Summary: Through Paul’s defense before Agrippa we learn what it means to be a Christian.
They come in many kinds: slip-joint, diagonal, needle-nose, parrot-nose, midget… Do you have any idea what I’m talking about? Pliers. If you were here last week for the Easter sermon, you know that I’m pretty clueless when it comes to pliers. I used one for an object lesson but had to stop and ask you what kind of pliers I was holding. I believe it was a water-pump pliers.
You may find it easy to give name to any tool you see at Canadian Tire but is it as easy for you to make sense of the many different kinds of Christians there are in this world? There are Lutherans, Catholics, Baptist, Pentecostal, and Reformed just to name a few of the supposed 38,000 Christian denominations in existence. With so many “flavors” it’s not surprising that many are confused as to what really makes one “Christian.” With the help of the Apostle Paul we’re going to find out.
Paul was a Jew who once persecuted Christians a little less than 2,000 years ago. He figured that Jesus was just a pretender and not the Son of God he claimed to be. Jesus changed Paul’s mind, however, when that man was on his way to the city of Damascus to arrest more Christians. Jesus appeared in a blinding light and declared that Paul’s days of persecuting Christians were over. Instead, Paul was to become Jesus’ spokesman to Jews and non-Jews alike.
Paul recounted all this to King Agrippa, a great-grandson of Herod the Great, and his sister Bernice who were in the coastal city of Caesarea to welcome the new Roman governor, Festus. Paul had been brought to Caesarea to stand trial for disturbing the peace through his preaching. As Paul defended himself he gives us a clear understanding of what it means to be a Christian.
The first thing we learn from Paul is that a Christian is someone who is obedient to God’s commands. After Jesus appeared to Paul on the way to Damascus the apostle wasted no time in carrying out God’s mission for him. Already in Damascus he began telling people about Jesus. He eventually travelled throughout the Mediterranean world preaching to everyone from common criminals to Roman governors. Paul didn’t do this out of a sense of duty. He earnestly wanted all people to enjoy the blessings of forgiveness that he himself had come to enjoy. Paul said to King Agrippa: “I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:29b).
Jesus may not have appeared to us as he did to Paul in a blinding flash of light but he has made our mission clear. Shortly before he ascended, Jesus said that our purpose in life is to tell others about him as we go about our daily lives. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t eagerly share God’s Word as readily as did Paul. It took me a week to get up the courage to give some of my gym buddies an invitation to our Holy Week services. I kept coming up with excuses of why it wasn’t a good time to talk about Jesus when in reality I was just afraid of what they might think of me. Sometimes we hesitate to tell others about Jesus because we don’t want to impose our beliefs on them. But a Christian is someone who believes what Jesus told his disciples: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). If someone said they were going to drive to Vancouver by heading north on Hwy 2, would you be “imposing your beliefs” on them if you said: “You won’t get to Vancouver that way. You need to drive south and west, not due north”? Of course not! You’d simply be steering them in the right direction. Failure to say anything wouldn’t be very kind. In the same way, the only way into God’s holy presence is through the cleansing blood of Jesus. If people around us don’t realize that, it’s our privilege to tell them. And there are many people in this world who think they are headed for heaven but don’t realize that they can’t get there without Jesus. Let’s tell them about the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
So if we have failed to steer others to Jesus, can we not call ourselves Christian? A Christian is not someone who is perfect. Paul said to King Agrippa: “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20b). A Christian is someone who knows he is imperfect and wants to change. He does that through repentance. To repent means to feel sorry for our sins – sorry that we offended God, not sorry we got caught. But repentance is more than a feeling. Paul makes it clear that repentance is an action. The way we show others that our heart is repentant is with repentant hands and feet. If we have stolen from our employer, for example, we will admit our sin and give back what we took. If we have hurt our parents, we will apologize and speak kindly and patiently to them in the future. If we have been misusing God’s gift of sex, alcohol, or even food, we’ll stop and find out exactly how God wants us to use these blessings.