On Trial | Final Testimony

Pastor Miles DeBenedictis

Acts 26:14-32
Final Testimony


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Message Transcription

Paul is telling the story about his conversion to Christ.  It says:

“And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me, saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’  So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’  And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will reveal to you.  I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.

Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.’”

Father, as we look now at Your Word today, we ask that You would give us insight and wisdom.  Jesus, You promised that You would send the Spirit of truth who would guide us in all truth, and teach us all things, and so we are asking this morning that You, by Your Holy Spirit, would do just that.  Lord, we believe that Your Word is living and powerful, that it is sharper than any two-edged sword.  Lord, we know that it is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that we would be thoroughly equipped for the good works that You prepared for us.  Lord, help us to rightly divide Your Word of truth today.  Lord, help us to see, in this final word that Paul gives as he’s on trial, Lord, help us to see applications for us.  Because those of us here in this room today that believe in You, that trust that You are Lord and Christ, there are times in our lives, maybe even this week, where we will face trials, where people will come and inquire, they’ll ask us, they’ll want to know why it is that we believe the things that we believe, or why it is that we live the way that we live.  And we pray that, from this text, You would give us insight in how to answer, and what to say, because You’ve called us to be ambassadors, representatives of You in this world.  So, Lord, give us wisdom, give us insight, we pray.  We ask this in Jesus’ name.  And all God’s people agreed, saying, “Amen.”

You can be seated.

How many of you here this morning have recognized, in your life, that God’s way of doing things is often different than yours?  Look at all the hands.  I think we all recognize that.  You probably have heard the saying before, it’s been said many times before, that God works in mysterious ways.  And while I think that is true, I think another way that we could say it, another way that I’d rather way it, is that God has a creative imagination.  And when you look at His creation, when you look around the world, you know that that is true, that He has a creative imagination.

You may have seen it several years ago, the Discovery Channel came out with that series called Earth.  And if you watched any of those documentaries, there were some animals and creatures and things that they showed that you just go, “Wow!  That…what is that?”  You’re like looking at it, and you go, “Man, God has a creative imagination.”

And sometimes in the way that God works, we see that creativity come out.  And when Saul of Tarsus, the one would ultimately became Paul the Apostle, the man who here in Acts Chapter 26 is standing on trial, but when Saul of Tarsus was actively pursuing Christians, about 25 years before this event that happens here in Acts 26, 25 years before this he was pursuing Christians to persecute them, to even put some of them to death.  He spoke about that earlier in this chapter.  We saw last week that he pursued them outside of the borders of his home country where he was living.  He pursued them to cause them to blaspheme, to say that they didn’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth had risen from the dead.  He even presided over the trials of some.  He presided over the deaths of some.  One of them is mentioned in Acts Chapter 7, a guy by the name of Stephen, who as it were, turned out to be the first Christian martyr, the first person put to death for their faith.  And so Paul was the one, when his name was Saul of Tarsus, when he was a Pharisee of the Pharisees, when he was a part of the religious ruling council of Judaism, about, nearly a quarter century before this event here, he was the one overseeing these things.  And it says that there was a great persecution, in Acts Chapter 8, Verse 1, a great persecution came against the church, and it was Saul of Tarsus who was breathing threats and murder against the Christians.

And now, here we fast-forward, and things have changed dramatically.  But, I think, and I’ve said it before, but it’s so important, that no one in the church, when Saul of Tarsus was breathing threats and murder against Christians, no one in the church would have ever imagined that God would choose him to be perhaps the most prolific minister and witness of Jesus Christ for the rest of his life.  No one would have imagined that.  No one would have contemplated that that would be the way that God would have worked in that circumstance.

And then, when in Acts Chapter 9, when Saul of Tarsus was on his way to the city of Damascus – the capital city of Syria, even 2,000 years ago, as it is today – when he is on his way to Damascus, with letters from the chief priests in Jerusalem, to find people who believed in Jesus of Nazareth, and to take them bound back to the city of Jerusalem to be tried, and maybe even killed, when he was on his way there, and the Lord Jesus appeared to him.  In the middle of the day, bright shining light, brighter than the sun, knocked him down – which is what Paul was talking about in the passage we just read in Verse 14 – “We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice.”  When that happened, when Jesus spoke to him and revealed His plan, I’m certain that Saul of Tarsus never imagined that Jesus would want to use him in that way, that this Jesus, whom he was fighting against, who he thought was dead and buried and gone, he could not have contemplated that He had risen from the dead and He was in heaven.  But, this Jesus now says, “I want you to be My minister; I want you to be a servant of Mine and a witness of Mine.”  Saul of Tarsus probably could never have dreamed up that story.  It’s so outside the realm of the way that we think.  “That you’re going to be the guy, even though you’re fighting against Me, you’re going to be the guy that’s going to be declaring and proclaiming who I am and what I’ve done.  You’re going to be the one bearing my name before kings, before prominent leaders of the Gentiles, before all kinds of people, you’re going to bear My name.”  And I think that Saul of Tarsus could never have imagined that God would use him in that fashion.  I’m sure that Saul probably thought that it was pretty far out when Ananias, a Christian man, came to him a few days later, and laid hands on him, and told him, prophesied that “you will bear the name of Jesus before kings.”

