Pastor Miles DeBenedictis
Acts 21:31 — 22:22
When World Views Collide
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“And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, and they seized Paul, they dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut. Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. And he immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. And then the commander came near and took him, and commanded that he be bound with two chains; and he asked those that were there who this guy was and what he had done. And some among the multitude cried one thing and some another.
So when he could not ascertain the truth because of the tumult, he commanded that Paul be taken into the barracks. And when he reached the stairs, Paul had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob. For the multitude of the people that followed him were crying out, ‘Away with him! Away with him!’”
Father, we ask that You would give us insight. Lord, we recognize that Your Word is living, that it is powerful, God, that it is useful for teaching, for reproof and correction, for instruction in righteousness, that we, who are Your people, that we would be ready, that we would thoroughly equipped for the good works that You have already prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. So, we pray today as we look into Your Word, that You would continue to further prepare us, that You would further transform us by the renewing of our minds, that we would be able to show forth Your glory in the world in which we live. And all God’s people agreed, saying, “Amen.”
You can be seated.
As Pastor Mark mentioned, just a few minutes ago, this last week he and I were up in the Portland/Vancouver area, on the border between Oregon and Washington. An interesting part of the world. And as we were driving across the bridge from Portland into Washington – Vancouver, Washington – where Crossroads Community Church is; the church that my good friend, Daniel Fusco, pastors up there. As we’re crossing the bridge, I had one of those experiences, perhaps you can relate, where the conversation that Mark and I were having, and the scenery going on around us, seemed strangely familiar. It was as if I had seen it all before. It was as if the conversation that we were having was something that, in a dream once upon a time, I had had. Anyone ever have that experience? We call it déjà vu. You know what that is. I know you don’t typically imagine that you’ll be hearing about déjà vu when you come to church, but that’s what was happening as I was crossing that bridge there.
Now, psychologists and scientists, they tell us that that experience is not precognition, it’s not prophetic, but it’s almost as if your brain is having a hard time catching up with what’s going on, and it’s trying to move forward. And so it seems like you’re recalling the events. It’s kind of like, have you ever been typing on the computer, and the computer’s hanging up, and you’re still typing, and then, all of a sudden, it’s frozen, but then it catches up with you, and it fills in everything that you just typed. That’s kind of what’s happening with your brain when that is going on.
And so there it seemed like, “This is all strangely familiar, I’ve experienced this before.” And as I was looking at this text here in Acts Chapter 21, I was thinking Paul had to be thinking that same sort of thing, as the events were unfolding here on this day, as he was in the temple there in the year AD 58, about 1,956 years ago from today. As he was there in the temple in Jerusalem, as it was right around the Feast of Pentecost, right around this time of the year, the Springtime. And as they took him, as they seized him, as they run him out of the temple, and the temple is all shut up, I can only imagine that he was thinking, “This is strangely familiar.”
Why? Well, because about 20 years before this, maybe right around 22 years before this, a very similar event had taken place in which Paul was a witness. But he was a witness from a different perspective, of almost the exact same thing happening. And that story is found in Acts Chapter 7. If you would turn to the left in your Bible, back to Acts Chapter 7, you’re at Acts Chapter 21.
And there in Acts Chapter 7 we find the story of a guy by the name of Stephen. How many of you guys remember Stephen? If you’ve been around the Book of Acts, you know this story. Stephen was one of the first deacons ever chosen by the church to be commissioned to a task, to serve within the Body of Christ. There were seven of these guys that were chosen, in Acts Chapter 6. And one of them was this guy, Stephen, who God was using not just to serve, not just to wait on tables and do practical ministry, but God was using him as a mouthpiece of the Gospel. And he was causing quite a stir, quite a commotion, especially among a certain group of Jewish individuals that were part of a synagogue there in Jerusalem, called the Synagogue of the Libertines, or it was a group of guys who were from other parts of the world, Jews who were from other parts of the Roman Empire during that time, specifically from an area called Cilicia. And the key city, the capital city of Cilicia was a city called Tarsus. And there was a guy, from that city called Tarsus, named Saul. And he was actually probably a member of that synagogue.
