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(Acts 21:37–40) Reaching the Resistant

(Acts 21:37–40) Reaching the Resistant

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in Acts
Ref: Acts 21:37–40; 22:1–29

How do you reach unbelieving family friends when they each have different perspectives and responses? First, discern where they are coming from before you proceed to share with them where they need to go.

CLICK HERE to access all of the sermons and resources in this series.


“Reaching The Resistant”

Acts 21:37-22:29


A college student was in a philosophy class which had a discussion about God’s existence.  The professor presented the following logic as he asked, “Has anyone in this class ever heard God speak?”  Nobody answered.  “Has anyone in this class ever touched God?”  Again, no one answered.  “Has anyone in this class ever seen God?”  When nobody spoke up for the third time, he simply stated, “It is clear that God does not exist.”

One student however, at that moment, decided to speak on God’s behalf; and he asked permission to reply.  The professor happily granted it; and the student asked the class, “Has anyone in here ever touched our professor's brain?”  Silence.  “Has anyone in this class ever heard the professor’s brain speak?”  Silence.  “Has anyone in this class ever seen our professor’s brain?”   When no one answered, that brave student said, “It is clear that our professor's brain does not exist.”

I’m not suggesting this approach, by the way!

Perhaps, like me, you are, however, on the lookout for better ways to state your case for the glory of God--more effective ways and methods to share your faith with unbelievers.

Perhaps those unbelievers are members of your family, and you struggle with how to penetrate their unbelief; or perhaps, it’s a co-worker, roommate or neighbor.  And you’ve discovered that all these people have a little different point of view, and they all have different perspectives and responses.

Let me suggest some of the categories of responses I’ve had over the years – and maybe you can add some to your list.

These are people you may know . . . these are some of the responses you may have encountered.

1)  First, I’ve attempted to witness to people who could be caricatured as skeptical and disillusioned.

These are the people who have been burned before by some earlier commitment to a church or cult.  They may even have some form of a personal testimony; they even went forward in some evangelistic rally, but a few days later they found themselves wondering if they weren’t just another client in the religious game of numbers; nothing happened; their lives didn’t reform overnight; religion simply didn't work.

And these are the people you can’t talk to unless they express how deeply troubled they are by the latest report of debates within an ecclesiastical body--debates like the ones on homosexuality and abortion.

They are disillusioned by the claims of any and every form of religion; and they believe that you represent just one more form.

2)  Then there are the angry and turned-off people.

These people have been offended by the church; they were disappointed by the failure of the church in any number of ways that the church failed them; and the church will fail people, because the church is made up of fallen people. 

But they are the ones who talk about the hypocrites that infest the church – and the church only cares about money.

These people view Christians as self-righteous and dogmatic.  They simply feel that they are better off without anybody or any church that says that they are sinners and that they need a Savior to rescue them from an eternal hell.

Frankly, don’t want to hear it – unless, of course, they want to talk about how bad it is.

3)  Another group of people could be considered apathetic and nonchalant.

Frankly, they’re not too sure about this religion thing invading more than an hour or two a year – they’ve drawn the line at anything more than Christmas and Easter.   Bet beyond that they simply don’t show an interest.  And they seem a little perplexed that you would ever want to take the Bible seriously or God seriously for that matter.

They are like Bill Gates, who said some months ago in an interview that taking one day a week to be involved with worship was not a very efficient use of one’s week.

4)  Then there are the confused and uncertain.

These are the spiritual wanderers who have dabbled in a good many things already.  They say they believe in God and the Bible, but the more you probe you discover their God is a different God; and their Bible is Mankind’s Sacred Version.

I pulled an article out of US Airways magazine recently.  It gave the locations of the most popular sites for spiritual pilgrims to travel to in order to receive enlightenment or some connection with spirituality.  What was tragically shocking to me was to read that millions of people travel to these sites every single year.

