40 After he had given permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned with his hand to the people. When there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language:
1 “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense before you.” 2 When they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even quieter.
3 He continued, “I am a Jewish man, born in Tarsus of Cilicia but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel and educated according to the strict view of our patriarchal law. Being zealous for God, just as all of you are today, 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women in jail, 5 as both the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. After I received letters from them to the brothers, I traveled to Damascus to bring those who were prisoners there to be punished in Jerusalem.
6 “As I was traveling and near Damascus, about noon an intense light from heaven suddenly flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’
8 “I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’
“He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, the One you are persecuting!’ 9 Now those who were with me saw the light, but they did not hear the voice of the One who was speaking to me.
10 “Then I said, ‘What should I do, Lord?’
“And the Lord told me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told about everything that is assigned for you to do.’
11 “Since I couldn’t 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 Someone named Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good reputation with all the Jews residing there, 13 came and stood by me and said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight.’ And in that very hour I looked up and saw him. 14 Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of His voice. 15 For you will be a witness for Him to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins by calling on His name.’
17 “After I came back to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple complex, I went into a visionary state 18 and saw Him telling me,‘Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me!’
19 “But I said, ‘Lord, they know that in synagogue after synagogue I had those who believed in You imprisoned and beaten. 20 And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I was standing by and approving, and I guarded the clothes of those who killed him.’
21 “Then He said to me, ‘Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”
22 They listened to him up to this word. Then they raised their voices, shouting, “Wipe this person off the earth—it’s a disgrace for him to live!”
23 As they were yelling and flinging aside their robes and throwing dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, directing that he be examined with the scourge, so he could discover the reason they were shouting against him like this. 25 As they stretched him out for the lash, Paul said to the centurion standing by, “Is it legal for you to scourge a man who is a Roman citizen and is uncondemned?”
26 When the centurion heard this, he went and reported to the commander, saying, “What are you going to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.”
27 The commander came and said to him, “Tell me —are you a Roman citizen?”
“Yes,” he said.
28 The commander replied, “I bought this citizenship for a large amount of money.”
“But I was born a citizen,” Paul said.
29 Therefore, those who were about to examine him withdrew from him at once. The commander too was alarmed when he realized Paul was a Roman citizen and he had bound him.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
Then he said, “The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of His voice. For you will be a witness for him to all people of what you have seen and heard.”
If you met me for coffee some afternoon, and asked me to share my story, I’d more than likely begin by talking about where I came from. My origin. I might tell you where I grew up or explain a little bit about how I was raised. Beginnings often tell a lot about a person.
Then, I’d probably begin to tell you about how I came to know Christ, and all the various (innumerable) ways He’s changed my life throughout the years.
I might mention my education, because it has largely impacted my personal growth and experience. It also yields some credibility to things I might say, regarding certain subjects or issues.
Inevitably, all these details would lead us back into the present time, and you’d know the basics of my story. Add a few experiences and details together, and you have the facts about who I am.
But God is what turns those facts into a story. None of the details of my life are extraordinary on their own, but God has an extraordinary way of redeeming the details, and making them something that He can use.
Like He did with Saul. I mean, Paul—who was born in Tarsus as a Roman citizen, whose original name was Saul, who moved to Jerusalem and was educated there in the laws of the fathers (verse 3) just as the Hebrews were.
At some point in his life, Paul chose to become an attacker and a subversive of the Christian ways and faith. He put many Christian men and women in prison, and exulted in the destruction of the Christian church and its people.
He was on his way to Damascus one afternoon in order to capture some more Christian prisoners and take them back to Jerusalem. But God had other plans for Saul (I mean, Paul).
Other plans, like changing Saul’s name. His identity. Completely recreating his character, his thought processes, and his perspectives about God and people—while still retaining his heritage (verse 15).
Other plans, like creating for Paul a brand new reputation. Giving him a brand new platform, but one that still heavily relied upon and utilized his education (verses 2-3). A platform that would, in fact, often be directly enabled by his Roman citizenship because of the exemption it afforded him from certain punishments and penalties (verses 28-29).
When God showed up as a blinding light on the road to Damascus, He had a purpose for “Saul’s life.” He had to first get his attention, humble him, and entirely transform him, but God’s purpose was not thwarted by all the details of Saul’s history and past.
In fact, God used Paul’s past, to create a resonating impact on the future of the church, which we’re still affected by today. God isn’t bound up by the details of our past—this was true for Paul, and it’s true for you and me. God has a way of using our origins, our educations, and our moments of conversions—and making them into a story He can tell.
He isn’t bound by the details. He redeems them.
- Think about your heritage for a minute. Did you grow up in church? Were you close to your family? How have your origins impacted your relationship with God, or your perception of Him?
- Looking back on your life, is there a particular season that you can’t make sense of? Has there been a time in your life, when God seemed really far away?
- In verses 14-15, Ananias told Paul clearly that God had a specific purpose for him – he was to tell all men “what [he had] seen and heard.” God gave Paul a testimony, and commanded him to share it. What is your testimony? How has God called you to share it?