And there this uproar comes about because Stephen, the first Christian, you know, disciple who’s a deacon on Christ there in the church, he’s proclaiming the Gospel to these people. And the guys who were a part of this synagogue, they couldn’t contend with him. And so they’re upset, they’re mad at him. And God opens a door for him to preach a powerful message, the entire message is given for us there in Acts Chapter 7.
But, at the height of it, at the end of it, that this is like the climax, Stephen says this, look at this, Acts Chapter 7, Verse 51. Remember who he’s speaking to – a group of Jewish guys who were a part of this synagogue that were very zealous for the law of God – and he says this, Acts 7:51 – “’You stiff-necked and uncircumcised of heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One,’” the Messiah, “’of whom you now have become the betrayers and the murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.’”
Wow!! That’s a pretty heavy word. “You stiff-necked and hard-hearted people. You reject God’s law, you reject God’s prophets, and you have killed the Messiah.” Those are fighting words, if you don’t notice it. How did they respond? How did they react?
Look at Verse 54: “When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed up into heaven and he saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, ‘Look! I see Jesus standing at the right hand of God. I see heavens opened and the Son of Man standing there!’
“And then they cried out,” Verse 57, “with a loud voice, they stopped their ears.” Literally, it’s like they put their hands over their ears, “We’re not listening to this anymore.” “They ran at him with one accord.” Which means they ran at him as one big mob of people. “And they cast him out of the city and they stoned him. And the witnesses,” notice this, “the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named,” who? “…Saul.”
Saul, who was of the city of Tarsus, he was probably a chief member of this synagogue that is now stoning Stephen. They have run at him with one accord. This mob carries him outside of the city, because they’re not going to kill him in the city. They want him put to death, but they can’t do that there, they don’t want to defile the city, or defile themselves there in the city, so they take him outside. And they’re going to execute him now for this proclamation of the Gospel. And the guy presiding over this, the guy permitting this, is a young man by the name of Saul, who at this time, was probably in his mid-thirties, about 35, 36 years old. And he was very possibly at least a candidate for the Sanhedrin, that is the ruling body of Jerusalem. There were 72 men who oversaw the judicial rulings of religious law there in Jerusalem, and he was at least a candidate to be a part of the Sanhedrin, or he was a part of the Sanhedrin. And he is giving permission to these guys to kill this guy named Stephen.
And so Saul is the one who now, if you fast-forward 22 years, now it’s the year AD 58, his name is no longer Saul of Tarsus, he now goes by Paul the Apostle. The same Jesus, whom Stephen was preaching on that day, now Saul has become a follower and apostle of that Jesus. And now he’s in the temple, and they run at him with one accord, and they seize him, and they drag him outside of the temple. And he knew exactly why they were doing this, there is no ifs, ands, or buts here. He knows what’s happening, because there was another time where he had experienced this. There was another time where he was on the other side of this whole thing. They run at him, they seize him, they grab him, this zealous mob of people who are passionate for the law of Moses, they carry him outside of that temple area because they are intending to kill him.
Verse 30, Acts Chapter 21, you can skip back there again: “All the city was disturbed; and the people ran together,” as a mob, “they seized him, they dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut.”
Now, again, Paul had to be thinking, “This is strangely familiar.” And then I wonder if he also was not thinking, “Man, you reap what you sow.” You know, we do not believe here in that the Indian religious concept of karma. Here we are, ten minutes into a message, we’ve already talked about déjà vu and karma… But, so, but we don’t believe in that, but we do recognize that there is an aspect of “you reap what you sow.” And you have to wonder if Paul wasn’t thinking, “Well, here it is. This is it. This is the moment. This is what it’s going to look like. This is what happened to Stephen. I was there. I stood on the other side of this, and I was one presiding over permitting it, and now here it’s coming to me. It’s happening to me.”
“Now,” Verse 31, “as they were seeking to kill him.” Notice that. They’re intent is very, very clear. “As they were seeking to kill him.” They want to put him to death. We’re going to see, in a few, two verses later, in Verse 32, they stop beating him. So, they’re in the process of pummeling him. They’re seeking to kill him. This isn’t just like “rough ‘em up and let ‘em know who’s boss.” This is like “kill ‘em.” Now.
