Acts 21:37 to 22:29
Rev. Erik Veerman
Seeing, Hearing, Not Seeing, Not Hearing
On September 28, 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was giving a closing speech at the Christian civil rights organization he led. The small auditorium was packed. About 300 civil right leaders and pastors were hanging on each and every word. What they didn’t realize is that a man seated on the second row grew angrier and angrier. He was part of the American Nazi Party. He snapped. Rushed forward. Hit Dr. King square in the jaw. King was thrown sideways but the man didn’t stop. He lurched forward at King and began to hit him over and over.
You can imagine the reaction of the crowd. Horrified at what was going on. In a matter of a few seconds, people began rushing to the stage. Adrenalin filling their veins as they witnessed the bloodied face of their hero. Several grabbed the attacker, ready to retaliate. Before they could inflict pain, “a voice rang out above all the others” as one historian put it. “Don’t touch him. Don’t touch him. We have to pray for him.” Dr. King pleaded. Moments later, he sat with the man and prayed for him.
This aggression against Dr. King, as you know was commonplace. 6 years earlier while he preached to a crowd of 2000 people near his home, a segregationist detonated a bomb on his front porch. Dr. King’s wife and daughter were home. When word came, King rushed home. They were safe, but soon an angry crowd arrived - supporters of his with weapons and shovels. They wanted revenge on whoever did this. As King came out onto his porch, they erupted with cheers and shouts. But in an apostle Paul sort of way, he raised his hand, a great hush came over them. And he said “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword… that is what God said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies.”
Think about everything that has happened to the apostle Paul on his three missionary journeys.
• In Lystra, stoned and dragged outside the city. Left for dead.
• Beaten with rods and then imprisoned in Philippi, his feet locked in stocks
• Attacked in Thessolonica.
• Mocked in Athens.
• Accused in Corinth.
• Threatened by the riot in Ephesus
That’s only what is recorded in Acts. From 2 Corinthians, we know he received 39 lashes from the Jews multiple times. Beaten with rods two other times besides at Phillipi and flogged – whipped.
And you would think it would turn him against his enemies – the unbelieving Jews. Or that he would want to retaliate. Did he get angry? Yes, a righteous anger. Multiple times he turned his attention away from the Jews and to the Gentiles. But have you noticed, he always came back to them.
As Paul was brought towards the barracks, the mob continued their aggression. The Roman soldiers didn’t even know what was going on. They thought he was an Egyptian, because in recent weeks, an Egyptian had led a revolt. Paul quickly put that misunderstanding to an end. He began speaking to the soldiers in Greek. That got their attention. “I am a Jew,” he said, “from Tarsus of Cilicia, a citizen…” And then he asked them a shocking question. “I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” Permission granted.
And so, Paul, bruised and beaten, likely bloodied - bound with 2 chains, turned around – He was already elevated on the steps of the garrison. It was adjacent to the temple mount, because the Romans needed to oversee the Temple and activities given the hostility. The mob was still shouting with voices raised. Chanting “away with him.”
Paul raised his hand – a request to speak. The last verse of chapter 21. A great hush came over the crowd.
8 or 9 years ago I was teaching a 1st and 2nd grade Sunday school class. A majority of the class were boys. And on one particular day, the craziness started to spin out of control. Kids started bouncing out of their chairs, jibber jabbering. You can probably imagine. And I started to whisper. All of a sudden it got really quiet. They wanted to hear what I was saying. It worked for about 5 minutes. Then I had to impose Marshall law.
The crowd wanted to hear what Paul was going to say! There were no microphones or speakers. They had to quiet down. Paul opened his mouth and began to speak probably in Aramaic. It says “the Hebrew language.” The common spoken language of the Hebrew or Jewish people was Aramaic.
Many of the Jews there didn’t know much about Paul. Chaos had set in. Mind you, in all the other situations where Paul was beaten – it was after he spoke or after his ministry. But here, the beating came before his speech. It’s quite remarkable. Despite what had just happened to him, his desire was still to convince them of the Gospel. He wanted them to see and hear the truth.
And so what did Paul tell them? Chapter 22. He shared his own testimony of faith.
Now, you may be asking, “Why did Luke include this here? I mean, back in chapter 9, we read of Paul’s conversion. It’s the same story, after all”
Well, there are multiple reasons. For one, we’re hearing it from Paul’s mouth. There are some unique emphases that he makes. Also, remember, Luke’s wrote Acts as a letter to Theophilus. He was writing to inform Theophilus what had been going on. Likely Theophiles wanted to know what the turmoil in Jerusalem was all about. Chapter 22 here is a significant part of the history.
In fact, when we get to chapter 26, Paul yet again will share his testimony, but he’ll highlight yet another important aspect of his call.
