OUR PERSONAL TESTIMONY SHOULD DEMONSTRATE THAT OUR SALVATION AND MINISTRY DERIVE FROM GOD’S SOVEREIGN INITIATIVE
Paul took every opportunity to tell his story of how God had worked in his life to transform him from a zealous Jew who was actively persecuting the church of Jesus Christ to the Apostle to the Gentiles. He had set his face to go to Jerusalem because he knew that great crowds would be present to celebrate the religious feast. (As one who was fishing for men, he knew to go where the fish are.) He had been warned about the danger and suffering that would await him in that city . . . and now he was caught up in the midst of a riotous crowd that was calling for his execution. Instead of trying to answer point-by-point the false claims that had been trumped up against him (21:21, 28), he quieted the crowd in order to present the simple facts of how God had been working in his life and ministry.
Each of us has an important story to tell in our witness to Jesus Christ. As we relate to our past there may be a tendency to either diminish (deny) our past or to exaggerate our past. Paul did neither. He was secure in the knowledge that by the grace of God, he who had been chief among sinners and a leader in persecuting Christians was now a trophy of God’s grace. [cf. Paul’s testimony in 1 Tim. 1:12-17] The story we tell of God’s transforming power is primarily a relational story rather than just about information and doctrinal truth.
OUR PERSONAL TESTIMONY SHOULD DEMONSTRATE THAT OUR SALVATION AND MINISTRY DERIVE FROM GOD’S SOVEREIGN INITIATIVE
I. (:1-21) FOUR STAGES OF PAUL’S PERSONAL SPIRITUAL TESTIMONY
“Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you. And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he said,”
Respectful address to this unruly crowd;
Paul can justify his behavior if they will just quiet down and give him a hearing.
Here he offers up his defense – speaking to them in Hebrew.
Joseph Alexander: probably speaking to them in that Aramaic modification of Hebrew that had become their vernacular dialect.
Lenski: These “brethren and fathers” wanted to tear Paul to pieces, were completely disowning him. Yet he calls them by this affectionate title. He rises above their ignorant passion. Calm, self-possessed, master even of this frightful situation, he intends to bring them to their senses.
A. (:3-5) Committed to Persecuting Christians as a Jewish Zealot
1. (:3) Zealous Jew
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are today.”
Longenecker: The triad of “birth” (gennesis), “upbringing” (trophe, lit. “nourishment”), and “training” (paideia) was a conventional way in antiquity of describing a man’s youth.
Lenski: The three perfect participles refer to states; once born, reared, educated a man remains thus.
Checks off all the important boxes to the Jews; counters the charge that he was acting as a traitor to undermine the Jewish culture and way of life and traditions; Nobody could be more Jewish than Paul; nobody more passionate and zealous
Establishes common ground
Joseph Alexander: “at the feet” will then convey the two distinct ideas of intimate nearness and subjection to authority.
Bock: Although this is a “new” faith, it has old roots. Establishing this fact is important in a culture where a religion is valued for its age.
2. (:4-5a) Famous Persecutor of the Christians
“And I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify.”
A known figure; not some obscure leader who has been operating in secret that they should fear; the important leaders here in their presence could back up his claims – he was not making any of this up
3. (:5b) Man on a Mission to Damascus
“From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.”
Used to be the leader in carrying out the wishes of the high priest and Jewish Council – what brought about such a 180 degree change in his loyalties?
B. (:6-11) Confronted by Jesus Himself on Damascus Road
1. (:6) Bright Light
“And it came about that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me,”
Others can testify to seeing this great light
2. (:7) Convicting Voice
“and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’”
3. (:8) Word of Identification
“And I answered, ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’”
Tremendous testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ – the historical figure –
We all must have a time when we collide with Christ and are regenerated. You can’t just drift into the kingdom of God. It might not look as dramatic as Paul’s testimony, but it is equally dramatic internally in terms of being transformed from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.
4. (:9) Special Illumination — Unique Experience
“And those who were with me beheld the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me.”
5. (:10) Special Instructions
“And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go on into Damascus; and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’”
The initiative was all on the part of Jesus; Paul did not seek out this experience; he was struck down on the Damascus road and given explicit instructions by the Sovereign Majestic Lord of the Universe.
6. (:11) Special Impairment
“But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.”