“And as they were seeking to kill him,” Verse 31, “news came to the commander of the garrison.” This is the Roman occupying force that’s there in Jerusalem. “News came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. And immediately he took soldiers and centurions, and he ran down to them.”
Now, we need to kind of imagine for a moment the picture of what’s going on there in Jerusalem. This event started in the temple. This mob, this riot began there, and now they’re taking Paul out of the temple, because they can’t kill him there. They can’t murder him in the temple, because they’ll defile the temple. [laughter] There’s some strange thinking going on here. “Can’t kill him in this place, let’s kill him right outside. It’s okay, as long we get outside the doors.” So, this all starts in the temple.
Just north of the Temple Mount, the most prominent feature of the city of Jerusalem, both today and 2,000 years ago, was the Temple Mount. Now, in that day, there was a great temple there upon the Temple Mount. Today, there’s not. Immediately north of the Temple Courts was a huge Roman palace called The Antonia. It shared a wall with the wall of the Temple Courts, and it was there because the Roman garrison that was occupying that region, they had soldiers on the wall who were looking into the temple, because every revolt, every riot, every rumble in Jerusalem started in the temple. And so, if it started there, the Romans wouldn’t go into the temple precincts, they were forbidden to go there, but if it started there, it was, no doubt, going to overflow into the city. So, they were watching, always. They’re always keeping note of what’s happening in the temple.
And now, there’s an uproar, there’s a mob, and the soldiers that are watching, they go and they tell the commander, “Something’s happening in the temple. And now they’re taking this guy,” Paul, “outside of the temple.” So, the commander grabs his soldiers – notice it says he grabs centurions, plural…centurions, plural. This gives us some idea of what kind of force he is intending to use here, because a centurion was a Roman official, army official, over a group, a detachment of soldiers. Now, we might imagine that that would be 100 – century, centurion – that it should be 100 soldiers. Typically it was 80 soldiers. So, he says, “…centurions.” Possibly there’s as many as 160 guys who were running down there in full Roman gear, to go and stop this thing up. And you might think, “Man, that seems like an overwhelming show of force.”
But, remember the climate. We talked about this two weeks ago. Remember what was happening in Jerusalem at this moment. Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that during this period of time, when Felix was governor over Judea, which is exactly who is the Roman governor over this region at this point in time. At this time, there was a group of religious zealots there in Judea and Jerusalem, called the Sicarii. And they were a group of assassins who, during the day, in the common marketplaces in Jerusalem, and even in the temple, they were assassinating people. They would do it secretly, covertly, slyly, out in the middle of all these people that were there. But they’re assassinating people, and Josephus says, “Many of them everyday.” And this is causing there to be a stir. And they’re trying to incite a revolt and a riot against the Roman government that is over there in Judea. So, the Romans are really serious about maintaining peace there in Jerusalem and Judea. And so you can see why they’re going down there and bringing such a huge force. They have been watching these murders take place, these assassinations take place every single day, and they know the purpose is to start a war against the Romans. So why were there so many Romans involved in this whole thing? That’s why. And so it starts to come together; it starts to make sense.
Verse 32: “He,” this commander of the garrison at Jerusalem, “he took soldiers and centurions, immediately, and he ran down to them,” to where this group was. “And when they,” this Jewish mob that’s beating Paul, they want to kill him, “when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating him.”
Point Number 1, if you have your sermon guide, if you’re taking notes this morning:
Thank God for the Romans
Or thank God for civil government. It may seem like a weird point to bring out of this, but I think it’s important to note. Now, as we continue on in these next verses, not everything that the Romans do is something that we agree with. We’re not going to say, “Yeah, that’s the right way to do this.” But, thank God for the fact that there was some sort of civil government to come in at this moment. Why? If there wasn’t, Paul would have been dead. No doubt; they would have killed him. Now, not everything that our government or any government does do we agree with, do we support. Not every decree that they give, not every, you know, thing that they do do we say, “Yeah, that’s right on.” But, at the very least, we should say, “Thank God for civil government.”
