We live in a multi-faith, multicultural, consumer society, “Tesco ergo Sum, I shop therefore I am” (Graham Cray) where everyone demands freedom of choice and satisfaction guaranteed. In this Post-Modern supermarket of beliefs, “the preacher can become another dodgy salesperson almost certainly out to con you.” People are suspicious of authority figures and platform speakers. But they are often willing to share “their story” and open to hearing “our story”. So every Christian needs to be prepared to share simply, directly and honestly, the difference Jesus makes to our lives. An old friend Mark Cartledge defines testimony like this. “People tell of their need and desire for God and His Kingdom, how God has met and continues to meet them in their search and changes their lives in conformity with His purposes of salvation.”
In the Early Church the primary task of the apostles was to bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus. This is what Jesus had commanded them to do.
John 15 26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
Acts 4 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.
Apostles Acts 5 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead … 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
The word witness occurs 69 times in the New Testament. God calls the Holy Spirit empowers all Christians to be witnesses, telling other people what we have experienced of God.
Acts 1 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
In the New Testament there are many examples of believers telling other people the story of how they met Jesus.
The apostle Peter only came to Jesus because of the testimony of his brother Andrew.
John 1:40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.
We read that the first thing Matthew did after Jesus called him was to hold a dinner party for all his friends, the “tax collectors and sinners”. Something we can all do is invite our friends to come and meet Jesus.
Remember how Jesus drove a Legion of demons out of a man and into a herd of pigs. Everybody who knew the man saw the dramatic change in his life. And the man was happy to tell everybody that it was Jesus who had set him free.
Mark 5 18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
When Jesus met a Samaritan woman by a well he talked to her about the water which wells up to eternal life. He invited her to call her husband knowing that she did not have one. She recognised that Jesus was a prophet and He revealed that He was indeed the Messiah the Jews were expecting.
We read in John 4 28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him. …
39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers. 42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
In John 9 we read how Jesus healed a man who had been born blind. He tells other people about his healing in a number of stages. Initially he just explains what has happened to him.
Verse 7 . So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was.
Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”
But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”
10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they demanded.
11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
12 “Where is this man?” they asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said.
The man who had been healed only said what had happened to him. He wasn’t afraid to answer a question with, “I don’t know.” But he was prepared to speak up, whoever was asking the questions.
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind … (who) … also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
17 Finally they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
So the man went beyond describing his experiences to share his faith about Who Jesus is. People won’t always believe what we tell them. That shouldn’t surprise us – God does some pretty incredible, literally unbelievable things!
18 The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”
20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.”
Again the man only told people what he knew and wasn’t afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”
25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
We need to be patient and keep on answering people’s questions.
26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? … 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
Did you notice how the man who had been healed of blindness was growing in faith? Initially he only recognised that Jesus was a prophet. Now he says that Jesus must have come from God. It took another meeting with Jesus for the man to recognise that Jesus is Lord and to put his trust Him.
35 … When (Jesus) found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
We won’t have all the answers. That’s alright. All we are called to do is tell people what we do know and be honest and brave about sharing what we believe. Remember how God healed the paralysed man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple in Jerusalem. His shared his testimony simply by walking and leaping and praising God and the people were filled with wonder and amazement!
More often when Christians use the word testimony, we are referring to telling the story of how we became a Christian. Acts records two occasions in which Paul shared his testimony, first for a crowd in Jerusalem in Acts 22 and then before King Agrippa in Acts 26 which is the passage we will look at this morning. We haven’t time to look at the different ways in which Paul tailored what he shared to suit his audience. But we can notice a pattern which might be appropriate for many of us. It starts with what his life used to be like. Then he describes how he met Jesus and he finishes with the difference Jesus has made in his life. Before – how – after.
BEFORE Acts 26 4 “The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. 5 They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. … 9 “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. … 11 … In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.
So Paul has explained just how far away from Jesus he had been. But one day that all changed – and he explains how.
HOW 12 “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
“ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. 17 … I am sending you to (the Gentiles) 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins.’
Paul retold the story of how he met the Risen Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road, and he finished with the ways his life was different as a result. Before. How. Then after.
AFTER 19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.
Did you notice how, to finish his testimony, Paul slips in a challenge and an invitation? Sometimes that may be appropriate for us to do – sometimes it won’t. As somebody has said, “there is a time to talk and a time to shut up.” Sometimes we will only share how we became a Christian. Sometimes we will only share the difference Jesus is making to our lives today. It is really good to be prepared to share those stories if the opportunity presents itself.
Paul also talked about other experiences he had of God’s grace. Remember what he said about his “thorn in the flesh.”
2 Corinthians 12 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
It is very important to be honest in our testimonies. Not to “gild the lily”. To be honest about our questions and our doubts as well as about what we do know and believe and have experienced. If could very well be that the person we are speaking to is wrestling with questions and doubts. If we give the impression that we have got everything sorted and that we have all the answers that fscould leave them discouraged and depressed. If we are prepared to admit that we trust God even though we still have questions of our own, that will help them.
Paul was particularly honest and open with the Corinthians about the difficulties he faced when he preached the gospel to them.
1 Corinthians 2:1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power,.
“Weakness and fear and much trembling.” If the great apostle Paul felt like that, we should not be surprised or worried if that is how we feel when we consider talking about Jesus. But God’s promise of the help of the Holy Spirit was not just for Paul but for all of us.
Mark 13 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
2 Timothy 1 7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner.