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Saturday, February 21, 2015

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We could say that the apostle Paul made three mistakes when facing the Sanhedrin, mistakes he later regretted. The first one was addressing this important body as “brethren,” instead of the customary greeting, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel.” By calling them “brethren,” Paul placed himself on equal footing with these leaders. You could excuse his approach on account of his eagerness to relate to them, and the fact that he once was a member of this very body, before he was converted. But of course, this greeting didn’t work out. He was struck in the mouth for his disrespectful speech.

The second mistake was when Paul defended himself vigorously before the Sanhedrin, accusing the high priest of being a white-washed tomb! The implication was clear: the high priest appeared clean on the outside, but was full of uncleanness on the inside. That was not the best way for Paul to gain a hearing.  He subsequently apologized for speaking this way about the high priest, but by then Paul may have figured that he had lost the good will of the group.

So, the weary apostle, fully knowing the bitter theological divisions between the Pharisees and the Sadducees making up the Sanhedrin, made a statement to gain some sympathizers. This may have been his third mistake. He declared himself a Pharisee, and a believer of the resurrection. Sadducees did not believe in heaven or the resurrection, but the Pharisees did so fervently. Instantly, half of the crowd took his side, while the other half sought to silence him.

That was a clever move, but unlike the one Jesus made under the same circumstances. When Jesus faced His own trial before the Sanhedrin years before, Ellen White states that among the Pharisees and the Sadducees there existed bitter animosity and controversy between them. “With a few words Jesus could have excited their prejudices against each other, and thus have averted their wrath from Himself” (The Desire of Ages, p.705). Instead, the Savior of the world kept silent, not taking advantage of the situation to save Himself.  As I have thought of this story, I concluded that this is a good example of Jesus as our Leader, not even the great apostle Paul can take His place. It is to Jesus that we must look for guidance at every step of our Christian journey, and not to our brethren, as faithful to God as they may be. Jesus overlooked Paul’s mistakes that day. And that night, He assured Paul he would reach Rome, after all.  Oh, the graciousness of our Lord!

 

Ron E. M. Clouzet

NAD Evangelism Institute Director

Professor of Ministry and Theology

Seminary, Andrews University