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Sunday, August 25, 2013
Today’s Reading | Acts 26:1–23
Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and began to defend himself:
“I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, because you are especially familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews; therefore I beg of you to listen to me patiently.
“All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, a life spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I have belonged to the strictest sect of our religion and lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial on account of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship day and night. It is for this hope, your Excellency, that I am accused by Jews! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
“Indeed, I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is what I did in Jerusalem; with authority received from the chief priests, I not only locked up many of the saints in prison, but I also cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death. By punishing them often in all the synagogues I tried to force them to blaspheme; and since I was so furiously enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities.
“With this in mind, I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. 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 hurts you to kick against the goads.’ I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending youto open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
“After that, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout the countryside of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had help from God, and so I stand here, testifying to both small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would take place: that the Messiah 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.” (NRSV)
This long passage tells the story of Paul defending himself in front of the king. He was being persecuted for his beliefs, much as he had persecuted Christians before his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. His conversion was so spectacular that he took a 180-degree turn and began preaching to people about Jesus. Even as a prisoner, he took this chance to tell the powerful story of Jesus’ life and resurrection to the king—to witness to the life-changing power of Jesus in his life.
I grew up in an evangelical denomination where groups would sometimes go out on weeknights to witness to people in their homes about the impact of Jesus in their lives. We don’t do that as Presbyterians. But it seems to me that we have the powerful ability to witness to the life-changing impact of Jesus everyday by the way we live. We are unlikely to be in Paul’s shoes—persecuted for our beliefs. We probably won’t have a dramatic stage upon which to tell the story of what Jesus means to us and our lives. But we can show his influence every day in the way we interact with the people we meet as we go about our day, in the way we treat our family, friends, and neighbors and in the choices we make.
And sometimes showing the love of Jesus can be more compelling than talking about it.
Lord, thank you for the privilege of living at a time and in a culture where I am free to express my belief in you without fear of persecution. Show me how to share the power of your love in my life every day as I interact with your people in the world. Amen.
Written by Juli Crabtree, Fourth Church Member
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