Bearing Witness to the Risen Christ (Part 4)
We are now ready to examine Paul’s evangelistic encounters in Acts 22-24 in order to draw out some principles for how the church can do in the 21st century what Paul was doing in the 1st—namely, bearing witness to the risen Christ.
First, let’s look at Acts 22, where Paul speaks before a hostile crowd in Jerusalem. Here’s the situation: Paul had been worshipping in the Jerusalem temple, when some of his opponents saw him and stirred up a crowd against him. An angry mob formed and began to beat him to death. Someone wisely “called the cops,” and the Roman tribune who was occupying the city took some soldiers and rushed over to the temple. The tribune had Paul arrested (even though he didn’t know what crime he had committed), and for some strange reason allowed Paul to give a speech to the crowd that, moments ago, had been trying to kill him. Paul’s speech is recorded in Acts 22:1-21. I encourage you to read through that passage now. Go ahead. OK, ready?
The first principle for Christian evangelism is this: one way to bear witness to Christ is to share the story of how you encountered him (i.e., share your “personal testimony”). This is exactly what Paul did when speaking to the crowd. He told the story of meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus. This man, Jesus, whom he had previously not known personally, and had not bowed before in worship and adoration, he now served as his King and loved and trusted as his Savior. How did this come about? This is the story he tells in this passage from Acts 22.
Now, all true Christians have a similar story to Paul’s. At a certain point in their lives, they had an encounter with the risen Jesus that changed everything. Previously, they did not see Jesus as beautiful, and did not bow before him in trust, submission, and adoration. But then they met Jesus—that is, God took the blinders off of their eyes so that they could see Jesus in all of his beauty and glory—and now they do trust him, submit to him, and adore him. And while this is the basic story for every true Christian, the circumstances in which this happened will of course vary from person to person. And your “personal testimony”—your story of how you first met the resurrected Jesus—is the account of the specific way God opened your eyes to see his Son for the first time. And sharing this story is a perfectly legitimate way to bear witness to Christ before your friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors.
Let us remember, however, that our personal testimony is not the same thing as the gospel. The gospel is the good news of how God reached down into human history and rescued a people for himself from sin and misery through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. So, your personal testimony is different from the gospel message as I have just described it. But of course, your personal testimony presupposes the gospel, does it not? If you personally had an encounter with the risen Christ, that presupposes the glorious truth that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead to save sinners. If you testify to the fact that God adopted you as his child and forgave you of all of your sins, well, that presupposes the fact that there is a God who does such things! So your personal testimony is an important way to bear witness to Jesus and to explain the gospel to people.
Next week we will draw out a second principle of evangelism from Acts 22.