Acts: The Story Continues I Was Led Acts 22:1-22 (Page #930) Intro • Phil. 1 21 For to me to live is Christ, & to die is gain. • That’s sounds nice & all, but what does it really mean? • I mean, we understand to die is gain – we know wait awaits us in Heaven is far better than what we experience here. • But what does he mean by, to live is Christ? • Well, I’m pretty sure that when we finish Acts, we’re diving in Philippians next, so I don’t want to dive too deep into it – just let me say that it’s simple math. • Here’s what I mean: the word is in Greek is the same as an equals (=) sign. • You might have seen an athlete wear a shirt that says “football is life”. (basketball, etc.) • Maybe you’re a gamer & you’ve got a friend w/ a shirt that says, “Fortnight is life” (World of Warcraft) • Maybe you’re a young single & “dating is life”. • Maybe “Music is Life” (Farming, ‘Merica) • Maybe “Parenting is Life” (I know it can sure feel like it! ) • Whatever is life for you, you can identify it by your willingness to fight for it. • For Paul, His life was Christ & today we’re going to see what that looks like. Pray Context • If you remember from the last chapter, Paul has just said his heartbreaking goodbyes to the churches in Asia Minor & is heading back home to Jerusalem. • There, despite having gone out of his way to make the Jews there happy, he still finds himself in the middle of an angry mob in the Temple. • The cops are called &, w/out any formal charges being brought, Paul is arrested & taken into custody. • Acts 21 37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune (Claudius Lysias), “May I say something to you?” & he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt & 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 & when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned w/ his hand to the people. & when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying: Text • Now, that’s interesting… • He’s been arrested by the Roman cops (Greek-speaking). • He’s standing in front of a Roman court (Greek-speaking). • He’s speaking to a mostly-Roman crowd (Greek-speaking). • Yet, he chose to speak in Hebrew. • Why? B/cause to live is Christ, & to die is gain. • Now, that doesn’t mean he had a death wish for himself, but it does mean he had a life wish for everyone else. What we read next is Paul’s story. • I urge you to listen, & if it’s not your first time hearing it, try to imagine it as if it was. • In fact, imagine yourself in the Tribute’s shoes. • Imagine you’re Claudius Lysias, a “Commander of Thousands”, & you’ve just granted Paul’s request to speak b/cause, again, you’re still trying to figure out why he’s even here! • Remember, Acts 21 34 Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. & [b/cause] he (you) could not learn the facts b/cause of the uproar, (you) ordered him to be brought into the barracks. • Paul begins, 1 “Brothers & fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.” 2 & when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet... • You know something’s up w/ Paul speaks in Hebrew. • It doesn’t make any sense. • Had he spoken in Greek, the majority of his hearers would have understood him; but the sound of the holy tongue in that holy place fell like a calm upon the troubled waters. • It was a mark of respect for Jewish nationality that they weren’t expecting to hear from Paul & it resulted in a silence that fell upon the entire crowd. • Paul continues, 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 & delivering to prison both men & women, 5 as the high priest & the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, & I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there & bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. • 6 “As I was on my way & drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 7 & I fell to the ground & heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ • 8 & I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ & he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ • 9 Now those who were w/ me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 & I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ & the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, & go into Damascus, & there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ • 11 & since I could not see b/cause of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were w/ me, & came into Damascus. • 12 “& one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, & standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ & at that very hour I received my sight & saw him. • 14 & he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One & to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen & heard. • 16 & now why do you wait? Rise & be baptized & wash away your sins, calling on his name.’ • Well, what the heck are you supposed to do w/ that!? • I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that when you’re on trial, you’re supposed to defend yourself by talking about your actions & the actions of those who are accusing you. • & had Paul done that, it would have given you at least a little clarity about what was really going on. • But now what do you do? • What do you do now that Paul has instead given you this story that that seems to have absolutely nothing to do w/ why he’s here? • I mean, here is a man in the hands of a pagan soldiers, w/ a prison-door opening behind him, & a mob thirsting for his blood in front of him. • Yet, he seems to be utterly oblivious to the danger which surrounds him b/cause when he speaks, he doesn’t seem to make even the slightest effort to be freed. • He could have easily & honestly denied the charge of bringing Greeks into the temple. • He could have also denied speaking improperly of the people, the law, or that holy place [Acts 21:28]. • But here, Paul was so far elevated above any self-focused considerations, that he desired zero vindication of himself if it didn’t also come w/ a vindication of the cause he was pleading. • You see, when your life is Christ, then you don’t elevate yourself unless it elevates the Gospel too. & here, Paul, even though he saw before him a deluded mob rushing blindly to destruction… though they were thirsting for his own blood… he pitied them & decided to give them light. • Why? B/cause the pain of the bruises they had inflicted on him, reminded him of the pain he had once inflicted on others. • B/cause hearing their wild outcries reminded him of when his voice led his own mobs shouting, “Death to the Christians!” • The vivid memory comes rushing back of him standing outside the gate of the very city he is in now – his own blood boiling, hatred fuming – watching the life flow out of Stephen’s body, dripping from his battered skull. • The memory of Christ’s love exampled in Stephen’s final words, Acts 7 60 & falling to his knees he cried out w/ a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” & when he had said this, he fell asleep. • That love that filled Stephen now filled Paul & it empowered him to see beyond their rage to a vision of Christ glorified. • & just as that vision had changed him from a persecutor to a disciple on the Road to Damascus, he decided to try its effect upon them now b/cause he knew that if they understood the glory of Christ, then they would also understand his compulsion to do whatever Christ commanded. Paul’s testimony fast-forwards a few years to the first time he comes back to Jerusalem after becoming a Christian. • It’s here that he would have Paul’s life takes a direction that would make him hated by the Jews b/cause it’s here that God would call him to minister to the Gentiles. • 17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem & was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 & saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste & get out of Jerusalem quickly, b/cause they will not accept your testimony about me.’ • 19 & I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned & beat those who believed in you. • 20 & when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by & approving & watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ • 21 & he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” • What Paul is arguing is that he didn’t have a choice. • He even argued w/ God about it all! • “Who am I? Don’t you know what I’ve done? How can you ask me to do this?” • To that, God basically gave him the ultimate parenting line: “B/cause I said so.” At this point, the crowd who had 22 Up to this word… listened to him, suddenly turned angry again. • Apparently, they weren’t interested in hearing that they might have missed God’s big point. • After all, they were spiritually mature enough to know what God had said & what He hadn’t… right? • Then they raised their voices & said, “Away w/ such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” It’s here we have to leave Paul today because there are critically important things about what he’s just said that we need to take the time to understand. Application First, the story he tells is personal to him – it’s his story. • 1) He talked about his Jewish upbringing – about his education & training under Gamaliel, the leader of the school of Hillel & the most prominent teacher of that time. • He was ‘a Hebrew of the Hebrews’ & had the paperwork to back it up! • 2) Then, Paul talked about the difference that training had made in his life – the path it had put him on. • He talked about his zeal for God, which was as great as anyone in the room, since he had persecuted the followers of the Way & sent both men & women prison & even to their death. • Nobody could deny it since it was those very Jewish leaders, the Sanhedrin, who had issued him the extradition order that sent him to Damascus in the first place. • In fact, his whole argument was that he hadn’t actually broken away from his ancestral faith, but was rather stood in direct continuity w/ it. • 3) Paul narrated the circumstances of his conversion, which was entirely due to a divine intervention, & not at all b/cause of any good thing he had done or initiative he had taken. • In fact, it he was shocked & terrified when the light from heaven had blinded him, & the person who spoke to him had identified himself as Jesus of Nazareth. • He had been an enemy of Jesus & now Jesus was showing him who He really was! • 4) Paul referred to the ministry of Ananias, whom he deliberately characterized as a devout observer of the law & highly respected by all the Jews living there in Damascus. • Paul told how Ananias had baptized him & restored Paul’s sight, telling him that the God had chosen him to know his will – to see the Righteous one (Jesus Christ), to ‘hear his very voice’, & to be his witness. • 5) Paul came to his vision, which took place in the very temple they had accused him of defiling. • He described how it was in that vision that the Lord gave him a new path – how God had told him to leave Jerusalem immediately, despite Paul’s own reluctance & objections about going to the Gentiles. It’s when he got to this part of the story that the text says Acts 22 22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices & said, “Away w/ such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” • You see the Jews were fine w/ it being his story, they just weren’t fine w/ it being another people’s story too – but it is… • In fact, it’s my story… & though it may not sound familiar, it’s your story too… • 1) We all have our own upbringing, but regardless of how religious it was, we all start off enemies w/ God. • 2) That’s b/cause we all choose our own path instead of following God’s. • Even as good-willed as some people may be, Phil. 2 21 [We] all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. • 3) But one day, we will each come face to face w/ the reality of who Jesus is. • In his awesome presence, we will either bow to His holiness & be saved by his grace, or we will fight for our independence & be destroyed by His justice. • It’s a terrifically terrifying experience or divine intervention that either converts us into his love or hardens our hearts against it. • 4) But a saving experience w/ Christ isn’t only surface deep, it changes who we are & leaves us in need of direction. • We don’t just wake up & understand everything there is to know about Jesus & how to follow Him. • We need help & God had put each of us in a place to be able to get it. • I said it to someone just last week – “I’d rather pastor 10 people who knew their brokenness & were desperate to grow & follow God’s will than 100 who thought they already had their lives together.” • 5) As we grow, God points us down a new path. • It doesn’t always come in dramatic visions during life & death situations, in fact it usually doesn’t. • However, it always does eventually come if we continue to listen. Conclusion You see, Acts 22 gives us Paul’s story, but it wasn’t just his story – he had a much bigger message to get across. • That bigger message hit those Jewish leaders the wrong way b/cause they had a superiority complex. • In their eyes proselytism (making Gentiles into Jews) was fine; but evangelism (making Gentiles into Christians w/out first making them Jews) was an abomination. • It was tantamount to saying that Jews & Gentiles were equal, for they both needed to come to God through Christ, & that on identical terms. • It’s like when a church adds to the requirements of salvation & says… ◦ “You have to dress a certain way…” ◦ “You have to listen to a certain kind of music…” ◦ “You have to belong to a certain denomination…” • & to make matters worse, some “Christians” build their faith around doing the holy things instead of knowing the Holy One. • They work so hard to build their spiritual resumes but wind up empty & searching for something deeper. • If that’s you this morning, you need to know that what you’re looking for is right in front of you, but nothing short of a heavenly intervention in your life is going to get it for you. You see, the Bible is clear that everyone can have peace w/ God & we all get it the same way. • No one gets special privileges. • Paul’s lineage didn’t matter & neither does ours. • His nationality didn’t matter & neither does ours. • Devout religious training didn’t matter. • Exceptionally high moral standards didn’t matter. • Paul, just like you, me & everyone else, needed to repent of his sins & follow Jesus b/cause it’s only by grace that we are saved, through faith. • Nothing about us can save us, it’s only through the grace & forgiveness of God poured out through the blood of Christ. • It’s not b/cause of our good works, it’s all b/cause of His work on the cross. • So no matter who you are or what you’ve done, you can be reconciled to God today b/cause of what Jesus has done. • You just have to accept His gift of grace & choose to trust Him, living your life for Him.