I recently read former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s memoir covering the years 2000-2020. Since leaving office, Albright has continued to lead a fascinating life, seeking to make an impact around the world. Her memoir got me thinking about my own story, and wondering what kind of life counts as worthy of a memoir. Do we all need to be world travelers, rubbing shoulders with international leaders and celebrities like Albright does, in order to have a life that qualifies as memoir-worthy? Unless you are a book publisher with the goal of making a profit from book sales, the answer to that question above is a resounding, “NO!” In other words, all of us have a memoir-worthy life. What I mean by that is this: all of us have an important story to tell. Sure, some people have a story that is very dramatic, what many people would say is, “interesting.” The Apostle Paul is a case in point.
As we will see in Acts 22-23, Paul tells his story, and it is a page turner. But all of us, even those who believe our lives have been and maybe still are boring or run-of-the-mill, have an important story to tell. The question is not about whether our story is good enough, the question is whether we are ready to tell the story, because anytime Jesus impacts a life, it is a wonderful story to tell. To that all-important attitude of being ready to tell our story, Paul is a great example for us.
Go ahead and read the first 16 verses of Acts 22. In these verses under protective custody of the Roman military, Paul talks with a hostile crowd in Jerusalem. First of all, I’m thinking, “Really? He wants to talk with the crowd?” If that were me, would I want to do that? Or would I think, “Roman commander, get me in the barracks, and as soon as possible, get me as far away as possible from these people who are trying to kill me.” There were plenty of places Paul ministered where he wouldn’t have to deal with this madness. But Paul doesn’t think like that, does he? Instead, he sees this as an opportunity to tell the story. For Paul, nearly every situation was an opportunity to tell the story.
And that’s exactly what he does. He retells the events of Acts chapter 9, about how he was a zealous Jew, persecuting the Christians, but Jesus changed his life. Everything he says through verse 16 is a story that would likely pique the crowd’s attention. Whether or not they would have believed him when he talked about Jesus speaking to him, we don’t know. That Jesus spoke to him from heaven is a story that would likely have been very hard for them to swallow. Maybe they thought Paul was lying. Maybe they thought he was deluded. What they cannot deny is that whatever happened to Paul, it radically changed his life.
Why would anyone do a lifestyle 180, like Paul did, if it was for a lie? Why would anyone give their life, almost dying multiple times, for a lie? Yet here is Paul before a hostile crowd that wants to kill him, and he isn’t backing down from the story. Paul is not stupid. He has known for months that his return to Jerusalem could easily lead to his death. He knows how the Jews will most likely respond to him. They’ve been at him nearly every city he ministered in. Still he is focused on telling the story of Jesus right here in their headquarters, the city of Jerusalem. Paul is still believing that the Spirit is at work. Paul is still believing that God could use him at this moment to share the story of Jesus. Even in the face of a crowd that wants to kill him! Paul trusts in the power of God, continuing to hope in a God who is in the business of changing lives. For Paul, every moment is a moment where the power of the story of Good News in Jesus can be unleashed to change lives. How are we thinking about all the moments of our lives?
As Paul tells the story of Jesus changing his live, the once-raging crowd has quieted and is listening. A good story will do that. Especially a true story of life change. That’s why your story is important. It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as Paul’s was. Your real story, even if you think it is boring or bland, is the story of God at work in you, and God uses those stories to impact people. Are you ready to tell the story?
Unfortunately for Paul, things take a turn. Read verses 17-18. I wonder if Paul thought this story in verses 17-18 would help him reach the Jews. Did he make a mistake in choosing what he wanted to share? Did he purposefully incite them?
What he says is inflammatory. He tells them about how after Jesus changed his life, Paul traveled to Jerusalem where he reveals that while praying in the temple, Jesus spoke to him, saying that the Jews would not accept his testimony. Maybe it’s just me, but if I was a Jew in the crowd that day listening to Paul’s story, that detail would make me angry. I’d be thinking, “What do you mean we wouldn’t accept your testimony?” Even if they actually wouldn’t accept the testimony, and it was pretty obvious to all that they wouldn’t, the words of the vision from Jesus could be perceived as very confrontational to the Jews. Who likes to be told what they will or will not think about something? In no uncertain terms Paul is essentially telling the Jews that they are stubborn, proud, arrogant or unteachable. No doubt, when it came to the story of Jesus, many Jews truly were all those negative things. But if you want to reach their hearts and minds, why would you tell them a part of the story that is so off-putting? I don’t know why Paul chooses to tell this part of his story. We can learn from it, though. It is not advisable to make people mad when you’re trying to tell the story of Jesus. Instead, be ready to tell the story of God’s love and grace for us all.
Believe it or not, Paul keeps going telling his story with more negativity, and what he says next is the clincher in the minds of the people in the crowd that day. Clincher? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? More on that tomorrow!