PAUL’S TESTIMONY TO HIS FELLOW JEWS

 

Acts 21:40-22:29

Key Verses: 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.’”

Today’s passage is the first of five opportunities Paul is given to defend himself. It wasn’t Paul’s intention to win his freedom why he defended himself. Each time he used his defense as an opportunity to fulfill his mission Jesus gave him- the life long assignment to be his witness to all men. The Jews’ own jealousy to keep God just for themselves is what gave Paul these opportunities. Paul would have been most happy just sharing the good news of Jesus with the Jews. However, the Jews never could accept Paul because Paul also had Jesus’ heart for the gentile world. They hated even the thought of Paul preaching to the gentles. They tried their best to stop him. Ironically the harder they worked to oppose Paul the more they helped him preach the gospel to the gentiles.  As practical application from Paul’s defense we will learn the importance of having our own life testimony always ready and polish so we can share it with others when the opportunity is given us. 

Just prior to the opening verses in chapter 22 we find in chapter 21 Paul was dragged out of the temple by a roaring mob. They tried their best to tear him limb from limb. Before they could kill Paul, he is rescued by a number of brave Roman soldiers. At such a moment the one who is rescued from such a bloodthirsty mob would say to his rescuers: “ thanks for rescuing me.” Then they would plea: “Please get me as far away from this raving mob as you can.”  Not Paul however. Getting dragged, beaten and kicked half to death was all in a day’s work for Apostle Paul.  Paul’s body seemed to be like the heavy punching bag hanging at a gym that trains boxers and karate enthusiasts. Day after day no matter how many times he was punched kicked or stoned he was always ready again to stand as a witness for his Lord Jesus Christ.  While others would have thrown in the towel Paul would be in his corner though bloody all over looking for another opportunity to share Jesus Christ. Especially Paul had a huge shepherd heart for the Jews in Jerusalem. Look at chapter 21 verse 40 thru chapter 22 verse 2. “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 defense.” When they heard him speak to them Aramaic, they became very quiet.”  Paul gently, yet boldly asked for permission to speak to the people. These people still had Paul’s blood on their hands and feet but this didn’t matter to Paul. Paul was like Rocky who every time the bell rang went back to his corner with the intent to fight again for another round. As Paul stood in the safety among the Roman soldiers he saw an opportunity to preach. Instead of seeing the soldiers as people who would whisk him away from the crowd, Paul in his fight to the end personally saw them as bodyguards to protect him so he could have at least one last try at speaking to the Jews in Jerusalem. These soldiers became an ace in Paul’s hand in his gamble to share Jesus Christ with his follow Jews. Those who are familiar with Acts know this will be Paul’s last opportunity to speak with his beloved Jewish people in Jerusalem. Paul seems to know this and now with the help of these soldiers he found the way one last time to share Jesus Christ with them. I remember once I had a friend whose brother called up on the phone. I answered the phone and the young man identified himself as my friend’s brother. Therefore before I handed the phone over to my friend I shared a little about bible study and Jesus Christ with the young man. After my friend hung up the phone he rebuke me for talking about the Bible and Jesus with his brother. He told me that wasn’t the right time to speak about the subject with his brother. As a matter of fact never again did I get another time to see or talk with his brother. We must learn from Paul who believed now, today is the right time to speak about Jesus Christ with people. We may never again be given a tomorrow to speak about Jesus with them.

 

 Paul now became the main speaker in Jerusalem. He had the attention of all the Jews and Gentiles in the city. He tells his listeners very respectfully: “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.” What Paul calls a defense we in UBF would call “My life testimony.”  A life testimony is the most powerful tool Jesus has given a believer to be his witness. Every Bible conference I attend people who share their life testimony hands down always seem to be much more effective and powerful than even the most powerful Bible messenger. People cannot argue a truthful life testimony because it testifies to one’s own real life experiences. It gives the fact not just one questionable opinions and beliefs. Do you or I have a life testimony ready to give a moments notice as Paul did?  If not we should have one prepared. Then we can have this most powerful evangelistic weapon clean and ready to use night or day in our Christian fight to share Jesus Christ.

