God’s Word for You
Acts 22:1-5 Chains for the Way
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, January 12, 2021
22 “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.” 2 As soon as they heard him speaking to them in the Hebrew language, their silence deepened further. Then he said: 3 “I am a man, a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers at the feet of Gamaliel, and I was as zealous toward God as you all are today. 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, arresting and delivering both men and women into prisons 5 as even the high priest can attest along with all the council of the elders. I received letters to the brothers from them and went to Damascus to bring back those who were there to Jerusalem in chains to be punished.
Paul begins speaking from his strange pulpit by explaining who he is. Some people there might have remembered him. He was born in Tarsus and was a citizen there, but he was raised here in Jerusalem. He learned the law of Moses “at the feet of Gamaliel.” We know about this Gamaliel from many sources. There were two schools of Jewish thought at this time, the School (or house) of Hillel and the School (or house) of Shammai. The two men disagreed over certain matters of study, with Shammai tending to be more exclusive and Hillel more inclusive. For example, Shammai maintained that only worthy students should be admitted to study the Torah, but Hillel thought that anyone could be admitted, since they would become worthy through their study. Gamaliel was both a student and grandson of Hillel.
Paul admits to having persecuted the Christians in the past. He refers to the belief in Christ as “the Way” (even using the demonstrative pronoun “this”). This was the term used by the Jews, and it was probably derogatory. But Paul is trying to communicate clearly, and what he says here is perfectly in line with the earlier account in Acts 9:2. The present high priest (Ananias, Acts 23:2, 24:1), Paul says, would be able to verify this, as would the council. Paul brought Christians back to Jerusalem in chains. No one would be surprised by Paul giving his own chains a shake as he stood before the people; the irony could be lost on no one.
What Paul had once done, was now done to him. But Paul was content. If he was to be condemned for being a Christian, then let there be a real charge against him, and he would stand up to it. What Paul had discovered was that his former way of life was contrary to everything God wanted. He had departed from Israel to be filled with Christ. What Naomi said once of her own path, Paul could say in reverse: “I went away empty, but the Lord has brought me back full” (see Ruth 1:21). In the strange circumstances of his arrest and persecution, Paul demonstrates his faith with patience and truth. He doesn’t resort to exaggeration or to any falsehoods. He lives the words of the Psalm: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). We do well to follow his example, to live our lives for Jesus, and for these lives of ours to be a testimony about the grace of God, the greatness of God, and the glory of God.
Pastor Timothy Smith