Acts – Paul the Apostle – Wayne Barber/Part 18
By: Dr. Wayne Barber
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©1992|
|Let’s look at Acts 22 just to see what God has to say to us. We left Paul in a pretty precarious position last time. He has been arrested. The people in the Temple have turned against him, and now the Roman centurion and his soldiers have taken him to the barracks where they are going to question him.|
Ephesians 1:1; Acts 22:21-23:4
Paul: The Messenger – Part 6
Let’s look at Acts 22 just to see what God has to say to us. We left Paul in a pretty precarious position last time. He has been arrested. The people in the Temple have turned against him, and now the Roman centurion and his soldiers have taken him to the barracks where they are going to question him.
Let’s read 22:21-23.3 to see what’s going on. I want to try to explain something to you so we can hopefully understand very clearly the difference between true religion and false religion. I want to make sure we have a clear understanding of that. The Greek word is threskeia. It’s the word that’s used in James. It’s a word that’s used in Colossians, and in Acts it’s used three times. It’s the word that refers to religion. In other words, it means “that which we do on the outside, the external deeds that are done by an individual.” Now, it can fall into two categories. Those external deeds can fall into a bad category that God is not pleased with, or they can fall into a good category that God definitely is pleased with. So if you find a religious person, he can be right with God, or he can be not right with God. Let’s make sure we see that.
On the bad side, Paul uses it in Acts 26:5 to explain about his life before he met Christ. Remember he had rejected Christianity, rejected Christ, and as far as we know, he was a persecutor of believers. He stood there when Stephen was stoned to death. He refers to that. He is giving his testimony before Agrippa. Look what he says in verse 5: “since they have known [speaking of the Jews there in Jerusalem] about me for a long time previously, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.” There’s your word.
Now, if you know anything about the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the time that Paul speaks of in his writing is when he obeyed God, or he did certain things, in order to one of two things. He either wanted to gain favor with God or escape the wrath of God. The mentality of the Jewish people who had rejected Christ was they were slaves to a law that they could not really even live up to. It was a condemning type of religion. The Pharisees were the policemen of the scribes. The scribes would write up the behavioral modes that were expected of the people, and the Pharisees would go out and make sure everybody was doing them. They were the ones who were the most religious.
Paul said, “There was a day I lived just like that.”In Philippians 3, speaking of that same time, Paul says, “I renounced all of that.” He says, “For years I climbed on a spiritual ladder. I thought by obeying every law, somehow it would make me more in favor with God. One day, however, something happened to me.” He says in 3:9, “I don’t want to ever be found again having a righteousness that comes from that Law. It does not produce righteousness. It simply convicts you of unrighteousness.” He says, “From now on I want to be found in Christ.” Something drastically changed in him. “What I used to do, I did for the wrong motive, and God was not pleased with it. What I do now is simply in obedience and surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
So religion can be bad. Just because we come to church, just because we do the right things, that’s not the key. Man looks on the outside and can be fooled. The key is: Why do we do what we do? Is it out of an intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ with a compassion for others with a cleansed heart? Or is it simply to gain favor with God or maybe to escape the wrath of God?
One Sunday morning a lady was sitting in our church after the service, and she was crying. I had preached on “Do not forsake yourselves from assembling yourselves together” from Hebrews. It’s a wonderful verse. I had said, “There are times when you are not supposed to be in church. That is the exception, however, not the rule. There are those times, though, when God is not impressed with you being in church.” I talked about the good Samaritan. The Priest and the Levite made it to church, but the Good Samaritan didn’t. At least he took care of the one who was in need. That’s all I was bringing out.
She was crying, and I thought, “Oh, I’ve messed up. I’ve said it wrong.” I walked over and asked her, “Are you alright?” She said, “I am so happy.” I said, “Well, you could have fooled me! Why are you alright?” She said, “For years I was taught that every time I went to church God put a mark in His little book in heaven, and if I ever missed a service that somehow one day it would cost me my eternal reward.” She said, “My husband divorced me. I have two small children. I work two jobs. I have to work as a waitress on Sunday afternoons, and I can’t even get back in time for Sunday night service. I have lived under this kind of condemnation for years.”
Oh, shame on somebody whoever told her those kind of things. There are people who live like that. There are people who get out of bed on Sunday morning because it’s Sunday morning and because somewhere they heard growing up, “You’d better go to church. If you don’t, you won’t get favor with God. If you don’t, you’ll have His wrath to fall upon you.” Just because you come or just because you do the right things doesn’t mean anything. Religion can be in a bad sense.
