On Trial | Closing Argument

Pastor Miles DeBenedictis

Acts 26:1-18
Closing Argument


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Message Transcription

Acts 26, we’re actually going to begin a few verses before that, in Acts Chapter 25, to give some context.  Acts 25, Verse 23, Acts 25:23, there it says:

“So the next day, when Agrippa,” who was the king of the region of Judea, “and Bernice, his sister, had come with great pomp, and had entered the auditorium with the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at Festus’ command Paul was brought in.  And Festus said:  ‘King Agrippa and all the men who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole assembly of the Jews petitioned me, at Jerusalem and here in this city, crying out that he was not fit to live any longer.  But when I found that he had committed nothing deserving of death, and that he himself had appealed to Augustus, I decided to send him.  I have nothing certain to write to my lord concerning him. Therefore I have brought him out before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the examination has taken place I may have something to write.  For it seems unreasonable to send a prisoner and to not specify the charges against him.’

“And then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You are permitted to speak for yourself.’”

Father, we ask that You would open our eyes, open our hearts to be able to hear from You, receive from You today, as we look into Your Word.  Lord, we believe that this is inspired by You, that Your Word is living and powerful, that it is sharper than any two-edged sword, and that, God, it is useful for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness, that we who believe in You and follow You would be ready, equipped to be able to face the things that You’ve prepared for us for Monday and Tuesday and throughout the rest of this week.  So, God, we pray that this time that we have set aside this morning, the next 40 minutes or so, it would be a time where You are speaking and transforming, and, Lord, that You would be working into us Your grace and Your mercy and Your peace in such a way that it would shine to other people.  So, Lord, speak to us as we look at this passage of Scripture, we pray, for we ask it in Jesus’ name.  And all God’s people agreed, saying, “Amen.”

You can be seated.

In our last five studies in the Book of Acts, we have been walking with the Apostle Paul through a series of hearings – six hearings.  That’s why this series that we’ve been going through in the Book of Acts has been called On Trial.  [Pardon me, I do have a bit of a cold.]  But we’ve been following with Paul, as he’s been going through these six hearings.

And the first one took place before a crowd of Jewish men there in Jerusalem, in the city of Jerusalem.  And then, after that, there was a trial before a Jewish religious council in Jerusalem.  And then, that same Jewish religious council, they followed with Paul down to the city of Caesarea, about 60 miles from Jerusalem.  And Paul appeared before the Roman governor Felix, and that Jerusalem council.  And then there was another hearing after that, where Felix, he called together, this, his wife, and he called Paul to come in, and they had kind of a private hearing, just Felix and Drusilla.  And then, following that event, that private hearing, then we saw that there was another hearing before the Jerusalem council, or the Jewish council, after Felix had left.  And now there’s a new governor, two years later, Festus comes in.  And now we have the sixth and final hearing of Paul.  And this time, governor Festus, the Roman governor of Judea, has called Paul before the Judean king, King Herod Agrippa II.  And so Paul is going to stand before King Herod, who was the ruler, the king over that area of Judea.  Even though he’s kind of a vassal king, he doesn’t have a lot of power, it’s really just a ceremonial position there in the nation.  But Paul’s going to stand before this king and his sister Bernice, and all the who’s who, all the power brokers of Judea, of the city of Caesarea at that time.

And when we left our study last time in Acts 25, Paul is escorted into this auditorium.  And as he comes before this large gathering, it’s all the who’s who, it’s all the power brokers, it’s all the important people that Paul is now going to speak to.  And this gathering, as we just read, was because it was a very, you know, purposeful meeting, is because Festus, when he came into power, and he surveyed all the different things that were happening in Judea, one of the things that was still hanging on from the last administration was this case with this guy named Paul.  And Paul had already appealed to go to Caesar.  He’s a Roman citizen, so he has the right to appeal his case to the emperor of Rome, to Nero.  And so now here is Paul in this kind of limbo state.  And Festus looks over everything and realizes, “There’s no case, there’s nothing I can say against him.”  And he has a hearing with him and the Jerusalem, the people, the Jewish council from Jerusalem.  And, again, there’s just no case here.  And so this is one final opportunity for him to try and come up with some sort of case.  “What do I put in the case file when I send this up to the emperor there in Rome?  What do I say about this guy?”

