God’s People, part 232: The Council

Read Acts 4:1-2

“For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

The_Sanhedrin_in_session_2013-12-25_00-59Part 232: The Council. When it came to matters of religious law, there was only one authority that decided whether someone was innocent or guilty for breaking it. That sole authority was the Sanhedrin, which was the council of the top Sadducees and Pharisees that stood as judges over the Jewish people. There was a lesser Sanhedrin made up of 23 people for each of the cities; however, there was one Great Sanhedrin, made up of 71 judges, which acted as the Supreme Court over all of the land. The court met every day except holy observances, including the Sabbath.

Within the Sanhedrin, there was the Nasi who was the president or head of the court, as well as the Av Beit Din, who was the chief judge. On top of them, there were 69 general members of the Sanhedrin. During Jesus and the Apostles’ time, this council/court met in the Hall of Hewn Stones within Temple. This was the council which tried Jesus in the middle of the night, against their own legal procedures, and this was the council which tried Peter and John for preaching about Jesus that we read about in today’s Scripture reading.

With that said, it would be a mistake that this group of people were all corrupt or that they somehow were being malicious in their decisions. No doubt, lots of different factors came into play in their decisions. First, they came to their decisions with the Torah in mind. Did the people in question go against the common understanding of the Torah? Were these people knowingly going against the Torah, or were they simply in error and in need of correction?

This council also had to consider things from a political point of view. How would their judgment effect the people as a whole in light of Roman rule? How would their decisions affect their own authority as the ruling religious body of Israel. It would be a mistake to think that this body was solely religious, just as it would be a mistake to think this body was solely political. In the first century CE, the worlds of religion and politics were intimately connected.

When Peter and John came before them, they were originally seen as ignorant fisherman who got caught up in believing the blasphemous teachings of Jesus Christ. It is clear that the Sanhedrin did not see these two as being intentional in going against their authority in or in blaspheming against God. They had them arrested and held them until the next day, when they could hear their case. In the end, they sent Peter and John away with a stern warning, “Do not continue teaching about this heretic and traitor named Jesus.”

As far as the Sanhedrin was concerned, justice was done but mercy was also shown (Micah 6:8). So, as was mentioned earlier, it would be wrong to read “villainy” into the council and its members. It’s easy to do that because we are invested in those people they were judging against; however, those members of the Sanhedrin thought they were on the right side of God and carrying out God’s justice.

This should challenge us. Most of us believe that we are on the right side of God and that we are living justly under God. We look at those who are like us to be people of God, but we also look at those who are NOT like us as being those who need God. We believe that we are measuring people on God’s standard; however, the real standard is that “those people are NOT like US.” Thus, we become the measure, not God.

Let us be a people who learn that, while it is important to protect the faith from false teachings and things that take people further away from Christ, it is also important to not do so judgmentally, but with humility. We are NOT saved by our right understanding of things, but by the grace and the love of Jesus Christ. Let us correct people when they are in error, but let us walk that fine line without falling into the pit of condemnation. This is the way to the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus Christ is leading us on!

“Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation.” – Rev. Henry Ward Beecher

Lord, give me the discernment to know what the Gospel truth is; however, steer me clear of condemnation. Amen.

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