Do you ever feel like you are on trial for what you
believe? When people ask you about your faith, do you feel like you have to
defend yourself? Do you think it would be much easier if you'd hide what you
believe so that you wouldn't have to justify yourself in the eyes of other
people? And when you do say what you believe, do you get the feeling that other
people think less of you because of it?
The Apostle Paul didn't just feel like he was on trial. He was literally on trial for what he believed and taught. If you know about Paul's life, you see that the tables had turned. Earlier in his life, Paul brought Christians to trial for believing that Jesus rose from the dead, but in Acts 24 he was on trial for that very crime. Though he previously thought that Jesus couldn't have risen from the dead, Jesus changed his mind by appearing to him and then changed his heart with his good news. The resurrection of Jesus became the center of his life and message.
Paul became the great missionary to the scattered Jews and to the Gentiles who lived in the lands to the north of the Mediterranean Sea. On his first three missionary journeys, he brought the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection to the vast land that we call Turkey and to the great cities of Greece. But after his third missionary journey he came back to Jerusalem, because he wanted to deliver an offering that he had collected from the Gentile congregations and bring it to the Jewish believers who were in poverty. He went to Jerusalem even though he knew that the Jewish leaders there hated him and would try to stop him from proclaiming the good news about Jesus.
Once he was in Jerusalem, Paul was very careful to make sure that he didn't do anything that anybody might think was inappropriate. Still, some Jews from the province of Asia falsely accused him of breaking and defiling the Jewish traditions. They called together a mob, which began to beat Paul, until the commander of the Roman troops in the city arrested him.
Three days later, Paul was on trial before the Roman governor of the territory. The lawyer who represented the Jewish leaders spoke first, making false accusations against Paul. Then the governor nodded to Paul, inviting him to make his defense. Paul explained that, after an absence of five years, he had only been in Jerusalem for twelve days, and he hadn't caused any trouble during that time. For three of those days he had been in prison. And on none of the rest of those days had he gathered crowds or disputed publicly, even though there would have been nothing wrong with that. His accusers couldn't substantiate any of their claims.
Paul admitted only one thing, that he was a worshiper of the Lord according to the Way. This was what people called the Christian faith at that time. The opponents of Christianity called the Way a sect or a faction, that is, a church that broke away from the truth because of false teachings. But Paul explained that the Way was the true fulfillment of Israel's ancient faith as recorded in the sacred Scriptures. For example, he looked forward to the resurrection of the dead, as most Jews did. Since Paul knew that he would one day rise from the dead and stand before God his judge, he explained that he worked to keep his conscience clear and do what was right.
So the reason that he had come to Jerusalem wasn't to cause any trouble, but it was to bring an offering to God and gifts to the poor. He observed all the Jewish customs while he was there and, especially, in the temple. Paul noted that the Jews from the province of Asia who had originally accused him weren't even present to accuse him at this trial, which showed that their claims were baseless. No, his real crime in the eyes of the opponents of the Christian faith was that he believed that Jesus rose from the dead. In the eyes of the Roman governor, this was no crime at all. But for this the Jewish leaders wanted him dead.
Paul was brave. He didn't shy away from what his enemies hated about him. And so he told the Roman governor the truth. Yes, he was on trial for proclaiming the resurrection from the dead! And he wasn't afraid to keep proclaiming the resurrection from the dead, because it is the truth! You betcha Jesus rose from the dead! Paul knew it for certain, because Jesus had appeared to him. Now the resurrection was central to Paul's life and ministry. He knew that this was what God had always taught and that he, too, would rise from the dead.
What would you have said if you had been standing trial, like Paul was? You might say that a civil trial really isn't the time to bring up religion. You might think that it would be a mistake to admit to the charge that got you there. Instead, you would be tempted to downplay the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, saying that it's not really so important in your life.
We're guaranteed the free exercise of religion in the United States, so you shouldn't ever be on trial here for what you believe. But sometimes it sure feels like you are on trial. Last week, on Easter Sunday, we talked about how the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is not only true because the Bible says it is true, but that it is an indisputable fact of history. If you missed that one, go back to last week's service video and you'll find that explained in the sermon. But not everybody knows about the evidence for Jesus' resurrection. So when people ask you what you believe, you feel like you've got to come up with just the right words to defend it. And when you can't think of what to say, you feel like it's easier not to say that you believe it at all. At least you don't need to draw attention to how important it is.
The problem is that if we treat the resurrection like it is no big deal, then eventually it won't be very important to us. If it doesn't matter to us whether Jesus rose from the dead, then we can't be sure what will happen to us after we die. As Paul said when he was on trial, there will certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked on the last day. If what God says about the resurrection isn't an important part of our lives, then we can't be righteous in his sight. Hiding or downplaying what he tells us would be wicked.
God shows how important the resurrection of the dead is by making it central to the message of the entire Bible. This isn't just true of the part of the Bible written after Jesus rose from the dead. Even the Scriptures written over a thousand years before the birth of Jesus in the Old Testament show how important it is that we will rise from the dead. The resurrection is central to the saving work of Jesus, because if he hadn't risen from the dead, we could never know that he is our Savior. And the resurrection is central to our eternal life, because it means that we will not stay dead forever, but will rise to receive God's blessings forever. Jesus rose, and so will we!
When someone asks you, "What is the Christian faith all about?" how will you answer? Will you feel like you're on trial, because you feel the pressure to give a good answer? Sometimes Christians are afraid to give a solid answer, because they are afraid it will be heard as divisive or offensive. Don't be afraid to start by saying that Christianity is about a man named Jesus, who rose from the dead. This opening may give you the opportunity to say more.
When someone asks you, "How do you know what the Bible says about Jesus is true?" what will you answer? Will you feel like you are on trial, because the question sounds kind of hostle? Sometimes Christians say things like, "I know, because I have faith," or "I really feel it in my heart," answers that don't prove anything. Don't be afraid to assert that Jesus' resurrection is the proof of the Bible's truth. Since Jesus rose, then everything he claimed must be true.
Why would we proclaim the resurrection of Jesus when we're asked to give an answer and it feels like we're on trial? Why would we proclaim the resurrection to people who don't believe in it and who probably would prefer that we stop? We proclaim it, because it's the truth! We proclaim it, because it's what God has proclaimed to us! We proclaim it, because it is the Word of God that has the power to change people's hearts and lives! The resurrection is the proof that guarantees us that Jesus is our Savior, so it is also the message that shows the people of our world that Jesus is their Savior, too! That is why Christians over the centuries have been eager to proclaim the resurrection no matter what kinds of trials they're facing. Even when they knew that they would die for it, they proclaimed the resurrection. When we feel like we're on trial, we proclaim it, too.
Are we on trial? Thankfully, at least in America, we aren't put on trial in the court of law for believing what God says. But there absolutely will be times when we feel like we're on trial. Don't be afraid to speak the truth. Even when you're on trial for the resurrection, yes especially when you're on trial for the resurrection, proclaim the resurrection!