To the End of the Earth: To the End of the Earth (51): Fathers and Brethren

Sermon by Derek Thomas on July 8, 2007

Acts 21:37-22:29

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The Lord’s Day
Evening

July 8, 2007


Acts 21:37-22:30


To the Ends of the Earth

“Fathers and Brethren”

Dr. Derek W. H.
Thomas

Now if you have your Bibles with you, turn with me once
again to The Acts of The Apostles. And this evening we are in chapter 21, and
we’ll be reading through into the twenty-second chapter of The Acts of The
Apostles.

Paul, as you remember, had gone to the temple. He had
succumbed to James’ advice that he pay for the sacrifice of the four men who had
taken a Nazarite vow. He had himself taken on a rite of purification, and
somewhere towards the end of that week-long act of purification, Paul is in the
temple. Some Jews from Asia Minor (probably from Ephesus) suddenly begin to
shout in the Court of Israel that Paul has brought into that court a Gentile,
called Trophimus. Now, this of course is an out and out lie. Paul has done no
such thing. Trophimus was indeed part of the party that had followed the Apostle
Paul — nine of them, at least — that had come to Jerusalem. In addition to that
charge, these Jews from Ephesus had also charged that Paul was disrespectful to
the Law and to the traditions of Moses. A ruckus, a tumult, breaks out in the
midst of the Court of Israel and Paul is dragged from that inner court to the
outer court (sometimes known as the Court of the Gentiles). The door into the
Court of Israel is shut and locked, and Paul is being beaten–no doubt, if he
hadn’t been rescued, beaten to death.

In the northwest corner of the temple there was a
structure known as the Fortress of Antonia…the Antonia Fortress. It had been
built by Herod the Great, and paid for by a friend, Anthony, and this fortress
was built in such a way that the Roman garrison in Jerusalem could look down
into the courtyards of the temple and ensure that any trouble that would break
out — as occasionally it did — they could immediately go in and deal with it.

The commander of the troops, a man by the name of
Lucius, takes a few of his soldiers to rescue the Apostle Paul, and Paul has now
been brought from the Court of the Gentiles in the temple to the steps of the
Antonia Fortress. These steps led right down to the very beginning of this outer
court of the temple, and it’s at that point that we pick up the reading this
evening, at verse 27 of Acts 21. Before we read this passage together, let’s
look to God in prayer.

O Lord our God, we bow once again in Your
presence. We come before You as the sovereign God of heaven and earth, the
creator and maker of all that is, the sustainer of everything. We come to You, O
Lord, as the one who not only caused the world to come into being, but as the
one who also caused the word to come into being. And we pray, O Lord, as we
read and study the Scriptures together this evening, come, Holy Spirit; shine a
light upon our naturally darkened minds and affections. Give us understanding,
we pray; and in understanding, help us also to be not just hearers of Your word,
but also to be doers of it. And this we ask for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

We take up the reading at verse 37 of Acts 21:

“And as Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the
commander, ‘May I say something to you?’ And he said, ‘Do you know Greek? Then
you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four
thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?’ But Paul said, ‘I am a
Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you,
allow me to speak to the people.’ And when he had given him permission, Paul,
standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was
a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect, saying, ‘Brethren and
fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you.’

“And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew
dialect, they became even more quiet; and he said, ‘I am a Jew, born in Tarsus
of Cilicia, but brought up in the city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly
according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are
today. And I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and
women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders
can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren and started off
for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as
prisoners to be punished. And it came about that as I was on my way, approaching
Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all
around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul,
why are you persecuting Me?’ And I answered, ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’ And He said
to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ And those who were
with me beheld the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the
One who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord
said to me, ‘Arise and go on into Damascus; and there you will be told of all
that has been appointed for you to do.’ But since I could not see because of the
brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and
came into Damascus. And a certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard
of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and
standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very
time I looked up at him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you
to know His will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear an utterance from
His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen
and heard. And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your
sins, calling on His name.’ And it came about when I returned to Jerusalem and
was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw Him saying to
me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept
your testimony about Me.’ And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in
one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in
Thee. And when the blood of Thy witness Stephen was being shed, I also was
standing by approving, and watching out for the cloaks of those who were slaying
him.’ And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’’