Saul probably thought, “That can’t possibly be that that would happen.”  And yet, as we left off, in the middle of Acts Chapter 26 last week, we see that’s exactly what is happening.  Paul’s audience, as he is sharing these things here in Acts Chapter 26, is the king of that region of Judea, the Jewish king, Herod Agrippa II.  And next to him is his sister Bernice, and next to them is the governor of Rome, of Judea, in that area, named Festus.  And around them are all the prominent leaders, all the power brokers of Caesarea, the city that was the capital of Judea, all the prominent leaders are there to hear him.  And now he’s seeing these things come to pass that God told him would happen many years before.

And certainly God has a creative imagination.  He does things that are far out.  He does things that are amazing.  And I would suggest that if God revealed to you right now exactly what His plan is for you in the future, you would think that it was pretty far out; you would be pretty amazed at what God has in store, and what He wants to do in and through our lives.  And I’m sure that more than a few of you here today cannot imagine that God could use you.  You might look at someone who’s a pastor, you might look at someone who’s a missionary, you might look at someone who’s serving in a ministry, a vocational ministry, and say, “Yeah, God uses them, but I don’t think God could ever use me.”  In fact, I meet a lot of people, a lot of Christians that say, “I don’t think God could use me in that way.”  And yet God has a creative imagination.

Not only does God have a creative imagination, but the Scriptures reveal that God has the creative power to bring to pass the things that He imagines.  You know, there’s a saying that has gone around all of the motivational speaking groups in our nation for many years:  What the mind of man can conceive, it can achieve.  How many of you have heard people say things like that before?  What the mind of man can conceive, it can achieve.  I’m here to tell you that’s not true, because I can conceive of myself flying, and I’ve never been able to achieve it.  I sure would like to.  If you’ve figured it out, come talk with me, because I’d love to know how that works.  But, we can imagine some pretty lofty things that, to this point, we’re unable to accomplish, we’re unable to do.  We can imagine some far out things that we can’t really achieve, but that’s not true for God.  He is able to conceive and achieve things because He has the creative power to bring those things to pass.

In fact, Paul, in Romans Chapter 4, Verse 17, he tells us that God is the One who calls those things which do not exist as though they did.  He calls those things that do not exist as though they did.  In that passage, in Romans Chapter 4, the context is speaking about a man who would become the father of the nation of Israel, the man of Abraham.  And the man, Abraham, when he was 75 years old, God called him, and his wife was 10 years younger than him, and to that point they were childless.  They remained childless until he was 100 and she was 90.  And God said, “You’re going to be the father of many nations.”

And rightly so, this childless man said, “I don’t see how that’s possible.  My wife is well-beyond the years of childbearing.  She’s barren.  That’s not going to happen.”

And yet, God is the One who calls those things that do not exist as though they did, because He’s able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think.  He has a creative imagination.  And we can’t even begin to imagine the things that He wants to do in and through us, His church.  He has a greater vision for us than we do for ourselves.  Some of you know that to be true.  You’ve experienced that already.  But I want everybody in this room to come to the place where we not only recognize that, but we live in that kind of expectation and anticipation, that God is going to do something great in and through my life.  Why?

Because He’s powerful.  We serve the living God.  Amen?  And we need to be reminded of that sometimes.  There’s a lot of people who are Christians who are walking around with a very defeatest sort of mindset, as if the church is about to implode and fall apart.  The reality is, as I shared a few weeks ago, the church is going to continue on into eternity.  The gates of hell will not prevail against the church.  God has a great plan for us, and wants us to engage and be a part of that.

And the testimony of the Book of Acts is a testimony of a man who lived that life – the Apostle Paul.  And others, but he’s the chief one who comes to the forefront in this passage.

And so here in Acts Chapter 26, beginning at Verse 14, he’s recounting the story of how these things started, when he was Saul of Tarsus, when he was a persecutor of Christians, of people who believed that Jesus had risen from the dead.  That was the primary motivation for him fighting against them.  He did not like this Jesus character, like many in the religious establishment.  Why?  Well, because Saul was a Pharisee, and Jesus was saying things like, “You Pharisees are white-washed tombs; you’re full of dead men’s bones.  You look great on the outside, by you’re hypocrites.”  And, you know, Saul didn’t like being called a hypocrite.  So he didn’t like this Jesus.

And so when Jesus was crucified, Saul was among the people that were saying, “Yes!!  Yes!!  He’s gone!”

And then, three days later, His disciples are saying, “No!!  He’s alive!!”

And Saul says, “No!!  I’m going to kill you!!”

