I wonder if the Apostle Paul made a big mistake. I say that hesitantly, cautiously, only speculating, but as I read what he says to his fellow Jews one day in Jerusalem, I can’t help but think, “Paul, that is a really bad move.” What did he say?
As I mentioned in the previous post, Paul is in Jerusalem standing before a hostile crowd. The Roman military had stepped in to save Paul from the crowd as they were beating him, but before the Romans usher Paul into their barracks, Paul surprisingly asks to talk with the crowd. So far we heard him tell the amazing story about how Jesus appeared to him and changed his life. He has the rapt attention o the crowd, and then he decides to accuse the Jews listening to him. Believe it or not, Paul keeps going down this negative road, and what he says next is the clincher for the crowd. Pause here and read Acts 22, verses 19-21, and see if you can discover what might be so disastrous for Paul.
What’s the big deal? All Paul mentions is that Jesus told Paul that he was going to send Paul to the Gentiles. So what? Well, read verses 22-24 to see how it works out.
The idea that God would give a vision in the temple in which he was sending Paul to Gentiles? That’s just too much for the Jews. In their minds, that is heresy and blasphemy. Why?
Because Paul basically chucks a cultural/theological grenade right into the crowd. How so? Wouldn’t the Jews want to reach out to the Gentiles too, just like Jesus said in the vision? They should have, as God’s mission all along, from the early chapters of the book of Genesis was that his people would be a blessing to the whole world. But the Jews didn’t look at the mission that way. Sadly, they saw themselves as God’s chosen people, and everyone else as unclean pagans that they had to stay away from. At Paul’s description of the vision that counteracts their worldview, they explode.
I have to think that Paul knew this would happen. Everything Paul said was true, but did it need to be said? It reminds me of when people point out a negative aspect of another person, and of course it makes the other person quite mad, but the original commenter says, “What?” as if they are innocent. “I’m not wrong. What I said was true.” Or at least they believe their comment to be true in their viewpoint. Certainly the other person disagrees. “I was NOT chewing too loud.”
In our house, we call it poking the bear. It happens quite frequently between the siblings.
The Jewish crowd that day is like a whole group of bears that has been poked and are ready to tear Paul to shreds.
The Roman commander is in a tough spot. The outraged Jews ask the Romans to kill Paul. He wants to settle down the crowd, but he doesn’t know what Paul has done that is wrong. The Roman commander, perhaps to appease the crowd, orders Paul to be flogged and questioned.
It’s not looking good for Paul, but Paul has an ace up his sleeve. Read what happens in verses 25-29.
Paul’s surprise? His citizenship. Just as he is about to be whipped, he intervenes by saying that he is a Roman citizen, and thus a flogging would not be legal prior to finding Paul guilty. The commander immediately stops the flogging from happening. In our day and age, we would say in a disbelieving way, “Yeah, right, Paul, you’re a Roman citizen?” It is amazing that commander just believes him. We do hear a hint of disbelief in the commander’s voice when he says, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.” Paul replies, “But I was born a citizen.” How could he prove that, though? Did Paul whip out a passport or something? Nope. Paul could only stake his claim on the honor system. That makes me think, isn’t it really convenient of Paul to claim citizenship at that precise moment? You’d think every single person would say that just as they are about to be whipped. But the truth about Paul’s citizenship could still be found out, even if it took longer to discover.
Thus, Paul is given a stay, and the Roman commander takes up his case. First step, figure out why the Jews are so outraged at Paul. Read verse 30, where we learn what the Roman commander decides to do next.
While the Romans are in control of the land, they did allow the Jews some measure of self-rule, and the Jewish council that handled that limited amount of self-governance was called the Sanhedrin. As we read, there are priests, Pharisees, and Sadducees who are part of this ruling council. The Roman commander brings Paul there hoping to get more understanding about why the people are so upset with him. Again, it doesn’t go well, which we’ll see in the next post.
For now, when you are telling the story of Jesus, I encourage you not to poke the bear. Instead focus on the grace and love of Jesus. Focus on the story of how Jesus has changed you. Focus on the hope Jesus brings for abundant life and eternal life.