Reading Luke and Acts in 2020
Week 47 | Acts 23
Acts 23 Reflections and Questions
By Rev. Dr. Julie Boone
Political intrigue surely isn’t a modern concept; it is etched in the fabric of ancient history, biblical history. Somehow the Apostle Paul has gotten himself right in the middle of it. Probably because he does not know how to be quiet, Paul speaks his mind and gets himself arrested. He speaks out again and has to defend himself before a crowd. Paul has difficulty keeping quiet because what he knows can’t be kept to himself. He must share it. He boldly talks about his encounter with Jesus, risking ridicule, rejection, and death. He reminds the authorities of his Roman citizenship, lest they decide to mistreat him. He is taken before the Sanhedrin and refuses to back down about his experience of Jesus and the promise of resurrection. It’s any wonder that his enemies want him dead and secretly conspire to kill him. Before his enemies can slit his throat (purely conjecture, assuming this is how he would be killed, but stoning might have been an option too), Paul sends an informant to the commander of the guard. He tells him of the planned assassination on Paul’s life, by ambush. Paul is whisked away to safety by a fully armed body entourage in high dramatic fashion, literally under the cover of darkness. He finds himself at the scenic Mediterranean resort of Cesarea Maritima, a stronghold of the Roman government, standing before the governor to explain himself. Intrigue indeed.
Not surprising, the church is not immune to this intrigue. Just read up on the ancient church councils. They would rival some of the best books on mystery and espionage today. Murder plots, secret meetings, preventing bishops from voting by running them off the road, or giving them the wrong location or incorrect days to join the secret conclave. They were voting on lighthearted matters having to do with the nature of Christ, you know like, “of one substance with the Father, begotten not made” that sort of stuff. We would like to think that this flavor of political intrigue does not happen in the church today or in the world, but then we would be ignoring history. It does seem though, that we are now in the middle of political intrigue, mainly since we are in the aftermath of a presidential election. Votes are still being counted and questioned. Suspicion abounds, fingers being pointed, secret meetings taking place, threats of bringing in the courts. Such intrigue sounds like the making of the next big Netflix original movie.
As Paul finds himself in this web of intrigue with the Sanhedrin and the Roman authorities, something occurs, that is easy to overlook. In verse 11 when in the middle of the drama, the Lord comes to Paul at night standing near him and says, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” Take courage! Sounds reminiscent of the Old Testament and the earlier words that Jesus speaks to his disciples, “Take courage, do not be afraid!” These are not just mere words to Paul. They are words of action. Words that require him to be bold and stand firm in his convictions. Words that say that no matter what devilish things are happening around you, the Lord God is with you!
Though we may not have had such a direct encounter with Jesus, his Word stands true for us today. Take courage, do not be afraid! As you reflect on this 23rd Chapter of Acts, consider these questions:
Rev. Dr. Julie Boone is chair of the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry and pastor of Marietta First UMC.
- When have you found yourself being questioned about your testimony when others may have doubted what you have said? Did you feel compelled to back down, or did you continue to speak up and out, knowing that you were putting your name and reputation at risk?
- Paul is assured that the Lord is with him, which allows him to be so bold. When have you felt or experienced such assurance? Have you too been bold for Christ?
- As for political intrigue, what side of the drama have you found yourself on? The group with the secrets which are conspiring? The one who is being interrogated? The one who must pass judgment? How did your place in the intrigue impact others and yourself?
- What does it mean to take courage? What does it mean to not be afraid? How can your witness amid political intrigue be a force for good?