Paul Testifies Before The Crowd
Key verse 22:14-15
“Then he 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.’”
In verses 17 through 26 Luke tells us what happened when Paul first arrived at Jerusalem, where things began with sweet fellowship with James, the head of the church and the elders. They welcomed Paul and his companions and listened to a detailed account of what God had been doing through his ministry among the Gentiles. And when he was done, they were genuinely elated and gave praise to God. We are certain that they were greatly encouraged to also receive the much needed contribution the Gentile churches had sent with him to relieve the material suffering the Jerusalem church was experiencing at the time. However, the church leaders in Jerusalem had a serious matter to bring to Paul’s attention, and they were eager to tell him before he shows his face in public. A rumor had been going around among the thousands of new Jewish converts to the Christian faith that he, Paul, was teaching Jews in Asia to abandon the Jewish ways, such as circumcision, Jewish customs even the prophet Moses! They were rumors. The Jerusalem church leaders didn’t tell Paul who was responsible for propagating such vicious rumors, or whether they themselves were inclined to believe these rumors or not. Whatever the case, they had a preset plan to dispel the rumors by proving that Paul had not abandoned his Jewish identity at all. They wanted him to join four men in some purification rites that needed to be completed at the temple. He would pay their expenses thereby identifying himself as a man who still believed and acted upon his Jewish heritage.
Paul would have never participated in this charade of temple ceremonies if such purification rites were intended to supplement the gospel in these men’s pursuit of salvation. We know very well that Paul would never compromise faith in Christ [and in His Sacrifice], that is, “Christ Jesus who has become for us … our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:30) The reason Paul took part in these rites as he was ordered by the church elders is as he says: “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:22-23) He humbled himself for the sake of Christ and the gospel; he also did it, that if at all possible, he might win these men over to the freedom he himself found in Christ. It seemed as if they were still oppressed, even enslaved by the religious obligations of the old covenant now faded and obsolete and which have no more place in the radiant glory of Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians 3:7; Hebrews 8:13; 1) Paul would do anything; even humiliate himself even to the level of these four Jewish Christian fanatics, if it would help liberate even one of them from legalism’s slavery into the freedom of gospel faith. For him humility was not a sign of weakness at all— as so many people see it to be; It was in fact the sign of being Christ-like. Those who humble themselves for the sake of others aren’t weak at all; In fact they are in every sense Christ-like!
Look at verses 27-35. Now this is where Paul lost his human freedom for good! It was bound to happen; and it happened over a misconception— maybe even a deliberate misapprehension of events and facts. When the seven days of this religious ritual were nearly over, some Jews from Asia recognized Paul at the temple— and that’s when things got so much out of hand, that an army of Roman soldiers were needed to rescue him from the hands of a wild and angry mob of Jewish [worshippers turn into] rioters who were beating Paul so hard near to killing him. But why had things gotten so bad at the sight of Paul? Because of the misconception these Asian Jews had who having seen Paul in the city with a certain Gentile man [Trophimus], and seeing Paul again in the sacred area of the temple now jumped to the conclusion that Paul— a man whom these Asian Jews certainly believed Paul to have lost all respect for Judaism and even for his own JewishNess— a man Paul whom they loathed and regarded as an enemy of the people— this same Paul, whom they also believed to have now brought same Gentile man [Trophimus] into the most sacred part of the temple. And the misconception grew to shouting and screaming and to the pointing of accusing fingers; and that stirred up such a ruckus that in the end those who ran from everywhere to join in beating Paul up didn’t even know why they were beating him ragged. This went on until the Roman commander, Claudius Lysias (23:26) and his cohort of soldiers succeed in liberating Paul from this deranged rabble who continued shouting something like “Away with him” “Away with him”.
It reminds us so much of Jesus’ arrest when the crowds shouted: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Luke 23:21) People seem to never change! Nor do the evil spirits who occupy their hearts and lead their lives change— whatever generation they seem to live in! When the Truth is on trial, it seems that the general consensus among the people is always the same, and that is: To “Suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18) to confine it and shut it out. But ever since the Truth broke the power of [sin and] death, and Rose from the dead to become the Ruler of all things in heaven and on earth, there is one thing you and I can be sure of: Those who live by the Truth and stand by it, always experience its triumph even in amidst the devil’s cesspool of lies and deceptions. The devil may have incited the crowds to shout “Away with him” at Paul in an effort at silencing the gospel. But look at how God provided an incredible opportunity for Truth to be spoken in the hearing of this entire bedeviled crowd.
