Acts 22:1-29: A Story of Salvation
June 19, 2022 Speaker: Josh Tancordo Series: Acts: You Will Be My Witnesses
Topic: Default Passage: Acts 22:1–29
Acts 22:1-29: A Story of Salvation
We’ve been working our way passage by passage through the book of Acts, and today the next passage we come to is Acts 22:1-29, so I’ll be reading a selection of verses from that passage. It says,
1 “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.” 2 And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, 5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. 6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ 9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. 12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’ 17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ” 22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.”
May God bless the reading of his Word.
Let’s pray: Father, your law is perfect, reviving the soul. Your testimony is sure, making wise the simple. Your precepts are right, giving joy to the heart. And your commandments are pure, enlightening the eyes. So, please, as we dig into your Word this morning, revive our souls, give wisdom to our minds, impart joy to our hearts, and enlighten our eyes. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
There’s something uniquely powerful about a good story. Stories have a way of drawing us in and speaking to our hearts and really making an impact on us. I remember, back when I was in college, going to see the film Marley and Me. The film tells the story of a couple named John and Jenny and their dog, Marley. And it follows this couple from the time when they’re newlyweds and then onward after that. We see them stating out in entry-level jobs and then moving to Florida and acquiring Marley and then dealing with Marley’s behavior issues, which are pretty over-the-top and hilarious, and then having a heartbreaking miscarriage and then getting better jobs and going on to have a total of three kids and Jenny becoming a stay-at-home mom. They then move from Florida to Philadelphia and continue raising their family. And eventually, when John and Jenny are in their 40’s and their kids are getting older, the dog Marley becomes sick and recovers briefly but then gets sick again and has to be euthanized. And I’ll just tell you that I’m not really the kind of person, first of all, who typically goes to watch drama movies like that. I think some of my guy friends and I went to this movie in order to hang out with some girls we were interested in—you know, for fellowship and things like that. And not only do I not typically watch movies like Marley and Me, I also definitely don’t get emotional during them. That’s just not who I am. But this movie told Marley’s story in such a moving way that it just drew me in, and…it got me. By the end of the movie, I somehow had tears in my eyes. That’s how powerful stories can be.
And, as we think about our main passage this morning in Acts 22, we see the Apostle Paul leveraging the power of story in his address to the crowd at Jerusalem. You may remember from last week that Paul went to Jerusalem in order to visit the Christians there and, specifically, to deliver to them a love offering he had collected from various other churches. And in order to demonstrate that he doesn’t have anything against the Old Testament Law, Paul participates in a purification ritual at the temple and also sponsors four men as they complete another Old Testament ritual called a Nazirite vow. But while Paul’s at the temple, some of his Jewish opponents from Asia recognize him and shout out in front of everyone at the temple some outrageous accusations against Paul about how he’s supposedly doing everything he can to undermine the law in Jewish communities throughout the Roman Empire and also how he supposedly brought a Gentile into the temple, which would have been a grave offense. So, in a blind rage, a crowd of people grabs Paul and starts beating him. Fortunately, a garrison of Roman soldiers is nearby and rescues Paul before the mob can beat him to death. Paul then asks permission from the Roman commander to speak to the crowd, and chapter 22 records what he says.
Now, let me ask you this: what would you say in that moment? An angry mob has just severely beaten you and is calling out for your execution, and you’re now in the hands of governing authorities who have shown a willingness in the past to bow to the will of the mob. What would you say? I’m guessing you’d say whatever you thought would be most likely to calm the crowd and convince everyone of your innocence, right?
And Paul does indeed make a defense—that’s the term he uses in verse 1 to describe his address. Yet, his “defense” seems to be not just a defense but really more of an evangelistic witness—a very deliberate testimony to this Jewish crowd about Jesus. Paul could have simply focused on demonstrating that the charges leveled against him were false. There were plenty of indications of his innocence that he could have pointed to and that any defense attorney, I’m sure, would have strongly advised him to bring up. Yet, Paul doesn’t do that. He approaches things much differently and, instead, shares with the crowd the story of his encounter with Jesus.
