Monthly Archives: November 2009

Acts 23:23-35 – Bible as History

Diving Deeper Lesson Outline for Acts 23:23-35

The title is drawn from a recognition that the Bible is linked to secular history.
Luke writes about not only the history of Paul’s current predicament but also inserts the story into the Roman geographical and political realities of that time.
Here we examine some examples and some implications of linking revelation with history.
But first, I have a couple of points about Paul’s immediate history.

1) A WAY OF LIFE FOR THE APOSTLES

Acts 23:27 – This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen.

Our lesson text today contains much review, so we will use that as license to review even further.
To live a life in obedience to Christ, was to live a life mired in threats, intimidation, imprisonment and even death.
In Acts, we see a pattern of apostle persecution that began with some restraint but quickly escalated to violence.

Acts 4:21a – And when they had further threatened them, they let them go…
Acts 5:18 – They arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.
Acts 5:33 – When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.
Acts 5:40 – and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them
Acts 7:58 – Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him.
Acts 8:3 – But Saul was ravaging the church…he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
Acts 9:23-25 – …the Jews plotted to kill him,…watching the gates day and night in order to kill him
Acts 9:29 – …But they were seeking to kill him.
Acts 12:2 – He killed James the brother of John with the sword,
Acts 14:5 – When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them,
Acts 14:19 – …they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.
Acts 16:23 – …they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison

2) JEWISH STRATEGY OF DEFEATING THE GOSPEL MESSAGE

Acts 23:29 – I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment.

There never was an attempt made by the Jewish leaders and laymen, that we know of, to discredit Jesus’ miracles, His death or the empty tomb.
In fact, they readily admitted the power of this testimony.
The Jews claim was that the apostles were teaching against the law.
The Jews first handled the problem posed by the apostles by asking them to speak no more of Jesus or else – Plan A.
In fact, Gamaleil advocated reason and pragmatism.

As time went on, however, it became clear that the apostles were unfazed by threats.
So as we just saw, the Jewish leaders were more & more willing to resort to violence.
To garner support for violence, they realized it was necessary to stir up intense hatred of the apostles.
So enter Plan B – turn the public against the apostles by falsely accusing them of corrupting the laws and customs of Moses.

Jerusalem, we have a problem – Plan A:
The Jewish leadership and layperson of Jerusalem were all in agreement that Signs & Wonders were taking place.
However, the apostles rightly attributed the source of the Signs & Wonders to a resurrected Jesus.
Plan A was to convince the apostles to stop this attribution and shut up.

Acts 4:13-17 – Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.

Acts 4:21b – finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.

Plan A not working:
Frustration was building among the Jewish leadership, but Gamaliel argued for a reasonable solution.
Like previous movements, he argued, if the movement is bogus it will die.

Acts 5:34-35 & 38-40 – But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men…..38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

Too much at stake so time for Plan B – divide and conquer:
The problem with Gamaliel’s approach was that if the movement didn’t die, the status quo might.
And given the power of the apostles argument and witness, this possibility was unacceptable.

Acts 6:10-14 – But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.”
**Notice here, like in Acts 4:13-17 that the influence of the power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit was not in question.

What exactly was at stake for the Jewish leadership?
Why such violent opposition to the apostles’ message?

Further evidence of Plan B in action:
Acts 13:45 – …they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him.
Acts 13:50 – …incited the devout women and the leading men, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas.
Acts 14:2 – …stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.
Acts 17:5 – …Jews were jealous..formed a mob, set the city in an uproar
Acts 17:13 – …they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds.
Acts 18:13 – saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.”
Acts 21:20b-21 – …you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.

***The tactics of the Jews had even lingered and brought doubts to the believing Jews.
Acts 21:27-28 – …stirred up the whole crowd…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.”

POI – The Jews’ Plan B strategy was also employed by Gentiles.
Acts 16:21 – They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.

Acts 19:27-28 – And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” 28 When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

POI – Scripture paints a clear picture of the Jews treatment of the apostles, the tactics used and their motivation.
For me, the apostles’ willingness to endure this for Jesus, a dead man, demonstrates not only the probability of their claim that He in fact was raised from the dead but also the power of this risen Christ to sustain and encourage during hardships suffered on His account.
They had nothing to gain (they weren’t politicians or power brokers) and everything to lose.