That was his plan; that’s what he wanted to do.  And so, he wanted this idea gone, because it convicted him, it challenged him.  And so he gave himself to fighting against it, even against the counsel of his teacher.  His rabbi was a man by the name of Gamaliel.  And in Acts Chapter 4, there was a council of rabbis that came together, and they were trying to figure out, “How do we deal with these followers of this Jesus of Nazareth?  They say that He raised from the dead.  What do we do with these people?”  And they wanted to fight against them.  Some of them wanted to put these guys to death.  And Gamaliel, a very wise man, he stood up and said, “Listen, if this thing is not of God, it will fail.  But if it is of God, if you fight against it, you’ll find yourself fighting against God.”

And I guarantee you that Saul of Tarsus was there.  He heard those words.  Gamaliel was his rabbi, his teacher.  And then, a short time later, Saul of Tarsus went all out to fight against those who believed in Jesus.  And this is what happened, Acts 26, Verse 14 is the testimony of what happened.  There he was, on his way to fight against Christians, and a great bright light, brighter than the sun, shone around him, in the middle of the noonday, caused him and all of those who were with him to fall to the ground.  And then he said, “I,” Verse 14, “I heard a voice speaking to me.”  In another passage, he says, “Those that were with me, they saw the light, but they didn’t hear the voice.”  “I heard a voice from heaven speaking to me, it addressed me, and He said, ‘Saul, Saul,’” in the Hebrew language, “’Saul.’”

And Saul perked up, “Yeah, okay, You’re speaking to me.  This is kind of weird.  I didn’t anticipate this to happen today.”

“Saul, Saul, why are you fighting against Me?  Why are you fighting against Me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

Now, I know for most of us here in this room today, a goad, you go, “I don’t know…  I have no idea what that means – kick against the goads.”  But let me kind of contextualize it, bring it up for us to understand.  It that day, when a farmer would plow his fields, he would have an ox, a couple of oxen in front of him, and they would pulling a plow.  And sometimes those ox, they would decide, “Well, I just don’t want to do this anymore,” because they’re stubborn animals.  And so, they would sometimes have a long beam, about nine feet long, called a goad, that had a sharp tip on the end of it.  And when the ox said, “No, I’m done,” then the farmer would go, “No, you’re not,” and just kind of goad him along.  And, you know, the ox would get the message real quick that, “Okay, let’s keep going, doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”

And God, the picture here, is that God is saying, “I’m trying to make you go in this direction, Saul, and you’re kicking at Me, and going, ‘I don’t want to do that.’”  And He says, “Isn’t it hard for you to fight against Me?”  Let me clue you into a reality, it’s not a good idea to fight against God.  It’s not a good idea.  If you’re here today, and you’re not a believer yet, and you find yourself fighting against God, that’s a bad place to be.  I suggest that maybe you read Genesis 32; there’s a story about a guy named Jacob there in that passage – walked with a limp for the rest of his life.  Yeah, that’s a good story, a good place to start.  Not a good idea to fight against God.

“It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”  Verse 15:  “So I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’”  That’s a valid question.  “Obviously You’re bigger than me.  You have a very bright light; You’re shining it on me.  I’m on the ground.  You’re speaking from up in the sky.  And You’re saying, ‘Why are you persecuting Me?’  So, who are You?  I’d like to know just what is Your name, and who are You?”

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Now, no matter how many times I read Paul’s story, I always find myself wondering what it must have been like for Saul to hear those words – “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”  You see, although Paul, Saul at that time, believed in the resurrection – he was a Pharisee, and Pharisees believed that there would be a resurrection, in the future.  Although he believed in the resurrection, to him it was something that was very distant; it was way out in the future.  Somewhere there would be this event called the resurrection.  But he was completely committed to the idea that this Man, Jesus of Nazareth, did not rise from the dead, that He had not experienced resurrection.  He was so committed to this that he was ardently trying to destroy that idea that he thought was a myth.  He wanted to get rid of this concept that Jesus had risen from the dead.  Although he believed that a resurrection would come, it was far away, it was distant.  This Guy couldn’t possibly have risen from the dead.

And so Saul, to be lying on the ground, with a group of people around him, hearing a voice from heaven.  And now this same Jesus, who, he is convinced, did not rise from the dead, says to him, “I am Jesus, and you’re fighting against Me;” I just wonder what went through his mind.  Just the transformation, in a second, that had to happen there in that moment.  The Man that he knew had been crucified, was dead, and buried, is now speaking to him – “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Point Number 1 on your outline:

When You Meet The Risen Jesus, Everything Changes

…everything changes.  When you meet the risen Jesus, everything changes.  There is no going back from that experience.  There was no way, in that moment, that Saul of Tarsus could have gotten up off of the ground, after that moment, dusted himself off, and continued on his merry way into Damascus, with letters from the chief priests, to find those who believed in this Jesus of Nazareth, and bring them back bound to Jerusalem to be tried.  There’s no way that he could have continued on his current course.   When you meet the risen Jesus, everything changes.  There was no way that life could go back to normal after that moment, after that instant when these things happened.  He could not continue fighting.  He could not continue pursing or persecuting those who believed in this Jesus of Nazareth.