 

Part 1 of Paul’s life testimony is found in verses 3-5. In these verses we find what kind of life he lived before he met Christ personally.  In this part Paul first tries to establish a bridge or common bond with his hearers. Look at verse 3-4. Like his hearers he was brought up in Jerusalem. He was trained by the most respected Jewish teacher of all, Gamaliel. He tells them he was as zealous for God as any of his listeners.  He persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison.   Notice the only deeds Paul expounds on before he met Christ was his zeal to destroy those who followed Jesus Christ. Certainly he must have done more positive things than just kill and imprison Christians.  For example in Philippians 3:6 he shares he was faultless when it came to legalistic righteousness. One would think this would now be a good time to share about his legalistic righteousness as he presents his defense, but he doesn’t. All he shares is how he was the biggest enemy of Jesus, worse than any of his listeners. Our life testimony shouldn’t be a platform to build up our own righteousness.  This is what worldly people do who do not have faith in Jesus Christ. The first part of our life testimony should be a platform upon which Jesus Christ mercy and grace can be built upon. Paul shared in Ephesians 2:3 “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”  Paul’s life and words have and still do win more people for Christ than anyone else. The reason is because he made himself into the worst sinner and enemy of Christ. Sinners cannot identify with someone who is self-righteous. We can only identify with someone who is at least just as bad as sinner as we are. When we hear the life testimony of these people we say to ourselves: “They really were terrible sinners but Christ saved them.”   This then gives us the belief Christ can also save us from our own terrible sins.” One last note about Paul’s life before Christ. Notice when he was zealous for God by following the law he only had a capacity to crush, kill and hurt people. Studying law indeed is a very interesting endeavor. However if we do it for purposes of being self-righteous it only empowers us to be critical of others. It gives us no power to have compassion for others and to empathize with them in their weakness.

 

Part 2 of Paul’s testimony is how Paul met Christ. Before Paul knew Christ he was known by the name of Saul. He believed he had been given the great commission by God to travel to Jewish regions to capture and bring back as prisoners Jewish Christians to Jerusalem. When he heard about Christian Jews who fled to Damascus to escape his persecutions he organized his own bounty hunt for these Christian Jews. He first had all the necessary paper work signed by the Jewish ruling council in Jerusalem. Then he organized his own little army to travel with him to Damascus.  In his own mind he thought he was like General Joshua leading the army of God. About noon as he led his little army he could begin to see Damascus in the near distance. In his mind he started to formulate strategies how he would ambush and capture the Jewish Christians in the city. Then Suddenly Jesus Christ himself ambushed Saul. Look at verses 6,7; “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 says to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’” Jesus Christ from heaven yelled at Paul like mother yelling at a bully who is beating up her children.  When Jesus ascended to heaven we may have thought he was now free of any more persecution. Here we see he is still feeling the violent persecution when his people are persecuted. Saul thought he was persecuting people who had no one to protect them. We see Jesus Christ single handedly was able to knock Saul to the ground right in the midst of his army. Look at verses 8 & 9.  This event was not a dream. Saul’s companions saw the light but did not understand the voice talking to him. Saul did not continue in his rage against Jesus. He humbled himself to Jesus and asked, “What shall I do, Lord?” Paul was also hoping these Jews he was speaking to would stop their own rage against Jesus and ask Jesus: “Lord, what should I do?”  Jesus still knocks people to the ground. From Paul’s testimony we learn when Jesus knocks us to the ground we should humble ourselves by asking him “What shall I do, Lord?” Since I am a man I can speak for men. We men are notoriously stubborn. Therefore it is common among us to say: “Either it’s my way or the highway.” But we must learn from Paul not to be stubborn to Jesus especially when he knocks us down. When he knocks us down we should say, “Lord, what must I do?” For Paul this sincere question to Jesus opened his mind and heart to receive Jesus’ life long assignment for his life. Let us read verse 10 together. “ Get up, the Lord said, and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do” Notice Jesus’ words: “There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do”. Most of us as life long students are familiar with the words assigned to do.” Our teachers give us assignments. When I was going to college my wife kept reminding me the first day of class was the most important class because the teacher would be handing out the syllabus and explain all the assignments they expected us to do to pass their class. Have you ever had a first day of class where the teacher said: “I expect nothing from you. Do whatever you want and when the class is over I’ll give you an A for doing whatever you want. On the contrary, the first day of class is usually intimating because the teacher outlines many challenging assignments. Furthermore they say tough things like: “Many of you probably will drop this class because it will be too difficult. I will be very uncompromising, not many of you will pass this class. If you don’t keep up with your assignments you will soon be so overwhelmed you will have no hope in passing my class.” I wish I could have tape-recorded all the lectures my teachers gave on their first day of class. They always seem to be a perfect case study in intimidation.  Nevertheless, as I took more and more classes I soon found if I looked at their intimidating assignments by faith in Jesus Christ I could begin to sense victory in the class even on the very first day.”

