A Nasty Reputation as a Cruel Dude
Paul is custody of the Roman garrison after a riot on the temple mount. In handcuffs on the steps into Fort Antonia, he asks to speak to the people who just moments ago were trying to kill him. Opponents from Asia (probably Ephesus) have accused Paul of being a traitor to Judaism. Since he has a ready-made audience, the sees it as a God moment and a chance to tell others about Jesus.
Paul begins his insta-sermon by describing how the risen Christ divinely mugged him on the Damascus highway. He then goes on to say how he met a devout and well-respected Jew named Ananias in the city. Ananias healed his blindness and told him that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob handpicked Saul/Paul before he was born for a very special mission: "you will be a witness for Him to everyone" (Acts 22:15). At this point, the one-time terrorist called on the name of Jesus and was baptized.
The Apostle Paul describes how he eventually headed back to Jerusalem (v17). We know from reading Acts 9:26-30 and Galatians 1:17-19 that this was at least three years later. He had not only been telling everyone in Damascus who would listen that Jesus was Messiah but also spent considerable time in the Arabian wilderness.
On this first trip back to Jerusalem after his conversion, Paul "was praying in the temple" (v17). Again, he asserts his Jewishness. Like any good Jew he went to the temple to worship. And while he was there, he prayed. Prayer is a HUGE theme in Luke's two books. Over and over again, God's people pour their hearts to their Savior. This is what happens when the Holy Spirit gets ahold of average, everyday folks. Prayer becomes and regular and vibrant part of our day.
Paul tells the crowd that something very peculiar happened to him as he prayed that day. "I fell into a trance" (v17). This is the only place we read about this specific vision in the Bible. The Greek word here is ekstasis. While it is where we get our word ecstasy, Paul was NOT in some sort of ecstatic or frenetic state. It describes a state of extreme astonishment and wonder. One lexicon defines it as a partially suspended consciousness. Luke also uses the term to describe Peter's rooftop vision of the animals on the blanket (Acts 11:5).
In this state of deep prayer and meditation, what astonished Paul was that he saw Jesus (v18). This is the third vision Christ gives him (Acts 9:3-6, 12). At several critical moments, Jesus personally communicates with His apostle to provide specific instructions. And that's what He does here.
Christ tells Paul to "Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly" (v18). Get out of Dodge. Beat feet. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Leave NOW! In the NLT Jesus sounds like a warning siren, "Hurry! Leave Jerusalem!" (Acts 22:18 NLT). The Message has a similar urgency, "Hurry up! Get out of here as quickly as you can." (Acts 22:18 MSG). Get out and get out NOW!!!
In the vision, Christ gives Paul the reason he must hit the road. "Because they will not accept your testimony about me" (v18). Jesus has other audiences for His message of grace. This very similar to the Lord's instructions to His disciples to "shake the dust off your feet" and move on when towns give the Gospel the Heisman (Mt 10:14). At this point, the people of Jerusalem won't believe what Paul has to say. They won't buy his account of what happened on the interstate just outside of Damascus.
Paul understands exactly why they won't believe him. "Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in You. And when the blood of Stephen Your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him" (v19-20). As Saul of Tarsus, he was a one-man reign of terror on the early church. He raided local synagogues to find Jesus' followers. Remember, at this point just about every believer was Jewish. They rightly understood the radical Rabbi/Carpenter to be the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews.
Once Saul got his hands on Jesus' followers, he tossed them into prison and tortured them. He uses the Greek word dero to describe the physical punishment dished out to these Christian Jews. It means to beat repeatedly. But it's even more brutal and violent than that. It's to be whipped to the point that the skin comes off. Luke uses this verb to illustrate the bloody torture Jesus experienced at His flogging. Saul didn't just arrest Christians and throw them in jail. No, he brutally and sadistically inflicted horrible physical punishment on them. Saul was a cruel dude.
Paul also looks back on a defining moment in his life. That day that he worked the coat check table at Stephen's murder. Young Saul stood there, "approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him" (v20). He cheered on the crowd as they pounded Stephen with rocks and stones. It seems that this was the springboard for Saul's blitzkrieg on believers, "ravaging the church" (Acts 8:3).
In other words, Paul understood that in Jerusalem he had a nasty reputation as a cruel dude. His history of persecuting and brutalizing Jesus' followers would get in the way of people receiving the Gospel. Christ has a very special assignment for him. "Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles" (v21). Throughout the Bible, we read of Jesus' specific mission for Paul as apostle to non-Jewish people around the world (Acts 9:15; Rom 1:5; 11:13; Gal 2:7-8; Eph 3:8; 1Tim 2:7).
While the people of Jerusalem wouldn't accept Paul's testimony, there was a world of people that would. Specifically, Gentiles. We can't comprehend the level of racial hatred between Jews and Gentiles in the first century. Jews absolutely despised Gentiles. And Gentiles returned the favor. The fact that Jesus has called this former member of the Jewish All-Star Team to be His handpicked emissary to non-Jews is almost laugh-out-loud hilarious! But God continually goes out of His way to use "what is foolish in the world to shame the wise" (1Cor 1:27).
By sending him far away, Jesus allowed Paul to get past his nasty reputation and get a fresh hearing. Little did the man from Tarsus know that he would spend almost the rest of his life hitting the road to tell others about Jesus.
One thing we see in the account of Paul's vision of Jesus at the temple is that no one is beyond God's use. If anyone had the ability to say that he was disqualified from ministry it was Paul. He hunted down Jesus' followers, arrested them, tortured them and killed them. But in His amazing mercy and grace, Christ used Paul to reach much of the Roman empire and to write much of the New Testament.
So do you have a nasty reputation as a cruel dude (or "dudette")? That doesn't mean God can't use you. As a matter of fact, He can do amazing things with someone just like you. Or me.
Created about 2 years ago