My grandma was 101 years old when she died. That’s her, Thelma Burrow, between my mom and dad (my sister, brother, and me standing)…at her 100th birthday party. Wow, did she have spunk. All the grandkids and great-grandkids called her, “Mom-Mom” because she thought “Grandma” made her sound old. Mom-Mom drove her own car until she was 96 and lived alone until she was 99. When her dementia deteriorated to the danger level, my mom and two aunts made the difficult decision to place her in an assisted living facility. Mom-Mom agreed to the arrangement—and took charge of her new surroundings. The nurses learned quickly that she needed to be busy, so they gave her a task—folding towels. One day, Mom-Mom declared she would lead daily towel-folding lessons in the activity room. When a surprised nurse asked why, Mom-Mom explained that the staff must need lessons since they always asked her to fold towels!
My grandmother was born to be in charge, but was she really in charge? Or did they let her think she was in charge? Were my mom and aunts in charge? The head nurse or nurse’s aides? What about the health department? How do we determine who’s ultimately in charge? Watch and learn as Paul seems to take charge of those in charge…
Acts 22:30 – “The next day, since the commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.” (emphasis added)
The commander released Paul and ordered the Jewish leaders to assemble. The commander is obviously calling the shots, but notice how politely he treated Paul—using kid gloves today because yesterday he chained, arrested, and nearly flogged Paul. Political control in first century Palestine was a waltz in which the leader changed with the tempo of events. The Romans dictated order but allowed the Jews a measure of control. The commander allowed Paul to walk freely—to the Sanhedrin. The commander made a pretense of giving over control but never truly relinquished it. Control is a murky business and can be clutched from either direction—by the giver or receiver. Does your boss micro-manage all your projects? Do you still seek your parents’ approval—even though you’re forty years old? Are you a pastor whose congregation questions every decision? Or a pastor who can’t let anyone do anything without your approval? See? Murky control issues abound, and it’s only through the Spirit’s leading that we can enjoy healthy relationships.
Acts 23:1-5 – “Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, ‘My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.’ At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. 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!’ Those who were standing near Paul said, ‘You dare to insult God’s high priest?’ 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.”’” (emphasis added)
Paul’s confident and direct address was accompanied by his humble greeting: “My brothers…” But when the high priest (who Paul didn’t recognize) threatened him, Paul left no doubt that he was under God’s ultimate protection. Yet his respect for God’s Law over-rode any personal pride or self-righteousness, and he repented immediately when shown his wrong-doing. The most important lesson learned is that Paul never seemed out of the Spirit’s control—either in his confidence or his anger.
Acts 23:6-10 – “Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, ‘My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.’ When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.) 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?’ 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.” (emphasis added)
Paul remained in charge though he removed himself from the argument with one well-thought-out statement. Some might consider Paul’s tactic manipulative, but I believe it was wisdom from Above to speak so little and allow men’s own words to reveal their hearts. The Pharisees and Sadducees polarized into opposing sides, and the Roman commander protected Paul. Even if Paul had been a great king, and these men lowly subjects of his kingdom, regal authority would not have produced the truth as quickly as his carefully chosen words. The ability to draw people into conversation is extremely powerful and vastly undervalued.
Acts 23:11 – “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’” (emphasis added)
Just in case Paul was wondering who was in charge…Jesus showed up. Was Paul getting impatient? Jesus showed up “the following night.” Was Paul feeling alone in the fight? Jesus stood near him. Was Paul afraid? Jesus infused him with courage. Was Paul second-guessing what he said? How he said it? Jesus affirmed his testimony to be repeated in Rome. Paul spoke humbly and confidently not because HE was in control, but because he served the One who was.
- Lord, give me courage in the day of testing to stand strong and confident, humbly speaking the truth. Whether I receive favor or cursing from those around me, remind me that You are ultimately in control of all my life circumstances and have promised only good for me. When I’m impatient, please be near. When I’m afraid, fill me with Your courage. And when I question my ability, my words, my efforts—show me Your utter control—regardless of my weaknesses.