Paul in the Storm of Prejudice
February 4th, 1979 @ 10:50 AM
PAUL IN THE STORM OF PREJUDICE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-4-79 10:50 a.m.
To the uncounted thousands of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio and on television, you are listening to the service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Paul in the Storm of Prejudice. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we have come to chapter 23. And the message is an exposition of the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Acts. The background is found in the arrest of Paul in the temple where he had come to worship the God of his fathers [Acts 21:26-30].
And some of the Jews of Asia, from Ephesus, who had been involved in the altercation and riot in the city of Ephesus, saw Paul there, and they raised a hue and a cry against him, and the riot and the multitude were beating him to death [Acts 21:31]. And right above the temple area rises the Tower of Antonio, the Roman contingent sent there by the legions to see that all things were done in peace and quiet in the Holy City. So when they saw the riot before them, they poured out of the castle down into the temple area and rescued Paul [Acts 21:32-36].
And when the Roman chiliarchos—the head, the commanding officer of the contingent in Jerusalem—when the Roman chiliarchos found that he was a Roman citizen and could speak Greek [Acts 21:37, 39], he acquiesced in Paul’s desire that he speak to the maddening throng below [Acts 21:40]. So standing on the steps of the Tower of Antonio, Paul begins to speak to the throng below in their own language, in Hebrew [Acts 21:40], and they gave him quiet and gracious attendance [Acts 22:1-2]. And he closed that address, and he said God had told him, “For I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles” [Acts 22:21]. And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live” [Acts 22:22].
So, here is violence occasioned by just a word. Just a word. They gave him audience unto this word, and the word, of course, was the Gentiles [Acts 22:21]. The use of that word infuriated them. How could the Lord send a prophet or an apostle to the Gentiles? They were hated dogs! It is amazing; it is unbelievable how far prejudice can carry a man.
I have found it true in my own life. Some of the most brilliant men in our Southern Baptist Zion have bitterly castigated and criticized and denounced me. Why? Because I believe the Bible as the Word of God and because I preach the gospel. Can you believe it? It is almost unthinkable. Prejudice—Paul in the storm of prejudice, and how far prejudice can carry a man—here the violence occasioned by the pronunciation of one word; one word [Acts 22:21].
We continue: violence occasioned by the use of one sentence. “And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, the Sanhedrin, said, ‘Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.’ And as he said that, the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth!” [Acts 23:1-2].
Prejudice occasioned just by a descriptive sentence. “Men and brethren, all through the years of my life, I have sought to live in good conscience. When I persecuted the church, I thought I was doing right, and now that I have been converted and am preaching the gospel, I feel in my heart that I am doing right.” And yet upon that avowal, the high priest commands them that stood by the apostle to smite him on the mouth [Acts 23:1-2].
Paul responded in a blaze of anger and indignation. “And Paul said unto Ananias the high priest, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall . . . for you command me contrary to the law to be smitten” [Acts 23:3].
What do you think of that? You see we have the peculiar idea that because a man is a Christian he is to be groveling, servile, a mouse and not a man. Isn’t that a strange idea? Paul blazed back in indignation. Sometimes anger and fury is an evidence of character; righteous indignation as the Bible calls it.
Do you remember our Lord Jesus coming into the temple? He made a scourge of cords, and he drove out of the temple those that bought and sold, turning over the money changer’s tables and driving out the traffic from the temple [John 2:13-15]. Do you remember that? What do you think of that? Or Simon Peter: I think most any of us would say we had a thousand times rather express our admiration for Simon Peter when he took his sword and tried to cut off the head of the servant of the high priest that was trying to arrest Him, and missed him and cut off his right ear [John 18:10]—I know by that that Peter was right-handed, because when he came down with that sword to cut off that guy’s head, he ducked, so he cut off his right ear—we a thousand times rather admire Simon when, in that blaze of anger and fury and indignation, he tried to cut off that fellow’s head with his sword, than a few hours later when Simon Peter, before the presence of a little maid, swore, saying: I never heard of Him. I do not know Him. I do not even know who He is. I never saw Him” [Matthew 26:69-74; Luke 22:56-60]. Jesus rebuked Simon Peter for the anger that caused him to draw out his sword and seek to kill the men who were arresting his Master [John 18:10]. Jesus rebuked Simon Peter for that [John 18:11]. But when as a cringing coward he denied that he even knew the Lord [Luke 22:56-60], the Lord just turned in brokenheartedness and looked at him. And it broke his heart, and he went out and wept bitterly [Luke 22:61-62].
