1. In the passage I read you today an apologetic defence made by Paul to the multitude of people is recorded. This speech, again, is a testimony to his experience of how he became a Christian. Today I would like to listen attentively to how he speaks, but in order to sufficiently understand his words, first we will need to go over the kind of situation he was in when he had spoken them. So, first I would like to go back to the place we read last time and recall what kind of background there was.
Persons Who Make Themselves Righteous
2. In the place I read you last time, the event was logged in how Paul was assaulted by the people, and how it looked like he was killed. The people of Jerusalem began to get excited by the instigation of the Jews who came from Asia. The occasion of their commotion was a small misunderstanding over Paul's conduct. The account is recorded in 21:29. As they overheard the noise, the Roman garrison came rushing in. The commander arrested Paul and tried to ascertain the facts of the matter. But, the crowd feels so turbulent so that he does not succeed. Finally, they bring Paul to the barracks. For the soldiers to avert the assault of the crowd, they take Paul by carrying him. The crowd shouts after him. "Do kill that man!" It seems here that Luke is sketching a picture and placing one event on top of another event. He is placing what happened in this same Jerusalem nearly thirty years ago on top of the more recent event. That is, even at that time the people had shouted at that man called Jesus of Nazareth. "Kill that man!," (Luke 23:18).
3. Likewise, at the time of the Lord Jesus as in this scene involving Paul, those who were burning with intentions to kill and shouting were not what you would call "bad guys" or "rascals." Rather, according to the contemporary social assessment they were people who were pious and upright. They were people who faithfully observed the inherited customs and lived in accordance with the law. They were people who took pride in being the chosen people of God more than anything else. In today's passage, Paul says that they were people who served God fervently. Therefore, Luke calls the persons who were shouting "do kill" as "the people," and did not readily call them "the crowd, the mob." The word "people" (the Greek is laos) is also the word that expresses Israel as the people of God. Even when Jesus was judged, Luke expresses the persons who had been assembling there as "the people." We think this was based on the same intentions.
4. But, while Luke makes the people appear as people which he considers as upright persons living according to the law and as souls who are the chosen people of God, he portrays how the "uprightness" of this particular people was perverted. At first glance it seems like "holy anger" based on justice, but in reality he portrays how it is a manifestation of human sin that one ought to fear. According to the fact that sinless Jesus was hung on the cross because of the uprightness of humans and a judgment based on that kind of uprightness, the substance of sin which we ought to fear which hides in the justice of those humans is put to full exposure. So, the same sin is exposed here also. It is no longer about "what is truly right," but the character of the same sin appears in the midst of the characters of these people who kept shouting "do kill" as they went mad on fear alone.
5. Paul's testimony was given in such a scene. Therefore, we can see why Paul first began to relate his own past. Paul first puts himself in the same class with them. His crafted sermon does not say the people inappropriately criticize him or Paul is a victim; rather, first Paul begins from where both he himself and the people are essentially the same. He begins to speak as a Jew like them in Hebrew (technically, Aramaic). "Brothers, Fathers, everyone, please listen to the explanation I am giving you now." So he summoned them and continues after the following fashion. "I am a Jew born in Tarsus in Cilicia. And, I was raised in this capitol city, I received a strict education in the law of our ancestors under Gamaliel. I served God fervently just as everyone today. I persecuted this way and without regard to men or women I bound and threw them into prison, and I even killed. Both the high priest and the entire body of elders testified for me about this matter. The truth is I received a letter addressed to the comrades in Damascus from these people, bound the persons in that land, and went to bring them to Jerusalem for punishment," (vv. 3-5).
6. Now, the will of the people to murder is directed towards Paul himself. But, their posture was not totally foreign. Paul also had the same condition. He also thought he was personally an upright human being. He received a strict education in the law, he self-consciously felt that he was serving God fervently. Therefore, he persecutes Christians as he says, "I even killed." Strictly speaking the original words are not the same as the shouting of the people mentioned previously, but there is certainly a connection to it in content. As for the people who shout "do kill," their words are not an unrelated matter, Paul relates how he himself said "I even killed." There was nothing whatsoever really different about that.
A Person Knocked Down By The Lord
7. But, Paul went on some more. He begins to narrate the very fact that made Paul no longer the same as them. Now there are the people burning with murderous intent and shouting "do kill" and there is Christian Paul addressing them. Why did he do that and what does it mean? Paul begins to narrate this point.
8. Please look from verse six on. "I continued my trip and when I got close to Damascus, about midday, suddenly, a strong light from heaven shone around me. I dropped to the earth, I heard a voice say, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' When I asked, 'O Lord, who are you?," the answer was 'I am Jesus of Nazareth who you are persecuting.' The people who were with me saw that light, but they did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me. When I said 'O Lord, what should I do?," the Lord said, 'Get up and go to Damascus. What you must do will all be made known there.' Since my eyes became unable to see due to the shining of that light, I was lead by the hand by the persons who were with me and entered Damascus," (vv. 6-11).