Why? Well, because God instituted it. God ordained it. There in Romans Chapter 13, Verse 1, Paul, writing to the church at Rome, says, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.” Why? “For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” Now, you might look at the verse now 20 centuries later and say, “Gosh, Paul, you’re so naïve. You can’t understand how bad a government can get, or how bad a government can be. I mean, of course, you must have been living in some sort of utopian Roman world of the First Century. And so, come on, you can’t be kidding me.” No, don’t think that. When Paul wrote those words to the Christians living at the capital city of the Roman Empire, the ceasar, the ruler over Rome was a madman by the name of Nero. And Paul says to those people, “Be subject to the governing authorities because there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by Him.”
And over the next several weeks, as we continue through our study here in the Book of Acts, we’re going to see Paul takes every advantage to use the rights and protections he had as a citizen of Rome. So he recognized, he was thankful for his position as a citizen of Rome. And, you know, as we look at our own nation, yes, there are things that our government does that we don’t agree with. There are decrees and legislation that comes down, we say, “Yeah, we see that as in conflict with the nature and character of God.” But, at the very least, especially in the United States of America, we should be thankful for our government. We should be thankful for the fact that we live in a nation where we can do what we’re doing right now – freely gather together. We have rights and protections afforded us in our constitution, under our government, that other people in the rest of the world do not experience. And when you travel to some of these other places, you become even more thankful for what we have been given here in America. You know, it’s kind of one of the normal things of American culture to complain about your government. And you find that a lot of people within church sometimes, we complain and complain and complain about our government. But we need to recognize that we’re a pretty blessed people. There’s people from all over the world that want to come here. Why? Because of freedom.
You know, Pastor Mark was sharing about our little experience in Portland. One of the most awesome things, standing at this Shawarma food cart, and this young guy who’s definitely not from America, you can tell just in his accent and his look, but had spiky hair and he had zig-zags carved in his hair and all this sort of stuff. He looked like the average Portlandian. And, you know, and here, we ask him, “Hey, where are you from? You don’t sound like you’re from here in the states.”
And he goes, “No, I was born in Baghdad, Iraq.” He’s 25 years old. Think about that. He and his family fled from Baghdad in 2004 to Egypt. Think about that. Where he was 10 years ago, when he was 14, 15 years old. And where did he come to? He’s a refugee to the United States of America, and now he’s a business owner. He just bought his food cart in Portland a few months before. Where else does that happen? That’s awesome. I just think that’s incredible. And awesome to be able to talk with him about his story.
But, continuing on here in our passage, Acts Chapter 21, Verse 33: “Then the commander, he came near and he took Paul.” So, thank God for the Romans, thank God for civil government. But, again, we don’t…sometimes their methods and things that they do, we don’t agree with everything. “So the commander comes in, and he commanded that Paul be bound with two chains.” He says, “Cuff him!” Right? “Cuff him.” “And he asked those that were around there, ‘What has he done?’”
Now, again, get the picture. Paul’s getting pummeled. Paul’s in his late 50s at this moment. Not a young guy. He’s getting pummeled by this mob of angry Jewish men from the temple, who are intending to kill him, that’s what they drug him out of the temple. The Roman soldiers come in, they get the guy out of there. You know, it’s like the referee in a football game, and they’re trying to get all the guys off the fumble. So, they get in there and they get Paul, and they say, “Handcuff him.” They assume he’s done something wrong. He would not be getting beat up like this if he hadn’t been a bad dude. So they just assume, immediately, that he’s guilty. You know, in our nation, we have due process. We have this concept in our nation that you are innocent until what? …proven guilty. We love that, we appreciate that. Here, they immediately detain him, they immediately handcuff him, they immediately assume that he is guilty, they immediately assume that he’s done wrong. And then they turn to those that are beating him, and say, “Who is this guy? What did he do? Tell us.”
But, there is a problem. Because, as they began to tell them, “Some of the multitude cried one thing and some another,” Verse 34.
