Acts 21

Acts 21&22: IF

You have probably all heard a statement similar to this statement in various situations:  A salesman receives salesman of the year award and someone says- IF I had his territory I would have been salesman of the year also. If is often used as an excuse or to play the blame game. It is used in hindsight and second guessing.  If is also used in decision making to consider what might be the outcome. Let us look today at how Paul decides an ‘if’  situation when not only those who oppose Paul are trying to stop him but also those who love him are trying to also. Let us look at Scripture for our answer.

“If” is a conjunction; also a conditional participle.  But this little word is described as one of the biggest words in our language. In the Bible it is used over 1500 times. If is defined as “ in the event that; whether.” First see the use of the word in Genesis 4, God speaking to Cain: “IF you do well, will you not be accepted? And IF you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” “ If you keep my commands ,you shall abide in my love.” ( Jesus in John 15) “ You are my friends, IF you do whatsoever I command you.” About the nation Israel we read: “ If you obey God, He will bless you; if not He will punish you.” “ If Christ be not risen, our faith is in vain…” Greatest if as far as we are concerned: “ Father, IF it be possible , let this cup pass from me.” On that last ‘if’ all of eternity rests.   Jesus shows us in his greatest hour of decision how to decide in the case of an ‘IF’ situation. Let the Father’s will be done- not ours.

Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem about if. In that poem,Kipling presents several scenarios where if, in the event of certain circumstances you can keep on course, Kipling says you will be a man.

Let’s use some of those scenarios to apply to Paul’s continuing to Jerusalem, in spite of many good people warning him not to go, including Dr. Luke. Kipling wrote: “ If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you; if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too.” Certainly this would apply to Paul here in this situation.

After leaving the Ephesian elders at Miletus, Paul put to sea in Acts 21, as Luke describes their travel. In Acts 21:4, we read: “ Finding the disciples there (in Tyre), we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit, they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” The first of several groups and individuals  that warn Paul not to go to Jerusalem.  In fact, Paul had mentioned to the elders in Acts 20- the Holy Spirit warned him of prison and hardships facing him. But what troubles many who study this text is the fact these men ‘ through the Spirit’ urged Paul not to go.   Could Paul trust himself when all men doubt him? Does he make allowance for their doubting?

We must look back to see how Paul makes decisions. In Acts 16, Paul and company are kept from preaching the word in Asia at that time by the Spirit. And again when they tried to enter Bythinia, we read, the ‘ Spirit of Jesus’ would not allow them.  So past experience tells us Paul knew when he was not to go and when he had the freedom to go. Paul had shown himself to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading.

Sometimes our adversity comes from those who love us and want the best for us.  Peter is a prime example as he advised the Lord strongly not to go to the cross. ( Matthew 16:23)Having told his disciples of his pending death, Peter rebukes him and says ‘never Lord. This shall never happen to you.’ To which Jesus replies: “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; You do not have your in mind the things of God, but the things of man.” Often our loved ones can be a stumbling block as Peter was in this situation. It was out of love for the Lord – but Jesus says it was because he had his mind on the things of man.

From Tyre they travel to Caesarea where they stay with Phillip, the evangelist. ( Interesting to note it was Phillip who served alongside Stephen and knew that it was this same Paul who had held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen to death.) Again we encounter a warning to Paul from Agabus, a prophet, who dramatically illustrates by using Paul’s sash to show how Paul would be bound hand and foot and tells Paul: “ the Holy Spirit says in this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind Paul and hand him over to the Gentiles.” All of which will turn out to be true.

Now even Luke and those traveling with Paul plead with Paul not to go. Paul is touched by their concern and tells them: “ Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” When they saw Paul was not to be dissuaded, Luke and those with him gave up and said- “ The Lord’s will be done.” This is always the prayer to pray in  ‘ if’ decisions. ( The flesh,our old nature can always come up with arguments why you can or cannot do something because remember the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. We must pay it no mind, just as Jesus told Peter you are mindful of the things of man, not the things of God. We are told to walk in the Spirit and we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh.)