Now, those of you who have read through the Book of Acts before, or those of you who have been with us as we’ve been studying through these things, you know that Paul’s telling of the story here in Acts Chapter 26 differs slightly from what happened in the actual story in Acts Chapter 9.  And we can’t really fault the Apostle Paul for giving the abridged version here.  But in Acts Chapter 9 there’s some more information that, I think, is appropriate to insert here at this point.

When Saul of Tarsus was laying on the ground, and Jesus says, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” Saul’s response, at that point, in Acts Chapter 9, is “Lord.  Lord.”  Everything changes.  “What do You want me to do?  Lord, what do You want me to do?”  And this man who was fighting against the notion that Jesus is Lord, fighting against the idea that Jesus had risen from the dead, in that second when he meets the risen Jesus, now, that’s Lord, and “What do You want me to do?  I’ve been pursuing Christians based on my own passions, my own desires, what I want to do, and now You have appeared to me.  Everything changes; what do You want me to do?”

And there are quite a few of you, I think, here in this room today, that you have experienced this to a certain extent.  You know exactly what it is like.  Even though you did not have an encounter where you saw a bright light from heaven, nor did you hear a voice, but you came in contact, at some point in your walk, at some point in your existence here on earth, you came in contact with the presence and the power of the risen Lord Jesus, and everything changed in your life from that moment.  It could not stay the same from that time on, because you met Jesus.  And even though you still look the same, and even so your voice was still the same, and even though you basically were the same person, and you went to work the next day, or you talked with a friend or a neighbor, and you said, “I met Jesus,” and they looked at you and went, “What?  I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  Anybody experience that?  Lift up your hand if that’s you.  There’s a number of you.  You experienced that.  You told someone, “I met Jesus!” and they kind of looked at you like, “You’re weird.  Well, you look the same.  You’re still the same person.  I don’t, I don’t see any major difference.”

“No, I’m different.  I met Jesus.”  Why?  Because 2 Corinthians tells us that if anyone is in Christ, they’re a new creation, even though they still look the same.  And so you can identify with this because the power and presence of Jesus, it affected you.  And you may not be able to articulate it or explain it when someone says, “Wait, I don’t quite understand what you mean, you met Jesus.  Can you elaborate?  Can you maybe tell me what you’re on about here?”

And you say, “I don’t know exactly what to say, but I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and His life has completely changed my life.”  You may not be able to say anything more than that.  “I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and His life has completely changed my life.”

And when you encounter someone who’s a skeptic, when you encounter someone who, you know, doesn’t believe in those things, and maybe they’re even mocking your faith in Jesus; that’s a simple answer that you can give to them.  You say, “Listen, I don’t know how to answer your skepticism.  I don’t know how to stop your mockery.  But all I can say is this – I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and His life has completely changed my life.”  What can they say to that?  Can they just say, “I don’t agree with you.”

“Okay.  But I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and His life has completely changed my life.”

I suggest to you that if you have that person in your life today that’s a mocker, that’s skeptical of your faith in Jesus, that’s a simple answer.  You don’t have to say anything else, just say, “I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and His life has completely changed my life.”  And you know what, it will frustrate them to no end.  Why?  Because they can’t say anything against that.

And this is exactly what Paul is saying here.  “I believe that Jesus rose from the dead.”  And Festus could say, “You’re crazy;” which he’s going to do in a moment, because he’s a skeptic.  And if you’re here today, and you’re a skeptic, that’s okay.  It’s okay to be skeptical.  Saul of Tarsus was skeptical when he heard people like Peter, James, and John saying, “Jesus rose from the dead, and we have seen Him.”

He said, “I don’t think that’s true.”

Even one of Jesus’ closest associates, a disciple by the name of Thomas, was skeptical.  Sadly for Thomas, he’s had the addition to his name ever since this event in the Gospels, now he’s called doubting Thomas.  Because why?  Well, ten of the disciples said, “Thomas, Jesus rose from the dead, we saw Him.”  And Thomas says, “I don’t believe it.  I’m skeptical.  If I don’t see it, the risen Jesus, I won’t believe.”

And then the risen Jesus appears to him.  And what does he say?  “My Lord and my God.  You’re alive.”

So, if you’re a skeptic today, that’s okay.  It’s okay to be in that place.  It’s okay to ask those kind of questions.  But if you are a Christian today, and you find yourself in that place of having the light of skepticism shown upon you, all you have to say is, “Listen, I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and His life has completely changed my life.  His life has completely changed my life.”

Again, if you’re a skeptic today, please understand that Christians are rational people.  Maybe I don’t even need to say that.  But Christians are rational people.  And I know there’s a lot of people in our nation today, a growing number of people think that Christians are irrational, but you do know that more than 80% of Americans believe that there is life after this life.  So that means that more than 80% of Americans believe that there is a resurrection experience.  The only difference between Christians and the rest of the 80% is that Christians believe that Jesus, who died on the cross 2,000 years ago, was laid in a tomb, and three days later the tomb was empty, because He rose from the dead, and His life has completely changed our life.  That’s the only difference.  That’s the only thing that separates us from those who believe that there is a resurrection among the 80% in America.  We believe that He rose from the dead, and everything now changes, because when you meet the risen Jesus, everything changes.