Humbling experience; making Paul completely dependent; breaking him down
C. (:12-16) Converted and Commissioned Under the Tutelage of Ananias
1. (:12) Identification of Ananias
“And a certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well-spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,”
Joseph Alexander: tries to conciliate the Jews by showing that his introduction to the Christian church was through a well-known Jew, of high repute among his brethren at Damascus.
Look at the importance of the role of Ananias – came alongside Paul and guided him through this early discipleship process; did not just communicate information but called Paul to respond in obedience to the gospel and be baptized and take steps of obedience to his commission
2. (:13) Regeneration
“came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him.”
3. (:14-15) Commissioning
“And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard.’”
Similar commission to our Great Commission:
– To Know His Will
– To See His Character
– To Hear His Word
– To Witness to All Men
4. (:16) Call to Respond
“And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.”
Baptism is the first step of discipleship and obedience to our commission;
Forgiveness of sins and Cleansing from Sin are essential to spiritual service;
It is all about Faith = “calling on His name”
Kent: Baptism symbolized the method of salvation (identification with Christ) and washing symbolized the result (cleansing from sin).
D. (:17-21) Commanded by Jesus to Leave Jerusalem to Evangelize the Gentiles
1. (:17-18) Urgency of the Command
“And it came about when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’”
Sometimes we are slow to GO!
Longenecker: Most likely the visit to the temple and the vision referred to here occurred on Paul’s return to Jerusalem three years after his conversion (cf. 9:26-29; Gal. 1:18-19). At that time, Luke tells us, Paul faced opposition from the Hellenistic Jews of the city, who viewed him as a renegade and sought to kill him (cf. 9:29).
Lenski: Desecrate the Temple (21:28) – that was unthinkable to him. Now it was in the sacred Temple itself that Jesus communicated with him and ordered him to go to the Gentiles. Jesus chose that place as being most fitting. Would the Lord of the Temple, he who had revealed himself to Paul in his heavenly glory, desecrate the Temple by a communication he made?
2. (:19-20) Identification with the Jews
“And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in Thee. And when the blood of Thy witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the cloaks of those who were slaying him.’”
Bock: Paul’s defense is that he was where the crowd is now, a persecutor and a faithful Jew; only God’s direction has made him otherwise. If there is a complaint to be made about Gentiles being included in God’s promise and message, Paul is not to blame. God is responsible for these events.
3. (:21) Authority of the Command
“And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
II. (:22-30) REACTION TO PAUL’S TESTIMONY
A. (:22-23) Tumultuous Reaction From the Jewish Mob
1. (:22) Demanding Paul’s Execution
“And they listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!’”
Infuriated at his indictment of the Jews and his devotion to ministering to the Gentiles.
Kent: the suggestion of Gentile equality in matters of salvation was abhorrent to their traditions. Jews believed in proselytizing Gentiles, but not apart from requiring submission to the Mosaic Law.
2. (:23) Displaying Their Anger
“And as they were crying out and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air,”
Joseph Alexander: Outward signs of rage
B. (:24-30) Tactics of Interrogation by Roman Commander
1. (:24) Scourging
“the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way.”
Not a pleasant way to be examined; intends to beat the truth out of him
Bruce: The scourge (Latin flagellum) was a fearful instrument of torture, consisting of leather thongs, weighted with rough pieces of metal or bone, and attached to a stout wooden handle. If a man did not actually die under the scourge (which frequently happened), he would certainly be crippled for life.
2. (:25-29) Shifting Gears
a. (:25-27) Claim to Roman Citizenship
“And when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, ‘Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?’ And when the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and told him, saying, ‘What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman.’ And the commander came and said to him, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’”
Joseph Alexander: binding Paul with the straps by which the person to be scourged was fastened to a post or other fixture
b. (:28) Value of Roman Citizenship
“And the commander answered, ‘I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money.’ And Paul said, ‘But I was actually born a citizen.’”
c. (:29) Protection of Roman Citizenship
“Therefore those who were about to examine him immediately let go of him; and the commander also was afraid when he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had put him in chains.”
Stott: he does not seem to have released him … At least he was still in chains the following day and subsequently. What is the explanation of this? Possibly a distinction is to be made between the heavy chains, a torture in themselves (of which Paul may have been relieved) and the lighter chains to prevent the prisoner from escaping.
C. (:30) Transfer of Venue to Jewish Council
“But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them.”