Faithfully witness in stressful situations.
You don’t need to learn a lot of new things in order to be a faithful witness to Jesus for the long haul. Rather, you need to remember three glorious things a whole life long: 1. Remember your commission. 2. Remember your message. 3. Remember your appeal.
Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Acts of the Apostles, by David Peterson
Exalting Jesus in Acts, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary, by Tony Merida
A couple weeks ago I announced that the Citylight Manayunk staff and elders are hard at work on a two-pronged re-gathering plan for our congregation. First, we are pursuing venues in the Philadelphia suburbs where Citylight’s suburban members, attenders, and their neighbors can gather for worship in-person on Sundays. Second, we are working with Citygroups that meet in the city of Philadelphia to start as many as thirty “watch parties” in homes so that our members, attenders, and their neighbors who live in the city can participate in the online worship services together. We are pursuing this regathering plan because of the priorities of the church gathering together, the priority of honoring our governing officials, and the priority of loving our neighbors. The reason for the two-pronged approach is because the restrictions surrounding indoor gatherings are different in the city and suburbs.
I’d love to provide you with an update and some next steps related to our regathering plan.
Online Worship Services Watch Parties. By God’s grace, over half of the Citygroups that meet in the city have established watch parties and are working toward 100%! We would like to get as many of you as live in the city into one of these watch parties.
• Text hello to the number on your screen.
Suburban Venue. By God’s grace, we have secured a building in Plymouth Meeting and we will do a soft launch for Sunday worship services there on August 30 at 9am and 11am and a hard launch on Sunday September 13! If you live in the suburbs, there are two next steps for you:
1. Join a Citygroup. Suburban Citygroup members will be the first people eligible to reserve a seat for the worship services.
2. Read the weekly email I sent to the church.
3. Online worship option will continue.
Where does it stress you out to witness about Jesus? In other words, to what people and in what places is it stressful for you to speak the good news that Jesus died for our sins and seek to persuade people to believe it? Sometimes the people who know us best, like our families, are the most stressful to witness to. At other times, it’s stressful to witness to people we admire or superiors whose respect and approval we long for. And often it’s stressful to witness to friends or peers that we already know have major hang-ups about the Christian gospel or are antagonistic toward the teachings of Christ. Where does it stress you out to witness about Jesus? Now, I realize that some of you watching aren’t yet followers of Jesus, so the question seems a bit irrelevant to your life. Similarly, I know that many of you watching are hurting in this season and barely clinging to faith yourselves, so the idea of sharing your faith doesn’t enter your mind much these days. Whether you’re unbelieving or barely believing, don’t worry, there is PLENTY in our passage for you! Nevertheless, the question that I’d like all of us to consider from the outset is: Where does it stress you out to witness about Jesus? Keep the answer in the back of your mind for a moment while I get you caught up to speed with where we are in the Book of Acts.
Way back in Acts 19, Paul resolved in the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem and as Paul journeyed toward Jerusalem, he received multiple prophetic promises from God that suffering and stress awaited him there. When Paul finally arrived in Jerusalem he went to the Jewish Temple where he was confronted by his Jewish countrymen. A near riot ensues. The Roman officials drag Paul out of the Temple and eventually send him away from Jerusalem in custody to the city of Caesarea to keep the Jews from killing Paul. Our passage picks up with Paul about to go on trial in Caesarea. It’s an incredibly stressful situation. The Jewish high priest and elders who want him dead are the plaintiffs. Paul is the defendant. The Roman Governor Felix, who is intent on doing the Jews a favor, is the judge and jury. In the midst of the chaos Paul serves as an example of how to faithfully witness to those people and in those places where it stresses you out to be a witness. That brings us to the timeless big idea of our passage: Faithfully witness in stressful situations. How do we do that? 1. Pursue a clear conscience. 2. Speak the truth with courage. 3. Make God’s sovereignty your confidence.