So Paul, filled with indignation, and righteously so, blazed against Ananias [Acts 23:3]. Then they that stood by said, “What? What? Revilest thou God’s high priest?” [Acts 23:4].
And here I find that Paul is something other than than a hotheaded, indignant revolutionary. He apologizes. He says, “I did not realize”—the King James, “I wist not”—I did not realize, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written,” and he quotes from Exodus 22 [Exodus 22:28], “Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people” [Acts 23:5].
The difference between a Christian and an anarchist is this: a Christian is the best citizen any nation ever has, and he works for a better government by seeking in office better men, but an anarchist repudiates all authority and all office and leaves the people in utter and stagnant chaos. So Paul, who wrote Romans 13:1-3, “We were to be subject citizens before the authority that God has established for our good,” Paul apologizes and says, “I did not realize he was the high priest” [Acts 23:5].
Now that’s one of two things. Either something was wrong with his eyes that he couldn’t see well—that could well have been the thorn in the flesh that Paul carried all of his life [2 Corinthians 12:7]—he could not see well, or however, he did not realize who it was that had commanded him to be smitten, and he apologized [Acts 23:2, 5]. And you know, it is a strange thing, what Paul said was an avowal of truth and of prophecy. Paul said to Ananias, whom he didn’t know was the high priest, “Paul said to him, ‘God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for you stand there and command me to be smitten contrary to the law?’” [Acts 23:3].
You see, this Ananias, when you read in the history of Josephus, this Ananias was sent as a prisoner to Rome bound in chains because of injustice and cruelty. And he was tried for his life before Claudius Caesar. In the trial he was acquitted and returned back to his office in Jerusalem.
But the second thing about him: “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall” [Acts 23:3]: that’s a prophecy. And this same Ananias was murdered by the dreaded Sicarii. They were men who mingled in the throngs, and in their flowing robes carried daggers, and they murdered those who they felt proved unworthy of the confidence of the people. And this Ananias was so murdered by the Sicarii: an unusual turn of fortune.
Number three: violence in prejudice by a word, by a sentence. Now in this twenty-third chapter of Acts, violence occasioned by a self-designation and a description: “And when Paul perceived that the Sanhedrin was one part Sadducees and one part Pharisees, he cried out to the Sanhedrin saying, ‘Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and the resurrection of the dead am I called in question this day’” [Acts 23:6].
Now the reason for that is very apparent. The Pharisees were traditionalists. They were fundamentalists. They believed the Bible. They believed the Word of God. But they added so much more to it. The Talmud, all of the Talmud, all of the oral law written down, you call it the Talmud, all of that is the product of the work of the Pharisees. They were the believers to the utmost.
The Sadducees were political and religious opportunists. They took advantage of the devotion of the people in order to further themselves. They ran the temple, and they received all of the tribute from the coffers in the temple. And they hated each other—the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The only time you ever find them together is they agree on their hatred for Jesus, and they agree here on their prejudice against Paul.
Now, when Paul looked at them and saw the Sanhedrin so divided, he said, “I am a Pharisee” [Acts 23:6]. In the Bible there are many, many Pharisees converted to the faith such as Saul of Tarsus, this Paul [Acts 9:1-18]; or such as Nicodemus [John 3:1-15, 7:50-52, 19:39-41], and many, many other Pharisees. Gamaliel was a Pharisee [Acts 22:3].
But you never read in the Bible and you never hear of it in history that there ever was a Sadducee who was ever converted to the Christian faith. And Paul standing there said, “In my acceptance of the word of God, in my belief in heaven, in my belief in angels, in my belief in the presence of God in power and in Spirit, and in my belief in the resurrection from among the dead, I am a Pharisee” [Acts 23:6].
And, of course, have you read what happened then? “When he said this there arose”—now you look at these words—“there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided” [Acts 23:7-8]. Now again, “And there arose a great cry and they strove saying… and when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain—the chiliarchos—fearing lest Paul should be pulled in pieces, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them and bring him back up there into the castle” [Acts 23:9-10].
What do you think of that? My brother, unholy conspiracies ought to be broken up. Prejudices that would bind people together ought to be exposed, and it was so here. And the Lord approved it because the next verse says that “the following night the Lord stood by him, and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must thou also bear witness in Rome’” [Acts 23:11].
Prejudice tears up the very Sanhedrin itself. All right, again, Paul in the storm of prejudice: violence occasioned by a word [Acts 22:21]; violence occasioned by a sentence of truth [Acts 23:1-4]; third, violence occasioned by a description, a self-identification [Acts 23:6-7].
