Below is the audio, along with the manuscript. At the end of the message are six powerful testimonies given by Karis Church members. Be sure to listen to them.
Karis Church, you and I have a story. And we’re meant to tell it. Many years ago, I was the good kid, the guy who didn’t smoke, drink, or hang with girls who did. I was first in my class. I had my college paid for. But I was full of myself. I was running after fortune and glory. And then God stopped me in my tracks. He showed me all of that was meaningless. He brought me to Himself. My wife was the type of girl I would have avoided. She was drunk most nights of the week. She was the one up dancing on the tables. She masked her pain with drugs and alcohol. She searched for affirmation in unhealthy men. But then God brought her to the end of her rope. He gave her joy and hope. He brought her to Himself.
You and I have a story. And we’re meant to tell it. That’s what we see Paul the apostle doing here. He has wanted to get to Jerusalem for some time. Now he’s there. He tries to do things to build bridges for the gospel - Billy covered that well last week. It doesn’t work. It goes miserably. He’s misunderstood. He finds himself in a middle of a mob. He gets arrested. What does Paul do? He takes the opportunity to tell his story.
Brought Out of Darkness into Light
This morning I want to work my way to two commands, two applications of this passage. Before I get there, though, I want to give you two truths, two foundations for that application. Two things that will no doubt be reminders for many of you. Here is the first: He has brought you out of darkness into His light. That’s true if you’re a disciple of Jesus, if you’re a Christian. As Colossians 1:13 puts it, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” He has brought us into the light. He has rescued us.
Here Paul proclaims to this crowd what we saw happen to him back in Acts 9. He is running around desperately trying to uphold God’s law. He is persecuting these first followers of Jesus, throwing them in jail, even putting them to death. But the Lord intervenes. As he’s pursuing Christians in Damascus, a great light shines. It exposes the darkness in Paul’s heart. And he’s never the same. His eyesight is restored. He moves from being a persecutor of God’s people to being a preacher of the kingdom of God.
Now, I feel compelled to say this. It’s the first of two things I need to say in light of current events. You can’t miss what happens here. This man Ananias takes in this dangerous person - truly a terrorist - this man named Saul. Now don’t hear for a second that I’m saying we shouldn’t have a very strict vetting process as we think about taking in refugees in our country. We absolutely should. But, at the same time, as Christians, we have this calling to extend hospitality as it has been extended to us. It doesn’t mean we have to advocate unqualified entry into country. I think it does mean we shouldn’t be the loudest voices screaming, “Get out of our house!” I’m not talking about policy here, but our posture. My mind goes back to our time in Exodus, where God tells His people there more than once to be kind to the sojourner and the alien. He says, “You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” We were welcomed by God. We were welcomed by His people. That has to at least be our default desire - not safety, comfort, or self-preservation. Who knows what would have happened if Ananias would have listened to those voices of fear in his head? Instead he chose to trust God.
Anyway, the Lord brings Paul out of darkness into light. If we belong to Him, we also have such a story. We’ve been radically changed by Him. And Paul’s story here is an image of ours, whether or not we realized it. We, too, were running around in rebellion before God, and he knocked us on our butts. It’s all by the grace of God. Listen to verses 14 through 16 of chapter 22:
Acts 22:14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
So much of the time, we take the credit for our story. We use too many first person pronouns. Me, myself, I. God is the main actor in our story. He’s the protagonist. He appointed you to know His will - to see Jesus, to hear His word - just as with Paul. He’s the One who’s appointed you to be a witness of this. He’s the One that called you toward the baptismal waters. He’s the One who’s done it. And He gets the credit.
So much of the time, we also forget this story. We look at a non-Christian and shake our heads. We look at a young believer and wonder why they just don’t get it. Beyond that, we walk around forgetting where we’ve come from. We’re not thankful. We’re not joyful. We’re not in awe. Some of you will have stories more like mine - self-sufficient, religious, full of yourself. Some will have stories more like my wife - rebellious, irreligious, running from God. But you’ve got one. We’ve been brought from darkness into light by Him. He has done this. It should fill us with great thanksgiving! We have a story.
Led to this Time and Place
Speaking of stories, the last few weeks have been crazy, right? The bombings in France. The protests here in town. It’s all seemed overwhelming, at least to me. But have you thought that maybe we’re right where the Lord wants us to be? God isn’t just the King over salvation. He’s the Lord over history. All of this is happening according to His will. That we might engage the issues of our day. That we might tell our story. Here’s a second truth. He has led you to this time and place.
The culture Paul’s in is tough. Legalistic Jews on one side. Skeptical pagans on the other. Not friendly to Christianity. Immoral, broken. His circumstances are rough, also. Mocked and beaten by both groups of people. He originally left Jerusalem so he wouldn’t get killed. Now he’s right back there again. But he’s right where God wants Him. As we’ve seen in chapters 20 and 21, he’s fully convinced of this. He says, in verse 22 of chapter 20, that he’s there “constrained by the Spirit.” He’s completely in God’s hands. So are we. He’s put us here. And He hasn’t left us alone. Some of my favorite verses in the Bible are verses 7 and 8 here in chapter 22.
Acts 22:7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’
Do you catch the significance of those words? What does the Lord tell Paul? “Dude, you haven’t just been persecuting them. You’ve been persecuting me!” The Lord identifies so closely with us, His people, the church, that if somebody messes with us, they’re messing with Him. You hear that, ISIS?! Keep it up, and the Lord will come get you. Or, wait a second - maybe He’ll come convert you.
