Acts 22:17-Acts 23:11
Sent Out By The Risen Lord
1. In the midst of the uproar in Jerusalem Paul continues his message of self-defence. Today I read you from verses seventeen and following. The testimony recorded here is about when Christ sent Paul to the Gentiles. Why did Paul tell this story right after his witness to his personal conversion? In order to sufficiently understand the full meaning of the words written here, let's first go back over who this message was directed to.
All Things From God
2. To begin with, what caused this uproar? We already read that this was from one of the misunderstandings. Thus it is written in Acts 21:29: "As they had discovered Trophimus of Ephesus was with Paul before in the capital city, and they supposed that Paul brought him into the interior [of the temple]." So, we likewise experience this kind of thing and frequently have similar occasions where misunderstandings crop up. In short, the Jews often looked at Paul with criticism. To put it simply, the complaint on Paul was that he made no distinction between Gentiles and Jews.
3. It is written that what instigated the crowd in this uproar was "the Jews who came from Asia." Perhaps they were persons who came from the provincial capital Ephesus. Ephesus was the place where Paul stayed and spent the length of three years. This state of affairs is recorded in chapter nineteen about how many Gentiles became Christians there at Ephesus. I think if Paul would have said to the Gentiles, "To be saved, as proselytes* you receive circumcision and observe the law as Jews," then no one would have complained. But, Paul didn't say that. He said that Jews and Gentiles are both saved by the redemption of Christ and by only the grace of God and not by the deeds of the law. That is, this meant that Gentiles and Jews are both made the people of God by just faith. This was hard for the Jews to accept who considered themselves as the chosen people and lived by keeping the law. They only thought that Paul "was teaching every one wherever he goes to disregard the race, the law, and this place (temple)," (21:28).
4. Those are the kinds of people that Paul is addressing. When I read this passage with this point in focus, it begins to come clear to me why he is telling this event about his first visit to Jerusalem. With that, please look at verse seventeen and following.
5. He raises himself to the same status with the audience as one of the Jews. He never practiced any disregard for the temple. Paul says he had been praying at the temple. There and then he enters a state of visionary ecstasy and hears the call of the risen Christ. "Hurry. Leave Jerusalem immediately because many people are not accepting what you testify concerning me." But, Paul answers the Lord, "O Lord, these people know how I went around from synagogue to synagogue and used to imprison those who believe in you and beat them with a whip. Furthermore, when your witness Stephen's blood was spilled, I also agreed with it as I stood by, and I kept watch of the coats of those who were killing Stephen," (22:19-20). To get to the point, if they would see as former brothers, Paul's change would become obvious. Therefore, he must give the people understanding for the reasons he certainly had to have. That's how Paul thought. And further, Paul had to tell those reasons by any means necessary. He felt that he had to pass on to the Jews by any way whatsoever the gospel of Christ. He had to do this because their posture of rejecting Christ was never someone else's business. Paul's hopes and desires were clearly apparent by his three mission trips he took. Wherever he goes he first visits the synagogues of the Jews. For him the Sabbath worship was the first place to preach. So, what comes clear here first is number one that the Gentile mission itself did not come out of his own desires. In speaking about whose will it did originate from, this was the will of the Lord. That's just what Paul said. It may be good he said it originated with God's desires. The Lord himself wished for the salvation of the Gentiles. He says that Paul was sent according to such a divine will. "Go. I am sending you far off to the Gentiles," (verse 21).
6. This matter holds extremely important meaning for us, which is, we ourselves frequently are thinking that both this matter of missions and persons to be saved are based on human demand and desire. We do missions based on the reason that "this person needs religious faith." We are making the seeking for truth for the reason "I need salvation." Perhaps we are making a kind of thinking that says, "Since I need Christianity I'll get baptized and become a Christian." Therefore, if we think, "that person doesn't need faith," we don't do missions. If we think he doesn't need God we will lose seeking for truth. No, it's not just us only, but the Jews back then also were definitely the same. When they kept the law, what thoughts did they have when they were in it? That definitely was nothing other than "Let's keep the law faithfully because we need to be saved and escape God's judgment." Thereupon, questions arise as to "how far you should go in keeping the particulars of the law?" The ones who had to do with the discussions of those many detailed rules were the Pharisees which sect Paul originally belonged to.
7. What Paul is making plain here concerning this type of thinking is exactly the opposite. The first concerns are not that a person needs God or needs salvation. God has sought after the individual. God has loved people. This is exactly what God's sending Christ into the world means. Therefore, missions is accomplished through God's sending one out and humans are saved. Since this is so, having faith does not mean our seeking after God and obtaining Him. It's nothing other than our being directed by the hand of God who seeks after us. Every thing originated with God. This very belief was a conviction which permeated every thing Paul worked in. This appears clear in the letter to the Corinthian disciples written on his third missionary journey. Paul wrote in the following fashion in Second Corinthians 5:18-21: "Since all these came from God, God reconciled us with himself through Christ; he saved us a duty to serve for the purpose of reconciliation. In short, God made reconciliation of the world with himself through Christ, and does not accuse the debts of peoples' sins, but has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation. So, because God was encouraging us, we are fulfilling the duty of Christ's ambassadors. I ask you in the place of Christ. Please be reconciled to God. God made for us him who has nothing to do with sin as sin. So, we are enabled to obtain the righteousness of God according to that way." We will need to try to carefully consider that message of Paul which goes along with today's passage.
