Study 25: Paul’s testimony and Roman citizenship
In the last study (Acts 21), we saw how Paul was almost lynched by the mob. If it had not been for the timely intervention of the Roman army, he would almost certainly have been killed by the mob. Paul had not finished his work on earth; he had been faithful in all the things he had done so far and his life was in God’s hands. He was perfectly willing to suffer for his faith and he had done so before. Paul was no stranger to near death experiences. (Acts 14:19-20)
So now, rescued by the commander and his troops, Paul stood at the top of the steps leading to the barracks and motioned to the crowd. They became silent and Paul began to speak to them in Aramaic (or possibly Hebrew) – their own everyday language. When we are sharing our experience of Jesus, do we speak in a language our hearer will understand or do we speak in “Christianese”? It was time for him to explain what had happened to him during his life and how a personal encounter with Jesus had changed him forever.
Neither you nor I were born Christians. We cannot become Christians through an intellectual exercise, by living in a Christian home, by doing good things, or by living a good life. On the contrary, we become Christians, no matter what our previous lifestyle, only because of a life-changing encounter with the living God. (A prayer to acknowledge all that Jesus has done for us and receive Him as Lord can be found in study 2: Acts of the Holy Spirit.) Once you become a Christian, nobody will be able to take that away from you. It is a relationship that you forge with Jesus Himself. It is a two-way thing and one that has the potential to grow beyond your wildest and strongest expectations. However, the growth part of it is entirely in your hands. There are some things that you need to do. The first is to read God’s “instruction manual” (the Bible) as to how to live this extraordinary new life that you have been freely given. In the Bible, you will find instructions for living your life. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) If you read His word, you will get to know Him better. His ways will be less of a surprise to you and you will discover that, the more you know Him, the more you will want to be part of all that He is doing on the earth and in your locality particularly. Secondly, tell others about the great change in your life. Follow this step-by-step plan in Peter’s second letter, remembering to spend as much time talking to Him as you do talking about Him.
“Do you want more and more of God’s kindness and peace? Then learn to know Him better and better. 3 For as you know Him better, He will give you, through His great power, everything you need for living a truly good life: He even shares His own glory and His own goodness with us! 4 And by that same mighty power He has given us all the other rich and wonderful blessings He promised; for instance, the promise to save us from the lust and rottenness all around us, and to give us His own character.
5 But to obtain these gifts, you need more than faith; you must also work hard to be good, and even that is not enough. For then you must learn to know God better and discover what He wants you to do. 6 Next, learn to put aside your own desires so that you will become patient and godly, gladly letting God have His way with you. 7 This will make possible the next step, which is for you to enjoy other people and to like them, and finally you will grow to love them deeply. 8 The more you go on in this way, the more you will grow strong spiritually and become fruitful and useful to our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But anyone who fails to go after these additions to faith is blind indeed, or at least very short-sighted and has forgotten that God delivered him from the old life of sin so that now he can live a strong, good life for the Lord.” 2 Peter 1:2-9
Paul had his opportunity to speak to the crowds – or the mob as it had been just a few minutes earlier.
Paul began his explanation by saying that he had been born a Jew in Tarsus in Cilicia, but had moved to Jerusalem and was brought up there. He had been to “Jewish school” and had studied under Gamaliel, who was one of the most respected rabbis of his day and was a member of the Sanhedrin. It was he who had counselled the rest of the Sanhedrin when faced with the problem of Peter and the other apostles:
“Leave these men alone. If what they teach and do is merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is of God, you will not be able to stop them, lest you find yourselves fighting even against God.” Acts 5:33-39
Paul had been a model student and had learned all that he had been taught. He was religious beyond question. Later, as he was writing to the Philippians, he had this to say of himself: “Yet if anyone ever had reason to hope that he could save himself, it would be I. If others could be saved by what they are, certainly I could! 5 For I went through the Jewish initiation ceremony when I was eight days old, having been born into a pure-blooded Jewish home that was a branch of the old original Benjamin family. So I was a real Jew if there ever was one! What’s more, I was a member of the Pharisees who demand the strictest obedience to every Jewish law and custom. 6 And sincere? Yes, so much so that I greatly persecuted the church; and I tried to obey every Jewish rule and regulation right down to the very last point.” Philippians 3:4-6
Does that justification strike any chords with us? Are we so zealous for the church that we have neglected to investigate the claims on our lives of the One who is the reason for the church? Were we christened as babies, sent to church, progressed through Sunday school, but never gave thought to Jesus’ request to us to give our lives to Him? Are we so proud that simply humbling ourselves before the King of Kings is a step too far – saying sorry for the fact that we have neglected to listen to the simple truth of the gospel? Have we allowed Jesus to forgive us and entered into that wonderful, personal relationship and friendship with Him?
