Read Acts 22
1 “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”
2 When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.
Then Paul said: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. 4 I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5 as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.
6 “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’
8 “‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.
“ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 9 My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.
10 “‘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.’ 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.
12 “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. 13 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.
14 “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’
17 “When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’
19 “‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20 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.’
21 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”
Paul the Roman Citizen
22 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!”
23 As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. 25 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 even been found guilty?”
26 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.”
27 The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”
“Yes, I am,” he answered.
28 Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.”
“But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied.
29 Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.
Paul Before the Sanhedrin
30 The commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews. So the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the members of the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.
In Acts 22, Paul gets the chance to speak to the mob that had just tried to kill him. Even though this crowd is angry at him and doesn’t agree with what he’s saying, they listen to his words because he speaks in Aramaic–revealing that he is Jewish, like them. At least, until verse 21.
Because in verse 21, Paul reveals the mission Jesus gave him: to go preach to the Gentiles. This one word–Gentiles–angers the crowd more than Paul explaining his encounter with the risen Christ (something they didn’t even believe in). So much is their distrust, racism, bias against and hatred towards the Gentiles, that they tear their clothes and demand Paul die.
In their eyes, it is one thing for Paul to believe he had encountered the Messiah; it is a whole other thing for Paul to say that this Messiah wanted the Gentiles to be saved. You see, the Jewish people were God’s chosen people; they followed His laws and kept His covenants. They were the “insiders” who “earned” their role in the story by obeying God. How dare Paul say that God wanted the “outsiders”–the gross Gentiles who followed other gods and ate different foods and didn’t circumcise their sons–to be a part of God’s chosen family. They weren’t good enough!
But here lies the problem with their entire belief system: these Jews thought they were good enough. However, as Paul’s testimony itself says: being religious and obeying all the rules does not save you. Only Jesus saves. We need this same reminder today. None of us are good enough to save ourselves; none of us are insiders. We need to realize our common ground with all people is that we’re all outsiders. And when we remember that, we’ll also remember that no one person or group of people is ever too far gone for Jesus to save.
How has God saved you? Who were you before you had an experience with the risen Christ?
Is there someone (or a group of people) that you believe is too far gone for salvation? Why? Confess that right now and pray for God to move in their hearts.
We find out in Acts 22 that not only does Paul have an impressively Jewish resume, he also was a Roman citizen. That unique background gives him a particular advantage in sharing the gospel to the Gentiles. How have you seen your background and story used by God to share Him with those around you in a unique way?
Did You Know?
The reason Paul played his “Roman citizenship” card was to be awarded an opportunity to speak before the Sanhedrin. This wasn’t to avoid punishment, but to have a chance to share his story and the gospel with that particular audience, one that he used to be a part of. We’ll read on tomorrow to see how that plays out for him.