Paul also uses that word over in Colossians 2:18. I thought this was really interesting. He’s still using it in the bad sense. The first two reasons you do it, in a bad sense, is to either gain favor with God or escape the wrath of God. The third reason, in a bad sense, is in Colossians 2:18. Of course, the church of Colossae was riddled with all kinds of error. Paul was trying to bring them back to Christ in his life.
It says in verse 18, “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of angels.” The word for “worship” is not the normal word for “worship.” It’s this word threskeia. It’s the word that means the deeds that you do with the angels. He’s referring to a specific thing. They were having these encounters with angels. They were more spiritual than everybody else. “Have you had your encounter with an angel? Mine was 700 feet tall. How tall was yours?” This was going on in the church at Colossae. For a second there, that almost sounded like 20th century television.
It goes on and says, “taking his stand [Whose stand? The person defrauding you or taking advantage of you] on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.” Now these are people who have departed from Christ. They have departed from Jesus. They are doing certain external things.
I want to share something with you. This mystical, miracle theology that has come out in the 20th century is nothing more than that old sorry, condemning legalism. That’s all it is. The difference is, they are not doing these external things to gain favor with God. They are not doing these to escape His wrath. They are doing them to impress men with their own personal spirituality. The same thing was going on back then. It doesn’t matter a hill of beans to God if these things go on in your life, if they don’t come from the right motivation of the heart. Now that’s bad religion. That’s bad stuff. Those are the external things that sometimes fool us.
“Well, that man must really love God.” “Why’s that?” “Well, he went to church. Do you know how much he gave to the church?” Now listen, that old guy might not love anybody but himself, but he does these things for the wrong motivation. Man looks on the outside, but God looks on the heart.
The second type of religion can be good. Look in James 1:26. I love the way James starts this out. He says in verse 26, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious.” All of us would want to think of ourselves as religious. The key is, is it the good kind or the bad kind? He goes on and says, “and yet does not bridle his tongue.” In other words, he is not under God’s control, so therefore, he cannot be in control of even what he says. Oh, he comes to church. Oh, he gives, but he is not even in control of his own tongue. “but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.”
Verse 27 continues, “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Now, what in the world is he saying? Do you mean to tell me if I go visit orphans and go to visit a widow, that makes my religion pure? No, what he’s talking about—and you have to look at the whole context of it—is if a person is working out of a cleansed heart, then he is going to have a compassionate heart toward other people. It starts from within. It doesn’t just come from without. If I’m walking with God and my religion is pure, the deeds that I do outside are pure deeds. They are spawned out of a heart of compassion that the Holy Spirit of God has put within me. I begin to see the poor. I begin to see the needy, and I can’t overlook them anymore. All of a sudden, anything I have is no longer mine. I want to give it to someone else. That’s the whole key. You see, a lot of people get what they can and sit on it, and it’s there. When you have the compassion of God, that which comes out of you that ministers to others is out of a compassionate heart.
Now I know you are wondering, “What in the world does this have to do with Acts 22? What you are talking about?” Well, first of all, our church’s last missions conference was the greatest missions conference that we’ve ever had. I guess they just get better every year. Perhaps part of that is me changing in the midst of it all. I hope that’s true. I am just seeing more and more and more that you can’t look at Jesus without seeing the world behind Him. You cannot do it. Every year I have watched how God has done a work in my heart. Listen, folks, God is drawing us into an assignment to reach a lost world. Now, how in the world are we going to follow this up? What would be the biggest hindrance to that assignment which God has drawn our church into? I’ll tell you what. People who have bad religion.
I want to show you this in Acts 22. You know, scripture is like a gem. It has several sides to it. I am going to pull out one gem in this thing. It spoke to my heart even before our last missions conference. This was the message I couldn’t get on my computer that morning, so I changed my message and preached on “The Cesspool of Self.” I want to show you how people who externally do it right, but who have no heart relationship with God and no inner cleansing daily by the blood of Christ, become the very detriment to reaching a lost world for Christ. We’ve got a big assignment. This is no time for folks to come and play games with God. It’s time to get in and go. If you’re not going to do that, I want to show you the problem you are going to be, if you are not living a surrendered life, to the missions effort that God has put before us in the years to come.
