Sunday’s Sermon — Acts 26:18-30 Strength to Stand

23 Feb

“Man will never fly. This is an activity reserved for the angels.” These were the words of a minister in the late 1800’s. Yet a few years later, the sons of that minister, Orville and Wilbur Wright, would fly. All through the ages some of the greatest moments of humanity have come from what seem to be crazy ideas. President Kennedy pointed us to the moon, saying that we choose to go to the moon not because it is easy but because it is hard. And in July of 1969 we took one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind. 

          At the beginning of such ventures, those who are involved in doing great things often have to endure charges like Paul endured from Festus in Acts chapter 26, “You’re insane! You’re out of your mind!” But the truth is most of the time those who accomplish great things are not insane, they are the clearest thinkers of all, because they are possessed by a vision and focus that drives them to greatness.

          In the Christian life, our drive for achievement is always to be for God’s glory rather than our own. If we want to be great, we must be servants. Still, there is much about Christianity and about God’s calling which to the world seems insane. I mean, we do believe some things which don’t sound reasonable to most people. We believe God came to earth in human flesh and lived a perfect life among people. We believe that God the Son died. We believe that God the Son, the Lord Jesus, rose from the dead. We believe He ascended to heaven and is reigning with God now. We believe that He is coming to earth again to make all things new. We believe that our mission in the meantime is to know Him and to make Him known. We believe that though we cannot see Him, we love Him and are filled with joy in knowing Him. We believe He has given us His word in a book, the Bible. We believe we can talk to Him in prayer and He hears us and works in answer to prayer. We believe we are called to share all of this truth with the world. And on the surface this all sounds pretty crazy to our world that likes to measure everything and control everything. And maybe part of our hesitancy as Christians to share our faith comes from being a little uncomfortable saying out loud what we believe inside to be true, because we fear the raised eyebrow, the uncomfortable change of subject or even the outright questioning of our sanity. But Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” I believe we can find the strength to take the same stand as Paul if we will pay careful attention to how he interacts with people in Acts 26:19-32.

          We will have strength to stand if . . .

We Have a COMMITMENT to Sharing the Gospel (26:19-23).

19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. 21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

The commitment to share the gospel is seen here in Paul’s obedience. He followed the instructions he received on the Damascus Road. Paul’s commitment to the gospel is seen in his readiness to speak of the gospel early and often and everywhere. Paul’s commitment to the gospel is see in his preaching the true gospel, the message of repentance and faith and spiritual fruit, the only good news there is in this world. Paul’s commitment to the gospel is seen in the fact that he didn’t stop declaring it even when he was arrested by the Jews, even when his life was in danger. Paul’s commitment to the gospel is seen in his recognition that the power he has had for all of this has come from God. Paul’s confidence is not in himself but in God and that power of God is what gives him power to share the gospel. Paul’s commitment to the gospel is seen in his commitment to the Bible, to sharing how Jesus fulfills what Moses and the prophets said would come to pass. Paul knows the gospel is the fulfillment of the story of Scripture, not God’s plan B or some kind of later add-on. Paul shows his commitment to the gospel by proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is integral to the truth of the gospel, for the truth of a risen Savior shows that His death was not in vain and it shows that because He lives, all who follow Him will live also. Finally, Paul’s commitment to the gospel is seen in his proclaiming the gospel to all people, to great and small, to Jew and Gentile.