Like the faithful journey to Sodo –  “the faithful journey from all parts of Haiti to the little town of Bonheur, where they immerse themselves in a waterfall supposedly possessed by water deities."

Or Guadeloupe, where hundreds of thousands of people travel annually to see the image of Mary miraculously burned into the cloak of an Indian peasant after she visited him in 1531.

Or Benares in India where millions of Hindus follow a sacred trail along the Ganges River and perform ritual bathing at five sacred crossings; Hindus who believe that, if their cremated ashes are one day scattered on this sacred river, their souls will be sped along to paradise.

Confused and uncertain people.

And in our country, these people are more confused than ever by the myriad of religious voices calling out for their attention; and your testimony of Christ’s love and grace is simply one more confusing voice.

A fifth category would be the resistant and unyielding.

Even though your testimony makes some sense to them, they, for whatever reason you can’t seem to put your finger on, just simply don’t want to become a Christian.

Then there are the intellectual and proud.

Some of them believe Christianity is all right if you need that crutch.

You know, “if it makes you feel better, then, go ahead and do – but I don’t need any props – I can handle life on my own.”

These are also the individuals who most likely want to argue that any and every religion is right; and, if you were only a little more intelligent, you’d discover that the Bible itself leaves room for any belief system.

I was on the plane some months ago on a flight from New Delhi to Hyderabad.  David Williams was on the aisle, I was at the window, and a Canadian was stuck between us.  David prayed, I talked, and the Canadian argued.  For more than an hour this man who had just taken a trip to the Lotus Temple of the B’Hai religion reasoned that every verse I quoted about Jesus Christ really didn’t say that about Jesus Christ.

            -He really didn’t rise from the dead.

            -He really didn’t come as the Messiah.

-He didn’t really say no one could come to the Father except through Him.

-The Bible really didn’t promise judgement to anyone adding or taking away from it’s revelation.

In fact, what he wanted to convince me of was the fact that Christianity was really more embracing of other beliefs than I was allowing. I should just understand that the Bible really didn’t mean those things that it said; and I just shouldn’t take at face value the words of Scripture.

After about an hour of not being able to even rattle this man, I noticed a newspaper that he had just read sticking out of the flap in front of him.  The headlines said, “Woman killed in auto accident.”  I grabbed the newspaper, put it out to him and said, “Read this headline. . . he read it, “Woman killed in auto accident” and then I said, “Isn’t that amazing, this woman broke her leg playing tennis.”

That was when his leg started bouncing up and down – he smiled because he knew what I meant – those words could mean nothing other than that this woman was killed – they could not mean she broke her leg or had an operation or bought a new car.

The discussion pretty much ended there . . . while I knew God was sovereign in matter of salvation, I was the messenger and  felt unequipped and ill-prepared to really make a difference.

Maybe you’ve felt that way; you’ve felt like you just needed something clever or illustrative to open their heart.  You’ve tried everything you know how to do as you deal with that angry and turned off relative – that apathetic spouse – that disillusioned neighbor – that co-worker who experiments with everything but the truth.

Well, if you could wrap all of those people up and put them in one audience, you would have the audience found in Acts chapter 21.

I invite your attention there as Paul presents his argument and defense for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Before we begin our study of Paul’s words recorded by Luke, let’s refresh our memory with what it was that created the riot in the temple and the beating of Paul by the angry Jewish mob.

In chapter 21, the crowd accused Paul of desecrating the temple by bringing a Gentile into the inner sanctuary.  It wasn’t true; but everybody believed it, and it started a riot.

Paul was also accused of leading people to abandon Moses – another false accusation.

As the crowd began to beat Paul to death, the Roman soldiers rushed in and rescued him.

You ought to know that Roman soldiers were headquartered in Fort Antonia, which was located on a precipice overlooking the temple grounds.  The Roman soldiers were able to see the riot break out – a riot that they were responsible to quell.