First of all, in 22:21-23 of Acts, a person with bad religion, a person who is not led of the Spirit of Christ but does things right as far as other people are concerned, is a hindrance to God’s call to missions. They are a hindrance to God’s call to missions. Now, how do we get that? Well, in verses 1-20 of chapter 22 Paul has been sharing with them. Remember, he raised his hand and the whole place just hushed. It was a divine hush. God just hushed the whole crowd, and they listened to him even though they did not like what he was saying. The crowd is made up of unbelieving Jews and believing Jews. We saw that earlier. The whole city has turned out in wrath against Paul. He quiets them at the barracks. They have accused him of defiling the Temple, and he shares his testimony with them. He was just trying to tell them what was going on. Up through verse 20, they stood still and listened, even though they didn’t like it. He says something in verse 21 that turns them into an angry mob. He is speaking now of how God spoke to him in the Temple when he was praying. In verse 21 it says, “And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
When he got to that word “Gentiles,” and they thought about Gentiles, immediately they went crazy. Look at this. These are religious people. They loved God. It reminds me of some business meetings I have been in. Look at verse 22: “And they listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!’ And as they were crying out [the Greek here is very emphatic. I mean, this is an angry, yelling mob] and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air.” They took off their garments and were throwing dust on him, kicking dust on him, and just showing him how he was anathema to them. It’s a terrible, terrible scene.
Why would they do that? What was it in that statement that triggered them? Obviously, they didn’t like what he was saying up until that point, but this really kicked them into gear. You see, Israel never saw outside of themselves. This was the blindness of Israel. Only until you have come to Christ do you ever see outside of yourself anyway. They had rejected the Messiah. They had completely overlooked the Abrahamic covenant which had “missions” written all over it. God promised to Abraham a nation. He promised to Abraham a land or a people. He promised to Abraham a Seed. Galatians 3 says it’s through that seed, who is Jesus Christ, that all the nations on this earth should be blessed. They could not see outside of themselves.
If you ever want to know what your flesh is like, go back to Israel, because it is a picture of the vine of our flesh. When I am not walking surrendered to Christ, yielded to Him, then I want nothing except for me, me, me. I can’t see outside of myself. When I die to Wayne, and I’m sick of Wayne, then the Holy Spirit of God raises up an inner compassion for people on the outside so that what I do comes out of that burden for lost people. Israel had never looked outside themselves. Gentiles were dogs to be cast out, shot, or done away with. Isn’t that incredible?
Jonah gives us a picture of that in the Old Testament. Jonah was the prophet who was assigned the task of preaching repentance to a Gentile nation. He was the only prophet in the Old Testament up to that time who had been assigned that kind of a task. What did he do? He didn’t go. He went down to Joppa and got on a ship. God raised a storm to get his attention. He told the sailors, “Hey, man, listen. Throw me overboard, and the storm will subside.” Do you know what he was doing? He was saying, “It is better to drown at sea than have to spend my time in a Gentile nation like Nineveh.”
You see, that’s exactly the way Israel was and continued to be. Gentiles were dogs. “Don’t talk to me about a Gentile!” Paul said, “I was in the Temple, and God told me to go to the Gentiles.” Oh! They ripped off their robes, screaming and hollering. It was an angry mob. That’s the way selfish people always are when you start trying to consider somebody outside of themselves.
Well, a person who lives that kind of lifestyle in today’s world, a person who doesn’t walk living cleansed by the blood of Christ every day, who isn’t led by the Holy Spirit of God, who isn’t in the Word of God, is a person, who by his very lifestyle, stands as a hindrance to the very call of God to missions. He will never ever, ever see anything in missions. He cannot see outside of himself.
Secondly, they are a confusion to God’s objective in missions. One of the things the Jews do that really caught my attention in this text is how they confused the testimony to a lost world of what people who know God and love God are supposed to be like. Here are the religious Jewish people of that town. Many of them are saved, but are still hung up under the Law. Many of them are unbelieving Jews who have come over from Asia Minor. They are in a huge crowd. Look at the testimony that is coming across to the Gentile world of how people who love God are supposed to act and behave. They completely confuse God’s objective in missions. After they are throwing their cloaks in the air and putting dust in Paul’s face, it says in verse 24, “the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way.” Do you know what? That religious crowd, which consisted of those who had rejected Christ and those who had received Him but had still not gotten up under His Lordship, was still in the majority. The religious crowd was in the majority. All of the wrong religion was in the majority. There was only one person who was right, and he was in the minority. Paul was right. Paul was surrendered to Christ. This huge group of pompous, religious people, who “always did it right,” convinced the Gentile secular civil authorities that Paul was the one who was wrong. They confused them.
