They didn’t find me arguing with anyone or causing a disturbance among the crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogue, or anywhere in the city. Acts 24:12
In a noisy world, making a noise is not going to cut it. It is such a noisy world that for change to happen; to make an impact; for a voice to be heard; something other than noise is needed.
Substance. Substance is born in suffering and through submission. From suffering and submission a voice may come to be heard amongst – and even quieten – the noise. It may come to challenges dominant assumptions and understandings, and gain ground for truth and justice to prevail.
Crossing the Point of ‘Your’
Having a voice is different to making a noise. Being heard is not achieved in isolation, instantly, or immediately. Getting your point across can only happen when the point of ‘your’ is crossed – your security, your familiarity, and your control of life.
Paul had reached Jerusalem having been on a journey. That journey to Jerusalem started with an instruction from the Lord; to get out of Jerusalem. He was told to leave the Jews who would not believe the message he was sharing, and to go far away to the Gentiles.
On that mission, Paul debated in synagogues and lecture halls. He experienced riots and imprisonment. He planted and encouraged churches. He sometimes disagreed with friends and departed from them. He brought people to the Lord. God performed extraordinary miracles through him.
Despite – and because of – these experiences, arriving back to Jerusalem, Paul knew his place. He knew what was required for change to happen. It can be put like this:
Honour all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. 1 Peter 2:17 NKJV.
On his journey out of and back to Jerusalem, Paul had honoured those he came across. Even if that was sometimes expressed through debate or even departure. He was committed to building up the church while also avoiding being a burden to it; earning his keep through tent-making. He was dependent on God; seeking out His will, following His commands, and discerning what the spirit was saying. And he honoured those in authority, working within the systems that established those in authority, that were kept in place by those people, and that enabled those people to operate their power.
After arriving in Jerusalem, and preparing to enter the temple in Jerusalem, Paul visited James, the half brother of Jesus, and the elders. They glorified God together on hearing the news of thousands of zealous Jews coming to believe in ‘the Way’ as shared through Paul’s teaching. But James and the elders also warned Paul of the reputation and rumours that had gone before him into Jerusalem.
James and the elders had heard the gossip in the city that Paul was teaching the Jews to ‘abandon Moses’; to let go of and totally disassociate with the life they knew – its traditions, customs and laws that their culture, their home, and their own individual identities were made sense from. That was not what Paul was teaching. But it was still the fear and the focus of the dominant culture of Jerusalem.
We do not enter places as a blank canvas. We meet with preconceived ideas held by others already in that space; of who we are, what we do, why we are there, and therefore what could happen by us being there.
“So what is to be done? They will certainly know that you have come.”Acts 21:22.
Responding to their own question, James and the elders instructed Paul to take four dedicated men, purify himself and these men, and pay for the men to have their heads shaved. In this way, they concluded, this dedication to the local customs will debunk the myths surrounding Paul, and will show that he is observing the law.
He did this. But the predicted result made by James and the elders did not immediately materialise. Instead, when nearly completing the seven days of purification in the temple, Paul was recognised by some Jews from Asia who stirred up the crowd, shouting about what Paul had done – including ‘defiling the holy place’ of the temple by bringing in Greeks. They seized Paul and called on the local Israelites for back up.
The whole city was stirred up. There was a rush of people moving together as Paul – the out of place threat who ‘did not belong’ there – was seized and dragged out of the temple with the gates locked firmly behind him. The commander of the local regiment was informed that Jerusalem was in ‘chaos’. As he ran down to where the action was unfolding, the beating stopped. The commander approached Paul, took him into custody, and had him bound in chains.
This beating and binding was not a surprise to Paul. Nor did he resist it. Previously, on his way to Jerusalem, Paul was staying with Philip the Evangelist and was visited by a Prophet from Judea who shared a vision of Paul being bound in Jerusalem and delivered to the people. Hearing this prophesy, the disciples around Paul feared for his life and begged him not to continue in his journey to Jerusalem. But Paul was determined.
For I am ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. Acts 21:13.
Permission to Speak, Sir.
It was only in this place of suffering and submission – to God, to authority, and even to his attackers – that Paul’s voice began to find a platform.
On entering the barracks, with the help of the commander’s soldiers against the angry crowd, Paul began to find his feet.
Like a mirror image of Jesus’ trial before Pilate and amongst the angry masses just a few years earlier..:
*While he was being accused by the chief priests and elders, he didn’t answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Don’t you hear how much they are testifying against you?” But he didn’t answer him on even one charge, so that the governor was quite amazed. (Matthew 27:13-14)
Then Pilate went back into the headquarters, summoned Jesus, and said to him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Are you asking this on your own, or have others told you about me?” “I’m not a Jew, am I?” Pilate replied. “Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”. “My kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus. “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” “You are a king then?” Pilate asked.“You say that I’m a king,” Jesus replied. “I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” “What is truth?” said Pilate. After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no grounds for charging him. (John 18:33-38).
…the commander was asking Paul who he was and what he had done, but was struggling to hear Paul amongst the shouting and accusations of the crowd. In his search for reliable information, the commander took Paul to the barracks. He accommodated Paul away from the crowd. He gave Paul an audience.
“Am I allowed to say something to you?”, Paul asked.
The commander replied; “You know how to speak Greek? Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt some time ago and led four thousand men of the Assassins into the wilderness?”
The commander’s understanding of who Paul was and what he had done was quite the opposite to what was now been presented before him. This Greek speaking man who led four shaven-headed men into the temple in Jerusalem was not the man who led four thousand men out of Egypt into the wilderness, as the commander had thought he knew it.
Gaining ground, Paul continued; “I am a Jewish man from Tarsus of Cilicia, a citizen of an important city. Now I ask you, let me speak to the people”. When there was a great hush, he addressed them in Aramaic. “Brothers and sisters, listen now to my defence before you”. When they heard that he was addressing them in Aramaic, they became even quieter. Acts 21:37 – 22:1.
Paul then shared his testimony before the people and the commander. They remained quiet long enough to hear about his encounter with a vision of Jesus while on the road to Damascus and his resulting conversion into a movement that he was previously known for being the greatest persecutor of.
The peace wasn’t permanent. The uproar returned once the story became uncomfortable for the crowd – when it became personal to them. However the damage had been done. The story had been shared. The truth had been told. Paul’s voice had powerfully challenged the preconceptions and accusations. The neat imagined boundaries of ‘us’ and ‘him’ had been blurred.
Paul had found a footing that would continue to face fanatical fury and flouting of ‘fake news’, but would also form firm foundations from that same familiar friction and flurry of false allegations.
To get this far required Paul to suffer accusation and physical attack. It also required him to honour – to submit to – the culture, customs, and authority of the place he was in and its people.
It Started with Jesus.
This message that Paul carried forward had started with Jesus. Jesus was prepared to die amongst the noise of the masses and at the hands of the authorities. It was this suffering and submission that brought the judge Pilate to ask Jesus ‘What is truth?’ and to then write ‘King of the Jews’ on Jesus’ cross, following his death and despite requests to retract the statement.
Jesus’ suffering and submission was followed by his resurrection and ascendency which has created for all of us today an opportunity to be freed from our past lives and come alive into the new.
As Christians, we will still face suffering and are required to honour – to submit – firstly to God, but also to those in authority, and even the accusations or attack of those who disagree with, or take a disliking to, us or what or who we represent.
But through Christ who strengthens us, persevering through, rather than avoiding or fighting suffering and submission, we will help give birth to a new voice and allow His message to be revealed and heard amongst, and eventually quieten, the noise.
Today, in a world filled with noise and accusations, to suffer and submit is probably the most rebellious action we can take.