So, as you notice in verse 32 of chapter 21, they rushed into the temple and immediately rescued and handcuffed Paul.

Paul's Three-point Testimony

We really don’t know why they immediately chained Paul until we get to verse 37.  Let’s pick our study up there.

And as Paul was about to be  brought into the barracks, he said to the commander, “May I say something to you?”  And he (the commander) said, “Do you know Greek?  38.  Then you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?”

That’s why Paul was chained.  The Jews thought he was a heretic; the Romans thought he was one of their ten most wanted, an Egyptian terrorist who led a huge gang known as the Assassins.

Josephus, the first century historian, fills in the blanks for us as he makes reference to an Egyptian false prophet who some years earlier had taken several thousand of his followers to march against Jerusalem.  He promised them that, at his command, the walls of Jerusalem would fall down; and they would be able to conquer the Roman army.  He commanded; the walls stayed put; and Felix sent his Roman army against them, killing several hundred of these Assassins but failing to capture the Egyptian leader.

 The word assassin comes from the latin word sica which means dagger.  These men would mingle out in the marketplace and in a crowd with a dagger hidden in their cloak.  Then, when they had an opportunity, they would stab their victim and slip away.  They assassinated Jews who collaborated with Romans as well as Romans themselves.

This Roman commander thought he had captured the Egyptian, until Paul spoke in fluent Greek and revealed that he was not the Egyptian, but instead – v. 39.  But Paul said, “I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.”  40.  And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was  a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect. . .

Stop – what’s Paul doing, proving he’s no intellectual slouch?  That he can speak fluently in more than one language?

Oh no.

As Paul begins his testimony, he accomplished several things that provide a good example for us as we testify before people who are angry, confused, searching, turned off – all those categories we just mentioned.

Point #1 - Look at my religious heritage!

The first of several things he did was this:

1)  Paul spoke in a language they understood and respected. 

In other words, Paul spoke to them in their mother tongue, the Hebrew dialect, more than likely in the Jewish Aramaic.

Notice the effect it had on this lynching mob – verse 2 of chapter 22.  And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet…

2)  The second thing Paul did was disarm their anger by showing respect.

Go back to verse one of chapter 22.  The first words that this beaten apostle speaks to this crowd are, “Brethren and fathers,”

Brethren and fathers????   How about, “What do you think you are doing, you unruly mob?  You almost killed me!  I’m bleeding and hurt!  May my blood be upon your head and the heads of your equally murderous forefathers!” 

Something good like that!

Paul is living out the Proverbs 15:1.  “A gentle answer turns away wrath.”

For the moment, the crowd comes to a hush and Paul continues.  In fact, he gives us principle number 3 in telling others about Christ.

3)  Paul recognized the gospel could only be offered and never forced.

Notice verse 1 again, “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you.”

The word translated “defense” comes from the Greek word apologia which gives us the word “apology.”

It also gives us our formal English word for the theological defense, or apologetic of the gospel.

Paul says, “If you will allow me, I would like you to hear my formal defense of what I believe.”


4)  Paul ignored their accusation and focused on the issue.

Their accusation was that he’d brought a Gentile into the temple proper was false.  Paul ignored it and focused instead on the critical issues at hand.

Let’s listen in at v. 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, (You notice how he clearly establishes his background in the law of Moses.  Now Paul does something absolutely amazing.) [I was] zealous for God, just as you all are today.  Paul is attributing to this mob the best possible motive.  They’ve tried to kill him, and he verbalizes that he understands why they felt that way and says he understands that they are zealous for God.  I don’t think I’d be saying this.  I’d say, “you are all crazy – but Paul publicly gives them the benefit of the doubt – they didn’t know what they were fighting against in Paul! 

Ladies and gentlemen, Paul did the same thing Jesus Christ did on the cross when He said, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”  

Now Paul continues and, in fact, identifies with the hatred of this mob; notice v. 4 “And I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, 5 as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.