Here are the only conclusions I can make:  either Paul is right and they are wrong; Paul is wrong they are right; they are right about the danger that lies ahead, for this is sure- but they are wrong that Paul is to avoid the danger by not going.  One thing we all agree on- The Lord’s will be done! ( I believe this prayer will be answered- the Lord’s will- will be done.)

These people loved Paul and wanted him not to expose himself to any suffering or harm he could avoid by not going. We can understand this emotion. But Paul was called specifically by the Lord to be: “ this man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” ( Acts 9- Jesus speaking) This event will allow Paul to do those very things.

To many people triumph is something to be gained and disaster that which is to be avoided. Kipling wrote: “ If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.” Kipling had an insight that neither one of these occurrences – either triumph  or disaster were not what they seemed to be. The greatest triumph ever appeared on that Friday 2000 years ago to be the greatest disaster and the darkest day those followers of Christ had ever known. Some of the greatest lessons we learn come from what the world considers tragedy, or disaster or defeat. From prison,  Paul would write he was in chains for the sake of the Gospel.

Remember Luke telling us that Paul wanted to arrive in Jerusalem in time for Pentecost? He wanted to be there not only to celebrate this event in the temple. Paul knew there would be a great crowd of Jews from all over the empire. The fields would be ripe for a harvest of souls.

So Paul arrives in Jerusalem to be greeted warmly by the brothers, the church. Paul makes his report of his activities and what God is doing through his ministry.  After hearing Paul’s report , the elders and disciples tell Paul of a problem among the Jews. First they report many Jews are getting saved, becoming Christians.  Then- they tell him of a problem associated with a distortion of Paul’s teaching. They tell Paul that many Jews are not becoming Christians because they have heard that Paul teaches : ‘to turn away from Moses( the law), and circumcision and the customs.’ Paul had not taught this. He had taught that the laws and customs should not be required of the Gentiles in order to become Christians.

They then agree on a plan, a compromise that will exhibit to the Jews that there is not truth in these reports.  Paul agrees along with four other men to join in purification rites and have their heads shaved. Paul always said that when he was with Jews, he became as a Jew and when he was with Gentiles, he became as a Gentile in order to reach them for Christ. So naturally Paul agreed to do this, for even though he knew it was not necessary, he was willing to do this for the sake of reaching the Jews. This rite would take seven days, at the end of which Paul would come again to the temple and make an offering.

However, the plan does not work as they planned for it to work. When the seven days were nearly over some Jews from Asia saw Paul at the temple and stirred up the crowd by saying Paul teaches all men everywhere against our law and has brought Greeks into the temple area, thus defiling it. A riot ensues – a mob seizes Paul. It has to be a terrifying moment as they come at Paul from all directions, seize him and began to drag him off to kill him.

Kipling writes: “ If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop to build them up with worn-out tools.” Such is the twisting of Paul’s teaching being used as an excuse for killing him. It has caused such an uproar, it brings out the Roman troops. Paul is rescued by them and the commander mistakenly believes  Paul is an Egyptian who started a revolt some time back.

As they are about to enter the barracks Paul asked the commander something in Greek. The commander is somewhat startled by Paul’s cultured accents of Greek language and knows this is not the Egyptian. In fact, the commander asks Paul if he is that Egyptian and Paul replies he is a Jew, from Tarsus. Then Paul, every prepared to present the Gospel, ask permission to address the crowd, which the Roman commander allows.

Thus we begin Acts 22 with Paul’s address to the mob under these unusual circumstances.  “ Brothers and fathers listen now to my defense.” (“ If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings-nor lose your common touch, If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you…’) Paul gets their attention speaking in Aramaic, the colloquial Hebrew language.

