‘“Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”
When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.
Then Paul said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.”‘
Paul, near the end of his journey, appears before his people, and offers his “defense”. It certainly is that – a defense – but it is also a confession: Here, to his people, in their language, he says: “I sinned against God and the followers of The Way (the Christians).” Paul did not have to begin with confession. He could have begun with reasons why the Jews should accept Jesus. He could have engaged them in debate. Paul could have – frankly – taken a stronger, bolder stance: “I am here on behalf of Jesus – believe and repent!”
But Paul, instead, begins from a more vulnerable place. And he does this because it’s essential to his story – the story of God redeeming him from sin, death, and evil (all three of which, Paul specialized in, when he was persecuting the Christians). It was Paul’s zeal; his determination that blinded him to the suffering he inflicted. He now calls that time in his life, what is was: Evil. Strong word, but is there a better way to put it?
In the rest of the story, in chapter 22, Paul lays out his first steps in the Faith: How Jesus came to him, and told him to stop; how Paul was taken in by a local church of believers, who loved and encouraged him, and helped him to grow in grace and power. All of that is part of Paul’s story, until this point in the story of Acts. It should cause us to stop and consider: How did grace enter the stories of our lives?
Hopefully, you were not like Paul – the leader of a death squad: ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’ (Acts 22:19-20) Maybe you’ve been on a journey that really is all about you, and what you can get out of life, even if that means trampling on people who love you, or people who never harmed you. Wherever you are, and if you haven’t already, turn to God and trust in his grace: “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1)
Take Paul’s example to heart. It is good to begin with confession. You may not be at the point where Paul was: Before his people, laying it all on the table. But you are, right now, before God, even if you don’t sense his presence. Start there, and pour your heart out to Him. He is as the song goes, a “good, good Father” – it’s who He is! Patient. Gentle. Eager to listen whenever you want to talk.
Is there something “unconfessed” in your past? I know God has been knocking on your door, and I also know this: He will never force his way in. Open the door, today. Go and sit in his lap, and tell him what He already knows. He loves you absolutely, and is determined restore, heal, and sustain you.
Prayer: Father, you already know what I’m about to tell you – what I’m about to confess, so here it is…. There! That feels a lot better. Wow! I didn’t know how much that was weighing me down. I thought I could ‘handle’ it, but you’ve just taken care of it. Thank you. Amen.