“Word for Today” – Acts 23 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

October 21, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

Mexico Border 1“Anyone can get in to Mexico, but it’s much tougher to get back out,” said my buddy the first time he took me on a trip across the border.  I immediately thought to myself, “Great!  What have I gotten myself in to?”  But he was right.  Getting into Mexico was a snap.  All we had to do was pay a nominal crossing fee, pick up a couple of visas for our travels, and we were in.  No fuss.  No muss.  Getting out, however, was a different story.  For starters, the line of vehicles in to Mexico was a five minute line.  The line of vehicles out of Mexico was an hour.  When we finally arrived at the border crossing, our vehicle was instantaneously flanked by border crossing agents and their drug-sniffing dogs.  A man wearing sunglasses peered into our truck.  “US citizens?” he asked in a serious tone.  “Yes, sir,” we responded in unison.  After examining our driver’s licenses, birth certificates, and running a check on our vehicle’s license plates, we finally made it through.  But we were both shaking a bit.  After all, getting out of Mexico can be an intimidating experience.  For there is always this fear, latently looming in the back of your mind, that you won’t be able to get out of Mexico.  Thankfully, our appropriately documented US citizenship got us out when we wanted to get out.

In our reading for today from Acts 23, Paul encounters a couple of situations from which he needs to get out.  In the first, Paul is standing before the Sanhedrin, the religious ruling body of that day, accused of soiling the purity of the Jewish temple in his dealings with unclean Gentiles (cf. Acts 21:29, 22:21).  In a masterful rhetorical move, 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” (verse 6).  With this statement, Paul pits the Pharisees and the Sadducees against each other, for the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead while the Sadducees did not.  The Jewish historian Josephus explains:

The Pharisees…believe that souls have an immortal rigor in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments, according as they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life; and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to revive and live again…But the doctrine of the Sadducees is this: That souls die with the bodies. (Josephus, Antiquities, 2.14-16)

Thus, “a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees…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” (verses 7, 9).  Of course they didn’t.  Paul was one of them.  Thus, Paul’s status as a Pharisee gets him out of what would have been a certain condemnation.

The next morning, however, Paul encounters yet another situation from which he needs to get out.  Apparently, an angry mob of Jews, infuriated at Paul’s ability to escape their former lynching attempts (cf. Acts 21:30-34, 22:22-24), hatch a plot to ambush him (cf. verse 20-21).  Mercifully, some Roman soldiers, learning of the plot, smuggle Paul out of Jerusalem before the mob can execute their nefarious plan.  Why is he treated so kindly by these Roman soldiers?  Because “he is a Roman citizen” (verse 27).  The Roman orator Cicero said this about the benefits of a Roman citizenship:  “To bind a Roman is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to slay him is almost an act of murder” (Against Verres 2.5.66).  It is no surprise, therefore, that Paul’s status as a Roman citizen prompts a contingent of Roman soldiers to get him out of what would have surely been his untimely demise.

As helpful as my status as a US citizen might have been to get me out of Mexico, or as helpful as Paul’s status as a Pharisee or a Roman citizen might have been to get him out of  his precarious positions, there is a status – a citizenship, in fact – that is more precious than any of these.  Paul writes of this status, this citizenship:  “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).  Paul says that we, as believers in Christ, have a citizenship in heaven.  And this citizenship gets us out of the transcendental terrors of sin, death, and the devil and gets us in to the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day.  And this status – our status as citizens of heaven – is more precious than any earthly status and citizenship.  Give thanks to God for your status and citizenship in Christ today.

Entry filed under: Word for Today.

“Word for Today” – Acts 22 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com Word for Today” – Acts 24 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

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