Today: [Acts22:] Paul Argues with God: In Acts 22 Paul is in custody in Jerusalem, having incited a riot by his presence there. The mob is venomous and uncontrolled in their rage as Paul recounts in his own words the fact that the same voice that spoke to him on the road to Damascus had warned him of how things would unfold once he arrives in Jerusalem. For us, this is a valuable lesson emphasizing for us the need to hear and to heed God’s voice in our own lives.
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[Act 22:1-16 KJV] 1 Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence [which I make] now unto you. 2 (And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,) 3 I am verily a man [which am] a Jew, born in Tarsus, [a city] in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, [and] taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day. 4 And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. 5 As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished. 6 And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. 7 And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? 8 And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. 9 And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me. 10 And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do. 11 And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus. 12 And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt [there], 13 Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him. 14 And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. 15 For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. 16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
After Paul’s presence in Jerusalem incites a riot among the Asian Jews, he is taken into custody by the Roman soldiers charged with security in the city. He is allowed to stand on the stairs atop the citadel, and he makes his defense to the crowd below. Many of the people do not know what caused all the disruption and they don’t know who Paul is other than a person accused of bringing a Greek into the temple. When they hear Paul speaking in native Hebrew, they fall silent to listen to what he has to say.
Paul corrects the misconception of the mob concerning his origin, stating he is a Jew from Tarsus brought up in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel. Gamaliel is the same Pharisee and doctor of the law who persuaded the temple authorities not to assassinate the apostles in Acts 5:34. Gamaliel history tells us was the presiding leader of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem and highly thought of among the Jews. Paul invokes his name doubtless because Gamaliel’s death was likely the same year that Paul himself is standing to answer for himself at this time. He is saying “you are all in the city lamenting the passing of Gamaliel, well he was my tutor!”
Paul also goes on to confess that he was previously a persecutor of the faith even delivering men and women to prison and death. He again refers himself to authority by insisting that all he is saying may be confirmed by the high priest who would have been the same high priest who stood judgment over Jesus himself years before. Paul goes on to recount his experience on the road to Damascus.
Previously in Acts, we read the account of Paul’s Damascus road encounter through the public witness widely disseminated among the early Christians. Now we hear things from Paul himself. He retells the experience of drawing near to the city of Damascus about noon when suddenly a great light shines round about him. We think of the Transfiguration when Jesus appears clothed in light. We are also reminded of Elijah whom Elisha witnessed ascending to heaven in a blaze of light and fire. To early Christians hearing this, their thoughts would have gone to the report of tongues of fire appearing on the heads of the 120 at Pentecost. For Paul, he would have known this as the same light that shone from Stephen’s face when Paul stood sanctioning Stephen’s stoning. Now that which caused Stephen’s face to shine like an angel’s strikes Paul off of his mount and confronts him with his sins against the God of his fathers. The visitation is seen as nothing other than God Himself stepping out of time and eternity in His native glory to confront this persecutor of the faith.
Paul falls to the ground and hears the voice asking why Paul is persecuting Him. What does this mean? In Matt. 25:40 Jesus states that what we do to “the least of these” we do to Him. From the Father’s point of view, we now have a personal witness that our regard for one another He innately regards it as our regard for Him in His person. This should give us profound hesitation when acting other than in the Spirit of Christ toward one another.
The men who travel with Paul do not in his account hear the voice, but they do see the light. Acts 9:7, however, reports that the men heard the voice but did not see the light. We accept Paul’s account as accurate because the Acts 9 version of events was in the third person having been passed by verbal report from person to person to Luke the first time he heard it. It is interesting that Luke in writing the letter doesn’t correct the , but he is being a faithful reporter of the events as he understands them.
At this point, the crowd listens in hushed silence. They are stupefied by the story Paul tells and hangs on his every word as though they themselves were lying on the road to Damascus being asked why they are persecuting the God of the heavens in their rage against Paul himself. The Lord commands Paul to arise and go into Damascus to receive further instruction. Upon arising, Paul finds that he cannot see, and his companions lead him by the hand to his lodging on the street called Straight in the center of the city, a road which still stands today having been discovered by archaeology.
