THE GOSPEL (Acts 26)
The need for salvation (26:1-11)
The nature of salvation (26:12-18)
The fruit of salvation (26:19-23)
The rejection of salvation (26:24-32)
This morning we continue with our study through Acts as we come to Acts 26. In Many ways this is the climax to which the book of Acts has been building….
God has given Paul a platform before King Herod Agrippa and a hall packed with important dignitaries. Vs 23, the richest and most prominent men of the city have been gathered to hear the case against a man who was well known in Jerusalem and its surrounds and whose public profile had been significantly raised when he renounced his religion and converted to a new sect which was creating waves all over the empire. Paul was a controversial figure, some loved him, many hated him but few could ignore the impact he was having on every segment of society.
As John Stott puts is, Here the slave of Jesus stands alone and in chains “before this representative of the world, ambitious, morally corrupt family of the Herods, who for generations after generation had set themselves in opposition to truth and righteousness. Their founder, Herod the Great had tried to destroy the infant Jesus. His son Antipas, beheaded John the Baptist, and won from the Lord the title of “fox.” His grandson Agrippa 1 slew James the son of Zebedee with the sword. Now we see Paul brought before Agrippa’s son.” (pg 370)
No character in the Bible had come face to face with this family of rulers and walked away alive…. Can you sense the tension? Can you enter into the significance of this moment? What will become of Paul? What will become of the gospel mission? Will this be the turning point where the gospel gains the approval of Rome and the freedom to exist and expand, or will this be the point at which the gospel is silenced?
One lone figure stands against the wealth and power of both Jew and Gentile. The odds are stacked immeasurable against Paul….Except from Acts 23:11 we know that the Lord is standing beside Paul and with God we are always a majority….
And for the third and final time in the book of Acts we will hear Paul share the gospel by sharing his testimony. By giving an account of how this simple message has transformed his whole life.
1: The Need for Salvation (1-11)
2: The Nature of Salvation (12-18)
3: The Fruit of Salvation (19-23)
4: The Rejection of Salvation (24-32)
1: The Need for Salvation (1-11)
Read vs 1-3
VS 2-3 Paul’s defense follows the recognized legal format and begins with an introduction which complements the judge and appeals to him to hear the case which will be presented to him. Then from vs 4 he begins sharing his testimony, which has got 3 major sections. His life as a Pharisee (4-8), his zeal as a persecutor of the church (9-11), and then his conversion to an Apostle of Christ (12-18). In other words , he lays out his doctrine, his practice and then his calling.
Paul’s Doctrine (4-8)
Read vs 4-8
Vs 4 Paul was a well known figure within Judaism. He came from a prominent city and was educated in Jerusalem by a prominent Jewish Rabbi. He was undoubtedly a top student, received the golden key award and was earmarked for a prominent future within Jewish leadership.
Vs 5 His life and doctrine was beyond reproach. He was a religious conservative, a Jewish fundamentalist, and more than that he had practiced what he preached.
In vs 6-7 he is trying to show that the gospel is not a new teaching based on novel doctrinal interpretations of the Bible, but it is in fact what the whole Bible has been pointing forward to. Hope in a messiah, whom God would send to bring deliverance and restoration and usher in a kingdom of eternal peace and life – this is not a Christian idea, but a Jewish one. This is not heretical doctrine, but orthodox Jewish doctrine which every orthodox Jew understand and holds to. Which is why he can exclaim at the end of vs 7, “How can I be accused by Jews for believing this!” You can understand why Romans might have some questions about this doctrine, but surely no informed Jews should have a problem with this.
But in vs 8 we see what the real objection is. Not hope in a messiah, but faith in Jesus as that messiah... The Jews had a problem accepting that Jesus was that hoped for messiah, which was the central claim of the Christian’s gospel. Jesus died, Jesus rose, repent for the forgiveness of your sins. So the central, historical proof of the gospel is the resurrection of Jesus to which the Apostles were eye-witnesses. That was their unique calling – to bear witness to having seen Jesus raised from the dead, which is why Paul is going to talk about how he saw Jesus on the road to Damascus.
But before he does, his listeners have to understand that he was not looking for a resurrected Jesus, he wasn’t hoping that the gospel was true, he wasn’t positively disposed to this crazy message. He was convinced that is was absolute nonsense and was looking to silence Christians by whatever means possible.
Paul’s Religious Zeal (9-11)
Read vs 9-11
Vs 9 “I myself” do you notice the emphatic form there. I myself was thoroughly convince – not of the gospel, but that the gospel should be silenced.
