As I said last Sunday, 24 of us had a great experience attending the Tony Evans conference that was held at THE COVE last week. I will organize another trip next year—but don’t wait on us. If you get a chance to go to THE COVE to hear one of the speakers they have—DO. Sue and I have been to four Cove Conferences now—each with a different speaker—and God has blessed us each and every time. So, go! One of the things they do at a COVE event is take about 20 minutes of the last session to allow people to share testimonies of their walk with Jesus. And—this is one of my favorite parts of the weekend. I love hearing stories of how Jesus has impacted the life of a real, live person.
This past weekend didn’t disappoint. For example:
- We heard one young lady share how Jesus had helped her deal with anxiety and depression.
- A man told how Jesus healed his marriage—and his mind by taking away his racist attitudes.
The stories we heard at THE COVE show that when real people share their actual experience with Jesus it is always powerful and moving!
Well, this morning I want us to round out our study of this series on personal evangelism by looking at the 25th chapter of the book of Acts where the Apostle Paul shares his story. Before we look at it, let’s review the setting.
After his third missionary journey, Paul has made his way back to Jerusalem. He was greeted warmly by James and the other elders of the church—but when he went to the temple he was arrested by the Jewish religious leaders. They very nearly killed him on the spot—and would have if not for the intervention of a Roman commander who took Paul into custody and then, under Roman guard, transferred him to Caesarea. When this happened, Annas, the High Priest, went to Caesarea to bring formal charges against Paul before the Governor at the time, a man named Felix.
Now—Felix knew Paul had done nothing wrong but this corrupt Roman Governor kept him in prison for two years in the hopes that Paul or his friends would bribe him for his release. Well, Felix’s corruption finally caught up to him and he was recalled to Rome in disgrace. His successor was a man named Festus. And as soon as Governor Festus took office, the Jewish leaders showed up again and asked that Paul be transferred back to Jerusalem for trial. These guys weren’t worried about winning the case against Paul because their plan was to ambush and kill him on the way. But, before sending him to Jerusalem Festus questioned Paul as to the charges that the Jews had levied against him—and when he did this—Paul exercised his rights as a Roman citizen and appealed to Caesar.
Festus agreed to Paul’s request because it took the pressure of the Jews off his back, but this left him with another problem. You see, Festus couldn’t very well send Paul off to Nero without some sort of explanation—an explanation as to why he hadn’t been capable enough as a ruler to resolve the issue on his own without taking the precious time of his busy emperor.
Festus was saved from this dilemma by the arrival of King Herod Agrippa II—the Roman-appointed Jewish King of the region who arrived at Festus’ palace in Caesarea to pay his respects. By the way, I’ve been to the ruins of this palace and even in ruin it is spectacular. It’s on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea and included an amphitheater. There was a place where athletic games were held. There was even a hippodrome where they had races like in the movie Ben Hur. Part of the palace included a fresh water swimming pool that jutted out into the sea. I have to say—if I were a local king back in that day, I would have been dropping in on Festus to pay my respects every chance I could—any excuse to stay in that palace!
Okay, let’s review the heritage of King Herod Agrippa II. He was the great-grandson of Herod the Great—the ruler who built this palace and other famous structures like the Temple—but who is best known as the murderer of the infants in Bethlehem. Herod Agrippa II’s grandfather, Herod Antipas, was the king who had John the Baptist beheaded. His father, Herod Agrippa I, was the ruler who arrested Peter and killed James.
So, Herod Agrippa II did not benefit from a good home life to say the least. And it gets worse. You see, Herod Agrippa II had two sisters. Drusilla was married to Felix—remember him? And, true to “Herodian form,” Herod Agrippa II was married to his other sister, Bernice. But even though he came from a shoddy family and was himself embroiled in an incestuous relationship—he was no dummy and was in fact well-known as an expert in the affairs of the Jews.