“So when the commander could not ascertain the truth because of the tumult, he commanded him to be taken into the barracks.” Now listen, in that day, this meant only one thing – you’re going to be taken into the barracks for interrogation. And a Roman interrogation was not like the interrogations you see on CSI Miami. I hope you don’t watch that show, it’s really cheesy. [laughter] Anyway, it’s not what you see on the cop programs in America. “Hey, can I get you a cup of coffee? Oh, you want your lawyer. Okay.” It’s none of that. It was strip off his clothes, bind him up, and whip him until he told you what it was that he did. And if he was an innocent man, like Paul was in this sense, and he kept quiet, the beating would become more intense, until you started to confess things. “So, we’re gonna get it out of you. Obviously, he’s done something wrong. He’s guilty. And so we gotta find out what he did. So, take him into the barracks. We’re gonna beat him.”
Now, I want you to remember something – this event happened after Paul wrote 2 Corinthians. And in 2 Corinthians he tells the people in the city of Corinth, he says, “Listen, five times I was beaten 40 lashes minus one.” Prior to this event, Paul the Apostle had been beaten by the Romans, 195 lashes he had received. Had they have taken off his outer clothes, what would they have found on his back? His back would have been covered in scars. “Three times,” he said to the Corinthians, “I’ve been beaten with rods.” That’s a Jewish beating. 195 whippings he’d received from the Romans, because they assumed his guilt when there were riots. And remember, just about everywhere Paul went, there was either a revival or a riot. And when there was a riot, the Romans, because they wanted to maintain peace, would have taken him in, and beaten him until they figured out, “What did you do?!”
And so here’s this 58-year old guy, he’s just been beat up. He’s probably bloodied and black-and-blue already from being pummeled by a mob of angry Jewish men there in Jerusalem. He’s being carried into the barracks, and he knows, “One thing is ahead of me.”
“When he reached the stairs, he had to be carried by the soldiers because the violence of the mob. For the multitude was crying, ‘Away with him! Away with him!’”
Look at Verse 37: “Then as Paul was about to be led into the barracks, he said to the commander, ‘Can I speak with you for a moment?’” “Can I just have one quick moment here?”
“And he, the commander, replied, ‘Oh, can you speak Greek? Are you not,’” this is amazing, Verse 38, “’Are you not the Egyptian who, some time ago, stirred up a rebellion and led 4,000 assassins into the wilderness?’”
So, the Roman commander already assumes who this guy is. And Paul speaks up in Greek, because remember, he was a Jew, from Cilicia, from Tarsus, a Greek city in the Roman-controlled region. And he says, “Hey, can I talk to you?”
And the commander says, “Oh, wait a minute, you speak Greek? You’re not the Egyptian who, some time ago, carried 4,000 assassins out into the wilderness.”
Jewish historians – Josephus, the Christian historian Eusebius – they talk about this guy, this Egyptian, a Jewish man from Egypt, who had a league of assassins. The word “assassins” there, is the Greek word “sikarios,” Sicarii. Remember, there are multitudes of people being murdered every single day there in Jerusalem, by the Sicarii. Who does this Roman commander think he’s just taken captive? The leader of those guys. That’s what he thinks. That’s what he’s imagining. “Now, we’re going to beat this guy until we figure it out.”
Number 2 on your outline:
Don’t Allow Others to Mistake Your Identity
Don’t Allow Others to Mistake Your Identity. Don’t Allow Others to Mistake Your Identity. You see, there are an awful lot of opinions among people you work with, among your neighbors, maybe even among family members that are not believers. There are a lot of opinions that people have in our culture today about who you are, what you believe, and what you think, because you go to church on Sunday, because you have a Bible, because you say, “I’m a Christian.” There’s a lot of opinions, and there’s a lot of misunderstanding about who we are. There’s a lot of mistaken identity going on within our culture about what Christians believe, and what they value, and who they are, and how they live, and what they think about these things. And so, we can’t allow others to mistake our identity.