“And they listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised
their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should
not be allowed to live!’ And as they were crying out and throwing off their
cloaks and tossing dust into the air, the commander ordered him to be brought
into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he
might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way. And when
they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing
by, ‘Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?’ And
when the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and told him, saying,
‘What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman.’ And the commander came and
said to him, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ And the commander
answered, ‘I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money.’ And Paul
said, ‘But I was actually born a citizen.’ Therefore those who were about to
examine him immediately let go of him; and the commander also was afraid when he
found out that he was a Roman, and because he had put him in chains.

“But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had been
accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the
council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them.”

Amen. And may God bless to us now that reading of His holy
and inerrant word.

The Apostle Paul has been rescued from this angry
Jewish mob in the temple. He has been brought to the steps of the Antonia
Fortress. False charges have been alleged and made against him: a charge that
he’d brought a Gentile into the Court of Israel, a man by the name of Trophimus
from Ephesus (a charge that had absolutely no foundation to it whatsoever, and
interestingly enough, a charge that Paul doesn’t even attempt to respond to);
and, perhaps the more serious charge, a charge that Paul had been disrespectful
to the laws and traditions of Moses. And Luke wants us to understand in the
defense that Paul makes here on the steps of the Antonia Fortress, and in a
similar defense he will make later in chapter 26 before King Herod Agrippa, that
this charge of the Jews, whilst leveled against the Apostle Paul, was actually a
charge that was being made against Christianity itself. It wasn’t simply the
Apostle Paul that is on trial here. It is the very gospel of Jesus Christ that
is on trial here. It is the gospel that offers forgiveness of sins, apart from
the works of the law; and that gospel that offers free and sovereign grace to
whosoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ is being offered not just to Paul’s
brethren according to the flesh — the Jews — but also to the Gentiles. And there
is, as you read this narrative as Luke describes it, more than just a charge
that is being made against the civil authority. It is the Romans who are going
to try the Apostle Paul as the civil authority, but it is the Jews as a
religious authority that is making this charge and allegation against the
Apostle Paul.

And I want us, as we look at this narrative that
is before us tonight, to consider it along the three natural divisions that Luke
tells the story.
First of all, in Paul’s request that he might address the
people; and, secondly, in the defense that the apostle makes; and, thirdly, in
the response of the mob in the temple to that defense.

I. Paul’s request to address
the people.

In the first place, then, Paul makes this request
that he might defend himself before this angry, murderous mob in the temple.

He speaks initially in Greek, and that because (Luke records this) it had been
the assumption of the commander of the Roman forces in Jerusalem — this man by
the name of Claudius Lucius — it had been his assumption that Paul might be this
Egyptian terrorist, this Egyptian insurrectionist.

He is referring to an incident that had taken place
about three years previous. A Jew from Egypt had come to Jerusalem. He claimed
to be a prophet. He had to some extent some messianic expectations. He had led
this huge band of men out of the city of Jerusalem and onto the Mount of Olives,
and there he had told them to wait–to wait for the deliverance of this city
(that is to say, from their occupiers, the Roman Empire). On that occasion it
had been the Procurator of Judea, a man by the name of Felix, who had dealt with
that insurrection. But the Egyptian had managed to escape. History records that
many people died in the course of that event, but the Egyptian himself escaped.
And this commander of the Roman forces has made now this assumption in his mind
that Paul might be in fact this Egyptian insurrectionist. But hearing him speak
Greek, he immediately realizes his mistake.

II. Paul’s defense.

And Paul now makes this request that he might address
the people, that he might speak to this angry crowd and give something by way of
a defense, an apologia, an apology for his position and beliefs. And so
Paul begins to speak, and he speaks in the Hebrew tongue — and probably Luke
means by that, Aramaic. And that means that whilst the crowd can understand him
— it was the currency language of the temple, to be sure — everyone in the
temple would have understood immediately what Paul was saying, but the commander
of the forces probably didn’t understand a word of what the Apostle Paul was
saying.

