The debate between Paul and the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:1-11) does not go smoothly, with Paul effectively accused of blasphemy and further dispute between the Pharisees and Sadducees who made up the Sanhedrin over the issue of the resurrection (which Paul claims is at the heart of his arrest and which inevitably caused arguments because the Sadducees refused to believe in the possibility of resurrection.) The scene ends, as it did with the crowd, with chaos and the intervention of the Roman commanding officer. But, as Tom Wright comments, “the moment of crisis becomes the moment of vision” (‘Acts For Everyone Pt 2’, P 170), for the Lord appears to Paul in a vision and reassures him that as he has testified about Him in Jerusalem, so he must testify about Him in Rome. (Acts 23:11) This is reminiscent of his vision in Corinth (Acts 18:9-11) and is a feature of a life of faith. We may not talk about these visions much (perhaps because we fear other people’s reactions: after all, hearing voices that do not belong to people is a sign of madness, we are told), but God has always known how to encourage His people, and often, it is the direct word from God – which may come through Scripture, through other people, through visible signs in nature as well as through an audible voice or inescapable impression – which gives us the heart to continue through crises.
Paul might well have doubted that he was doing God’s will since his arrival in Jerusalem had done nothing but provoke opposition and persecution. This vision must have confirmed his sense of vocation, that he needed to go to Rome, that he was, in effect, ‘on the right track.’ Sometimes we doubt ourselves and we doubt that we have heard God properly; despite multiple evidence to the contrary, we still persist in the belief that if we are doing the will of God, this will mean an easy, comfortable ride with no problems or obstacles, and thus when those problems and obstacles occur, our hearts fail and niggling doubts arise (which the enemy is keen to fuel.) God knows that at such times we need His reassurance and encouragement, and so it is often at moments of crisis that God speaks clearly into our situations, lifting us up, giving us fresh vision and hope.
We can’t ‘manufacture’ these moments, but we can certainly be glad for the times when God steps in, reassures us and helps us to carry on by His grace.