The Attempt: Day 22

We last saw Paul standing on the steps of the Roman garrison; the Antonia Fortress.

Having spoken to the commander in Greek, he dispelled the assumption that he was an Egyptian rebel. The commander, hearing a man speak the lingua franca of the day is suddenly thinking, “who is this man?” He thought he knew, but he’s taken aback by the fact that he doesn’t. He shakes his head, as if to clear it and then motions for Paul to go on, speak if you must.

Now being given permission to speak, he raises his voice over the shouts of an angry mob:

“Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”

2 When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.

The mob thought they knew what they wanted to do with this man, but when they hear their common tongue they are now wondering, “what is he going to say?” They shake their heads as if to clear their ears; and get quiet instantly and…

… then Paul said: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel…

Brought up…

… studied under…

… probably at the age of 15 Paul was sent to Jerusalem and had been studying for no less than, what…? … six, ten years…? was he 21? was he 25? When he first heard his mentor, Gamaliel, quell the crowd who wanted to kill the apostles, how old was he? Probably under 30, not yet a rabbi himself. Someone who was old enough to hold the cloaks of the men who caused horror and  stoned Stephen; someone old enough to  go on a rampage and cause horror himself. That was almost thirty years ago. When he was a younger man, a different man, a man who…

…was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. 4 I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5 as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.

6 “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’

8 “‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.

“ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 9 My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.

Everyone feels the wind, not everyone hears its music. Everyone saw that light, and thought it thundered. But Saul understood. And that changed his world. That changed our world.

10 “‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.

“ ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’

Why not tell him everything yourself Lord?

And the Lord said:

“Everyone has to be humble to somebody who doesn’t shake the earth when they talk. Who hasn’t walked on water. Who wasn’t nailed to a cross for them. I told my disciples to tell. To be a disciple you have to listen. You have to listen to one who has listened.”

11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.

12 “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.

Ok, cool.

14 “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’

Saul had believed on the road and even confessed Jesus as ‘Lord’ when he said, “what shall I do Lord?” He’d even repented. He had been going to Damascus to destroy christians, now he’s waiting to become one. I’d call that repentance.

Yet, three days later he’s told… by the one the Lord sent him to listen to and to do all he said… he’s told to be baptized to wash his sins away, calling on his name. If sin separates, he needed his sins washed away to connect. And while there are prophecies and verses on ‘all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’ this passage is the only passage in the bible that tells us how to do it, how we are to ‘call upon the name of the Lord’.

Jesus said, “not every one who says Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my father…” Jesus also said, “Many will come to me on that day and say ‘Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and perform many miracles?’ and I will tell them plainly ‘Get away from me…'”

Calling on the name of the Lord isn’t just saying his name.

Ananias lays it out when he says, “what are you waiting for, get up and be baptized, washing away your sins; calling on the name of the Lord.” It’s a step of faith in God that you’re dry and lost but then wet and saved. Only his power and his grace and his mercy can save you, and he’s told you, Saul… a believing, confessing, penitent, blind but now I see sinner to get baptized. Must be important.

17 “When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’

Maybe this was the “third heaven” experience? Which trip to Jerusalem do you think it was?

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 Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’

I never ever thought about this before: they had to have someone watch their clothes out of fear the clothes would be stolen while they were murdering someone…?

21 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”

For a moment Paul pauses.

For a moment the crowd is quiet.

22 The crowd listened to Paul until he said this…

Then the thousands of eyes open wide; the hundreds of mouths drop open. All the heads shake like a cartoon dog drying off and then the quiet is over and they take a collective gasp of air and 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,

If this wasn’t horrific, it would be funny. Shouting, stripping, sitting in the dust and throwing it in the air. A thousand tantrums of religious, fanatical, misdirected rage.

24 the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks.

I’m sure the commander muttered a curse under his breath, shook his head, but not to clear it; shook his head out of disdain for the mob and aggravation with this lunatic talking to them.

He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. 25 As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”

Paul will later say that he considered his Roman citizenship rubbish. Rubbish compared to knowing Christ.

But compared to a beating…?

26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.”

“What the…” the commander stomps toward the cell, wiping the last spilled sip of wine off his beard and swallowing the last bite of dinner he’d taken before this centurion came barging in, out of breath, concerned…

27 The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”

“Yes, I am,” he answered.

The commander chokes. On what Paul said? On his last bite not going down the right way? He really chokes, and is gasping for air. The centurion slaps him on the back and he waves him off and clears his throat and grits his teeth and growls…and then…

… the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.”

If Paul could examine his fingernails… he couldn’t, he’s spread eagle with his hands and ankles in chains… but if he could nonchalantly examine his fingernails, eyes half closed looking superior down his nose… oh, oh…for a moment he turns into Benicia del Toro… gives his head an arrogant rolling shake and says:

“But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied.

Ever fill a bowl up with water, sprinkle salt and pepper all over the top so that the pepper is clearly floating uniformly over the surface; cover the tip of your finger with liquid dishwashing soap and stick your finger in the middle of the water? Go do that. Then come back.

29 Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately.

Did you do it? No? I give you guys pearls and you trample them like…

If you put salt and pepper in water the salt and the liquid on your finger have a reaction and the blackness of the pepper lets you see it happen: drop the salt and pepper in the center of the surface of the  water and  stick your finger in the middle and  you’ll see it rush in a perfect circle away from your finger. It looks for a moment like a thousand people huddled across the surface of the bowl, and then as if someone saw a mouse at their feet and screamed and everyone at the exact same moment ran away to the round walls of the room…

The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.

30 The commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews. So the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the members of the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.

To be continued…

Steve has been a minister for almost 5 decades; and for more than 40 years married to the wife of his youth and partner, Lisa. Steve has spoken in Madison Square Garden. He's swam the Hudson River to raise money for his favorite charity. He’s the writer, producer and director of an award winning short film. He’s an author, speaker, and father whose messages are hilarious, soulful and life changing. When he's not trying to sell, ride or make friends on a motorcycle, you can find him in Portland, Oregon where he is happily serving with the https://portlandchurch.org

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