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Aug 15 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 14, 2016 – Acts 21:7-22:30

When Emotions Run Riot

“Brothers and fathers, hear my defense which now offer to you.” And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet. “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today. Acts 22:1-3

Intro: The temple then standing in Jerusalem was built by Herod the Great

Adjacent to it, he built a Roman fortress
– the two structures shared a wall with a doorway between them
• the door opened above the temple’s outer court
• Roman solders had carried Paul up a flight of stairs to the door
◦ situated on the roof of the patio that surrounded the court
◦ there, Paul begged the commander to let him speak to the rioters below
– Paul managed to calm crowd–and then he reignited the riot

I’m guessing, most of us know the eventual outcome of this story
– but remember, at this moment Paul did not
• he did not have God’s answer for “Why is this happening?”
◦ “Why did those troublemakers have to lie about me? Why did the crowd have to riot? Why did I have to be arrested?”
• in our crises, God rarely gives answer to our “Why questions”
◦ we may never get the answers we want
◦ so it’s most likely that “Why?” is the wrong question
– anyway, Paul was not asking Why?
• instead, he was looking for an opportunity
• if Christians know their calling and are passionate for it,
◦ opportunities are everywhere
◦ even here, between God’s people and their Roman oppressors

21:37-22:2 Paul’s first conversation with the commander

The commander was surprised when Paul spoke to him in fluent Greek
– he had assumed Paul was an Egyptian who attempted a revolt
• according to Josephus, Roman soldiers squelched the rebellion
◦ the Egyptian leader, however, escaped into desert
• the commander had quickly formed this explanation for the fracas
– in Acts, Roman soldiers are usually stereotypes
• pragmatic, simple, at ease with violence and fiercely loyal to Rome
• the ones who stand out distinguish themselves by breaking the stereotype
◦ e.g., Cornelius and Sergius Paulus

Given permission to speak, Paul gestured to get the mob’s attention
– the crowd became silent, probably curious about what he would say
• they became even quieter when heard him speak in their own dialect
– Paul was clearly making a point with his opening statements:

  1. Brothers and fathers – he was one of them, in fact,
  2. I am a Jew 
  3. brought up in this city 
  4. educated under Gamaliel 
  5. and education that was strictly according to the law of our fathers
  6. zealous for God just as you all are today

• Paul always began by establishing common ground with his audience
• he wants them to know that he understands them
◦ and he wants them to understand him

22:4-5 Paul then launched into his story

It began when he discovered his life’s mission
– which may have occurred when he witnessed Stephen’s death (v. 20)
• he devoted his life to persecuting this Way
◦ people who were like the person he had now become
• “way” is neutral term that allowed the crowd to interpret it for themselves
◦ it could have been a cult or the one true way
– Paul’s abuse of Christians included death, chains and imprisonment
• the climax of his mission came when he was authorized to take it to Damascus

Vv. 6-16 An unexpected twist, But it happened . . .

Just before he got to Damascus, all his plans fell apart
– this part of his defense explains the change that occurred in his life
• with some variation, Paul recounted what we read in chapter 9
– knocked down and blinded, Paul two questions for his divine assailant:
Who are You, Lord? – I can see You’re Lord, but who are You?!
What shall I do, Lord? – the answer: he would be told in Damascus
◦ I believe every Christian needs to settle these two questions
◦ we need to know Jesus for ourselves and to know what he wants us to do

A couple more points to notice:
– how he emphasized Ananias’ Jewishness as he had his own (vv. 12-14)
• Ananias was exactly the type of person faithful Jew should be in a foreign culture
◦ the three great examples in the Hebrew Scriptures: Joseph, Esther and Daniel
◦ their similarities are remarkable: all three took risks, found favor with the highest ruler, etc.
– what God had destined for Paul:

  1. to know his will
  2. to see the Righteous One — whom he had seen and would see again
  3. to hear sound of his voice
  4. to be a witness for Him, in telling others about his experience of Jesus

Vv. 17-21 Further developments back in Jerusalem

I love this part! In temple praying, Paul fell into a trance
– the same thing Peter experienced and reported (Acts 10:10; 11:5)
• the trance, or eksta’sei (ecstasy), meant to be outside of one’s self
◦ that is, outside of one’s ordinary conscious state
◦ they were not unconscious, but hyperconscious
(aware of more than normal sense perception)
• we cannot see or hear Jesus with our physical organs of perception
◦ trance was not something they were trying to achieve
◦ but it was something for which prayer had prepared them
– the Lord’s message: Hurry, leave quickly, your testimony won’t be accepted here
• Paul was surprised and voiced his objection
• but the Lord did not bother to respond to that
◦ he simply repeated his command, Go, and told him where

Vv. 22-30 The crowd suddenly erupted in fanatical rage

Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!
– what can we say about a religious meeting that fills people with hatred rather than love?
• they listened closely until that one statement, that one word: Gentiles
◦ Israel was God’s nation, Jerusalem at the center of God’s promises
• this is especially clear in the last seven chapters of Isaiah’s prophecies
– but there were other promises
• and one of them was that God was going to reach people who were far away from Israel
• both Peter and Paul understood this as a reference to Gentiles (Acts 2:39; Ep 2:17)

The fresh commotion was a mystery to commander
– it is doubtful that he understood Paul’s use of Aramaic
• so he did not know the chaos was over people like himself
◦ the commander’s goal was to get to the bottom of it
◦ he wasn’t going to bother himself with lengthy testimonies
◦ he would cut to the chase and examine by scourging
◦ a standard practice: to torture information or a confession out of a prisoner
• but Paul changed everyone’s attitude in the barracks
◦ stretched out to receive the whip, Paul announced that he was a Roman citizen
◦ this terrified all the soldiers–even the commander who had paid for his citizenship
– the commander’s second attempt to figure out Paul’s offense
• he would let the Jews hold court and uncover Paul’s crime
• to him, Paul was a mystery, but not a marvel
◦ he did not care whether Paul was acquitted or executed
◦ his job was to keep peace and enforce Roman law
• for now, we will leave Paul here awaiting trial

Conc: Take another look at the angry mob

They were throwing off their coats and tossing dust into the air
– their anger intensified until they were crying for blood
• this is the nervous system on overload
• and this is when people swing out of control

Recently I’ve been studying EMDR therapy
(Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
– for a low-tech treatment, it seems to work well
• especially when dealing with past trauma
– but I’ve found that reading case histories is very disturbing
• typically, rage is imprinted on patients’ nervous system
◦ as children they suffered from neglect or physical or verbal abuse
◦ never allowed to escape or vent, they became overly defiant or compliant
• as adults, many of these abused people are loaded with explosive anger
◦ and they go around looking for targets

I don’t have total control over my reactions, motives, bad habits
– but I’m learning and making progress
• when face to face with my own contradictions, confusion, or chaos, I rest in two truths:

  1. In Jesus I’ve come to know that God values me
    – the One who knows everything, including every broken thing and how to fix it, will continue to work in me until his work is complete and I am free
  2. I can trust Jesus
    – by this I mean not only that he is faithful, reliable and trustworthy
    • but, weak as I am, it is still within my power to trust in him
    • we are wrong to think that after suffering a hardship we can no longer trust God
    ◦ we always have free choice, and we can always choose to trust (Job 13:15)

When my emotions rage, veer off course, or I sink into a very dark place
I am learning to return to God with a slow, deep breath
and quiet my soul
Because regardless of how out of control I feel,
if I look to him
Even there Your hand will lead me . . . .
Even the darkness is not dark to You 
(Psalm 139:10-12)

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