May I Speak To You?

     After Paul was arrested in the Temple (Acts 21) he sought an opportunity to speak to the mob that was set on killing him there and then. He had been saved from certain death by the commander of the Roman garrison stationed near the Temple and it was to him that Paul directed his first request, “May I speak to you?” After Paul explained to the commander that he was a Roman citizen he then made his second request: to speak to those who would’ve done him fatal harm.

     Readers of Acts know how it came to be that Paul was in such a predicament. He had been convinced to take some fellows into the Temple to complete the acts of purification associated with vows they had made. Paul was asked to do this to soothe the feelings of Jewish Christians who had not developed a properly mature attitude toward the fulfilled Law of Moses. He should not have done it but he did and it caused him a great deal of trouble. But as things often go, he used that trouble as an opportunity to present the gospel as the element of change in his life.

     We learn a number of things from this account. First of all, as is always the case with mob action, there was a great deal of confusion associated with these events. Paul had been accused of taking a Gentile (Trophimus from Ephesus) into the Temple which he had not done. Like every mob this one was energized by assumption, gossip and misinformation. Had the Romans not been present Paul’s life likely would have ended right then.

     We also see in this situation how uniquely well prepared Paul was for his work of preaching the gospel in the Roman Empire. He was from Tarsus (“no mean city”) in Cilicia and he was himself a Roman citizen. The importance of his citizenship was also seen in Acts 16 at Philippi. It brought about an immediate change of attitude in the commander. He too had been confused about Paul. But as soon as he knew Paul was a citizen things changed. We also note that Paul’s ability to speak Greek and Hebrew was very helpful.

     His use of Hebrew in addressing the mob is notable. Most Jews of the first century in this area spoke Aramaic, Hebrew and also Greek, but Hebrew was the language associated with educated Jews and to some extent, scholars in the Law of Moses. Paul’s use of the language certainly got the crowd’s attention. Early in his speech he enhanced his credentials by referring to Gamaliel who was his teacher in what would be comparable to graduate school for us today. Even a mob as bloodthirsty as this one had to pause when such a voice as Paul’s spoke.

     Paul gave his history as a servant of the Law of Moses. He had been a zealous proponent of that form of the Law then practiced, which we know was a mutilated form of the real Law. So fervent had been his service that he persecuted Christians with as much strength as he could muster. We know about Stephen and Paul’s role in that man’s murder. He would later describe himself as the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).

     Indeed, Paul was on a mission of persecution when the Lord appeared to him on the way to Damascus. There is a gate of the old city of Jerusalem called the Damascus Gate. The city of Paul’s day was destroyed but there is a gate there today by the same name. It is compelling to stand there and think of Saul of Tarsus the persecutor leaving there to return no longer as Saul but as Paul the apostle and gospel preacher.

     As he told the crowd he saw the Lord that day and was taught by Ananias to obey the gospel which thing he did immediately (Acts 22:16). The fact of the conversion of Saul to Paul stands as a great piece of evidence in favor of the truth claims of the Christian faith. Saul would not have become Paul if the resurrection of Christ had not been fact. It was and is the truth. Paul began this account of his conversion by asking a simple question, “May I speak to you?”

Let us follow his example today whenever and wherever we can.