Look at verses 37-40. Claudius Lysias, the Roman commander with his many soldiers were now escorting Paul to the barracks, whom they thought to be an Egyptian terrorist, and definitely on the most wanted list of the R.B.I [Roman Bureau of Investigation]. They would then question him, torture him, imprison him and finally send an elaborate report to Rome regarding his dramatic and swift capture by the valiant commander; the report would no doubt be emblazoned with the heroic name of the commander with subtle implications to the awards and rewards associated with the capture of enemies of the empire. Here in his hands was sort of a jackpot! But as he may have contemplated this, Paul spoke up and brought a sudden halt to his reverie. “May I say something to you?” “Oh my goodness! You speak Greek! You can’t possibly be that Egyptian terrorist then.” No, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus…. No ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.” And having gained the commander’s ear, and perhaps even his confidence at this point, while still on the steps leading up to the barracks, Paul turns to the crowd and after securing the commander’s permission, he now begins to address the now quiet crowd in their own native tongue, perhaps Hebrew or it may have even been Aramaic. And he now delivers to them one of his memorable sermons. What does he say to them? Look at chapter 22:1-21.
It’s not very hard to tell what he says. Let’s look at his speech in parts. First of all look at verse 1. “Brothers and fathers, listen to my defense.” If you look at verse 2, you will see that as soon as they heard him speak in their own native tongue, somehow they all became very quiet. This is the same crowd that were beating him senseless just a while back before he was rescued from them by a Gentile soldier. But he holds no grudge against them nor does he have any bitterness in his heart for what scars they had left on his body. He knows that this suffering he received from their hands was no accident but as he says elsewhere: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Paul never held any grudges nor any bitterness nor anger in his heart against anyone or anything mostly because he always lived in God’s sovereignty where God is the sovereign King of glory leading and guiding all things in heaven and on earth, including especially his own life and affairs. Nothing, especially in his life as a servant of God happens as an accident! With this amazing faith, Paul addressed them as Brothers and Fathers. To him they weren’t strangers but fellow Jews whom he respected and honored as he would members of his own family. And this respect and honor he accorded them wasn’t momentary, faked for the occasion in order to draw their attention. It was genuine from his heart. His heart went out to them because they were deceived, lost and sickly without Christ. (Romans 9:1-3) Paul figured this is why they were behaving so erratically. There was no need to rebuke them, not to insult them. He just needed to give them truth.
After his respectful address, what did Paul say? Well obviously, his life testimony in a way. And he begins his testimony with a confession. So we may say that the first part of his address is a confession of his great sin against the Lord. Look at verses 4-5. “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both 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.” Look at what kind of man I was. Actually he begins by saying “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.” (3) In other words, “I am one of you; I am no different that any of you. I am not trying to boast, but if you really want to know, I’m way ahead of most of you in matters of Judaism and the Law and Moses and all. I am a Jew of Jews. I was trained by the great Rabbi Gamaliel whom everyone knows, and you can’t fault me for sin even if you look for one in my life, because as for righteousness, I am as righteous you get!” And these would have been the words of a self righteous arrogant Saul, the man Paul once used to be. But here he was simply introducing himself to them, and letting them know just who he was. And for a Jew, he was indeed impressive!
But he really begins his testimony with an amazing confession as we read in verses 4-5. Actually he couldn’t wait to get to it. At the height of his glory as a Jew of Jews, as a prize student of the great Rabbi and an aspiring Member of the elite core of Rabbis and teachers and probably Sanhedrin members, he began his career as a persecutor, torturer and murderer of the innocents. It was all legal stuff though, since he had gotten the authority from the high priest himself. He would chase these heretics as far as Damascus in order to bring them back to right here to his city Jerusalem to see them punished, which was usually death. What kind of a man would rejoice in the torture and death of innocent people who don’t even put up a fight when captured and herded to their death! Paul’s confession of his sin broke his heart, but it was necessary to show how deep his sin and the sin of the people he was addressing also goes. They too shared the same sin. They had rejected the Christ, and in rejecting the Christ, they shared in the persecution and death and suffering of all his people as well. In his life, Paul always took every opportunity to confess his sin before others for a reason. How else would they be able to know how marvelous is the grace of the Lord Jesus unless the sinner confesses and repents? We can talk all we want about the grace of Jesus, but if we do not share with others what Jesus saved us from, how can some of them even identify!
Look now at verses 6-11. It’s a beautiful retelling of his amazing encounter with the Lord. Let’s read his testimony. “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?’ “‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. “‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me. “‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked. “‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.” We have already looked at this event back in chapter 9, and we had thoroughly studied it. But a testimony never gets old because the Lord’s grace is ever so beautiful and refreshing for those who cherish it and hold it dear and near to their hearts. Paul must have repeated his testimony and shared this part of his testimony more times than one can count. It is good to confess one’s life’s sin, how one had been an enemy of God and of the truth, and how one had lived his or her life apart from God in selfishness and in utter contempt for God and for his words. That is good for the soul to do such a confession. But it is ever so much better when after that confession, the part of how the Lord’s grace came flooding on one’s heart is told and retold again and again. We never get tired of hearing that part. It is that part where like Paul the enemy of Christ and of Christians was on his way to kill Christians, and then the Lord of the Christians meets up with him, and what happens? Grace happens.