Paul put it this way to the Philippians: “But all these things that I once thought very worthwhile – now I’ve thrown them all away so that I can put my trust and hope in Christ alone. 8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have put aside all else, counting it worth less than nothing, in order that I can have Christ, 9 and become one with Him, no longer counting on being saved by being good enough or by obeying God’s laws, but by trusting Christ to save me; for God’s way of making us right with Himself depends on faith – counting on Christ alone. 10 Now I have given up everything else – I have found it to be the only way to really know Christ and to experience the mighty power that brought Him back to life again, and to find out what it means to suffer and to die with Him. 11 So whatever it takes, I will be one who lives in the fresh newness of life of those who are alive from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11. You see, Paul had been religious. He had followed the ways of the religious hierarchy and had become so good at it that he had persecuted the church in Jerusalem, had separated families by throwing them into prison, had wrought havoc amongst God’s people and had become the toast of the religious authorities – the Pharisees. He had even decided to expand the catchment area for his exploits. (Acts 22:1-5)
So what made Paul so different? Something had changed him, had turned him from the persecutor of the believers to one who joined them and became the man who took the gospel of the One he had persecuted to the Gentiles – in fact to the very ends of the Roman Empire.
Paul tells his testimony in his own words in this passage: Acts 22:6-13. This change was instantaneous and entire – from persecutor to follower in one uncomfortable, but eternally valuable, confrontation with the One he had been persecuting.
What had Paul done to deserve this amazing mercy from God? Nothing. Absolutely nothing – except that, when he was confronted by the reality of Who God was, he gave himself up – completely, entirely and for ever. What about you and me? Have we been trying to ignore the call of God on our lives? Have we been justifying our position by claiming to be good and zealous church-goers? Do we think that is all there is to the Christian life or are we making ourselves totally available to however God wants to use us to continue the work of Jesus Christ – even if it means going to a people who will not like what we say? The only thing that will work is relying on what Jesus did on the cross at Calvary, when He paid the price for our sin as He died a criminal’s death and worse. He took all the sin of the entire world on Himself so that God the Father could not look at Him – His very own Son – as He died the death that you and I deserve.
The power of His sinless life meant that death and Satan could not hold the “Prince of Life”(Jesus) in the pit of hell itself. Jesus descended into the very depths of hell, preached the gospel to all those who had died prior to the flood, then ripped the keys of death and hell from the hands of Satan and rose triumphantly. (Revelation 1:18) He ascended into heaven and sat down at the place of authority at the right hand of His Father. (Acts 1:10-11)
Perhaps, like Paul, we need to ask this question: “Who are you, Lord?” And, perhaps like Paul on that amazing day, we need to hear the words: “I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting!”
We might not persecute people like Paul did. We may only ignore God’s demands on our life, but our call and His answer are still the same. We will never get satisfaction from our Christian life without obedience. We may be doing lots of activities but, if that is not what the Father wants us to do, we will still have a feeling of dissatisfaction and emptiness.
Paul’s second question was this: “What shall I do, Lord?“. When God touches our life, that also is what we should ask. The answer will come very clearly. It will not be the same as Paul’s or mine or perhaps anyone else’s, but it will be God’s answer for you personally. In Paul’s case, a man named Ananias came to see him, prophesied into his life and told him to be baptised. (Acts 22:12-16) Obedience is our response, just as it was Paul’s: “And now what are you waiting for? Get up and be baptised, and wash your sins away, calling on His Name.” (Acts 22:16) Don’t ask questions. Just do it – now! You will know why after you have been obedient. That is God’s way.
