When we left Paul yesterday he was being carried into the barracks for his own protection and examination. He had been attacked by MANY Jews and dragged out of the temple. They meant to kill him but the soldiers intervened. Today he is on the threshold of the barracks when he asks if he can address the crowd.
The tribune thought Paul was an Egyptian who had recently caused a great deal of trouble. To him, this would have made sense regarding what had just happened. His comment about Paul speaking Greek makes me wonder. Had Paul spoken to him in Greek or was the tribune asking him to do so now? Was Greek the language of the tribune or the Roman guards?
Paul provided his pedigree and asked to be allowed to speak to the people. I wonder if the tribune agreed to Paul’s request because it was now a Jew v Jew issue.
After all the chaos going on in the crowd I am surprised that they quieted down at a simple motion from Paul. He commanded them with authority at that moment. Was that accomplished through the Holy Spirit? The man they were just trying to kill is now someone they want to hear from.
They REALLY got quiet when he started speaking to them in Hebrew. Hebrew was specifically a Jewish language. It was what their scriptures were written in. It was precious to them. This demanded their attention and respect. It also showed his education and status.
Paul started with his bloodline, birth place and education. He made sure the crowd knew he was truly Jewish through and through. He moved on to his credentials and convictions that agreed with their current beliefs.
He took his time taking them through his story and they hung on his every word. They even willingly followed him through his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. They were silent as he told of the miracle of the light, the voice and the message. Jesus’ name didn’t stir them to action; they simply listened on.
When Paul introduced Ananias to the story he made sure to mention that he was a “devout man according to the law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there” (verse 12). He told of how he received his healing through Ananias’ hands and his confirmation of Paul’s calling.
Paul then begins to relate to them his experience as a new believer, starting with his baptism. He skips over his training in Damascus and fast forwards to when he returned to Jerusalem. He still has the crow in the palm of his hand. They are listening intently.
Finally Paul shares his vision from the temple and his “conversation” with God.
I have a question I want to ask here. When Paul is relating his conversation with God, is he wondering over why his conversion wouldn’t be believed or arguing for his unworthiness to be used?
God addressed both possibilities in Paul’s argument. He told him He was sending him instead to the Gentiles. THIS is where he lost the crowd. We will get to look at the crowd’s behavior and the cost tomorrow. For now, I want to look back at Paul’s argument and God’s answer instead.
Scenario 1: Before his encounter with Jesus, Paul was accustomed to authority; being in charge. He had the respect and confidence of all the religious leaders. He was very educated and could argue the law with the best of them. After his conversion he tried to use those same skills and standing to bring others to the understanding of who Jesus really was/is. He used the shared foundation of religious teaching to build on. But his zeal for his newfound understanding may have been too much for the Jerusalem crowd. No matter how hard he argued they wouldn’t believe. Did their refusal make Paul feel inadequate to the task? He had argued until he was blue in the face, yet it only resulted in them wanting to kill him. Did he believe that they wouldn’t listen to him because of his past?
Scenario 2: Paul had done some pretty horrible things to those who followed Jesus before his conversion. Did he carry guilt around with that knowledge? Was he telling God that he was not worthy to be used because of his past? Many of the people who were believers before Paul were afraid his conversion wasn’t real. They thought it was a trick to entrap them.
When God answered Paul’s argument He didn’t directly address either of these possible directions. He also didn’t tell Paul that he had to abandon all he knew to be of service. Instead He gave him a new direction. God didn’t tell Paul not to try and reach the Jews along the way. He didn’t hold his hand and try and convince him that, yes, he was worthy to be used by Him. He also didn’t tell him to abandon everything he had learned and try a new approach. Instead, God used the tools Paul had acquired throughout his lifetime and pointed them in a new direction. Paul would not have gone to the Gentiles without God’s direction. But because of Paul’s experience he was able to reach a people that few others could or would.
Paul had lived his life as strictly as he could according to the law, yet he found no salvation in it. Through the Holy Spirit Paul recognized the true purpose of the law. It was to point to Jesus. Paul’s inability to reach salvation through the law helped him realize that the law was not a requirement for salvation. That is what he was able to bring to the Gentiles. God used his past to craft his future. But his willingness to surrender to His will is what made him God’s tool. Worthy or not, he willingly went.
God can and does use us too. He capitalizes on our past and couples it with our willingness. “Worthy or not, here I come.”