Acts 21:39 – “But Paul said, ‘No, no, no, no. I’m a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city.” Which means, “I’m of a city that is peaceful in the Roman Empire.” “And I beg you, I implore you, permit me to speak to this people.” “Can I speak to my accusers for a moment? I am not who you think I am. I am not the Egyptian assassin, the leader of the Sicarii, that CSI Jerusalem has been trying to track down for the last several months. I’m not that guy. I’m a Jew from Tarsus. Can I speak to this group of people?”
“So when the commander had given him permission,” Verse 40, “Paul stood on the stairs and he motioned with his hand.” There’s a multitude of people gathered below the stairs of the Antonia, the Romans fortress there. They’re just outside the temple, they’re just outside the barracks of the Romans there. He’s standing on the stairs, and all these Jews are down below. They will not come up on those stairs. Why? It’s unclean. They’re not going to come there. They’re down below.
And so Paul stands there. He motions with his hand, “And when there was a great silence, Paul spoke to them in Hebrew.” So he’s a multi-linguist here. Speaking Greek, speaking Hebrew.
He speaks to the group that’s gathered there, and he says this, Verse 1, Acts 22: “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense before you now.” “I want to give you an apologia; I want to give you a defense.” “And when they heard that he spoke to them in Hebrew, they kept the more silent.” See, they had a mistaken identity too. They don’t know who he is. They assume he’s something. And so, Number 3 on your outline:
Set the Record Straight
Set the Record Straight. Don’t allow others to mistake your identity as a Christian, who you are in Christ, set the record straight, because Paul, in Verse 3, begins to speak to the people that are there in Jerusalem. Acts 22, Verse 3 – “’I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel,’” a name that all of those people would have known, because Gamaliel had been a chief rabbi there in the city of Jerusalem. Probably dead by this point in time, but they knew who Gamaliel was. He says, “Listen, I’m a Jew, just like you are. I was born, not here, but I grew up here, and I’ve been sitting at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and I was zealous toward God as you are today.”
Notice what Paul does as he setting the record straight. He identifies with them. He lets them know that, “Hey, there’s a lot in common that we share here.” Sometimes the people who misunderstand our identity as Christians need to recognize there’s a lot that we share in common. There’s a lot that they can identify with us, and we can identify with them. There are differences, no doubt, but there’s a lot that they can identify with.
“I was just as you are today. In fact, not only was I just like you are, zealous for the law, but,” Verse 4, “’I persecuted this Way,” that is, followers of Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah, “’I persecuted this Way unto death.” “What you’re doing right now, trying to kill me, I did that.” “I bound and delivered them into prison both men and women.” “I was not a respecter of persons, whether they were men or women, I took them, I bound them, I put them into prison.” “As also the high priest bears me witness.” “You can go talk to the high priest, he knows who I am. He knows exactly who I am. I was brought up in this city, at the feet of Gamaliel. The high priest knows who I was; I used to persecute this Way. And all the council of the elders, the Sanhedrin, they know me, they know Saul of Tarsus. You go ask them, they’ll tell you exactly who I am, because from them I received letters to the brethren, the Jewish brethren, and I went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.”
Paul identifies with his accusers. He never lost sight of who he had been. He never lost sight of who he was. He knew that the position that he maintained now, as a follower of Jesus, as an ambassador of the cross of Christ, as an apostle, sharing the Gospel with Gentiles, he knew that he was what he was by the grace of God. In 1 Corinthians Chapter 15, Verse 9 he says, “I am the least of the apostles, I’m not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church. But by the grace of God I am what I am.”
Listen, church, when we interact with people who have mistaken our identity as Christians, they don’t know exactly what a Christian believes, and what their worldview is, and how they live, they have a lot of misunderstanding about you. We can identify with them, and share with them who we are, but we need to recognize that we are no different than any sinner we ever meet on the street. Because sometimes we can maintain this position where we think, “Well, those people, wicked, wicked people.” But we are what we are by the grace of God. Paul, in 1 Corinthians Chapter 6, when he lists a whole bunch of sins that, if practiced and maintained, will keep a person from getting to heaven, he says, “And such were some of you, but you were washed.” That’s our testimony today, isn’t it? We were washed by Jesus.
