Have you been asked to defend yourself about something you are accused of? Many years ago there was a sort of revolt against me, spearheaded by someone I trusted in the Church. This person wanted to have me fired as the pastor. Thinking through it afterwards, I realized he wanted to assume the position I held. He cunningly assembled others whom he could convince and hauled me before this “tribunal” to be questioned and found guilty.
God was on my side. He assisted me with every question enabling me to provide a reasonable answer. Eventually, not getting his way, the man resorted to saying the contract I had signed with the Church had expired. The one who was doing the talking for him agreed with the statement that my contract had expired. I refuted this saying the contract had a starting date but did not have an ending date. It was open ended. The group were caught off guard and left. Sometimes defending yourself could be tough because your accusers might be adamant about their accusations … but their adamancy does not mean they are right! Neither does it mean they have all the facts. Please read:
Ac 28:17 Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: “My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. 18 They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. 19 But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—not that I had any charge to bring against my own people. 20 For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.” 21 They replied, “We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of the brothers who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. 22 But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.”
1) Paul’s address to the leaders of the Jews in Rome. Paul assumed that because he was seen as the enemy of the Jews in Jerusalem and throughout the Gentile World where he and his missionary team had planted Churches, that the leaders of the Jews in Rome (most likely many of them were leaders in the synagogues in Rome), had firsthand knowledge of him from those who had accused him, leading to his incarceration, court cases and arrival in Rome. He therefore, without wasting time on niceties, gets to the issue at hand.
(1) He identifies with these Jews. Note the terms “our people” and “our ancestors” … although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors. We are so fortunate to have the complete Bible, many commentaries on the Law of Moses (Genesis to Deuteronomy), written by Jews, access to the many copies of the original texts, access to the original Hebrew language with dictionaries explaining each word, access to the New Testament, especially Acts and the Pauline letters and we are able to state categorically that in no way did Paul ever contravene any Old Testament Scriptures where it came to the Jewish people. He was not guilty of any Biblical crime, religious crime or cultural crime. Firstly he pleads his innocence!
(2) Innocent yet arrested. Although he believes his is not guilty of any such crime … I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. After he was interrogated, they found him innocent of any crime that required the death penalty … which the Jews wanted. You will recall that at each of his trials … be it the Sanhedrin (he was proved innocent by the centurion), Felix, Festus and Agrippa … all finding him not guilty of any crime and wanting to release him … but the Jews were so adamant in wanting Paul dead that he appealed to Caesar! He did not want to bring a charge against the Jews. All he wanted was fair treatment … which he would not get as long as the Jews could manipulate the authorities. Paul knew that they could not do that to Emperor Caesar and so appealed to him. However, we know that behind all this was God wanting Paul in Rome to preach Christ to the highest officials.
(3) Incarcerated. The Jewish leaders saw Paul, not only under guard but in chains. He gives the reason for him being chained or handcuffed as belief in the Hope of Israel.
Ac 28:20 For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.
Do you recall Paul’s trump card at his hearings? He said he believed in the resurrection from the dead. This is a doctrine is believed by the Pharisees, yet rejected by the Sadducees. The latter seemed to be the more powerful and influential party, even holding sway over the high priest. Yet the Hope of Israel was indeed the resurrection from the dead. It was taught extensively in the Old Testament. The reason the Sadducees rejected the teaching is because if there is a resurrection from the dead, there is a judgment and there is a real heaven and a real hell. Like so many today, they rejected these doctrines.
So you can see that Paul was not guilty of any crime against the Hebrew Faith. All he was guilty of was proving the Sadducees doctrinal position lacking Scriptural evidence! As we hasten to the end of the Book of Acts … Do you believe in the resurrection from the dead? Remember Jesus went before us. He leads the way. His resurrection assures all believers that we too will rise from the dead! Even non-believers will rise … though they shall rise, be judged, found guilty and banished to the Lake of Burning Sulphur, whist all believers shall rise, be judged and found not guilty and escorted into Glory. The battle Paul fought is an ongoing battle today because amongst others, the Liberal Church does not want to be accountable for their actions in the flesh … so, to them there is not heaven and hell, no judgment and no resurrection. Sadly this happens when one tampers with the Bible.
2) The Jewish leaders’ response to Paul. They were reasonable, honest and friendly.
Ac 28:21 They replied, “We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of the brothers who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you.”
Even though more than two years had passed since Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, no word about him had been sent to the synagogues in Rome. But, because Paul had started to speak about a problem he had with the Jews back in Jerusalem, the leaders wanted to understand what had transpired from Paul’s point of view.
Ac 28:22 “But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.”
They had not heard about Paul but they had heard about Christianity, known to them as a sect. Perhaps the great lesson to learn from our reading today is that like Paul we need to be open and honest about whom we are as Christians. Hide nothing, reveal everything and trust God.
Our Father, graciously help us never to be afraid of whom we are in Christ. We know we have the keys to life. We shall be resurrected to be with you in glory. This is our great hope. Help us to walk tall, tell the truth about the Gospel as we cling to the hope we have in Jesus Christ. Amen.