Now fourth, prejudice: violence occasioned by an abysmal defeat:
Now when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. And there were more than forty which had made this conspiracy. And they came to the chief priests and elders, and said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul.
Now therefore with the Sanhedrin signify to the chief captain, to the chiliarchos, that he bring him down to you tomorrow, as though you would inquire something more perfectly concerning him: and we, or ever he come near, are ready to kill him.
Prejudice, when it is met and defeated, turn to blood and to murder. Do you remember that same thing in the story of Stephen? As he stood before the Sanhedrin and as he witnessed of the faith in the Lord, the account says they could not withstand the wisdom by which he spake [Acts 6:10]. And they seized him, and dragged him out of the city, and stoned him until he died [Acts 7:58-60].
Prejudice: if it can’t crush and if it can’t change, then it murders. What a response! I want you to look here while I’m preaching in this passage. I want you to look here at the unconscious tribute that evil, that prejudice and hatred pays to righteousness and to goodness and to the testimony of God.
Did you notice? And there were forty men who took a terrible oath saying, “We will not eat until we have slain Paul” [Acts 23:12-13]. Forty men! I don’t know whether it is true or not, but tradition always presents Paul as being small and little in stature, always. There is no deviation from that in all of church tradition. He has a Roman name, Paul. Paulus. It means little. It means small. It means short. His name is Paul—“little.”
Do you notice again as he stands there before the Sanhedrin, there is no record of any Christian friends standing by his side, and he certainly does not command a constabulary. He’s by himself. Yet when this conspiracy, this plot is made to murder him, do four men say: We’ll do it? No! Do ten men undertake it? No! Do twenty men? Do thirty men? No!
These are knaves but they’re not fools. Forty men pledge themselves. We’re going to bind ourselves under a curse until we slay this Paul [Acts 23:12-14]. I say, isn’t it an unusual thing, the unconscious tribute that evil pays to goodness? Forty of them!
Do you remember Tennyson’s Sir Galahad? The marvelous young knight begins—do you remember the first stanza?
My good blade
Carves the casques of men.
My tough lance thrusteth sure.
My strength is as
The strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure.
Do you remember that? Do you remember when they came to arrest Jesus? They said, “We seek Jesus of Nazareth,” and the Lord said, “I am He,” and they all fell backward [John 18:4-6]. Isn’t that an unusual thing? Evil cringes and is servile and grovels before righteousness and goodness and the presence of the messengers of God. So there are forty men here, forty who bind themselves under a great curse until they have slain this apostle Paul [Acts 23:12-14].
Now, in the last half of the chapter, do you notice how God turns the wrath of man to praise Him? Do you notice how God takes all of the evil, unholy conspiracy, and He turns it to the glory of His name? Now what happened was one of the most unusual things you could ever think come to pass. When those forty men pledged themselves under a great curse to slay the apostle Paul, Paul’s sister’s son, his nephew, heard about it, and he entered into the castle and asked if he might speak to Paul, his uncle. So the boy comes to the apostle Paul, and he says, “I have heard the plotting of these men. And they are going to ask you to be brought before the Sanhedrin. And as you are brought down, forty of them are going to attack you and slay you” [Acts 23:15-16].
And so Paul asked the centurion to take the lad to the chiliarchos [Acts 23:17]. And the Roman legionnaire who presided over the contingent force in the Tower of Antonio said to the lad, “Now that you have told me this, you go your way and do not say any word about it,” so the boy went away [Acts 23:17-22].
And the chief captain called unto him two centurions, and said to them, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea—
that’s the Roman capital of Judea—
and horsemen threescore and ten, seventy, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night, at nine o’clock tonight; And provide them beasts, animals, that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor.
And he wrote a letter after this manner: Claudius Lysias the chiliarchos, the head of the Roman legions in Jerusalem, Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix sendeth greeting.
Then he speaks of having taken Paul out of the riot; and not finding aught worthy of death found in him, he is sending him that he might be tried in Caesarea [Acts 23:23]. So Paul is taken down to Caesarea and there presented to Felix, the Roman procurator, who says to him, “I will hear thee when thine accusers are also come,” and he commanded him to be kept in the Praetorium, in the palace of Herod, until his accusers could come [Acts 23:33-35].
That’s one of the most amazing things that you could ever read about. You look at what God had said to the apostle Paul in the night. The night following, the Lord stood by him. That’s going to be my sermon tonight: Standing By The Lord. “The night following the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul. Do not be down. Do not be afraid. For as thou hast testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must thou also bear witness of Me in Rome’” [Acts 23:11].
