Imagine that you are a Roman soldier, and your assignment is to stand guard at the door of a cell in the basement of the governor’s mansion, known as Herod’s Praetorium, in ancient Caesarea (v.35). You ask another guard, “Who are we guarding tonight?” “His name is Paul,” he says and adds, “I haven’t seen him yet, but he must be powerful, important, and dangerous!” “Why do you say that?” you ask. Your fellow soldier says, “Here is the story I’ve been told — everywhere this man goes he starts a riot. The other day he caused such an uproar in Jerusalem that everyone wanted to kill him!” (Acts 21:30-35)
You say, “This Paul sounds like a really tough customer.” The other guard says, “That’s not all. I heard that they took him before the Jewish council, and those religious men completely lost it, throwing dirt into the air, shouting, and not acting very religious at all.” (Acts 22:22-24)
“Wow,” you say, “who is this guy?!” He replies, “Well listen to this — there is an active plot to murder him as we speak. Forty Jewish assassins have sworn an oath that they will kill him. They had already beaten him, and would have killed him if the commander of the Roman garrison hadn’t stepped in and taken him into protective custody. Now he has sent Paul here in the middle of the night, 60 miles away from Jerusalem (Acts 23:12-22). And listen to the commander’s orders for his transport: 200 foot soldiers, 70 mounted soldiers, and 200 spearmen – that’s 470 guards for one prisoner!” (Acts 23:23-24)
“No way!” you say. “Yes way!” says the other guard. You say, “I’ve got to get a look at this guy. Let’s peek in…”
Imagine that you crack open the cell door. The light from the corridor awakens the sleeping figure on the bed. He sits up, rubs his eyes, and slowly stands. What do you see looking back at you? One ancient description of him (from a document called “The Acts of Paul and Thecla,” which may or may not be true) says: “Paul is a man small in size, bald-headed, bow-legged, well-built, with eyebrows meeting, rather long-nosed, full of grace. For sometimes he seemed like a man, and sometimes he had the countenance of an angel.”
If I had to offer an opinion, I’d guess that description is probably accurate because if someone was going to fabricate a physical description, wouldn’t they make Paul sound a little more attractive? I wonder, do you think Paul would have caught the eye of a pastor search committee? I can just hear the committee discussing their candidates and someone says, “Oh, was he the short, bow-legged, bald guy with the big nose and the unibrow?”
You say to your fellow guard, “Why did they need 470 guards to protect him? He’s just a short, bow-legged, bald guy with a big nose and a unibrow. And look at him – did you ever see such a disgusting body? He’s absolutely covered with old scars and fresh bruises.”
Paul may not have been much to look at; he may not have been very big; he may not have been a striking figure who made a good first impression – but Paul had something special that enabled him to be a powerful force for Christ, a world-changer who shook two continents for God. What was that something special? It was an unwavering commitment to the will of the Lord, to the gospel of Christ, and to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. And Paul had Jesus standing by him, encouraging him to testify about the gospel (v.11).
God can use you to do great things, too. Just trust Him and keep telling the good news.