14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’
It is almost a miracle that Paul has had an audience listen to him so far into this speech. He is re-telling his conversion story. Most of them hadn’t heard it, but many of them had heard of him and his message about Jesus the Messiah. The hope of hearing that God has finally sent His Righteous One would be pretty exciting to hear.
After all, they are all there celebrating the Passover and looking forward to the deliverance from Rome, from slavery and oppression, and from the sinful world.
The other cool part of Paul’s story is that he includes what following Jesus looks like in the most simple way. If someone was hearing this and was moved to follow Jesus, they would know what their next steps, like Paul, would be. Rise, be baptized and wash away your sins, and call on Jesus’ name.
Now we know from the context and descriptions in other books of the Bible that baptism doesn’t wash away your sins. Jesus takes away your sins. But just like Peter’s speech earlier in Acts, baptism meant certain things to this Jewish crowd. “Repent and be baptized” explained a lot for them and their conversion with just a few words.
It was a ceremonial cleansing, an experiential and symbolic burial, and a pledge of allegiance all wrapped up into one act.
They understand what all of that means and they understand the next part too. “They will not accept your testimony about me” is a warning from Jesus. It sets Paul up to expect how the next 20–30 years are going to go. It also answers the question “If you knew the Messiah had come, why wouldn’t you tell everyone in Jerusalem?”
Sometimes the thing the crowd thinks they are seeking is not what they really want. This crowd thinks they are seeking the deliverance and freedom of Passover, but they are really just celebrating their traditions and the way they’ve always done things. Like we said days ago, Passover is as patriotic for them as it is religious, so anything that would come against that has a couple of barriers to breakthrough.
If this was a message from Jesus over 20 years ago to Paul, it proved true in all of his travels since then. He faced problems in all kinds of cities, and now, in Jerusalem, the Jewish people that have come from all over Asia are the ones that oppose him the most. The people that he traveled the furthest to reach have now come the furthest to oppose him.
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