Do you realize the confusion religious people bring to a lost world as to what true Christianity is all about? What do you think the problem was under Ceausescu in Romania? It was not the secret police. It was not anything else. It was the Greek Orthodox Church. When I say that, I don’t mean everybody who is Greek Orthodox is a religious person in the bad sense. There is a Lord’s army right now inside the Greek Orthodox Church leading people to Christ and to freedom in Him. But it was that external religious group of people who brought so much persecution on the true believer in Romania in the days of Ceausescu.
Now, I don’t know how you feel about that, but that is exactly the way it is in our world. They are the majority, folks. They are always in the majority. People who play games join big churches. They hid on the back pew. They never give anything. They never participate, but oh, they really do love God. They are really only a bunch of people who live for themselves. They are confusing the world, which is the objective of missions. The objective of God in missions is to reach and to seek the lost. The lost don’t have a clue about God. They don’t have a clue about religion. Religious people of the wrong kind can confuse them and make them think that the people of the right kind are the ones who are doing it wrong. Did that make sense?
I thought of Brother Spiros Zodhiates. When he lived in Greece he was put on trial nine times for preaching about Jesus. If you go to some countries like South America and other places where the Roman Catholic Church is prevalent you will find the same thing. I am not against religion. I am trying to show you something. People who are hung up in legalistic religion have completely blinded a lost world as to what true Christianity is all about. They did it then, and they are doing it today. They are in the majority.
Watch the news sometime when they are taking those polls. They will tell you the poll says that such and such is in front and such and such is not in front of such and such. Let me ask you a question. Have you ever been polled? Come on, folks. They are the ones who are going to broadcast the tribulation. Don’t worry about them. They don’t know what’s going on. They haven’t got a clue. Let one of those major networks get somebody on there representing Christianity and guess who they get. The Pope or somebody like that. They think that’s Christianity! They don’t know the difference. Why? Because that religion, that old cold death religion has always been around. That’s what does the most damage to true Christianity.
That’s why missions cannot go forth in churches if we have people who aren’t living surrendered to Christ. That’s why we preach Christ and nothing else. We don’t preach missions. We preach Christ. You get a man to Christ, and his heart will change. Missions will be the outgrowth of it. That’s the key. If you get a person out here who is doing all the right things, but doesn’t have the right kind of walk, you’ve got somebody who is confusing the lost world as to what Christianity is all about.
You say, “Where did you get that in the text?” Who are the Gentiles here? Who is the lost world in this text? The Roman soldiers. They are Gentiles. They are the same people God has assigned Paul to preach the gospel to. Look at what they did. They ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging with a whip. That whip had leather thongs with pieces of metal in it. They had so convinced these Romans that Paul was the wrong one, they were preparing to beat out of him what he had really done to make this crowd so mad. Do you see? That goes on. You don’t realize the damage that your life or my life does when we start living after the flesh and doing external things but are not walking surrendered to Christ. When we do that we become a problem to somebody who is doing it right. We become a hindrance. We become a confusion to God’s objective in missions.
Do you remember the book The Ugly American? Did you ever read that book? You ought to. It’s an older book. It has been written a long time. It is a secular book written about a secular theme, but it is exactly what has happened to us in missions around the world. People who are not surrendered to Jesus are going in the name of God and are causing confusion like you would not believe. They are bringing persecution. During the days of the Antichrist, they will be the exact same people who will help him in the first three and a half years crucify those who come to know Christ during that time. The Antichrist is going to be very religious.
If you are religious and playing a game with Jesus, you are going to like the Antichrist a lot for three and a half years. During that time you will say to yourself, “Why in the world would I ever go this way?”
Finally, they are ashamed of God’s people in missions. They are a hindrance to God’s call to missions. They are a confusion to God’s objective in missions, and they are ashamed of God’s call in missions. Something happens in verse 25-29 that I am going to cover later on. These officials were so confused they made a dumb mistake. They were so thinking they were right, they overlooked legal procedure. Paul was a Roman citizen. You’d better check that out. They were beating him and putting him in chains. He hadn’t had a Roman trial. He was born in Tarsus of Cilicia. Something happened. They just overlooked procedure. Buddy, when they find out he is a Roman citizen, they drop him like a piece of hot ice. They don’t know what to do with him at that point.
Well, verse 30 says, “But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them.” Look what he does! It is sort of a dumb thing in a way, but I like what happens here. He takes him to the big committee, the Sanhedrin, the Council. These are the leaders of this religious trashy group. I mean the group that rejected Christ. When I say Jew, don’t think of every Jew. I am thinking of those who vehemently rejected Christ and were using Judaism for their own profit. That was this group right here. He brings him to the very Council that’s festering the whole thing. The Roman commander brings him to them. I want you to see what happens. “And Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, ‘Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience.’” What does he mean by that? He simply means, “When I failed, I went to the blood of Jesus. He cleansed me, and my whole focus has been on Christ. I didn’t live perfect, but I live with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.’”