But how is he going to bear witness before the Roman Caesar? He’s in Jerusalem, he’s bound with chains, and there are forty men who under a great curse have bound themselves, saying, “We’re going to murder this Paul” [Acts 23:12-14]. How is he going to get to Rome?
Well, I want you to look at this; and I’m dumbfounded by it. There are forty men there who say, “We are going to slay the apostle.” Forty of them! [Acts 23:13]. Now you look on the other side: but God arranges it where there are two hundred soldiers on this side, and there are seventy horsemen by their sides, and there are two hundred spearmen by their sides, to see to it that Paul is safe until he is delivered to Rome [Acts 23:23].
That’s the most amazing thing you would ever think for. Tell me, is Claudius Lysias—the chiliarchos of the Roman legion, the post in Jerusalem—is he a Christian? He’s no Christian. Tell me; are any of these soldiers Christians? I have never heard of it. Are any of these spearmen Christian? Two hundred of them! I’ve never heard of it. Are any of these cavalrymen Christian, seventy of them? I never heard of it, yet how God carries out His work making the wrath of man to praise Him. God—forty of them on that side [Acts 23:13]—God says, “Two hundred soldiers and seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen on this side” to carry out what God said [Acts 23:23].
Man, I never needed that more in my life than I do right now. Sometimes I think this world is lost in darkness and infidelity! These nations double up their fist in the face of God. Looks to me as though the communists are going to take over the whole earth, including us, piece by piece they break us off. And our own government grovels before them.
Lord, Lord, I think what shall become of Thy people and Thy churches and the gospel? And if we are not drowned by stated, open infidelity and atheism and communism, then we are drowned and decimated by secularism and materialism and worldliness. Lord God, what shall happen to us? And then I read this, I read this—the instruments God has in His hands! And the men who are doing it: servants of God, and they don’t even know it, they don’t even realize it.
Thinking of this sermon and preparing it for the delivery at this hour, I thought of Gehazi, the servant of Elisha. They were in a little town called Dothan, in the middle of Samaria. And when Gehazi awakened in the morning, the whole town was surrounded by the hosts of Syria who had come to take his master and him along [2 Kings 6:15]. And he came to Elisha the prophet and said, “Wake up! Wake up!” “My soul,” says [Gehazi], “the soldiers of the enemy are all around us. You look that way, and you look that way, and you look that way, and you look every way, and you see soldiers, all of the army of Syria is here under Ben-Hadad the king and the captain.”
“Lord, my master, we’re done for. We’re done for. This means our head is cut off. This is the end of the way.”
Elisha, unperturbed—I wonder if he even got out of bed—Elisha said to Gehazi, “Gehazi, they that be with us are more than they that be with them” [2 Kings 6:16]. And then Elisha prayed a little prayer, “Lord, open the eyes of the young man. Help him to see” [2 Kings 6:17].
“And God opened the eyes of Gehazi, and he looked, and the mountains and the heavens and the whole world above it was filled with horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” [2 Kings 6:17]. My brethren, when the thing is done and the last sentence is written, we have won! We’ve done it! That’s what the Book says! When I read the last chapter, we win. We win. And God takes all of these nations, and all of these events, and all of these things that are happening that we read of in the headlines of the papers, God takes them all and He turns them to the glory of His name, and to the victory of His people. And you know, when we get to the end of the way and the last chapter is finished and the last sentence is written, we’re going to say, “Didn’t know it, but look: God was in it all. God was in it all. Oh, bless His name! Glory to His name! We can’t fail. We can’t lose. The victory belongs to God!
And that is our earnest appeal to you this day: to belong to the family of the Lord. Lord, not that; Lord, this with Thee. Count me with the people of God. “I want my soul, my name enrolled in the family of the Lord. And I want all that are dear to me to be my side when Jesus comes. Lord, Lord, I shall have failed in my life if I miss heaven, if I miss Thee, and I am coming this day. I am aligning myself with the people of God. I am on their side, and I am coming.” “This is my friend,” or “This is my wife, the two of us,” or “Pastor, the whole family here, we are all coming today,” or just one somebody you. If you are on the last row of that top balcony, there is room and time to spare. Down one of those aisles, down one of these stairways: “Here I am, preacher. I am on the way.” And the throng on this lower floor, into one of these aisles, and down to the front: “Here I come, pastor. I have made it today.” I will be standing right there by the side of that communion table. Make the decision in your heart, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand up walking down that aisle, walking down that stairway. It will be the first great step you ever made in your life. Make it, and see if God doesn’t open the door and lead in the way. Do it now. Angels attend you in the way as you respond with your life, while we stand and while we sing.