In some ways, this testimony, here in chapter 22, is a model testimony of faith for us. If you are here and you are a believer in Jesus alone for salvation – you have a testimony of faith. It may be that you grew up in a Christian home and you embraced Christ at a young age. You acknowledged your need for him, trusted him, and turned your life to him in repentance. Or it may be that you were older, a teenager or adult, and someone shared the hope of Jesus with you and you believed.
Well, you will, no doubt, have opportunities to share your testimony of faith in Christ with others. And Paul’s testimony is helpful for us. For one, he includes the necessary parts of anyone’s testimony.
• A clear testimony of who Jesus is. Here he’s identified as “Jesus of Nazareth.” Paul refers him as “Lord” multiple times. And calls him the “Righteous One.”
• Next, a clear testimony of turning from unbelief or sin – in Paul’s case, it was a combination of rejecting Jesus and persecuting Christians, but then turning to him, acknowledge him as “Lord.” And entirely forsaking his ways.
• Then also there’s a clear testimony of faith – verse 16 - calling on Jesus’s name and embracing God’s washing away of his sins.
• And, finally, a clear testimony of God’s Gospel mission – the Gospel of Christ is for anyone. Any tribe, tongue, and nation.
All these elements are captured in there and helpful for us. Sometimes when we share our testimony, we leave out important parts of the Gospel. Our sin, or our need for Christ, or who Jesus is or what he has done, or how we came to him.
So that’s one benefit here for us – a model for us to emulate.
But also, Paul’s testimony is helpful for another reason. He has a passion and desire that the people would hear him. That they would believe in Jesus. And part of Paul’s passion for them is seen in his sensitivity to them. Paul is tuned in to his audience. He hones in on them. Their background, their understanding. He passionately wants them to believe.
Let’s focus now on Paul’s heart for the Jews and his sensitivity to them. These aspects don’t necessarily pop out at us from a surface level reading of the passage. But they are there, and they instruct us as we seek to share God’s work in us. Or maybe, if you are exploring Christianity – Paul’s passion and his compassion will challenge you to listen and believe.
And really, the first 4 words of chapter 22 capture all of that. “Brothers and Fathers, hear”
• Paul called them “Brothers and fathers” – these are the very ones, who just moments earlier were beating him and shouting at him. The ones who wanted to kill him. Yet Paul appealed to them as “brothers” …and respectful called the older men “fathers.” Right here from the beginning, he communicated his heart for them.
• And then he asks them to listen: “hear the defense that I now make before you.” He wanted them to hear and believe.
In fact, these verses are full of seeing and hearing language. Six times in these verses, the word “hear” is included. Paul wants them to see and hear what he has seen and heard. And so he describes for them what he saw and heard on the road to Damascus. A great light caused him to go blind, he heard the voice of Jesus, but could not see. Then God’s healed him through Ananias.
And jump down to verses 14 and 15. God spoke to Paul through Ananias. More words of seeing and hearing. Ananias said, “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.”
That’s what Paul was doing here in his testimony. He was fulfilling God’s call for him – witnessing what he had seen and heard so that others would see and hear. Of course, we know that they would not see and would not hear. We’ll come back to their response in a few minutes.
Paul took this call seriously. Everywhere he went, he testified to Christ. We’ve heard multiple sermons and speeches by Paul. And one compelling aspect of each is his understanding of his audience.
• Think of his Mars Hill address in Acts 17. It was a very different crowd. Greek philosophers and followers of the various Greek gods. He connected with them. He brought them from thinking God was unknown, to hearing about the creator God who knows us and can be known.
• Or think of a very different message. Paul’s sermon to the Ephesian Elders. Believers in Christ – Jew and Gentile believers.
And then we get to this speech - Paul’s testimony to this hostile Jewish crowd. These were zealous unbelieving Jews. And at first glance, you may not notice just how sensitive Paul is to their Jewish identity. But scan down with me through these verses:
• As already noted, he began, “Brothers and fathers.” Paul was connecting his Jewish identity with them.
• He spoke in their language
• In verse 3, Paul highlighted his Jewish credentials. He was educated by Gamaliel – the most famous Jewish rabbi.
• Verse 4, Paul, himself, was zealous. He even persecuted this “way.” He had Christians killed.
• Verse 5, Paul affirmed that he was approved by the High Priest and the counsel in what he did. Even going all the way to Damascus to imprison the Christians.
• Jump down to verse 12. Paul identified Ananias as a “devout man according to the law who was well spoken by all the Jews who lived there.” In that verse alone you can sense how desirous Paul is to get the crowd to see that this is all legitimate.
• In verse 14, even Ananias’s words to Paul echo his Jewish connection - “The God of our fathers”
• This includes Jesus’s title of Righteous One, which comes right from the Hebrew Scripture, Jeremiah and Zechariah. It referred to the coming Messiah.
• In fact, did you notice that only once is the name Jesus used. His self-identification in verse 8. Elsewhere, Paul calls him Lord (Adoni).
So, in very intentional way, Paul was speaking to them. He appealed to their Jewish heritage and Scriptures.
