The Book of Acts (Chapter 22) (Part 34)
There is nothing more powerful that personal testimony to an encounter with the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. It is most powerful and effective under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Undoubtedly many of the Jews listening to Paul thought they knew God because of their religious knowledge yet their spiritually undegenerated mentality had not prepared them for what they were about to hear. On this occasion Paul thought it best to give them his personal testimony as to how his life was turned around and transformed by his encounter with the Lord Jesus. We must never underestimate the power and effectiveness of our personal testimony. It will not always meet with a favourable response as we will see in the case of Paul but sometimes there will be those who will respond even if they are in the minority. In the book of Acts we see many being saved through the public preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom but in the majority of cases it was spread by individual believers witnessing personally and individually by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) (Acts 8:4).
(Vs.1-3) “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you.” And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he *said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today.”
In his defence of his faith Paul addressed two classes of his fellow Jews. He spoke to the brethren and the fathers most of whom were familiar to a greater or lesser degree with Torah and the prophets. Paul was not boasting of his credentials but in this situation he wanted to let them know that he had been more zealous for the Law of Moses and more Torah compliant than most of his fellow Rabbis. In fact later when he wrote to the assembly at Philippi about his testimony he said; “…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; as to zeal, persecuting the church; as to righteousness under the Law, faultless. But whatever was an asset to me, I count as loss for the sake of Christ.” (Philippians 3:6)
This message was burning in his heart because despite all of his religious observance before he was saved, he had realised that only the Lord Jesus Christ could give him a righteousness that was impossible for man to obtain, a righteousness based on faith and not obtained by works of the Law. And so he had to set the record straight. Having done this he would then relay to them how he had received that righteousness that comes from God through faith in the Lord Jesus and not by trying to keep the Law of Moses in his on strength or by the power of his human will.
(Vs. 4-6) “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.”
Before he was saved Paul was a zealot for the Law of Moses to the point where he had no hesitation in killing, capturing both men and women and consigning many to prison because of their testimony to Jesus. He had gone so far as to have letters giving him authority to go anywhere to seek and to destroy followers of the way. His religious zeal knew no bounds and he was one of those of whom the Lord Jesus said would kill and persecute His faithful followers and think they were doing God a service. In the last days religious persecution will increase in frequency and intensity because there will be those in the institutionalised Church that will not want to accept the Bible as final authority in matters of faith, doctrine and Godly living. Many will compromise with the secular authorities to keep their status in their denomination or comply with secular government.
And so Paul was a tireless crusader for legalistic righteousness which in his unregenerate state thought was the way to please God and to be accepted by Him. Like the thinking in Judaism Paul’s thinking had been founded on a works based righteousness. He had a faith and zeal but not one given to him by the Holy Spirit but generated by his own will power and academic theology. He undoubtedly knew the scriptures as all Pharisees did but had no illumination of them by the Holy Spirit. God had to dramatically intervene in Paul’s life. Some of the hardest people to get saved are those who pride themselves on their academic theology and knowledge. God has to break them before He can use them and Paul was no exception. And so we read…
(Vs.6-9) “But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me.”
The Lord Jesus stopped Paul in his tracks. The light of God hit Paul causing him to fall of his horse and to the ground. God had to deal with the stubbornness of Paul. In another record of his testimony we are told that the Lord Jesus said “Saul. Saul is it so hard to kick against the goads?” He had already been under conviction for some time especially having engineered and watched the stoning of Stephen. The Holy Spirit had been like spurs digging into a horse as the rider tried to break the independent spirit of the horse, but in the end Paul’s determination to resist conviction was shattered. He had to deal with the Lord Jesus personally as we all do. He encountered the risen Lord Jesus Christ his Messiah and rightful Lord and personal saviour and the one who imparts that righteousness without which no one can be justified in the sight of God.
All persecution against Jesus’ followers is persecution against Him personally. If you persecute His Body the faithful Church then you are persecuting Him. He said so Himself; “If you were of the world, it would love you as its own. Instead, the world hates you, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. Remember the word that I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well; if they kept My word, they will keep yours as well. But they will treat you like this on account of My name, because they do not know the One who sent Me” (John 15:19-21).
Undoubtedly Paul knew the name of Jesus and most probably was quite familiar with the doctrine of the Way as he would have interrogated many believers in Jesus but he did not know Jesus for himself. His travelling companions saw the light out of heaven but did not understand the voice that Paul heard. Unbelievers cannot understand God’s voice until the LORD reveals His word to them personally. Once He does this of course He gives that person just enough light to enable them to make a response. In Paul’s case God has a special plan and destiny for his life and one that was destined for Paul before he was born. Having said this Paul had to respond. He saw very clearly that the one he had been persecuting was the Lord Jesus Himself. After his encounter with the risen Jesus Paul could only say what do you want me to do? And so we read…
(Vs.10-11) “And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ But 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.”