So, I’m sure Festus was somewhat relieved when Agrippa dropped by and then offered to hear from Paul so that he might advise Festus on how to handle this matter. The next day, several important people gathered at the palace in Caesarea to hear what Paul had to say about the charges that had been leveled against him two years prior. Picture the audience in your mind’s eye. The five, highest-ranking officers-commanders in charge of the Roman military divisions stationed in Caesarea—were present in dress uniform. The leading men of the city were there as well. The Jewish religious leaders were in attendance. Festus, the Roman governor was of course there. And then, intentionally arriving late enough to make a grand entrance were Agrippa and his sister/wife, Bernice. In fact, in verse 25 Luke says that these two, “came with GREAT pomp.”
Now, I feel led to point out that the Greek, the word, “pomp” here is “fantasia.” It is the word from which we get our word, “fantasy” and it refers to something beautiful or impressive but is also passing or fleeting—something of momentary interest only. I share this little bit of Greek trivia to remind you that even the most impressive things of this world are not lasting. They are of “momentary interest only.”
Think of it. Nothing was more impressive back then than the Roman empire and its powerful leaders and this beautiful palace by the sea. But today Rome is little more than a memory. As you can see, this once beautiful palace is in ruins. And, Agrippa and Bernice and Festus are only remembered in connection with Paul—who stood before them that day in chains.
This reminds me of a verse in Rudyard Kipling’s great poem entitled: “Recessional.” He wrote it in 1897 and used it to compare the passing power of the empires of the world with the eternal power of God. It goes like this:
“The tumult and the shouting dies; the captains and the kings depart;
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice, An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget—lest we forget!”
Kipling wrote this poem at the time of the great Jubilee honoring Queen Victoria—and the English people did not like what he wrote. They felt it was a put down to their great queen. In fact, most think this poem kept Kipling from becoming poet laureate. But Kipling was right to warn us about forgetting—even though it cost him earthly acclaim. You see, we all need to be warned that we serve the one and only Eternal King and that this world and everything in it will one day be forgotten. As someone has said, “Only one life; twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Well, as I said, amidst all this worldly pomp and grandeur Paul came into the room manacled. He hobbled into place with his chains dragging. And I want you to be sure and note that this is a fulfilment of the prediction Jesus Himself made about Paul when He called him to be an apostle.
Remember? In Acts 9:15 our Lord said to Ananias, “This man, [Paul] is a chosen servant unto Me. I will send him to the Gentiles to stand before GOVERNORS and KINGS—that he may bear My name before them, as well as before the sons of Israel.” Surely those words echoed in Paul’s mind that day as he stood in Festus’ palace.
I also want to point out that the way Luke describes all this shows us that there was a hunger in Paul’s heart to reach King Agrippa for Christ, in spite of his dark past and sinful present. Like his Master Paul saw beyond Agrippa’s SIN—to his NEED. He allowed God’s love for Agrippa to fill his heart and mind. Plus, Paul realized that this might be his last chance to reach Israel. So, he hoped against hope that the king would repent and turn to Jesus—because if he did, perhaps many in the nation would follow.
Okay, with that setting in mind, let’s look now to the text as dramatized by The Visual Bible (Acts 26:2-29) as Paul shares his personal testimony with all these people.
2 – “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews,
3 – and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.
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.
6 – And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today.
7 – This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me.
8 – Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?
9 – “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
10 – And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.
11 – Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.
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 will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them
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—and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
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.
21 – That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me.
22 – But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen-
23 – that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”
24 – At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
25 – “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable.
26 – The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.
27 – King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”
28 – Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
29 – Paul replied, “Short time or long-I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”
Now, I’m sure you’ll agree that was a powerful testimony. In fact, until Festus interrupted Paul’s speech, the audience hung on his every word, listening attentively to what this chained former Pharisee had to say. Okay—with Paul’s example in mind—I want us to learn how to do the same—how to be ready to give an account for the hope that is in us—how to share OUR story in a way that God can use it—share it in a way that wakes the dead. Here’s how we’re going to proceed. I want us to take the WORD “story” and use it as an acronym to help us remember five principles of effective testimony sharing—sharing our story of the difference Jesus makes in our lives.
Start with the other person.
