Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”
So, Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.
“The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee. And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?
“I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests, I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.
“On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
“ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied.‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (New International Version)
Paul was a zealous missionary to Gentiles, indefatigable, and an intense type-A kind of dude. But it wasn’t those characteristics Paul was looking for others to see in him. Paul simply wanted others to see Christ in him. Having been arrested for preaching the gospel, Paul found himself before King Agrippa making a strong apologetic for Christian faith.
The great apostle simply told his own personal story of faith in Christ. Never underestimate how powerful our stories can be.
My favorite football player of all time is the hall of fame quarterback Kurt Warner. There is much in his story of faith that I relate to. Like me, he grew up in Iowa. And he played football at Northern Iowa, which is also my alma mater. Here is what Kurt Warner has to say about his life in a nutshell:
“I was raised in the church, so faith and God were part of my life, but for me it was just kind of there only on Sundays. I always had God as a background, but I never truly accepted Jesus until I was about 25 years old. My arena league teammates (before being in the NFL), a pastor friend and my future wife were constantly asking questions about my beliefs, and I began to question where I was and whether I had really put my complete faith in God.
Their questions led me to the Truth – that faith is about a relationship, and it’s about Jesus. Up to that point, I had never really considered that. I struggled for so long and so many things went against me. I was swimming upstream.
When I finally gave my life over to God, it was then the joy and happiness came into my life. I realized my role here on Earth was not to throw touchdown passes and win football games, although that is the position and the platform I was given. I realize my goal is to win as many people to Jesus as possible. I have an open-door policy, where I’m able to talk about what is most important to me, and, for me, God is #1.”
Like Kurt Warner, I grew up with God only in the background of my life. I remember going to church as a kid and being bored out of my skull. When I became a teenager, I dropped out of church – and faith – because I did not see any relevance for my life. My family and my school can give testimony that I was a weird, stubborn kid who did what he wanted to do. And it put me into a slimy pit, lost and far from God.
In all my years of attending church as a kid, I never read my Bible. God, however, was gracious to me. I remembered all those sermons about Jesus, and I gained a newfound awareness of myself. I began to have a deep desire to read and know Holy Scripture.
In short, God saved me from myself. My circumstances did not change much, but I did. My loneliness turned to joy; my aimlessness turned into purpose; and my selfishness became a deep concern for others. My heart had been black, and what God did to change it was nothing less than miraculous.
Our faith is not only personal. We also have a responsibility to bless others with our story of what God has done in our lives. The telling of stories – declaring what God has done – is a necessary part of building up the Body of Christ and helping others move forward.
Let’s not shelve the idea of giving testimony to others as if it were only for pastors, missionaries, or other very religious people.
When a person decides to play hockey in twenty-degree below-zero weather, we might think that person is a little crazy; but if they love hockey that much, more power to them. We must not think about Christianity in the same way, that if a person is passionate about Jesus and desires to tell others about what God has done for them, more power to them; just don’t expect me to go out in the cold and do that because it isn’t my thing.
Take this to heart: Christianity is neither a sport nor a hobby; it isn’t a means to looking respectable; it cannot be reduced to church attendance and putting money in an offering plate. Christianity is a life, a relationship with God through Jesus. Try looking at marriage as simply showing up for supper and paying the bills and see how far that gets you!
New life comes not from a change of circumstances, but a change of heart. With a firm reliance upon and glad obedience to God, along with a readiness to give testimony to God’s actions, we are then living into God’s continuing narrative of changed lives.
Every Christian is a teacher of the faith because Christians represent Christ to the world through our words and actions. What we say and do testifies to our faith and beliefs. So, let us represent Jesus well, and with great compassion, to a lost and lonely world.
Merciful God, our witness is only as good as the love it conveys. Help us, your people, to share our stories of faith – and to find small ways to witness to your unfailing love in the midst of our uncertainty. Grant us the vision to see you at work in our world, healing our brokenness, and making us new. Give us wisdom to hear your voice through the noise that surrounds us. And grant us the courage to bring to fruition the world you are creating, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.