23 Then he called two of the centurions and said, “Get ready two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea at the third hour of the night. 24 Also provide mounts for Paul to ride and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” 25 And he wrote a letter to this effect:
26 “Claudius Lysias, to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. 27 This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen. 28 And desiring to know the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their council. 29 I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. 30 And when it was disclosed to me that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.”
Roman soldiers’ discipline is truly amazing. Their preparedness and readiness to protect and guard is exemplary. Their method is very orderly. 470 soldiers total on the ready just to escort one Roman citizen, Paul of Tarsus. It doesn’t matter the time of the day or night, they are always ready to dispatch. In the end they were successful in their duty. Paul arrived in Caesarea safely. Paul was neither hurt nor dead when he arrived in Caesarea. Such is the proof of the might of the Roman soldiers. However, what’s more interesting in this passage is the letter from the commander of the Roman soldiers, Claudius Lysias, to the governor, Felix.
Surely we know that Luke reported the actual event when Paul was in trouble in Jerusalem, starting from Acts 21:27 up until 23:22. According to Luke, Claudius the commander did not rescue Paul from the Jews because he knew that Paul was a Roman citizen. In fact he found out about Paul’s Roman citizenship as he was about to make the greatest mistake of his life, which was to whip Paul without proper judicial proceedings. Claudius was simply doing his duty as the commander at that time. He was tasked with keeping peace. And so that’s what he did. However, in his letter to governor Felix, he spiced up his story. The purpose for the spicing up of his story was to make him look good before the governor. He could have hoped that the governor would report his stellar rapport to Rome so that he would be able to get ahead in his career. So he told Felix that he rescued Paul because he was a Roman citizen.
26 “Claudius Lysias, to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. 27 This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen.
Claudius obviously changed the order of the event. A little lie would get him a mile in his career. He might have thought, no harm is done to anybody, so why not. Thus he sacrificed the truth for the sake of his self-gain.
Well, many of us do the same, do we not? We think of it as a little lie. We consider it just as a small sin. We even excuse ourselves saying: “Everybody is doing it.” It wouldn’t do harm to anyone, so we think. Ravi Zacharias pointed out in one of his seminars on truth, that when truth does not benefit us, we would hide it. That’s exactly what Claudius did. He hid the truth. He changed the order of the happenings in the event so as to propel himself as the savior of the day, giving him the cause of his heroic action in rescuing Paul, a Roman citizen. Secondly, Claudius, in one move also shut down any question about his misjudgment. Randy Richards and Brandon O’Brien in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes observed that Claudius was a racist that thought Paul was a barbarian – non Greek speaking person, uncivilized, of low status, and so on. So without proper investigation he ordered that Paul be flogged. Alas, he forgot that flogging was only legal without just trial for non-Roman citizens. Had Felix found out about this presumptuous act, would he not be in a lot of trouble in the eyes of Rome? So Claudius chose to hide the truth.
We are all masters of hiding what we consider little truths. We think those truths are insignificant. Because they don’t help our cause. And rather, if known, those little truths might ruin our life. So we hid them safely in our little vault. Then we tinker with the event for our own advantage. Aaron modified the event of the golden calf in order to save himself. Exodus 32:21-24 records Aaron’s report to Moses:
21 And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” 22 And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. 23 For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”
Exodus 32:3-4 records the fact:
3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf.
That little detail, Aaron purposefully left out, so he would appear a little bit better in the eyes of Moses. He purposefully tweaked the event to argue that he had nothing to do with the shaping of the golden calf. Either “chance” or “pure luck” or “God” himself made the golden calf miraculously out of the fire. Whatever it was, the appearance of the golden calf was not Aaron’s responsibility. Such was the goal of Aaron’s report to Moses. But Moses knew better. For the sake of self-gain, Aaron tweaked the truth.
I remember that I was accused as a pastor who had a pattern of storming out of meetings and thus disrespecting the council. That’s a pretty serious accusation. Because the weight of that accusation was on my character. Basically the accusation was meant to point out that I had a bad character. The Classis that processed the case did not bother to investigate the matter. They never bothered to check with me either. They just assumed that the report was true. And thus the report was accepted as truth. The funny thing was, I only left council meetings once, and it was by the permission of the chairman of the council. So, how in the world one permitted leave from one council meeting jumped into becoming my pattern of behavior? And I had attended every council meetings without leaving abruptly or what they called as storming out of meetings. It was only once, and by permission, but yet the unverified accusation became truth in the eyes of the people who would not bother verifying it. Truth was tweaked in order to assassinate my character. The report was not true. The report was a lie. No harm done, huh? If you believe so, then talk to me on how the false report had affected my life.
