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A Sheep Among the Wolves.


A Sheep Among Wolves

Text: Acts 23:1-10

This passage is of great importance to us.  Paul is a Christian, in the midst of a pack of vicious wolves, who would literally tear him apart, given the chance.  So in this study we will see what Jesus taught his disciples about situations like that, then we’ll see Paul putting that teaching into practice, and finally, we will draw some important lessons for ourselves from what we have learned.

1 The Conflict Depicted by JesusMatthew 10:16 

In Matthew 10, Jesus had been sending his twelve disciples out into a hostile world, to witness and work for him, to preach and declare the good news.  He warned them, that this activity would not be welcomed. He likens the Christian and the world as opposing personalities from the animal kingdom, – so that no-one will be in any doubt.  

  • Sheep and Wolves.  Jesus firstly describes the difference between believers and the world.  They are like easy prey for ravenous wild animals.  This is surely so, for the sheep is helpless before the wolf, and must depend solely upon the work of the shepherd to protect the flock.  And he will!  
  • Serpents and Doves.  Now Jesus uses another illustration. We should be as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove.  Jesus is telling us that we should be equal to Satan’s minions in our grasp of what’s going on.  Christians should be harmless, meek, humble – but nowhere in the scriptures are we taught that Christians should be naive or stupid, or just sit back and be walked over!  But we must be as harmless as doves – [Amp – have no self-serving agenda]. 

Did this dire warning put the disciples off?  NO, not at all! Christianity is not for softies.  We will be hated by the world, are we up to the challenge?  John 15:18 

2 The Conflict OccursText. Acts 23:1-10

Now Paul is as vulnerable as a sheep, in the face of a flock of wolves.  Read how Jesus followed up that saying about wolves, sheep, serpents and doves, in Matthew 10:17-18  Now’s the time, to follow the advice of Jesus, and be as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove.  

  • Paul demands equal respect.  And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day. It’s a bold opening gambit, for Paul addresses the elders as his equals!  ‘Brethren!’ – a term only used to speak to a person of equal rank.  The normal mode of address, when someone was brought before the assembly would be, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel!” What would be the reaction?
  • A cruel blow and Paul’s reaction.  V In the ‘dock’ Paul would have had ‘prison officers’ on either side of him and the High Priest commanded them to hit Paul on the mouth, whether by hand or with a rod, to punish him for his impudent words.  But to strike an Israelite on the face was forbidden under the law. Now note that Paul didn’t physically retaliate; after, all, we are to be as harmless as doves. Cf Matthew 5:38-40  But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t defend himself!  Can you feel the passion in his words, in V3 as he recovers from the cruel blow.  He calls Ananias a ‘whitened wall’ – a tomb!  The Jews generally avoided tombs, for dead bodies were regarded as unclean, especially to those who were under the obligations of a vow, so they painted them white, to warn people to stay away! Cf Matthew 23:27  This High Priest is certainly a hypocrite, with all the outward appearance of religion, yet inwardly dead and unclean.  
  • Paul’s Sarcasm. Who would dare to speak to the High Priest like that? The wardens pose a question to Paul in v4.  Look at Paul’s reply in V5.  “Oh, I didn’t know he was the High Priest!” How could he not know? He’s bound to know who Ananias is.  This reply is dripping in sarcasm!  Ananias was a poor example of a human being, let alone a high priest!  He was a robber, he was a thief, he was a glutton, he was a traitor, a Roman quisling.  “I didn’t know HE was the High Priest…”  Condemnation by cynicism!  
  • Paul’s Divide and Conquer Tactic. Paul’s final tactic is to turn the council upon itself. V6-9 The Sanhedrin is comprised of these two diverse groups, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, who believed only in the Torah, the written Law, and who didn’t believe in angels or spirits.  But the most important difference between them, was that the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, and the Pharisees didn’t.  Paul claimed that he was only there because he believed and taught that a man had risen from the dead!  It was true, – that is exactly what he had been teaching.  Paul continually spoke of and taught that we have a risen Saviour. Cf 1 Corinthians 15:16-19.   The Pharisees suddenly found themselves in sympathy with Paul and in opposition to the Sadducees. After all, what if an angel had given him this revelation?  The riot now spilled into the very council itself!   

So Paul’s tactic in front of the ravenous, attacking wolves of the Sanhedrin, is to be as wise as a serpent, and as harmless as a dove.  The result is that he is removed from their council, and brought to a place of relevant safety.  V10 

3 The Conflict Continues

Now, we have seen the words of Jesus, instructing his disciples, and we have seen how Paul put that teaching into practice.  What can we learn from this?

  1. The obvious.  That we too are vulnerable to open to a concerted, determined attack from this hostile world. Wolves are vicious, and their attacks are deliberate, and they have only one aim, to kill and devour.
  2. The promise.  There is a wonderful promise given in times of persecution, given to us by our Saviour himself. Matthew 10:19    I wonder, on that day, when Paul stood and spoke before the Sanhedrin, did he realise that God the Holy Spirit was directing his thoughts and forming his words, giving him guidance on what to say!
  3. The Wisdom. Sometimes, the wisest thing a serpent does, when attacked is to scurry away behind a stone. Maybe sometimes, as believers one of the hardest things is knowing when to stand up like Paul and boldly confront the wolves, and when to take evasive action, and walk away!  
  4. The Presence of Jesus.  Perhaps the greatest lesson of all, is that whatever conflict we find ourselves in, whenever we are serving God faithfully and the wolves are circling around us, we can be sure that the Lord is with us.  It is the promise of Jesus to all of us in the Great Commission.  Matthew 28:20 …lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world

Certainly Paul experienced the presence of his Lord, as he stood in danger that day.  In Acts 23:11, we read, “And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul.”  We shall look at that in the next study.

© Bob McEvoy September 2021

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