And so, he says to Festus, as we just read, or, I’m sorry, he says to Agrippa, “I’m hoping that at the end of this, you can help me write something, because I’m in a bit of a predicament here.  There is no real case against him.”

The only thing that was against Paul was that the Jewish religious council didn’t like him.  And that’s not really a prosecutable offense.  Which is a good thing, because for us, there’s probably some people that don’t like you and don’t like me.  And so we’re glad that that’s not a prosecutable offense.  But that’s the only thing that they had against him.  And yet, the Roman officials – Felix, first, and then Festus – trying to placate to their constituency, they had held Paul there in Caesarea for now two years.  He’s been detained there for two years, and nothing has come about.

And so now Paul, in about the middle of the year 60 AD, nearly 2,000 years ago, in about the middle of the year 60 AD, he’s escorted into this room.  And this is now six years before this same guy, Paul, is going to experience martyrdom, he’s going to be executed for his profession of faith.  It’s about ten years before the city of Jerusalem is going to be destroyed; the temple’s going to be destroyed by Titus.  So things are very tense in that part of the world at this time in history, in the year 60 AD.

And so Paul comes in, as a fulfillment to a word that God had foretold about a quarter century before.  Twenty-five years before, the Lord said this, in Acts Chapter 9, Verse 15, He said to Paul, through a spiritual man by the name of Ananias, He said, “You are going to be My chosen vessel to bear My name before Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.”  And now, 25 years later, here Paul stands before prominent Gentile officials, before the king of Judea, before many people from the nation of Israel, and he is bearing witness in this whole scenario here.  He’s come to bear witness of Jesus before these individuals.

And you can be certain that if you seek and serve Jesus, you also will find yourself in situations that you never could have imagined.  God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can imagine.  And so, as you seek and follow the Lord, He’s going to take you into circumstances where you find yourself just going, “I, I had no idea that I’d ever find myself in this place, serving God in this way,” if you seek and serve Him.

I’m certain, as I’ve shared before, that when Ananias, 25 years before this, said to Paul, “You’re going to bear the name of Jesus before kings, and before prominent Gentiles, for all these people,” I imagine that Paul probably thought, “Well, that’s pretty far out; I don’t know if that’ll really happen.”  But here, now, it’s happened.  And God brings him into this.

But along the way, as Paul has been journeying with the Lord, and along the way, as we follow the Lord as representatives of the King, Jesus, and His kingdom of heaven, we need to make sure that we, Number 1 on your outline, if you have your sermon guide there, we need to make sure, as we seek Him, that we:

Seek Permission To Speak Of Jesus

Seek permission to speak of Jesus.  We see that in Verse 1 of Acts Chapter 26; it says, “Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You are permitted to speak for yourself.’

“And so Paul stretched out his hand and he answered for himself.”

Now, it’s interesting that Paul did not need to speak before this hearing.  When word came to him, as he was there in a, you know, cell, if you will, in the city of Caesarea; when word came to him, probably from one of the guards, the Roman guards, and they said, “Listen, King Agrippa, Herod Agrippa would like to hear from you.  Would you come and stand before him?”  Paul could have declined, because he has already appealed his case to Caesar.  He no longer has to profess his case before these rulers there in Judea.  His case is already being directed up to Caesar.  He’s already previously declined an opportunity to speak, back there in Acts Chapter 25, right around Verse 10, I believe it was.  There, Festus said, “Would you agree to go up to Jerusalem to be heard and judged there?”

And he said, “No.  No.  I’ve appealed to Festus.”  Or, I’m sorry, “I’ve appealed to the emperor.”  And so he says, “No, I want to go.”

And so he could have declined here; he could have said, “No, I elect not to speak.”  And yet, given permission to speak here, Paul says, “No, I’ll take that opportunity.”  Paul gladly took it.

And I love that it says there in Verse 1, that Agrippa said to him, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.”  “You’re permitted to speak for yourself.”

