THE STORY OF THE EARLY CHURCH
Verses preaching the "Gospel of Jesus"
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46.1 PAUL DEFENDS HIMSELF AND HIS GENTILE MISSION BEFORE THE JERUSALEM CROWDS
- Paul has reached Jerusalem, and partly to placate the Jewish religious authorities, joins four brother Jewish Christians in their purification ceremony in the Temple. Recognised by Jews who have travelled from the province of Asia, he is accused of taking the Gentile Trophimus into the forbidden part of the Temple. Uproar ensues, but Paul is saved from the mob by Roman soldiers. Their commander, tribune Claudius Lysias allows Paul to speak to the crowds. He describes his strict Jewish background, his vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus, and how he had to leave Jerusalem and take the Gospel to the Gentiles:
Acts 22:3-21 - "I myself am a Jew," Paul went on. "I was born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but I was brought up here in the city (of Jerusalem), I received my training at the feet of Gamaliel (... in c AD30 he had counselled calmness in the Sanhedrin after Peter and the apostles had appeared before them, Acts 5:34) and I was schooled in the strictest observance of our father's Law. I was as much on fire with zeal for God as you all are today. I am also the man who persecuted this way (of Jesus) to the death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the High Priest and the whole council can readily testify. Indeed, it was after receiving letters from them to their brothers in Damascus that I was on my way to that city, intending to arrest any followers of the way I could find there and bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment. Then this happened to me. As I was on my journey and getting near to Damascus, about midday a great light from Heaven suddenly blazed around me. I fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' I replied, 'Who are you, Lord?' He said to me, 'I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.' My companions naturally saw the light, but they did not hear the voice of the one who was talking to me. 'What am I to do Lord?' I asked. And the Lord told me, 'Get up and go to Damascus and there you will be told of all that has been determined for you to do.' I was blinded by the brightness of the light and my companions had to take me by the hand as we went on to Damascus. There, there was a man called Ananias, a reverent observer of the Law and a man highly respected by all the Jews who lived there. He came to visit me and as he stood by my side said, 'Saul, brother, you may see again!' At once I regained my sight and looked up to him. 'The God of our fathers,' he went on, 'has chosen you to know his will, to see the righteous one, to hear words from his own lips, so that you may become his witness before all men of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up and be baptised! Be clean from you sins as you call on his name.'
Paul claims that God sent him to the Gentiles
"Then it happened that after my return to Jerusalem (... Paul's first visit after his conversion, Acts 9:26-28), while I was at prayer in the Temple, unconscious of everything else, I saw him, and he said to me, 'Make haste and leave Jerusalem at once, for they will not accept your testimony about me.' And I said, 'But, Lord, they know how I have been through all the synagogues imprisoning and beating all those who believe in you. They know also that when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed I stood by, giving my approval (Acts 8:1a) - why, I was even holding in my arms, the outer garments of those who killed him.' But he said to me, 'Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles'."
(At this point the crowd goes wild with fury ....)
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46.2 PAUL DEFENDS HIMSELF BEFORE PROCURATOR FELIX
- After his arrest and plots against his life, Paul, as a Roman citizen, is taken under escort from Jerusalem to the Roman headquarters city of Caesarea. The High Priest and members of the Sanhedrin have also arrived, and make their case against Paul. Felix, Roman governor of Judea & Samaria invites Paul to make his reply:
Acts 24:10b-21 - "I am well aware that you have been governor of this nation for many years (since AD53), and I can therefore make my defence with every confidence. You can easily verify the fact that it is not more than twelve days ago that I went up to worship at Jerusalem. I was never found either arguing with anyone in the Temple or gathering a crowd, either in the synagogues or in the open air. These men are quite unable to prove the charges they are now making against me. I will freely admit to you, however, that I do worship the God of our fathers according to the Way which they call a heresy, although in fact I believe in the scriptural authority of both the Law and the Prophets. I have the same hope in God which they themselves hold, that there is to be a resurrection of both good men and bad. With this hope before me I do my utmost to live my whole life with a clear conscience before God and man.