What about you? Do you have a commitment to sharing the gospel? If not, consider whether you may be lacking in some area where Paul’s commitment was strong. Are you being obedient? Is it a simple matter of you wanting to be in charge of your own life rather than being obedient to God’s call to know Him and to make Him known? Are you ready to speak for Jesus anywhere and everywhere? Is there anywhere or anyone to whom you are hesitant to speak this word of life? Are you preaching the true gospel, not the false gospel of easy belief and cheap grace nor the false gospel of good works? How important it is to understand and love the gospel ourselves! If you have any questions or just want to grow in your love and understanding of the gospel, pick up Milton Vincent’s A Gospel Primer or my little brochure Our Great Salvation in the book racks at the exits. Do you have a commitment to the gospel such that you will endure opposition, such that you are willing to be called foolish or even hated for telling people about Jesus? Are you feeling overwhelmed yet? Well then, let me ask you, does your commitment to telling people about Jesus find its power in a heart of dependence on God? Unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain. Apart from an abiding relationship with Christ, we can do nothing. So are you leaning of God for boldness and power. Is your commitment to the gospel rooted in your commitment to the Scriptures? This is important because when we see the gospel as just something that happened to us rather than something God planned all along and promised in His Word then when the storms come we will fold. But when we see God’s work in the gospel as the fulfillment of His plan for the ages, we know that in sharing it and living it we are just one small piece in a large puzzle, one stitch in a beautiful tapestry, and this knowledge gives us the strength to go on in a mission that God Himself has established for His glory, the blessing of the nations, and our joy. Is your commitment to the gospel rooted not only in Scripture, but also the person and work of Jesus Christ? We serve a risen Savior who has a plan for our earthly lives and an eternity of joy in His presence for all of us. I wish all of us could consistently set our minds on things above. It would give us so much perspective and so much power to be able to say every morning, “I know my Redeemer lives.” And finally, is your commitment to the gospel a commitment for all people? Are you ready and willing to share the message with anybody, great or small, whatever race? In our food ministry, I have had to face my failure in this way. There is someone who comes to our food ministry pretty regularly and they smell really bad. It is always consistent. I am a little sensitive to smells already and the first time I was with them I gagged. That’s how bad it is. Well, I’ve had to repent this week because I realized that I was avoiding this person because of their smell. I was not willing to engage with them like I should because I was repulsed by them. And I wonder how I could be so arrogant as to not share the gospel with someone just because of how they smell. How can I be that way when my heart stinks so badly? And I think maybe our greatest temptation in life is to write other people off, to dismiss them because of something we don’t like about them. We need to remember CS Lewis’ words, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

So if we are to have a boldness and effectiveness like Paul, we must have a commitment to sharing the gospel. Grace is opposed to earning but not to effort. We should give our best effort to the thing which is most important: the gospel.

We Show RESPECT in the Face of Ridicule, but Without Compromise (26:24-26).

24 And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” 25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. 26 For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.

Paul got accused of being out and out crazy here, as the Roman governor Festus told him twice, “You are out of your mind.” Festus couldn’t deny that Paul was educated, he just thought he was insane. So he publicly breaks in to Paul’s presentation and calls him out as a madman in front of everybody. But notice Paul’s response. He does not lash out in return, but speaks with respect. At the same time Paul does not back down from his words at all, but affirms everything he says has been true and reasonable. He says that Agrippa is familiar with what he is saying and Paul makes it clear that he hasn’t been saying or doing anything in hiding. This gospel he proclaims is something that is out in the open.

In our world today, much is made of people who “come out of the closet” to begin to live a certain lifestyle. Maybe as Christians, we need to come out of the closet as unashamed followers of Jesus. Maybe we are trying to do in a corner what God intends for us to put front and center in our lives: to know Him and to make Him known. We need to not be ashamed of Jesus because He is the way, the truth and the life. We need to not back down at all from what we know is true and reasonable, that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Art Azurdia says, “We do not exist for ourselves, we exist for the advancement of the kingdom of God. We exist for the gospel. My dear friends, the sphere of our mission is the world. And I want to tell you something, this does not frighten me. I believe with all my heart that is a great day to be a Christian in the world. I don’t despair the condition of the world. It is a great moment in history to know the gospel because we are living in a day when lives are being destroyed by sin like never before and the answers belong to us! The truth is ours to make known, the truth that can conquer any complexity that life can throw at us. I don’t want my children growing up in a defensive posture. You’ve got to be kidding. I want them to grow up in an offensive posture. We have the gospel!

Now here is the thing. Can we be bold and gentle? Can we be lamb-like lions who are respectful and uncompromising? Can we offend with our words without being offensive in our ways? Can we be like those in 1 Peter who give the reason for their hope with gentleness and respect? Most Christians I know are afraid to tell others about Jesus. Outside this pulpit I find it a real challenge too. And most of the rest of the Christians I know are really bold about telling others about Jesus and they want to make sure everybody knows it. They are rude and obnoxious and overbearing and when they get pushback it is always that they are being persecuted. They’re not being persecuted, they’re just jerks. So can we be unashamed and at the same time loving in our ways? I believe it is possible because it was true of Paul. He lights the way for us. We can be bold and loving at the same time.

