Sermon for Sunday Evening, November 5th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 21:27-40 ESV] 27 When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30 Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. 31 And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35 And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, 36 for the mob of the people followed, crying out, “Away with him!” 37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” 40 And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:
[Act 22:1-29 ESV] 1 “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.” 2 And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, 5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. 6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ 9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. 12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he 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; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’ 17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'” 22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23 And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. 25 But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” 27 So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” 29 So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.
I’ve titled this sermon “Paul’s Defense to the Jews.” It is his “apology.” That is the word for defense. It doesn’t mean “apologizing.” So I could title this “Paul’s Apology to the Jews” but it is clearer if we say “Paul’s Defense to the Jews.” And I say “to the Jews” because he will have another defense, another apology, soon to the Roman leaders. But first Paul is defending, proclaiming, Christ to his own people.
There is a sort of chiasm here. The rabble of the crowd prevents Paul from speaking. The tribune gives permission for Paul to speak. And then, a second time, the rabble of the crowd prevents Paul from speaking. Chiasms always point to the central element. Here, the outside bread of this chiastic sandwich are historical narrative, but the center is the meat of Paul’s speech in Jerusalem.
Wherever Paul goes, there is trouble in preaching Christ. But the trouble is a bit different in for the Jews compared with the Gentiles. In Gentile lands Paul is seen as a troublemaker for not worshipping their gods, their idols, or their Caesar. But in Jewish Jerusalem the problem the Jews have with Paul is that they say “This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place.”
But we saw in the last section of the Book of Acts that Paul is trying hard to be “everything to everyone.” “All things to all men.” While the customs of the Jews are no longer necessary because of Christ, Paul is not requiring that they be done away with. But the rumor about Paul has continued to spread: he’s anti-law. This isn’t antinomianism; they are not claiming that Paul is an anarchist. Rather, they are claiming that he actively teachings against the law and customs; that he disregards decorum. They suppose he has even brought DIRTY gentiles into the temple! Trophimus the Ephesian.
1. Paul Arrested (21:27-36)
So its time to get arrested. But actually the mob gets Paul first and wants to kill him, but the authorities stop the beating. It is our old friends, the Romans. And Paul is “saved.” But he’s not in all that much better of circumstances. The mob just wants to kill him then and there. The Romans they like “justice;” they’ll think things over a bit and maybe have a quick trial before killing someone.
The tribune doesn’t know anything about Paul, he doesn’t know anything about this business of Paul abandoning or not abandoning the Jewish laws. It seem this is why the tribune allows Paul to speak; so he can learn more about what is going on. He probably has a boss above him, and so he’ll want to make sure things are done “by the book.”
This tribune apparently speaks Greek as well as Roman. He says to Paul: “Do you know Greek? 38 Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?”
There was another similar case – Theudas.
[Act 5:36 ESV] 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing.
But this must be a different case. 4,000 not 400.
And this is the concern of the Romans, that revolts happen. That messianic or political leaders arise. If Paul is any threat against them, they will not hesitate to have him killed.
But how strange it must be to the Roman’s ears when he learned that Paul is actually a Jew, and his fellow Jews are trying to kill him. He’s not a wild Egyptian cult leader. He’s a fellow Jew. Why could the Jews possibly want to kill another Jew?
We see so many times in the Scripture how God uses a bad situation for good. Paul couldn’t get a word in edgewise with the mob, but his arrest leads to his getting permission to speak. He ultimately won’t get to say as much as he wants, but he does get to proclaim Jesus as Lord.
2. Paul’s Speech (21:37 – 22:21)
Now, I’ve given this sermon three sections. Paul arrested. Paul’s Speech. And Paul’s Speech arrested. This is a play on words. The first arrest is the physical arrest by the authorities. The second “arrest” is the cutting short of his speech.
But before his speech is cut short he gets to say much of substance. He gets to preach Christ.
He get the attention of the crowd in a couple ways. First, he speaks Hebrew. Saying “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.” So a hush falls over the crowd. And then Paul seeks to connect with them. First, even though they’ve beating him, he calls them “Brothers and fathers.” Remarkable. Then he says “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.”
He even commends their zeal. Verse 3. I was “zealous for God as all of you are this day.” He doesn’t criticize their beating of him. He says “I too had this same zeal.”
He is saying, “I am one of you.” And “you are much like me.” We’ve been blessed to know the law of God. Now, hear the Gospel of God!
Paul in essence gives his testimony. He was an enemy of the church, but God changed him on the road to Damascus when the light of Christ struck Paul.
And Jesus said: ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ Remember n 1 Samuel we recently saw that God called his prophets by their first names. Now he calls out Saul, Saul.
And Paul explains how he has ever since followed the Lord despite persecution.
Well, where is the Gospel in Paul’s preaching. In that testimony we find that Jesus is alive. That is the resurrection. That is the good news of death being conquered and life eternal being promised.
And the Gospel is present in the command, “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” Whose name? Jesus Christ!
There is here also a reference to baptism. “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” Of course we understand baptism as a sign and seal of the work of God. Baptism itself doesn’t “wash away sin.” Baptism washes away dirt, and that points to Christ who washes away sin. It is remarkable in church history that people have come to the conclusion that Baptism itself saves. Then what need would their be for Christ? There is a verse in 1 Peter (3:21) that is regularly quoted and it says “Baptism … now saves you.” But if you read the it in context you hear “CHRIST suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that HE might bring us to God” and Baptism saves not in itself but through Jesus Christ who is resurrected and has gone into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father with all angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. Jesus Saves!
To all of this the Jews are listening quietly … until … until what? … Until Paul says that God sent him to the Gentiles. Then the Jews are done listening.
Here’s where Paul’s speech is arrested.
3. Paul’s Speech Arrested
22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23 And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air,
God to the Gentiles!? Get out! No, He is God of the Jews … right? They don’t want to hear anything about those dirty Gentiles.
But these Gentiles are now clean by the blood of the lamb. As also are the Jews who believe in Christ clean by his blood. Jesus Christ saves sinner. He cleanses them from sin.
This message is not well taken. And again the Romans have to save Paul. Though the Jews want him flogged, Paul says
“Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?”
And this gets him off the hook. This appeal to his Roman citizenship he’ll use again later, appealing to Caesar for his trial. And getting opportunity to preach Christ to Caesar.
So we see Paul applying a principle related to that “all things to all people.” That is, a principle something like “use all things for good.” Paul is a Roman Citizen. He was born a Roman citizen. Now that he is reborn as a Christian, that is his loyalty, not Caesar. But he uses the citizenship for good; not only to not be beaten, but to continue his preaching in Jerusalem and places all the way to and including Rome.
We might extend this principle to the idea of using doctors and medicine to our advantage. You see, Paul doesn’t just hope and pray (both good things), bu he uses that which is at his disposal for the advancement of the Gospel and the Kingdom and the continuation of his life.
1. How to give your own testimony.
Well, I usually say “don’t.” But here we have an example from Paul.
Communication in common. Speak to your audience. Connect as a person with the audience.. Paul says “I am a man.” And he says “I am a Jew.” And “My teacher is Gamaliel.” He’s not a wild self-taught religious person, but a student of the most respected teacher.
But ultimately, Focus on Christ. What He did, not what you’ve done. You’ve only sinned. He has saved. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Give glory to God. Proclaim Christ and rely on God to work.