Monthly Archives: October 2019

Today’s Scripture – October 31, 2019

Acts 23:23-35 (NIV)
Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide mounts for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.”
He wrote a letter as follows:
Claudius Lysias,
To His Excellency, Governor Felix:
This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.
So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, he said, “I will hear your case when your accusers get here.” Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.

God frequently works through other people and societal structures to protect those of His people who need protecting. Here is a case in point. Commander Claudius could in no sense be called a believer or disciple, but God still used him and his finely tuned sense of justice to ensure that Paul did not fall into the hands of assassins.

The amount of manpower the commander called up, 470 armed men to protect one prisoner, might seem excessive. But he was taking no chances. He knew that men who were willing to swear not to eat or drink until they had assassinated Paul would be reckless and might do significant damage to a smaller force if they caught wind of the plan, so he pulled out all the stops.

Claudius’ letter to Governor Felix in Caesarea contains some information about his own actions that he “spun” to show himself in a more favorable light than the pure facts would have. For example, he states that he rescued Paul from the mob because he had discovered that he was a Roman citizen, instead of presenting the unvarnished truth that he discovered that fact only after he had illegally bound Paul and was preparing, again illegally, to examine him at the business end of a whip. But the letter is clear that, as far as Claudius could determine, Paul was guilty of no crime against Rome. He had merely run afoul of the religious laws of the Jews.

The plan for Paul’s safety was successful, and they brought him to Caesarea as planned. Felix had a similar high view of Roman justice, so he kept Paul in “protective custody” until a trial could be held. But Felix’ sense of justice was clouded by his ambition, which ultimately meant that Paul suffered injustice on his watch by being kept in jail uncharged for two years (Acts 24:27).

Father, You made a promise to Paul that he would have the chance to testify about Jesus in Rome (Acts 23:11), but You never specified how or when. It would have been easy for Paul to grow discouraged while all these events unfolded and while the calendar pages kept flipping past. But he knew that You never break a promise, so he just needed to hold on and wait. Lord, give me the peace and patience that I need during the waiting times, so that I don’t’ lose heart and grow discouraged. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 30, 2019

Acts 23:11-22 (NIV)
The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot. They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.”
But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.
Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.” So he took him to the commander.
The centurion said, “Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.”
The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, “What is it you want to tell me?”
He said: “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.”
The commander dismissed the young man and cautioned him, “Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.”

Paul didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. He was in jail (again!), this time in Jerusalem. The great plan of the Jerusalem elders (Acts 21:20-24) had not been of any use. He had nearly been killed, and he was now in a Roman jail helplessly awaiting his fate.

It was while he was praying earnestly in this frame of mind that Jesus appeared to him with words of encouragement. He promised that Paul wasn’t going to die in Jerusalem but would get past all this and be able to testify about the Lord in Rome!

The very next morning, more than forty men swore that they would not eat or drink anything until they had killed Paul. Their plan, worked together with the high priests and elders, was to have the Sanhedrin summon Paul for further investigation, and then to assassinate him on the way.

But God was right there hearing the plot, and immediately took steps to protect Paul. He put Paul’s nephew where he could hear the plot being formed. The nephew reported the plot to Paul, and Paul sent him on to report the plot to the commander.

The commander heard the plot and immediately believed it. Paul was such a strange man, and the Jews seemed so bent on doing away with him, that it took no effort to believe that such a plot had truly been laid out against him.

The commander immediately laid out his own plan in his mind to save Paul. He didn’t speak it aloud at that time so that it wouldn’t be discovered. He merely sent Paul’s nephew away, sworn to silence, and assured that the situation would be handled.

Father, Your hand is so clearly evident in all this. Even though the commander was not a believer, You still worked through him to do Your will and protect Paul. Even though Paul had no earthly allies in high places to pull strings for him, You worked through the people who were available to pull the teeth of the plotters and to protect him. Lord, we all need Your guidance, even Your protection, more often than we are aware of. Help us to always rely on Your, and to always listen for and follow Your guidance. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 28, 2019

Acts 23:6-10 (NIV)
Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.)
There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.

The Sanhedrin was divided into two factions. The Pharisees were the more conservative, more religious branch. The accepted the entire Old Testament as authoritative. They also accepted the existence of angels and demons, and the resurrection and afterlife.

