The apostle Paul had been called by God, and he knew it. He had been given a commission, and he understood his commission. He was not about to be overpowered by the display of the Roman court.
Paul’s story has generally been told in three parts, and that is what is done here. First, there is his early life in Judaism. He talks about that in verses 4 through 11. Second, there is the story of his conversion and his commission to preach the Gospel to Gentiles. He discusses that in verses 12 through 18. Third, there is a statement of what he had been doing most recently. This is the section in which the accounts most often vary, since what is said is usually chosen for the sake of the audience or the matter at hand. In this, Paul’s third and last defense, there is some interesting new information about what he did immediately following his conversion. He talks about that in verses 19 and following.
1. Paul’s life in Judaism. Paul begins by talking about his life in Judaism, and what he is concerned to stress here is that he was a faithful Jew. He had been raised a Jew, having received the traditions of the Jews from his fathers. He knew the law. So far as he knew and understood the law, he had lived by it.
Moreover, he had lived according to the strictest sect of his day. He was a Pharisee. We have a bad view of the Pharisees because of some of the things Jesus said about them. He called them “hypocrites…whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones.” That was right. Many of them were exactly that. As a matter of fact, it is a proper description of the entire human race. We are all hypocrites. Yet in their day the Pharisees had a good reputation because they were what we would call “fundamentalists.” They were the conservatives of their day. They said, “We believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. We believe everything that is written there.” They really did, at least so far as they understood it.
Paul’s defense at this point has to do with the fact that the only things he was proclaiming were what was in the law, things well understood by the Jews, at least those that believed the Old Testament Scriptures, as the Pharisees did.
The chief thing was the promise of the resurrection. Paul interrupted his address at this point to ask wisely, “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” (v. 8). We are going to see, as the story continues, that his Gentile hearers did consider the resurrection to be incredible, just as people consider it incredible today. But Paul was a Jew, raised on the Scriptures, and the Jews as a whole (and the Pharisees in particular) believed in the supernatural. Paul was saying, “That is where I am coming from. Why should anyone think a supernatural event like the resurrection is impossible?”
2. Paul’s conversion and commission. The second part of Paul’s address concerns his conversion and the commission God gave him. He said, “I was on the way to Damascus when this very person about whom the Christians had been preaching but whom I had regarded as a blasphemer, a liar and a deceiver—this very Jesus made Himself known to me. He asked why I was fighting Him, and I had nothing to say. ‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”
There have been a number of attempts by unbelievers to explain what happened to the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, eliminating the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ—the second Person of the Trinity, incarnate and now risen from the dead—actually appeared to him. Some have said, quite seriously, that Paul probably had epilepsy. His experience on the road to Damascus was actually an epileptic fit.
Some have imagined that he had a heat stroke. The sun was bright. It was hot. No doubt, these overcame him.
Have you been struck by the Son of God? Has he stopped you where you have been? You may not have been persecuting Christians. Maybe you were just engaged in serving yourself, turning your back on God. Did the Lord Jesus Christ stop you on that Damascus road? Did he turn you around?
The apostle Paul was turned around so that he could testify to the grace of God in his transformation. If the Lord Jesus Christ has stopped you and turned you around, then you can testify, too. If you are not testifying to God’s grace or if you feel you cannot, you need to examine yourself and see whether you have really met Jesus. Has Jesus turned you from sin? Has He revealed Himself to you? Have you come to trust Him?