GETTING THE MESSAGE/Paul speaks to misery of darkness
In Acts 22:1-23, Paul is at the temple in Jerusalem, and he has almost been beaten to death by the Jewish crowd. Nevertheless, he has been given permission to speak to them by the Roman tribune who rescued him from death. This passage gives us Paul’s speech and the Jewish reaction to it.
He begins speaking of his Jewish legacy as an argument against the accusations of apostasy from the law, the temple, and the Jewish people. Paul grew up in Jerusalem and studied under the most eminent Pharisee teacher, Gamaliel. He was zealous for the law and persecuted Christians (verses 1-5). In other words Paul was saying to the Jews, “I was as against Jesus as any of you.”
In verses 6-11, Paul recalls some 20 years when he traveled toward Damascus seeking to persecute Christians. A great light suddenly appeared, and a voice asked Paul, “Why are you persecuting me?” It was Jesus of Nazareth, and Paul was instantly humbled. Paul says he was blinded by the light and was sent to Damascus to a man named Ananias, who restored his sight.
In Damascus, Ananias told Paul, “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.”
The “God of our fathers” means the God of Abraham, the same God the Jews claimed. The “Righteous One” is the promised Messiah or Christ, which is Jesus of Nazareth. The Jews thought him dead and accursed because he hung on the cross, but God calls him righteous. He also is not dead but alive, and he is the God of Abraham! And Paul, his former persecutor, has been appointed as another apostle to testify about him to everyone: meaning both Jew and Gentile. Amazing grace! Paul concludes his speech with his return to Jerusalem after his conversion. As he was praying in the temple, the Lord directed him to leave Jerusalem because the Jews would not listen to him (verse 18). Paul appeals to the Lord, but the Lord tells him to go far away to the Gentiles (verse 21). When the Jewish audience hears this there is an outburst of rage and calls for Paul’s death (verse 22).
In John 3 Jesus said, “Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness.” The Jews’ reaction to Paul’s speech exhibits the misery of darkness. The Jews are in such darkness they hate the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, whom Abraham loved (John 8:56).
The Jews Paul spoke to in Jerusalem had heard the gospel and knew many Jews had believed in him. They had heard the stories of the miracles of Jesus of Nazareth, and that he was the one Moses and the prophets wrote of. They had heard that only he, not their own works of the law, could deliver them from their sins. They had been told of his resurrection. Nevertheless they refused him.
Charles Hodge wrote, “The greatest conviction a man can have is conviction of his own sin.” The Jews hated Christ because he testified their deeds were sinful. Until a man is convinced of his sin and that he is worthy of nothing but the judgment of God, he will not see the blessedness of the salvation that is offered in Christ. Many today have heard of him often and yet refuse him.
On the other hand, it is a blessed thing to enter into the light of God. And Christ is that light. In him there is no darkness. Light is the emblem of holiness, and Christ is the Righteous One. He makes all his people holy before God, pure and cleansed from their sin. Instead of malice and rage toward Christ, they have love and joy in their relationship with God. There is life in being humbled by the Lord.
We should remember that there is a demonic power at work in those who hear the gospel but do not come to Christ. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4, “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case, the god of this world (the devil) has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Christ delivers men from such darkness. Seeing the stubbornness of the Jews should make us ask questions. Will you love sin more than grace, and darkness more than light? Will you shut your eyes to Christ but open them to the pleasures of sin? Will you run the hazard of death in the Day of Judgment? What can a man give in exchange for his soul? Therefore, make sure of Christ.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.