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PAUL DEFENDS HIMSELF BEFORE HIS PEOPLE

Acts 21:37-22:29
Key Verse: 22:8

In the last lesson we thought about Paul who was ready to do anything--even to die in Jerusalem-- for the name of the Lord Jesus. Giving one's life to Christ can be a distinguishing mark of the truthfulness of the person. The most blessed life is to live and die for the name of the one who died for us, that of the Lord Jesus. Today’s passage is about Paul’s defence before the crowd of his people. His defence is none other than sharing God’s personal grace upon him. In his defence Paul did not try to save himself. Rather, he revealed his true love for his people.

Look at 21:37. “As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, ‘May I say something to you?’” What an interception--right on the spot he was being taken to the barracks! While the crowd kept shouting, “Away with him”, Paul made a sudden request. Such interception and request were done because he had earnest and urgent words to speak. And this would pave the way for the historic moment of Acts 22. In the same way when we have an urgent message, we can make such an interception in any place to speak of Jesus, even when people are passing by. Who knows it can be a moment for the life-changing in the person whom we speak to?

“Do you speak Greek?” the commander replied. He must have amazed to hear the accentof cultured Greek coming from this man whom the crowd were out to kill. And he continued, “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time ago?” Why did Paul look like a leader of terrorists in the eyes of the commander? Actually, it was because of what the commander had experienced three years earlier. According to Josephus, ‘an Egyptian false prophet’ had got together 30, 000 men (Josephus was prone to exaggeration!), led them to the Mount Olives, and promised them that, when the walls of Jerusalem fell flat at his command, they would be able to break into the city and overpower Romans. But the procurator Felix and his troops intervened, and the sikarioi (‘dagger men’, i.e. fanatical nationalist assassins) were killed, captured or scattered. However, the Egyptian disappeared. So the commander speculated that might be Paul that Egyptian. At this Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in ‘Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city.’” While clarifying that he was not that Egyptian, Paul spoke proudly of his citizenship of Tarsus: ‘the first city of Cilicia, not in merely material wealth but in intellectual distinction as one of the great university cities of the Roman world. Paul continued, “Please, let me speak to the people.” Having received the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic: ‘Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defence.’ When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet. Paul’s defence his own life-testimony, not a political or theological defence. In Paul’s life testimony we can think of three things.

First, Jesus was revealed to Paul. Look at verse 3. Paul said: “I am a Jew born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.” In this one verse Paul shared how he grew up. In a word, Paul was brought up was in the law, under the thorough training of Gamaliel. Gamaliel was the most eminent teacher of that time and honoured by all the people. (He had died five years earlier). We have also seen Gamaliel in the book of Acts: in Acts 5, when the Sanhedrin planed to put the apostles to death, Gamaliel intervened, saying, “if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men.” His speech persuaded the Sanhedrin and the apostles (Peter and John) were released (5:34-40). Gamaliel was thus very influential. Paul was trained in the law under such a renowned teacher. We can say that Paul received the best education of that time. And his zeal for God was not inferior to any Jew.

But what did Paul do with his oustanding scholarship and zeal for God? Look at verses 4 and 5. “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.” In short he was a persecutor and a violent man (1 Tim 1:13). He thought he was serving God in doing all this, but in truth he fought against God when he did not personally know God through Jesus Christ. He was a terrible sinner, destroying both others and himself. He was dashing in the way of destruction. This demonstrates the limitation of human beings and of human tradition and culture, despite their own goodness and merits. In Romans 7 Paul cried out in his inner conflict, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

Then what happened to him? Look at verses 6 and 7. “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’” It was noon, the time of the intense sunlight. But a bright light from heaven flashed around him. So this light from heaven was different from the sunlight. John 1:4-5 says, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness…” Jesus declared repeatedly, “I am the light of the world” (Jn 8:12; 9:5). At this time Paul was in utter darkness due to his spiritual blindness. He did not know what he was doing. The heavenly light came along with a voice which said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” The voice knew Saul personally, and let him know what he was doing. Paul never intended to persecute someone in heaven. He thought he merely persecuted people on the earth. So, it came as a surprise to him that he persecuted one in heaven! At this moment all that he heard about Jesus, particularly his death and resurrection must have flashed true in his mind. Instantly he knew the voice was the voice of the Lord Jesus. Yet, he wanted to make sure, so he asked, “Who are you, Lord?” Then what was the reply to this question? “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting?”. He did not say, “I am the risen Jesus,” rather, “I am Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus of Nazareth was the humble Jesus. Nazareth was a humble, despised town, from which people thought nothing good would come, while Tarsus was no ordinary city. Yet, Jesus of Nazareth was historical Jesus, who had lived in time and space as a human in this world. To the eyes of the people of the world he ended his life with his death on the cross. He did many good works and spoke many good words but died miserably. So Paul thought, as he persecuted the followers of this Way, the so-called Nazarene sect (Acts 24:5). But now Jesus of Nazareth was speaking from heaven. Now to Paul everything became clear. He did not need to ask anymore, saying, “Then are you the very Jesus, who was raised from the dead?” The only possible conclusion was that it was true: Jesus died on the cross and was raised and glorified. At this point Paul must have been convicted his sin of persecuting him, but found the very one whom he had been seeking for, his Saviour and Lord. This was not from within himself, but from heaven. It was Jesus’ revelation to him. It was the grace of God that came upon him (Mt 16:17).