9. This is the second time that the conversion experience of Paul on the way to Damascus was recorded. After this in chapter twenty-six Paul gives his testimony once more, so that Luke will record the same facts a sum total of three times. However, as we try to compare these three entries, we notice something immediately. The stories do not match exactly. In the conversion story of chapter nine, it is written that "The persons who travelled with me, though a voice was audible, no figure of anyone was visible and they stood without saying a thing," (9:7). In chapter twenty-two it is written "The persons who were with me saw that light, but they did not hear the voice spoken to me," (verse nine). Moreover, in chapter twenty-six it is written that "When we all fell to the ground," (26:14), so it happened that even the persons who travelled with him had fallen down. What does this mean?
10. These discrepancies may be because Luke wrote making use of sources which contained each of the respective differences. However, if he was placing emphasis on the mysterious event itself perhaps he would have rewritten it somehow or another so as to be consistent. Luke did not readily do that. It didn't matter to Luke whether that voice was audible only to Paul or whether it was audible to other persons as well. The important fact in either way about it was that Christ had intervened in Paul's life. What matters is that Christ entered into the life of Paul. Because of this, what we must look at here is not the mysterious manifestation itself. In effect it is really about what happened to Paul as a result of Christ's intervention.
11. As far as we see Paul, the intervention of Christ does not simply mean that he gives him immediate and genuine feelings of joy and happiness. Paul had to be knocked to the ground first. His eyes which could see had a need to be made unable to see. He considered himself as an upright person, and he was the one who caused death by judging others, but he was crushed there and had to appear before God as a total sinner himself. He had been a person who said I could see my own uprightness, but he was made to notice that in truth he could not see anything. He had been a person who thought he could go on walking and standing by his own feet in the direction of uprightness, but he was made to see in truth how he was a person who could not advance himself one step ahead. This was the event that happened to Paul. This is what it means that Christ intervenes into one's life.
12. So, he was knocked down, made unable to see, but that was not all. He heard the voice of Christ there. That was the voice which said, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" After he was made low by the Lord, he heard the voice of the Lord calling on none other than his very own name. Well, what does it mean that Paul's name was called?
13. Names have to do with one's very existence. Paul would not have mentioned the name of "Jesus of Nazareth," because he was thinking that this name just needed to be hated and wiped out. Paul did bring on death to christians. That was because the killing of christians was also the wiping out of the name of Christ. Killing is basically rejecting the existence of other people. You think it's okay that you exist but don't admit others to exist. That's what justifying yourself and killing others means. Such thinking is more or less within any of us and although we do not kill a person by actually laying a hand on them at all, in essence we commit something that is no different from killing. Paul did not accept the existence of the person of Jesus. He was not ever about to accept the name of Jesus. But, this Jesus called Paul's name. He called out his name and accepted Paul's existence. This is clearly apparent from the two times when Jesus called his name. The Lord did not knock him down in judgment for destruction. He did not even say the words "Why are you persecuting me?" in order to persecute him back. It was to revive with true significance. It was to make him truly alive in grace as a forgiven person, as a person with an acknowledged existence.
14. Consequently, Paul begins to inquire. "O Lord, who are you?" "O Lord, what should I do?" He may have understood exactly who it was who had knocked him down. What's clear here is that person became Paul's Lord. And, he was shown through a person (Ananias) how to live his life having Jesus as his Lord.
15. Ananias the Christian was the one who met with Paul. He who was summoned as "Saul" by Christ, and also he was summoned by Ananias as "Brother Saul." Paul persecuted christians, and he had persecuted the church. However, here Paul was accepted as "Brother Saul." There was a relationship here where a person is accepted after being broken before God and made to stand as a sinner. That's exactly what we call "the church."
16. Paul then was told what his experience really meant. And, he was told what should he do. Ananias tells him. "The God of our ancestors has chosen you. That is, you have been revealed His will, having met the upright Person hearing the voice from His mouth. About what you observed by eye and ear, you are to become a witness of that One to all people. Now why are you hesitating? Please stand up. Call aloud on the name of that One, be baptized and wash clean away your sins," (vv.14-16). He did not live as a christian based on his own individual experience of the mystery. That's not why; rather, he began to live as a christian based on being accepted by the church and the message of the church.
17. That suited Paul truly as the natural and at the same time reasonable thing because the message Paul heard was in the voice that said, "Why are you persecuting me?" The ones who Paul actually was persecuting were christians and the church. But, the Lord identified himself with the churches Paul had been persecuting. This means nothing other than that Paul's living with Jesus as Lord means living together with the church.
18. Paul did not get his start in the christian life at the manifestation of the risen Christ to Paul himself. Rather, he began to walk a life with Christ as Lord when he was accepted by the church, he received baptism based on the word of the Lord given by the church, and being cleansed from sin. Through all this he was given a mission by Christ, sent far off to the gentiles, made into a man who lives as a witness of the risen Christ.
19. We have humbly read this witness of such a Paul. Through this testimony, I want us also to carefully consider what it means to be a christian or to seek to become a christian.