The Sadducees, on the other hand, were the more liberal group. Oddly, since they were the faction from which the high priests were chosen, they were also less religious and more politically active of the two sects. They only accepted the Pentateuch, the first five books of our Old Testament, as authoritative. And they did not believe in angels or demons, or in the resurrection of the dead or an afterlife.

Paul sensed that, as a Christian, the entire Sanhedrin was dead set against him. But he also knew that he could divide them with a single statement: that he was on trial because he believed in the resurrection of the dead.

This was not subterfuge, but the actual state of things. Paul preached not only the physical resurrection of Jesus, but the future resurrection of all humanity and a clear belief in an afterlife in one of two ultimate states. This put him squarely at odds with the Sadducees but put him directly in line with the beliefs of the Pharisees.

The effect was instantaneous. The entire Sanhedrin erupted in dispute, with the Pharisees siding with Paul and the Sadducees’ opposition galvanized. Within seconds, the two sides were yelling at each other with ever increasing vehemence. This quickly evolved into physical tussles all throughout the hall. It was absolute chaos!

The commander had never seen anything like this. It seemed to him that wherever Paul went, he instantly caused strife, division, and violence. So, he ordered that Paul be hustled out and taken back to the barracks so that he could decide what to do next.

Father, Jesus once noted that a house divided against itself cannot stand. (Mark 3:25) And that’s what the Sanhedrin was. There was so much strife and division among them, not just difference of opinion, but difference of core worldviews, that they were not able to work together to accomplish anything of lasting value. And any unity that they might have had in some issue, even their opposition to Christianity, could be fractured in a moment by a word. Lord, sometimes I fear that we as Your Church as just as seriously divided today and are thus ineffective at the task of growing Your kingdom that You have given us to do. Unify us, Lord, not in some squishy, nebulous middle ground or compromise position, but around your clear word and Your solid mission. Help us to be one, just as You, the triune Godhead, are one. (John 17:20-23) Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 23, 2019

Acts 22:30-23:5 (NIV)
The next day, since the commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.
Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”
Those who were standing near Paul said, “You dare to insult God’s high priest?”
Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.'”

The commander wanted to conduct a preliminary hearing before the Sanhedrin. Since the issue appeared to be about Jewish religious structures and observances, he hoped that the religious leaders could resolve it outside the Roman legal system.

Paul’s opening statement, that he had fulfilled his duty go God in all good conscious how whole life, was true. His early life up to his Damascus experience was lived in good conscience. Even his opposition to the Church had been in accordance with the dictates of his conscience at the time, as hardened and twisted as his conscience might have been at that time. After Damascus, however, his conscience had been redirected, readjusted to a new lodestar in Jesus. Since that time, he had lived according to the dictates of his now better informed and purified conscience.

His claim and his speaking so forcefully in his own defense sparked an instant rebuke from the high priest, who ordered that he be hit in the mouth. This brought an instant and equally fiery response from Paul, who accused the man of acting outside the dictates of the law.

Those near Paul sharply rebuked him in turn for speaking harshly to the high priest. Paul’s response to them is interesting and contains in it a sharp rebuke for Ananias. Paul quoted Exodus 22:28 correctly from memory, but his claim to not know that Ananias was the high priest would have drawn questioning stares and murmurs. How could he not know that this man, finely attired in the distinctive robes of the high priest and sitting on an ornate chair on the dais, was the high priest?

But what Paul was saying, subtly but cuttingly, was that the man on the chair and in the high priestly regalia had issued an order to strike him that was so out of line with the just and righteous requirements of the law that Paul reasoned that he couldn’t possible be the high priest, the Jewish intermediary between God and mankind, who was required by the law to exhibit absolute fairness and equity in his legal decisions.

Paul now knew that the whole Sanhedrin was biased against him, and if he simply let those corrupt men decide his fate, he was going to be unjustly condemned.

Father, sometimes we may find ourselves in just that kind of situation, where the deck is clearly and unfairly stacked against us. In those places, we need to remember and act on Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 10:19-20 (NIV), just as Paul did: “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” Help me, Lord, when I myself am facing long odds, to be like Paul, and to rely on You for the words I need to say and any actions I need to take. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 22, 2019

Acts 22:23-29 (NIV)
As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the 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. As 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?”
When 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.”
The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”
“Yes, I am,” he answered.
Then the commander said, “I had to pay a big price for my citizenship.”
“But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied.
Those 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.