Paul goes on to say that once in Damascus a follower of the way by the name of Ananias seeks him out and laying hands on him Paul’s blindness is lifted from him. Paul then brings his account to the present day saying that just before the mob broke out against him, he was in a trance in the temple when the same voice he heard in Damascus speaks to him that he should make haste and quickly leave Jerusalem because his testimony will not be received. Here we see again, God speaking clearly that it was never in the plan of heaven for Paul to go to Jerusalem at this time nor to remain there to endure what he has suffered this day at their hands.
[Acts 22:17-30 KJV]
17 And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance; 18 And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me. 19 And I said, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee: 20 And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him. 21 And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles. 22 And they gave him audience unto this word, and [then] lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a [fellow] from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live. 23 And as they cried out, and cast off [their] clothes, and threw dust into the air, 24 The chief captain commanded him to be brought into the castle, and bade that he should be examined by scourging; that he might know wherefore they cried so against him. 25 And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned? 26 When the centurion heard [that], he went and told the chief captain, saying, Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman. 27 Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea. 28 And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was [free] born. 29 Then straightway they departed from him which should have examined him: and the chief captain also was afraid, after he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him. 30 On the morrow, because he would have known the certainty wherefore he was accused of the Jews, he loosed him from [his] bands, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down, and set him before them.
Verse 17 recounts that Paul heard the voice of God telling him to leave Jerusalem and verse 18 says he not only heard a voice that spoke but saw the angel or apparition from heaven wherein the sound originated. Have you ever experienced the audible voice of God? We don’t know if Paul heard this audibly but possibly not because he admits he was in a trance when this takes place. Have you experienced an open eye vision? This was undoubtedly precisely that, but even when the Lord appears and tells Paul to leave Jerusalem, he argues against obeying.
Can you imagine arguing with the Lord Himself standing physically in your presence? Jesus cuts off Paul’s argument telling him again to depart and leave Jerusalem for he is sent to the Gentiles. In hearing these things is there any question whether or not Paul was not sent by God to experience these things at the hands of Jews. The purpose of God was for Paul to remain among the Gentiles and proclaim the gospel but Paul continues to turn toward Jerusalem and his fellow Jews. Let this be a lesson to you to stay in your calling. In spite of Paul’s insistence to go his own way he was mightily used of God nonetheless but time will never tell to what extent Paul would have impacted the world further than he did had he obeyed the dozens of witnesses, prophecies, angels and heavenly visitations that insisted and urged him not to do what he would not be talked out of doing.
After hearing Paul saying that God sent him to the Gentiles the mob erupts in anger, throwing off their clothes like madmen screaming for his death. What is their contention? Racism. Make no mistake about it. The entire upheaval came about because the rumor was that Paul had brought a Gentile into the temple. They wanted the temple to be racially pure. They viscerally rejected the suggestion that the God they claimed to serve would send one of their own to preach to – the Gentiles and the erupt in hatred and rage. Does racism still exist in church culture? Just look at the makeup of the preponderance of most churches today. Most congregations in widespread Christianity throughout the world are racially monolithic, and this is a severe indictment of their character. Paul, the Apostles, repeated message of equality and absence of racial boundaries or class boundaries in the gospel is undeniable and sadly undeniably ignored in Christian culture.
The Roman captain drags Paul back into the citadel and decides to examine him by scourging. As they bind Paul to beat a confession out of him, Paul reveals that they have not right to punish him in this way because he is a Roman citizen. The chief captain is informed and further finds out that Paul is not only a Roman but a freeborn Roman upon which time the man in charge binds Paul over for examination the next day in the presence of the high priests and their council.
What is the lesson we learn from all of this? Though it is almost universally ignored, the fact is that none of this need have happened to Paul. The Spirit of God warned Paul in every church he visited for five years not to go to Jerusalem. The same apparition and voice that confronted him on the road to Damascus appears to him in the temple commanding him to leave the city, but instead, he argues and is apprehended. What has God told you to do? What has he told you NOT to do? Hearing God’s voice is paramount in your life. Doing what God’s voice bids you to do is just as important. Many lives perhaps your life will unfold in ways that Heaven never intended if you fail to hear and to head the instructions of the Spirit that come to us repeatedly and clearly if we will just listen.
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