When truth is manipulated, it will cause grief. The truth manipulator got the benefit. But others are sacrificed. Consider the burning of Rome. Emperor Nero had lied to council that the Christians burned the city of Rome. So the entire Roman Empire was mad at Christians. Thus persecution of Christians was legalized. No harm done? Tell it to the persecuted. Tell it to the family who lost their loved ones to the persecution. Nero got what he wanted, the redesigning of the city of Rome according to his vision. But at the expense of the life of the innocent people. There is no denying that truth matters. A tweaked truth could cause someone his/her life. An edited truth could do harm to others.
When our life is affected negatively by the tweaking of truth, we would normally fight back. At that moment, truth becomes a big deal. But when we are greatly benefited by its tweaking, we tend to ignore it. At that moment, truth would not become a big deal to us. This is why the case of Claudius the commander of Roman soldiers is interesting. Luke did not leave out this detail. He copied the letter in his report to Theophilus (Acts 1:1). Truth must be told. But those who are disadvantaged by the report of the truth would adamantly strive to prevent it from surfacing. Just like the recent case of the United Airlines incident. Three airport cops dragged one paying passenger of the United Airlines using unnecessary force. The cops’ report did not spill the detail of the incident but instead labeling it as following proper procedure and measure of force. In addition, the report told lies about the passenger, Dr. David Dao, being erratic and swinging his fists at them. One simple video from another passenger’s cell phone proved the report false. One comment on the news online says that had this incident happen in the time when there were no cell phones, the doctor would have been oppressed even further and UA would escape the ordeal unscathed.
It is even more interesting as we look deeper into the motif of tinkering with the truth. The self-gain motif can be clearly seen from 100 mile away. The selfishness of the sinful human is huge. Human egoistic disposition is bigger than the universe. The immediate disposition that Adam and Eve developed as soon as they fell into sin was of self-preservation. They immediately protected their own self. First they protected themselves from shame. Genesis 3:7 points out:
7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
Then they protected their pride. They did not want to be guilty of anything. They wanted to appear innocent. And so, Adam deflected his guilt to Eve (and God), and then Eve deflected her guilt to the serpent. The painful conversation between God and the first humans was recorded plainly in Genesis 3:9-13:
9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Both Adam and Eve did not tell the truth properly. They tweaked it to their own advantage. Adam was right to say that it was Eve, whom God gave to him, who gave him the forbidden fruit and then he ate it. But that’s not the complete truth. Besides, the tone of his answer was accusatory, blaming both Eve and God as the cause of his sin. Adam omitted the truth that he did not say a word when Eve gave her the fruit. Not even when the serpent was smooth-talking Eve into breaking God’s command. Adam was there the whole time. And he was aware of the entire conversation and Eve’s decision to take the fruit. I imagine Adam was there nodding when Eve glanced at him seeking his approval as she reached out for the forbidden fruit. His omission of the details made him look like a victim, in the hope of lifting up some of the weight of responsibility off his shoulder. In the same way, Eve also did what Adam did. Automatically their defense system dictated them to protect themselves at all cost. So Eve also tweaked the truth. Instead of admitting that she actually considered eating the fruit because of its tempting lure to become like God, she jumped right away to accuse the serpent of tricking her into eating the forbidden fruit. She made it like she was an innocent little girl who knew nothing about the command or the consequence of eating it and was powerless as the serpent smooth-talked her into eating it. Like Adam, she also played victim. The burden of responsibility was being directed to the serpent. There is no doubt that the serpent was guilty as charge, but that fact did not eliminate Adam’s and Eve’s responsibility. In other words, Adam and Eve did not become less guilty when they shifted the blame to others. Instead, they became guiltier as they added more sins by “playing” victim.
But God knew better. He is the Omniscient God. Nothing escapes Him. He knew what details they omitted. He knew what truth they hid. So punishments still come. Death still comes. Not just to Adam and Eve, but also to all their descendants. The core of their being had shifted dramatically because of sin. Instead of living for their Creator and for the goodness of others, they became absorbed with their own self-preservation. They no longer saw naturally the value of others. Suddenly, as soon as sin took control of them, others became dispensable. Thus, for the sake of self-gain, they both were willing to sacrifice others. And in the same way we too do the same. For the sake of self-gain we also sacrifice others, even those closest to us. Ever since Genesis 3, humans have run to the exact opposite direction of where God originally wanted us to be.
