Pastoring from Prison: #8
The Lord, Christ, did not return to Zion. And Paul did revise his view on “The Second Coming.” However, Paul first had to learn how to pastor his flocks from his lengthy prison term. God’s Spirit cannot be imprisoned, neither can God’s Words and God’s Message. Paul accomplished more in prison than he did as a traveling evangelist. The enemies of the Gospel could incarcerate Paul, the apostle and the pastor of the church, but the enemies could not stop his writings. Paul’s literary work became the source that sustained the Christians for centuries. The pen became even mightier than the Apostle’s presence.
The Jewish Christian brethren did welcome Paul and his companions, and they too anticipated some unexpected event. However, they feared that Paul, with his Gentile Company, would disrupt the event. They insisted that Paul renew his vow and that he also be purified from his Gentile associations so that he could present an offering in the temple. He agreed to do it, but that was not what the Lord Christ had planned for him. Paul had yet to witness before kings and higher authorities. Contrary to representing himself to the Corinthians as fearful and timid, lacking in “lofty words of wisdom,” Paul was trained by the best and by the wisest teachers in his day. And Paul used that skill and the training to determine his own destiny while in Roman captivity (I Corinthians 2:1-5; Acts 9:15-16). Luke was present and gave posterity this account:
When we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James; and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed; they are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you but that you yourselves live in observance of the law. But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity.” Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself with them and went into the temple, to give notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for every one of them (Acts 21:17-26).
Paul became the event. When he returned to Jerusalem this time, his face and his name had become a household concern among the Jews everywhere. On top of it, Paul also was a Roman citizen; therefore, he was under the protection of Caesar. He precisely was the kind of apostle Jesus wanted His messengers to be. After Judas had defaulted, Paul had become the twelfth disciple. Jesus said to them:
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles (Matthew 10:16-18).
Praised be God who had prepared the Romans, at the proper time, to protect Paul so he could write down what the Christians needed to survive and to grow. Paul knew how o incited the wolves against each other, and he could get away.
When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up all the crowd, and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching men everywhere against the people and the law and this place; moreover he also brought Greeks into the temple, and he has defiled this holy place.” For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. Then all the city was aroused, and the people ran together; they seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. And as they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. He at once took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them; and when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the tribune came up and arrested him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing, some another; and as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd; for the mob of the people followed, crying, “Away with him!”
As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” Paul replied, I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; I beg you, let me speak to the people.” And when he had given him leave, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people; and there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language saying: “Brethren and fathers, hear the defense which I now make before you.” And when they heard that he addressed them in the Hebrew language, they were the more quiet. And he said:
“I am a Jew, born at Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as you all are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brethren, and I journeyed to Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.
As I made my journey and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ And when I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And in that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Just One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get quickly out of Jerusalem, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believed in thee. And when the blood of Stephen they witness was shed, I also was standing by and approving, and keeping the garments of those who killed him.’ And he said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles (Acts 21:27-22:21).
It was and it still is interesting how Paul handled his own destiny. He incited madness in his listeners, which made the Romans arrest him. And then, Paul let them abuse him so that he had them in his control; therefore, they had to keep him alive. Paul ended up preaching and writing the Gospel at Roman expense for at least four to five years. That, indeed, portrays a man who was highly prepared to get things done for God in the world.
Up to word (Gentiles) they listened to Paul; then they lifted up their voices and shouted, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he ought not to live.” And as they cried out and waved their garments and threw dust into the air, the tribune commanded him to be brought into the barracks, and ordered him to be examined by scourging, to find out why they shouted thus against him, But when they had tied him up with the thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman citizen, and uncondemned?” When the centurion heard that, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum: Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.” So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him instantly; and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him (Acts 22:22-29).
The Roman tribune needed a reason why this Jew, who was protected by Caesar, incited so much hatred among his own Jews? To please the Jewish leaders, the Roman tribune did bring Paul to their meeting and he watched Paul demoralized the council members.
But on the morrow, desiring to know the real reason why the Jews accused him, he unbound him, and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them.
And Paul, looking intently at the council, said, “Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience up to this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God shall 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? Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”
But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead I am on trial.” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. Then a great clamor arose; and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn in pieces by them commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them and bring him into the barracks (Acts 22:30-23:10).
Paul, himself, credited the Lord for directing his life for the purpose for which he was called. The Lord, however, used a number of influential people to keep the apostle active and alive. The fact that the highest Jewish leaders wanted Paul removed from this world did make the Roman authorities more than curious. Not all Greeks laughed at his resurrection idea, because Paul left a trail of followers. Paul also knew when to be diplomatic in rendering tribute to the governing authorities. For instance, what government would not protect a spokesman who wrote:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13:1-7).
God did choose people to assist Paul and gave him sufficient freedom to carry on his work as a prisoner. The prediction of Paul’s teacher, Gamaliel came through, “So in the present case, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God” (Acts. 5:38-39)!
The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified about me at Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also at Rome.”
When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. And they went to the chief priests and elders, and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul. You, therefore, along with the council, give notice now to the tribune to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case more exactly. And we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”
Now the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush; so he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. And Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Bring this young man to the tribune; for he has something to tell him.” So he took him and brought him to the tribune and said, “Paul the prisoner called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, as he has something to say to you.” The tribune took him by the hand, and going aside asked him privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?” And the said, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire somewhat more closely about him. But do not yield to them; for more than forty of their men lie in ambush for him, having bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they have killed him; and now they are ready, waiting for the promise from you.” So the tribune dismissed the young man, charging him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of this.”
Then he called two of the centurions and said, “At the third hour of the night get ready two hundred soldiers with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea. Also provide mounts for Paul to ride, and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” And he wrote a letter to this effect: “Claudius Lysias to his Excellency the governor Felix, greeting. This man was seized by the Jews, and was about to be killed by them, when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen. And desiring to know the charge on which they accused him, I brought him down to their council. I found that he was accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. And when it was disclosed to me that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.”
So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. And on the morrow they returned to the barracks, leaving the horsemen to go on with him. When they came to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor they presented Paul also before him. On reading the letter, he asked to what province he belonged. When he learned that he was from Cilicia he said, “I will hear you when your accusers arrive.” And he commanded him to be guarded in Herod’s praetorium (Acts 23:11-35).
Under the leadership of the Jews most powerful man, Paul’s accusers assembled within five days the best prosecutors available, and they would have succeeded in condemning and sentencing Paul. However, Paul, who anticipated betrayal, and who was familiar with the Roman law, which allowed prominent citizens to have their cases decided by Caesar, outmaneuvered his opponents by appealing to emperor. The governor had no option, but to prepare Paul’s case and sent him to Rome. Had Paul not appealed to Caesar, the governor would have to set him free, because he had not committed a capital offense. In waiting lay, forty men who had pledged to kill him. His crime was: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). Paul began to draw people, friends and enemies, like a magnet.
And after five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and a spokesman, one Tertullus. They laid before the governor their case against Paul; and when he was called, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying:
“Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your provision, most excellent Felix, reforms are introduced on behalf of this nation, in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. But, to detain you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly. For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn from him about everything of which we accuse him.”
The Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all this was so (Acts 24:1-9).