Look at verse 9. “My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.” They were in the same place, saw the same thing and heard the same voice, but they did not have any understanding of this. This was not God’s revelation to them. They were still in darkness.

Since Paul met the risen Jesus, he was in full surrender to him. He was at the disposal of the Lord Jesus. So he asked, “What shall I do, Lord?” So far Paul had lived his life, as if he completely knew what he had to do. But after encountering the Lord Jesus, he wanted to hear from the Lord, his master what he should do as a servant of Jesus. At this the Lord said, “Get up and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’” Jesus revealed himself to Paul, but about his assigned task he did not say to Paul directly. This was to humble Paul. But more than that, it was God’s deep concern in his providence and wisdom for Paul’s future life. God was paving the path for his future life of mission. We will see this in the next part. Look at verse 11. “My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.” At this point his physical eyes were blinded, but his spiritual eyes were open and his soul rejoiced.

Paul, up to this part in his defence, really wanted the crowd of his people to know who Jesus is and what they have to do. He remembered and uttered the questions, “Who are you, Lord?” and “What shall I do, Lord?” It is true that people are in darkness until they know meet Jesus personally and his light shines in their souls and until they know what they have to do with their lives. As for Paul, since he met Christ Jesus, knowing Christ was his supreme desire. Even in his mature faith, he said, “I want to know Christ…” And the task the Lord has assigned to him was more precious than his life, and completing the task was more important than anything else.

Second, Ananias came to Paul. Look at verse 12. “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there.” God prepared a man, Ananias, in Paul’s life. Now in his defence he spoke of Ananias, a devout observer of the law and one highly respected by all the Jews. The mention of Ananias would thus bolster his defence. Of Ananias, Paul said in verse 13. “He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.” Such a respected person among all the Jews stood beside Paul and called him, “Brother, Saul.” It was Ananias’ full acceptance of Paul. Through Ananias Paul’s eyesight was restored.

Then Ananias said, “The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.” Paul gets to the heart of his defence. None other than God of their fathers chose Paul. The call of Paul originated from the God of the Israelites mentioned in their Scripture, the Old Testament. The Righteous One was a Jewish expression for the Messiah (Ac 3:14; 7:52). Knowing God’s will and seeing the Righteous One and hearing words from him would be done together in Paul’s life, which was God’s choosing purpose for Paul. And Paul would be the witness of the Righteous One Jesus to all men of what he had seen and heard. What Ananias spoke was a complete and powerful support for Paul. Then Ananias said, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” In this way Paul indirectly testified that sins can be washed away by calling the name of Jesus, the Righteous One.

In this part we see that God prepared all things perfectly in his deep providence for Paul. Ananias was an essential person in Paul’s life. This is God’s way of working. It is meaningful for us, too, to remember our ‘Ananias’ and know why God put them in our lives, and to pray to become ‘Ananias’ to others, especially for some freshmen this fall.

Third, Jesus sent Paul to the Gentiles. Look at verses 17 and 18. “When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking. ‘Quick!’ he said to me. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’” Here Paul revealed/explained why he had to turn in his mission from the Jews to Gentiles. It was the Lord’s direction. He was not abandoning the Jews, but following the Lord’s direction. Then Paul said, “Lord, these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.” Why did Paul say this? He exposed again what a terrible person he was. He was unworthy to be called as an apostle before God. But God’s grace was God’s grace. God’s grace was a dramatic change in his life from a severe persecutor of Jesus to a witness of Jesus. However, the Jews would not accept this change in Paul’s life because of their stubborn pride. Then the Lord finally said to him, “Go, I will sent you far away to the Gentiles.” When we read Romans, Paul knew that God is not giving up the Jews in sending him to the Gentiles. Rather, God's strategy is to make the Jews jealous, that later when the Jews saw God’s amazing blessing upon the Gentiles through Jesus, they too would turn to Jesus.

But the Jews could neither understand nor accept God’s way of working. So when the crowd listened to Paul until he said this, they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live.” At this the commander directed that Paul be flogged. But Paul wisely used his Roman citizenship. He was not flogged. More than that he took initiative even in such a situation, when he relied on God.

In this defence of Paul we see how he met Jesus and how God sent Ananias into his life and how he could turn to the Gentiles in his mission. His life was solely by God’s grace, and he firmly stood in the grace of God. Paul’s questions in his testimony, “Who are you, Lord?” and “What shall I do, Lord?” reveals his helplessness and his total surrender to the Lord in the grace of God. May we live our lives centred on the Lord Jesus and his assigned task, having these questions in our hearts, “Who are you, Lord?” and “What shall I do, Lord?”

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