They were certain Paul had defiled the temple. Convinced he had brought unbelieving, uncircumcised, and unclean Greeks into the holy place. But it was based only on circumstantial evidence. They had seen Paul earlier with Trophimus the Ephesian. So, when later the Jews saw Paul in the temple, they “supposed” Paul must have brought his uncircumcised friend into the temple area with him. And they went nuts. They seized Paul. They beat Paul. If not for the intervention of Roman law enforcement, they would have killed Paul. (Acts 21:27-33)
Hovering over Acts 22 this morning, where Paul speaks to the crowd of his accusers. He asks the Roman tribune who has arrested him for permission to address the crowd. The Roman tribune, wanting to get to the bottom of a near riot, grants the request. And so, Paul speaks. Shares his testimony. Tells his story. Of once being a persecutor of the followers of Jesus. Of delivering both men and women to prison and death for being people of the Way. But then, of meeting the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. Of an unearthly encounter of the divine kind so that he no longer regarded Jesus simply as a rogue teacher from Nazareth but as the Righteous One sent from heaven. An experience which converted him from being a persecutor of Jesus to giving his life to following the Lord. (Acts 22:1-16).
And it was going pretty well. The hushed crowds listened to him. That is, until he spoke one word.
“When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw [Jesus] saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’ . . . . And He said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'”
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.”
(Acts 22:17-18, 21-22 ESV)
“Up to this word,” the Scriptures says, “they listened.” But then “this word” was spoken and the listening stopped. And, at first, it hits me as somewhat unbelievable. Really? One word is all it took? And then I think about our current cultural moment, and maybe it’s not so hard to relate to after all.
One word. Up until that one word the Jews listened to Paul. Between his credentials as a student of Gamaliel, an activist zealous for God, and his supernatural, firsthand experience on the road to Damascus, Paul’s story was compelling. But then he spoke that one word, “Gentiles,” and things came unglued again.
The facts flung aside by the Jews because of their predisposed filter. The truth tanked because they had taken to heart a pre-supposed narrative. The basis for understanding Paul’s gospel undermined because of their bias towards Paul’s friends.
One word. That’s all it took to trigger the crowd. Think about it, and it sounds all too familiar. So often, that’s all it takes for well-intentioned people to stop listening. A word, a phrase, a sentence or two, and we jump to conclusions that end the conversation. We stop listening. We stop asking questions. We cease to seek to understand. Instead, we fill in the details according to our own understanding and make judgments founded on our own views of justice. And bottom line, we miss out. Subjugating truth to temperament. Bona fide belief for unbridled bias.
The Jews were up close and personal with gospel truth and one word derailed them from considering something they weren’t prepared to consider.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
(James 1:19-20 ESV)
Oh, for ears to hear. Despite that one word.
By His grace. For His glory.