Admitting guilt becomes an unpopular option. Because it comes with responsibility. And part of the responsibility deals with shame. Shame is not something humans can cope. It has been many many moons, but we humans always dread shame. Shame has something to do with dignity. Dignity speaks directly to our self-esteem or self-worth. With shame, human self-esteem is at the lowest point. When that happens, life is suddenly becomes meaningless. When life’s meaning is nowhere to be found, one has lost the motif to live. But we instinctively desire to live. This disposition is naturally greater than any other thing. Consequently, everything else is dispensable in the eyes of the will to live. Denying guilt or shifting the blame to others even to the point of sacrificing an innocent person is deemed better than losing the self. But this defense mechanism brings much grief. Not only to those being sacrificed, but also to the self, and surely to God who created us. One may ask, why is self also affected negatively? We can easily understand the negative effect to others and to God. But to self? Why?
The answer lies deep within our construct. As we commit sin, our conscience automatically accuses us of guilt. Conscience is that one faculty of the human construct that God gives as common grace. Why common grace? It is given by God to prevent more and greater evil to occur in the fallen world. Normally, the accusation of the conscience is strong enough to halt the person from committing more and greater evil. The accusation weighs heavy within one’s heart and mind. Even though the accusatory voice might be felt softer over time, it actually never goes away. Not until the acknowledgment of sin before the One True God and His forgiveness being pronounced. Now, to add to the existing accusatory voice from one’s conscience is undesirable. But often, in order to preserve one’s own life, more sins are committed. The human soul is fragile. The accusation from one’s conscience is extremely painful. Self-inflicted wound proves how damaged the soul is. By committing more sins, one is self-inflicting more wounds to own soul. This debilitating pain disorients one’s soul in a terrible way. One must find equilibrium, or otherwise the soul would never rest. Naturally our soul can’t sustain a long period of unrest. So normally something must be done in order to cope with it. The only route to true peace and equilibrium is through our genuine repentance and the forgiveness by the One True God. But many people would settle for anything other than the debilitating pain of the accusation. If one refuses to call on the name of God, there are other alternatives. Those alternatives won’t give him the true peace, but for him better than the pain caused by the conscience.
There are two main alternatives. The first choice is to confront the conscience head on. The second choice is to bribe the conscience. The confrontation head on is done by altering the human core. By nature human is constructed to have compassion, to care for others, to avoid committing sins, and to honor the Creator. But the first route is deconstructing all those four. In order to do this, one must kill one’s own compassion. As compassion is suppressed, caring for others would not be in the vocabulary anymore. The conscience is in a way be reshaped in order to function differently. The conscience becomes numb. Committing sin, then, won’t be bothered by the conscience anymore. When God uses other means other than his conscience to bring him back on track, the person who chooses to dismiss God altogether would just confront whatever means God chooses to use the same way he kills his own conscience. No wonder, in the stories of old, we hear of God’s prophets being persecuted and murdered.
The second alternative is to bribe the conscience with what seems like something good. Humans naturally would feel better when they do good things like helping disabled people cross the street, rescuing mistreated animals, feeding the hungry, and so on. And so, when one commits sin, and he does not wish to come to God to acknowledge his sin and asks for forgiveness, he can get by using this second route. But this route too won’t give him true peace or equilibrium. It just silences the conscience a bit in a non-violent way. As the conscience barks when one commits sin, he resorts to upgrading the quantity of good deeds he could do. The accumulation of the good feeling is able to get the conscience to soften its accusatory voice. He would feel that he is not as bad as the accusation within. However, he knows that he is using good deeds as a means for gaining security for his own. This is a subtle manipulation. In a way, this harms others as well, because they are just a means for our own “happiness.” In other words, he has used others for his own self-gain in a more subtle way. To everyone who has chosen this route, they all know that this too won’t completely get rid of the accusatory voice from their conscience. The voice remains and actually is heightened as the subtle manipulation is revealed over time.
The main problem with these two routes is that it adds more guilt to the soul. With more guilt accumulated and not dealt with properly, it only wounds the soul further. One can only sustain the wounded soul for so long. Eventually the soul demands a full restoration. The delayed restoration results in another voice within one’s soul. This voice demands, not accuses. The two voices, one that accuses and one that demands, cannot simply be ignored. In the end the soul feels the weight pulling one’s soul down deeper into the bottomless pit. Thus the quest to save one’s soul ends up in one’s life being lost. Humans are constructed not to save own soul at the expense of others. In Matthew 16:25-26 Jesus says:
25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Jesus points out to the exact opposite of what human sinful tendency dictates. With His ultimate sacrifice, Jesus has shown the world what human being is supposed to be. We are in fact constructed to sacrifice our own soul for the sake of others.
The other big problem with these two routes is that both suppressed the truth. The truth that the soul must return in submissive mode to God is being suppressed to the max. Humility is replaced by pride. Because of the fear of shame, one protects his own soul with the sole purpose to save it. The God given alarm of human conscience is tampered with in the process, as they refuse to follow the proper channel. The first route takes a hammer and destroys the conscience head on. The second route camouflages the blaring alarm sound by putting other pleasant sounds at the same time with the same intensity, so that one may only hear the alarm sound softly. But truth never surfaces. Thus the soul never finds its true rest.
Look now at where human strive for the sake of self-gain has taken them. Self-preservation at the expense of others downgrades human dignity and value. People have been reduced to merely becoming each other’s means for self-gain. All kinds of abuse are caused by this reduction of human worth. Slavery for example is one result of the reduction of human dignity. In this modern day, people are racing to get ahead. We all strive to avoid being the last in the rat race. Claudius took advantage of Paul’s situation in order for him to seize an opportunity to get ahead in his career. Paul was not worthy as a human being in Claudius’ eyes that he saved him from the murder plan. Claudius only saved Paul because he wanted to use Paul’s situation for his own sake. This became clear in the letter. Paul’s citizenship was very useful for Claudius’ report to look good in Felix’s eyes.
In my case, I too suffered immensely as I was sacrificed by some people in the council. I became their scapegoat. It started with me speaking the truth about the historicity of Genesis 1. I preached that God created the entire world with His words, and not through evolution. Some people disliked it and started to oppose me. They even resorted to reporting me to council with the purpose to suspend me from my ministry. I stood and am still standing with historic orthodox Christian faith and teaching, together with the church fathers from Augustine, to Gregory of Nyssa, to Aquinas, to Anselm, to Martin Luther, to John Calvin, and even to the contemporary of RC Sproul, Tim Keller, John Piper, Ravi Zacharias, and the likes. Yet these people desired to render Genesis 1-11 as myth, and thus opposed my teaching fiercely. Thus they strive to get rid of me. In order to do so they had to attack from a different angle. Because my teaching was solid. Nobody could prove that I was unbiblical or that I did not do my pastoral job properly. In fact I did what I must in full account to the Lord God Himself. So my character became a target, even though they had no proof whatsoever either. But in this day and age, character assassination is the easiest to exploit. Thus the biggest accusation they could bring to the table was that I often stormed out of meetings disrespecting the elders. This too they did not have any proof. Because I actually never did what they accused me for. I left a meeting once when I was attacked so fiercely by a group of people in the council, and it was by the permission of the chair of the council. That’s the only meeting I did not attend until the end. Yet such unverified accusation was used as “evidence” of my flawed character that needed to be evaluated. That’s their main evidence to get rid of me from ministry. I experienced firsthand what it means to be sacrificed as scapegoat for somebody else’s gain. The effect is very devastating for me and for my family, and I’m sure for God’s sheep in that church as well.
There are many stories of those who are being exploited, manipulated, used, persecuted, sacrificed, that someone may get what he wants. This is a very difficult lesson to learn. The sinful tendency directs our mind to preserve our life even at the expense of others. But there is hope on the horizon. Because Jesus had become our ultimate model. He was the first person who walked the path that is the exact opposite of the path of the world. Instead of sacrificing others, as King He sacrificed Himself for the sake of His people. Commonly a king would stay behind the battle line. His soldiers would die for him. But not Jesus. He protected His people for eternity as He sacrificed Himself. This is the true nature of man as originally designed and constructed by God. And so after Jesus, His followers have walked in His footsteps. This is how Christians live. This is the trademark of all followers of Christ. We do not sacrifice others for the sake of self-gain. But for the sake of others we sacrifice our own self.