The commander was instantly alarmed by the crowd’s reaction to Paul’s speech. His Aramaic was limited, so he had no idea what Paul was saying to them. He only saw them listening in rapt silence as he spoke, and then they suddenly they exploded in violent rage. For all he knew, Paul had just called for the people to rise up against Rome, although the anger seemed to be directed at Paul himself.

In any case, the commander decided on the spot that Paul was a dangerous character, dangerous to himself, dangerous to Rome, and most definitely dangerous to the peace and civility of the city. Standard procedure was to interrogate the instigator under threat of physical pain, using the whip only as strongly as necessary to satisfy the inquisitors that they had heard the truth. They stripped the person and stretched them out in advance so that the “encouragement” of the whip could be applied immediately when it was deemed appropriate.

As Paul was being prepared for questioning, he spoke up. The Roman empire had a two-tiered system of justice, where those who were full citizens were afforded a much higher level of rights than the so-called barbarians who inhabited the rest of the empire. For example, it was not legal to bind or whip a citizen unless they had been formally tried and convicted of a crime. Paul, a Jew in Jerusalem, was assumed to be outside of those who were citizens.

Paul’s claim to be a Roman citizen had an immediate effect. All preparations for interrogating him stopped, and the question of what to do was immediately brought to the commander. The commander vaguely recalled Paul saying something about being a citizen when he had expressed surprise at Paul’s obvious ease in speaking Greek (Acts 21:39), but it hadn’t really registered in the heat of the moment.

Citizenship could be purchased in Roman society (as the commander indicated, often for a considerable sum), but you could also be born a citizen if your father was a citizen himself. These two classes were ultimately equal in rank and rights, but when Paul declared that he had been born a citizen, it told the commander and all the soldiers in the room that not only was Paul a citizen, but his family were too, and that could mean trouble.

This revelation stopped everything. There was nothing to prevent Paul being held while the commander got to the bottom of things, but Paul was no longer in danger of being whipped to accomplish the fact-finding.

Father, Paul hadn’t always spoken up about his citizenship before the punishment was meted out to him (Acts 16:22-24, 37), but he did this time. The only reason I can see for the difference was Your guidance. In the case of Philippi, Paul and Silas’ beating and imprisonment opened the way for the jailor and his family to be saved. Here, apparently, nothing like that was in the cards. So, Paul spoke up and the plan moved forward without his having to go through a beating (more than the crowd had already given him, at least). Help me, Lord, to always keep my ears and eyes open, so that if I do go through negative stuff, it will only be the negative stuff that is absolutely necessary to move Your agenda forward. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 21, 2019

Acts 22:17-22 (NIV)
“When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking. ‘Quick!’ he said to me. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’
“‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’
“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'”
The 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!”

Up to this point in his defense/testimony, Paul had dealt with his conversion experience, the most significant moment in his life, as it is for everyone who receives new life from God through faith in Jesus. The next logical step was to talk about his call to ministry.

Paul had already ministered in Damascus and Arabia up to that point in his life and then he had gone down to Jerusalem and met with Peter and James through the intercession of Barnabas (Galatians 1:18-19, Acts 9:26-30). But his preaching in the city riled the Jews, and they had plotted against his life. He resisted the call by the Church leaders to leave the area until Jesus spoke to him specifically at the temple, telling him that he needed to go, because his testimony about Jesus was not going to be accepted.

Paul initially pushed back, even against Jesus. He believed that his transformation from the fierce opponent of the Church to one who now believed wholeheartedly in Jesus should have been its own confirmation of the reality of what he was testifying to. But Jesus knew that, just as they had refused to accept the reality of who He was and had killed Him, they would do the same to Paul.

So, the next word of Jesus was a simple command that was not open to discussion: Go! But the command was immediately followed by a commission. The job Jesus had in store for Paul was that he should go to the gentiles, preach the gospel to them, and draw them into the kingdom of God through faith in Jesus. That commission took a while to come to fruition, but ultimately it was this specific calling of Jesus Himself that had launched Paul into the ministry that he was wholeheartedly following.

Unsurprisingly, Paul’s explanation did nothing to quell the uprising. The people had listened in rapt silence as he told his story. But as soon as he mentioned Jesus was sending him to bring the gentiles into the kingdom, they lost it. Their hidebound and legalistic theology would not allow them to even consider for a moment that God would want to reach out to the gentiles, or that He would ever accept them as His people. In their minds, this confirmed Paul’s heresy from his own lips, and the noise of their cries for his execution rose to a deafening level.

