Acts21v37toActs22v22: PAUL'S TESTIMONY TO THE JEWS.

(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

It is remarkable that Paul felt able to address the violent crowd at all. He had just been beaten up by vicious enemies and rescued in the nick of time by a detachment of Roman legionnaires. The arrival of the soldiers did not abate the fury of the crowd. They pressed in upon the rescue party with such passion that Paul had to be passed over the heads of the soldiers to safety. Despite intense intimidation Paul, under Roman protection, seized his moment. He asked the commander of the Roman troops for permission to speak to the people. We have to admire Paul's initiative and courage.

In order to understand Paul's defence we must bear in mind the accusation made against him. Paul's Asian Jewish opponents levelled this charge against him: "Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place." Acts21v28. Paul was being accused of being: anti-Semitic, an enemy of the Jewish people and opposed to every thing the Jews held dear.

Paul refuted these charges by giving his testimony. Luke gives us three accounts of Paul's conversion in Acts. It must have been a story he was never tired of hearing, a testimony rich in significance. I have already dealt with Paul's remarkable encounter with the risen Christ in my exposition on Acts9v1to19. I will not repeat the points made there.

(B) Paul's defence.

(1) He identifies with his audience.
This is a good tactic when addressing any group of people. If I was ever asked to talk at the Christian Union at University College London I would reminisce briefly about my time there as a student 40 years ago. If invited to speak at an Anglican service I would say how much I enjoyed attending evensong in some small rural Church of England whenever I was on holiday. This sort of approach helps to establish a rapport between speaker and hearer. However, it is futile acquiring the sympathy of your audience if subsequently you have little to say. There are many Christian ex-convicts but few of them would be much good preaching the gospel in prison!

Paul identifies with the Jewish crowd by:

    (a) Speaking their language.
    Paul addressed the mob in Aramaic. Luke writes: When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet. Ch22v2. As soon as Paul spoke to them in their own language they knew that he shared much in common with them. It was as if a preacher famed in the English-speaking world went back to a little chapel in mid-Wales and spoke in Welsh.

    (b) Confirming that he was bought up amongst them.
    He said, " I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but bought up in this city..." v3. I found when I taught in a very rural part of Suffolk that I got on well with the more rustic parents. They knew that, like them, I was Suffolk born and bred. One of them, a particularly bucolic pig man, used to tell his son before a parent's evening, "I gotta hev a chat with thet rough talkin' teacher."

    (c) Admitting that he had shared their beliefs.
    Paul was no stranger to militant Judaism. He said, "I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today." v3.

As far as possible all preachers should try to gain the sympathy and respect of their hearers. It is foolish to antagonise them from the outset.

(2) The power of personal testimony.
Paul chose to defend himself by giving an honest statement of how God had dealt with him. The word of a reliable witness still carries great weight in a court of law. Scientific evidence is not the only evidence by which the truth is established and justice is done. We are called upon to be witnesses to the saving work of Jesus Christ.

A personal testimony is often very moving. I read in the Daily Telegraph for May 13th 2004 a telling tribute to the power of God's Word. The headline of the article was: Pregnancy came as a shock. Now I'm happy to give up the Olympics. Tasha Danvers-Smith, a 400 metre hurdler, was one of Britain's bright Olympic medal hopes. She said, "I was in the shape of my life. I was more focused than ever before. Then things didn't feel quite right. I was feeling tired all the time." Tasha discovered that she was pregnant. She said, "The timing could not have been worse. If I had run at Athens it could have meant greater financial security, more recognition."

So Tasha considered having an abortion. She and her husband have no house and live with her husband's parents. An abortion seemed the only option. This is the testimony of Tasha: "But this line from the Scriptures kept coming into my head: FOR WHAT SHALL IT PROFIT A MAN IF HE SHALL GAIN THE WHOLE WORLD AND LOSE HIS OWN SOUL! So then I knew. For me it was not going to be an option. As soon as I decided that, I felt so happy. Even though I know it is going to be a struggle financially and that I am sacrificing my medal hopes."

I was so glad to read this striking example of the way God uses his Word to guide us in the paths of righteousness.

Paul talks simply about his dramatic encounter with the risen Christ. He met with Jesus and it changed his life. He was turned around from persecuting Christians to becoming a life-long advocate of Jesus, the Saviour of the World. The change could not be denied. An explanation was called for. The explanation Paul gave was that Jesus called him.

