work. The Holy Spirit continued to stir hearts motivating believers to destroy their old way of life so they could embrace their new faith. Their lives would never be the same. Luke writes: “18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power” (Acts 19:18-20).
You can’t follow Christ with your whole heart if you keep secrets. This is how you can break free from your past behaviors and step into a closer relationship with Jesus, here’s how. First, repent. What is it that you need to repent from? Porn, drugs, alcohol, addiction to whatever? Bad Netflix shows? The list of things that mess up our relationship with God is extensive so I suggest whatever God puts on your heart you deal with.
Second, clean your house of ungodly things. Don’t convince yourself that you should try to sell or use these things until they’re gone; just destroy it and get it off your property or out of your presence. Ask the Holy Spirit to shine in every area of your house.
Third, believe that God has a better plan for you. Believe that God wants to fill your life with goodness and joy. Believe that God will meet all of your needs. Peter writes: “8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” 1 Peter 5:8-9
Satan and his demonic realm are a believer’s real enemy. You might not be able to identify Satan in a crowd, but he is a real, viable, cruel, supernatural enemy that seeks to destroy you by leading his demons in attacks against you. His intent is to steal, kill, and destroy. He’s Powerful, but God is more powerful and Christians can tap into the power of God to fight against the enemy. Jesus was resurrected from the dead to prove that God is more powerful than Satan. The empty cross is an eternal reminder that God has more power than Satan, but that doesn’t mean he won’t put up a fight. Your best defense is to clean house and don’t let Satan get a foothold in any area of your life. If you need to repent, repent. Then remove what needs to be removed and believe that God’s way is the best way. You will be glad you did.