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Resisting Injustice, Trusting God

April 14, 2024 Preacher: Jeff Griffis Series: Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles

Scripture: Acts 22:22– 23:11

Resisting Injustice, Trusting God – Acts 22:22–23:11


INTRO: Does trusting God mean doing nothing in our own defense against injustice? Jesus deliberately suffered a grave miscarriage of justice specifically because it was necessary that we should have a righteous sacrifice on our behalf. And for that we are eternally grateful, and we follow Christ’s example of sacrificial love for the good of others.

But when we are threatened and mistreated, must we do nothing? Or can Christians actively promote God’s justice in our laws, and use our laws and governance to defend against injustice?

I’m truly grateful for this example from the life of Paul that we are studying today, which shows us that faithful Christians can have a posture of willingness to suffer for Christ and like Christ, but can also take steps to try to prevent injustice and religious persecution.

With integrity and respect, Christians can resist injustice and religious persecution with legal recourse and bold clarity.

Christians should be knowledgeable and resourceful to prevent injustice under the law, and boldly direct about what is at stake, and boldly clear with the gospel… but we do so with integrity and respect, ultimately trusting that God directs according to his plan.

In the final section of Acts, Luke defends Paul to defend the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Acts 21:27-28:31) - But there can be no doubt that Luke believes Paul is innocent of the accusations against him, so it serves as an apologetic that these Christians are no threat whatsoever to just governance.

In particular, we’re in a section of Acts 22 where Paul has been making a defense to a crowd of zealous Jews who want to kill him (bc they were told he is teaching against the Mosaic law and the Temple and Jewish tradition). And it becomes evident that they are especially angry about the notion of extending salvation to the Gentiles without them become proselytes to Judaism.

Acts 22:22–29 ESV

22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23 And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. 25 But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” 27 So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” 29 So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.

Faithful Christians can resist some injustices by knowing and exercising their legal standing. (22:22-29)

When Paul gets to the part of his testimony where he describes his obedience to God by taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, the mob becomes enraged again. Paul is in danger of being torn apart by the crowd, who is now throwing dust in the air and taking off their cloaks, probably to drag him off and stone him. The Roman tribune is in danger of losing control of the situation, so he withdraws Paul into the barracks for safekeeping.

However, as he has been unable to ascertain what caused all of this, the tribune intends to have him “examined by flogging,” which is basically to torture him for information. - While it sounds somewhat preposterous to us, in ancient Rome “it was legal to scourge slaves or aliens [foreigners] to extort confessions or to determine the truth concerning a situation. Paul had experienced Jewish synagogue beatings and lictors’ rods. But this scourge is with the flagellum—leather thongs into which pieces of metal or bone were woven. It could easily lead to the victim’s death, and would certainly scar and probably maim him.” -Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Ac 22:24–25.

However, Paul has no reason to let them flog him when he is innocent of any wrongdoing for this riot, and as a Roman citizen he has a right to a fair trial before receiving any such brutal punishment. It’s hard to say for sure why Paul waits to divulge this information until they have him stretched out and tied for the flogging. Perhaps he had no opportunity, or perhaps he does so for effect to put the authorities on their back heal because of their treatment of him.

What is clear is that Paul is knowledgeable about his rights under Roman law and he is resourceful to use the law to full effect to try to prevent this needless injustice.

When the centurion alerts the tribune, the tribune seeks confirmation from Paul, mixed with a bit of skepticism (with all that was going on with this Jewish rabbi). The tribune himself, Claudias Lysias by name (Act 23:26), had purchased his citizenship, expensively. That would mean he either did so by bribe (which was unfortunately common under the previous emperor, whose name he had taken), or that he had been a slave to a Roman and purchased his freedom, making him not only free but a citizen of Rome. (Remember that some slaves would have been well-educated and served high-ranking individuals.)

But Paul’s citizenship was considered of higher caliber (almost a superior social status), because he was born to a Roman father—a citizen by birth.

Because of what he had already done (binding Paul and treating him like a criminal), and what he had almost done (the flogging), the tribune fears repercussions from authorities above him.