PURSUE A CLEAR CONSCIENCE (24:1-21)
Paul’s trial begins with the high priest’s lawyer accusing Paul before the Roman governor of three crimes. First, being a plague or cancer to Rome who stirs up riots in Roman cities. Second, being a ringleader for the sect of the Nazoreans, which refers to the region where Jesus was from. This charge would have had the ring of insubordination and treason in Roman ears. Finally, profaning the Temple, which caused the commotion in the first place. In summary, they charge Paul with leading a false religious sect that threatens Roman stability. He’s guilty before God and man. Let’s read how Paul responds to these charges. Acts 24:11-18a: You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, 12 and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city. 13 Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. 14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. 16 So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man. 17 Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. 18 While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult. The summary of Paul’s defense is verse 16: I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man. Paul says that his conscience is clear before man because the first and third charge are simply not true. The first charge is false because Paul did not stir up a riot, rather, he went to the Temple to worship and disputed with no one and stirred up no crowds. He’s no cancer to man. The third charge is false because he did not take a gentile into the Temple and he himself was ritually purified when he entered the temple. He caused no commotion. Paul pursued a clear conscience toward man by living uprightly. When it comes to the second charge, of being a ringleader for the sect of the Nazoreans, Paul confesses, but it’s a confession of faith and witness to the court, not a confession of guilt. Paul says, “Yes, I worship Jesus as the Christ and preach his gospel, but this is no new age sect.” The way of Christ, rather, is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises that God himself would send a Redeemer to suffer, die and rise to forgive all who hope in him and judge all who reject him. By hoping in Jesus Paul is being truly Jewish. By hoping in Jesus, Paul has turned to the only One who can cleanse his evil conscience before God. Here is the point: Paul can faithfully witness in this stressful situation because he has taken great pains to have a clear conscience before God and man. Since Paul knows he’s been redeemed by God and has acted honorably toward man, he can faithfully witness in the midst of stress without his conscience getting in the way.
Let’s begin to take this personally. In order to faithfully witness in stressful situations, pursue a clear conscience toward God and man. When I was a new Christian late in high school, I tried to witness to one of my gymnastics teammates, but he was incredibly antagonistic toward me and the faith. I knew the Lord was calling me to witness to him, but his antagonism coupled with his extreme intelligence created an incredibly stressful situation for me. One day the intensity of one of our conversations and his antagonism escalated to the point of a physical altercation which I instigated. The incident killed my witness because I no longer had a clear conscience before my teammate, and I sinned against God. Even though I was a young Christian, by God’s grace I knew what I needed to do. I had to confess my sin to God and confess my sin to my friend, even though he didn’t even believe there was such thing as sin. It was powerful and cracked my teammates heart open to me and my gospel-witness. Sometimes it’s hardest to witness to the people closest to us or that we spend the most time with because they know our sins so well. It’s stressful. Friend, perhaps the most powerful way to faithfully witness sin that stress is to pursue a clear conscience. If you’ve wronged the person, confess your sin openly to God and them and ask for their forgiveness. Pursue a clear conscience and you’ll be able to faithfully witness in those stressful situations. I want to pause for a moment and speak to those of you who aren’t yet followers of Jesus. Do you notice how calm and confident Paul is while facing antagonistic people? Don’t you long to have that kind of peace. Paul has such peace because his conscience is clear before God. He doesn’t wonder if he’s done enough good to gain God’s approval. He knows he’s a sinner and has put all his hope on Christ who is a great Savior. He’s forgiven. His conscience is clear. He’s at peace. You can have that if you’ll throw your hope on Christ for the forgiveness of sins. The second way that we witness faithfully in stressful situations is a bit counterintuitive…
SPEAK THE TRUTH WITH COURAGE (Acts 24:22-26)
After Paul made his defense, Governor Felix decides to delay the trial, but keeps Paul in custody. After some days, Felix and his Jewish wife meet with Paul. Acts 24:24-26: After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” 26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him. Some background on Felix and Drusilla is needed. Felix is a Roman Gentile. Drusilla is Jewish and, at the time of meeting Paul, is no more than twenty years old. She was married once before, but Felix convinced her to leave her husband and marry him. This is Felix’s third marriage. In other words, the marriage between Felix and Drusilla wildly violates God’s law in Scripture. Now remember, Paul is in a stressful situation; Paul’s life is in Felix’s hands. It would seem to be in Paul’s best interest to flatter the man and not bring up his sin and unlawful marriage to Drusilla. Similarly, we would typically think it best for Paul not to begin his witness by pointing out that Felix’s sinful marriage and the coming judgment of God. Get to that later. Go easy. Instead of following the conventional wisdom, Paul courageously speaks about righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment, three subjects the Felix and Drusilla probably didn’t want to but desperately needed to hear about. In the midst of the stressful situation, Paul witnesses faithfully by instead of beating around the bush, speaking the truth courageously.
