"Powerful Testimony" — A Year with Jesus for 10/15/2017
Note from Jesus
I gave My life to bring God's grace to you. As My disciple, I ask you to share My story of grace in your life with others. In the first verses you will read today, Peter tells early disciples who were facing challenging circumstances to be ready always to offer their "defense" for their hope in Me. The same admonition is true for you. You might call your "defense" your testimony. It is your reason for having hope in Me. Here are some questions to help prompt you as you think through your own "defense" or personal testimony:
How does My story intersect your life to bring you hope?
How does My grace change the way you feel about your future?
How does My victory over sin, death, and hell give you the confidence to face your challenges?
How does the Father's love demonstrated by My incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection grab your heart?
Where have you seen My blessings in your life?
Certainly, there are more questions than these, but these should get you started as you prepare yourself to share!
The longer reading in today's verses comes from Paul's trial before King Agrippa. Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem and was caught in a tangle of murder plots, legal delays, changes in leadership, and pressures to bribe his way to freedom. The grinding processes of the Roman legal system, Satan's direct attacks, and unscrupulous people slowed down Paul's appeal for freedom. Just as I had promised, Paul's suffering for Me had a specific purpose. He addressed influential leaders he otherwise would have never been allowed to address (Acts 9:15-16; Acts 22:14-16). The Holy Spirit empowered Paul to say what needed to be said (Luke 12:11-12) so that the good news was preached to these influential leaders.
Keeping your faith brimming with hope is hard when you are under fire. Persecution can drain faith of its steadfastness and rob hope of its vibrancy. I want you to know that I see, hear, and know of your challenges, your sufferings, and your trials. These adversities can come in all sorts of forms. Some of My disciples are facing torture and death this very day because of their faith. Others face ridicule while others are being ostracized or marginalized. All of these situations, along with your specific circumstances, are important to Me. I will not forget what you endure for My sake (Luke 12:6-7; Hebrews 6:10; Revelation 14:13).
You are not forgotten! I will remember your faithfulness. Hard times do not come upon you because you are unimportant. You do not face them because you have been forgotten. Throughout history, I have used the testimony of My faithful disciples under persecution to soften the hearts of hostile leaders. I have used their examples of courage to strengthen other disciples. I have used their character while suffering to change public opinion about My people and their faith.
In the midst of your trials, even in the most painful moments of your persecutions, remain true to Me. In the most belittling moments of ostracism and ridicule, remain faithful. Hang on to your hope in Me. Hold fast to My message of grace and ultimate victory. Remain true to the character and compassion you have as one of My followers.
As you persevere, look for an opportunity to share the reason for your hope in Me. Ask the Holy Spirit to make you aware of those around you who are desperately yearning to know the Father's grace. Be ready to share your hope through both your words and your actions. As you do, please know that the Holy Spirit's power and direction will work through you. You may not see immediate results, but know that your efforts will not be in vain!
Verses to Live
Folks in your day tell others in hard times to "hang in there." For those facing trials, this phrase of encouragement can feel hollow and perfunctory. However, the two witnesses who speak to you through these verses that follow put their lives on the line to share these messages with you. These are words from the front lines of faith in the face of danger. Life is on the line. Both Peter and Paul will ultimately give their lives because of their faith. So take their words to heart. As you do, be encouraged to do two things. First, commit to being faithful under trial as you look for an opportunity to share the reason for your hope in Me. Second, pray for your brothers and sisters who are in hostile places and whose lives are on the line because of their faith.
Why would anyone harm you if you eagerly do good? Even if you should suffer for doing what is right, you will receive a blessing. Don't let them frighten you. Don't be intimidated, but exalt Him [Jesus Christ] as Lord in your heart. Always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope. Keep your conscience clear so that those who ridicule your good conduct in the Anointed [in Christ] and say bad things about you will be put to shame. For if it is the will of God that you suffer, then it is better to suffer for doing what is right than for doing what is wrong.
(1 Peter 3:13-17)
Agrippa (to Paul):
Go ahead. You may speak for yourself.
Paul (extending his hand):
I am indeed fortunate to be standing before you, King Agrippa, to humbly defend myself against accusations from my Jewish opponents. You are extraordinarily familiar with Jewish customs and controversies, so I beg your patience as I begin. My way of life is well known to the whole Jewish community, how I have lived in the Jewish community abroad and in Jerusalem. If they are willing to speak, they themselves will tell you something they have long known — that I was a member of the strictest sect of our religion and lived for many years as a Pharisee. But now I am on trial here for this simple reason: I have hope. I have hope rooted in a promise God made to our ancestors. All our twelve tribes have hope in this promise — they express their hope as they worship day and night. How strange it is, then, Your Excellency, that I am accused by the Jews of having hope! Why would any of you think it is absurd to have hope that God raises the dead? As you know, we're talking specifically about Jesus of Nazareth. For a long time, I was convinced that I should work against that name. I opposed it in Jerusalem. I received authorization from the chief priests to lock many of His followers in prison. When they were threatened with execution, I voted against them. I would find them in synagogues across Jerusalem and try to force them to blaspheme. My fury drove me to pursue them to foreign cities as well.
On one occasion, I was traveling to Damascus, authorized and commissioned by the chief priests to find and imprison more of His [Jesus'] followers. It was about midday, Your Excellency, when I saw a light from heaven — brighter than the noonday sun — shining around my companions and me. We all fell to the ground in fear, and I then heard a voice. The words were in Aramaic: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? When you kick against the cattle prods, you're only hurting yourself." I asked, "Lord, Who are You?" and the Lord answered, "I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting. Get up now, and stand upright on your feet. I have appeared to you for a reason. I am appointing you to serve Me. You are to tell My story and how you have now seen Me, and you are to continue to tell the story in the future. I will rescue you from your Jewish opponents and from the outsiders — for it is to the outsiders I am sending you. It will be your mission to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God. This is so that they may receive forgiveness of all their sins and have a place among those who are set apart for a holy purpose through having faith in Me."
King Agrippa, I did not disobey this vision from heaven. I began in Damascus, then continued in Jerusalem, then throughout the Judean countryside, then among the outsiders — telling everyone they must turn from their past and toward God and align their deeds and way of life with this new direction. So then, this is my crime. This is why my Jewish opponents seized me that day in the temple and tried to kill me. God has helped me right up to this very moment, so I can stand here telling my story to both the humble and the powerful alike. I only say what the prophets and Moses said would happen — that the Anointed One [Jesus Christ] must suffer, and then, by being the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light to both Jews and outsiders.
You've gone crazy, Paul! You've read one book too many and have gone insane!
No, most excellent Festus, I am not insane. I am telling the sane and sober truth. The king understands what I'm talking about, which is why I could speak so freely to him. None of these things have been covered up and hidden away in a corner, so I'm sure none of these things have escaped his notice. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you must believe.
Paul, have you so quickly moved on from defending yourself to trying to persuade me to become a Christian?
Whether I have done so quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you but also everyone who is listening to me today might become what I am — minus these chains.
The king stood to leave at this point, along with Festus, Bernice, and all those who had been seated; and as they left, everyone was saying the same thing: "This man isn't doing anything deserving death — he shouldn't even be in prison."
Agrippa (to Festus):
This man could have been released completely if he had not appealed to the emperor.
Response in Prayer
O Father, I want to be faithful to You. I want to share the reason for my hope in Jesus with those who are interested and with those who may be hostile. Please give me the courage and discernment to know the best time and the best way to do this. I trust that the Holy Spirit will give me the words to say just as the Lord Jesus promised. I ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
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