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Paul’s Defense Suggests What We Need to Do As We Witness July 10, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Acts, Apostle Paul, Testimony, Witnessing.
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PUTTING A BURR IN THE SADDLE
Acts 22

(From RBC by Martin DeHaan accessed at http://beenthinking.org/articles/giving-facts-a-chance/ on July 3, 2012) “In the early 1950s, a small Chicago-based religious sect predicted that the world was going to end on December 21, 1954. Their leader claimed to have received this information from an alien reincarnation of Jesus who went by the name of Sananda.
Their prophecy caught the attention of researchers from Stanford University, who decided to use the group as a case study in human nature.

Recently, author Chris Mooney wrote an article for Mother Jones magazine describing what the researchers learned. Since they were able to infiltrate the group to do their study, they were able to observe firsthand what happened when December 21 passed without incident.

First the researchers saw the confusion that occurred as members of the group tried to explain their mistake. Then the unexpected happened. The leader claimed to receive a new communication from Sananda. The new message was that the little group had not failed. On the contrary, they had saved the world from judgment by believing in the prediction. From that moment on, believers in Sananda were more convinced than ever of the truth and value of their mission. They adjusted their view of reality rather than admitting they were wrong.

So why is the study of this small religious sect worth thinking about? According to one of the researchers who studied them, this little group of fanatical believers remind us of a principle far greater than their numbers. ‘A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.’

The article goes on to suggest that many of the disagreements that divide us are rooted in our natural instincts for survival. To protect our beliefs and emotional attachments, we push threatening ideas away and pull friendly information closer. This begins to happen subconsciously even before we are aware of what is happening. Self-protective reactions mobilize thoughts and emotions to protect our beliefs as if our life depended on it.”
In our passage today we see an example of a group of people who did not want to face the facts. From this we can learn some lessons.

A. Our community may not moved by our personal testimony. It is interesting that in this scientific world that we live in, most of the decisions that we make and many of the things that we believe are not based on facts that can be demonstrated in the lab. I am not only talking about religion but about many things that intelligent people do, to take just one example, abusing their bodies with all manners of drugs, although it is clear that such abuse is destructive.

Why do people do this? Because many if not most of the decisions we make are not based on scientific facts but rather on what the accumulation of our personal experiences tells us.

1. Our society admires and confirms personal experience. This is true of conservatives and liberals. We value our experiences above any other source of truth. We value what we feel. We value what we think will give us safety or security or meaning or whatever it is that we think we need most. The problem with experience, however, is that not everyone has the exact same experiences. Maybe eating ice cream and Cheetos for breakfast has worked for you, made you more productive but I have functioned better on watercress and cucumbers. It is hard to judge and evaluate someone else’s experience. Unless we find someone’s personal experience threatening in some way, we tend to admire and confirm it in others.

2. Our society does not understand our personal experience with Christ. They may listen, they may affirm it, but they will not because they cannot understand our personal experience with Christ. That does not mean that we should not share it but they need more than personal experience. They need their conscience pricked.

B. Our community may not be moved by our miraculous experiences. It is interesting that the large number of books like “23 Minutes in Hell” do not seem to have an impact on the world. They may sell well among believers but the world seems not to be interested.

1. Many of them have also had miraculous experiences. It is not unusual to find unbelievers who have had amazing experiences. One of the leading atheists of the last century (A. J. Ayer) had an out-of-body experience in which he reportedly saw a “Divine Being” (see http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/roundtable/an-atheist-meets-the-masters-of-the-universe.php). Yet Ayer although noticeably different after “he died” did not become a Christian. Those who rejected Jesus did not disbelieve his miracles but simply attributed them to the power of the devil rather than the power of God. Belief in miracles does not necessarily open one to belief in Jesus Christ.

2. Those who doubt our miraculous experiences often will simply ignore us. This was true in Jesus’ day also. Marcus Borg, by no means a fundamentalist Christian, in “Jesus, A New Vision” wrote, “In the tradition in which [Jesus] stood, including the healings and exorcisms reported of him were not unique. Yet though the historical study of the miracles results in the loss of their uniqueness, it produces a gain in their credibility. Contrary to the modern notion that such events are impossible, we must grant that the historical evidence that Jesus stood in the stream of Jewish charismatic healers is very strong.” Perhaps this is in part why Jesus’ popularity before his death was short-lived and fickle.

It is also why the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so powerful. To cast out demons, to heal the sick, these things are not unusual. To rise from the dead never to die again; that is powerful, life-changing, gives hope, establishes a foundation, a solid rock on which one can stand with full confidence in the future.

C. Our community will be bothered when they see life transformation. This is evidenced when Paul accuses them of Stephen’s murder and proclaims that God wants Gentiles to hear the message of Jesus Christ. It is only when men are held personally responsible for their own sin and what repentance should produce in lives that they will be forced to make a decision. They understood the implication of Paul’s message. Ethnic and religious loyalty resulted in sin against the resurrected Christ.

Yet that is exactly where we must touch them, where it really hurts. It does no good to operate on the big toe if it is the thumb that is broken. Jesus recognized this when he said, “It is the sick and not the well; which need a physician.” If you constantly tell people who think they are okay that there is something seriously, morally wrong with them, they will react. That is, however, what they need to hear from us. They need to hear that they are sinners in the hands of an angry God, a God who is angry with their sin and will be angry with them if they do not turn from all of their loyalties and give their sole loyalty to Jesus Christ.

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