3) FELIX AND CAESAREA – CHRISTIANITY AS HISTORY

I am fascinated how Scripture is so deeply rooted in and intertwined with secular history.
And unlike many other religions, the authority of Scripture is linked to its accurate depiction of that history.
Of course the best example of this is that, “Christianity is belief in a person, a genuine historical individual – but at the same time a special individual, whom the church regards as not only human, but divine.” – William Lane Craig

By contrast, little of the Koran is rooted in the actions of persons that existed in a secular historical context.
The Koran is a revelation of God to Muhammad over a period of about 23 years.
Its 114 chapters consist mainly of spiritual teachings and their application not a publicly recorded and verifiable history.
For example, chapter 30 entitled “The Romans” makes no mention of any names or specific places.
So historically, there is nothing at stake.

But in our text today, Scripture unashamedly plants itself right in the middle of Roman politics and jurisprudence.
And it does so in such a way that if its historical context is found to be inaccurate, the authority of Scripture itself could be called into question.

Antonius Felix:
Acts 23:24 – Also provide mounts for Paul to ride and bring him safely to Felix the governor

Luke claimed that Antonius Felix was the governor of the Judean Province of the Roman Empire.

Secular historians agree.
Felix is known to have been in power from about 52-58 A.D.
Bronze coins minted during his time in power have been discovered.

And interestingly:
He had 3 wives &, in fact, one of his wives was the 2nd cousin to Emperor Claudius (41-54 A.D.).
He had a son die in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.
Historians at the time of Felix wrote that he “practiced every kind of cruelty and lust”.
He was known to put down disturbances with “severity.”

In our verses today, Luke reveals the below odd conversation.
Acts 23:34-35 – On reading the letter, he asked what province he was from. And when he learned that he was from Cilicia 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” And he commanded him to be guarded in Herod’s praetorium.

In fact, there was a Roman practice know as “Forum Domicilli” that would have given Felix the option of sending Paul back to the province of his birth to have a hearing.

We see the same thing going on with Pilate and Jesus.

Luke 23:6-7 – When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time

If Felix was never governor of the Judean Province, how does that help or hurt the authority of the Bible?

Caesarea:
Acts 23:33-35 – When they had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. 34 On reading the letter, he asked what province he was from. And when he learned that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” And he commanded him to be guarded in Herod’s praetorium.

Luke claimed that the governor of the Judean province and Herod’s praetorium were in Caesarea.

In fact, we know that about 6 A.D., the administrative capital was moved from Jerusalem to Caesarea.
Due to its status as the capital, Caesarea contained a Roman built aqueduct, hippodrome, a amphitheater and Herod’s praetorium was converted into the governor’s palace.
Having been there, I can tell you that even in ruins it is a beautiful place.

Interestingly, it is in the amphitheater that was found a seat marker for Pontius Pilate; it had his name inscribed on it.

Other references to Caesarea:
Acts 8:40 – But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
Acts 21:8 – On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.

Philip evangelized in and lived in Caesarea.

Acts 10:1-2 – At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.

Peter came to Caesarea after his vision and met up with a converted Roman centurion.

Acts 18:22 – When he [Paul] had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch.

As with Felix, if Caesarea was not the capital, or did not have Herod’s palace, or was not the capital in which the governor would have resided, we may have a problem with the authority of scripture.
I find it difficult to divorce the teachings of Luke with the history in which it happened.

Summary:
It is in the context of all this history that the our faith finds one of its many reasons to be probable.
The more we confirm the accuracy of the historical context of the Bible, the more probable it becomes.
Therefore, an effective Christian apologetic is rooted in the truth of the history in which it was born.
I love the boldness demonstrated by God by putting his revelation smack dab in the middle of human history.
I have heard it said, “if God and the Bible are true, why didn’t God make it loud and clear?”
I think this is one way that He did exactly that!

