Read the text here: Acts 21:37—22:21.
The narrative now moves into its final phase. Paul has been taken into the custody of the Roman guard in Jerusalem, and he will continue to be a prisoner for the rest of the story. Our scene in today’s reading involves his initial defense in front of the angry mob in Jerusalem. Having convinced the Roman captain that he was not an infamous Egyptian rebel wanted by the Romans, he persuades the man to let him address the crowd.
Paul surprises the Roman soldier by speaking Greek, the primary international language of the day. As he turns to address the crowd, Paul speaks to them in Aramaic, surprising the crowds who may have been expecting a Diaspora Jew to speak Greek rather than the language of Palestinian Aramaic. Besides being a smart rhetorical move (speaking the language of the crowd who is trying to kill you!), his change in language also reflects an ongoing characteristic of Paul and his ministry. He is one who builds bridges between cultures, who finds ways to relate to whatever community in which he is a part. You can hear that theme in his letter to the church in Corinth, written well before the book of Acts, in which he writes:
…For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.(1 Cor. 9:19-23)
Paul then proceeds to tell his story to the crowd. He gives them his credentials as a good and devout Jew, as well as a diligent and zealous student of the Law. He tells of his transformation from one who was a strong persecutor of the followers of The Way to a vocal witness of the faith. I think it is significant that Paul does not attempt to formulate a logical argument for his transformation into a follower of Christ. Rather, Paul tells his story, speaking firsthand of the way in which he believes God has been working through his life and the lives of those who have affected him.
I think we can find wisdom in Paul’s approach (although–dare I spoil the ending of Paul’s story–he does lose his life). So often folks try to communicate their faith by what propositional statements they hold to be true: “I believe that such and such is true.” Christianity has had a long history of doctrinal creeds, “I believe in…” Paul does not give a long list of belief statements–Paul tells his story.
It is in the power of that story that we can encounter the wondrous mystery of God. Only a truly amazing grace could transform Paul the zealous persecutor of the church into the very means by which that gospel is spread to the ends of the earth!
We main-line protestants could learn a thing or two from old-time testimonies of the evangelical tradition. I grew up in a faith tradition in which testimonies were a regular part of the community gathering–Sunday night worship was a time of hymn-singing and testimony. Anyone and everyone could speak to the congregation. The giving and receiving of testimony carries with it the expectation that God is indeed at work in our midst! Otherwise, what would we be testifying to?! The practice of testifying to the Spirit’s work in one’s life has a way of opening our eyes to a different way of viewing our lives–one in which the Holy Spirit is actively participating in our world.
In what ways have you felt God’s guidance in the past?
How do you see God at work in your life?
Do you talk about those times or experiences with others?