As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander,May I say something to you?Do you speak Greek?he replied.Aren't you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?Paul answered,I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.Acts 21:37-39
How remarkable that Paul would ask to speak to this enraged mob which had just been ready to tear him limb from limb! I am sure that if I had been in his shoes I would have been trying to get out of there as fast as possible, quite content to let the mob go. But Paul recognizes this as his opportunity. He has come to Jerusalem determined to speak to his nation. Out of the urgency of his love for them he wants to be the instrument to reach this stubborn crowd. So he seizes the only opportunity he has, hoping the Lord will give him success.
The tribune is very startled when Paul addresses him in Greek, because this rough Roman officer thought he knew who Paul was. He thought he was that Egyptian who, according to Josephus, a year or so earlier had led a band of desperate men out to the Mount of Olives, promising them that he had the power to cause the walls of Jerusalem to fall down at his command. Of course he was unable to deliver on his promise, and the Romans had made short work of the rebels, killing most of them, but the Egyptian leader had escaped.
But when this tribune heard the cultured accents of Greece he knew that Paul was no Assassin. (The rebels were called that because they had concealed daggers in their cloaks, and as they mingled among the people they would strike without warning, killing people at random in cold blood. They were utter terrorists, trying to strike terror into the Jewish populace and thus to overthrow the Roman government.) And so, impressed by something about the apostle, the tribune lets him speak to this crowd. Amazingly, when Paul indicates with his hand that he wants to speak, a great hush falls.
As we review this account I cannot help but think of the phrase Paul uses in his second letter to the Corinthians:
struck down, but not destroyed... (2 Corinthians 4:9b RSV). God will sometimes let us encounter great difficulty, but he never abandons us. He never leaves us all alone. He always gives us the power and courage we need to face our opposition. He finds a way to work it all out and uses it for his glory. God never abandons his people!
Thank you, Father, for this wonderful example of how you give courage and boldness to one who was in great trouble. Grant to me the same boldness!
When we feel 'struck down' by circumstances resulting from our attempts to serve others with the Gospel, what will save us from feeling 'destroyed'? Are we learning to count on God's faithful presence with us, in us, and on behalf of his work through us?