But as important, is that in our text today we find the continued fulfillment of God’s call to Paul that he, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” – Acts 9:15-16

Acts 22:30 – 23:11 – In All Good Conscience

Acts 22:30 – 23:11 – In All Good Conscience

Diving Deeper Lesson Outline for Acts 22:30-23:11

The title is drawn from Paul’s words in 23:1 where he describes his life as one lived in all good conscience.

1) IN ALL GOOD CONSCIENCE

Background of conscience in OT:
OT has no concept of conscience so there is no Hebrew word for conscience in the OT.
The closest the OT comes, most believe, is when it uses a phrase involving the word “heart”.
The phrase is translated as “offence” or “stumbling block” or “pangs” of the heart.
Some translations now translate this phrase as “pangs of conscience” or something similar – 1 Samuel 25:31.

Background of conscience in Greek culture:
Koine or common language Greek, the language the NT was written in, does have a word for conscience – suneidesis
It first turned up in the 400-500 BC time frame.
It was the idea that “humans have w/in themselves one who is aware of their behavior.” – Pannenberg
Or to put another way, it was used to denote self-consciousness or cognizance NOT morality.
However, most unusually, the writer Euripedes some 100 years later did use it in Orestes in a moral context.

Background of conscience in NT:
A couple of interesting things happen with the New Testament writers, like Paul, who wrote or dictated in Greek.
1st, the 4 Gospels do not use the word at all; it first appears in our text today.
2nd, the meaning of the word is changed by the NT writers, especially Paul, from its common secular meaning.
He used it, like Euripedes, to refer to an awareness of right and wrong BUT as established by God.
As Zodhiates says, “The testimony of the Spirit in man’s heart concerning his obligation to God.”

However, Paul also used the concept behind the original meaning of the Greek word but with a twist.
That is to say “humans have w/in themselves one who is aware of their behavior” and that “one” is either the world OR the Spirit of God.
For example, we possess either a self-consciousness/cognizance informed by the righteousness of Christ (the new Adam) OR the sin and death of the old Adam.
Or more specifically, consider Paul’s contrast of the believer and unbeliever in Romans 6.

Slave to Righteousness == Slave to Sin
Freed from Sin == Slave to Sin
Newness of Life == Life Found Wanting
Old Self Crucified == Old Self Lives
Alive to God == Condemned by God
Under Grace == Under Law

Our understanding of who we are is rooted in either one or the other of these realities.
This is an oft overlooked usage of the conscience concept in Paul’s theology – Pannenberg.

Paul co-opting this word gives insight into how Paul engaged a Hellenistic culture (like at Mar’s Hill) in a relevant way w/o compromising truth and at the same time provided deeper insight to the Christian in his new life.
For me, it also highlights why God chose the Greek era to bring Jesus and the NT.
The Greek language was capable of richly conveying His revelation.

Acts 23:1 – Our text:
With regards to his conscience, Paul’s work as an apostle of Christ was done in “obedience to his obligation to God’s testimony on his heart” and therefore, regardless of the fact that he had fell into disrepute as a Jew, his conscience was clean.
This ticked the counsel off because he was claiming God as the authority behind this “sect of Judaism” that he was teaching.

Paul’s theology of conscience (a few examples):
In his epistles, Paul developed a theology of conscience to explain God’s truth and to disciple the believer.
We will explore some of the implications of his teachings.

1) One who has never heard of the God of Israel or the Law is still accountable to the God of Israel.

Romans 2:14-16 – For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Paul taught that the very capacity & presence of a “law to themselves”, regardless of its moral or cultural context, was evidence of a transcendent law of God “written on their hearts.”
And so the conscience (obligation to right over wrong) “bears witness” to an accountability to God as one evaluates the guilt/“accusing thoughts” or the lack of guilt/“excusing thoughts” of ones actions.

Many say, if God is so concerned about humanity’s reconciliation with Him why didn’t he just spell it out clearly.
Paul is saying here that God spelled it out with, among other things, your conscience.
The ambiguity is not from God but from man!
The conscience is not of cultural origin as man would believe but of transcendental origin!

BTW – Atheists have a conscience and are moral people too.
They would argue morality is just an obligation to society or themselves not an “obligation to God”.

2) Conscience can be “defiled” and “seared” OR “clear” and “good” so be cautious to care for yours and others.