Father, it is so strange to me on the one hand that those people’s minds and hearts were so hard, so closed off to the truth. But on the other hand, I remember how hard and resistant to Your truth my own heart was until You broke through with the blinding light of Your love and grace. Even Paul would have understood this hatred of the gospel himself, since it echoed his own story before You transformed him. Still, in view of his passionate desire for the salvation of his own people (Romans 9:1-5), it must have been terribly disheartening to see them so rebellious, so rejecting of Your good news that had been delivered so clearly. Help me, like Paul, to keep proclaiming my own testimony of Your good news, even when I encounter rejection and hostility. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 18, 2019

Acts 22:12-16 (NIV)
“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. He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.
“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. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’

Everything that Paul said about Ananias was true. He was a Jewish believer who was fully observant of the law, although he no longer depended on it to save him. He had an impeccable character, and that character and integrity had won him the respect of the Jews living in Damascus. The main point Paul was making, aside from the simple, truthful recitation of the facts, was that being a Jewish believer in Jesus did not equate to turning away from or teaching against the law.

Ananias had been empowered to restore Paul’s sight, an impressive miracle. But it was his instruction to Paul that caused them to really be amazed.

  • Ananias, the upright and law-abiding Jew, called Jesus “the Righteous One,” as opposed to the Jewish leaders who called Him a sinner and a heretic.
  • The vision of Jesus was ordered by “the God of our fathers,” the true God of Israel, which was unthinkable if Jesus was really a wicked or lawless man.
  • Paul’s commission, directly from God Himself, was to be a witness for Jesus of all that he had seen and heard from Him.
  • And finally, Paul was to be baptized and forgiven of his sins by calling on the name of Jesus.

If all this were true, it would reasonably explain the transformation of Saul the Pharisee into Paul, the firebrand preacher of the gospel. But if it was true, it would also mean that the people in the crowd had been dead wrong, both about Jesus and about what Paul was doing. The crowd grew even more silent and thoughtful as they considered all this.

Father, it is difficult when we are suddenly confronted with hard realities that contradict our closely held beliefs and threaten to upend our worldview. But facts are facts, and Paul’s calm, matter-of-fact delivery showed clearly that he was not trying to mislead the people or trying to excuse himself in their eyes. Lord, when I tell my story, help me to do so with the same integrity and conviction as Paul was demonstrating here, so that my listeners can really know that they are hearing the truth. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 17, 2019

Acts 22:6-11 (NIV)
“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’
“‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.
“‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.
“‘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.’ My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.

The most critical moment in Paul’s life was what has become known as his “Damascus Road Experience.” It was when he was confronted by the risen Jesus, and when he came to believe that Jesus really was the Son of God and that He really had risen from the dead. This story is told initially in Acts 9:1-19.

It was noon, he was approaching Damascus, when suddenly a blinding light flashed all around him, causing him to fall to the ground. Then he heard a voice accusing him of persecuting its owner. When he asked who was speaking to him, the person identified Himself as “Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.” (The title “Lord” in Paul’s question does not necessarily denote divinity. It was frequently used in much the same way as we use the word “sir,” as a title of respect.) Thus, Paul had come face to face with the risen Savior.

Those with Paul at the time were terrified, they saw the flash of light, they watched as Paul suddenly fell to the ground, and then heard a vague sound that they couldn’t identify (Acts 9:7). They couldn’t make out words that Paul seemed to hear and respond to as he held a conversation with someone that he could see, but that they couldn’t.

Jesus told Paul to go into Damascus and wait. He would be given instructions there at some time in the future.

When the encounter ended and the vision of Jesus faded, Paul found that he couldn’t see anything. The light of the vision that had merely dazzled his companions had blinded him, so that he had to be led by the hand into the city, where he fasted and waited for three days (Acts 9:9).

In that moment of vision, everything Paul had believe in up to then fell at his feet in ashes. He had believed that Jesus was a mere man, a false Messiah, a heretic, who was making heretics like Himself among the Jewish people, a cancer that had to be rooted out and destroyed. He had believed that the resurrection was a myth, having been told by those in authority that His followers had stolen His body from the tomb while the guards slept on duty (Matthew 28:12-15), and had then spread the lie that He had risen physically.