What does the world sometimes think of Christians? They think that Christians maintain a “holier than thou” position, that they have a self-righteous sort of mindset, and they don’t have too many interactions with Christians. And so, sometimes they even think, when they do interact, “Oh, you’re one of those weird people.” Right? Anybody had that experience? A number of you.
The best way to combat that, point Number 4:
Don’t be Afraid to Tell Your Story
Don’t be Afraid to Tell Your Story. You know, one of the things that we see with the Apostle Paul, is he loved to tell his story. And when he told his story, he always told the same story. Have you ever been with a friend for a long period of time, you’ve had a really close friend, and you go out to places with other people, and they always tell this story? And after you’ve been with them for about 10 years, it’s like, “Oh, I’ve heard this one before.” Right? Every time Paul had an opportunity, he told the same story. We’re going to see this exact same story told by Paul again in Acts Chapter 26, when he sits before King Agrippa. What story? Well, the most important story of Paul’s life.
Acts 22, Verse 6: “Listen guys, I was just like you, I persecuted this Way.
“Now it happened,” Verse 6, “as I journeyed and I came near Damascus, that about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. And I fell to the ground and I heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ So I answered, and I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I’m Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’
“And those guys who were with me indeed they saw the light and they were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke with me. And so I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told,’” note this, “’the things which are appointed for you to do.’”
Would you underline that in your neighbor’s Bible – “…appointed for you to do.”
“And since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand,” look at Paul, this man of the hour, humbled, has to be led by the hand into Damascus, “being led by the hand by those who were with me, I came into Damascus.
“And a certain Ananias,” not Ananias of Acts Chapter 5, the real estate salesman, different Ananias. “Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews.” So this was a Jewish man, had a good testimony with the Jewish individuals in Damascus. “He dwelt there, he came to me; and he by stood me, and he said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ Then at that same hour I looked up at him. And then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you.’”
Would you underline that in your neighbor’s Bible. Jesus said to him, “You’re going to be told what you are appointed to do.” Ananias says, “God has chosen you.” Chosen you for what?
Notice this, three things, Verse 14: “…that you should know His will,” Number 1. “…that you should see the Just One,” Number 2. “And that you should hear His voice,” Number 3. Then Verse 15, “For you will be a witness to all men of what you have” what? “…seen and heard.”
You cannot be a witness unless you have seen and heard. And so, Ananias says, “God has chosen you to know His will, to see Him, and to hear Him.” Why?
“So that you will be a witness of Him. And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”
He says, “You’ve been appointed by God, and chosen by Him to know His will, to see Him, to hear His voice, so that you’d be a witness.” Listen, church, that’s exactly what God has done for you and for me. He’s chosen you, He’s chosen me, He’s appointed us, that we would know His will. How do we know His will? From His Word. That we’d see Him. How do we see Him? He reveals Himself through His written Word, through the Body of Christ. That we would hear His voice, and we would take that, and we would share with people what we have seen and heard. That we’d be witnesses. What is that word – witness? … martys.
Continuing on, Verse 17: “Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and I was praying in the temple, I was in a trance, and I saw Him, I saw Jesus, in this trance, I had a vision of Jesus, and He said to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.’”
Jesus appears to Paul and says, “Get out of Jerusalem, because these people in this city are not going to receive your testimony concerning Me.” You may have a good testimony, but sometimes you don’t have a good audience. And so, He says, “I want you to get out of here because they’re not going to listen to you, they’re not going to receive you.”
Paul responded, “So I said, ‘Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe in You.’” He uses this as a defense. Remember, he says, “I want to reach Jews. And I think that I can reach Jews.” Why? “I used to persecute these people that they’re persecuting, so I have an opportunity to speak to them, because they know I’m just like them. But they’ve got to know that there’s been a huge transition that’s taken place. I can minister to them.” That was Paul’s thinking, apparently.
And God says, “No, I want you to get out of here. They’re not going to receive your testimony.”
“But, God, I imprisoned them. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, also I was standing consenting unto his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.” “They know that I’m like them. I should be able to speak to them.” That was Paul’s mindset; that was his heart. But God had a different plan.