We Have SENSITIVITY to Opportunities to Press for Commitment (26:27-28)

27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” 28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”

Unlike Festus, who was dismissive of Paul, Agrippa seemed to be open to the gospel. Paul pressed him here, but with gentleness and respect. But he pressed him. Paul was the Holy Spirit’s instrument to put a finger on Agrippa’s soul. Agrippa puts him off. He doesn’t answer Paul’s question. His response is almost startled. “Do you think in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

Do you see the balance here? Sensitivity while also pressing for commitment. Paul didn’t push to the point of excess. He didn’t say, now we’re just going to sing six more verses of this hymn until somebody comes down. He didn’t try to twist Agrippa’s arm. And you may say, “Well, that’s because Agrippa was a king.” But wait, where do you see Paul in the book of Acts twisting arms? He says just the opposite in 2 Corinthians 4, “We don’t use manipulation. We don’t pedal the gospel. We don’t think it is by our eloquence that men are saved. We are just frail pots, easy cracked jars. But we contain treasure. And so we are all about pouring out that treasure not so people can see us and think, what a great person, but so that they can see Jesus and think what a great Savior! We don’t commend ourselves but Christ!” So can you be like that? Can you be sensitive to opportunities and lovingly call for commitment? Can you know when to put your foot on the gas pedal and when to apply the break? Yes. You absolutely can. But you have to walk with God. And you have to trust that the same sovereign God who was in control of Paul’s life is also in charge of yours. And some of us, most of us maybe, need heart surgery. I’m going off track a little bit here but I think it is important. You and I so often are fearful and silent about our faith because our lives are like a heart with blocked arteries. There are blockages in our lives that prevent the free flow of the life of the Holy Spirit of God in our lives. And it usually comes down to one of two things; outward trials and inward struggles. And these things block the arteries of our spiritual life and they will, if left unchecked, leave us lifeless. Some of you have faced so much loss. You’ve faced so much tragedy. You’ve had so much hardship. Relational hardship, loneliness, the death of loved ones, disease, financial struggles. These outward trials have made you wonder, “Does God hear? Is God real? Does He care?” And this blockage of frustration has your soul blocked, so that the free flow of God’s life does not move in your life. For others, the blockages are inward. You can’t shake the problem you have with anger. You’re just frustrated with everybody all the time. You can’t shake the struggle with lust or food or alcohol and you just feel like a slave, and nobody knows the pain but you. You are gripped by worry about the future, about what might happen. You are in the throes of envy, wanting the lives of the people you see on TV or on Facebook. And your soul is blocked. And I want to say that at the core of our lack of love for the gospel and lack of desire to share it there is often a blockage which is holding us back. We clear out the blockage by repentance. God is ready to restore the repentant. He will give you back your joy. We clear out the blockage by opening up with supportive friends who can gently point us to the way home. And when your soul starts getting freed up, it starts to sing. You may be an introvert or an extrovert but no matter who you are by personality this is the will of God for you, fullness of the joy of the Lord, which is your strength. Joyful people are energized for the purposes of God. And when we are energized, we tend to see things the way Paul saw them here in verse 29 . . .

 

We Have OPTIMISM Regarding the Goodness and Power of the Gospel (26:29).

29 And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”

Don’t you love how Paul turned around Agrippa’s words about time to express his wish that all who hear him might become Christians? You of all those people gathered there that day, probably 95% wanted Paul dead. But Paul could wish without irony for the salvation of every one of them. Why? Because Paul was optimistic. Even though he was a prisoner, even though he was in chains, Paul was optimistic. I love it. Why was he optimistic? He trusted in the goodness of God. He trusted in the sovereignty of God. And he had seen God save him, a killer of Christians. Paul knew God could save anybody, because God had saved him.

