Story of humiliation after my first year of bible college.
Why should people listen to you? Tell them your story.
- All believers have a story to tell.
- People are generally open to hearing stories.
- A story is hard to argue with.
- Because you listen to them first
Paul told his personal story three times in the book of Acts and twice in the Epistles (once in Philippians and once in Galatians). We’re going to focus today on hiss telling of his story in Acts 26.
Agrippa II ruled over a large region mostly just east of the Sea of Galilee. He was grandson of Herod the Great, known in the Bible as the ruler who had the babies in Bethlehem killed near the time of Jesus’ birth. He was son of Agrippa I, who shows up earlier in the book of Acts as having beheaded James and imprisoned Peter. Even though the land under his control was far north of Judea, because of Agrippa’s expertise in Agrippa’s expertise in Jewish affairs, it was his responsibility to appoint the high priest and oversee the Jerusalem Temple’s finances. Thus, He maintained a close working relationship with the Jewish leaders and deeply understood the various theological controversies of the day.
One of the biggest of these controversies centered around the belief in the resurrection of the dead. There were basically two strong parties in this controversy. The Sadducees oversaw the maintenance of the Temple and oversaw many of the civil affairs of the people. The Sadducees were an interesting bunch, because even though they kept the Temple, they were actually pretty secular. They minimized God’s involvement in the world’s affairs and rejected any belief in an afterlife or resurrection. You might remember the time that the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus by asking about the woman who had seven husbands - whose wife would she be in the resurrection? They were trying to trap Jesus by demonstrating the absurdity of life after death (Jesus of course schooled them). The Pharisees, on the other hand, affirmed the resurrection and God’s involvement in the world as its judge.
Paul knew that Agrippa was familiar with all of the controversies of the Jews and so he started there:
“I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently”
So he starts by just simply identifying himself by the categories that Agrippa was familiar with. This is called “Finding Common Ground”
It is interesting that another time in Acts when Paul shares his story, he is in front of a mob. In Acts 22, Paul doesn’t stress his Pharisee credentials or expose his familiarity with Jewish controversies, but instead emphasizes the zeal for God he had as a Jewish man. “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.” Why would he emphasize his zeal and his attempt to persecute members of the Way of Christ? Because that’s what his audience was doing! I was just like you are!
For me personally, I have a number of ways of sharing my story. I often tell my story emphasizing that I basically grew up not believing in God in an secular agnostic family. Yet if I am talking to a lapsed Catholic, I’ll pull out my Catholic card. I come from a line of Irish Catholics and did the whole baptism, catechism, first communion thing, but religion never took to me. Both stories are a true part of my story, but I emphasize different parts depending on whom I am talking to. To blue-collar hard working people, I emphasize the work ethic my parents instilled in me, and the barrier that was to my understanding of the gospel. That’s all part of my story, so when I tell my story, I’m searching for common ground.
Each time Paul tells his story, he hangs it on three handles, which we’ll signify with: BC , cross, AD.
“My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
“I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
Notice how Paul then goes into his own story of who he was before Christ. Yet he does so very concisely and ties in his backstory with the common ground theme that he hopes will keep Agrippa’s interest. He identifies himself with the Pharisee’s, placing himself in the centre of the Jewish controversy over the resurrection. Also, as we go on in the conversation it seems clear that this also happened to be the side that Agrippa was most sympathetic to. So Paul is again building bridges and finding common ground. After bringing up the key point of the resurrection of the dead, Paul then turns his story to tell of his initial reaction to Jesus. He shares his internal thoughts: “I was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” Interestingly, where many Pharisees may have thought that someone should do something about the Christian movement, Paul’s beliefs led him to action. This is Paul’s confession. A confession is a part of telling your story in which you open up a bit of the sinfulness your life to the person. They need to see concrete examples of what sin looks like. Instead of telling someone, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” your showing them what sin actually looks like with flesh and bone on it in the story of your own life.
- I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, [he calls Christians, “saints”
- but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them.
- And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme,
- and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities [notice, not “righteous anger” or “theological zeal” but “raging fury” I was out of control. ]
This is why your story is so effective. If you just say, “You’re a sinner” - well, maybe they don’t even know what sin is, and you risk offending them with a religious label that mean’s very little or nothing to them. But when you say you were acting out of control with raging fury, and giving details of how your sin consumed you, that speaks to the heart and illustrates for them what you mean when you say “all have sinned.” Don’t skip over your confession in telling your story.
“In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
Paul goes on to tell of his personal encounter with Christ. Obviously, here is something different and personal to each one of us. Describe what led you to the Lord. What was the moment that the Holy Spirit led you to the son of God? Again - this is the part that no one can really argue with, it is your story. I saw a bright light and heard a voice from heaven. Now I can provide a different interpretation of your subjective experience, but I can’t deny that in your mind something happened. It’s good to do this for yourself - I call it the objective subjective experience proof of faith. I know what I’ve experienced. It might be subjective to you, but it is objective to me because I was there. Christ changed my life. this is what carried me though a severe time of doubt that I had in university. I had to remind myself that God had met me. To deny him would be like to deny my own mom’s existence. JI Packer starts out his book, knowing God telling the story of an old man who stood at the back of an audience shaking his head as a speaker attacked the Christian faith. Knowing the man to be a Christian,
As Paul put it, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him until that day.” Notice, not “I know what I’ve believed” or “I know that I’ve believed” but “I know whom” - ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Paul knew whom he had believed. The who is important because, again, you can tell people Christianity is a relationship, not a religion, but until they see the who with whom you are relationship with, that is only a cliche, and a non-sensical one at that.
In addition to the whom, there is the how - this is a great time in the telling of your story that you start explaining to the person how they can be saved. Notice how subtle this is in Paul’s telling of his story: Jesus told me, Paul says, to go everywhere and tell everyone to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ The gospel is the proclamation of what God has done for us in Christ, but just because you’re “sharing your story” doesn’t mean that you skip over the proclamation.
“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
The final part of you story is how God changed you since coming to Christ. Paul speaks of his obedience to the Lord Jesus’ words and how ever since he has had in his ministry “the help that comes from God”. Nothing testifies to the truth of the gospel like you’re own changed life. As D.L. Moody once said, “Out of 100 men, one will read the Bible, the other 99 will read the Christian.”
How has Christ changed your life?
Notice the effective part of the story - there is radical change and there is thematic continuity. What I mean is, the radical change (I once hated Christians and wanted to see them all arrested and killed off, to now I go everywhere declaring the message of the Christians and people want to arrest and kill me). But there is also thematic continuity - I once participated in controversies around the resurrection of the dead as a Pharisee, yet now because of Jesus I understand with greater clarity more than ever before in my life that the dead are raised, because the scripture teach that the Christ must raise, I know I know the Christ who has been raised!
We call this a unifying theme. For Paul the two things that tied his story together was his intense passion for serving God and his and Agrippa’s shared interest in the resurrection.
The Concluding Question
And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.”
Paul directly confronts Agrippa with a question of response: Do you believe the prophets?
And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
Other Concluding Questions
- So, that’s what happened to me, can you relate to any of it?
- Does any of this make any sense to you?
- How about you — what’s your spiritual background?
- Were you taught any of this growing up, or maybe I can ask, what do you believe?
- Would you like to know how you can know Jesus Christ?
Ask people about themselves. Listen to their story.