“And Paul stood,” it says, “and spoke for himself.”  But while Paul is speaking for himself, he orients the entire testimony toward Jesus.  He’s given an opportunity to speak for himself, and yet he directs the conversation, ultimately, to the Lord Jesus.  And we should take note of this; this is important for us.  We should seek every opportunity to be permitted to speak of Jesus.  We should take those open doors when they come.  No, Christians should not always be silent and wait for an opportunity.  We shouldn’t follow the old adage – Don’t speak unless spoken to.  But we should seek for an opportunity, when someone gives us an open door, to be able to talk about the importance of who Jesus is.

Why is that?  Well, sadly, and I think that some of you will recognize this, sadly, there are some Christians who think that they are bold witnesses for Jesus, when, in reality, they’re just obnoxious loudmouths.  And it may be just a small minority, and maybe that small minority has given the rest of us a bad name, but the reality is there are some people who can’t help but leave their two cents about everything they think with people who are not necessarily open to receiving it.  And so we need to be careful that we not promote that concept.  We need to seek for opportunities and open doors when there’s a right time to speak, when there is a permissible opportunity to speak.  I think it’s good to remember the words of the wisest man who ever lived – King Solomon – in Proverbs Chapter 17.  You may have read this one before; Proverbs 17:27 says, “He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit.”

I love this one, Verse 28 – “Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace.”  “Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace.”  I heard one preacher one time say, “Better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you’re a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”  He who holds his peace is counted wise.  Even a fool is counted wise when he keeps his mouth shut.  When he’s given an opportunity to speak, then he speaks.

But when we are given that open door and that opportunity to speak, then we should walk through it.  And we see that Paul did just that; given the opportunity, he now seizes the opportunity.  And I guess the only question that comes to mind then is:  What does such an opportunity look like?

What does it look like when someone gives us, practically, permission to speak?  Well, I suggest to you that it could be very simple, it could something like this:  You’re with a group of co-workers, it’s a break, they’re talking about some sort of thing that’s happening in the world, and then they turn to you and they say, “ Well, don’t you go to Christian, or you’re a Christian, right, you go to church; what do you think?”  And then, in that moment, you’re given an opportunity.  Or maybe you’re speaking with some neighbors, out in front of your house, and someone is sharing their view on the world, their philosophy; and they say something like:  “Well, you know, I don’t think it’s all that wrong to” fill in the blank.  “I don’t think it’s all that wrong to abort a baby.  I don’t think it’s all that wrong to live with your girlfriend.  And I don’t think it’s all that wrong to do this or that.”  And then they turn to you and go, “What do you think?”  And there you are, given a permissible opportunity to be able to speak.

And yet I know that some of you right now are thinking, “I’m not ready for that.  I don’t even want that to happen.”  And some of you have been in that situation before, where eyes turn to you, and they go, “Well, you, you, you got a fish sticker on your car.  You go to that church, don’t you?  What do you think?”

And you go, “Oh, uh, oh, uh, er, uh.  I plead the fifth.”  And you wonder, “What do I say in that moment, when given an opportunity to speak?”  Well, might I suggest that that Apostle Peter’s counsel is very important, that he gives in his letter, his first letter – 1 Peter Chapter 3, Verse 15, where he says, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give an answer.”  “Sanctify the Lord Jesus in your heart, and always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks a reason for the hope that is within you, with meekness and fear.”

Sanctify the Lord God in your heart.  You say, “Well, what exactly does that mean?  Because that sounds very spiritual, but what does it mean?”

Well, the Psalms say that we’re to hide the Word of God in our hearts.  The Psalms say that His Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path, and so I would suggest to you that if you would take the time to read the Scriptures – even if it’s just a chapter a day, maybe just three or four or five verses a day – but as you put God’s Word into your heart, as you “study to show yourself approved as a workman or workwoman who is not ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth,” as Paul said to Titus, there in 2 Timothy Chapter 2, Verse 15, then you can be ready.  It’s immediately following that, in 2 Timothy Chapter 3, Verse 16, where Paul says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and it is useful.”  For what?  “…for doctrine,” that means it’s useful for teaching.  It’s useful for reproof, to rebuke someone, to say, “No, that’s not the way that you should live.  No, that’s not the right thing.  But it’s also useful for correction, saying, “Not only is that not the way, but this is the right way.”  And then it’s useful for instruction in righteousness, how to continue to maintain a right walk, so that the person who wants to follow God will be ready to do good works.  And then Paul says, in 2 Timothy Chapter 4, Verse 2, there he tells us that we need to “preach the Word, and be ready in season and out of season, to convince, rebuke, and exhort with all longsuffering and teaching.”  So you may say today, “I don’t know if I would be ready when the permissible opportunity came.”

Well, I would say, “Read your Bible,” maybe just a chapter a day.  Commit to do that; to put God’s Word into your heart, so that when the permissible opportunity will come – and it will come, it might even come this week – that you’re ready to speak.  Because, whether you like it or not, if you’re a Christian today, God has made you an ambassador of Jesus.  You’re a representative of Him and His kingdom.  Whether you thought that that was what you were signing up or not, that’s what you signed up for when you said, “I want to follow Jesus as Lord.”  You’re an ambassador of Jesus.

If you’re not a believer today, you don’t have that requirement.  You’re off the hook, if you will.  But if you’re a Christian, that’s what God’s called you to.  God’s called you to be a representative of Jesus, so that when someone turns to you and says, “Well, you believe in that Jesus thing, don’t you?”  So that you’re not left like Peter on the night that Jesus was betrayed, saying, “I don’t know the Man; I don’t know the Man.”

And some of you experienced the same thing, where you run away, weeping bitterly in your heart, going, “Oh, I should have spoken up.  I should have spoken up.”  And I would say you can speak up, if you take the time to study to show yourself approved, rightly dividing the Word of truth.  Put it into your heart, so it’s ready and accessible, so that the Spirit of God can draw it to the surface.

And so Paul seized this opportunity.  In Verse 2 he said, “I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused of the Jews, especially because you are an expert in all the customs and questions which have to do with the Jews.  Therefore I beg you to hear me patiently.”

Point Number 2 on your outline:

The Curiosity Of Non-Christians Should Be Met By The Courtesy Of Christians

The curiosity of non-Christians should be met by the courtesy of Christians.  I think it’s important to recognize the crowd that Paul is speaking to.  As he stands up before Herod Agrippa II and his sister, Bernice, he is standing before a man who lacked morality, and had even less character.  He is standing before a woman who, although history tells us was beautiful on the outside, she made true the statement – beauty is only skin deep.  She was a wicked, immoral woman as well.  Although she was the sister of Herod Agrippa, history tells us that she was living in an incestuous relationship with him.  So Paul is not standing before, you know, the most religious and righteous people.  Far from it.  In fact, he’s standing before the man, King Herod Agrippa II, whose father was the very guy who had killed the Apostle James.  His father was the very guy who sought to kill the Apostle Peter.  He’s standing before the very guy whose grandfather was the one who gave decree and command to kill all the children two years old and under in the city of Bethlehem when Jesus was born.  His father was the same guy who gave the decree also to crucify Jesus.

So, here he stands before this man.  And what does he say?  Well, he says, “Agrippa, I am blessed.”  That’s what it means when he says, “I think myself happy.”  “I am blessed to be able to give defense of myself before you, because you are an expert in the matters of all things Israel.”

The curiosity of non-Christians should be met with the courtesy of Christians.

I’m not sure if you know this, but many non-religious people, they perceive Christians to be arrogant, self-righteous, and annoying.  It’s a reality.   Many non-Christians perceive Christians to be arrogant, self-righteous, and annoying.  How many of you once thought that too?  Be honest.  Many of you did.  Now again, it may be a very small minority of people that have given Christians the bad name, but there are some, that thought, that perception is grounded in some measure of truth and reality.  There are some Christians who are self-righteous, arrogant, and rather annoying.

