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Step Out Into the Crowd

By Steve Embree
Saturday, March 27, 2010

Scripture Verses
Acts 21:37-22:29

37As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, "May I say something to you?"

   "Do you speak Greek?" he replied. 38"Aren't you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time ago?"

 39Paul answered, "I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people."

 40Having received the commander's permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic:

Acts 22
 1"Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense." 2When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.

   Then Paul said: 3"I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. 4I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers 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. 7I 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. 9My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.

 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.' 11My 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. 13He stood beside me and said, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very moment I was able to see him.

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

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

 19" 'Lord,' I replied, 'these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20And when the blood of your martyr[a] Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.'

 21"Then the Lord said to me, 'Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.' "

22The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, "Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live!"

 23As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24the commander ordered Paul to be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and questioned in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. 25As 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?"

 26When 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."

 27The commander went to Paul and asked, "Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?"
      "Yes, I am," he answered.

 28Then the commander said, "I had to pay a big price for my citizenship."
      "But I was born a citizen," Paul replied.

 29Those who were about to question him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.

As Paul is being taken away by the Roman soldiers, he demonstrates incredible courage and determination, when he asks permission to speak to the same crowd that had slandered him and fully intended on beating him to death.  Paul had in fact been rescued by the soldiers who were now leading him to their barracks to be flogged. 

When Paul is finally given permission to speak to the crowd, Paul demonstrates complete trust and commitment to God.  The crowd silences.  Paul’s commitment is strengthened by the power of God when the crowd finally silences to listen to this battered and faithful follower of Christ who is under arrest.  Paul has willingly faced one hardship after another in his quest to carry out this mission for his Lord and Savior.

Paul confessed that he once persecuted Christians for their faith, ironically the same faith that he was being persecuted for.  Paul tried to tell them that the same narrow-mindedness that had in a sense had blinded him to a much greater purpose, was now blinding them, and that by persecuting Christ’s followers, they were actually persecuting Christ.  Paul also witnessed to the grace of God’s forgiveness – even for someone like himself – who willingly stood by and watched the persecution of other followers.  It greatly pained Paul to watch these people commit the same sin that he had committed.

Paul fully understood his responsibility to witness to all men what he had learned and experienced as a part of his conversion.  We must understand that Paul serves as a model for all of us, whether we are serving God’s will within our church, in the work place, at school, or in any other public gathering.  It is always easiest to witness to God’s purpose within our immediate church family – where we find it the safest and the most comfortable.  It takes even greater courage to step out into crowd, as Paul did, and serve our God outside of our comfort zone, despite the obstacles that we might encounter.          

Dear God - please open our eyes, give us the courage and wisdom to serve the many in our society who are hurting, and demonstrate total commitment to Christ’s mission.