Now look at 23:2: “And the high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth.” Hey, this was blasphemy. They hit him right in the mouth. Now watch what it says. I love Paul. Watch this. “Then Paul said to him, ‘God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall!’” Get him, Paul. That’s right, son, nail him! That’s exactly what he does. He knows who his high priest is. He knows it’s Jesus. Paul doesn’t really realize this fellow was truly the Jewish high priest, Ananias. It says, “the bystanders said, ‘Do you revile God’s high priest?’ And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.”’” He was aware of another high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ who is our high priest. Look at what he called him, “you whitewashed wall.”
If you take this Jewish Sanhedrin, who had rejected Christ and plotted to put Him on the cross, and put their external religious deeds alongside the apostle Paul, they become a shame when put in contrast to God’s true people. They become a shame. A person living after his flesh is a shame when he’s put beside somebody who really loves God and is doing it the right way. Both of them have religious deeds. One is garbage and one is what God desires in his life.
Somebody else used that statement, “whitewashed wall.” It was a pretty important person. Look in Matthew 23:27: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.’” What did Paul call him? He said, “You whitewashed wall.”
They had a tendency to do something back then that I have a tendency to do even today with my things at the house. When my wife wants me to paint something, she always asks me to clean it first. Why? You are going to paint it! Why clean it? You know. You just paint over it. Of course, that makes a huge problem when the dirt begins to fleck off, and you have little spots all over your wall because you didn’t clean it off. I guess the word “unspotted” could come from that idea. They would take a dirty, filthy wall and just whitewash it and make it look like it was really clean. Underneath, it was nothing more than pure filth. It had been painted over with whitewashed external deeds of the flesh. Do you see the difference? Here is Paul, who lived with a clear conscience. Here is the Sanhedrin represented by that council which are whitewashed. They are trying to cover over a heart that’s not right with God.
I thought about our last missions conference. I thought of a family going to Albania. Do you know what it’s like in Albania? When I was in Romania, it was bad, folks. It was 50 years behind. It is 100 years behind in Albania. They are going with a young family and a baby on the way. Take somebody who comes to church in America, plays the game, lives the style, has all the things and uses his money to pamper his flesh and put them beside somebody like that. They are a shame to the people of God. I don’t even want to be around people who talk about God and don’t live it when you’ve got people like that who are willing to do whatever God says.
Think of our missionaries in Chad. Do you know where Chad is? I don’t either. It’s in the middle of nowhere. I don’t think it’s on the map. It’s in the middle of a desert in Africa. There is nothing there. They are a small family. They’ve gone to a tribal people who are nomadic. They have to follow them around. They never have a place they can settle down. They just follow the people all the time trying to tell them about Jesus Christ. There are tribes people which they have gone to that have never heard the gospel.
Think of a young couple going to Japan. You say, “Oh, Japan!” Hey, do you know that it costs $100 to take the taxi from the airport to a hotel in Tokyo? The cost of living is such that it has taken them almost three years to get their support to where they can even leave for the field. They are going into the very midst of a culture that rejects everything to do with Christianity.
Think of another couple who are going over to France. You say, “Oh, France! I’d love to go to France. Do you know that is the seat of occult activity in the world today? They are going to a university campus where all the skeptics are, the academic world. They are going to work on that campus with the Navigators.
I could keep going through people like that. Maybe we are all loving Jesus. I hope so, but take the man who shows up on Sunday morning, sometimes on Sunday night and maybe on Wednesday night, and gives a check periodically, his token gifts to God. He thinks he’s doing well with God. Put him beside some of these I’ve just mentioned. He would be a shame in contrast to people like that. “Do you mean, Wayne, that if I don’t go to Chad that God doesn’t approve of me?” No. You just do whatever God tells you, and you are right beside them. I’m not saying that. But folks, we are living in a society, and you know what I am saying, where the hindrance to missions in the future is going to be people in the church who won’t walk surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ and are living for now and eternity. You are a hindrance to God’s call in missions. You are a confusion to God’s objective in missions, and you are a shame to God’s people in missions.
My challenge to you is to live dead to self. Let Jesus be Jesus in you. We sing it, but do you ever catch why we sing it. We teach a received ministry, not an achieved ministry. The only way to get there is not by going on the mission field. It’s by going to Jesus and going to the cross. Then God raises up a heart of compassion within you for others.