I thought it would be interesting, the other day, I went on the Internet, went on one of the search engines, and you know how when you type in a certain search criteria, it starts to fill in the blanks of things that have previously been searched?  So, I put in “Christians are…”  First one – “annoying.”   Interesting.  I think it’s important that we endeavor to not be the kind of Christian that proves that perception right.

As I said in a message about five weeks ago, “When we’re interacting with people who do not believe in the things that we believe in in the Bible, when we’re talking to them, we should acknowledge the intelligence of those that we’re speaking in.”  And this is very similar.  We need to courteous to those that are curious.

And here was King Agrippa II, although he’s an immoral man, he lacks character, he’s not at all a spiritual man, Paul was courteous to him.  “Agrippa, I count it a privilege to be able to speak to you today.”

And so notice what he says there at the end of Verse 3:  “Therefore I beg you to hear me” what?  What’s it say?  “I beg you to hear me patiently.”

Next point on your outline:

Sharing The Gospel Takes Time

Sharing the Gospel takes time.  No, it doesn’t take weeks, months, years, typically.  There are some people in your life that maybe you’ve been sharing the Gospel with for weeks, months, and years; but normally it doesn’t take weeks, months, or years to do it.  But, to adequately relay the good news of the Gospel, to adequately share the good news of what Jesus has done for us, in the context of the bad news of who we are, it takes time.  It’s important that we recognize this important point from what Paul says here in this passage, that he says, “I beg you to hear me patiently.  What I have to say to you might seem far out.  What I have to say to you you might think you already know about this sort of thing.  So I’m just asking that you’d give me an honest and patient hearing in what I have to say.”  He acknowledges the intelligence of his hearers, but he also asks them to bear with him as he outlines the Gospel.  It can be a very powerful and profitable thing for you and I to take note of this, and actually follow this model.  Why?

Well, maybe you have someone in your life – a family member, a neighbor, a friend, a co-worker – who, they’ve expressed some curiosity in these sort of things, and you recognize that it might take a little bit of time.  Maybe you would say to them, “I’m really glad that you’re curious about this; I wonder if you wouldn’t mind going to lunch with me so that I can share with you the truths of the things that I believe and why I believe it.”  And take the time.  The reality is is that the people that you work with, the people that you go to school with, the people who live in your neighborhood here in North County, they are far less literate of the Bible than you might think that they are.

In fact, studies have revealed that people in America today are far less literate about the Bible than at any other time in American history.  Bible literacy is at an all-time low; so much so that there are people who you will interact with that have no idea that there is a story in the Bible about a guy named David and another big guy named Goliath.  There are people that you will talk with that, when you talk about Joseph from the Bible, they don’t know that there was a famous Joseph who was prime minister over Egypt in the Book of Genesis, and it’s not the same as the famous Joseph who married Mary in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  They don’t know that.  And we shouldn’t hold that against them; we just need to recognize that they’re not on the same page with us.  Did you know, also, that studies reveal that a person who’s not a Christian, after they become a Christian, within 24 months all of the people that they associate with, nearly all of their friends are Christians.  Not because all of their friends became Christians, but because they no longer hang with their old friends.  So, if in 24 months of becoming a Christian, you no longer associate with people who are not believers, and so you forget that they don’t think the same way you think, they may not know the same things that you know.  They may not realize, when you speak about Abraham from the Bible, you’re not talking about Abraham Lincoln.  They probably have no idea that there was another Martin Luther than Martin Luther King.  Some of you here today go, “What?!  What are you talking about?”  You may go, “I have no idea about these things.”  And, you know what, that’s okay, and I think that it’s important that we recognize that it’s okay.  But it also should compel us to take the adequate time to express the truth of the Gospel, to give people a proper understanding of what it is that we believe, and why we believe it.  Because, for the most part, the person who doesn’t know these things, they look at you and they think, “Well, you’re just weird.”  They don’t understand.  But that’s okay.  But it is my job, your job, our job, as followers of Jesus, and as ambassadors of His kingdom, to be able to share with people about our King and His kingdom.

And so Paul, he says to Agrippa, “I pray that you’d give me some time, that you’d be patient with me.”  Verse 4:  “My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning, among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know.  They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.”