Care for Others Conscience:
1 Corinthians 8:7-13 – But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

1 Corinthians 10:27-30 – If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone [a believer] says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?…33 [because Paul is] not seeking my own advantage.

We are not to offend the conscience of weak or new believers.
If the weak or new believer violates their own conscience, especially due to our following or leading, their own conscience can become hardened or as Paul puts it “the weak person is destroyed.
Paul even says that to “make my brother stumble” by “wounding his conscience” is to “sin against Christ.”

In fact, Paul says it would be better to offend the host and not eat the meal, if by doing so you are protecting the conscience of the believer that is concerned that it is food that was offered to idols.
Our Freedom is not meant to offend the weaker conscience.
That is, we should not cause our freedom to be slandered by expressing it in ways that offend a weaker brother.”- JM

Care for Our Conscience:
We can also wound our own conscience.
This is why Paul says in Romans 13:5 – Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
When we resist God’s will we can injure our own conscience making it less receptive to our “obligations to God.”

3) Teaching and living God’s truth accurately is a witness to a God informed conscience.

Acts 24:14-16 – But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. 16 So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.

2 Corinthians 1:12-14 – For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. 13 For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and acknowledge and I hope you will fully acknowledge— 14 just as you did partially acknowledge us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.

2 Corinthians 4:1-3 – Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.

1 Timothy 1:3-5 – As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Paul believed and taught the truth giving him a clean conscience before God and man.
Paul had a conscience informed by God and so behaved with godly sincerity not by earthly wisdom.
Again, Paul taught the truth and did not tamper with God’s word and so did not weaken but commended ourselves to everyone’s conscience.
And Paul again linked teaching a different doctrine or speculations to having a negative impact on one’s purity, faith and conscience.

Summary:
All of humanity has a conscience but only the Christians’ is informed by the truth of the Spirit and Scripture.
Our conscience needs to be watered and nurtured.
This is done by learning God’s word which is to say learning our obligations to God and being obedient to them.
“The person who has considerable knowledge of God’s Word will have a more sensitive conscience…the neglected and resisted conscience becomes more insensitive and eventually may stop giving warning signals about wrongdoing.” JM

Hebrews 10:19-22 – Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

What are some things we do or don’t do that can weaken our conscience and therefore our walk in Christ?
Not speaking the Gospel (huge one for me – I can feel my conscience writhing when I resist).
Not tithing.
Not coming to church.
Not studying and learning God’s word.
Not raising your kids in the admonition of the Lord.
Resisting authority.
Confusing priorities.

The more we disobey these calls on our life the more we wound our conscience – a sin against Christ.
Our life is supposed to be informed by and lived in context of our “newness of life” as Paul says in Romans 6.
Our conscience testifies to us about this.
When we ignore or disobey our conscience, despair and dissatisfaction are sure to follow.
So if you have a lackluster walk; one that is apathetic and stagnate, I think this very well could be your problem!

Acts 22:3-23 – Paul’s Defense

Acts 22:3-23 – Paul’s Defense

Diving Deeper lesson outline for Acts 22:3-23.
Lesson taught over 3 weeks.

Lesson title is drawn from Paul’s stated intent behind the speech made to the Asian Jews.

1) IDENTITY – I AM A JEW – VS 3-5

Acts 22:3-5I 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.

Paul associates the following with his Judaism:
Spoke Aramaic – Vs. 2
Raised in Jerusalem
Educated by Gamaliel according to the law
Zealous for God
Persecutor of the Way

POI – The wisdom of Gamaliel
Acts 5:33-39When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 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. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”

He cites witnesses:
High Priest
Whole council of elders
Brothers in Damascus

And a chain of evidence:
From them I received letters to punish the Way

In fact, elsewhere Paul outlines even more evidence for his Judaism:
Descendant of Abraham
Member of the tribe of Benjamin
Circumcised
A Pharisee
Blameless under the law

Romans 11:1bFor I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.

Philippians 3:4-6If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

And it is certainly possible that he built his case even more thoroughly than Luke reveals:
So zealous for traditions I was a prodigy
Witnessed & approved of Stephen’s execution
Ravaged the church

Galatians 1:14And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.