And so Paul begins his defense. And he begins,
“Brethren and fathers….” And perhaps he’s addressing them in that way because
the chief priest is probably now out in the courtyard…the Sanhedrin, the Council
of the Elders…the seventy elders are probably also now out in the courtyard, but
out of respect he addresses his brothers and fathers according to the flesh.
There’s no mention of Trophimus. That had been a scurrilous lie from the very
start.

At issue here, and it’s important for us to
understand it, is Christianity.
At issue here is the gospel. At issue here
is who is Jesus Christ? “Who do men say that I am?” It’s the same question
today, isn’t it? It’s the prevailing question. It’s the issue: Who is
Jesus Christ? What do you make of Jesus Christ? Who is Jesus Christ to you? What
is it that has caused and motivated Saul of Tarsus to do and say what he has
said? And what follows now is an account of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. It
is the second of three recordings of Paul’s conversion: one that we’ve already
looked at in chapter nine, and there’s going to be another one again in chapter
26. Paul begins to tell this crowd, this Jewish crowd, his conversion, and he
tells it along a five-fold line of thought.

He begins by telling them of his conservative Jewish
upbringing. He was the son of parents who had lived in Tarsus, but at an early
age he had been brought to Jerusalem to study under the feet of this notorious
Jewish scholar, Gamaliel, the leader of a certain section of Jewry, the
so-called school of Hillel. We’ve already come across it in Acts 5. He talks
about his zeal for Moses, his zeal for the Law of Moses, his zeal for the
traditions of Moses. He talks about his conversion on the Damascus road. He
mentions the fact that he went to Damascus and spoke with and was given
instruction by Ananias — a devout Jew, a man known in Jerusalem and
well-respected for his Jewishness. And then, as he comes back to Jerusalem, as
he’s praying in the temple in the very precincts in which these accusers of his
are standing, that he sees a vision and hears a voice from heaven that commands
him to become the apostle to the Gentiles.

Do you see what Paul is doing? He’s virtually
doing two things at the same time.
He’s first of all, of course, answering
the charge that he’s disrespectful to Moses and to the traditions of Moses, and
he’s saying ‘I’m a Jew! Actually, I was a strict Jew.’ In all likelihood, Saul
of Tarsus had been a better Jew and a stricter Jew than his accusers were
standing before him. He’d been raised in this notorious school of rabbinic
Judaism in Jerusalem, under the teaching and leadership of Gamaliel. He’d
studied and adhered to the strictest interpretations of the law. He had studied
the Pentateuch; he’d studied the traditions of Moses; he’d held to them. He had
been a persecutor of the church. This man that they’re accusing was a man who
had put men and women in prisons. He’d gone up and down the land of Judea. He
was on his way to Damascus with letters from the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem in order
to arrest even more men and women and bring them into prisons. He’d consented to
the torture and death of those who had followed the Way–the way of Christ, the
way of the gospel, the way of Christianity.

Do you see what he’s doing? He’s actually doing what
Paul will write down once he gets to Rome in the epistle that Ligon is taking us
through in the mornings. [It will be a while before we get to chapter 3 of
Philippians at the rate we’re going, so let me take you to chapter 3…and you
will have forgotten all about it by the time we get there!] But you remember in
Philippians 3, Paul makes that astonishing boast. He, as it were, placards his
Jewish credentials before the people. ‘If anyone has confidence in the flesh,’
he said, ‘I have. I can boast of more confidence in the flesh than anyone out
there.’ He was circumcised on the eighth day; he was of the people of Israel; he
was “of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a
Pharisee; as touching zeal, a persecutor of the church; as touching the
righteousness which is in the Law, blameless.” That’s what he considered himself
to have been: blameless. ‘You talk to me about Moses, you talk to me about the
Law, you talk to me about the traditions of Moses, I can boast about more than
any one of you.’

