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Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (here and here).

Acts 22:2-21

And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language,[a] 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[b] 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, 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. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 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[c] 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.’

————————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s passage discussed the aftermath of the riot in Jerusalem, centred around lies Jews from Ephesus told about Paul. The Roman tribune’s (commander’s) men had to carry Paul away from the crowd. They then bound him, as Agabus had prophesied only days before. Paul then asked the tribune in Greek if he could address the mob. The tribune, surprised and impressed that Paul knew Greek, allowed him to do so.

Paul presented his bona fides in an address — actually, an apologia (defence) of his journey in faith — to the Jews in Jerusalem. Not only did Paul speak Greek, but he also spoke Aramaic, their Hebrew dialect. Consequently, they were quiet (verse 2).

Verse 3 is the beginning of his testimony, where he mentioned his place of birth, Tarsus, home to a notable university at the time, and adding that he came to Jerusalem to study at the feet of Gamaliel, one of Judaism’s greatest teachers, who had also warned the Jewish hierarchy against persecuting Christians in case they (the hierarchy) were opposing God.

Paul was also careful to say that he was as ‘zealous for God’ as they were. How gracious of him, considering that this was the same mob that had bloodied him a short while before.

He went on to say that, at an earlier time, he persecuted followers of the Way — Christians — unto death (verse 4). The Way was a commonly used term for Christianity mentioned in other parts of Acts and New Testament letters. The term comes from Jesus (John 14:6), emphases mine below:

Jesus said to him,“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

One of those who met his death at Paul’s instigation was Stephen, one of the first deacons (see here and here). Near the end of his apologia, he admitted his guilt by mentioning Stephen by name (verse 20).

Paul said these things to show that he really had been steeped in the Jewish faith. However, if that weren’t enough for some in the crowd, he indirectly invited them to check with the high priest and the elders (verse 5), as he was on his way to do their bidding in bringing back Jewish converts from Damascus to Jerusalem for punishment.

He then went on to describe what happened just outside of Damascus (verses 6-13), which I wrote about at length in the following posts:

Part 1 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion

Part 2 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion (includes interesting info from John MacArthur on his own conversion)

Acts 9:10-19 — when scales fell from the eyes of Saul of Tarsus (final part of St Paul’s conversion story)

Note the emphasis that Paul puts on God in quoting the words of Ananias (verse 14). ‘The God of our Fathers’ had appointed Paul to know His will, to have a blinding (literally) encounter with His Son and to be His witness (verse 15). Paul concluded his conversion experience by telling the crowd how Ananias urged him to rise (since his sight had been restored) and be baptised so that his sins could be washed away, calling on His name (verse 16).

Then, Paul discussed his return to Jerusalem. St Luke, the author of Acts, wrote about what happened to Paul after his conversion. Paul stayed in Damascus to preach, then continued his ministry for three years in Arabia, after which time he returned to Jerusalem. At that point, he was praying in the temple when he fell into a trance (verse 17). He had a vision of Christ telling him to leave the city post haste (verse 18). That exit is in Acts 9:26-31; Paul went home to Tarsus for a time.

Matthew Henry’s commentary has more on Paul’s vision and our Lord’s message:

In this trance he saw Jesus Christ, not with the eyes of his body, as at his conversion, but represented to the eye of his mind (Acts 22:18): I saw him saying unto me … Before Christ gave him a commission to go to the Gentiles, he told him it was to no purpose for him to think of doing any good at Jerusalem; so that they must not blame him, but themselves, if he be sent to the Gentiles. Paul came to Jerusalem full of hopes that, by the grace of God, he might be instrumental to bring those to the faith of Christ who had stood it out against the ministry of the other apostles; and perhaps this was what he was now praying for, that he, having had his education at Jerusalem and being well known there, might be employed in gathering the children of Jerusalem to Christ that were not yet gathered, which he thought he had particular advantages for doing of. But Christ crosses the measures he had laid: “Make haste,” says he, “and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem;” for, though thou thinkest thyself more likely to work upon them than others, thou wilt find they are more prejudiced against thee than against any other, and therefore “will not receive thy testimony concerning me.” As God knows before who will receive the gospel, so he knows who will reject it.

Paul says he responded to Jesus by saying that the Jews in Jerusalem knew his past of persecution (verse 19), especially with regard to Stephen (verse 20).

Paul ended his apologia by saying that our Lord told him to go far away from Jerusalem and take his ministry to the Gentiles (verse 21).

As Henry says, God answers our prayers according to His will, not ours:

So Paul here prays that he may be an instrument of converting souls at Jerusalem: “No,” says Christ, “but thou shalt be employed among the Gentiles, and more shall be the children of the desolate than those of the married wife.” It is God that appoints his labourers both their day and their place, and it is fit they should acquiesce in his appointment, though it may cross their own inclinations. Paul hankers after Jerusalem: to be a preacher there was the summit of his ambition; but Christ designs him greater preferment. He shall not enter into other men’s labours (as the other apostles did, John 4:38), but shall break up new ground, and preach the gospel where Christ was not named, Romans 15:20. So often does Providence contrive better for us than we for ourselves; to the guidance of that we must therefore refer ourselves. He shall choose our inheritance for us. Observe, Paul shall not go to preach among the Gentiles without a commission: I will send thee. And, if Christ send him, his Spirit will go along with him, he will stand by him, will carry him on, and bear him out, and give him to see the fruit of his labours. Let not Paul set his heart upon Jerusalem, for he must be sent far hence; his call must be quite another way, and his work of another kind. And it might be a mitigation of the offence of this to the Jews that he did not set up a Gentile church in the neighbouring nations; others did this in their immediate vicinity; he was sent to places at a distance, a vast way off, where what he did could not be thought an annoyance to them.

Here Paul was in a precarious situation, not only with the Jews but also the Romans. Yet, he boldly gave this dramatic testimony, all of which points to God working through him. John MacArthur has more:

Look at Paul’s greeting, in verse 1 of 22: “Men and brethren and fathers.” Look in verse 3 how he maximizes similarities. He maximizes the way they are the same, then he says, “I understand your motives. Boy, I understand how you feel, I used to be exactly like that”

The next point in giving a positive testimony is to tell what God did when He invaded your life. “And then you know what happened? I was going about doing what I was doing. All of a sudden, God began to move in my life.” See?

So, number one, accept the situation is from God. Number two, create an opportunity. Number three, when you get that opportunity, be loving and conciliatory, and do everything to win their confidence. And number four, when you begin to talk about the transformation, talk about it from God’s side. “Here is what God did.” Well, may the Lord give us opportunity for that.

Unfortunately, as we shall see next week, the word ‘Gentiles’ triggered the crowd, which, once again, turned into a mob.

Next time — Acts 22:22-30

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