Identify with the individual or individuals with whom you are sharing. Paul did this. Look at verses 4 and following. Basically, Paul looked at the Jewish leaders and said, “I was once like you. I was the son of a Pharisee and studied to become one myself.” Perhaps he recognized a former class-mate in the school of Gamiliel in the audience and caught their eye as he said this—-but one of the reason the people listened was because Paul identified with them. He even identified with King Agrippa by saying in verse 26, “The king is familiar with these things.” Or, “King Agrippa, as a student of Judaism, you know what I’m talking about!”
And that’s the way it is with testimonials. People pay attention to them—which is why when we buy something on Amazon we scroll down to read the reviews—or testimonials—of people who bought that product. You know what I’m talking about. Before we buy laundry detergent, we look and see that a woman who ordered the laundry detergent we’re looking at writes: “My kids get grass-stains on all their clothes just like your kids do. Nothing I tried would get the stains out until I found ALL-TEMPERATURE SPOUT.” Well, as parents with laundry baskets full of grass-stained jeans we read that and then click on the “add to cart” icon. In two days or less we have their own supply of ALL-TEMPERATURE SPOUT delivered to our door. We make purchases like this because we identify with the testimonies of other people.
This principle is why we like to read biographies more than essays. It’s why most people remember the illustrations—the real-life stories in a sermon—longer than they do the sermon itself—forcing pastors to always be looking for NEW stories—thank you very much! People can identify with something that really happened to a fellow human being. I remember my dad once telling of two college girls who were invited to give their testimonies at their home church when they were home for Christmas break. The first girl gave a beautifully prepared and well-delivered SPEECH. It would have gotten a high grade in any speech class. You could see people smiling their approval and making a mental note to put her on that list of people who are often called on to give devotionals.
Well, the second girl was obviously shaken a bit by having to follow so polished a performance—and she had no reason to be. She said, “I must have misread the pastor’s instructions. I didn’t know I was to give a speech. I’m not prepared to do that. But I do want to tell you of a wonderful experience I had learning to pray as a freshman in college.” You could have heard a pin drop as she shared.
People want to know how Jesus has impacted a life like their own. Think of this principle as you share. Ask God to give you wisdom—as He did Paul that day—as to how to connect with the other person through your sharing. Here’s the second principle.
Talk with confidence and clarity.
Picture the scene again. Paul was a prisoner, and was brought into the room wearing heavy chains. It was a humiliating situation, standing in shackles before this king and his wife/sister who, had come into the room with great pomp. In fact, I loved the video—but if I were directing that scene I would make the difference between Paul and his listeners even greater. I’d add more splendor to Agrippa and his gang—and I’d make Paul look more like he’d been imprisoned for two years. I mean, Paul was at a huge psychological disadvantage in this interchange but that’s one thing that made his testimony stand out. You see, he was not intimidated or hesitant. He didn’t act like a fearful prisoner. No—as soon as he was given the opportunity to talk, he waved his hand to silence the crowd and then began to speak boldly. He talked about being “fortunate” to be speaking to the king. His words were filled with confidence and conviction—conviction that He was sharing truth—eternity-changing truth that his listeners needed to hear. He didn’t back down when Festus called him insane, and asserted calmly that he was not crazy, and that in fact everything he said was completely “true and reasonable.”
Where did Paul get such poise and confidence in such a humiliating setting?
First, he knew who God was.
Paul had long since learned about and experienced the truth about God and the Messiah, Jesus.
He had carefully looked into all of the claims and evidence, and talked personally to some of the people Jesus had walked with. So, Paul was able to exclaim in one of his letters,
“I am not ashamed, because I KNOW Whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).
He knew Who God was—He knew WHO He was introducing to these guys and gals.
Second, he knew who he was.
He knew he was a favored son of the King of Kings—so he wasn’t going to let a mere human king intimidate him. Knowing the truth about God and about himself gave Paul courage and strength even in the most difficult of circumstances.
And guess what? The same can be true for all of us! As Christians, we are children of the King of Kings. We are HIS representatives. Our message IS truth—THE truth—truth people desperately need to hear. We can and should be confident witnesses. Here’s a third principle.
Organize your story. Be prepared.