But now he had seen the risen Jesus Himself, and had spoken to Him in person. Everything he had been told was a lie had turned out to be true, and everything he had been told was the truth had turned out to be a lie. The very foundations of his life and identity were now exposed and torn apart in this seismic revelation, which was actually a good thing, the right thing, since now Jesus would be able to help him rebuild his life from the ground up on the firm foundation of Himself.

Father, the revelation of Jesus really does do that to our lives, shaking us to our core, causing us to reassess pretty much everything we have held true up to that point, and often showing us how distressingly far we are from living a life pleasing to You. But, just as You did with Paul, if we will engage in the process, beginning with surrender and a commitment to radical obedience, you will do the heavy lifting by literally transforming us into the people You want us to be, and do it in an incredibly short time. Thank You for this reality. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 16, 2019

Acts 22:1-5 (NIV)
“Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”
When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.
Then Paul said: “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. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as 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.”

Paul’s defense of himself is actually his testimony – not a declaration of his innocence as much as an explanation of why he was doing what he was doing.

He begins, as any good testimony begins, with the “before” picture. In his pre-Christian days, Paul identified himself primarily by his heritage. He was a Jew first and foremost. Even though he was born in the foreign city of Tarsus, he was brought up in Jerusalem and educated in the law by Gamaliel, the preeminent authority on the law of his day. His pedigree was spotless.

In addition, many years before, when Christianity had been in its infancy, he was a rabidly against it as any of his attackers were now. That opposition went as far as not only actively persecuting the believers, but even tracking them down in cities as far away as Damascus and bringing them prisoner to Jerusalem for trial and execution.

But what the crowd was seeing as positive points in all this, Paul’s heritage, his education, and his zeal in the persecution of those seen as heretics, Paul saw as powerful negatives, even points of shame. In a couple of years, he would write his letter to the Philippians, in which he again outlines many of those same points, and then finishes by writing, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish (literally “manure”), that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Philippians 3:7-9 NIV)

But for now, Paul is warming up to relate the central event of his life, the shining moment that erased the significance to him of everything that he had taken pride in before, replacing it with the plans for the growth and expansion of the kingdom of God that had occupied his whole life ever since.

Father, it is interesting to me to so clearly see the dichotomy between Paul’s shame-filled view of his past and the approval for those exact same things that the crowd would have given him for them. What a difference Jesus makes! Thank you for my own story of transformation. Help me to share it frequently and well. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 15, 2019

Acts 21:37-40 (NIV)
As 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. “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time ago?”
Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.”
Having 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:

Greek was the “lingua franca” in the Roman empire, a vestige of the Greek conquest of much the same area in the late fourth century BC. Often Romans, especially nobles, were raised by Greek-speaking tutors, which kept the Greek language very active, even though Latin was commonly spoken in official circles as well as in lower-class Roman homes.

Paul, a native of Tarsus in Cilicia, learned Greek as a child, and was therefore quite proficient at both reading, writing and speaking it, a fact that had helped him greatly in his missionary travels throughout the empire. Realizing that the commander was probably more accustomed to speaking Greek than Aramaic, the language of the province of Palestine, Paul spoke to him in that language.

His fluency and cosmopolitan Greek accent made the commander wonder if he was the Egyptian that had started a revolt in Egypt a few years before and had escaped into the wilderness with his followers before the Roman forces could capture him. That would fit the fact that he seemed to be the instigator of a riot here in Jerusalem.

But Paul quickly set the record straight. He was a Jew from Tarsus, a large city in the empire, and a citizen to boot. (Although this last fact slipped past the commander in all the confusion.)

Paul’s request to speak to the people might have seemed a little foolhardy to the commander. But Paul had been so quickly overwhelmed and assaulted that he had had no time to give a reasoned defense to those who seemed so bent on his destruction, and he wanted to do so now, if he had the chance, and while he was relatively safe under the eye of the commander and several of his troops.

Paul would give his defense in Aramaic, the “official” language of the Jewish people living in the Promised Land at that time. He hoped that that would build a bridge between him and his accusers, as well as make his defense crystal clear.

Father, I’m impressed by Paul’s demeanor here. There is no fear, no panic, no desperation. He trusts that You are in complete control of the situation and will see him through it, all the way to heaven’s gate if necessary. Lord, it is easy to see that that is the best way to approach any challenging situation. Help me to face every day with that same calm resolve, no matter what I’m facing. Amen.

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