Our church reading plan has us in Acts for the next couple of weeks. Some parts of the Bible can be a little more difficult to grasp than others so here is a simple overview of the passages with some interpretive pointers.
Acts 23 - Paul leaves Jerusalem
This week's readings pick up on the intense political conflict surrounding Paul's ministry and his belief that the Gospel was for all and that God's family was expanding beyond the nation of the Jews. At the end of Chapter 22 Paul's Roman citizenship has him spared the scourging of the Roman court in Jerusalem and provides him new opportunities to preach the Gospel.
Paul is brought before the Sanhedrin council, the very same one who had Jesus killed and had persecuted the Apostles in their ministry (Acts 4:5-22, 5:21-40 and 6:12-7:60). He contends that he has lived in good consicence, which is to say that he finds no incongruity between his Pharasic beliefs of his upbrining and his faith in Jesus. He is struck for this supposed blasphemy. However he defends himself by explaining that as a Christian he believes in the ressurection of the dead, in angels, and in spirits. Another riot breaks out and this is the last public appearance of Paul in Jerusalem.
The plot to murder Paul results in his being spared due to the political weight surrounding the Jesus movement and his status as a Roman citizen. He is sent to Felix the govenor to explain himself and his preaching. It is curious that a similar plot of the Jewish leaders resulted in Christ's death (Luke 22) yet this is not where Paul is supposed to die. His mission is to the Gentiles and so circumstance and divine providence conflate to lead Paul eventually to Rome.
Acts 23:23-Acts 26 Paul in Caesarea
Paul is under house arrest for the duration of his stay and so all of his ministry is from prison through letters, visits and occasional public hearings. Despite the circustances he finds himself, he continues preaching the same message to all who would hear and indeed finds himself having access to new people and spheres of influcence. He has the opportunity to minister to Felix the govenor who seems eager to use Paul to extract bribes and gain political points with the Jewish authorities. After Felix comes Festus who again seeks to use Paul to win approval with various political parties.
Paul, much like Jesus, comes to find himself a pawn for political manuvering and otherwise stripped of power. In this week's reading it is most notable how Paul responds to his situation with the single-minded concern of proclaiming the Gospel to the Gentiles. Since the center of the Gentile world is Rome he uses what little power he has as a Roman citizen to request an audience with the Emperor. This singlemindedness is a witness to Jesus since he too set his face toward an end goal–Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). The foolishness of the Gospel is that God's plan frequently looks like weakness in the eyes of the world, yet turns out to be for his glory and the saving of souls.