Paul has nothing to hide
"It was in fact after several years' absence from Jerusalem (... five years from c AD53 to AD58) that I came back to make charitable gifts to my own nation and to make my offerings. It was in the middle of these duties that they found me, a man purified in the Temple. There was no mob and there was no disturbance until the Jews from Asia came, who should in my opinion have come before you and made their accusation, if they had anything against me. Or else, let these men themselves speak out now and say what crime they found me guilty of when I stood before the Sanhedrin - unless it was that one sentence that I shouted as I stood among them. All I said was this, 'It is about the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day'."
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46.3 THE CLAIM THAT JESUS LIVES
- Two years later, Felix is succeeded by Porcius Festus, and Paul is brought before him, King Agrippa II, and his sister Bernice. In introducing him, and in just one sentence, Festus summarises a major claim Paul makes about Jesus ....
Acts 25:19 - "Their (the Sanhedrin's) differences with him (Paul) were about their own religion and concerning a certain Jesus who had died, but whom Paul claimed to be still alive."
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46.4 PAUL BEFORE PROCURATOR FESTUS & KING HEROD AGRIPPA II
- After Festus has summarised the case against Paul, Agrippa gives him permission to speak. Paul again describes his Jewish background, his encounter with Jesus, and his mission to the Gentiles:
Acts 26:4-23 - "The fact that I lived from my youth upwards among my own people in Jerusalem is well known to all Jews. They have known all the time, and could witness to the fact if they wished, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion. Even today I stand here on trial because of a hope that I hold in a promise that God made to our forefather - a promise for which our twelve tribes (of Israel) served God zealously day and night, hoping to see it fulfilled. It is about this hope, your majesty, that I am being accused by the Jews! Why does it seem incredible to you all that God should raise the dead? I once thought it my duty to oppose with the utmost vigour the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Yes, that is what I did in Jerusalem, and I had many of God's people imprisoned on the authority of the chief priests, and when they were on trial for their lives I gave my vote against them. Many and many a time in all the synagogues I had them punished and I used to try and force them to deny their Lord. I was mad with fury against them, and I hounded them to distant cities. Once, your majesty, on my way to Damascus on this business, armed with the full authority and commission of the chief priests, at midday I saw a light from Heaven, far brighter than the sun, blazing about me and my fellow-travellers. We all fell to the ground and I heard a voice saying to me in Hebrew, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is not for you to kick against your own conscience.' 'Who are you, Lord?' I said. And the Lord said to me, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Now get up and stand on your feet for I have shown myself to you for a reason - you are chosen to be my servant and a witness to what you have seen of me today, and of other visions of myself which I will give you. I will keep you safe from both your own people and from the Gentiles to whom I now send you. I send you to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God himself, so that may know forgiveness of their sins and take their place with all those who are made holy by their faith in me.'
After that, King Agrippa, I could not disobey the heavenly vision. But both in Damascus and in Jerusalem, through the whole of Judea, and to the Gentiles, I preached that men should repent and turn to God and live lives to prove their change of heart. This is why the Jews seized me in the Temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have received help from God himself, and I stand here as a witness to high and low, adding nothing to what the prophets foretold should take place, that is, that Christ should suffer, that he should be first to rise from the dead, and so proclaim the message of light both to our people and to the Gentiles!"
At which point Festus cannot contain himself and stops Paul, accusing him of madness ... Shortly "appealing to Caesar", Paul sails for Rome under escort:
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continuing preaching the "Gospel of Jesus", on to Part 47, Acts 27-28 OR back to J B Phillips HomePage
J.B.Phillips, "The New Testament in Modern English", 1962 edition, published by HarperCollins, is presented here with the kind permission of Mrs Vera Phillips and the J.B.Phillips estate
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