Well, Paul continues, Verse 16, again, this is the abridged version that Paul is giving, because the events that are described in Verses 16, 17, and 18 actually happened a few days after Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus.  And so, the Lord says to Saul, “Rise, stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister,” that is a servant, “and a witness,” the Greek word martyro, from which we get our word martyr.  “I’m going to make you a servant and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I shall reveal to you.  And I’m going to deliver you from the Jewish people, and also from the Gentiles, to whom I’m going to send you.”  So, “I’m sending you,” that’s one who’s an apostle, one sent with a message.  “And I’m sending you for this purpose,” Verse 18, “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.”  Why?  “…so that they may receive the forgiveness of sins.”  You see, that is the problem facing all humanity – sin.

This same man, the Apostle Paul, wrote a letter to the church at Rome, and in that letter he says to them that through one man – speaking of Adam, back in the Book of Genesis, the first man that God created – through one man sin entered the world, and from sin death, and death spread to all humanity.  The reason we die is because of sin.  So, humanity – every one of us, all 7.2 billion people on the earth today – we all face the problem of sin.

How do we deal with that?  Well, Jesus came to die a death as a substitution in our place, to deal with the problem of sin, so that we can receive a pardon, so that we can receive forgiveness.  And so, here, Jesus says to Saul of Tarsus, “You’re going to go, and you’re going to open the eyes of those who are in darkness, to turn them from the power of Satan to the power of God, so that they might receive a pardon for their sins that is only found in Jesus.  But not only do they receive a pardon for their sin, but also they receive an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.”  So, when they put their trust in Jesus, is what Jesus says, “When they put their trust in Me, they are pardoned for their sin, and they are given an inheritance.”

So notice Paul’s application, as he talks with Festus and Agrippa.  Verse 19:  “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly calling.”

Jesus’ resurrection changes everything, and when Saul met the risen Jesus, and now Jesus says, “I want you to be a servant of Mine, and I want you to be a witness of Me.”  And you’re going to go open the eyes of those who are in darkness.  And you’re going to turn them, that is to call them to repentance, so that they can receive pardon and an inheritance.”

Paul says, “What was I going to do?  Disobey?  What was I going to do, say ‘No, I don’t think I want to do that?’  I was not disobedient to the heavenly calling.”  And from this, I think there’s a good encouragement to us.  Point Number 2 on your outline:

When Jesus Calls, Just Say Yes

When Jesus calls, just say yes.  I think that we can be spared a whole lot of angst and frustration by simply applying this point – when Jesus calls, just say yes.  We can be spared a lot of frustration by simply responding to Jesus by saying, “Yes, Lord, Your servant listens.  Yes, Lord, what do You want me to do?  Yes, Lord.”  You see, those words go together – Yes, Lord.  No, Lord, don’t go together because Lord means Master, Ruler, One who has authority.  And you can’t say, “No, Lord.”  It doesn’t work.  When you say, “No,” you’re saying, “No, I am lord.”  And so, we can spared all kinds of frustration by simply just saying, “Yes, Lord,” when He calls us.

Now, every parent, all the parents in the room lift your hands up high, parents.  Every parent in the room understands this idea of saving frustration by simply affirming and saying, “Yes.”  I have four beautiful children, little ones – Ethan, Addison, Evangeline, and Elliott.  Elliott turns one today.  And they are beautiful.  They all inherited something from my wife and I that’s dreadful.  It’s called a strong will.  Any of you have some of those?  Some people say, “I got one of those.”  I’ve got four of those!  And I know that even the littlest one, Elliott, we’ve discovered the strong will.  For a while he just seemed so easygoing, everything was perfect because he couldn’t really move all that much.  But now he can walk.  And now that he can walk, we have a two-story house, so now that he can walk, he wants to climb the stairs.  And we constantly say, “No, Elliott!”  You redirect his attention, redirect; and he just gets MAD!  And he does this one [mad face].  And you can tell, there’s that strong will.

Now, I’m here to tell you that a strong will is not necessarily a terrible thing.  It’s not necessarily a terrible thing.  But what makes a strong will difficult is when it’s a strong contrary will, a strong contrary will.  And I’m here to tell you that every single one of us are contrarians.  And we have kids that are like that too.  When you say, “Up,” they say, “Down;” when you say, “Yes,” they say, “No.”  And there’s a battle of the wills, right?  A battle of the wills that takes place in that strong will.  And, you know what, we have a limited, if you can imagine, our patience is like a pitcher of water, and there’s a limited amount.  And the more that pours out – “You’re getting low, you’re getting low.  Oohh!  You’re getting empty.  Oh goodness, we’re out of patience.”  Anybody experience that?  And then all of a sudden you feel like everything comes up, you’re u-u-r-r-g-g-h-h, “I’m bigger than you, and I’m going to force my will!”  Right?  You’ve experienced that sort of thing.  Nod your head if you know what I’m talking about.  I’m not the only person that experiences that.  Okay, please, all right, good.  [laughter]  And so there’s this battle of the wills, and we have a limited, a finite amount of patience, and so we find ourselves exasperated.  We get to the point where we just, “I can’t take it anymore!!”

