Scripture

Acts 21:37 - 22:21

37 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. 38 “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?”

39 Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.”

40 After receiving 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[a]:22 “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. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I 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 the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.

“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.

10 “‘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.’ 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.

12 “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. 13 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.

14 “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’

17 “When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance18 and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’

19 “‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20 And when the blood of your martyr[b] Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’

21 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”

Reflection

Remember from our reading yesterday, Paul had just been beaten by an angry mob, rescued from near death, and chained by military officers. In the midst of being hauled off to jail, he asked to defend himself.

Paul began by addressing the crowd in their native Aramaic, identifying himself as a Jew. He explained that he was from Tarsus in Cilicia, but was “brought up in this city.” Paul went on to tell the crowd that he studied under Gamaliel, a Pharisee and well-respected teacher of Jewish law. Paul was a Jew of Jews, not a heretic or a renegade. He was as zealous as any of them, a backhanded compliment to the crowd who had just tried to murder him! Paul’s stories of persecuting Jesus’ followers communicated to the crowd, “You tried to kill me, but I succeeded in killing many.”

Paul further conveyed his commitment to punishing followers of Jesus by his willingness to go to Damascus. He was zealous enough to carry on his campaign of persecution beyond Judea, into Syria and the city of Damascus. The message is clear: “I understand why you attacked me. I was once just like you. And then I had an encounter with Jesus. And my life was dramatically changed.” Paul explains that in his encounter with Jesus, he came to understand his persecution was aimed at Jesus himself. And in doing so, he was spiritually blind, and then he was also physically blind, so incapacitated that he had to be humbly led by the hand into the city of Damascus.

In Verse 10, Paul asks of Jesus, “What shall I do, Lord?” He had been going in a certain, rather determined direction with his life. And suddenly, he realizes he had been wrong. He had been persecuting the very one he meant to honor, God. His question is one we may all ask at particular times in our lives. Notice the answer from Jesus is not “Here is a list of all the things you should do.” Rather it is “Get up, go to a particular place, and wait for more instructions.” In my personal life, when I am at a crossroads, I want to say to God, ”Give me a clear answer! I want to know the whole plan!” But that is not how God works, is it? It is always God’s timing, not our own, and almost always one step at a time.

I encourage you to do two things today. First, look at the direction you are headed. Is it really of God, or are you “blind” to the path God has for you? Wherever you are on your journey, stop and ask, “What shall I do Lord?” Then be patient in the answers to come. May you receive vision to move forward under God’s guidance not your own. 

Prayer

Dear God, I desire to live fully into who you call me to be. Show me the steps to take every day. Give me wisdom to discern your ways and courage to follow. Let me be a light in the world drawing others to you. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.