Acts 21: 37 – Acts 22: 21

As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:

“Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”

And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said:

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.

“As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ And 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.

“And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,  came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

“When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

Understanding And Applying the Text

In the previous passage, we saw how the mob attacked through emotion and not wisdom. Paul was not charged with anything. The mob did not even know why they were so worked up. The Roman authorities arrested Paul because he had to be guilty of something. Why else would there be this uproar? But he had none nothing wrong.

But his arrest that saved his life. As Paul was being taken into the Roman barracks he asked the Roman tribune to allow him to address the crowd. Paul wanted to defend himself and his actions. This is the duty of all Christians. We must defend our integrity. Otherwise, the mobs will blaspheme Christ’s name.

Paul asked the tribune, in Greek, to address the crowd. This surprised the tribune because Paul spoke to him in Greek. He thought Paul was the insurrectionist Jew from Egypt. This Jew claimed to be a prophet three years earlier. Josephus tells about him in the Jewish War (2.261–263).

This Egyptian Jew led a fanatical group of Jewish nationalists. They were hostile to Rome. They assassinated any political opponent. His followers dispersed and many were killed. But he escaped. The group was called Sicarii in Latin after their weapon of choice. It was a short dagger or Sicarius. They concealed it under their clothing. So, the officer thought Paul was this terrorist.

Paul as an educated rabbi. As such he was multilingual. His request in Greek allowed the officer to see Paul was not the insurrectionist he imagined. The confusion of identities shows how much confusion surrounding these events.

The tribune gave Paul permission to address the crowd. Most translations say Paul addressed the crowd in Hebrew. The NET translated it as Aramaic. But its note says, “in the Hebrew dialect.” The notes in the Reformation Study Bible also say it was Aramaic. That was the common language of the Jews in Palestine.

Rather Paul spoke Hebrew or a Hebrew dialect is not the point. What Luke is telling us Paul spoke so they would have no difficulty understanding him.

When we hear our own language our ears perk up. Paul’s speaking Hebrew surprised the crowd. They thought Paul had rejected all things Jewish. So when he spoke their language, he surprised them. And when they heard their own language, they were willing to listen. Paul needed to explain who he was and his background. Paul was a Jew.

Big deal, that was not in dispute. What was in dispute was the type of Jew he was. So Paul explained. He was not born in Jerusalem but he grew up there. He was well known in Jerusalem. Those in Jewish high society knew him well. He hung out with the High Priest and the elders. The entire Sanhedrin could vouch for his devotion to God and the law.

The Sanhedrin was the administrative group. It governed the Jewish community. They represented the people to Rome. Rome governed through them. They were in high society. They were the crème de la crème of Jewish society. These were the people Paul hung with. Paul was not calling on Joe down the street to vouch for him. He invoked the most respected members of that culture. Plus, his education was under the tutelage of Gamaliel. Gamaliel was one of the most respected Jewish scholars of his time. In other words, Paul was an up and comer. He was going places. He was on his way to becoming someone important.

He knew and understood “the law of our fathers” better than the mob. Paul not only knew the law he was zealous for it. The mob was claiming their zeal for God. That was the reason for their uprising. Paul wanted them to know he was as zealous as they were, if not more so. But anyone could claim that. Where is the proof? Well, in the name of God, Paul killed. An interesting argument when God’s law says, “Thou shall not kill.” But Paul was zealous. Paul’s actions showed both his zeal for God’s law and his opposition to Christ. The entire Sanhedrin could testify about his fervency.

He wanted to rid the world of Christians. There was blood in his eyes. No one questioned his comment.

Here is the irony. Paul bound men and women. He had them thrown in prison. His sole justification was they preached Jesus. Now he was bound. They were about to throw him in prison. Why? Because he preached Jesus.

Paul told his conversion story to the crowd. He was on his way to Damascus, to find more Christians. On the way, Jesus struck him. It was about noon. That is in the middle of the day a great light appeared.

How bright would that light have to be? It overcame the brightness of the noonday sun. I can’t even imagine a light that bright. Sure at night. But in the middle of the day. That was a bright light! Think about those searchlight businesses use at night to attract attention. They are bright! They shoot a beam of light high into the night sky. But their light melts away in the daylight.

