As we continue in our study of Acts 1:8, we will be focusing in on the second question we are seeking to answer from our text: what? Who is Jesus issuing His command in Acts 1:8 to? His followers throughout history. Those who desire Him, deny themselves, and follow Him without qualification (Luke 9:23-26). What is Jesus commanding His followers to be? He is commanding His followers to be witnesses. The greek word translated witnesses in Acts 1:8, and throughout the New Testament is the word “martyres.” The word literally, and originally meant an eye witness or ear witness. The word however, as you can probably tell, has been borrowed by the English language “martyr” and means to die for one’s faith. This was because the witnesses “martyres” of the NT so often were put to death for their witness that the word martyres became synonymous with one who dies for their faith.
With that said, 2 Corinthians 11 can give us serious insights into what it means to be a witness; martyres. Let us hear the testimony of the Apostle Paul concerning his “witness” for the Lord. We read, “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:24-28). We see, in this text, five ways that Paul was a witness or martyr.
I. Scourged for the Gospel v24
First, Paul was scourged for the gospel. He said in verse 24, “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.” This was the Jewish form of punishment. Paul would have been stripped and tied to some kind of stake so that he could not run or fall during the scourging. Then, a person trained in flogging would take a whip and lash Paul's back 39 times. The law allowed forty stripes; but they, pretending to be lenient, and to act within the letter of the law, inflicted but thirty-nine.
The one who scourged Paul would have given one third of the lashes across his breast, another third on his right shoulder, and another on his left. Halfway through, the skin would begin to break and tear. By the end, parts of Paul's back would be like jelly. The lacerations would not be clean, but torn and shredded, so that healing would be slow and complicated by infection. Now, consider that this happened a second time on the same back, opening all the scars. It healed more slowly the second time. Then consider that some months later it happened a third time. Then it happened again. And finally it happened a fifth time. And this was just one of Paul's suffering. Not only was he scourged for the gospel, he was also struck for the gospel.
II. Struck for the Gospel v25a
Paul said in verse 25, “ Three times I was beaten with rods…” This was under the Roman government, as they beat criminals in this way. There was generally no limit to the number of times the victim would be struck. The severity of the beating depended upon the mood of the soldier giving the beating. One of the times this type of persecution occurred is found in Acts 16:22-23. We read, “Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely.” This type of beating occurred three times according to Paul’s testimony.
III. Stoned for the Gospel v25b
According to the second part of verse 25, Paul was stoned for the sake of the gospel. He said, “once I was stoned…” This was the usual mode of punishment among the Jews for blasphemy. Generally when one was stoned, he was stoned to death. They did stone Paul until they thought he was dead and then just dumped him outside of the city. We read in Acts 14:19, “Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.” Paul was not only scourged and struck and stoned, but he was even shipwrecked for the gospel.
IV. Shipwrecked for the Gospel v25c
He said in the latter part of verse 25, “three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.” Paul made many voyages and shipwrecks often occurred in those seas. He referenced three shipwrecks in verse 25, but we know that he suffered in this way at least four times because the shipwreck of Acts 27, had not yet happened when he wrote 2 Corinthians.
V. Suffered for the Gospel v26-28
Paul goes on to list a litany of other ways that he, as a witness, had suffered in verses 26-28. We read, “I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches”. He suffered in perils of waters, as he crossed rivers to proclaim the gospel. He suffered fear of robbery. No doubt the apostle was often attacked, but was poor and had nothing to lose. He suffered from his fellow Jews. It must have been hard for a man like Paul, educated at the feet of Gamaliel, a Pharisee of the Pharisees to suffer so much while having to look the “successful” Jews in the face. He lost sleep from abundant toils and from danger. He was constantly suffering from ill health. In addition to these external trials, he had mental trials and anxieties resulting from the necessary care of all the churches. It is no wonder that Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death works in us, but life in you.” I want us to see 3 major applications from this text over the next couple of days that will help us understand what it means to be a witness. Until then…