Acts 22

Acts 22
by Pastor Mark Hudson

Chapter 22 continues the event recorded in the previous chapter.  Luke spends a large amount of narrative space contrasting the Jewish proceedings and the Roman proceeding.  The advice the Jerusalem church gave to Paul in 21:23 put in motion events that continue to the end of this book.  We will explore this verse in a few paragraphs.

In this chapter, Paul is addressing his Jewish brothers.  In 21:30ff, the Jewish mob is trying to kill Paul.  Paul is carried out of the violent mob by Roman officials who are protecting him from his Jewish brethren.  These officials keep Paul alive.  Now in our chapter, he switches from Greek that he is speaking to the tribune to Hebrew since Paul is addressing his brothers and fathers.  Paul gains a hearing because he is speaking Hebrew (or probably Aramaic).  His bona fides are beyond question.  He reminds them, not that he is a Roman citizen, but that he was trained at Harvard or Cambridge, which is what studying under Gamaliel could be compared to.  Paul reminds them, that although they just tried to kill him, he understands their zeal for God.  That is gracious in and of itself.  ‘I have bruises and blood all over my body but I understand you.  In fact, I did the same thing when I thought Judaism, God, and our way of life was threatened by The Way.’  I imagine Paul was never shocked by violence directed his way.  He just thought of Stephen . . . and his support.  Or he thought of his aggression going to Damascus.

All that Paul is saying to them is verifiable.  The listeners could go ask the high priest or the council of elders if Paul was telling the truth.  Paul took temple guards (possibly) were with him to Damascus.  He is claiming that in the bright light of the sun in Israel was overwhelmed by an even brighter light.  Paul claims he was blinded by a brighter light that could only come from God.  They could ask the men that went with him.

Paul learns in his conversion account that he was not persecuting Christians only.  He learned he was persecuting a person he thought was dead.  He learned Jesus is very much alive and identifies with the people of The Way.  This had to be shocking for Paul. Paul, who experienced this years ago, is telling these Jewish brothers and fathers for the first time.  Notice how “Jewish” every detail is in his story.  How could they not understand his story?  This story was for his listeners.

Notice that in Paul’s actions and words, Paul always shows respect for his background.  He is a Christian and of course Jewish.  Paul never belittles his culture or Judaism (22:3ff; 23:1; Rom. 9:15; 10:1; 11:1ff), yet Paul is pointing others to the Jewish Messiah: our Lord Jesus Christ.  Of course, Paul is not afraid to use his Roman citizenship either to avoid flogging (22:25) or to avoid being sent back to Jerusalem (25:11) when Festus suggests Paul be sent back to be tried in Jerusalem.  God uniquely equipped Paul with his wealthy family, his Roman citizenship, and his outstanding Jewish education under a great teacher in Jerusalem.  Paul could speak and read Aramaic, Hebrew. Greek, and we would assume Latin.  He could have been able to read other languages as well.  But he was intimately connected to his Jewish upbringing.  Paul also had a deep love for his fellow Jews.

As much as Paul loves his fellow Jews, they seem to despise the Greeks.  They listen to his story until v 21.  As soon as Paul said he was sent to the Gentiles, Paul is cancelled.  Frankly, they look ridiculous the way they reacted.  This conversation takes place because the Jerusalem Christians advised Paul in this way: “Do therefore what we tell you.  We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads.  Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law” (21:23-24).  That message was sent but not received.

If Luke’s purpose was merely to show the spread of the gospel, why did he take almost 8 chapters describing Paul’s defense before Roman officials and Jewish leaders?  Luke seems to be contrasting the violence, judgmentalism, irrationality of the Jewish leaders and people with the Roman officials.  Remember, we must never write, say, or imply that pointing out the shortcomings of these Jewish leaders is the same as being racists toward Jews.  Paul loved the Jews because he was Jewish.  But his love for the Jews did not cloud his honest evaluation of their standing before God.  When I hear Paul talk about the religious leaders of the Jews, I think of my own circumstances.  Of course, this is a not a strict analogy but am I threatened by change?  Am I too dogmatic about issues that are not essential?  Am I missing the main thing?  Yes, the Jews of Jesus and Paul’s day were wrong but that is because of sin not because of race.  We absolutely must love people who are not believers and never take personal their refusal to obey the gospel.  Their refusal is between them and God not us.

So, Luke’s portrayal of Judaism is not flattering.  On the other hand, the Roman government found no reason to accuse them of any illegal activity.  Was Luke intending to show to the world that Christianity can be opposed but not by rational people?  The Way (Christianity) is opposed by Jews.  But, quite frankly, Luke’s portrayal of them is both honest and damning.  Paul, of course, did the same until Christ changed his life.  But is Luke pointing out that there are good and sufficient reasons to believe?  Is the reaction of the Jews at this time another indicator that God was removing His blessing from the Jews to Christians?

Lord, thank You that You forgive.  We commit so many sins so we need Your grace.  We find it very easy to condemn the religious leaders of both Jesus’ and Paul’s time but scarcely giving a second thought to our sin when we enjoy the blessings of the gospel and presence of Your Spirit.  You used Paul by orchestrating every detail of his life.  Guide us so we recognize Your hand in the disappointments and losses in our lives.  Bring an awakening by the power of Your Holy Spirit to love Your Word, delight in Christ, and be devoted to the ministry of Word and sacrament in our church.  In the mighty name of Christ, Amen.