In our study of Acts chapter twenty two, we are reminded of Paul's spiritual journey as he shares his testimony with those that had him arrested. In chapter 21, Paul was arrested after a riot broke out in Jerusalem. As he was taken into custody, he was granted permission to speak to his accusers.
'Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.' When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet. Then Paul said:
Paul got the crowd's attention when he began to speak their language. He addressed them as "brothers and fathers" further identifying himself with them as he was also a Jew. It is easier for people to persecute someone that is not the same as themselves but, here, they learn that Paul is one of them and it quiets them down.
'I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.'
Paul begins his testimony with the fact that he was no ordinary Jew. He was trained by one of the most famous teachers in Jerusalem and so, when he mentioned the name of Gamaliel, it would have gotten their attention. It is interesting to note that Paul does not condemn them for their zealousness in defending the law in fact, once again, he identifies himself as being in their shoes at one time.
'I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.'
Paul went on to explain that he had not only done what this mob was doing here in Jerusalem but he had also went to Damascus to do the same thing. He says that the Council can verify these facts.
'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 say to me, "Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?" "Who are you, Lord?" I asked. " I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting," he replied.'
Saul had a little talk with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Jesus made a dramatic entrance and got Saul/Paul's attention. Jesus immediately asked him about his sin in order to bring Paul to understand his need for repentance. This is the same dramatic type of thing that occurs in everyone who comes to Christ. If you can't remember Jesus showing up in your life, you might want to check yourself to make sure that you have actually met Him.
'My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.'
Paul continues to describe his encounter with Jesus and there were witnesses who saw the light. They heard Jesus speaking to Paul but could not understand what He was saying. Jesus was giving a specific message to Saul/Paul and his companions did not need to understand or God would have allowed them to do so. There are those that say that God/Jesus does not audibly speak to people today but there is no basis for putting such a limit on God. If He wants to tell you something, He can! (What He tells you will line up with his Word and purpose.)
'What shall I do, Lord?' I asked. 'Get up,' the Lord said, 'and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.'
When Paul came face to face with the Lord, his reaction was to fall down in worship and then it was to find out how he was to serve. Jesus told Paul that he had been assigned things to do and we may say he's Paul and God had great things planned for him which is true. But, God has also planned great things for each of us to do as Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10.
My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.
We might ask ourselves why God would blind Paul just as he was having a change of heart. As we shall see, God is working behind the scenes for the good of His servant. We will have some tough things happen in our walk with Christ walking through these valleys is a normal part of our growth. (see Nehemiah 3 for a look at the valley gate and its role in our walk.)
'A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, "Brother Saul, receive your sight!" And at that very moment I was able to see him.'
Paul continues to tell the people the story of his encounter with Jesus. He now recalls the miracle of having his sight restored. This would have been surprising to the people as they believed that God would not heal a sinner without the prescribed rituals.
'Then he said: "The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear the words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard."'
Now Ananias is used by God to tell Saul/Paul his purpose and that is to be a witness for Jesus. We may say that this was just for Paul but we, too, have been given the same purpose. Though we may not have seen and heard Jesus on the road like he did, if you know Jesus and what He has done for you, you are to testify to "what you have seen and heard".
'And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.'
Ananias gave Paul his final instructions which were to go and get prepared to serve. Baptism has been twisted and used to divide God's people into different groups. The simple fact of the matter is that Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River (see Matthew 3:13-17). This happened before Jesus began His earthly ministry as a man. We, like Paul, are called to be His disciples and that means doing the same things that Jesus did. It was what Paul was told to do here before the start of his service and it is what we are to do as well.
'When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking. "Quick!" he said to me. "Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me."'
Paul tells us now of a vision and of the instructions that Jesus gave him concerning his work. The Lord knows all and knew that they would not accept Paul's testimony in Jerusalem so He sent Paul elsewhere. This example can strengthen us when we have times where people do not want to accept our story of how God is working in our lives. There are even those that do not accept the fact that God will give His people visions today but, as we can see, God is in control and communicates with His children in many ways.
'Lord,' I replied, 'these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.'
This passage speaks of the fact that our lives before we came to Christ can determine the best place to serve Him after we accept the Lord. Based on his previous actions, Paul was probably not the one to bring the Jews of Jerusalem into the faith.
'Then the Lord said to me, "Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles."'
So, Paul received his ministry instructions directly from the Lord and they weren't what he expected. Remember that Paul was not just a Jew but one of the most educated (a rising star in the Jewish leadership) but now God is going to send him to the Gentiles (non-Jews). We, like Paul, must just trust in God and know that His wisdom and ways are above our understanding. When He speaks, we act in faith just as Paul did.
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!'
The crowd was calm until Paul said something that they did not like. They did not accept the fact that Gentiles could be children of God with the Jews and so they wanted him dead. Paul had to have known what their reaction would be but he still shared what Jesus had told him and trusted in God. We, too, will face times when people do not like what God says through us and even more in the last days.
As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the commander ordered Paul to be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and questioned in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this.
The mob was going crazy so the commander just assumed that Paul had done something wrong and ordered that he be beaten and questioned about the matter. This may sound strange but the same type of thing happens today in many parts of the world. When some people don't like you sharing God's Word, they get a mob to try to stop it. Sometimes, this leads to false accusation and even arrest and unjust punishment as in the case of Paul here.
As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, 'Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't been found guilty?'
The answer to Paul's question is a big no. Therefore, can you imagine what the soldier was thinking? We can take comfort in this example as we are persecuted for following Jesus Christ. Many who do so do not know that we are royalty as children of God. Imagine their reaction when our true identity in Christ is revealed.
When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. 'What are you going to do?' he asked. 'This man is a Roman citizen.' The commander went to Paul and asked, 'Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?' 'Yes, I am,' he answered.
The commander questioned Paul to see if he was indeed a Roman citizen. Being a citizen brought many rights and one of them was to have a trial before being punished.
Then the commander said, 'I had to pay a big price for my citizenship.' 'But I was born a citizen,' Paul replied.
The commander had worked, saved and bought his citizenship but Paul explained to the commander that he was born a Roman citizen. This is a picture of how God has joined Jews and Gentiles into one body (see Ephesians 3).
Those who were about to question him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.
The soldiers knew that they could be in for some serious trouble for putting a Roman citizen in chains without a trial. This was an opportunity for Paul to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ. He could have gotten really mad and raised a big fuss but he did not.
The next day, since the commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.
Now, the commander stopped to find out the truth and so ordered Paul to stand before his accusers. You can almost feel God getting ready to use Paul here in a mighty way. Out of Paul's obedience to God comes another opportunity to testify about Jesus.