And that’s the main idea of this passage. Paul takes advantage of a unique opportunity to share the story of his encounter with Jesus. Paul takes advantage of a unique opportunity to share the story of his encounter with Jesus. This situation in which Paul finds himself probably isn’t one that most people would view as an opportunity to talk about Jesus, but that’s exactly how Paul approaches it. You know, when your heart is captivated by Jesus and filled with the joy he brings, you kind of just make your own opportunities to talk about him with others. You find yourself naturally bringing Jesus into your conversations. And in a similar way, Paul decides that he’s going to use this incredibly intense situation as an opportunity to share with this hostile Jewish crowd the story of his encounter with Jesus, telling them about how Jesus changed his life.
And, as we walk through the things Paul shares, I encourage you to be on the lookout for three elements in particular that are helpful to share with people whenever we tell them about our journey to faith. First, what life was like before encountering Jesus, including the ways in which we lived in rebellion against God and experienced various struggles because of that. Second, the specific events that led to us encountering Jesus in a real and personal way. And then, third, the specific ways in which our life has changed as a result of our encounter with Jesus. So be on the lookout for those three things as we walk through what Paul shares.
Let’s look first at verses 1-3. Paul says to this hostile crowd, 1 “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.” 2 And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.
So Paul begins his defense in a very thoughtful way that’s clearly calculated to demonstrate his Jewish credentials. Although Paul had been born in Tarsus, he’d been raised right there in Jerusalem and even educated under the rabbi Gamaliel—who was, by far, the most revered rabbi of that time and is often even regarded as one of the greatest rabbis in all antiquity. So, Paul’s kind of name-dropping a little bit. He’s like, “Gamaliel? Yeah, I got his number in my phone right here.” And, of course, at the feet of Gamaliel, Paul would have received rigorous training in both the Old Testament Law as well as various Jewish traditions. In addition, he also states that he was as “zealous for God as all of you are this day.”
And he goes on to describe how that zeal manifested itself in verses 4-5: 4 I persecuted this Way [Christianity] to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, 5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. So Paul’s zeal for the Law and for his Jewish heritage was so great that he devoted his life to persecuting Christians. He even went above and beyond the call of duty and persecuted not only Christians in Jerusalem but even in other cities all around that region. And if anyone should doubt that, Paul says they can just ask the high priest and the council of elders. They can confirm that he was indeed as zealous as he says he was.
Yet, as he was traveling to Damascus in order to find and arrest more Christians, Paul had an experience that forever redefined his life. Look at verses 6-8: 6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’”
And it’s here that we see the central component of Paul’s testimony—the personal encounter he had with Jesus. And that’s the central component not only of Paul’s story of coming to faith but of any story of someone coming to genuine and saving faith. It all revolves around having an encounter with Jesus that’s real and personal and transformative. So, let me just ask you this: what about you? Have you ever encountered Jesus in that way? If you have, what did that encounter look like?
I remember, for me, I was all by myself in my room one summer between eighth and ninth grade. And I was reading a series of Christian fiction books called the Left Behind series. I didn’t really have any spiritual interest in them but was bored that summer and looking for something to do. Yet, as I was reading one of those books—I believe the second book in the series—something happened that I wasn’t expecting. God began to speak to me through that book. Now, I grew up in a Christian home and therefore already had a pretty decent intellectual understanding of Christian teaching. Yet, through this book, God spoke to me in a way that he never had before and showed me the desperate situation I was in because of my sin.
All at once, I saw that my sins had offended a holy God and made me deserving of his judgment. Sin and judgment weren’t just abstract concepts floating out there but were real and were true of me. So I responded in the only way that made sense and put my trust in Jesus to save me on the basis of what he had done on the cross. I already had the understanding that Jesus died on the cross to pay for my sins, but I now actively and deliberately put my trust in him as my only hope of being saved from sin and receiving the gift of eternal life. I understood that it didn’t matter how strong my parents’ faith was or how often I attended church or how much knowledge I had of the Bible. None of that could save me. Instead, I needed to put my trust in Jesus and Jesus alone as my only hope of being right with God. And that’s what I did right there in my room that summer at age 14. So that’s my story. What’s your story? Do you have a story of encountering Jesus in a real and personal and transformative way? If not, I’d encourage you to put your trust in Jesus this very day and let today be the day you look back on for the rest of your life as the day when you encountered Jesus.