It’s worth noting here that although Paul was correct about his legal rights, there still might have been a miscarriage of justice. Not only that, but sometimes laws themselves might not in fact be just, even though in God’s sight that’s what governing authority should do. (But there can be, and often are, unjust laws that need to be changed.)

What this means it that ultimately we trust in the providential care of God in our lives, knowing that he directs things according to his plans (23:11). - God hates injustice. In scripture this is abundantly clear. God hates injustice. So if God allows it, he has good reason, and he will not allow it forever. Miscarriage of justice is seen by God and handled by God in his time. - God is either sovereign and good or he is not. … When we know God is sovereign and good, we know we can trust him. He is our solace and our courage.

Even while trusting God’s provision and direction, we have an example from Paul that Christians can be knowledgeable and resourceful to use just laws to pursue what is right and to curb injustice. - In application we can extend this to Christians becoming involved in the governing system that writes laws, becoming involved in the legal system that defends just laws, and voting to protect and promote what we know God says is right.

In all of these things, we take care not to give way to mere pragmatism and politics. Who or what should have the final word that forms the foundation for what is just and right? God does, in his holy word that he has given to us: the Bible.


Acts 22:30–23:10 ESV

30 But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them. 1 And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” 2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” 4 Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” 5 And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ ” 6 Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” 7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. 9 Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” 10 And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks.

Faithful Christians can resist some religious persecution by respectfully but boldly clarifying what is at stake. (22:30-23:10)

The tribune is the one who initiates the meeting of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish religious ruling council), because he still wants to know the real reason for this uproar against Paul, and he rightly suspects that it involves a disagreement within their own religious belief and practice.

When Paul addresses the council, he begins by claiming integrity (a clear conscience) with regards to the Jewish law as far back as he can remember. In that sense he has had a good conscience before God, that he has always sought to uphold God’s law (which he is being accused of casting aside and maligning). Scholar F.F. Bruce explains, “Paul might well appeal to the testimony of conscience as he stood before the supreme court of Israel; it was on no righteousness of his own, however, that he relied for justification in the heavenly court (Phil. 3:9).” -F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 424. - “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith”

Ananias, the current high priest, doesn’t like Paul’s proclamation of a clear conscience before God and commands that Paul receive a striking blow to the mouth. Paul reacts strongly to the illegality of being struck without any proof that what he has said is untrue. Jesus had said something to this effect (in John 18) when struck by an officer who didn’t like his question to the former high priest, Annas. (Jn 18:22b-23 “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”)

Paul has strong words for the one who commanded this unjustified blow. “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall.” ‘You’re supposed to be judging me by the law, not striking me contrary to the law.’ Referring to him as a whitewashed wall is to suggest a wall that looks good only because it has been painted white but is hiding the fact that it is weak and ready to crumble (an OT reference in Ezekiel 13:10-11).

It also suggests hypocrisy, as the subsequent statement indicates in terms of one who is supposed to uphold the law but is currently doing something illegal. Jesus pointed out hypocrisy with a similar metaphor, that of a whitewashed tomb: Mt 23:27

Matthew 23:27 ESV

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.

Nonetheless, Paul finds out that he has directed this bold indictment at the high priest, and he apologizes to prove that he is respectful and submissive to the Mosaic law: Ex 22:28

Exodus 22:28 ESV

28 “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.

It’s not super critical to the overall thrust of the passage, but we are left wondering how Paul didn’t recognize the high priest. I do not prefer the view that Paul is being sarcastic because Ananias is not behaving like the high priest (although that is a possible way to read this).

It seems most reasonable to take Paul’s bold indictment at face value, and his sincere correction (apology) the same way. For some reason Paul doesn’t recognize Ananias, possibly because he isn’t in his formal robes in this impromptu gathering of the Sanhedrin. And Paul has been away from Jerusalem for quite some time (and Ananias was high priest, then he wasn’t, and then he was again). Maybe even more likely is that Paul wasn’t aware of who specifically had given the signal or order to strike him.

Now as Paul gets past getting punched in the face for acknowledging his clear conscience (his integrity) before God with regards to the law, he turns his attention to the primary reason he is the target of this religious persecution. Paul recognizes there are both Sadducees and Pharisees among the group. He knows his audience and what they believe, and what the points of connection are and what the differences are from what he now believers because of Christ.

