Acts 21:37-22:2a (ESV)
As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying: “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”
And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet.
By this point, Paul is an accomplished public speaker. He’s fluent in Greek and Hebrew. He knows all the apologetic tricks. He’s in close touch with God. So what’s he trying to do here?
Remember, Paul has been clearly warned that arrest and imprisonment await him in Jerusalem. He came anyway. Now, he’s been arrested. So, he asks to address the crowd. But why?
You’d expect Paul to defend himself against the scurrilous and false accusations, but that’s not it. Paul always wants to address the crowd. It’s what he does. It’s his day job. And his purpose in addressing the crowd is always the same – to spread the gospel. Still, this does start out sounding like a defense.
Paul gets the tribune’s attention by asking, in Greek, “May I say something to you?” This surprises the tribune because he thinks Paul’s an Egyptian. So he asks Paul about that. Paul answers, plus he slips in the thing he wanted to say to him in the first place – “I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.”
His trick works. Paul gains the tribune’s respect, and his curiosity. He wonders who Paul is and why they’re so upset. Listening to him address the crowd should be interesting, so he gives Paul permission.
Paul uses the steps as a dais so everyone can see and hear him. Then he, again, plays on the shock value of speaking in an unexpected language. This time it’s their native tongue – Hebrew.
And you could have heard a pin drop.
Paul’s method works brilliantly, for him but not for us. He’s doing something we never do – addressing a large hostile crowd. Our task is normally to reach a single person.
But we do have one thing in common with Paul – we need something to get their attention. Unfortunately, most of the people we talk to have heard all the usual gospel pitches a zillion times. How can we make this time different?
We can’t. It’s up to God. Yes, it helps to love them genuinely – to show them the gospel instead of explaining it to them – but it always comes down to prayer. You have to pray and then follow His lead. Note that it’s not pray and then go; it’s pray and then follow. You have to wait for a green light.
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