           

Now if Paul is given an assignment from Jesus, doesn’t it make sense Jesus would also give us an assignment?  When it comes to Jesus we like to think of receiving grace while avoiding the calling. I find I am like this, especially when I am busy. Once I complained to my wife Mary I am too busy. I was hoping to receive a little sympathy from her. Instead with astonishing spiritual wisdom replied: “David, every time you are not busy you fall into sin and temptation.” I couldn’t argue with her. She left me totally speechless. For me at least if I didn’t take on the assignments Jesus gave me then my life would be ruled by sin and temptation even though I would call myself a Bible believing Christian.

 

Verse 11 says: “My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.” Between verses 11 and 12 according to Acts 9:9 three days elapsed. During those three days Saul, stayed in a room blinded and did not eat or drink. Paul was worse off than a prisoner in solitary confinement. He was as miserable as could be as he waited for Jesus to send him his assignment. Saul however didn’t try to run away from Jesus. He waited for his assignment. During those three days Paul did much soul searching and realized what a terrible sinner he was. He realized he was no better than all those people he had criticized and found fault in. We can say those three days cultivated in Paul a heart of good soil. Those humbling and miserable days gave him a heart that would accept the word of Jesus and his assignment so wholeheartedly that it would produce fruit thousand, million times what was sown. James 1:2-4 teaches us:  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” If we look at our trials from our human eyes they look too overwhelming, as if they will bring the end to our world. But if we look at them by faith in God’s word we can find joy in our trials. Because it is through trials Jesus makes us mature and complete, lacking nothing. Shep. Bruce and Lynn had to go through many trials. Because of them Bruce now has received a job as a Northern VA middle school teacher. I’m sure they will face many more trials as all of us will but as long as we have faith in Jesus we know Jesus will use them to make us mature and complete.

Look at verses 12-13.  Paul now introduces Ananias. Because this was a very hostile crowd towards Christians Paul did not introduce the fact Ananias was a faithful spirit filled Christian. Instead he tells them he was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews. Nevertheless we can see his faith in Christ by how he greeted Saul.  Saul was infamous for his persecutions of Christians. He destroyed many Christian’s families. Now he was blind. If he were kept blind he would be much less of a threat to Jewish Christians.  However Jesus in Acts 9:11 told Ananias to restore Saul’s sight. Like a good soldier of Jesus Christ Ananias obeyed Jesus despite his own hesitation and fears to do it. The first thing he does when he saw Saul is say to him: “Brother Saul receive your sight.” At the time Ananias could never imagine how much good Saul would do for Christianity. He did it only out of obedience. Likewise there are many good reasons why we may want to hold something against others. But we must forgive them and pray for them because this is what our Lord Jesus Christ asks us to do.  Who knows Christ can change them and make them into your greatest friend and most powerful ally?

 

Next, Ananias delivers to Paul his assignment from Jesus. Let us read verses 14-15.  These are the key verses we chose for this chapter. I’m sure many messages could be written on the interpretation of these words. For this message I’d like to break these verses into two assignments Jesus gave to Paul. First is his assignment to know God and Jesus Christ his Son.  Paul’s first assignment is to know better the will of the God of his fathers and the Righteous who is Jesus Christ. Jesus will personally reveal himself to Paul by revealing himself to him and speaking words to Paul from his own mouth. We can also say this is Jesus’ will for all people. He prayed in John 17:3 “Now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.” Jesus was sent into this world of death to give us eternal life. Right now today we can start to enjoy this eternal life if we start knowing God and Jesus Christ. Knowing God and Jesus Christ is not just a one-semester assignment. We see from Jesus’ prayer it is an eternal life assignment. We should begin working on it now and for all eternality.