Now, I want you to note something. This gathered mob of Jews below Paul, as he’s sharing this, he’s talking about Jesus being raised from the dead, and Jesus being the Messiah. And they’re not freaking out. By this time, some 20-plus years later, apparently, they understood there were these Christian people around, and there wasn’t as much of a tension, even though there was still a tension. The tension’s about to boil over though.
“Then Jesus said to me,” Verse 21, “’Depart, for I will send you far from here to the’” what? [Gentiles] Uh-oh! “To the Gentiles.”
“And they,” the gathered mob, “listened to him until this word.” Until what word? Gentiles. “…and then they raised their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!’” “He’s not fit to live!”
The racial and cultural tension, divide, between Gentiles and Jews was great. Much of it was inflamed by the Roman occupation over Judea there. That’s a big part of it. But, even so, when this Saul of Tarsus, who’d become Paul the Apostle, a follower of Jesus, said, “Jesus sent me to go and preach to Gentiles.”
They said, “This guy’s not fit to live. He’s gotta die!”
Point Number 5 in your outline:
Expect a Response or Reaction
Expect a Response or Reaction. There are people on your school campus, the office that you work at, the construction site that you’re on, in your neighborhood, maybe in your own family, that have mistaken your identity. They don’t quite understand this whole “Jesus thing,” this “Christian thing.” Even though you’ve been a Christian for a long time, they still don’t understand this sort of thing. And so, we’ve got to set the record straight. We’ve got to interact with these people. Why? Because God has sent us, like He sent Paul, to go to unbelievers, non-believers. And so, when we interact with them, we’ve got to set the record straight. And the best way to do that is to tell our stories, tell what God has done in your life – your testimony – just like Paul did. Always told the same story. And when you do, expect a response, and expect a reaction. But, understand that sometimes the response or reaction we get is not what we might say is a good response or reaction. When he shared this story with them, their response was, “Away with him. Kill him!” They wanted him dead.
And I suggest to you that that’s actually a good response. I would say that’s a better response than the response that Paul received in Acts Chapter 17, when he was in the city of Athens, where they said, “This is interesting, we’ll hear you again on this matter.” Or it’s better than the response that Paul received from King Agrippa in a few chapters, when we get to Chapter 26, and Agrippa says to him, “I think you’re mad with much learning, but this is an interesting story. Maybe we’ll talk about this again sometime.” I submit to you that when someone gets angry, when they react with vitriolic hate towards the cross of Christ, towards the Gospel of Christ, or you as an ambassador of the cross of Christ, they’re responding in the same way that a guy by the name of Saul of Tarsus did. You know, it’s really interesting, when Paul tells his story about his road to Damascus experience with Jesus, he leaves something really interesting out, that Luke tells us about in Acts Chapter 9, when he recounts the story. Jesus says to Saul, as he’s laying on the ground, blinded by the bright light, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? Isn’t it hard for you to fight against me? Isn’t it hard for you to fight against Me?”
Why was Paul filled with anger and rage and hate and passionate persecution towards Christians? Because he was fighting with Jesus. He’s wrestling with the Holy Spirit of God. And when someone in your family, or in your workplace, or on your school campus, they wrestle with it, and they get mad at you, and they respond or react in a way that just seems filled with hate towards Jesus, that’s because the Holy Spirit’s working on them. Pray for them. Keep sharing. Don’t give up. Expect a response, expect a reaction as you tell your story, as you set the record straight with those who don’t quite understand who we are. But don’t be afraid to share it. Amen?
Let’s stand together and close in prayer.
God, we thank You for the great liberty that we have in this nation in which we live; a liberty that allows us, Lord, the freedom to be able to gather together in worship, like this. But also the freedom to share our faith with others, to share the good news about who You are and what You’ve done. Lord, we know that there are a lot of misunderstandings among people who know us, but don’t know You. There’s a lot of people who don’t understand who You are and what You’ve done. And I pray, God, that You’d allow us, not only that You’d allow us, but You’d give us the opportunity and the boldness to set the record straight, and to share the good news of who You are, to tell our story. And we pray that, as we do, people would respond in turning to You. God, work in and through us, we pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen.