The Book of Acts is filled with action and I find myself closing my eyes and imagining what is happening. Paul has been instructed by the Holy Spirit to head to Jerusalem amid much pleading by his friends to do otherwise. When he finally gets there, he goes to visit the elders to give an accounting of what God has been doing among the Gentiles. James suggests he follow the ritualistic cleansing so others will see he is still following Jewish customs. When he is at the temple, he is recognized by Jews from Asia, they cause an uproar claiming he is teaching against the law, and ends up being dragged off in chains as was prophesized in a previous chapter. Paul is given a chance to speak and stands before the crowd, unafraid, sharing his testimony of meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus and how he was chosen by Jesus to preach to the Gentiles.
19 “‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20 And when the blood of your martyr[a] Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’
21 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”
22 The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”
23 As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. (Acts 22:19-24)NIV
I was so reminded of the crowd erupting in a rage when Stephen tried to share the gospel. They picked up stones and pummeled him to death. I think if the people in Jerusalem had stones they would have started throwing them at Paul. Instead, all they could do was throw dust into the air. The Gentiles were hated, they didn’t believe Jesus was resurrected, and they wanted to kill the messenger! The commander wanted to reestablish peace so he assumed Paul was doing something bad by the reaction of the onlookers. Paul was chained and dragged off to be flogged.
As I ponder how these verses apply to my life, all I can do is shake my head as Ecclesiastes 1:9 comes to mind: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Here in the U.S. we could probably give a testimony about Jesus revealing Himself to us in a vision and giving us an assignment, a mission, without too much reaction. People who don’t believe might scoff, roll their eyes, or they might even shout angry words at you. That would probably be the end of it. However, in certain countries in the Middle East, you would most assuredly be dragged off to jail to be tortured or killed. The name of Jesus, which is so precious to us as followers and disciples, elicits outrage in so many.
I, too, want to shout to people: “You don’t understand what He’s done in my life! He changed me from a person who was full of pain and shame; who hurt others but mostly hurt myself by my choices. I used to be Saul—but now I’m Paul!”
I do share my testimony! It may not be in front of a crowd as large as the one gathered at the barracks, but as I get the chance to encourage others along the way I can feel the Holy Spirit nudging me to tell my story. Jesus is too much a part of my life to be quiet about it. I pray that if I were asked to do so in a dangerous situation, the Holy Spirit would give me the courage to speak. Paul knew what awaited him when he went to Jerusalem. He had been warned. He chose to be bold no matter the cost. He knew God still had a purpose for him. Paul was ultimately headed to Rome as part of the Great Commission was fulfilled. It is my charge to continue to do so today.
Thank you Father for the words and life of Paul. As a Gentile, I am thankful for his obedience, courage, and tenacity to spread the word of Jesus. He never lost his focus on the goal and shared his story so others would believe. I believe, and because of my belief in Jesus, I have assurance of eternal life. It is in the name of Jesus I pray and rejoice! Amen