Paul begins: “ I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you today. I persecuted the followers of The Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison and also the high priest and all the council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.”( Acts 22: 1-5)

Do you see what Paul is doing?  He is giving his testimony. For that is what it means to be a witness- to testify. To swear to tell the truth,the whole truth, so help me God.

Paul is a great theologian- perhaps the greatest who ever lived. He is intelligent, well educated, speaks several languages, experienced in debate and logic, well trained and a man who knows scripture backwards and forwards.  So does Paul use all of this in order to impress the crowd? No. He does what each one of us are to do as witnesses. He tells his story. And we each have a story to tell. This is the most powerful form of witness. The simple testimony to what happened to him.

Do you realize you are the world’s greatest authority on one particular subject?  The subject is you. And no one can argue with you about your experience of what happened to you – what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for you. The blind man simply said I once was blind but now I see and there were witnesses to this change. And the man said it was Jesus who did this. I can say I once was a drunk, an alcoholic- but now I am sober. And there are witnesses to this change and I can say it was because of Jesus.

Here Paul gives us the three step process of being a witness:

  1. Begin with what you were like before you met Jesus.
  2. Tell how your life was changed by the Lord Jesus.
  3. How your life has changed after you met Jesus.

My suggestion is you write this out. In fact – we might want to compile these on our website an even put them a booklet. Think about it- having  your testimony become a witness to others. When I first got saved as I have told you many times what happened to me, I began to read the Bible and an AA publication ,  known as the Big Book.  This book has stories, testimonies of scores of people who had become sober.  It tells how they were before- what happened and how their lives have been since then.  Story telling is powerful. It connects with people. Paul tells his story. He does not attempt to explain theology – he simply and powerfully tells what happened.

Do you not see what the Bible is?  It is a story of God’s dealing with man- from creation to salvation to eternity. And in those stories we see ourselves, as in a mirror.  The oldest tool of influence in human history is story telling. When Jesus wanted people to remember what he taught, to be able to put the truth in context- he told stories or parables.

Your best and most powerful story is about you and your experiences. Learning to tell your story skillfully is one of the most valuable skills you can develop to influence others. A story simplifies. A story puts facts in context. A story allows people to see  what you have seen. A story helps you organize your thoughts.

We will see Paul tell his story over and over again.

First he has told the crowd how he used to be in Acts 22: 1-5.  The audience could identify with Paul’s background. He lets them know, I was just like you and maybe even when it came to being zealous for God and against this new Way, I was even more zealous in persecuting these people.

Next in verses 6-21: Paul recounts exactly what happened when he met the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus. We will see Paul tell the story of his conversion and how his life was immediately impacted by the Risen Savior, the Lord Jesus. ( Paul has also not left his testimony without verification. He tells the crowd, the High Priest and Council can testify to his zealousness. And on the road to Damascus, there were others traveling with him who saw the light and heard the noise, but could not understand the voice of the Lord. )

Paul tells how he was blinded by the light and was then led to a man named Ananias who restored his sight. Now Paul is told  what the Lord has called him to do and be: “ The God of our fathers has chosen you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from His mouth. You are to His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.”

Then Paul begins to describe what it has been like since he met Jesus and got saved. In verse 17-20. When he concludes with his defense- he tells them the Lord has sent him to the Gentiles.  And the crowd is once again in an uproar over Paul’s teaching.

Now I do not hold Rudyard Kipling as example of Christianity, nor interpret his poem to be necessarily Christian for in the end, Kipling writes ‘if ‘ you can do these things you will be a man, my son!.  What I would say is ‘if’  we can learn as Paul did we can do all things through Christ who strengthen us- then you will be a man or woman of God.

Remember the  Lord Jesus said , you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses.  The Lord will supply us with the power – IF we will yield to that power and obey Him- our witness will have an impact.


Have you ever told anyone your story?  Why not?




“ Now this is the confidence we have in Him, that IF we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And IF we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions we have asked of Him” ( I John 5: 14, 15 KJV)

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14