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Before Meeting Jesus

Acts 22:2-5
When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet. Then Paul said: 'I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished. (NIVUK)

Paul was under arrest, chained to soldiers either side of him (Acts 21:33). They assumed that he was a terrorist inciting rebellion in Jerusalem. But when the army commander heard that Paul was a Roman citizen from Tarsus, with the legal right to defend himself (Acts 21:37-39), Paul was allowed to speak to the crowd (Acts 21:40) which had been stirred into a frenzy by liars claiming that he had desecrated the temple (Acts 21:29).

Paul surprised them into silence by speaking in Aramaic, the common language of the city, and showing his respect to fellow Jews by addressing them as his family. It was obvious that they did not know his background, so Paul told them that before meeting Jesus he was just like them; in fact, more devout than most. He had been trained as a Pharisee by Gamaliel, the highly respected Scripture teacher and Council member (Acts 5:34-40), and knew the Old Testament law thoroughly. He was personally zealous in his religious devotion, and violently opposed to the church.

Before he met Jesus, Paul was so angry about the growth of the church. After seeing Stephen stoned to death (Acts 7:59-8:1) Paul took many initiatives to arrest, imprison and kill more people who followed Jesus (Acts 26:9-11). He was fuelled by an inner hatred of Jesus, whose teaching seemed to undermine the religion he loved, that he even hunted down Christians in other countries. The highest religious authorities in Jerusalem welcomed Paul's murderous obsession (Acts 9:1-2). Paul explained that, before meeting Jesus, he was just like the mob who wanted to kill him (Acts 21:30-31).

Paul's testimony started by saying what he was like before he met Jesus. Your testimony should start in the same way: explain what you were like, what motivated your life and what you thought about Jesus before you met Him. Paul later wrote to Christians, explaining that: "All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts." (Ephesians 2:3). We cannot say we are better people than those we live among, but we are saved people. Tell your story, describe how you had no relationship with Jesus even if you were religious. To be able to say that 'I was just like you' will help your friends and colleagues identify with you. Every believer should be able to do that (1 Peter 3:15). Respect people and they will listen; and when some will want to know more, you can tell them (www.crosscheck.org.uk).

Heavenly Father. Thank You for saving me, for sending Jesus to be punished for me, and for giving me Your Holy Spirit to help me to become more like Jesus. Forgive me for my reluctance to explain how my heart used to be just like those around me, and for pretending that I am better than others. Please help me to humble myself as I value Your grace more and more; and help me to tell my story so that others can identify that I was just like them, and want to know more about how to enter a relationship with Jesus. In His Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams