The Art of Testimony
The Great Commission tells us to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded. Because this command is true for all believers, it follows that the words of 1 Peter 3:15 are true for all of us as well:
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;
Regardless of circumstance, audience, or any other factor, all of Christ’s followers should have a game plan for when the opportunity arises to share the truth of Christ with others. If we are not prepared, we will likely not capitalize on opportunities the Lord brings our way to share the most valuable story of all time.
As we look at Paul’s life, we see a man who was willing to face any obstacle to get the truth to the people God led him to in any city he traveled to. In the Galatian region, he was run out of town several times, stoned until they thought he was dead, then he got back up and went inside to finish his job. When he had the opportunity to run when an earthquake knocked down his prison cell bars, he stayed and witnessed to the Philippian jailer who was ready to take his own life. There was an uproar in Ephesus as a result of the gospel spreading there. By the time his third missionary journey comes to an end, he decides he must return to Jerusalem, though he does not know what awaits him. He was no stranger to challenging circumstances in which he boldly proclaimed the gospel.
Many things happen between Acts 19 and Acts 22. Paul leaves Ephesus and travels back through Macedonia all the way to Greece. He spends three months there and plans a trip back to Syria, the area north of Israel, where Antioch was. Rather than sailing across the Aegean sea he makes his way back through Macedonia until he arrives at a place called Miletus, which is only a few miles south of Ephesus. He doesn’t want to go to Ephesus because he knows he will stay and he is trying to get back to Jerusalem for Pentecost. So in Miletus he calls the elders of the Ephesian church to come to him and he gives a sort of farewell address. He expects trouble when he gets to Jerusalem but he doesn’t know how much. Well in chapter 21 he makes it back to Jerusalem but some of the Jews from Asia recognize him (remember Jews from all over travel to Jerusalem for Pentecost) and incite a riot. This attracts the attention of the Romans and they seize Paul and he asks for permission to address the crowd.
As we look at Paul’s address I want us to see how he crafted his testimony before his audience.
“Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you.” And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today. “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.
Paul begins by identifying with his audience. It would seem Paul spoke Greek to the Roman commander, but Hebrew to his accusers. This helps him identify with his audience. He further identifies with his audience by demonstrating his Jewish heritage. Born in Tarsus, but raised in Jerusalem. That’s like the equivalent of saying I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could. He was taught under Gamaliel, a very prestigious teacher of the Law of Moses and a member of the Sanhedrin (maybe the equivalent of a Supreme Court Justice).
He describes his zealousness for God through the persecution of members of the Way (the name of the Christian movement at the beginning), having received letters from the high priest and others in high positions to capture believers in Jesus and return them to Jerusalem for punishment. He’s effectively saying, “Look, this thing you are doing to me, I get it! I used to do the same thing.” He is establishing a connection to his audience by speaking the same language, sharing in their Jewish heritage, and expressing how he was once as zealous as they are now.
Then he moves on to the pivotal moment in his life:
“But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ “And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ “And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. “And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ “But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus. “A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. “And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. ‘For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. ‘Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’
Paul is recounting his story of his Damascus road experience first recorded in Acts 9. He simply tells his audience what happened to him. He was on his way and just before he gets to Damascus, Jesus Himself shows up and reveals the truth to Paul. By persecuting His followers, Paul is persecuting Christ. He blinds Paul until he gets to Damascus and Ananias restores his sight. What Paul does in these verses is simply state what happened to him. He does not over-exaggerate or embellish his story. He states the facts.
As you and I craft our testimonies, our job is to simply state what happened. We have all heard testimonies of powerful transformed lives and sometimes we look at our own stories and say ours is not that great. Yes it is. If you have had a life changing experience where you have experienced Christ, you have a powerful story to tell no matter where that story happened in your life. You may not have been as hateful toward Christians as Paul, but you were at some point in your life a sinner in need of a savior. God used people in your life to share the truth of the gospel, you heard it and received it, you repented of your sins, and the Holy Spirit came upon you and sealed you until the day of redemption. That is POWERFUL! Tell your story as often as you have opportunity.
Finally, Paul shared what happened after his conversion:
“It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’ “And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You. ‘And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.’ “And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”
Paul went to Jerusalem and the Lord then called him out of there because the Jews in Jerusalem were not going to accept his testimony. He was then called to minister to the Gentiles..
Paul’s testimony in this chapter can be broken down as follows:
His life before he met Christ (1-5)
What happened when he met Christ (6-16)
How Christ began working in his life (17-21)
As we think about our own stories and what Christ has done in our lives, are we prepared to give the reasons for the hope we have in Christ? If you were given two minutes, could you share your testimony with an unbeliever? Paul’s speech here is not very long. It is only 515 words. But it was powerful.
What was life like before you met Jesus? What happened the day you met him? How did he change your life? What are some examples of what he has accomplished through you? I would ask all of you to consider practicing telling your story in about two minutes or less. If you can master telling your story in that time frame, you will always be ready to share the second God gives you opportunity.
In a moment, we will have another way of testifying together through the observance of the Lord’s Supper. To share in the observance of this ordinance is to testify together that we are followers of Jesus Christ, who purchased our pardon from judgment and death and gave us new life through the breaking of his body and shedding of his blood. We will talk about some of the elements and their symbolism. Before we do, may we go before the Lord and thank him for what he has done for us and that he may give us the courage to share our testimony with others.
You can only partake in this ordinance if you have a personal testimony of how the Lord changed your life. Do you have such a story? If not, Jesus is calling right now. He is using this moment to speak to you and show himself to you just as he did Paul on the road to Damascus. You can begin a relationship with Jesus today by realizing you have rebelled against God by sinning against him. It is acknowledging that you fail to live up to his perfect standard, but realizing that Jesus has and offered to pay the penalty for sins on your behalf by being nailed to a cross, then conquering death by rising from the dead. If you believe that, you can be saved by turning from your sins and trusting in Him.