Are you optimistic about the work of God? No, Pastor, I’ve had too much hardship, too many pains. Well, this guy Paul was almost beaten to death and he was even in this chapter still in chains. Yet he has hope that all these gathered to hear will one day bow the knee to Jesus in faith. Do you believe God can save that wayward family member? Do you believe He can transform that friend or co-worker? Are you earnestly praying to that end? I know we talk about our prayer list and praying for the sick but are you praying for those with sick souls? Because you can pray for health and that’s good but even the healthiest person is still going to die. But the person who is sick in soul is going to die and go to hell. They are facing eternal death. And only God can open their eyes. And we are called to go to people and tell them of Jesus, no matter the cost or what others do. Are you earnestly praying for the lost? We sometimes talk about praying for revival and I certainly believe in that but you know what I think? I think if we got really serious about praying for lost people we might just find revival breaking out among us. Because revival is nothing more and nothing less than the result of a people aligning their hearts with the heart of God. And God loves people and desires to save people. Want revival in your life? Talk about Jesus to people and talk to Jesus about people. God will bless it and you will not be down in the mouth and depressed all the time, because your pessimism 9 times out of 10 is rooted in self-centeredness. Let your life be taken up with the purposes of God and you won’t have time to live in the dumps. There are those seasons where we may struggle, I understand that. Grief is hard. Disease is hard. We don’t just snap out of it. But if we focus on the kingdom of God, it can go a long way toward bringing us healing.

We Value CHRIST-EXALTATION Above Self-Preservation (26:30-32).

30 Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. 31 And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

Paul knew what he was doing when he appealed to Caesar. He knew this was not only a ticket out of the hands of the Jews but it was also a ticket to Rome. Yet he must also have known that he still stood a chance of surviving a trial apart from appealing to Caesar. He could have stayed the course and defended himself and gotten out to continue his life. But he chose to be arrested and to appeal to Caesar and to subject himself to more time in prison and a Roman trial. Why? Because Paul’s mission was to the Gentiles and his appeal to Caesar would be a one way ticket to the center of the Gentile world. You see, Paul was all about exalting Christ rather than preserving self.

If you want to be an effective servant of God, His will must be more important than your will. The words of John the Baptist must become true of you, “He must become greater, I must become less.” The furtherance of God’s kingdom must be more important than the establishment of your kingdom. As has often been said, “Before we pray Thy kingdom come we must pray my kingdom go.” We must put the stent of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to the blockages of our lives, be they internal or external and not let ourselves be defined by either our circumstances or struggles.

We get to live such an exciting life! If you are home with your kids all day or working a dead end job or whatever, as a follower of Jesus you live a life of wonder. John Piper says, “We get to live an exciting way to live your life expectantly under the providence of a sovereign God. You get up in the morning and you pray and make your plan for the day. But then you pray again and say, “Lord, I know that I do not control this day—what will happen to my car, who will call me at work, whom I will see at lunch, and a hundred other unexpected details. Would you govern my day so that all its unplanned detours are spiritually valuable? Help me to see divine appointments where Satan may only want me to see interruptions and irritations.”

In the movie The Rookie, Jim Morris is a pitcher who doesn’t get his start at pursuing his major league dream until his late thirties, when most guys are retiring. His efforts in the minor leagues have been discouraging and he is just about to quit, when one night he goes out into one of the small towns where his minor league team was playing. There he sees a youth league baseball game. And the enthusiasm and joy of those kids on the field reminds him that the game was really worth playing. The burden of trying to make the big leagues fades away and he is able to focus on the joy of the journey. And so the next day, as he goes into the locker room, he says to his best friend on the team, “You know what we get to do today? We get to play baseball.”

Oh how I long for my own life and for yours that we would get to the point that when we wake up in the morning we would say, “You know what we get to do today? We get to be part of the kingdom of God! We get to talk about Jesus! We get to give our lives for something eternal! We get to throw our blockages to the side and run the race with perseverance! We get to finish well! We get to read our Bibles, translated in our own language! We get to talk to the God of the universe whenever we want! We get to live free from condemnation and never in fear of separation from God’s love! We get to come to church and worship our Lord! Away with all the have to’s and need to’s and wish I wanted to’s! By the grace of God and for the glory of God We GET to be Christians! Let’s not waste the opportunity. Go from this place today ready to share Jesus wherever you go. God will be honored, people will be blessed, and you will have joy you never knew you had.

 

 

 

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