Acts 8:1-3And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

None of this was in any way offensive to the Jewish Mob – the Asian Jews.
In fact, much of this may have been new and impressive info for them.
The Saul that Paul was speaking of would have been at the front of the line in their persecution of Paul
This would help explain why just prior to this they were trying to kill him and now they were continuing to listen to him.
It is not unreasonable to expect, that with some of them, Paul had achieved his desired affect.
Which is to say, they began to question “This guy was awesome, but what happened to him?”

The answer was about to come.

2) IDENTITY – I AM A JEW WHO ENCOUNTERED JESUS OF NAZARETH – VS 6-11

Acts 22:6-11“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.

In fact, on the way to persecute in Damascus:
Had a physical encounter with objective consequences
Blinded by light from heaven
Fell to the ground

Jesus talked to me:
Jesus of Nazareth was an allusion to the historical man who was crucified and buried and whose body was no longer in its tomb (the Asian Jews would have known this – Acts 19:17 – Jesus name extolled).
Jesus told me that persecuting the church was a persecution of him.

Cites witnesses to the physical encounter and consequences:
Those who were with me saw the light
Those who were with me saw I was blinded by it and had to lead me to Damascus
“Those who” were also the witnesses to Saul’s zealous Judaism, his persecution of the way and of the letter.

Cites a reason for the event:
Jesus has something for me to do and it is not to persecute the church.

In these verses, Paul was describing an event that changed his life.
The change it produced he would reveal soon enough.
What is in view here as Paul is making his defense, however, is that the event and its objective affects had witnesses.
Presumably, Paul’s story could be investigated and verified, otherwise, to use it as evidence for his the truth of his claims would have been merit less.

“The conversion and apostleship of St. Paul alone, duly considered, was of itself a demonstration sufficient to prove Christianity to be a divine revelation,” – George Lyttelton; Observations on the conversion of St. Paul

POI – Interesting to notice what Paul did not say in his defense.
When speaking the Gospel, we are often taught to give a testimony that describes our life before and then after our salvation & we typically talk about subjective, emotional aspects of our salvation – “peace”, “satisfaction”, “happiness”, etc.
Paul made mention of none of these things in his defense.
He spoke more about objective reasons behind his conversion; things much more useful to the audience if they wished to investigate Paul’s defense.
I think we should endeavor to adopt Paul’s strategy.

3) IDENTITY – I AM A JEW FORGIVEN BY THE MESSIAH – VS 12-16

Acts 22:12-16“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.’

Paul cites another witness:
Ananias
Devout man according to the law
Respected by the Damascus Jews
(Acts 9:14 – Jews who knew Paul was coming to persecute the Christians & would have known Ananias was a Christian).
A witness to my blindness
Healed my blindness

Why cite a Christian as a source when speaking to the Asian Jews?
Wouldn’t this hurt Paul’s argument?

The answer to the above question is found in an understanding of the role of witnesses in Jewish law.
This, admittedly, is a very basic understanding.

First, it is necessary that there be testimony from at least two witnesses to establish the possibility of an event (crime).

Deuteronomy 19:15“A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.

Second, the quality and relationship of the witnesses must be established and examined.

The Jewish Law Annual states with respect to witnesses that, “what is being sought is a common denominator that serves to render the witnesses a single unit, that is, some factor that links together persons who would otherwise be simply a number of discrete individuals. It is clear that the connection between them is formal and accidental, without involving any personal element, and there is no logical or substantive reason to suppose that this connection has any influence on the case.”

When we apply this by comparing Ananias, the “those who were with me” from Acts 22:9 & 11 and the high priest and elders from Acts 22:5, we see a picture of witnesses whose connection is “formal and accidental”, without any “personal element” and that their connection is not some sort of collusion.

We see this because Annanias, a well-respected Jewish follower of Christ from Damascus, is quite different both in his beliefs and in his geography from the other witnesses.

Yet they all can testify to the following “common denominator”:
Paul was zealous for the law.
Paul persecuted Christians.
Paul encountered Jesus.
Jesus spoke to Paul.
Paul was blind.

Their relationship to the events Paul was recounting was the only thing that made the witnesses “a single unit”.
So the fact that they could, if interrogated, paint a picture that would have had all the aforementioned similarities gave their testimony incredible weight!