And so, notice what Paul does – he’s here to give a defense for himself, he wants to share about Jesus, but what does he do?  Well, he begins by, well, telling his story.  He begins by telling his story.  And he outlines it for this man.  Point Number 4 on your outline:

Build Credibility By Telling Your Story

Build credibility by telling your story.  He says, “My manner of life, from my youngest years, which were spent, from the beginning, among my own nation in Jerusalem, all the Jews know.”

Now, he’s not saying that every single Jew, all the descendants in the nation of Israel, all descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that “they all know who I am.”  But he’s saying, “Listen, the prominent people in Judaism, they know who I am.  They know my background.”

Previously, in the Book of Acts, we learned that Paul was a Pharisee, which was a group of religious individuals, a sect among Judaism, but his father was also a Pharisee.  So he was a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee.  So people knew this guy.  And he says, “They knew who I was.  They knew me,” Verse 5, “from the very first, if they’re willing to testify, they could tell this, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.”

Now, it’s interesting, the words that Paul uses there – strictest sect – it’s in the original language, a double superlative.  And you English people here know what that means.  It’s as if he’s saying, “I was a part of the most strictest group.”  And if you’re an English teacher, you’re going, “Oooh, don’t say that,” because you can’t use that in English.  But that is what Paul is saying, “I was part of the most strictest religious group, the Pharisees.  And now I am standing as one who is judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers.”

“I’m being looked upon with judgment because I believe what our forefathers believed.  To this promise the twelve tribes…”  Now, the twelve tribes were that which made up the nation of Israel.  There was a man who was the father of the nation of Israel, named Abraham; he had a son named Isaac, and Jacob had a son named Jacob, and Jacob had twelve sons.  And those twelve sons had many, many, many, many people, and those were the twelve tribes of Israel.

And so, he says, “Listen, our forefathers believed this promise that I’m being judged for.  And the twelve tribes, all of our family,” he says to Agrippa, “they earnestly served God day and night, to attain this hope.  For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I’m accused of the Jews.”  And he’s kind of leading Agrippa in.

Agrippa’s going, “What is this guy talking about?”

“Why should it be incredible to you that God raises the dead?”

What hope is Paul speaking about?  He’s speaking about the hope of the resurrection.  He said, “Our fathers believed it.”  Abraham believed in the resurrection.

How do we know that?  Well, we see an allusion to it in the Book of Hebrews, Chapter 11.  You see, there was a time in Abraham’s life where God said to Abraham, “I want you to take your son, your only son, Isaac, and I want you to sacrifice him.”  A test of Abraham’s faith.  Ultimately, God said, “No, I don’t want you to do it.”  But it was a test of his faith.  And Abraham went to follow God.  Why?

Hebrews 11 said, “He believed that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead.”  And so Abraham believed in the resurrection.  Isaac believed in the resurrection.  Jacob and his sons believed in the resurrection.

Paul says, “The twelve tribes, they sought to attain the resurrection.  I am being judged for this very thing, that God raises the dead.

“Indeed, I myself thought that I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.”

What is he getting at?  Well, he said, “I believe in the resurrection.  They believe and hope for the resurrection.  But I am certain about the resurrection.”  Because why?  “I met some Guy who’s raised from the dead.  But before I met Him,” he says, “I was convinced that I ought to do many things to oppose this Man.”  Who was this Man?  Jesus of Nazareth.

And so Paul builds credibility by telling his story.  It was one of Paul’s often chosen methods for sharing truth, was to tell the story.  He shares his background in Judaism; he shares his education, and his life as a Pharisee.  He shares about his zealous persecution of those who are followers of Jesus of Nazareth.  And he does so to build a case for this reality.

It’s interesting to me that when Paul is sharing these things, that he didn’t share this stuff about his background as a Pharisee, about his growing up in Judaism and in Jerusalem.  He didn’t share about his persecution of followers of Jesus of Nazareth.  He didn’t share that with Festus or Felix.  When he spoke with these two Roman governors – Festus and Felix – he shared with them about the case that was coming against him; he shared with them about the injustice of this case.  But he didn’t talk about his upbringing in Judaism, he didn’t talk about his persecution of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth.  Why?