While the Pharisees believed and taught the future resurrection of the just and the unjust, the Sadducees promoted that there was no life after this one (and thus no resurrection, either to punishment or to living with God eternally). Although many of the Sadducees would have believed in the theoretical existence of angels, of spirit beings, they did not believe in their active involvement on God’s behalf in our present existence. The Pharisees of course believed in the active involvement of angels, good and evil, and absolutely in the hope of the resurrection. This makes the Pharisees much closer to what Christians believe is biblically faithful.

Knowing his audience, it’s probable that Paul is appealing to the Pharisees for some help here. They end up siding with him, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” Now it is possible, as some suggest (though we can’t prove it definitively), that Paul knows or suspects that referencing the resurrection will create some dissension and confusion between the factions. I personally prefer that Paul is striving to bring clarity to what is at stake (not deliberately sowing discord), such that he boldly professes that ultimately what he’s being tried for is believing a central tenet of the Jewish faith.

Even if stirring the pot of disagreement between the two groups wasn’t a deliberate ploy on Paul’s part to get them at each other’s throats, it is what happens. The contentious rancor eventually gets so bad as to be violent, so the tribune has soldiers remove Paul from their midst by force.

(Paul’s situation leads me to try to draw connections and application to our own situations.) If we are truly mistreated for our faith in Christ, then the gospel itself will be at the heart of our defense. (sometimes the cross and the resurrection, sometimes the character and will of God, and the belittling of sin and its consequences)

In our present lives, this religious opposition is coming through the swiftly rising tide of the culture around us. Here are examples: taking a stance against abortion - killing babies in the womb treated as mere individual choice for pregnant women as a matter of inconvenience to our lives; LGBTQ+ - taking a stand against the trans agenda harming young people already experiencing growing pains and doubts; you might even add to this guarding against governmental overreach and needing to protect our religious liberty to say what we believe and to meet together as God’s people.

But in all these situations, such opposition serves to renew our focus on Jesus and reenforce our dependence on God. Religious opposition renews our focus on Jesus and increases our dependence on God.

Just so in our final verse for this morning, where the Lord graciously appears to Paul in a vision to reassure him of his care and plan.

Acts 23:11 ESV

11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

Especially when faced with uncertainty caused by the threat of injustice and by religious opposition, 

Take courage that God directs according to his plan. (23:11)

While Paul is again in the barracks for his own safety against the attacks of his fellow countrymen, the Lord himself comforts Paul and commands him to take courage. He reassures Paul that he has a plan for him to continue bearing witness in Rome even as he has done in Jerusalem.

It’s interesting that Jesus is giving Paul confidence and courage not by promising to remove him from the hardship and confinement (Paul remains under arrest), but instead by reassuring him of his presence and power in the midst of it to enable him to continue in faithful proclamation.

Jesus promised his disciples that he would be with us and in us, by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:17). When facing injustice and opposition, even persecution, take courage that God directs according to his plan.

Some Trust in Chariots and Horses (Psalm 20:7) but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

If treated unjustly, we trust in God. If wrongfully accused, we trust in God. If persecuted for our faith, we trust in God. But even as we trust in God, we are diligent to do our part in resisting injustice and boldly drawing attention to the gospel, to what is at stake.

What do we learn for the Christian life from the pattern of Paul’s example here in resisting injustice and religious persecution?

With integrity and respect, Christians can resist injustice and religious persecution with legal recourse and bold clarity, trusting ultimately in a good Lord who is directing according to his plan.





Possible Application/Discussion:

  • Where do we see Paul’s integrity and respect in these verses? (You can also refer to other recent texts.)
  • Why is integrity (clear conscience) so important in relationship to unjust treatment and persecution? (for help, consider 1 Pet 2:19-21 & 1 Pet 3:14-16)
  • In what ways can you think of applying Paul’s example of potential responses (to the threat of injustice and religious persecution) to our own time and situations?
  • In your life, how do you need to grow in trusting God while being diligent with what he has given?
  • Re: Trusting God - Read Psalm 20, and go through each verse, explaining and applying it from a NT perspective.

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