God orchestrated a series of events that provided actual historical reasons to believe in Paul’s message.
No one had to just take his word for it…and neither do we.
The Bible can withstand all the scrutiny we wish to throw at it.

This devout, respected, law abiding, healing Jew (Ananias) revealed:
God of our fathers (God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob)
Appointed (CHOOSE) Paul to know God’s will
To see Righteous One
To hear His voice

POI – That Paul was appointed or chosen by God reveals God’s role in calling us to Him.
As a side note, God also chose the disciples.
Luke 6:13And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles

The audience would have rightly understood the term “Righteous One” as referring to the Messiah.

Isaiah 24:16From the ends of the earth we hear songs of praise, of glory to the Righteous One.
Acts 3:14But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you,
Acts 7:52Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

Ananias, as a witness, was corroborating Paul’s story and declaring that God chose Paul to see and hear the Messiah!
This was a remarkable claim Paul was making before the Jewish mob and it would not have been lost on them.

The purpose of the call on Paul:
Witness for Jesus what was seen and heard – THE BOOK OF ACTS.

The effects of the call:
Baptized
Sins forgiven in name of Jesus

The idea of being immersed in water and its symbolic relationship to purification was not new to the Jews.
When you go to Jerusalem today, you see the remains at the temple mount of the Mikveh baths.
The Jewish Mikveh Laws were founded in the ceremonial washings taught in the Pentateuch.

Leviticus 8:6Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water.
Leviticus 16:4He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on.

And interestingly, Ezekiel & Zechariah prophesied about a cleansing to come in the days of the Messiah symbolized with water.

Ezekiel 36:24-28“For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you…You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people; and I will be your God”

Zechariah 12:10; 13:1“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son…On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity”

It is amazing to me that even with all these claims, the mob remained attentive.
Paul had declared that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah and that Jesus had forgiven Paul’s sins.
It was presumable that many of the Jewish mob had also picked up on the relationship drawn between Jesus the Messiah and a symbolic water purification.
Perhaps the mob was still enamored with Paul’s Super Jew credentials.
But it was also possible that this points to the persuasiveness of Paul’s argument to at the very least, garner a respectful hearing.

But all that was about to change.

4) IDENTITY – I AM A JEW REJECTED BY JEWS & GIVEN TO GENTILES – VS 17-21

Acts 22:17-23“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… [enter the Roman tribune].

Paul’s time in the temple paints a beautiful picture of restoration:
Paul left Jerusalem a “slave to sin” and came back a “slave to righteousness”.
He left Jerusalem persecuting followers of Jesus and now was praying in the temple as a follower of Jesus.
He left Jerusalem irrevocably alienated from God and returned having been called and fully restored.

So we have the completion of Paul’s defense.
He made a brilliant, event and witness based case for Christ.
And he ended with this beautiful picture of a Jew restored and completed in fellowship and prayer with Jesus Christ in the temple.
A temple which had its purpose completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ!

POI – It can’t be overstated how remarkable this return to Jerusalem must have been for Paul.
One would speculate that when Paul entered the temple everything from the sights, smells, and symbolism must have struck him with a clarity that, in spite of all his Super-Jew qualities, he had never known before.
One would speculate further that his prior life must have now seemed hollow and counterfeit compared to what he now knew through Jesus Christ.
Romans 10:4For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
What a huge burden lifted!
What undo burdens have we placed on ourselves???

Paul is puzzled:
Paul seemed to be of the opinion that if he responded to God’s call then surely his former piers would respond as well.
Therefore, when Christ warns him to leave Jerusalem, he is puzzled by it.
He even gives his reasoning to Jesus – “I imprisoned”, “I beat”, on Stephen’s death “I myself was standing by and approving”.
In other words, if one who was “blameless under the law”, “a pharisee”, “zealous beyond his years”, “persecutor of the Way” could be restored, then surely others would do so as well.
Yet, Jesus knew differently.
Thus, Paul began a life of submission to the will of God no matter the cost.

The J-Bomb drops the G-bomb:
Jesus’ will for Paul – ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’
In fact, it was God’s will for Paul before Paul was even born.