Again, Paul is a great example. I mean, he’d had two years of imprisonment to formulate his thoughts—plus he’d had a lot of experience sharing his testimony. If you read through Acts 22-26 you’ll see that on six separate occasions between Paul’s third missionary journey and his trip to Rome he stood before different audiences—and told them his experience with Jesus—so he was indeed prepared. He knew what to say and how to say it.
This helps us to see that if we want a powerful testimony we need to prepare! So, do that! Write it down—work on it—practice it in front of a mirror—video yourself sharing it on your phone and then listen to it and criticize yourself. But prepare!
In his book Come Before Winter, Charles Swindoll suggests some things to remember when preparing your testimony.
a. You want to be LISTENED to so be INTERESTING.
Remember, no one—no matter how gracious—enjoys being bored so they won’t listen if your testimony is dry. Besides—it’s a contradiction to talk about how exciting Christ really is in an uninteresting way. So, work on your wording. Get the flow of your thoughts just right. And, remember, guard against religious clichés and hard-to-understand terminology.
B. You want to be UNDERSTOOD, so be LOGICAL.
Just as Paul does here in Acts 26, organize your testimony in three logical phases:
- Tell what your life was like before you met Jesus.
- Tell of the events or event that led you to become a Christian
- Close by telling about the difference Jesus has made and is making in your life
C. You want to be CLEAR, so be SPECIFIC.
Don’t be at all vague regarding how you became a Christian. Speak of Jesus, not of your walk down the aisle or your baptism. Be simple and direct. Emphasize faith more than feeling.
D. You want your testimony to be USED so be PRACTICAL.
Try to think as an unbeliever thinks and trust me, theoretical, theological stuff won’t attract their attention as much as practical reality—so just tell them how Jesus helps you to live your day-to-day life.
E. Finally, you want your testimony to produce RESULTS, so be WARM and genuine.
Remember it will be hard to convince the person of the sheer joy and excitement of knowing Christ if you’re wearing the face of a prison-warden. So—think of all the amazing ways Jesus has blessed your life and let the joy of that show! Also—make sure they can sense that you are sharing out of love and concern for them. Paul did this in his last appeal by saying, “I would that you were like me—except for these chaing—I wish you could experience the joy and freedom I have because of Jesus.” I mean, be friendly and sincere. Let your enthusiasm flow freely.
And above all, be courteous—as Paul was at the beginning of his testimony here when he said,
“King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today…because you are well-acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies.”
Heed these tips—because for your testimony to be powerful, it needs to be prepared.
Reveal how Jesus has changed your life.
Now—sermons are great—I love to preach and to hear sermons preached to me but—and listen closely because you won’t hear many preachers say this—sometimes I think the world has been preached to death. What this lost world of ours really needs is not more sermons, but more testimonies given by people who don’t stand behind a pulpit. You see, no sermon—no matter how bald its preacher—will ever take the place of a testimony—the real-life story of the difference Jesus makes. This is because the most convincing unanswerable arguments on earth regarding Christianity is one’s personal experience with Jesus.
Look at verses 13 and following and count all the times Paul uses a form of the personal pronoun, “I.” He says to his hearers,
- “I saw a light from Heaven…”
- “We all fell to the ground…”
- “I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic…”
- “I obeyed my heavenly vision…”
But please here me on this—don’t think you have to have your own PERSONAL Damascus Road experience like Paul for your testimony to be worth telling. I can understand the feeling of the man who went to hear an evangelist who had been converted from a life of crime and drug abuse. After hearing the evangelist tell of all the bad things he had done, the man went home and that night in his prayers he said to God, “Oh, Lord, I’ve never smoked pot, never been drunk, never committed adultery, never robbed a bank, never lied to a grand jury—but if You can use me in spite of these short-comings please do.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love to hear how someone has COME OUT of a life of sin—but I also think we benefit just as much—if not more—from people who tell how Jesus KEPT them from a life of sin.
We need to realize that for every “Paul” converted on the road to Damascus—there are thousands of “Timothys” who came to know Christ in a quiet way as the result of faithful parents and grandparents. And while a striking testimony makes for good programming, the more ordinary experience is easier to identify with—because most of us are just ordinary!
Last but not least, remember:
Your life must point people to Jesus.
Remember, a testimony can be seen. The way you live out your faith is a visible thing. People are more likely to be moved by your testimony if, when they look at your life, they see that Jesus has indeed changed you. And Paul’s life showed that. The way he allowed Jesus to change him backed up his words that day. Remember, Paul had sat in that prison cell for two years because he knew it was wrong to bribe his way out. I’m sure this fact was well-known. Plus, those people in the audience were familiar with Paul’s life since his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road—so they knew he was telling the truth in verses 19 and following when he said, “I was not disobedient to the vision from Heaven.” They must have nodded to each other as if to say, “I’ll give Paul that much—his walk matches his talk—he HAS changed.” And the fact that he had—the obvious fact that God’s power had reached down and changed this persecutor into a preacher—added great power to his testimony that day.
One of my favorite preachers is E.V. Hill. I remember a sermon he preached once entitleed, “When is God at His Best?” The thing that made this sermon powerful was the fact that it ended with his testimony. He began his message by referring to the book of Genesis. Then he talked about creation and he described what happened during those first seven days in such amazing detail that I thought, “Wow—surely that was God at His best.” But as if to read my mind, E.V. said, “This was amazing. It was powerful—but it wasn’t God at His best.” Then He turned to Exodus and talked about how God delivered the Hebrew people from bondage. And as I heard him describe the plagues and miracles and the parting of the Red Sea I thought,
“Man…surely that was God at His best.” And again, Hill said, “This was powerful and amazing but it wasn’t God at His best.” He followed this same line of reasoning with the birth of Jesus and then with His crucifixion and then with His resurrection and each time I thought, “This must be it—surely this is God at His best.” But each time Hill would say, “This was powerful and amazing but it wasn’t God at His best.”
About this time, like you I was wondering, “Well, then what is? Please, I’m listening! Answer this question—-when was God at His best? I’ve got to know!” In other words, Hill’s sermon showed the power of TENSION in a sermon—-or testimony for that matter. I mean, if you have tension you have A-ttention—which is what I hope I have now! Well E.V had my attention. In my mind I was begging him to tell me, “When was God at His best?”
Listen to how E. V. Hill finally answered that question:
I don’t know about you guys—but I feel an AMEN in my soul. Every time I hear this I think, “YES! YES that is right! God WAS at His best when He saved me and began to change me!”
Wouldn’t you agree! God is at His best—His power is most evident—in the new birth we experience when we become Christians!
Well, Paul’s hearers saw an example of God at His best in the way He obviously changed this former Pharisee—and I’m sure that visible change earned him their attention. I’m sure it convicted them of their need for Jesus. I think Paul saw this in Agrippa’s eyes because in verse 25 in essence he said, “Jesus has changed me Agrippa. I know you can see that! And He has the power to change you to!” Well, borrowing from E. V. Hill, let me ask you. Have you allowed God to be at His best in your life? Does your testimony show?
Well how did this king respond? He shrugged it off. Look at verse 28 where he says, “Do you think that in such a short time you an persuade me to be a Christian? – Almost Paul, but not quite.” And then he and Bernice and Festus got up and walked out. So, Agrippa ALMOST became a Christian—he was “almost won” to Jesus. And, in that context, aren’t those two words heart-wrenching? “ALMOST WON” Again, let me ask, what about you? Remember ALMOST only counts in horse shoes and hand-grenades. To be almost saved is to be completely lost.
As C. H. Spurgeon wrote: “Almost persuaded to be a Christian is like the man who was almost pardoned, but hanged; like the man who was almost rescued, but was burned in the house. A man that is almost saved is damned.”
If you are here and are not a Christian, then don’t leave here ALMOST saved. Decide now to do what so many of us in this room have done, pray—and invite Jesus to forgive you. Commit to follow Him as Lord.
And Christian, don’t leave ALMOST in the center of God’s will. Pray—in your seat—or come and pray with me. Pray for God’s guidance and then commit to follow it—whether it means joining this church family—or yielding completely to God’s wonder-working power in some area of your life. Come now as God leads.