I sometimes meet folk…I actually met one here last
Sunday evening…I think he was a visitor, so I don’t think he is here tonight.
But he was telling me about his Celtic roots, and he was proud to tell me that
he was a fifth-generation Welshman. I meet people all the time, and they say
‘I’m a sixth or seventh generation Scot.’ Well, I’m a thousand-generation Celt!
My genes go back as far as you could possibly trace them. As a Thomas, they have
been there forever. If you want to boast about the flesh, I can outdo all of
you!

That’s what Paul is doing. He’s placarding his Jewish
credentials. There are some today in the so-called “New Perspective on Paul”
that want to try and say to us that we’ve misunderstood Paul; that Paul was not
a man bowed down with a sense of guilt about sin and the wrath of God; that
that’s a mistake…that’s an interpretation that has been imposed on the Apostle
Paul by the likes of Augustine and Luther. ‘Doesn’t Paul here in Philippians 3
say he was blameless? There’s no sense of guilt.’ But that’s precisely the
point! That’s precisely the point! As a Pharisee, he had no sense of guilt. As a
Pharisee, he believed he was obeying the law. It was only when he came face to
face with Jesus Christ that he saw that all of his righteousness, his works, his
obedience to the law and traditions of Moses, that they were all…. Do you
remember what he says in Philippians 3? “I consider them all dung.” I consider
them all refuse. All his attainments, all his obedience, all his punctiliousness
and scrupulosity to the Law of Moses, they amounted in the end to nothing. They
were less than worthless. That’s what he came to see. As a Pharisee, he wasn’t
aware of that. It was the experience on the Damascus road that brought him face
to face with his sin.

Paul, you see, is not only placarding his Jewishness.
He’s actually doing two things here, and he’s doing it in a very subtle and
astonishingly clever way, and Luke is recording it faithfully. You notice in
verse 14 of chapter 22–look at the text with me. He said, “The God of our
fathers….” [This is Ananias, now, speaking to him when he gets to Damascus.] He
says, “The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, and to see the
Righteous One….” The Righteous One…it’s actually a reference that has already
been alluded to in The Acts of The Apostles. Where was it alluded to in The Acts
of The Apostles? It was alluded to at the time of the martyrdom of Stephen…at
the time of the martyrdom of Stephen. And what is being brought to the surface
here is that in Paul’s complicity with the death of Stephen, he came to see what
true righteousness actually is: that true righteousness is that which belongs to
Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. It’s actually a reference to the Servant Song
in Isaiah 53: “The Righteous One shall justify many, for He shall bear their
iniquity.”

Saul of Tarsus had come to see that the one that he
was really persecuting was not just Stephen and not just the Christians that he
had imprisoned, but the One that he was really persecuting was Jesus Himself,
who had laid down His life on behalf of sinners like Saul of Tarsus on the cross
of Calvary. And what Saul of Tarsus, this incredibly violent man…. And you know,
some of you here tonight can testify as psychologists that violence is often an
expression of repressed guilt; that actually the violence that pours out of Saul
of Tarsus is actually indicative of what Paul later came to see: that he was a
guilty man; he was a foul sinner in the eyes of God; and that the only basis of
salvation and peace with God is faith in the Righteous One, in the substitute,
in the One who stands between God and men. Because “there is no other good
enough to pay the price of sin; He only can unlock the gates of heaven and let
us in.”

And it seems instructive to me that Luke records for
us in Paul’s testimony that when he came to see that, when he came to see who
Jesus really is, when he came to see that righteousness can only be obtained by
faith in Jesus Christ, and not by our obedience to the Law, that Ananias bid him
be baptized for the remission of sins. Baptism is a symbol of the washing away
of sins. That’s what he had come to see and appreciate, that he was a sinner — a
sinner in the hands of an angry God. [It seems appropriate that I should just
quote those words, because Brister Ware (who knows these things) was reminding
me this morning that today is in fact a very notorious anniversary of the sermon
that Jonathon Edwards gave on Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God,
delivered on this very day, in fact.] And it seems to me that Saul of Tarsus
came to appreciate–and that’s what he’s saying now in his defense–he came to
appreciate that by his obedience to the Law of Moses, by his boasting according
to the flesh, he was nothing but a sinner who needed the grace of God to wash
away his sins and make him a new creature in Jesus Christ.

