The scene Acts 23 begins with is tense. Paul is on trial before the chief priests and council of the Jews. The Roman tribune in charge of Jerusalem has commanded the Jewish Council to assemble in order to understand why the Jews have such murderous intent toward Paul. The tribune has not found any guilt in Paul, but he wants to further investigate the matter.
Paul tells the council he has lived his life before God “in all good conscience (Acts 23:1),” meaning he has been faithful to proclaim the truth of Christ. It is not as much Paul on trial as it is the Lord Jesus. Paul had testified to the Jews of his own conversion and that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Christ that Moses and the prophets wrote of.
Paul has not instigated any riots or been disrespectful to any authorities. The animosity toward him is strictly a result of the teaching of the gospel. The Lord had conveyed to Paul he would face suffering in Jerusalem. Paul didn’t seek the suffering; his mindset was to be faithful to Christ. He suffered for doing what Christ had told him to do and say.
Paul’s actions and demeanor around the authorities in charge teach us the pilgrim mentality of the Christian faith. A pilgrim is one who has left one place and is headed for another. Christians in this world belong to the city of God but have not yet arrived. Paul was respectful, yet he didn’t waver from testifying to the truth of Christ. He was heavenly minded.
The Lord Jesus was a stranger in this world. He said that the world hated him. Nevertheless, he was faithful to his Father and completed the work given him to do. The Lord Jesus came from the glory of his Father’s home to earth. His loved moved him to come: love for his Father’s will and love for those he would redeem from their sin. His state of exaltation came after his suffering as a servant. He tells his people not to be surprised if the world hates them.
Paul was extraordinary in many ways, including his calling to be an apostle. He suffered terribly for the Lord many times, which he said was proof of his apostleship. We don’t face such persecution as Christians today in our cities, but every Christian is to seek to honor Christ even if it is costly. We are no less pilgrims in this world than Paul was. When we have afflictions or temptations, we are to overcome the world by faith. The Lord promises the crown of life if we continue in the faith.
As Christians, we should, like Paul, strive to have a good conscience before the Lord. Paul of course doesn’t mean he was sinless. He means he had consecrated his life to Christ and had endeavored to be his faithful servant. Paul says in Romans 12, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”
Paul is encouraging Christians to entrust themselves entirely to God’s hands, submitting to his governing will and his providential will. His governing will means in submission to his word, and his providential will is the disposition of “do to me what seems good to you, Lord.”
We have good grounds to give our lives entirely to the Lord. He is the infinite, eternal, unchangeable God, full of goodness and love. As his redeemed people we may look at the oceans and mountains and all that fill them in such a way we can say the author of all these things and the stars above is my God, not only now, but forever.
Christians have been forgiven their sins and given eternal life in Christ. Paul told the Jewish council, “It is with respect to the hope of the resurrection from the dead that I am on trial (Acts 23:6).” It is a monumental statement. Whatever happens to me here, I have the promise of the resurrection. This is central to the Christian faith, to be raised to live with God forever.
We believe that Christ died that we might live, and that not to ourselves, but to glorify God, the purpose for which we were redeemed. Paul didn’t do that in his own strength, and neither can we. God sent his Spirit to give us communion with Christ in his death and suffering that we might know the love of God and delight in his will. We do that weakly and with sin in this world, but not without hope. What we need is nearer communion with Christ and a growing communion.