Let us consider Ananias here. He was a godly man – perhaps one of those who Paul had come to Damascus to persecute. But he was the man whom God called on to speak to Paul. We read in Acts 9 of Ananias response to the Lord on being assigned this task. He reminded Jesus of Paul’s terrible activities against His followers. (Acts 9:13-14) Jesus’ response to Ananias was to tell him to be obedient and He shared something of His plans for Paul. (Acts 9:15-16) Ananias would have to watch his attitude after Jesus told him that Paul was to suffer, which – from a worldly point of view – he more than deserved for all that he had done to the Christians!
Our life will not be easy if we are to follow the Lord Jesus. We may be an Ananias, or we may be a Paul, or someone quite different but, whatever the cost, your life will never be the same again. You will belong to a different master this time: one who loves you, not one who hates the very ground you walk on and will stop at nothing to destroy you. Yes, that is Satan’s plan: to destroy everyone who swears allegiance to him and to dupe all the undecided ones. He is the father of lies and the truth is nowhere to be found in him. On the other hand, Jesus says: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me!” (John 14:6) Ananias’ instruction to Paul showed what was expected of someone who became a Christian in those days and it still applies now.
Have you been baptised since you first believed? If not, what has prevented you? Perhaps you haven’t heard that you should be. Perhaps you have been trying to put off the inevitable. Perhaps someone told you that baptism was only for people in those days or that, if you were baptised as an infant, you didn’t need to do it again. Whatever the reason, consider your baptism in obedience to Jesus. (Romans 6:3) Be careful about listening to tradition or religion; instead, base your decision on the word of God. In baptism, we identify with the Lord Jesus as He died. (Symbolically, we “die” as we go beneath the water.) Jesus then rose again on the third day and, as we come up out of the water, we identify with Jesus’ resurrection and victory over death and hell on our behalf, so that we may sit with Him in heavenly places, His banner over us being “LOVE”. We too can thank Him that our sins have been washed away and that we are now justified before God through what He has done for us. Paul returned to Jerusalem after his experience of salvation at Damascus and there, as he was praying at the temple, he saw the Lord speaking to him, telling him to leave. (Acts 22:18)
It matters little what people know of what we did in the past. They will find it very hard to believe that we have turned around, through 180 degrees. If they found it difficult to believe a man who so obviously went from one extreme of hatred to another of love, they will also find it difficult to believe us. God understands this, but He also expects that we should stand up and act like a believer! Paul was there, looking after the coats of those who stoned Stephen as he became the first martyr amongst the believers. The Lord knew all that when He called Paul and now He simply said to Paul: “Go! I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” (Acts 22:21) God knows us and what we did before He called us. He doesn’t care what we did. That was in the past. He has made all things new. We are a new person in Christ – not just the old one patched up. That is why we had to be born again. (That was what Nicodemus initially found so hard to understand. Read John 3:1-21.) Just being repaired is not good enough. Jesus died so that we could leap free from the chains of sin and death that once held us fast in their grip. He has set us entirely in a large and spacious environment protected by Him and under His command. (Isaiah 25:8; 1 Corinthians 15:54-56)
Paul had stated his case for being a believer. The response of the crowd was predictable as soon as he mentioned that God had opened the door for salvation to the Gentiles. (Acts 22:22-23) These people were not just “rent-a-crowd”; they were serious about their religion. You and I can be serious about our religion, but let us define the difference between religion and relationship. Religion merely binds us up with lots of human activity and Satanic bonds. We become responsible to men for our achievements. A relationship – which is what being a believer is all about – creates a heart change that will last for ever in love and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit. It is our responsibility as to which we choose. But only one way brings total satisfaction, peace and assurance of a future.
