The book of Acts is telling us about Paul’s movements to Jerusalem. However, Paul knows that he will endure suffering by going to Jerusalem. But Paul is ready to go and suffer, all in an effort to preach the whole counsel of God.
I. The Story
A. Journey to Jerusalem
- After speaking with the elders at Ephesus, Paul continues his journey to Jerusalem. In Caesarea, a prophet named Agabus came from Judea and tells Paul through prophecy what will happen. “He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into Gentile hands'” (Acts 21:11).
- Upon hearing these words, the people in Caesarea along with Paul’s traveling companions beg Paul not to go to Jerusalem. But Paul responds that he is ready to not only be bound, but to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord.
B. In Jerusalem
- When Paul reached Jerusalem, he was greeted by the disciples there. Paul shares stories of the great works of God among the Gentiles. When the disciples heard this news, they glorified God. But there was a problem. News around Jerusalem is that Paul is teaching all the Jews to abandon the laws of Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or to follow its customs. In an effort to show these not to be true, the disciples encourage Paul to purify himself and four other men according to the law.
- But this did not help. The Jews see an opportunity to kill Paul and begin to create a mob scene. They stir up the crowd by shouting that Paul had been teaching people everywhere to be against the Jewish people, the Mosaic law, and the temple of God. They further charge that Paul took an uncircumcised person into the temple and defiled it. Thus the whole city rushed against Paul and seized him. Verse 31 is very important. The people were not going to try him for violating Jewish laws. Rather, they wanted to kill Paul. As they were trying to kill Paul, news of this went to the Roman commander that all Jerusalem was in chaos. This is why the Roman Fortress of Antonia was stationed against the temple: to keep peace in the city. The commander along with Roman soldiers immediately intervene and stop the beating.
- The Roman commander took Paul into custody and ordered him to be bound in chains. The commander then wants to know who Paul is and what he had done to deserve this kind of treatment. But due to the uproar, the commander was unable to obtain reliable information. When Paul got to the steps, the soldiers had to carry Paul because the mob of people were following and yelling to kill him.
- As Paul was being brought into the barracks, Paul begins to talk to the Roman commander. Paul explains first to the Roman commander that he is not the Egyptian who had led a rebellion against Rome. He is a Jew from Tarsus and he desired to speak to the people. The Roman commander granted Paul’s request and Paul, in chapter 22, addresses the city making a defense of himself.
C. Paul’s defense
- In the first five verses, Paul explains his personal background. He tells the people of Jerusalem that he is a Jewish man, born in Tarsus, taught by Gamaliel, educated according to the law of Moses. He also was zealous for God, so much so that he persecuted the people who followed the Way to their death. He was on the mission to persecute the followers of the Way when he went to Damascus.
- Along the way, an intense light from heaven flashed around him and he fell to the ground. Paul heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Paul responded by wanting to know who was speaking. The voice said, “I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting!” Further, Paul was told to get up and go to Damascus and there he would be told everything he was assigned to do.
- Being blinded by the light, Paul had to be led by the hand to Damascus. In Damascus, a man named Ananias who was a devout man according to the law and had a good reputation with all the Jews came to Paul and said, “Brother Saul, regain your sight.” At that moment Paul was able to see again. Ananias further told Paul that he needed to arise and be baptized to wash away his sins. Paul went on to tell the people that God told him to go and preach to the Gentiles.
- However, at the part of going to the Gentiles to preach, the people of Jerusalem began shouting to wipe him from the face of the earth and were throwing dust into the air. All of this was to show the great outrage of the people. The Roman commander was about to give him lashes when Paul asked if it was lawful for an uncondemned Roman citizen to be scourged. Therefore the Roman commander and those who were going to examine him stopped once they knew Paul was a Roman. We will stop here in the story of Paul’s defense and notice a couple important points from the story.
A. The plain gospel message
- Paul recounts his conversion process and explains to the Jewish people why he is doing what he has been doing. The gospel message is not difficult to understand nor is it difficult to obey. Romans 10:13 says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Acts 2:21 states similarly, “Then whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But Ananias explains to Paul how one is to call on the name of the Lord to be saved.
- This would be important information especially to the Jewish audience that Paul is defending himself. Joel had given a very dire prophecy about what would take place in the days of the Messiah. “I will display wonders in the heavens and on the earth: blood, fire, and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and awe-inspiring Day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved, for there will be an escape for those on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, as the Lord promised, among the survivors the Lord calls” (Joel 2:30-32). Joel said that the destruction of the nation was coming but that every person who called upon the name of the Lord would be saved.
- These are the key words that Ananias tells Paul. Ananias tells Paul that God has appointed him to be a witness for Christ to all the people of what he had seen and heard. Further, Ananias asks Paul what he is waiting for. It was time to call upon the name of the Lord. Ananias reveals how to call on the name of the Lord: “arise and be baptized. Paul’s grievous sins, including the bloodshed of Stephen, would be washed away by calling on God’s name. The people were waiting to hear how to call on God’s name. Baptism was the answer. “Baptism, which is like that water, now saves you. Baptism doesn’t save by removing dirt from the body. Rather, baptism is a request to God for a clear conscience. It saves you through Jesus Christ, who came back from death to life” (1 Peter 3:21).
- The second part of the gospel message is also very plain. Those who call on the name of the Lord are also given the charge to go into the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Paul declares that he was also given this commission by God to go and preach to the Gentiles.
B. The gospel as a stumbling block
- Unfortunately, the people of Jerusalem did not like what they heard from Paul’s mouth. The people did not want to hear any more about the message. Even though Paul was living proof of the truth of this message. He had been blinded by the light, as witnessed by his companions. He had a conversion with the risen Lord. He had been healed of his blindness and was instructed to be baptized in order to call on the name of the Lord and have his sins washed away.
- Paul said that not only the Jews, but also all people would find the simplicity of the message a stumbling block. “For to those who are perishing the message of the cross is foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is God’s power. For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the understanding of the experts. Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached. For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:18-23).
- The same is still true today. Does the concept of immersion pose a problem in your mind? Does it seem ridiculous that we should be immersed in water? Paul said that God used foolish things so that we would put our total dependence on God. God did not choose something that would satisfy us for its academic excellence. Nor did God choose something that the world would value and appreciate. God made it easy to call out to him.
- I am mindful of this passage when I come across writings and people who say that baptism simply cannot be necessary. They declare that baptism does not make any sense and cannot be part of God’s plan of salvation. I think too many have over thought the process. Judgment is coming against all people. Since we have not lived up to the character of the glory of God, we are condemned and deserving of punishment for our actions. But God has shown mercy by sacrificing Jesus as a payment for our sins. Now we simply need to call on the name of the Lord to have that mercy applied to our account. God said that baptism is the way to come in contact with the blood of Jesus, uniting us into his death and resurrection (Romans 6:4-8). So what are you waiting for? Do not let the “wisdom” of the world turn you away from the obvious call of God. Arise and be baptized, washing away your sins by calling on the name of the Lord.