The first response from a person who gets saved is their total willingness to do whatever the Lord Jesus tells them to do. It involves the complete surrender of the will to God with no conditions. For the first time in his life Paul saw his own sinfulness and rebellion and his need of the Lord Jesus in his life. He knew it was the Lord Jesus because he said to Jesus; “What shall I do Lord?” In the light of the presence of the Lord Jesus Paul saw his own inability to do anything good for God. He could not see because the light of God has temporarily blinded him. God shut everything out of Paul’s life so that he could only see the Lord Jesus and no one or nothing else. He was shut up to God alone. Paul now had a genuine biblical faith which was expressed in his willingness to do whatever it was the Lord wanted of him.
Paul now possessed the faith that is proved by obedience or as the Greek text renders it ‘the obedience of faith.’ In other words you cannot have a justifying faith without obedience. (Romans 1:5; 16:26) When Paul started out for Damascus it was to arrest and persecute followers of the way but now he was going to Damascus as a believer in the one he had been persecuting. Those he had been leading were now leading him by the hand and most probably totally bewildered at what had happened. They saw the same light that Paul saw but did not hear God’s message. Many can hear the gospel but unless the Holy Spirit speaks to their mind and heart with revelation knowledge of the Lord Jesus they will forever remain in spiritual darkness, ignorance and sin.
(Vs.12-16) “A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’.”
In the first century the Gospel of the Kingdom spread like wildfire, it was not through the learned scholars or theologians but through ordinary everyday men and women who had a personal relationship with god through our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus had promised all of his followers the power of the Holy Spirit to witness and to work for Him. (Acts 1:8) (Acts 2:37-39) (Luke 24:49) (Ephesians 5:18) Ananias was a believer who was Torah compliant but not a theologian yet one who knew the Word of God and the illumination of the blessed Holy Spirit. In Luke’s earlier record of Paul’s conversion Luke mentions that Ananias laid hands on Paul and prayed for him to be filled with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 9:17) After this Paul was baptized with water.
The pattern for full salvation in the New Testament is clearly set out for us in the Acts and in the epistles. The way to freedom in Jesus was to repent, to believe, to be baptized and to receive the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38-39) All of these form the process of salvation. Once a sinner has repented and believed they have been born again because the Holy Spirit has imparted saving faith to them. Following this baptism by immersion is necessary as it confirms to the new convert and to the world that they have died to the old life of sin and risen again to a new life in the Lord Jesus Christ. Following this they were filled with the Holy Spirit for testimony and service in the Body of Messiah. This was the pattern in the New Testament and is still the pattern for today. When Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit he received his sight. He now had received spiritual sight. A person may be saved and born again having repented of their sin and rebellion and even been baptized but have never received the power of the Holy Spirit in His fullness. They were around in the book of Acts and many are around today.
The New Birth enlists us into the ranks of the Lord’s army and makes us soldiers of Christ and the Baptism or filling of the Holy Spirit gives us the weapons we need to fight the battle. A soldier not fully equipped with armour and weapons cannot effectively fight the enemy. That soldier may be well trained but without his weapons cannot take the battle to the enemy lines. While the normal Christian experience is to repent, believe, be baptised and receive the Spirit’s power it does not always happen in that order. In the case of Cornelius and the Gentiles meeting in his home they were born again and baptised with the Holy Spirit before they were baptized in water.
In the case of the Samaritans they were born again and baptised and then some time later received the Baptism with the Holy Spirit. It was the same with the disciples from Ephesus Paul met in Acts chapter 19. They had been born again but only knew John’s baptism. After Paul had spoken to them they were baptized in water and received the Holy Spirit in power as Paul laid hands upon them and prayed for them to receive.
While the Holy Spirit fell on groups in the book of Acts He also fell upon individual believers as well. In the case of individuals in the book of acts and in the first century Church especially the usual practice was to pray for those newly saved and baptized with water to receive the Baptism with the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. Here we see that baptism in water was closely associated with water baptism. In water baptism God cleanses the conscious from dead works through the blood of Jesus to enable that person to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:14) It is not the outward washing with water that cleans up a person on the inside but the Spirit of God washing their conscience clean from the defilement of sin. The outward act of baptism itself does not do this.
In a special way the Holy Spirit ministers to a new believer being baptized with water as Peter wrote; “And this water symbolizes the baptism that now saves you — not the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21) It is the same Holy Spirit that raised our Lord Jesus to life that brings His resurrection power to bear on the mind, the heart and the conscience of the one being baptized with water. This was precisely what happened to Paul. After this he was a clean vessel that could be filled up with the Spirit of God.
Tragically today in most Bible believing churches those newly saved are baptized with water but do not have hands laid on them to receive the power of the Spirit, hence they are the LORD’s soldiers but without weapons and armour to fight the spiritual battles that lay ahead. How multitudes of believers survive without the power of the Holy Spirit is amazing. Our churches are full of them. They are saved and being sanctified and serving the Lord Jesus with zeal and vigour but having not been baptized with the Holy Spirit they are not as fully effective in their ministry as they would like to be. Many know in their deep minds that they lack spiritual power upon their labours for the Lord Jesus but will not admit it because of their standing in their denomination or their stance on a doctrine that denies such an experience or for some other reason.