The commander of the Roman troops was clearly undecided about the rights and wrongs of the events he had just witnessed, so he decided to flog the man in his custody in order to be able to find out the truth from Paul’s side. But as the soldiers stretched Paul out to flog him, he asked a very pointed question. He appealed to a higher authority. (Acts 22:25) It is clear that it had never crossed the commander’s mind that Paul might be a Roman citizen. He was shocked when he found out the truth. He had very nearly broken the law and would have been answerable to Caesar himself for his misdemeanour. (Acts 22:27-29) When Paul announced that he was a Roman citizen, things changed for him. Why? Because as a Roman citizen he had rights under the Roman law. We have rights under the law of heaven if we have become a citizen of the kingdom of heaven by being born again through the Spirit of God. Are we claiming our rights under that law? Do we know what those rights are? We could be missing out on so many blessings that Jesus has paid for on our behalf: health; giving; power and authority over all the works of the enemy. The bottom line is that these laws operate spiritually. Satan has no authority over us whatsoever, unless we give it to him. We are children of God. We belong to the king of heaven and earth – Almighty God. Nobody has authority over us, except for God Himself and those to whom we and God delegate that authority.
The next day, the commander released Paul and ordered the Sanhedrin to appear before him, with Paul present to answer for himself, so that he (the commander) could find out the truth. God already knows the answer, but sometimes He lets us stand before our tormentors. Jesus spoke to his disciples about it and it applies to us today. “Therefore, don’t be concerned about how to answer the charges against you, 15 for I will give you the right words.” (Luke 21:12-19)
Be prepared to stand before those who dishonour you for being a believer. God will honour you for your faith. Hebrews 11 is full of just a few of the names of those who went so far as to die for their faith, many not yet seeing what they were trusting God for. Hebrews 12:1-2 challenges us with this:
“1 Since we have such a huge crowd of men of faith watching us from the grandstands, let us strip off anything that slows us down or holds us back, and especially those sins that wrap themselves so tightly around our feet and trip us up; and let us run with patience the particular race that God has set before us. 2 Keep your eyes on Jesus, our leader and instructor. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy He knew would be His afterwards; and now He sits in the place of honour by the throne of God.”
Study 25: Paul’s testimony and Roman citizenship – Challenge Questions
Please complete all questions marked with * and then complete the rest of the study. The more you look in God’s word the more you will get out of it.
Read the chapter at the beginning of the week then you have time to meditate on it, rather than rushing! Make God’s word your number one priority.
1. *Read the motes and the Bible verses referred to in them. Highlight the points that “speak” to you and share with the group.
2. Give examples of “Christianese” that you have used or you have heard.
3. How would you describe your growth as a Christian? Are there any areas that you feel need some attention?
4. *Why do you think God allows us to encounter opposition and persecution? Does it always come from expected sources? When you withstand the attacks, what does God think of you? Can you quote a verse that backs this up?
5. What challenge do you receive from reading Hebrews 12:1-2?
Read Acts 23:1-11
6. *What provoked such a massive reaction in the high priest Ananias? Was this in keeping with his character? Why did Paul call Ananias a whitewashed wall?
7. Paul said that he did not know that Ananias was the high priest. Do you find this surprising? Could your workmates turn to you and say that they did not know that you are a Christian? What changes do you intend to make in your Christian life to ensure that others are aware of what you stand for?
Read 1 Corinthians 3:10-16
8. *What foundation is described in this passage? What building materials can you use to build on this foundation according to the passage of scripture? What do these materials represent today to us?
9. When confronting the Sanhedrin, Paul thought of something to say which would cause consternation. What was it, and why did it cause such problems amongst the prosecution?
10. What was the result of the trial? Was Paul set free? Did the prosecutors (the Sanhedrin) win their case? Explain.
11. *What did God think about the situation? Why do you think that? Was what had just happened at the hearing in the plan of God? Can you think of an example of chaos in your life that has worked out to be God’s plan? Please share with the other members of your group as it may help them to understand God’s working in their lives.
Read Acts 23:12-22
12. *What was the substance of the plot that the Jews hatched? Why were the religious authorities implicated? Was this honourable behaviour? Explain.
13. How did Paul’s nephew have access to him while he was in prison? Perhaps Paul’s family had disowned him when he became a Christian. What do your family think about you being a Christian? Would they help you if you were in trouble?
Read Acts 23:23-35
14. *Why did the commander transfer Paul from Jerusalem to Caesarea? Did Paul know anybody in Caesarea? If so, who was that and what were their jobs as believers?
15. How did Luke know what was in the commander’s letter to Governor Felix? When he received the letter, what did Felix decide to do with Paul?
16. *Sum up in one short sentence the content of this chapter and what it said to you.