8. Well, let's go back to the story. Paul's words had the effect of agitating the people's anger. Since the regimental commander probably couldn't understand the Hebrew (the Aramaic) that Paul was speaking, he wouldn't have understood why the people got so excited. Paul, who was taken to the barracks there, was questioned, which included a flogging. The "whips" mentioned here are kind of like those in the movies that had ancient Rome on stage and used to be made up of broken pieces of metal and bone attached to the tip of the leathered end. It is said that as a person tied to the post was beaten with it, he usually landed up dead. So, rather than call it "questioning" it might be better to call it an interrogation based on torture.
9. When Paul was tied up to be whipped, he spoke to the centurion nearby. "Should you beat with a whip a person with citizenship in the Roman empire without giving him a trial?" The issue of Paul's citizenship appeared already in chapter sixteen. Since Paul says that "he was born with Roman citizenship," perhaps someone from his ancestry obtained citizenship through some meritorious service or another. So, as Paul claims, a Roman law certainly existed which forbade flogging a Roman citizen and giving him over to torture. What the regimental commander decided to do was obviously illegal. In conclusion, everyone got scared, withdrew their hands and Paul got out of getting beaten by the whip.
10. The next day, the regimental commander called the high priests and the high court together. Then bringing out Paul, he made Paul stand before them. Paul was given an opportunity to speak again. This time it wasn't with a crowd that lost its sense, he was given an opportunity to defend himself to the leaders of the people which Paul used to have dealings with.
11. Paul began speaking before them saying, "Brothers, I have lived consistently before God according to a good conscience right up to this day." In short, Paul claims if his being a Christian was not a betrayal of God neither was it an apostasy. However, Paul's speech was promptly interrupted by the high priest Ananias. Ananias commanded the man nearby to strike Paul on the mouth. Paul speaks forcefully with resolve to the high priest. "O white washed wall, God will strike you. While you are sitting there for the purpose of judging me in the law, do you break the law and command them to strike me?"
12. In this exchange it is made plain that the high court did not assemble to make the truth plain. They were assembling in order to condemn Paul. Even Paul was well aware of that fact. But, it should be avoided that the entire Sanhedrin (Jewish high court) would reach the conclusion that the gospel which Paul was preaching was down right opposition to the traditions and hopes of Israel because such thinking was not the truth. The church ought not to have enemies of the Jewish community. We share the same hopes. Paul knew that one section of the members were of the Sadducees sect and the other section was of the Pharisee sect. The Sadducees do not recognize either the resurrection, angels. or spirits. The Pharisees do. As Paul begins to speak here on the hope of the resurrection, the Pharisee men could not condemn Paul for those points in front of the Sadducees. Rather he may be able to pick up some sympathizers. Paul begins to speak calmly there. "Brothers, I am a Pharisee by birth. I am being tried for embracing the hope that the dead will rise."
13. A dispute arose between the two sects. Certainly allies appeared from among the Pharisee men. They started to say, "We detect no wrong points in this man. Did a spirit or an angel speak to him?" However, the dispute became more severe to the point that danger might reach Paul. Paul could no longer remain there. He lost his chance to defend himself. Paul was brought back to the barracks by the soldiers.
14. That night the Lord appeared to Paul again. The Lord who stood by Paul's side said the following. "Take courage in the way you witnessed boldly for me in Jerusalem, you must witness also in Rome," (verse 13). This word "take courage" is a word that can be translated as "have peace." In chapter fourteen of Matthew's gospel there is the story of the disciples who although they struggled in rowing all night long against cross winds on the Sea of Galilee, Christ spoke this same word to them when he came to them walking on the lake. "Peace. It's me. There's nothing to fear."
15. Because the Lord addressed this message to Paul it means that Paul had need of this message. Paul had become weakened. He must have been taken up with uneasiness and fear. It's not unreasonable. Since he had come to Jerusalem there was not one good fruit to come. As Paul himself gave in so that he followed the proposal of the Jerusalem church, he became engulfed in the uproar. While half killed and faint in breath because of this, he squeezed out every bit of his physical strength and addressed the people. He spoke with truth and love from his heart about his personal testimony. But, its effect was only to stir up their anger more. Furthermore, even in the place of the self defence that was given next, the words of Paul just lead to division and chaos. Could his coming to Jerusalem have been the correct thing to do? Perhaps wouldn't it have been better for him to follow the advice of the men and avoided going up to Jerusalem? Paul himself was a child of man. When you think about all that has gone down the line, he should be tired and he should be ill at ease. However, the Lord stood at such a Paul's side. And he spoke to him. "Take courage. Just as you witnessed of me boldly in Jerusalem you must witness also in Rome." In looking back over the days which only seemed like fruitless effort the Lord said, "You boldly testified of me in Jerusalem." He saw it as good what Paul had done. So, he reveals that the end was not to be in Jerusalem. The Lord was preparing Paul for the work at Rome.
16. "If you make correct choices, the results ought to be good." "Bad results are because you did not make correct choices." Such a near-sighted point of view leaves tracks and scars and also controls our daily life of faith. This was not the truth as far as looking at Paul goes. We should not judge by the conditions before the eyes. Every thing that has to do with salvation of humanity is not based on the demands and desires of humanity, but are based on the desires and will of the Lord alone. And because of this, we have no need to fear one tad bit. The Lord says "Take courage," as he stands by our side. So, as long as we are with the Lord every thing will not be as one sees in Jerusalem. Certainly there is Rome ahead in the future.
End Note: *Proselyte: a person who converts to another faith.