22:30 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. 23:1 Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” 2 The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?”
This is a significant scene. Jesus was "tried" by the Jews and then by the Romans. Stephen was "tried" and stoned by the Jews without any Roman involvement. This is the first recorded meeting or trial of a Christian with the Jews that was overseen by Roman officials. This is the most legitimate shot at truth coming to the surface rather than prejudice and emotion carrying the day. The presence of the somewhat neutral Roman commander will bring some balance to the scene and force Paul's accusers to bring something of substance to the conversation.
Paul speaks first. His opening line is not what one would expect to hear. He already admitted earlier that was a killer of Christians and now is preaching Christ among the Gentiles. How could he say he has always lived with a clear conscience before God? Why could he say that? Because it was true. He never said everything he did was right. He said he did it all with a clear conscience.
Do you remember what warning Jesus gave the disciples? "The day will come when men will kill you and believe they are doing God a favour."
In other words they will kill you with a clear conscience before God. Saul/Paul had been one of those people Jesus warned about.
Do you remember what Jesus prayed when they nailed Him to the cross? "Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing."
When you do wrong believing it is right you have a clear conscience and that is a significant point. The thinking of the mind may be wrong but the intent of the heart is good. That is why truth is so important. Sincere people with honest hearts who have the wrong information are as dangerous as evil people yet they are not evil. Their conscience is clear. Their intentions are good and right.
As soon as Paul spoke those few words the High Priest ordered him to be struck in the mouth, a symbolic gesture that his words were lies and must be immediately struck down.
Paul's reaction is equally swift. “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?”
Whitewashed walls was a theme from the preaching of Jesus. It signified men who looked every bit innocent and holy on the outside but their hearts were deeply corrupt. They weren't men with a clear conscience. They were evil and knew it but carefully hid the fact from everyone else. They were wolves in sheep's clothing.
How do you recognize a wolf in disguise? Paul tells us. They speak one thing but do the opposite. Paul is on trial because the Jewish believers say he has no regard for the law, yet here is the High Priest disregarding the law by having Paul struck before any legal decision has been reached. He demands law keeping but does not keep the law himself when it is an inconvenience to him.
Do we see that today? Do we hear people who say one thing but in practice do another? Do we hear leaders who criticize dishonesty in others all the while lying whenever it suits them? Do we hear citizens claiming a certain leader is going to destroy the nation as they run through the streets destroying it themselves?
Paul did horrific things but truly believed it was right. It's likely many of the believing Jews in Jerusalem are just as he had been. They honestly believe Paul is a man that must be stopped.
It's a messy thing when everyone believes they are right yet are completely opposed to one another. At the end of the day every honest man will follow, must follow his conscience. That is why it is imperative that we develop a conscience trained in the school of Christ as quickly as possible. Our every motive and every move must be measured by the question "What would Christ do? What did He do in similar situations? How did He react when opposed? How did He treat His enemies?
These are the questions that will create in us an informed conscience so we can not only feel innocent before God but be innocent too.
There is one truth about Jesus that I am slowly and painfully learning. He did not defend Himself. May today reveal something more about Him to each one of us.