 

The second assignment Paul was given was to be a witness for Jesus Christ of all Jesus showed him and said to him. We now are witnesses Paul deserved an A+++ in that assignment. He wrote more books in the Bible than any other apostles so he could pass onto as many people and generations all Jesus showed him and said to him. What was the secret to his super success in this part of his assignment? Look at 1Cor.15: 8-10: “and last of all he appeared to me also as to one abnormally born, for I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostles because I persecuted the Church of God, but by the grace of God I am what I am and his grace to me was not with out effect. No I work harder than all of them. Yet not I but the grace of God that was with me.” The secret to Paul’s great success as being a witness in sharing all Jesus showed him and said to him was Jesus’ grace.  It wasn’t his strict obedience to rules, laws and tradition. It was 100 percent the grace of God. As Bible-believing Christians being a witness of what we study in the Bible is also our assignment. I am told Shepherd Augustine Park is now carrying out this assignment with an Uzbekistan young man in China. This grace of God turned Jennifer Roberts into a woman who was full of condemnation to a witness for Jesus here in Maryland and in Granada. Next week by the grace of Jesus, Jennifer has been appointed to give a Sunday message.

 

Look at verse 16: “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” From these words I get a word picture of Paul lying down, weak and full of self-condemnation. He may be feeling. “What a terrible sinner I am. All my energy has been spent in persecuting my Lord and his people. I am way too unworthy a sinner to do anything for Jesus.”  Ananias doesn’t allow Paul to lay there in self-condemnation. He looks down at him and say: “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, wash your sins away by calling on his name.”  Paul listened to Ananias. He got up and called upon Jesus Christ to washes away his sins. This was the beginning of his changed life. Much later he shared the power of calling on Jesus’ name in Romans 10:13: “for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” There is only one way that will wash away our sins. It is by calling on Jesus Christ to wash away our sins.

 

The crowd was giving Paul their undivided attention. He knew in the back of their minds they all wanted an answer about the reports of him preaching to the gentiles. Paul tired his best to answer this question. Look at verses 17 and 18. Paul wanted to stay in Jerusalem to share the good news of Jesus with the Jews there. But Jesus told him to leave. Look at verses 19 and 20.  Paul even tried to argue with Jesus about his words that the Jews wouldn’t listen to him. In Paul’s mind he thought if they would listen to any person it would be him because he was once the chief persecutor of Christians. Then Paul shared Jesus’ response to his argument to stay in Jerusalem. Look at verse 21: “Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” This direction that seems harmless enough again set this mob abazed with fury. Verse 22 reads: “The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, ‘Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live.’” This defense of Paul is an example how we can prepare our own life testimony. We should not put lies in our testimonies. On the other hand we should not hide those hard truths that offend others. As for the Jews we see they wanted to hug everything about God for themselves. Though they refused to admit it, deep inside they knew the Gentile world would find new life and the light of truth when they hear the good news about Jesus Christ. They wanted the gentiles to continue to live in darkness and under the power of Satan. We must ask, are we ever like these Jews? We are if we choose not to witness Jesus Christ to people who are different than we are. The human race is filled with very different kinds of people. As sinful humans it is our tendency to despise even hate those who are different than we are. God on the other hand loves all people of the world 100 percent unconditionally.  He sent Jesus Christ to be his one and only cure for every kind of sinner. If we have prejudices towards other people we must repent. If we want to be part of God’s cure for sin in this world we must be 100 percent on side of helping spread the good news of Jesus Christ to every soul on earth.

 

Till now the commander graciously allowed Paul to speak. Now that he saw this mob was again on the verge of becoming an out of control riot he ordered Paul into the barracks. He thought there was something dark and sinister about Paul that kept causing this crowd to go wild with rage. He wanted to get to the heart of it immediately by first flogging him and then questioning him. This is how Roman justice was handed out if you were not Roman. First you were flogged then you were questioned. Sure many people died this way but it shortened the workday for the Roman soldiers so they could get home before their dinner became cold.

 

Look at verses 25-29: Paul’s question hit a terrifying nerve among these ruthless soldiers. For a Roman soldier to punish Roman citizen by flogging before they were found guilty would certainly lead to his own dismissal and probably his execution. Notice Paul didn’t demand this right by saying “ I'm a Roman citizen, you can’t flog me with a trial.’’ Instead he humbly asked the centurion whether it was right or not to flog a Roman citizen before they were found guilty. Paul knew Roman soldiers very well. He knew they always wanted to feel in charge and be the one to make the decision. By asking him and instead of telling him he was able to get the Roman authorities to respect his own rights as a Roman citizen. 

 

Paul even in an extremely hostile environment was able to be a witness for Jesus Christ because he had a life testimony ready to share. From this passage we again learn the grace and power of calling on the name of the Lord. Paul’s testimony shows us Jesus has also given us the assignment to know him and to be his witnesses. I pray this message will help us to develop our own personal life testimonies so we can be instruments of righteousness to witness Jesus Christ to all kinds of people.