Nasty Politics is Nothing New (Acts 22:30—23:10)

There is a lot to be disappointed about in terms of government effectiveness these days. They really are frozen by their varied factions and inability to get much accomplished relative to big agenda items. The middle ground is rather small. Not surprisingly, I have a lot of opinions on all of this, though I won’t talk about them no matter what you write or say to me. Heaven looks pretty good right now.

But here’s the point as to why I even dare to bring up politics. We seem to believe these days that the divide with political rancor and factions is something rare and unprecedented. Not really. Much of our history has witnessed such discord, and not just around the Civil War – though that would be a prime example. Horrible things were written and said about opposing viewpoints and figures who promoted differing theories on proper governance in the early days of the country. Such stuff is as old as Cain and Abel.

And a deep party divide existed within Judaism in the time of Christ and the early church. The Pharisees were the more legalistic element with scads of rules from oral tradition, while the Sadducees were more politically accommodating to the Romans. They were more aristocratic and elite, deemed by the Pharisees as the worst sort of sinners – not believing in angels or the resurrection for example (which made them sad, you see?).  Not surprisingly, being joint members of the ruling body of the Sanhedrin, they fought and argued incessantly with each other. It didn’t take much to get them battling each other, and Paul knew that …

Acts 22:30 – The commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews. So the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the members of the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.

Acts 23:1 – 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. 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!”

4 Those who were standing near Paul said, “How dare you insult God’s high priest!”

5 Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’[Exodus 22:28]”

So why didn’t Paul know that this was the high priest?  Some have speculated that it was due to poor eyesight. This could be, though more likely it was because Paul did not personally know the appearance of Ananias, having been away from Jerusalem for quite some time. We can’t help but recall that it was another “Ananias” that gave Paul his eyesight back at the time of his conversion.

Ananias (high priest from A.D. 49-57) had a sketchy reputation according to the Jewish historian Josephus, who said of him that he was a typical Sadducee: wealthy, haughty, unscrupulous, filling his sacred office for purely selfish and political ends. Even so, Paul believed the office deserved respect, if not the person occupying it.

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.

Here is another passage for my forthcoming book entitled The 100 Most Humorous Passages in the Bible. Paul knew that at this juncture he was safer in the hands of the Romans than in the hands of the Jews. Beyond that, Paul knew that he was ultimately safest in the hands of God, and in this he could be confident that whatever befell him, he ultimately had nothing to worry about. God would bring opportunity for him to serve in any sort of circumstance (as we’ll see him doing later even in chains), and if he perished in the process … well … that was better yet. Paul wrote that to live was to serve Christ, and to die was actually gain – even better yet!

That is the sort of Christian we need to be as we run the Life Race.  As I write these words, the stock market is crashing, the USA version of the Sadducees and Pharisees are slinging insults at each other, and a bombastic shrub of a human in North Korea is threatening to blow us all away. Oh well. To live is Christ, to die is gain. I’m going out for a bike ride. See you at The Finish Line, if not before.