By Mike Dawson
Interim Pastor, Santa Fe Baptist Church, Santa Fe
I first heard Chester Swor early in my ministry while attending a Southern Baptist Convention meeting. I knew Dr. Swor from his many books, but I was a bit surprised when I saw this celebrated author and conference speaker was severely crippled, bent, and had a rather thin speaking voice. Yet his gripping stories and powerful words commanded the attention of the thousands of us! So, with the Apostle Paul; I imagine him — now on his final missionary journey — rather bent, bald, and bothered with perhaps weak eyes and voice. Yet he could silence a riotous mob with his testimony!
A testimony, the telling of one’s own story, can have four parts: before, during, after, and ‘meanwhile.’ Those were the parts of Paul’s testimony, spoken this time from a staircase surrounded by an angry crowd; it’s found in our focal passage, Acts 22:3-8; 15-22.
Before: What a man can do without Jesus (vv. 3-5). Paul got the rapt attention of this Jewish mob by speaking to them in Hebrew (v. 1). He then described his life “B.C.” (Before Christ). In these verses Paul basically said a man without Jesus can talk the right talk, live in the right place, get the right education, have the right religion, and be involved in the right activities — yet still be lost.
During: What Jesus can do to a man (vv. 6-8). But “suddenly,” Paul recalled to the crowd, he fell down before a great light from heaven and heard the voice of Jesus Himself. The once-proud Paul found himself crying out to the Lord, asking for directions, blind and needing to be led! Not every converted person gets “arrested” on the road as dramatically as Paul did — but each one does repent before the crucified, risen Jesus and begins walking a different way!
After: What a man can do for Jesus (vv. 15-16). At the time of Paul’s story, he had been the notorious “terrorist” named Saul. No true follower of Christ would’ve been safe anywhere around Saul; he persecuted them violently. But a Damascus Christian named Ananias was told by God to minister to that terrorist, and he bravely did, calling him his “brother.” Saul, who would soon be called Paul, was healed of his blindness and told by Ananias that he would become Christ’s witness to ALL, after his obedience in baptism. Ananias said — and I’m paraphrasing: “Witness! Don’t wait! Walk forward! Wash away your sins through the strong name of Jesus!” We know it is not the water, but the blood of Jesus that cleanses us of all sins, 1 John 1:9. That blood — and that Name — now gave the obedient Saul a clean heart and a fresh start.
Meanwhile: What Jesus and a man can do together (vv. 17-22). Paul concluded his story by telling the crowd that Jesus appeared to him again later in Jerusalem, telling him to flee because the Jews wouldn’t receive this testimony. In hearing of Paul’s life as a ‘terrorist,’ the crowd was apparently unmoved. But the instant he mentioned Jesus sending him out to the Gentiles, the angry Jewish mob could contain themselves no longer. They screamed (in essence), “Throw the bum out!” Paul’s testimony usually resulted in a revival OR a riot; in this case it was the latter. Everyone’s testimony has the same potential!