Well, it wasn’t appropriate to those Roman minds.  But here, he’s speaking to a Jewish man – King Agrippa – who understood and knew these things.  And every single time Paul tells this story it’s when he’s speaking to that kind of an audience.  And it clues us in to this kind of reality – that Paul spoke to his audience.  He spoke contextually to those people that he was speaking to.  He speaks about that in one of the letters that he wrote, called 1 Corinthians, or actually it was 2 Corinthians, where he says, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, to those who are under the law I spoke as one under the law, to those who had not the law I spoke as one without the law.  I became as all things to all people that I might win some.”  And so Paul knew how to speak to people, he judged where they were at, and he spoke in a way that they could comprehend.  And he tells his story.  It’s so important that you and I hold onto this reality, that we build credibility by telling our story.  Why?

Well, because the reality is, people have a hard time speaking against your story.  They can object if you say, “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that He rose again from the dead.”

They might object and say, “I don’t even believe that He lived, that there was ever a Man named Jesus.  Now, I don’t believe any of that.”

They can object.  But if you tell them the story, they have a hard time objecting to that.

It reminds me of another story we find in the Gospel of John.  In John Chapter 9, Jesus, there in John Chapter 9, healed a man of blindness who was born blind.  And then that very same man, who had been healed of blindness, is brought before a religious council, and they’re trying to get rid of Jesus, they don’t like Jesus, so they’re asking this guy all kinds of questions.  And they ask him a very interesting question in John Chapter 9, Verse 24, they said to him, “So they called this man again who was blind, and they said, ‘Give glory to God!  We know that this Man, Jesus, who healed you, is a sinner.  What do you think?’”

And instead of giving his opinion, instead of saying, “Yeah, well I don’t think He’s a sinner.”  Which would have caused him problems.  He answered and said, “Whether He’s a sinner I don’t know.  One thing I know:  I was blind, and now I see.”  They have a hard time contending with that one.  “I’m not going to give you my opinion about whether or not He’s a sinner or He’s not a sinner, because to say that He’s not a sinner means He comes from God, or maybe He is God.  But I am going to say this:  I was blind, and now I see.  And you have to reckon with that.”

And when you talk with someone in your workplace or in your neighborhood, and they’re asking you questions, “What do you think about Jesus?  Do you really believe this or that?”

And you go, “Listen, I don’t know about that, but let me just tell you my story.  Let me tell you what happened in my life.  And the only thing that I can conclude by what happened in my life is that He is Lord, and that He has power, and that He has authority, because this is what He’s done in my life.”

Who can argue with that?

“Whether He’s a sinner or not, I don’t know, but one thing I know, I was blind, but now I see.”  And every single one of you has a story like that.  Every one of you in this room today, if you’re a Christian, you have a story like, “I was once lost, and now I’m found.  I was once blind, and now I see.  And Jesus transformed my life.”

“I myself,” Verse 9, Acts 26, “was convinced that I ought to do more things to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast in my vote.”  Paul says, “Listen, I was one of the guys who cast my vote against them, that they would be killed.”  We remember Stephen, in Acts Chapter 7, “And I punished them often in every synagogue and I compelled them to blaspheme.  I forced them to say, ‘I don’t believe in Jesus of Nazareth,’ being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.  Borders didn’t matter.  I was so against them zealously that I pursued them.

“And while I was thus occupied, I journeyed to Damascus,” the capital of Syria, “with authority and commission from the chief priests, and at midday, O King Agrippa, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me.  And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me, saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?  Isn’t it hard for you to kick against the goads?’  And so I said, ‘Lord, who are You?’  And He said, ‘ I am Jesus, whom you’re persecuting.’”

Now, I’ve said this many times before, but can you imagine?  It’s very likely that Paul was in Jerusalem, and knew about these things when Jesus was crucified.  And then he’s been persecuting and putting people to death who were saying, “Jesus raised from the dead.”

