In today’s Bible reading, Paul delivers his defense to King Agrippa and Bernice. He tells his story of how he came to know the resurrected Jesus. He was a Jew’s Jew. He was a Pharisee’s Pharisee. And he persecuted those who embraced Jesus as the Messiah, even approving of the stoning of those who believed in Jesus.
Now, when I titled this post, I said that Paul apologizes to King Agrippa. This is a play on words. The Greek word behind the idea of giving a defense is the word from which we get “apology“. Peter uses the word in 1 Peter 3:15 where he encourages Believers to always be ready to give a reverent defense of our hope. The Greek word used here is the basis for apologetics, the branch of theology that provides proof for the Christian faith.
So to say that Paul apologized to King Agrippa, I don’t mean that Paul told the King, “I’m sorry.” Instead, Paul provided a defense, a testimony, for his faith. You can do that too. In fact, it would be very helpful to think a lot ahead of time about how you would go about giving your testimony.
How was your life before you came to know Jesus? What led up to taking up God’s offer of the great exchange? How have things changed since you made that life-changing decision?
Look back over today’s Bible reading. Notice how Paul crafted his testimony as I suggested in the previous paragraph. Get with a friend or relative and rehearse your testimony. Ask your “sparring partner” for suggestions on improving your testimony. I’m not saying you should change your story or lie about how you came to Christ. But what changes in the way you tell your story might make it more appealing to a different audience? For instance, Paul told his story several times in Acts. He didn’t say the exact same things each time he told it; he emphasized different things to different audiences. For instance, Paul knew that King Agrippa descended from Jewish ancestors. When he addressed the King, he brought that out. (Acts 26:26-27)
Practice giving your testimony to your Christian friends and family. When the time comes to tell unbelievers, you’ll find yourself well-prepared. Pray for encounters where you can tell other people about the most important decision of your life.
It’s important for each of us to be open-minded and teachable. There is so much that we don’t know and can learn from other people. However, if you’re too open-minded, you may lose the ability to form coherent thoughts and convictions. It seems that was the case in Athens.
In today’s Bible reading, Dr. Luke tells us that, “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” That’s a problem.
It’s easy to become enamored in “all things new”. But at some point, you have to be concerned with real-world stuff. King Solomon was right when he said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) They were so open-minded that their brains leaked out!
But there is one very good thing that comes out of this: The men of Athens constructed an altar to an unknown god … just in case they overlooked someone. Paul saw the monument and pounced! He used the altar as an inroad to open discussion. It’s important to note that at no point did Paul compromise his message to match the altar. When he began to talk about Jesus’ Resurrection, he had many of them hooked!
Peter encourages his readers to already be ready to give a defense for our hope. (1 Peter 3:15) How easily could you create an object lesson to tell people the Gospel? Maybe it’s not a pagan altar. Maybe it’s a TV show or a movie. It could be just about anything. Anything that might open a door of conversation with an unbeliever. Whatever it is, remember to be true to the Gospel Message. Don’t twist the Bible to fit the conversation.
This can easily turn into a learning opportunity with another believer. Be iron for each other. (Proverbs 27:17) Listen to what they say about how you can improve your presentation. Then listen to them create an object lesson. Critique their presentation.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul and Silas come to Phillipi. On the Sabbath, they search out a place where people gathered to worship. Evidently, there wasn’t a synagogue there, but they found some women who had gathered to pray. One of the women was Lydia, a local businesswoman who sold purple goods. We know that she worshipped God.
Dr. Luke brings out something interesting that we cannot overlook. “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14) She believes and is baptized, along with her household.
We don’t know if Lydia is a Jew or a God-fearing Gentile. But Dr. Luke seems to indicate that she isn’t saved.
Going to church will not save you. Only believing in Jesus and trusting His sacrificial death as the payment for your sin will save you.
As you talk with people whom you think may not be believers, ask God to open their hearts to pay attention to what He would say through you. Unless God opens their heart, they will not hear, believe, and trust in Christ. And they will not experience God’s transforming power.
When you talk with people about Jesus, remember that praying for God to move in their hearts and minds is more important than saying the right things. Absolutely share your faith with everyone you can. But don’t worry about getting the words right. Trust God to be sovereign over their salvation, just as He was sovereign over yours. And speak the truth in love.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul and Barnabas flee persecution when they learn that both Jews and Gentiles in Iconium want to kill them. They come across a man who has been lame from birth and Paul tells him to stand up. When he does, the people of Lystra think that Paul and Barnabas are gods. The priest of Zeus tries to offer sacrifices to them and they quickly tell everyone that they are men just like everyone else there. (Acts 14:8-18)
The reason the people of Lystra think Paul and Barnabas are gods is because they don’t know any better. They have never heard the good news of the Gospel. Their polytheistic society didn’t know that there is only one true God and that these men were simply messengers. But they misunderstood the signs and wonders that God used to validate their message (Acts 14:3) and acted accordingly.
Shortly after this, the Jews of Iconia and Antioch come to Lystra and stone Paul, leaving him for dead. The Believers gather around him and he gets up and leaves for Derbe the next day with Barnabas. Later, they circled back and built up the churches and appointed local elders in the churches.
Now, I’m painting with a very broad brush here, but miraculous signs and wonders like Dr. Luke describes here aren’t observed as much these days — at least in Western society. I believe that God still operates in the miraculous realm. But most of the “big stuff” happens on the mission field, on the cutting edge of the mission movement where God uses the signs and wonders to draw attention and validate His message as He did in the book of Acts.
It’s very important to note that Jesus warned against making too much of the miraculous. In fact, in one of the scariest passages of Scripture, Jesus says that knowing Him is more important than commanding demons (Luke 10:20) and “doing the deal” (Matthew 7:21-23).
So the question is, do you know Him? If not, I’d love to introduce you. Drop me a line and let’s talk!
As I read today’s Bible reading, I was reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well: One conversation leads to an entire village coming out to hear more.
Paul is in Antioch of Pisidia on the Sabbath. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets (The Old Testament), the synagogue leaders open up the floor, asking for people to speak encouraging words to the people. Paul steps forward and briefly recounts the history of the people of Israel. Paul quotes a few Psalms and points out that Jesus was raised from the dead, according to the Scriptures. (Acts 13:33-35)
As the people left the synagogue, they asked the Apostles to tell them more the next week. On the next Sabbath, more people — Jews and Gentiles — showed up because of the news that had spread through the community throughout the week. Many people were saved in the hearing of God’s Word. But division arose from the Judaizers, those who said that you had to be a good Jew if you wanted to be a good Christian. The Judaizers stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, who were then invited to leave the region.
Their response to the persecution is typical of the Apostles: They rejoice in their persecution. Instead of being discouraged and withdrawing, they are emboldened!
How do you respond when you encounter persecution? I mean real persecution. Most Christians in Western society don’t have a clue what it’s like to be persecuted. We think we’re persecuted when we can’t say “Merry Christmas” and wear a cross necklace. No, real persecution occurs when people want to kill you. Real persecution occurs when people hate you for your Christian faith.
But there is subtle persecution that we may experience, such as the “Merry Christmas” greeting and religious display restrictions. In those cases, how do you respond? Do you feel threatened? What about when people make fun of you because of your faith? How do you respond then?
The Biblical response is not to assume a victim mentality. Instead, the Biblical response is to rejoice that you are worthy of their disrespect … just like Jesus was.
When you experience religious persecution — and you will — take joy! Be encouraged! And be emboldened!