Listen, God, He’s got infinite patience.  And so if you’re going to try and go contrary to Him, you can try all you want.  And you know what He’ll do?  He’ll just go, “I can wait … I’m waiting … I’ll wait  … Ten years, I’ll wait.”

You know, I’ve met some people here at this church, and they’ll say things like this to me – they’re in their 50s – “I want to serve the Lord, and I remember when I was in my 20s, I felt like God pulling me, calling me to serve Him in this way.  Maybe it wasn’t even vocational ministry, it was just, God was stirring my heart to serve in Children’s Ministry; God was stirring my heart to go down to Tecate to do this.  Whatever it was.  And I said, ‘No.’  He was saying, ‘Yes,’ and I was saying, ‘No.’  And I wanted to fight against it and fight against it.  And God just said, ‘Okay, I’ll wait.’”  And now they’re in their 50s or their 60s and say, “Gosh, I wish I would have heeded then.  So much less frustration and stress.”

When Jesus calls, just say yes; just say yes.

Now, what did that obedience look like?  Look at Verse 20, Acts Chapter 26:20:  “And so He called me to do this, and so I was not disobedient to the heavenly calling, but I declared first to those that were in Damascus.”  Where was Paul?  He was in Damascus.  “So immediately I declared, I proclaimed.”  What did he proclaim?  Repentance.  Turn from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, that you might receive the forgiveness of sins, that you might receive an inheritance.  He says, “I first proclaimed it in Damascus, and then in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles.”  “What did I proclaim?”  “That they should repent.”  That word repent, it means to turn.  It begins with a mental change, a change of thought that now moves in a new direction.  “So, I called them to repent.  But, not only did I call them to change their minds, repent and turn to God, and do,” notice that, the end of Verse 20, “do works befitting repentance.”  Point Number 3 on your outline:

Our Obedience To Jesus Must Be Tangible

Our obedience to Jesus must be tangible.  It was tangible in Paul’s life, and it must be tangible in those lives that respond to the call.  It was tangible in Paul’s life; he says, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly calling.  I obeyed.  And I didn’t only obey mentally or verbally, I obeyed with my life.  I didn’t just say, ‘Okay, Lord, I’ll do that,’ and then delay obedience.”  Because there’s a lot of people, a lot of people who call themselves Christians who, they say, “Yes, Lord, I want to follow You, I want to do that,” but then they delay obedience, and they experience that frustration and that anxiety.  And if we’d simply say yes to Jesus, not with our mouth, but also with our lives, then we would experience blessing and joy.  And so he says, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly calling, but I did exactly what the Lord told me to do.  I began to proclaim the Gospel to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem, then in Judea, then to Gentiles.  Wherever I could go, I began to proclaim.  And what I called them to do was to turn to God, and to do things that reveal that they’ve turned to God.  To turn away from their idols, to turn away from their rebellion, to turn away from their immorality, to turn away from whatever it was that they were doing, and now turn to God with their lives, not just with their mouths.”  And so, our obedience to Jesus, it must be tangible.

The Apostle James, he wrote the very first book of the New Testament, the first letter.  And James says something, and many of you have heard it before, he says, “Faith without works is” what?  “…dead.  Faith without works is dead.”  Now, we’re not saved by our works, but we are saved for good works, and if you believe in Jesus, then faith works. The overflow of faith is a transformation of that person’s life, that they begin to do the things that are befitting of repentance, that reveal that that person has changed, that person has turned, and they’re different, they’re not who they were, because when you meet the risen Jesus, everything changes.  And Paul’s obedience to Jesus was tangible, and our repentance needs to be tangible as well, it cannot be merely mental or verbal.

There’s a story that Jesus tells in the Gospels about a man who was a landowner, and he had two sons.  And he says to one of his sons, “In the morning, I want you to go out into the field and work.”  And his first son says, “Yes!  I’ll do that.”  But then he doesn’t do it.  And then he says to his second son, “Son, I want you to go work out in the field.”  And he says, “No!”  And most of us say, “Yeah, I know that one.  That’s me.”  He says, “No.”

“But then later he repented,” Jesus says, “and he went and he did it.”  And Jesus asked the question:  “Who did the will of the father?”

You see, there are many people who go to churches like this one, and they say, “Yes!” to Jesus.  But then we walk out the doors, and our lives say, “No.”  So we need to make sure that we are saying yes to Jesus, and that our obedience is tangible, that it’s clear, that we’re walking out the things that we’re saying yes to.