There are many who do not know that this empowerment is available to them but it is their privilege to know it and they should know it. (Acts 2:39) When you consider the 120 on the Day of Pentecost it was only after only after the Holy Spirit had been poured out on them abundantly and without restraint that they had boldness and spiritual power in their witness and work for Christ. This was the case with Paul. And so he continued with his testimony…
(Vs.17-21) “It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’ And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You. And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.’ And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
God’s timing is perfect. He foresees and foreknows all things. Nothing is hidden from His sight. Undoubtedly Paul was eager to go to his brethren after he was saved to preach the Good News of the Lord Jesus to them but the time was not right. His reference to being in Jerusalem was to the first time he went there about three years after his initial salvation. (Acts 9:25-26) (Galatians 1:18) At that time he fell into a trance undoubtedly brought about by the Holy Spirit and clearly told that the timing was not right for him to preach to his Jewish brethren. Later he was to be caught up to the third heaven and received further revelations and visions from the LORD. (2 Corinthians 12:2-4) Paul thought that he could persuade his fellow Jews to consider how the Lord Jesus had transformed his life and that it might impact his colleagues in theology. However, the Holy Spirit knew the mindset of those religious leaders that they would not accept Paul’s testimony. Furthermore, God did not leave Paul in a vacuum but clearly told him he would be sent to the Gentiles. His primary calling and field of ministry was to be an Apostle to the Gentiles. They would listen! (Romans 11:13)
Even though he had some fruit among his Jewish brethren his main success in ministry lay with the salvation of the Gentiles. It is always good to keep in mind that the Lord Jesus knows best and that in seeking to serve Him it is always safe to trust the LORD and allow the blessed Holy Spirit to have His way with us. Doing God’s will may at first may not seem to be as we would like it to be but in the end doing God’s will is the beats and sweetest thing in all the world to do. In doing it is total satisfaction and an assurance that we are in the full will of God. Furthermore, it will be confirmed as we see the blessed Holy Spirit using our gifts and abilities. The secret to success in the Christian life is the surrender of the will and the body. If the Holy Spirit gets control of our fleshly appetites then He gets the contents as well, namely the mind the emotions and especially the will. Once He has these we will be able to prove God’s will that is good, acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2) the Jewish religious leaders listened to what Paul said but their minds were already made up. They did not want to be ‘confused’ with the facts but chose wilful spiritual blindness.
(Vs.22-24) “They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!” And as they were crying out and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air, the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way.”
When God is at work Satan is always actively opposing what God is doing. When you consider the ministry of the Lord Jesus when He walked this earth Satan was always at hand to hinder what God was doing. Whenever the Lord Jesus preached and healed sickness and disease He also dealt with demons. It was the same with the ministry of the apostles. If you look at the history of genuine Biblical revivals there were always demonic powers present. When you look at the ministry of our Lord Jesus and the apostles often the opposition came from the religious leaders. You see Satan had those in the world and he is not concerned about them but he is concerned about those of us who belong to the Lord Jesus and are seeking to do the will of God. The Pharisees had the Word of God and knew it from the from cove r to cover but had no revelation of it to their minds and hearts. They had zeal but not according to that produced by the true knowledge of God.
Sadly this is the case with all those who are into religion and religious legalism or those who actively oppose the work of the Holy Spirit. If there is opposition in any genuine Spirit filled, Spirit led work for God then you can bet it is the devil’s work especially when sinners are being saved and saints sanctified. If we would walk in the Spirit either as an individual or as a fellowship we can expect resistance. While Satan is not concerned about sinners going on in their sin and rebellion he does get concerned when he sees those sinners repenting and turning to God through genuine repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus for salvation. He gets concerned about that big time. This was what was happening with Paul. Satan was trying to shout God down as he always does. The outcry was so severe that Paul had to be rescued by the Roman Commander who wanted to interrogate Paul because of the civil unrest that had been created, something that a Roman Commander had to deal with according to Roman law.
(Vs.25-30) “But when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?” When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and told him, saying, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman.” The commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” And he said, “Yes.” The commander answered, “I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money.” And Paul said, “But I was actually born a citizen.” Therefore those who were about to examine him immediately let go of him; and the commander also was afraid when he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had put him in chains. But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them.”
Sometimes it is an advantage to know the laws and customs of a local city. According to Roman law a Roman citizen could not be chained without evidence of a crime committed. If this happened then the Roman involved commander or official involved in the arrest would receive a severe reprimand. Paul used this knowledge to his advantage. He had used this same law earlier in his ministry. (Acts 16:37-39) The Roman Commander most probably did not know what was happening or why Paul was being accused. The Commander may not have spoken Hebrew. So the next day he had the Sanhedrin religious leaders summoned so that he could hear what Paul was being accused of. Once they had assembled before the Commander he brought Paul down and set him before them. Paul would continue his defence.