Then, returning to Paul’s story, he continues to describe his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus in verses 9-16: 9 “Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. 12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’”
So, Paul was blinded but then receives his sight physically as a picture of what had taken place spiritually. Prior to encountering Jesus, Paul was spiritually blind to the most important aspects of reality. He assumed, for example, that he was righteous, while, in reality, he was quite sinful. He assumed God was pleased with his acts of religious devotion, while, in reality, God was grieved. He assumed he was right in his assessment of Jesus, while, in reality, he was dead wrong. Yet, by God’s grace, Paul receives his sight and is told by Ananias in verse 16 that his sins need to be washed away.
Now, this is a verse that’s sometimes misunderstood to teach that baptism is necessary for salvation—that we’re saved from our sins by being baptized. Yet, if we read the verse carefully, we can see that the requirement for salvation isn’t being baptized but rather calling on the name of Jesus. Ananias says, “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” Even though “calling on his name” occurs last in the grammatical construction of this sentence, it’s nevertheless the foundational element that results in our sins being washed away, which is then symbolized in the act of baptism. We also find additional—and very clear—confirmation that baptism isn’t necessary for salvation in other biblical passages like Galatians 2:16 and Ephesians 2:8-9.
And just as Paul needed to have his sins washed away by calling on the name of Jesus, every one of us has that same need as well. Your sins may be very obvious and external or they may be somewhat less obvious and more internal. It doesn’t matter. You might compare it to our physical bodies. Some sins are like a limb that’s been torn off with blood gushing out, while other sins are like a cancer that’s silently eating away at us from the inside. Regardless of what kinds of sins are most prominent in our lives, all sins are serious and deadly and leave us in desperate need of cleansing. You might look like a pretty good person on the outside and have been raised in a religious home and be involved in certain religious things. It doesn’t matter—you still need to be cleansed from your sins. We might even say that, in a manner of speaking, like Paul, you need to be saved from your religion. And the good news of the gospel is that you can be if you’ll simply call on the name of Jesus—putting your total trust and confidence in him to rescue you from your sins.
Paul then continues his story and shares what happened after his visit to Ananias. Verses 17-21: 17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
And, to summarize the subsequent verses, as soon as Paul says the word “Gentiles”—which refers to non-Jews—things go downhill immediately. In today’s language, we might say that the Jewish crowd was triggered by Paul talking about his commission to reach out to the Gentiles and this idea that Gentiles can be saved. So, as soon as Paul says that, they interrupt him and shout, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” The Roman commander—or “tribune”—then brings Paul into the barracks, orders that he be flogged, but then withdraws the order once he finds out that Paul’s a Roman citizen.
Yet, again, the main idea I’d like us to focus on from this passage is how Paul took advantage of a unique opportunity to share the story of his encounter with Jesus. And that’s a great reminder for those of us who are Christians that sharing our story of coming to know Jesus is often one of the most powerful and effective ways of pointing others to Jesus. There’s something uniquely powerful about a story that really speaks to people’s hearts. Also, for people who are more skeptical by nature and who would otherwise try to poke holes in logical arguments for Christianity and find fault with our attempts at defending Christianity from an intellectual perspective, it’s a lot harder for them to argue with someone’s personal experience. They’re in no position to say that we didn’t experience what we’re telling them we’ve experienced. So, a lot of times, sharing a personal testimony is a great way to sort of fly above all of the objections that might otherwise be raised against the gospel.
So, I’ve discovered that what’s often quite effective is to weave the gospel—the message of Jesus and what he’s done to save us—to weave that into your personal testimony in such way that your testimony functions as a delivery mechanism of sorts for the gospel. You might compare it to the way a missile is used as a delivery mechanism for a warhead. The warhead, which is the component that actually does most of the damage, is attached to a missile, which is the component that carries the warhead where it needs to go. Likewise, a personal testimony is a great way to share the gospel with someone—as long as we’re deliberate, within our testimony, to clearly state what we needed to be saved from (our sin) and what Jesus has done to rescue us from our sin through his death and resurrection.
And as we seek to share these things through our testimony, here are some practical pointers that I’ve found to be quite helpful and important. I’ve put together a simple list of four of them—four tips for sharing your story.