What Paul saw was only a glimpse of Christ’s glory. This was like James, John, and Peter on the mount of transfiguration. Paul beheld the brightness of Jesus’ glory. A brightness beyond comprehension. That is glory beyond comprehension. It is no wonder Paul was committed to preaching Jesus Christ.

Christ’s glory was so intense Paul fell to the ground. We cannot help but recall the prophet Isaiah and the Psalmist. “Every knee shall bow” (Psalms 72:11, Isaiah 45:22-25). Again Paul in Philippians, “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Philippians 2:10) There will not be a choice. God’s glory will force us to bow.

Jesus asks Paul why he insisted on persecuting Him. When we attack the true church we attack Christ. By true church, I am not referring to an institution or an organization. I am referring to what Paul was doing. He assaulted Christians, those redeemed by Christ are His body. In the name of God, Paul was doing Satan’s work. We see the same today around the world. Islam beheads Christians. In India Hindus, under the protection of the government, attack Christians. We see it in China and Africa. Christians are murdered, mutilated, raped and assaulted. Why? Because they preach the forgiveness of sins through Christ.

Christ spoke to Paul. There were others with him. They saw the light. They heard the voice. But they did not understand what Christ said. (Act 9:7). Christ spoke to Paul alone. So it is today. Many hear the gospel. But they only hear words. But they do not understand. They see. They hear. But there is no understanding unless Christ reveals it to them. Christ spoke to Paul not those with him.

Paul’s response was, “What shall I do, Lord?” Paul’s response shows his change. Paul’s change is sudden and radical. Christ had changed Paul’s life. Paul was now alive. Before he was dead. Before Christ breaths life into us, we are all dead. (Ephesians 2:1) Christ told Paul to get up and go into Damascus. Christ had prepared a man to speak to him.

Christ told Paul to go into Damascus and wait for a guy named Ananias. What?! That does not make any sense at all. Christ had Paul right there on the road. Christ was talking to him right then and there. Why switch and use a fallible human being convey the message? Christ could have done it then. Why not tell Paul what Paul was to do? Why go through an intermediary? And why Ananias? Why Damascus? Why not return to Jerusalem? That was the holy city. Paul was going to end up there anyway.

We cannot answer all those questions. But we know Christ used Ananias. For some reason, Christ uses ordinary means for holy purposes. Even after this extraordinary event, Christ used the ordinary means.

Paul’s physical body still suffered the effects of the strain of beholding the holy. He could not see. Those with him had to lead him by the hand into Damascus. Ananias shows up and laid hands on Paul. And Paul received his sight.

As Paul relates this story it is interesting to note Ananias uses the phrase “the God of our fathers” told him. He does not say, Christ. In chapter 9, the Lord says Paul will carry His name to the Gentiles. (Acts 9: 15-16) Whose name did Paul proclaim? The name of Jesus. This is another reference to the Jesus Divinity. This is also a reference to the Trinity.

There is a little humor where Paul related the end of Ananias’ conversation. Ananias says, what are you waiting for? Let’s go get you baptized.

Baptism is more than getting wet. It is more than a ceremony. It is more than a formality. Through it, Christ washes away sins. Christ seals us in His righteousness. It is a sign and a seal of our new life. Again God uses ordinary means to do extraordinary things.

Paul leaves out the part of his story about his time in Damascus. He leaves out the part where the Christians in Jerusalem were afraid to accept him. He jumps right to the Jews‘ rejection of the Gospel.

Christ told Paul to get out of Jerusalem. The Jews in Jerusalem would not accept Paul’s testimony. In fact, Paul’s life was in danger. Like Ananias in chapter 9, Paul argues with God. “No that can’t be right. Everyone knows how I persecuted the church. I approved of Stephen’s death. That adds to my credibility.”

Christ told Paul to go. He was going to send him to the gentiles. At the word “gentiles” the crowd exploded. They were yelling for his death. It is like all of a sudden they remembered why they were mad at him.

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