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The next words of Paul’s old identity are words of respect for his audience—an audience that had only moments earlier been trying to rip him limb from limb. He calls them, “brothers and fathers”. Paul begins his story by talking about the man that he had once been. He sets his conversion into the context of his identity as a Jew. He has been criticized for being an apostate Jew, one who has urged the renunciation of Jewish heritage and customs. This is not the case, and it’s important that he begin by placing himself squarely in the context of Judaism. To begin to establish his claim, he speaks of his birth, upbringing, and education, a triad of identity markers which firmly place him in the context of 1st-century Judaism. In Philippians 3:5, he describes himself as a “Hebrew of the Hebrews”, one who need not apologize to anyone as to his heritage. His education was quite impressive; his teacher had been Gamaliel, who was the most respected of Hebrew teachers.
The problem with these Jews (to whom Paul addressed this speech) is that they mixed a professed devotion to God with a strong patriotism and a clear prejudice against people who were not like them; i.e., Gentiles, whom they considered unclean.
And we call ourselves “Americans”, with, I suppose, an appropriate sense of patriotic pride. That’s all well and good, and I am thankful to God for allowing me the rare privilege of being born an American. There are a little over 300 million of us in a world approaching 7 billion, which means that the chance of being born somewhere besides the U.S. of A. is approximately 95%. I have little patience for those who complain about conditions in our country, for while we have our problems and issues, to be sure, and while we’re not perfect, it’d be foolish, at least at this point in our history, not to be thankful for all of the good things true of this nation.
But let’s also tackle this truth: our identity is not, cannot first be, that of our earthly citizenship. The allegiance which we pledge to our flag and the “republic for which it stands” pales in comparison to our allegiance to “His Kingdom and His righteousness”, which must be the first object of our affections and attention.
Paul didn’t just have the right lineage; he had appropriate zeal as well. He had been right in their shoes, persecuting Christians (“the Way” is the term he uses). He hadn’t been half-hearted in his commitment to Judiasm or to God; he had been enthusiastic in his defense of what he believed was true. There was no question that Paul had been proud of his Jewish heritage!
III. New Identity – 22:6-21
Here comes the turning point, though, the complete change in Paul’s identity: it comes in relation to a Person, Jesus Christ, for in Christ, Paul finds a new
A. Master – 22:6-10a
Then, Paul had a heavenly confrontation, he tells his audience. This was something Paul neither sought nor provoked, something “out of the blue” as Paul was headed resolutely in one direction. As we studied some months back, Paul recounts the familiar story of Jesus appearing in a blinding light to Paul; in an instant, Paul’s direction in life changed, on the basis of Paul’s identity: he became a Christ-follower!
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