The first tip is to speak plainly. Avoid Christian jargon or what’s sometimes called “Christianese.” Like if you tell someone about how you came to grasp your total depravity and the fact that you needed to experience regeneration and have the forensic righteousness of Jesus imputed to you so that you could be justified through the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, most people aren’t going to have any idea of what you’re talking about. I’d even recommend that you don’t assume people understand words like “sin” and “righteousness” and “salvation” without you defining them. Speak plainly to people so that they understand what you’re saying.
Second, be honest about your sins. Although you may not want to disclose every nitty-gritty detail about the sins you committed before becoming a Christian, it’s helpful to share at least the general contours of your sins so that people can have some understanding of what God saved you from. You want to give people a three-dimensional understanding of God’s grace. You can say that God was gracious to you in rescuing you from your sins, and that’s good. But that general statement by itself is kind of two-dimensional. In order for people to get a three-dimensional understanding of God’s grace and see it in a more powerful way, it’s necessary to give them at least some idea of how God’s grace has been shown to you in the midst of your specific sins and struggles.
Third, it’s critical that you keep Jesus at the center of your story as well. Looking at Acts 22, it’s very apparent that Paul wasn’t at all impressed with himself as he tells his story. Instead, his story revolves around Jesus. Jesus is the hero. So make sure you tell your story in a way that makes it very clear that Jesus is the hero. The point of everything you share should be to exalt Jesus and give glory to him.
Then, finally, consider writing out your story. This obviously isn’t a requirement, but it can certainly be helpful. Many of the people we’ve baptized in our church have told me that writing out their salvation testimony in preparation for their baptism helped them actually come to a clearer understanding of what happened to them and what the Lord was doing in their life. There’s something about putting our experiences down on paper that helps us mentally process those experiences and gain additional insight. And, of course, it’s not like we’d be reading from a paper during an actual conversation with someone, but writing things down ahead of time can nevertheless be extremely helpful in preparing us to have those natural and spontaneous conversations. And, by the way, if you want scripts of some of the baptism testimonies from our church to use as models for your own testimony, just let me know, and I’d be glad to send you a few.
So, I encourage you, in light of all of this, to think about where you can share your story this week. I believe we can confidently say that God wants you to share your story—just like Paul shares his story in Acts 22. God gets glory when we share with others about what he’s done for us. So where can you do that this week? Maybe it’s the breakroom at your workplace or when you’re out at lunch with a colleague or even when you’re making a sales call to a prospective customer or when you’re in your weekly mom’s play group or when you see your neighbor doing yard work at the same time you are or when you’re sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office or when you’re waiting at the bus stop or trolley stop or when you’re at a local coffee shop doing some leisurely reading or when you’re at your child’s sporting event alongside other parents or when you’re picking up your car from the mechanic. There are countless opportunities to share our story over the course of an ordinary week. Will we be faithful in taking advantage of them?
And let’s not forget that sharing our salvation story with others is also a powerful reminder to us of the incredible grace God’s shown us in rescuing us from our sins. If you’ve been a Christian for a decent amount of time, then you know as well as I do that it’s surprisingly easy to sort of forget what God’s saved us out of. It’s like…we leak. And we therefore need to be regularly reminded of what God’s done for us and the mercy he’s shown. Sharing our testimony gives us that reminder.
And lastly, if Acts 22 teaches us anything, it teaches us that, regardless of what someone’s done in their life or what sins they’ve committed or what messes they’ve made or what people they’ve hurt, there’s forgiveness in Jesus. You know, that’s one thing that seems to be missing in our society right now, especially among those who like to view themselves as more enlightened than others. Once anyone transgresses their standards, there is no forgiveness. Yet, with Jesus, anyone can be forgiven if they’ll turn from their sins. The Apostle Paul here is “Exhibit A” of that. Paul did some terrible things before encountering Jesus, but Jesus’s blood shed on the cross covered every single one of those sins. Friends, you can’t outsin God’s grace. In addition, Paul was then not only forgiven but also changed from Christianity’s most well-known persecutor into its foremost proponent. So, not only did Jesus forgive Paul, he also changed Paul. And if Jesus can change Paul, he can also change you—in the most incredible ways. Let’s pray.
More in Acts: You Will Be My Witnesses
August 14, 2022Acts 28:11-31: Blooming Where You're Planted
July 31, 2022Acts 27:1-28:10: Remembering God’s Providence
July 24, 2022Acts 25:13-26:32: A New Person with a New Purpose