(3) The importance of a good reputation.
Paul tells the crowd that he was commissioned for God's service by Ananias of Damascus. Ananias said to Paul: "The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to ALL men to what you have seen and heard." Ch22vs14and15.

Paul emphasises that Ananias was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. Ch22v12. He was not the sort of man to act frivolously, capriciously or dishonestly. Ananias had a reputation for caution and probity. His word carried weight.

Some men are like that - sober, sound, steady and serious - men of integrity. My old colleague at the County Upper School, Mr David Dean, is a man like that. He is Chairman of the Magistrates Court in Bury St. Edmunds. He would always be listened to with far more respect than a maverick like me.

An ultra-cautious, conservative, Christian Jew who was well known for his devotion to Jewish customs recommended Paul for God's service. Sometimes innovators and daring activists in the cause of Christ need to be sponsored by the likes of Ananias or David Dean to give them some credibility.

(4) Paul was under new management.
After his conversion Paul journeyed to Jerusalem. He was anxious to stay and to witness to the Jews. He believed he was an effective witness. What a testimony he bore! He had once been so hostile to The Way that he had imprisoned and beaten believers. Paul had been present at the stoning of Stephen and approved of his death. Now he was a follower of Jesus, himself. Surely the Jews would wonder why he had switched sides and this must give him an opportunity to preach the gospel.

Jesus told him to leave Jerusalem. "Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me." v18. "Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles." v21. Paul had to do as he was told. He now accepted the authority of Jesus. He would follow the Master's instructions.

We all know the difference a change in management makes - to a company, football team or school. The profoundest of all changes occurs when a person submits to Jesus, self is usurped and he takes control.

In the words of the old hymn:

            Oh the bitter shame and sorrow,
            That a time could ever be,
            When I let the Saviours's pity
            Plead in vain; and proudly answered,
            "All of self, and none of thee!"

            Higher than the highest heavens,
            Deeper than the deepest sea,
            Lord Thy love at last hath conquered;
            Grant me now my supplication -
            "None of self and all of Thee!"

(C) The Crowd's reaction.

The people listened quietly while Paul spoke about his background, conversion and commission. They were even attentive and well behaved, if slightly uneasy, when he referred to Jesus. As soon as he mentioned the word, 'Gentiles;' they went berserk. The mob shouted: "Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live!" Ch22v22. Why should the crowd react so violently to just this one word?

I am half ashamed to admit that I always enjoy reading Boris Johnson's column in the Daily Telegraph. (He reckoned Tony Blair was more difficult to pin down than a well-greased piglet!) The opening three paragraphs of a recent offering struck a chord:

When giving a speech at a school, there are many ways to endear your self. You can turn up drunk and address the head teacher loudly and enthusiastically by the wrong name. You can allow your trousers to split at the back or spill your glass of water, or fall head first from the rostrum.
All these strategies will earn you an appreciative round of applause. You can try to suck up to your audience by saying that you once experimented with cannabis, and, though you will find a surprising measure of disapproval, you will not forfeit their general sympathy.
But there is one taboo you must never break. If you should so much as breathe a word of scepticism about the number of A-grade passes awarded to the modern cohort of British schoolchildren, then you are for it my friend.

This is absolutely true. Anyone who suggests standards at A-level are slipping is associating with the enemy - with those who disparage the education system, undervalue teachers and belittle the achievements of pupils. Such are hissed from the stage!

The Jews in Jerusalem believed that Paul went over to the enemy by associating with the Gentiles. The Gentiles had given the Jews much grief for centuries - first the Greeks and then the Romans. God's Holy People suffered under the heel of idolaters and unbelievers. The fiercely nationalistic Jews hated Gentiles in general and Romans in particular. Their rage blinded them to the truth. Their irrational, incandescent, hatred for Paul, the Gentile lover, flared up with frightening intensity.

Nationalism ever blinds men to the truth. In this country the mere mention of the words, 'asylum seekers', makes people froth at the mouth. 'Charity begins at home,' is not a quotation from the Bible!

If we suspect someone is siding with our opponents it is easy to hate them. This is why religious disputes are so bitter and destructive. As soon as people in the church begin asking, "Is he on my side?" Trouble is afoot.