Paul Gets His Chance to Speak to the Crowd
[Acts 21: 37-40; Acts 22, verses 1-11]
by Web Minister Paul J. Bern
Last week as we left off at verse 36 of Acts 21, the apostle Paul had just been arrested after another riot had occurred like the one that occurred at Ephesus back in chapter 19 and verses 23-41. Only this time the setting was Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, and the Roman officers who arrested Paul were not impressed at all with Paul’s evangelistic activities. Paul found himself bound with two chains, one for his hands and one for his feet. In this way he was carried through the entrance and brought into the officers’ barracks. Today as we take up where we left off, we will be moving on to chapter 22, where what I believe was the Spirit of the Lord enabled Paul to have an opportunity to address the crowd. But before he does so, he must first obtain the permission of the Roman commander. It is at this exact point that we will continue on to part 1 of Acts 22, but beginning at verse 37 of chapter 21:
“37) As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, ‘May I say something to you?’ ‘Do you speak Greek?’ he replied. 38) ‘Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?’ 39) Paul answered, ‘I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.’ 40) After receiving the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic: (22) 1)’Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.’ 2) When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.”
First, Paul asks the Roman commander for permission to address him. The commander agrees, provided Paul speaks Greek to him. But it’s the commander who has the first question for Paul in verse 38, thinking that Paul must be a revolutionary of some sort. Assuring the commander that he is not that person, Paul secures the Roman commander’s permission to speak to the crowd. Paul then proceeds to address the crowd in their native tongue, for which they all gave him their undivided attention. Notice what just occurred? Only minutes before, the entire city was in an uproar. It was likely people were being hurt or trampled on throughout the time the commotion was going on, to the point where it had taken the Roman equivalent of the SWAT team to quell the commotion. And yet all Paul had to do was hold up his hand for silence, and the crowd immediately complied. Such amazing grace, how sweet the sound. And then Paul began to address them in their native language, by which he exemplified one of the Gifts of the Spirit, the gift of speaking in other languages (or other tongues in older versions of the Bible), which he later defined in writing in 1st Corinthians chapter 12, verses 7-11.
“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.‘”
Paul immediately makes it clear that he is no Egyptian, nor is he a revolutionary of any kind. In point of fact, he states that he is a man who was formerly like the Jewish rabbi’s who had started the riot. To paraphrase the apostle Paul, ‘I was just like you, including being convinced I was absolutely right’, he told the crowd in verse 3. “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison”, Paul told them plainly in verse 4. He then tells of the time he went to Damascus to arrest and bring to trial some of the early followers of The Way, and that’s where we will continue at verse 6:
“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.‘”
So beginning at verse 6, we find Paul continuing his explanation of his actions, which he also turned into an opportunity to evangelize the crowd. He began by relating his testimony of how he came to know the Lord, the events on the road to Damascus as Luke wrote about them in Acts chapter 9, and his encounter with the risen Spirit of the Lord Christ Jesus, which knocked Paul off his horse and blinded him. All this happened in the presence of those traveling with Paul, and all were witnesses to his encounter. Except, it was only Paul who heard and understood the voice of the risen Christ. All his entourage knew was that they should continue to Damascus, since they were headed there anyway.
So onward they all went, as the apostle Paul continues to relate the story of his own conversion to the Gospel, or The Way as it was known then. As we continue further into Acts chapter 22, we find Paul finishing, or trying to finish, his testimony. What will he say, and how will he say it? He will get to finish, but not before being interrupted from somewhere or another, just like always. Will the authorities set Paul free again, like what happened at Ephesus, or like when Peter miraculously escaped from jail back in chapter 12? For that, my dear readers, you will have to come back next week for part 2 of Acts chapter 22. I look forward to being with you then. Shalom…..