But also, Paul emphasized something else throughout his testimony. God’s sovereignty.
• The great light from heaven and voice from heaven would have validated the authenticity
• Jesus told Paul to go to Damascus and find Ananias. Paul went. Everything that Jesus predicted came true. It affirmed God’s divine plan in this.
• Even Paul’s blindness and then miraculous healing indicated God’s control over the situation.
• You’ll see the word “appointment” used twice. Verses 10 and 14. It’s in reference to God’s will for Paul.
• As we get down to verse 17, even the trance and vision indicated to them God’s divine oversight.
You see, Paul sought to authenticate everything he saw and heard according to their Jewish roots and the Hebrew Scriptures. He sought to validate God’s involvement in it all. He so desired that they would believe.
With all that in mind, we think, “yes, surely they will hear and believe.”
I know at least one of you has a dear friend who is an orthodox Jew. Maybe others here have Jewish friends or co-workers. And everything about you wants them to see and hear and believe. And you can go to Isaiah 53, you can show them the book of Hebrews, they can hear these words from Acts 22… yet they don’t believe. And we cry out to God, “why?” “Lord, open their eyes and hears to see… hear and believe. For only you can.”
We get to the end of Paul’s testimony. The crowd had been listening to Paul. It says that (verse 22). All the way up to this point, the hush continued.
• They heard Paul describe his Jewish background.
• They listened to his testimony of the light, and blindness, of Jesus words to Paul, and his healing.
• Even when Paul identified Jesus as “Lord” and “Righteous One,” they were not triggered.
They attentively listened until we get to 21. Paul said this: “And he [that is, the Lord] said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” This triggered the crowd. They began throwing off their cloaks and flinging dirt in the air (verse 23). These gestures showed just how disgusted they were.
The barrier to receiving the Gospel in anyone’s life is sin. That sin takes on many forms. For them (for this Jewish crowd), their sin was their prejudice. It was a form of racism – a nationalistic one. The roots of their sin were so deep. It involved a blinding pride in their Jewish identity. They saw themselves as the only true religious ones. Everyone else were Gentiles. Dogs to them. Literally, that’s how they saw anyone who wasn’t a Jew. They were the clean ones, the Gentiles were unclean. Their barrier to Gospel belief was their empty zealous legalism which included hatred of the Gentiles.
And for them to hear Paul say that God had sent him to the Gentiles… drove them far from the Gospel. This Gospel - Jesus’s death on the cross to forgive sins and his resurrection to new life that gives eternal hope… is for any and all who call upon his name. Any ethnicity, any nation, any language. We’ve seen this all throughout Acts.
Earlier in the service we read Ephesians 2, “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” It continues “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” Or consider Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
As you well know, Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for equality and dignity and peace. He believed that any inferiority was a myth. He believed forgiveness was needed. Dr. King wrote this: “Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again. Without this, no man can love his enemies.” In a way, this encapsulates the apostle Paul here. Forgiving them, loving them, desiring them to hear and believe.
Pastor John Piper wrote a chapter in a book about Dr. King’s Letters from a Birmingham Jail. Piper wrote it in a letter form, addressed to Dr. King as if he would read it. In it, Piper wrote this: “There are times I wished you had made the biblical gospel clearer. But I am sure you would agree that the power you wielded was rooted in God.” Piper went on to write to Dr. King about the struggle of the church today. He wrote that what the church’s need today is this: “God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated churches where the gospel is cherished — these are the birthplace of the kind of racial harmony that give long-term glory to God and long-term gospel-good to the world.”
Although the deep-seated prejudice of the Jews is different from the racism and prejudice that we see and struggle with today, the roots are the same. It’s sin that exalts one group over another or one person over another based on their ethnicity. We’re all image bearers of God, and we all need Christ.
I want to close with something different than usual. This long passage is structured in a type of Hebrew and Greek parallel. These parallels start at the beginning and end and work their way in to the middle
• Our text begins and ends with Paul speaking Greek to the Roman guards. He first speaks of his citizenship coming from Tarsus. He ends with his identity as a Roman citizen.
• The crowds had been stirred up until he began his speech. They were stirred up again at the end, wanting to kill him.
• Paul began his speech speaking of his persecution of Christians. Did you notice he ended his speech, revisiting his persecution of Christians.
• Verses 6-11 continue that movement towards the center. The great light, verse 6 and verse 11. Damascus verse 6 and 10. Jesus words, “why are you persecuting me” the end of 7 and again, end of 8, “whom you are persecuting.”
• At the very center of this whole passage is the beginning of verse 8. Paul asks, “who are you, Lord” and Jesus replies “I am Jesus of Nazareth”
He is the center of it all. He is the one who is our Lord… to whom we repent and from whom we receive forgiveness. He’s the one who breaks down the barriers of unbelief… the one that enables us to love our enemies. The only one through whom we can be truly reconciled to God and one another. Is he the center of your testimony, your life?