Pastor Josh once shared a quote, I believe he told me that it was from A.W. Tozer, that A.W. Tozer said, “Christians don’t tell lies, they just sing them in church.”  And that’s a scary thing.  And for some of us that can be true because we proclaim our obedience in the songs that we sing, and then we walk unchanged.

And so Paul says, “I was not disobedient, but I declared, I proclaimed.”  Verse 21:  “For these reasons, because I did this, the Jews seized me in the temple and they tried to kill me.”

Our obedience to Jesus is not always welcomed by people in the world.  Doing what Jesus calls us to do is not always welcomed by those that are in the world.

“Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those things which the prophets and Moses said would come.”  So he says, he speaking to a Jewish man, to King Agrippa, he says, “Listen, I’m only speaking the same things that Moses and the prophets spoke.”  What things?  “That the Christ should suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and also to the Gentiles.”

But they don’t like this message; they don’t like this message.  “I’m only proclaiming what Moses and the prophets proclaimed – that the Christ should suffer.”  Where did the prophets say that Jesus, the Christ, would suffer?  Well, Isaiah 53 speaks about the suffering Servant; Psalm 22 speaks about the crucified Christ.  Where do the Scriptures speak about Him rising from the dead?  David, in Psalm16, Verses 9 through 11 speaks about the resurrection of Jesus a thousand years before it happened.  And so he says, “I’m only proclaiming the same things that Moses and the prophets proclaimed.”  And then the Old Testament proclaims that God’s message was not only for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; not only for the nation of Israel; but for all people.  And yet, the Jewish people in Paul’s day didn’t like that.  Because we need to recognize that people, by sinful nature, are racist.  We only like our own people, by nature.  There needs to be a transformation of our nature to not be like that.

“Now, as he was saying these things,” – this is phenomenal – Verse 24, “As Paul was saying this, and making his defense, Festus,” the Roman governor, sitting next to King Agrippa, “said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are beside yourself!  Much learning has made you mad!’”  He literally said, “Paul, you’re insane!  You’re a maniac!”  The Greek word is mania.  Festus, in the middle of this, Paul is in mid-sentence, and he just says, “Paul, you are out of your mind.  You believe in a Guy who died on a cross.  I’ve seen crucifixions; I’m a Roman.”  He probably condemned people to die by crucifixion.  “People don’t survive that.”  He says, “You’re insane.  This Guy raised from the dead; you’re out of your mind!  Much learning has made you crazy!”

Number 4 on your outline:

Don’t Be Offended By A Skeptical Response

Again, maybe you’re a skeptic here in this room today.  Like Festus, you just say, “Man, you Christians are out of your minds.  You’re insane.  You actually believe that there was a Guy, 2,000 years ago, died on a cross, and rose from the dead.  You really believe that?!”

Yes, I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and His life has completely changed my life.

“You really believe that?!  You see, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but resurrections don’t happen all that much.  It’s kind of a miracle.”  And we live in a society today that believes in rational thought, and they say, “Miracles don’t happen.”  That’s the general perception of the world today – Miracles don’t happen.  So, when you say, “I believe in a miraculous event, that Jesus died on the cross, rose from the dead, and His life has completely changed my life,” they say, “That doesn’t happen, so that’s not reality.”  And so they say, “You’re crazy.”  And we cannot be offended by a skeptical response.  That’s what normally happens when people hear about a miraculous event that happened 2,000 years ago, and they say, “Well, that just doesn’t happen.”  And so we can’t be offended by that skeptical response.  Admittedly, the Gospel – 1 Corinthians Chapter 1, Verse 23, the Apostle Paul writes, “The Gospel is a stumbling block to some, and it’s complete foolishness to others.”  So the message of Jesus dying on the cross and raising from the dead is foolishness to many people that you will interact with in your workplace, or in your family, or in your neighborhood.  Wherever you are, there are people that are going to be skeptical about these sort of things.

And yet Paul, back in Verse 8 of Acts Chapter 26, he says there, “Why should it be thought incredible that God raises the dead?”  We believe that God created all things seen and unseen, so why should it be incredible that He raises the dead.

Paul’s response, Verse 25:  “But he said, ‘I am not mad, I am not a maniac, most noble Festus, but I speak the words of truth and reason.”

First and foremost, when met with a skeptical response, we need to, Point Number 5 on your outline:

Maintain Respect

When met with a skeptical response, maintain respect.  He doesn’t look at him and say, “You’re foolish!  I don’t like you, you Roman pig,” or whatever, I don’t know.  You know, he doesn’t get angry.  He simply says, “I know it sounds far-fetched, but I met the risen Jesus.  Jesus rose from the dead, and His life has completely changed my life.  I know that it sounds far out; I’m not crazy, I’m not mad.  I speak the words of truth and reason.”  And for this Gentile man, for this Roman citizen, the concept of truth and reason was a big deal for the Greco-Roman mindset, as it is in our nation here today.  We live in a world that has a very First Century Roman mindset.  We esteem the ideas of truth and reason.  And Paul says, “I’m not crazy.  What I’m speaking actually is reasonable, and it accords with reality, it accords with truth.”

