As a pastor, I’m acutely aware that we live in a day and age when people are highly critical of others and lenient on themselves. No, it doesn’t help that some people make themselves easy targets by their stupid behavior, but that’s no excuse to excuse ourselves. Remember, when you point the finger at someone else, there are 3 fingers pointing back at you.
Now imagine standing before a King and accusing him of murder! I know a guy who did just that. They funny thing is, he was a murderer himself.
I never really thought about it, but I suppose the legal system is much more lenient than it once was. How else could the apostle Paul have killed Christians and gotten away with it? In some ways, his freedom, was a daily reminder of God’s grace. And isn’t it funny to think that the accurate charges against Paul were dropped, yet he was brought up on false charges?
The man Paul stood before was named Agrippa. You can read about him in Acts 12 where he is referred to as Herod Agrippa. He’s the same guy who had James- the half brother of Jesus killed- and had Peter imprisoned. Paul has the chance to speak with him on his way to Rome. Ironically, Paul is more concerned with Agrippa’s welfare than he is with his own, and he uses the opportunity to rescue Agrippa from the coming judgment.
In a nutshell, Paul shares the story of how he was an over zealous murderer who had an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. He tells Agrippa Jesus asked him why he was persecuting him and how he repented. Jesus then orders Paul to witness for him and serve.
Here are three reminders from Paul.
One, the ground is level at the cross. If we’re going to help others, we have to come along side and remind them that we know what it’s like to be in the same exact mess they’re in when it comes to their standing before God. If you don’t think it’s really that bad, may I remind you that- like Paul- you’ve killed someone! That’s right. Because of your sin, Jesus had to die. We tend to forget that fact. When we do, it’s awful easy to look down our noses at others. However, when we’re reminded of our own plight, it’s much easier to be compassionate with others.
Two, love doesn’t leave people where it finds them. The scriptures quote Agrippa saying that he was almost convinced to be a Christian. That’s still a huge leap for someone who seemingly was hardened to God’s love before the interview. While Paul doesn’t exactly say so, I don’t imagine it was very difficult for him to figure out that Paul was empathizing with him. The story he told Agrippa was a picture, and then Paul provides illustrations to open a window. Finally, Paul’s story allows Agrippa to look in the mirror and see himself. Specifically, he sees himself in Paul’s story and realizes he’ll have to pay a penalty for his own actions if he doesn’t repent. However, Paul doesn’t leave him there. He insinuates that just as he once had a bleak and painful future because of his actions, there was a solution!
Three, Paul offers his listener hope! Someone once said when people tell you about their problems, tell them about your hope. Paul does just that. He tells the King that a glorious future awaits him if he will amend his ways. Agrippa doesn’t have to remain a slave to his passions and lusts, a life of purpose and service is his for the taking! Friend, whatever you do, don’t leave people in the dark. Open the door and let the light break in! Invite them out into the bright clean air of life and freedom. Be careful that you don’t get so caught up in seeing people as they are that you fail to see their potential.
I don’t know that Agrippa ever became a believer. But I do know that he had every opportunity because of Paul’s love for him.
Not everybody you share with is going to accept your gift, but that shouldn’t stop you from sharing. What if you determined, right now, to never stop inviting people to heaven? And while you’re at it, what if you followed Paul’s example.
To recap, Paul admitted his own guilt and unworthiness. He says, “Look, I’ve messed up too! Big time. I thought I knew it all, and I did every thing in my power to harm and kill others.”
Second, Paul shared about the hope Jesus offered him, despite of what Paul had done.
Third, Paul invited Agrippa to receive the same forgiveness he had received.
Look, in my earlier days as a Christian, I did my fair share of pointing the finger at others while forgetting what it felt like to be in their shoes. That’s not to say, people don’t need to know the truth. But the truth without love leads to condemnation. I’m sorry to say, there have been times when I told the truth, but left people in the dark without any hope because I wasn’t compassionate or got too hung up on focusing on the sin tethering them to the ground. Jesus wants to cut people free so that they can rise indefinitely. Their is no ceiling to our potential because of what Jesus did on the cross.
Paul says, “Man, I was such a phony! I had it all fixed up on the outside, but inside, every thing was a mess. I had people killed. True love doesn’t do that. Now love lives inside me and the last thing I want to do is harm someone, let alone kill them”. (My paraphrase).
Ultimately, the reason we like putting the spotlight on other people’s sin and shortcomings is because it takes it off our own. Instead, what if every time we were confronted with the sin of others, we were reminded of our own? And what if instead of condemning others, we used the reminder as an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus and provided an opportunity for them to find ultimate freedom? You do that when you tell your story in such a way that others are able to relate to it personally.
Paul was no dummy. He wrote at least thirteen books in the New Testament. If while his life was in danger he used the opportunity to save someone else rather than preserve himself, what’s stopping you and I on a daily basis? Especially considering the fact that most of the time our lives aren’t in danger. You see, the real person who was in trouble, though he was vulnerable, wasn’t Paul. It was Agrippa who was tottering on the edge of destruction. And so are many of the people we meet on a daily basis. So let’s be like Paul and help them. Tell your story and when you do, God may just allow others to see themselves in it.