And he’s saying, “No, He didn’t!  No, He didn’t!  He didn’t rise from the dead!”  Even though this very same guy had a hope for the resurrection one day, he said, “He did not raise from the dead!!”  And now, here he is, on his way to persecute more people, and he gets struck down to the ground by this bright light, brighter than the sun, and he hears a voice that says, “Why are you persecuting Me?”  And he says, “Who are You?”  And He says, “I’m Jesus.”

“Oh snap!”  [laughter]  How do you deal with that?

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Now, the next thing he probably imagined was, “You’re a dead man.”  But He said, “But, rise and stand on your feet.”  Why?  “For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to judge you and kill you!”  No!  That might be the way that I work or you work; Jesus isn’t like that.  “I’ve appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister, a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I shall reveal to you.  I’m going to deliver you from the Jewish people, as well from Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, the light that you just have seen, and from the power of Satan to the power of God, and to receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.”

Point Number 5:

Every Story Needs A Point And Ours Should Point To Jesus

Every story needs a point and ours should point to Jesus.  Paul speaks of his background, his upbringing, he speaks of his education, he speaks of his life, he speaks of persecution of those who followed Jesus because they said He raised from the dead.  And now he says, “But in the midst of that, and in the midst of all of my rage, in the midst of all of my anger against these people, Jesus, who had risen from the dead, appeared to me in a bright light, brighter than the sun, and He spoke to me and said, ‘I want you to serve Me.’”

Some people are incredible storytellers.  I think of Moses; Jesus certainly was.  In fact, Jesus rarely spoke without a story.  We all come from and live in a culture that is geared around storytelling.  Every culture in the world is geared around storytelling.  It’s just that in our culture today stories are told on big screens in movie theatres, or on Netflix.  But we’re still story kind of people.  The best way to share the truth about who Jesus is, and what He does, is to share your story.  Paul told his story, and ultimately, it pointed to Jesus.  And every Christian has a story.  You may never be able to perfectly articulate the truth of Romans Chapters 7 and 8.  You may never be able to argue the existence of God from the teleological or ontological arguments.  And some of you go, “I don’t even know what that is.”  And that’s okay.  You may never be able to give that kind of a hermeneutic response, or apologetic response; but you can tell your story.  You can tell your story.  You know the awesome thing about your story, it’s yours, and you know it.  You don’t have to read up on it, you don’t have to study it, you don’t have to work on it.  You know it.  I don’t know your story, but you now your story.  You could tell me your story, and I could try to tell your story, but the reality is, I wouldn’t tell it as good as you would tell it.  But you can tell your story.  And that’s what Paul does.

And so we, in our lives, as we go about as ambassadors of Jesus, we need to seek permission to speak of Jesus.  And we need to be courteous when people are curious, when they enquire.  We need to take the time to share the Gospel.  And we need to tell the story that points them to Jesus.  Because the reality is every single one of us have friends, neighbors, family members.  Except for me, probably every single one of you have co-workers who don’t know Jesus, and they need Jesus.  And Jesus has transformed your life, and you’ve got a story to tell about the transforming power of Jesus.  Amen?

Would you stand with me as we close in prayer?

Father God, we thank You for the reality that You are, You are One who loves wrecks.  You love wrecked lives, and You love to restore wrecked lives.  You are the great Restorer.  And Lord, as I’ve been looking out over this group of people here this morning, I see faces of people I know, and I know their story a little bit, and I know how You have taken wrecked lives, and You have transformed them, and restored them.  You’ve taken people who were out of their minds, and You have made them think correctly and rightly.  You have taken people who lived in a way that only brought shame and hurt to, and a wake of destruction in their path, and You’ve brought them to a new place, and You’ve made them a new creation in You, to display Your glory.  And You love to take broken things, and put them in Your art gallery, and say, “Look at what I can do with a broken life.”  The broken life of the Apostle Paul, who was an angry man filled with rage and bitterness and murder and hatred, and You turned him into a man who was compelled by love to carry the Gospel to people that were not like him, and to people who were in desperate need.  And so, God, use our lives, use our lives as You used the life of the Apostle Paul 2,000 years ago.  This week, Lord, use our lives to share the story of Your great glory and grace.  We pray this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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