The party crashers had arrived! It was the annual Israel Day Parade along 5th Avenue in Manhattan (New York City). Our team of missionaries were wearing shirts that stated in Hebrew and in English “Jesus is Messiah”. Over 100,000 people lined up along the parade route to cheer Jewish groups, floats and others making a statement in support of Israel.
As you might imagine, our group wasn’t so well received for making a statement in support Y’shua (Hebrew for Jesus) as Messiah!
I experienced real human trepidation as we handed out gospel tracts and spoke with anyone open to conversing about Jesus. And God is faithful.
My most memorable encounter that day occurred along a path in Central Park, just adjacent to the parade route. I was cornered by a couple of young Jewish men who began loudly interrogating me regarding my presence at the event. As I began sharing truth with them, they were none to pleased with any of my words. People along the path began to stop and see if a riot would break out.
I took advantage of the opportunity to share loud enough for all to hear. And thankfully, no physical harm was done. The young men soon left and the small crowd dispersed.
Incredibly, with one simple statement on a t-shirt – “Jesus is Messiah” – we created a powerful reaction and response. You see, among today’s unbelieving Jewish people, virtually any kind of Jewish belief and expression is generally considered acceptable, except belief in Jesus! In fact, 2000 years of anti-semitism, real and perceived, under the banner of Christianity, evokes visceral suspicion from the Jewish community toward Jesus followers.
We continue to examine Paul’s trial under testimony in the latter part of the book of Acts. In this blog entry, we find Paul in Jerusalem giving testimony before a very hostile group, the Sanhedrin. Here, Paul makes one statement that evokes a polarizing response. From this statement we draw out this evangelistic principle germane to our witness today: speak into your audience’s reality.
Speak into Your Audience’s Reality (Acts 22:30-23:10)
The Setting – After addressing the mob, Paul is arrested by a Roman Commander, then interrogated and scourged. Upon learning of his Roman citizenship, the commander releases Paul and convenes an unofficial meeting between Paul and the Jewish Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin, made up of both Sadducees and Pharisees, was the supreme Jewish religious body at the time. Paul takes advantage of this opportunity to share truth that compels a defense and creates a conflict:
But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, “We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.” Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks. (Acts 23:6-10)
With one statement Paul rocks their world and crashes their ‘Paul-bashing’ party! Here, the Apostle shapes his defense around the resurrection. Why? Because among the Sanhedrin, Paul ‘perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees’ (Acts 23:6). Paul, himself raised a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5), understood resurrection was a sharp point of contention between the two groups. In fact, the concept of resurrection was perhaps the biggest theological difference between the two groups. In light of this, Paul exclaims, “concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!”(Acts 23:6)
This hot button issue among the Sanhedrin – namely resurrection – was central both to the gospel message and to Paul’s statement. I find it quite fascinating that the name of Jesus isn’t mentioned. Yet the Sanhedrin certainly would have understood the claims of the early church regarding His resurrection.
With the battle lines drawn, the Pharisees interestingly side with Paul. The Sadducees become incredulous. As the two sides begin to argue, Paul is whisked away by a Roman commander.
It’s also intriguing that the Scripture records the salvation of Pharisees (Acts 15:5), but not Sadducees.
As you interact within your own sphere of influence and have conversations about spiritual issues, be aware of your audience’s reality and speak into that reality. For in doing so, you affirm that person or people and provide the platform to connect on a personal level.
For example, last summer, while addressing a high school in Honduras, I shared my testimony mostly from my high school days. When speaking to a group of athletes, I’ll draw from my tennis playing and coaching experience. And years ago while ministering at Teen Challenge, a ministry for people struggling with life-controlling addictions, I shared much about my own drug-addiction struggles and how, through Christ, I now am clean.
In sum, speaking into areas germane to your audience’s reality is personal and powerful.
Recently, while conversing with a self-proclaimed agnostic named *Bob (not his real name), I had an opportunity to speak into his God-paradigm while we watched our daughters at a gymnastics class. Bob, a retired Doctor, had attended ‘Christian’ churches at times in his life, but was currently attending a Unitarian Universalist church. He said he was taught for years Jesus rose again and is coming back, but now didn’t believe it. He said he came to a point where he concluded that Jesus isn’t returning because he can’t – he’s dead!
I responded by pointing out another viable option – that Jesus did resurrect, just as the bible claims, and will, in fact, return just as He promised. I added that the reason He’s not yet returned is because of God’s patience and longsuffering – not desiring anyone die apart from faith in Jesus, but that all would come to trust in Christ. Upon asking Bob if this position was possible, he agreed.
As I consider how to continue the conversation with Bob, I recently read a Christian apologetic book penned by a surgeon-scientist entitled, “Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?”. Now, I wonder if that book has the potential to speak into Bob’s reality?