And in this testimony, Paul actually does a
number of things. If you study it closely, there are allusions here to Moses and
the burning bush, and if you study it even closer there are allusions here
(particularly when he’s praying in Jerusalem and he sees this vision, and a
voice speaks to him and bids him to leave because the people are not going to
appreciate and obey what it is that he’s going to say to them–there are
allusions of course to Isaiah in that famous vision in Isaiah 6). And Paul, you
see, in answering the charge of his anti-Jewishness, is actually putting himself
on a par with Moses and Isaiah…with Moses and the prophets. He’s more Jewish
than any of them! But he’s come to see the Jewish Messiah. He’s come to faith in
Jesus Christ. He’s come to realize that he’s a sinner who needs the grace of
God, and he’s called to be an apostle to take this gospel far and wide to the
Gentiles. And it’s at that point, at the mention of the word Gentiles,
that this angry mob begins to shout again, “Away with him!”…that he doesn’t
deserve to live.

There’s an irony here, of course…that they are
disrobing themselves and laying their robes at the feet of the Apostle Paul,
where Paul once received the robes of those who were stoning Stephen.

The commanders understood none of it, and in order to
understand…in order to get out of the Apostle Paul what it is that had caused
this mob now once again to begin to shout at the Apostle Paul, he orders his men
that they scourge him. They will flog him, using the Roman instrument, the
flagellum

In the course of the discussion with the commander,
we learn that the commander bribed his way into Roman citizenship, a thing that
was possible in this period of Roman history. Nero would outlaw it later. But
Paul was born a Roman citizen, meaning his father had been a Roman citizen. Out
of the fifty million Romans at this point in history, only about five million
had Roman citizenship–about one in ten. And the commander realizes immediately
that one of the consequences of his Roman citizenship was that that which he was
about to do was entirely illegal and would get him into severe trouble with the
emperor. And so Paul’s beating is stopped and prevented.

III. Application.

Now what do we learn from this? As we think
together this evening about this incident, what is it that we learn, you and I?

Well, this, at least. If you look at the first verse
of chapter 22, what does he ask the commander to be able to do? To give a
defense. To give an apologia. It’s a technical word. It’s a word that
Luke employs several times in the course of The Acts of The Apostles. But this
is no customary defense, is it? Paul hasn’t really been defending himself. What
has Paul been doing here? Paul has been doing what Paul is always doing, because
Paul is a man with only one thing on his mind, and that’s Christ. Because what
he’s actually been doing here before this angry mob is preaching the gospel.
He’s been exalting Christ. He’s been talking about sin. He’s been talking about
guilt. He’s been talking about conversion. He’s been talking about God’s
wonderful gospel that is for Jews and Gentiles alike. He’s actually been doing
what Jesus had said: that when you are taken on trial, don’t be concerned about
what to say in your defense [the same word]. The Holy Spirit will help you. And
what we see here, my friends, is a man whose heart and soul is out and out for
Christ, and out and out for the gospel, because he’s a man of one thing. And,
oh! that we catch just a little glimpse of that…just a little glimpse of
that…that you and I would be out and out for Christ.

Let’s pray together.

Father, we thank You for Your word. We bless You
for this description of the Apostle Paul. We would not be here tonight apart
from him. We thank You more than that for the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of
God, to whom he pointed. And, oh, may we by Your Spirit catch a little glimpse
of it in our own hearts, and that as a consequence we, too, may live with Christ
in the very top of our minds, and the very center of our hearts. We ask it for
Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Please stand and receive the Lord’s
benediction.

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and
the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

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