I was in a meeting at Bishopthorpe Palace last week, when the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, walked into the room and began to ask people who Jesus was. He received many of the answers you might expect: 'He is the Saviour of the world'; 'He is Lord'; 'He is the way, the truth, and the life'. Others opted to answer the question from a more personal perspective, saying he was their best friend, with a few replying that he gave them hope.
As he was going around listening to the answers people were giving, he pressed those who gave those personal answers to say more. I was pleased to see that he did, because it revealed that he recognised something of the weakness of the so-called 'personal testimony'; namely, that a personal testimony so often makes the individual the primary referent. And this was the point Sentamu made before he left – when you are out there in the world, it's not enough to say that Jesus gives you hope. You have to testify to the reason Jesus gives you hope by telling people who he is and what he has done.
We looked at the conversion of Paul in Acts 9 last evening in our home groups, and it occurred to me that although Paul might possibly have the most astounding conversion story in history, his immediate response is to go into the synagogues and testify to who Jesus is (Acts 9:20). This, of course, does not mean that Paul does not share the story of his conversion – he does that very thing in Acts 22 – but he makes every effort to point to Jesus. It's also interesting to note that the disciples, hearing the testimony of his conversion, are afraid of him at first, and it's not until Barnabas testifies to Paul's actions of preaching fearlessly in Damascus in the name of Jesus that they see the reality of this change (Acts 9:26-27). Again, the focus is on Jesus, and the strength of his testimony is in pointing to the One who transformed him.
John Stott, in his commentary on this part of Acts, says, 'Testimony is not a synonym for autobiography. To witness is to speak of Christ. Our own experience may illustrate, but must dominate, our testimony.' There is every reason to tell the world that Jesus gives us hope, but the world will then call on us to give the reason for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15). And the only way to answer that is to point to the crucified, risen, and ascended Jesus who sits at the Father's right hand, and whose redemptive work offers the only basis for true and lasting hope.