37 As he was about to be brought into the barracks, Paul said to the commander, “Am I allowed to say something to you?” He replied, “Do you know Greek?38 Aren’t you the Egyptian who raised a rebellion some time ago and led 4,000 Assassins into the desert?”39 Paul said, “I am a Jewish man from Tarsus of Cilicia, a citizen of an important city. Now I ask you, let me speak to the people.”40 After he had given permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned with his hand to the people. When there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language:1 “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense before you.”(Acts 21:37-22:1, HCSB)
A case of mistaken identity! The commander in charge of Paul is under the assumption that Paul is a dangerous insurrectionist from Egypt. Josephus, the famous Jewish historian, wrote of an Egyptian impostor who claimed to be a prophet. He said this Egyptian had gathered followers in a.d. 54 and came to the Mount of Olives promising his adherents that the walls of Jerusalem would collapse at his command. Instead, the Roman army promptly marched on them, killed some and captured others, while the remainder were scattered. Perhaps the commander thought this was this infamous traitor. Fortunately for Paul, no DNA sample is needed, he just had to start speaking Greek.
This isn’t the first mix-up Christians faced. Some of it was an honest misunderstanding. For example, Jesus told his follower to “eat his flesh and drink his blood”…rumors started to swirl about Christianity being a cannibalistic cult. The first church called their early meetings “love feasts”…and you can imagine that rumors floating around about those! There was also deliberate misinformation. In Ephesus, the trade guilds accused the Christians of intentionally trying to destroy the local economy.
So it’s par for the course for Christians to be misunderstood or misrepresented…just ask Paul. And it continues today. A recent Barna report (discussed in the Christian Post http://www.christianpost.com/news/study-christianity-no-longer-looks-like-jesus-29448/ ) says only 16 percent of non-Christians aged 16 to 29 years old said they have a “good impression” of Christianity (a decade ago Christians were viewed favorably by most Americans). It’s even worse for Evangelicals. Only 3 percent of 16- to 29-year-olds who are not of the Christian faith express favorable views of us (down from 25%).
The report also says that present-day Christianity is seen as judgmental (87 percent), hypocritical (85 percent), old-fashioned (78 percent), and too involved in politics (75 percent). Ouch!
But don’t forget – the early Christians were not cannibals and they were most certainly not hosting Roman-styled-orgies…the Ephesian Christians definitely were not trying to destroy people’s income, and Paul wasn’t the infamous Egyptian. These perceptions were wrong. Some came from foolish and rash conclusions drawn from rumor, and some came from an overt demonic propaganda machine.
So what do WE do about OUR reputation? Peter, in his first letter to the churches in Asia-Minor, tells us how to respond: 11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11-12, NIV)
In other words, let’s be who we were made to be!