Hard culture. Hard circumstances. That’s our situation, right? Instead of whining and complaining about what’s going on, maybe we should expect it, even embrace it. Maybe you think the world is hard; it was then. Maybe you think your circumstances are tough. That’s to be expected in a fallen world. God has us right here, right now. He’s led you to this time and place.
Tell Your Story
He has brought you out of darkness into His light. He has led you to this time and place. With those two truths in mind, here are two commands, two important points of application.
First, tell your story. That’s what Paul does here. He seizes the opportunity. He tells his story. He gives what Christians often call their “testimony.” He takes seriously those words from God through that man Ananias that we see in verse 15. He’s a witness for Jesus to everyone of what he has seen and heard. If you’re a believer, you have a story. He’s rescued you. He’s placed you. Go tell it. Do what Paul does so clearly here. Tell where you’ve come from. Who you once were. Your life before Jesus. Your enslavement to sin. Tell them what Jesus did for you. How you met Him. How He saved you. Where you were at. What He has done. Tell where you are now. How things have changed. How He’s using you today. Where you’re headed. Don’t make it seem like things are easy now. Don’t paint a picture of being perfect. But talk about the difference Jesus has made in your life. Tell that story.
Just be sure again to make it primarily about His. The awesome thing about the Bible is it isn’t just a book of rules to follow. It’s not just a book of propositions. It’s a story. About God and His people. And how those people strayed but He pursued them through Jesus. The story has a hero, Jesus. We don’t see it quite as much here, but Paul is constantly telling that story. Tell your story, but let it get caught up in that bigger story. Maybe not the first time you share it with someone, but we have to eventually get there.
Tim Keller says that we often come on too strong and too fast as we seek to share Christ. He says, rather than trying to force a gospel conversation or invite someone immediately to church, we should just talk freely about our faith. And the problems we’re facing. And the difference Jesus makes in them. What He’s doing in our life right now. And, as we can, what He’s brought us from. Give an impressive treatise on the gospel? Answer every possible objection? That’s kinda scary. Tell what Christ has done for you and is doing in you. That’s not as big of a deal. Author Michael Green cites Acts 8:4 and says that the early church went around “gossiping the gospel.” That’s all they talked about. Tell your story, church.
Brace for Trouble
But, as you do, second, brace yourself for trouble. Paul’s commitment to tell His story is what got him here. His zeal to keep doing it just makes things worse. Verses 32 and 33 of chapter 21 tell us he’s beaten by the mob. He’s placed in chains. His testimony throws the crowd into rage, says verses 22-23 of chapter 22.
They’re about to whip him raw when Paul speaks up. He reminds them he’s a Roman citizen and deserves due process. Here’s another thing I must share as I see what’s going on around us. This serves to show us that we don’t always have to keep our mouths shut. Paul doesn’t remain quiet and take unjust abuse. We don’t always have to do what our government tells us. There is a call in the Bible to submit, yes - Romans 13. God puts rulers there. But our allegiance is ultimately to Him. Back in Acts 4, in verse 20, Peter and John tell the religious leaders they won’t stop speaking about Christ. They say they “cannot but speak of what [they] have seen and heard.” In chapter 5, after they’re arrest again, they tell them the same thing: “We must obey God rather than men.”
Things are changing in America. We’ve had a cushy environment, but it’s moving back toward the days of the Roman Empire. I’m going to be told to marry people I don’t feel comfortable marrying. You’re going to be told to not talk about Jesus. We’re going to have to stand up to them. And still tell our stories.
But here’s my main concern. We’re far too perplexed when hard things happen. And we’re far too committed to our own safety. If we share Jesus with people - that they’re sinners and in need of a Savior - it’s gonna make people mad. We’re going to experience abuse. It’s always happened that way. It always will.
But, beyond that, I’m convinced that we let the expectation that people will reject us deter us from sharing in the first place. Are we afraid? Yes. Do we think it’s pointless? Maybe. Back in a time far, far ago, in a galaxy far, far away, we had landline phones. You had a plan with a company, and the others constantly called all the time trying to get you to switch. I once worked for one of those companies. You had to just assume that everyone would tell you no. And almost all people did. That was my expectation. But I also knew some people wouldn’t. Some did say yes. I had reasonable expectations, but I also had hope.
Friends, most people are in darkness. They don’t want the light. They are just like we once were. We can’t grow cynical. We can’t get pessimistic. And then stop sharing the story. We’ve got to tell it, knowing most will mock us and hurt us. But you know, some won’t. And not because we got the story right, but because God chose to act. Listen to 2 Corinthians 4 with me:
2 Cor. 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Did you catch that? We don’t lose heart and give up. We don’t resort to goofy, pragmatic methods. We see things as they really are. People are blinded by Satan, our enemy. They’re in darkness. But we hold out hope. We act. We pray. Why? We believe that, as the Lord said, “Let there be light,” back in creation, He will do it in redemption. He’ll make new creations in Christ. He’ll call people, as He did with Paul, as He did with us. He’ll shine that light. That person will be changed. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” People are out there. They will receive the gospel. I mean, we did, right? We’ve just got to tell the story.
Karis family, we have six identities we talk frequently about here. We’re learners and worshippers. We’re family and servants. We’re peacemakers and storytellers. Storytellers. We tell our stories of how He’s rescued us. We tell how we’ve been caught up into His great story. Tell your story. Brace yourself for trouble. But do that remembering that He once called you out of darkness into light. Do it being confident that He has you right where He wants you. Let’s pray.