Galatians 1:15-16But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles,

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul described this call to preach to the Gentiles this way:
This calling made possible by grace and power of Jesus
A mystery made know to me by revelation from Jesus
A mystery withheld from previous generations
That mystery being that Gentiles are fellow heirs

Ephesians 3:1-9For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,

Jews are outraged:
Up to this word they listened to him…
What ensued next reminds me of the 2001 Space Odyssey movie when the chimpanzees went nuts.
Paul claiming that God was going to do business with Gentiles sent them over the edge.
The question is why?

First, we need to see what informed their cultural bias (very similar to our cultural baggage lesson a few weeks ago).

The OT is full of references to “the nations” in a negative light.
And when taken out of context and coupled with a history of oppression by “the nations” it is easy to understand the Jews hatred of the Gentiles.

“I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples” – Leviticus 20:24
“abominations of the nations” – 2 Chronicles 33:2
“despicable practices of the nations” – 2 Kings 21:12
“the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean” – Leviticus 18:24
“you shall perish among the nations…your enemies” – Leviticus 26:38
“he gave them into the hand of the nations, so that those who hated them ruled over them” – Psalm 106:41

But in spite of these characterizations, the OT is also clear in God’s intent for “the nations”.

The Gentile call in the OT:
Both Luke in Acts 2:21, and Paul in Romans 10:13 interpreted the prophet Joel’s words as referring to a call of Gentiles.
In fact, they quoted the prophet word for word.

Joel 2:32aAnd it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Moses speaks of a blessing for the nations all the way back to Genesis.

Genesis 26:4I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed,

The restoration of Israel was prophesied to include Gentiles.

Amos 9:11-12“In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old, 12 that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name,” declares the Lord who does this.

Not to mention Ruth coming to God in faith & Jonah’s ministry to Nineveh.

Since the OT taught that God called the Gentiles the NT Jews had no Biblical reason for their objection.
So we are left with and understandable but worldy/culturally informed bias toward Gentiles.

I think it may have played out like this:
Strike 1 – It is not just Paul’s call to preach to the Gentiles.
Strike 2 – It is not just that Paul’s call to preach to the Gentiles came from Jesus of Nazareth.
Strike 3 – But, it is that this call to preach to the Gentiles took place inside the temple!

The temple was the ultimate expression of God’s covenant and relationship with the Hebrew nation.
To say that God confirmed this call to the Gentiles in the temple, was for the Jew a defilement of temple purity.
But for Paul it was a highway sign that read “the Gentiles are grafted in” as he taught in Romans 11.

There is another monumental implication for the Jew with regards to God’s call to the Gentiles.
Namely, what it means to be Jewish.

Romans 2:28-29For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

Romans 9:4-8They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. 6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

It is as if Paul is saying that to be Christian is to be Jewish and to be Jewish is to be Christian.

We can draw some modern day parallels to Christianity today:
Today there are “Christians” who reject Paul’s Christianity just as many Jews rejected his Judaism.

Recently, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America voted to allow homosexual pastors.
And it declared that Scripture offers no clear teaching on homosexuality.
It therefore reasoned that one’s stance on homosexuality is best left up to one’s conscience.

In opposition, Lutheran theologian Robert Benne explained that, “The liberating movements fueled by militant feminism, multiculturalism, anti-racism, anti-heterosexism, anti-imperialism, and now ecologism have been moved to the center while the classic gospel and its missional imperatives have been pushed to the periphery.”

So, as a worldly, cultural bias and incomplete understanding of the implications of Scripture clouded the Jews view of God’s will to include Gentiles, so to have the same things contributed to the ELCA’s Scriptural relativism.

Albert Mohler, in refuting the ELCA’s reasoning (which they borrowed from Martin Luther), explained that Luther did teach that we are to be “bound by our conscience”, but he taught that the conscience was in turn bound to Scripture and not bound to the world (feelings, emotions, etc.).

Summary:
Paul’s defense and the Jews rejection confirmed what Jesus revealed to him in them temple years earlier.
Yet, Paul continued to recognize in his Epistles that God’s covenant and call to the nation of Israel will find fulfillment.