Have you ever thought about the Christian rationale for why Christians are trying to invite other people to become followers of Jesus as well? Some Christians seem to be rather lax about it, almost to the point where you wonder if they don’t care about whether or not other people become followers of Jesus. Other Christians say they have a desire for others to become followers of Jesus, but rarely muster up the courage to actually say anything. Then you have Christians who aren’t shy about Jesus, and regularly include him in their conversations, graciously, lovingly. Finally there are some who are quite bold and even pushy about it, the hard-core evangelists who don’t seem to care if they offend anyone with their methods.
Of course, I’ve generalized quite a bit, as there are people who don’t fit nicely into any of these four categories above. The categories give an overview, though, of how many Christians feel about talking about their faith. Do any of these four describe you, at least somewhat? How should we talk about our faith? As we continue to study Paul’s example in Acts 22-23, I think we’ll have much food for thought.
We last left Paul in Jerusalem, under protective custody of the Romans, the commander of which is trying to figure out what to do with a group of very angry Jews who want to kill Paul. The commander decides to take Paul to the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. Again, it doesn’t go well. Read verses 23:1-10.
How about that exchange in verses 1-4? Whew! Paul and the high priest have a testy interaction, though Paul in verse 5 says he didn’t know this man was the high priest, or he, Paul, wouldn’t have been so in-your-face. As the drama continues, once again Paul is focused on the story of Jesus. He speaks about resurrection, which leads to a theological debate between the Pharisees and Sadducees, who disagree about the validity of resurrection. The Pharisees support Paul, as he was a Pharisee, and they believe in resurrection, but the debate gets so intense, the Roman commander orders Paul to be taken back to the barracks for his safety.
That night the Lord gives Paul a vision saying, “Take courage, you will testify in Rome.” That’s like hearing that you just got an invitation to go to meet with a world leader. Paul is headed to talk with the most powerful person in the known world, the Roman Emperor, the Caesar. Jesus does not say how he will get there, however, or how long the journey will take. In fact, we will finish the book of Acts before Paul gets to Rome. He eventually ends up there as we read in some of his other letters like Philippians, which seems to have been written by Paul from house arrest in Rome as he awaited trial. But back in Jerusalem, things are still very prickly.
The remainder of chapter 23 makes for a great story of intrigue at the very beginning of Paul’s journey to Rome. Read 23:12-35, and once again drama follows Paul around. The Jews plot to kill Paul, but the plot is foiled, and Paul is safely transported to Caesarea to Governor Felix. There he awaits trial again, and we’ll find out how that goes in next week’s posts.
What have we seen in chapters 22-23? No matter the situation, Paul is on the ready to tell the story of Jesus. And that challenges me. We, too, can be on the ready to tell the story of Jesus.
We Christians want more people to know the unconditional love of Jesus, but not because we earn a commission off anyone who becomes a Christian. This is not a multi-level marketing program. We’re not getting a better home in heaven if we help more people become Christians, kind of like the bonus club that pays you money and perks for getting more people to sign up. You get ten people to become Christians, and you get a heavenly mansion upgrade. No!
Instead, we want more people to know God (really KNOW him, not just know about him) because believing in and living the way of Jesus in the world is the best possible life. We want people who are stuck in selfishness, people who practice destructive ways of thinking and living, people who have little hope, to live and dwell in Jesus’ vision of the new life, the abundant life.
That was Paul to a T in this story. He shares how Jesus met him and transformed him and gave him a new outlook, the true outlook, a new hope, and Paul was thinking, “I’ve hit the jackpot of life, and guess what guys, in Jesus everyone else can hit that jackpot too!” Thus Paul was passionate about sharing Jesus. There was nothing better, and he wanted everyone to know it.
Because of that amazing gift that we have in Jesus, we, too, want to tell the story all the time.
Except that we don’t always want to tell the story all the time. We don’t always feel passionate about it. What’s missing? Why are we different from Paul?
I wonder if it is the encounter with Jesus. I wonder if we had an encounter with Jesus, and even ongoing, repeated encounters with Jesus, if we, too, would be more apt to tell that story?
But there is something about those dramatic stories, like Paul’s story, that might not resonate with you. While we love to hear stories of people that make a 180 degree life change, do you feel a disconnect? For most of us, it is not our story, is it? Most Western Christians have a different story of Jesus. Ours is a story of ease, comfort, maybe culture wars, but not a radical change for Jesus. What do we do with that? Are we sub-tier, lower-level Christians? No! We have a story to tell as well, and quite frankly, our story will likely resonate with most other people who have lived a fairly easy comfortable life. My point is this: we don’t need a dramatic life-altering experience to be a true follower of Jesus.
Therefore all of us have an important story to tell, and we should be ready to tell it! What, then, does it look like for us American Christians to be on the ready to tell our story at a moment’s notice? We’ll talk about that more in the next post.