Let’s begin to take this personally. We are all sinners and rebels against God by nature and choice. However, sometimes it’s most stressful to share the gospel with people whose lifestyles are obviously forbidden by Scripture. We mistakenly and often out of fear conclude that we shouldn’t bring up their sin too early when witnessing. That wasn’t Paul’s approach because until someone sees themselves as a great sinner, they cannot embrace Christ as the great and only Savior. The counterintuitive way to faithfully witness in stressful situations is to speak the truth courageously, telling people about God’s demand for righteousness, the coming judgment for sinners, and Christ as our only hope in life and in death. This reminds me of a story Pastor Mark told me about when he was a Christian worker in central Asia and one of his co-workers told a warlord to his face that having multiple wives was a sin against God. Now, Mark’s friend could have waited until the warlord embraced Jesus and then said, “ok, let’s talk about those wives…” However, embracing the real Jesus involves turning from our old ways to follow Jesus and so Paul and Mark’s friends wisely spoke of sin and judgment courageously and pointed their hearers to Christ the Savior of sinners. Where is it stressful for you to witness? Have you considered following Paul’s counterintuitive example by speaking the truth courageously? That’s the second way that we faithfully witness in stressful situations. Before we move on, I want to speak again directly to those of you who haven’t yet embraced Jesus as Lord. In the spirit of Acts 24, I want to respect you enough to not bait and switch you. Like the rest of us, you’re a sinner by nature and choice. God demands righteousness and judgment is coming for you. But no matter how great your sin, Jesus is a greater Savior. He’s our only hope in life and death. Will you embrace him today? The third way to faithfully witness in stressful situations is more in the background than the foreground of our passage…
MAKE GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY YOUR CONFIDENCE (24:27-25:12)
A theme that is implied throughout our passage is the absolute sovereignty of God over each unexpected turn of events. For example, Felix leaves Paul in prison for two years! What a setback! Except that most scholars agree that during those two years when Paul, Luke, and their team were forced to stay put, Luke may well have done his initial research for the Gospel of Luke and Acts, which we still have today. God’s sovereign hand was controlling and working the setback for good! At the end of our passage, Paul appeals his case to Caesar, an appeal that amazingly is granted and allows Paul to be sent to a Roman prison. It first glance it seems like a mere travel detail, but we know from Paul’s letter to the Philippians that Paul’s imprisonment in Rome opened massive doors for the gospel to advance in Rome. Philippians 1:12-14: I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. God’s sovereign hand of control worked even his imprisonment in Rome for the spread of the gospel. And God’s sovereignty is perhaps best seen when we look back on Luke’s Gospel, the prequal of Acts, and learn that Jesus sovereignly promised that this trial would happen. Luke 21:12-15: But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. God is sovereign working every second of Paul’s stressful situation together for his glory. When you set your confidence in God’s sovereignty, you can faithfully witness in stressful situations because your confidence isn’t in the results that you can see. Your confidence is in God’s sovereign hand. You can suffer setbacks in your witness because God never does and that’s your confidence. When your confidence is in God’s sovereign power to work all things for his glory and our good, then you can faithfully witness in stressful situations trusting that he’ll perfectly sort out the results. Set your confidence there every day. The sovereignty of God isn’t just our confidence in stressful witness, God’s sovereignty is our confidence in every difficulty. I want to speak to you, my hurting brothers and sisters. God is sovereignly working in your pain for his glory and your good. The gospel is proof that God is fabulous at working the worst evil for the greatest good. He is sovereignly working your light, momentary affliction to produce an eternal weight of glory that is beyond compare. In this season of suffering, set your confidence in God’s sovereignty and do not lose heart. The gospel of God’s sovereign grace empowers us to faithfully to live and witness in stressful situations.