Why?  Well, notice what he says in the next verse, Verse 26, “For the king,” Agrippa, “before whom I speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner.”

What is Paul saying?  He’s saying, “Listen, Agrippa, you’re king in this region, you know that your father was the guy who presided over the trial of Jesus.  You know, you were alive and lived in Jerusalem at the time when this Jesus was crucified.  You know that the tomb was empty.  You know the evidence.”  You see, the resurrection was not done in a corner; it was not some secret thing.  In fact, in 1 Corinthians Chapter 15, Paul says, “Jesus died on the cross for our sins according to the Scriptures.  He was buried, and laid in a tomb, and three days later He rose from the dead according to the Scriptures.”  But it doesn’t stop there.  He goes on and says, “And He was seen first by some of Jesus’ women followers; then He was seen by Peter and James and John, and the rest of the disciples.  Then He was seen by more than 500 people at one time.”  And then Paul says, “I even saw Him.”  So, Jesus rose from the dead, and there were eyewitnesses.  These things were not done in a corner.

So he says, “Agrippa, listen, you can look into these things.  You were alive and in Jerusalem when this happened.  I’m speaking the words of truth and reason.  Festus, listen, Pontius Pilate, who used to occupy your chair as the governor of Judea, he’s the guy who presided over this, you can look into the records that were kept in Caesarea, and see that at Passover thirty years ago, he condemned a Man to die who rose from the dead.  I speak the words of truth and reason.  I’m not insane.  He rose from the dead and we have seen Him.”

Well, the resurrection demands a response.  Paul turns his attention, his gaze, to King Agrippa, Verse 27, and he says, “Do you believe the prophets?  I know that you believe.”

Now notice this, Verse 28:  “Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You almost persuade me to become a Christian.  You almost persuade me to become a Christian.’”

Why?  Because King Agrippa knew the evidence.  The evidence demands a response.

Verse 29:  “And Paul said, ‘I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.’”

What does Paul say?  He says, “Listen, Agrippa, I want you to understand something.  I don’t want you to almost become a Christian, I want you, and everyone who’s here, to become a Christian.  That’s my desire.”

Last Point on your outline, Point Number 6:

Make Your Intentions Clear

Make your intentions clear.  If you’re not a Christian today and you’re here in this room, my desire is to make you a Christian.  I’m not going to pull any punches here.  If you’re not a Christian and you’re here today, I want you to become a Christian.  And listen, if you’re a Christian here today, and you’re sharing with someone, and you’re telling them, “I believe in Jesus, that He rose from the dead, and His life has completely changed my life,” and they might be skeptical, but you share with them, “No, His life has completely changed my life,” you need to share with them in such a way that your intentions are clear that you want them to believe as you believe.  We’re not sharing with people just so they have a better understanding of who we are and what we believe.  We’re sharing with people so that they too will believe.  Yes, we want to convert people.  And we live in a culture today that doesn’t like that.  But that’s what we’ve been called to do, to go and make disciples of all nations.  And so we need to make our intentions clear.

Well, “When he had said these things,” Verse 30, “the king stood up,” which meant that the proceeding was over, “as well as the governor and Bernice and all those that sat with them; and when they had gone aside, they talked among themselves, saying, ‘This man has done nothing deserving of death or chains.’

Paul did nothing that was deserving, you know, being a Christian is not a crime.  It might be offensive, but it’s not a crime.

“And then Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.’”

The irony of Agrippa’s final words is that Paul was more free than they, because they were in bondage to death and sin, and Paul had been set free by Jesus, and if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.  And now, by God’s providence, because God has a creative imagination, He’s going to use the Roman government to send Paul on his last missionary journey to Rome, so that he can share the Gospel with the emperor of Rome, Nero.  God has a creative imagination, and He wants to use our lives to show His glory to a world that is in desperate need, living in darkness.

Would you stand with me as we close in prayer.

Father God, thank You for Your Word.  I pray that these things that we’ve looked at here in this passage today would encourage the Christian, encourage us to be those that are obeying You tangibly, saying yes to You, and following You.  Lord, help us not to be offended when people are skeptical as we share about the truth of Your resurrection.  Lord, help us to maintain respect when we interact with people who maybe don’t believe as we believe.  But, Lord, help us also to make our intentions clear, that we want others to believe in Jesus also, so that they can receive pardon for their sin, that they can receive an inheritance that is incorruptible.  Perhaps as we’re standing here today you’ve been skeptical to this point, you’ve been interested to look into these things, but you haven’t put your faith in Jesus.  I would ask you to do that, put your trust in Him.  It’s time to turn to Him, turn from darkness to light, turn from the power of Satan to God.  Trust in Him.  The Scriptures are clear – those that trust in Him receive a pardon for their sin and an inheritance that does not fade away.  If that’s you today, I’d encourage you to trust in the Lord, and we’re going to have some prayer team leaders up here in just a moment; you can come and share with one of them your desire to do that, and they’ll pray with you.

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