The Lord halts him, and he is thrown off his horse. Christ the Lord initiates this encounter. Actually if you think about it, Christ should kill him, as he should kill any sinner or offender, no matter what the offense may be. That is how people usually think, or like to think. If a terrorist attacks and kills people, most people think God should kill them. But grace works differently than the way human beings think. Christ stopped Paul, and confronted him with what he’s been doing with his life and what he was about to do in Damascus. He even used his name alluding to the truth that he knew him personally as a father knows his son. Paul was aghast. When Paul asked him who he was, he told him plainly that he was Risen Jesus, the very one Paul was at war with and whose children Paul was so eagerly killing zealously. This was grace. It was a one sided thing that spoke volumes to Paul, saying that this Jesus isn’t holding any grudge against him, that he’s loving him still, that he’s wanting him to stop doing what he’s doing, that he’s willing to let bygones be bygones and forgive him, that he’s got plans for him that are greater and bigger and nobler than anything he could imagine. And that’s grace at it’s finest. It’s what God gives us all, a chance to receive him into our hearts, no strings attached, to receive his offer, his love, his mercy, his forgiveness, and to start over again, and then again and again. What would that leave Paul to do then? Nothing but a broken heart to pieces for all that he’s done before. Nothing but an absolute decision never ever to do what he’s been doing ever again. Nothing but to set his heart now on what the Lord wants him to do, that nobler greater bigger task he had in mind for Paul to do. And that’s what we call repentance. Paul must have been broken at the moment. Of course he was broken, repentant, never to return to what he was doing, never to do it again, setting his heart on what God wants him to do. That is repentance. Repentance isn’t just feeling sorry and then going back tomorrow to doing the same thing again. It’s setting your heart now on what God wants you to do— on that noble task. If you don’t, you’ll be picking up the pieces every other day— a vicious circle round and round.
Look at verses 12-16. Paul continued with his testimony. He told them about Ananias, that devout highly respected Jewish Christian saint whom so many knew who came to see him and who restored his blinded sight, for the Lord had blinded him for a while during that gracious encounter. And then Ananias was the one who delivered a very important message to Paul from the Lord himself. Look at what the message was in verses 14-15. “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.” It’s amazing isn’t it! The man who deserved death received not only forgiveness, but the privilege of becoming a witness of the Lord to all people. How do you see your own calling and the grace of God in your own life? You and I are men and women who also deserve nothing but God’s condemnation for our crimes against God and man alike. But instead, we received from the Lord the grace of forgiveness, and also the grace of becoming his witnesses to all people. What kind of witnesses? Witnesses who would, who should testify to all people of what we have seen and heard. This is the privilege we have in the Lord. Yet some see it as a burden, and others prefer not to see it at all, brushing it off as irrelevant to their daily lives, and still others prefer not to think about it at all. Yet to Paul it was the greatest privilege a person could ever receive. The moment Ananias uttered these words to him, Paul not only strove to obey them, but they became an indelible part of his life testimony which he told and retold time and again as long as he lived. He was a man who couldn’t but share the grace of God to all men of what he has seen and heard of the Lord. Paul heard God’s voice, didn’t wait and followed the Lord’s direction for his life.
Finally look at where Paul’s testimony seems to have come to an end, or perhaps it was the crowd who decided that it should end here. Look at verses 17-21. After talking with Ananias, Paul returned to Jerusalem and one day while he was praying at the temple, God told him these words: “Leave Jerusalem immediately because they will not accept your testimony about me.” God had plans for Paul, so Paul should have had his bag ready to go out the door as soon as he heard the last words from the lips of the Lord. But It’s beyond shocking that after hearing these words, Paul would argue with the Lord to try to convince the Lord to have the Lord let make his own mission in life. And what mission did Paul think would actually work better for him than the Lord’s mission for him? Look at verses 19-20. “’Lord,’ I replied, ‘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.’” Would you believe it! It sounds like the arrogance of some Christians I know who think their way is much better than the Bible’s way. But Paul really wanted to choose his own mission for his life. He wanted to testify to the Jews whom he really loved instead of to the Gentiles. But God knew it wouldn’t work. Anyway, at this point Paul needed to let the crowds know what God had in mind for him. It wasn’t that Paul didn’t love his people. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to remain in Jerusalem and serve his people. It was because the Lord himself had another plan for his life.
What Paul would say now, Paul knew that it would probably cost him to lose ground with the crowd. But he would not compromise the truth. So look at verse 21. “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” It was God’s plan to make him a shepherd for the Gentiles. It was God’s plan to bring about world salvation and world mission through Paul. And Paul accepted God’s call and went. It was the very thing that caused the crowd to once again disrupt his speech. It was where he ended his testimony. They were not ready back then when Paul was first converted to embrace God’s world mission and world salvation plan and they were still not ready now, many many years later to embrace God’s world mission and world salvation plan. This is also another truth that seems to be a truth that’s being suppressed every time it is brought out. But Paul did not fail to bring it out regardless of the cost. May God enable all of us to have a ready testimony of God’s grace to share at all times, with all people. May he help us to be ready to testify to all we have seen and heard of the Lord and his grace. May the Lord make this ministry a beacon for world mission and world salvation, beginning with the young people of our college next door. Amen.