Now here comes point #2 – Paul will do nothing more than present the story of his conversion to this One he had so despised.

Point #2 - Listen to my spiritual awakening!

6 “And it came about that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, 7 and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ 8 “And I answered, ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’  Imagine the shock this was to Paul; and to  Paul’s audience now – this was the name of the one who had 30 years earlier created a stir by clearing out this temple with a whip –this was the One who had claimed to be equal with God – the Messiah Himself.  9 “And those who were with me beheld the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. 10 “And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ (Paul now attributes that title “Lord” to Jesus the Nazarene;  Paul in effect states, “Jesus of Nazareth is Lord of Heaven and Earth – and man can do nothing but submit to His Sovereignty with the question, “Lord, what do you want me to do with my life; what shall I do, Lord.”  And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go on into Damascus; and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ 11 “But since I could not 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 “And a certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, (again, notice Paul’s subtle connection of a Christian with a respect for the law)  and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. 14 “And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear an utterance from His mouth. 15 ‘For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 ‘And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’

Now here is a verse used as a proof-text by the Church of Christ and other denominations that believe baptism saves or that salvation cannot occur without baptism.  Let me touch on it quickly, since I’ve dealt with it thoroughly in our discussion of Acts chapter 2.  I will mention that at least in this verse, the confusion is simply created by the English language.

The Greek participle in this verse is the verb “calling” or “calling on His name.”  The antecedent to the participle is the phrase “wash away your sins” not “be baptized.”  Those are two separate verbs.  In other words it is the calling upon the Lord that effectively washes away the sin. 

You could literally be true to the Greek language in translating this verse by reversing the order of the verbs so that it would read, “Having called upon the Lord and have your sins having been washed away; arise and be baptized.”

Water baptism was simply the outward sign of the inward cleansing that has already taken place.

In the New Testament church, as explained further in the Epistles, the ordinances of baptism and communion are not sacramental but memorial.  They do not dispense the grace of God; they display the grace of  God in the lives of those who have already called on His name for salvation.

Point #3 -  Paul says, “I want you to listen to my special commission from God.

17 “And it came about when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, 18 and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’ 19 “And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in Thee. 20 ‘And when the blood of Thy witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the cloaks of those who were slaying him.’ 21 “And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

22 And they listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!” By the way, just because someone reacts angrily to your testimony or rejects your testimony, it doesn’t mean you didn’t do a good job of it; it simply means that you, like Paul, eventually got to the point where it meddled in their lives; it confronted their sin and their prejudice. 

Eventually, ladies and gentlemen, sharing the gospel reached the verdict – you are a sinner, guilty before God, you must ask Christ for forgiveness and cleansing.   23.  And as they were crying out and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air,  24.  the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way.  25.  And when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?”  26.  And when the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and told him, saying, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman.” 27.  And the commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” And he said, “Yes.”  28.  And the commander answered, “I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money.” And Paul said, “But I was actually born a citizen.”  We know from history that the Roman Emperor Claudius and his wife came up with the idea that a slave or a foreigner could purchase Roman citizenship with a large amount of money.  The benefit to the individual was tremendous.  In this passage, we learn that a Roman citizen was guaranteed the right to a trial before being punished.  Paul makes it clear that he didn’t save up money to buy his citizenship.  He had been born a citizen of Rome.  Paul’s father was evidently a Roman citizen himself.


29.  Therefore those who were about to examine him immediately let go of him; and the commander also was afraid when he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had put him in chains.

APPLICATION:  Two Reminders:

*The responsibility to share the gospel is ours!

*The responsibility to save the unbeliever is God’s!

Those who emphasize God’s sovereignty often forget our responsibility; and those who emphasize our responsibility often forget that God saves.  God opens the heart; the miracle of salvation in the heart of a sinner is the amazing grace work of our God.

And today we can do nothing less as a family of believers than to come and worship the God of all grace Who set us free.

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