10-11 He wasn’t only intellectually and morally convinced, he was a man of action who acted on his convictions and went to great lengths to silence these Christians. So his convictions were not just held strongly in the mind, but were so strong that he felt compelled to act on them and act zealously.
He pursued them, punished them, imprisoned them, beat them, hunted them down and harassed them relentlessly and where he could, he signed their death warrant. Let that sink in for a moment…..
Illustration: This is like the conversion of a fundamentalist Muslim who had been part of the 9-11 bombings. This is like Sassam Husein or Osama Benladen coming to faith in Christ….You can understand why even the Christians didn’t want to believe it at first.
Again, this part of Paul’s testimony was known by all his accusers. He’s not saying anything here that the Jewish leaders couldn’t’ themselves testify to if they were willing.
Notice in vs 11 how he describes his attempts to get them to renounce faith in Christ. He was torturing them with the express purpose of trying to get them to renounce their faith in Christ, which he now calls “blasphemy.” To deny Jesus is to deny and insult God himself. To speak against Jesus is to speak against God and dishonor His great and holy name. It is an affront to God’s character and reputation of the highest order….
Application: Everyone needs the Lord
Now let’s just stop here for a moment and think about all the good people we know. Who seem to be well educated and wealthy, who seem to be important and self-sufficient. Let’s think about the people we know who seem to be morally upright and ethical in all their dealings, who have clear sense of right and wrong and are upright, law abiding citizens. Let’s think of all the people we know who are spiritually minded, religious people, who may go to church every week, or synagogue, or mosque. People who are quick to help the poor and uphold the cause of justice. Let’s think about people who may even have devoted their lives to the cause of their religion, Buddhist monks, or Muslim Imam’s or Catholic Priests.
How easy it is for us to meet these people and because of all these things, forget that they are lost and blind and enslaved and under condemnation and they all desperately need Jesus Christ. Especially those who vehemently tell us that they want nothing to do with Jesus Christ and go out of their way to insult us and silence us….
That’s the universal need of salvation which Paul has here described in terms of his own need. This is not a description of his assets, but of his liabilities, not of his gains, but of his losses, as he explains in Phil 3.
2: The Nature of Salvation (12-18)
Read vs 12-18
Vs 12 he is on his way to Damascus on a mission to persecute Christians. He’s very clearly on the road to hell.
Then in vs 13, at midday, when the sun is at its brightest, he encounters a light which is brighter than the sun itself. So bright it leaves him blinded. It’s a light from heaven and along with it he hears a heavenly voice speaking an earthly language in vs 14 and addressing him by name, in his mother tongue.
· Saul, Saul – very personal and yet very authoritative.
· Why are you persecuting me? Jesus so identifies with his people that to persecute one of them is to persecute Him. If you want to pick a fight with Jesus, then pick on one His people.
· The saying in vs 14 is a well known proverb which we encounter in other ancient literature. Paul’s hearers would have been familiar with this saying which basically means, “Why are you fighting against the gods or resisting your destiny, the plan that the gods have for you?”
· In fighting against Christians Paul was fighting against His God and the will of His God. It suggests that Paul might already have had some level of inner conviction about Jesus
o Perhaps as he encountered the gospel as the very believers he was persecuting preached it to him
o Perhaps it was in seeing their unshakeable faith in Jesus, despite his efforts to torture them into renouncing him
o Perhaps it was as he examined the Scriptures himself looking for evidence against their interpretation, he was beginning to be convinced.
o At any rate, it seems that Paul was willfully resisting the call of Christ he had been sensing. His reaction to that inner voice was to try to silence it…. until on the road to Damascus he heard Jesus voice thunder from heaven with an authority and clarity that he couldn’t resist.
Who does the saving here? It is clear that Christ is the one who does the saving. He is the resurrected Lord who stops Paul in his tracks, in the midst of his desperate attempts to resist Christ and silence Christ, while on the road of active rebellion against Christ – Christ changes Paul and commands Paul and commissions Paul, “Get up, I have appointed you as my servant.”
Nobody puts in an application to become the king’s personal assistant. Christ doesn’t consider anybody’s resume and references and work experience and conduct an interview in which we try to convince him that we are the best person for the job. He decides unilaterally and commissions and calls – and we say “Yes Sir!”
This is at the same time the account of Paul’s conversion to Christ and His call to Apostleship. We do well to remember that Christ saves us in order to reconcile us to God and recommission us into His service. Vs 16, I have appeared FOR THIS PURPOSE in order to appoint you a servant and a witness.
I hope by this point in the book of Acts you realize that it was not only Paul’s job to bear witness to Christ, but this is the primary task, the primary calling of every believer who is commissioned into Christ’s service. This is the key verse in the book of Acts, Acts 1:8 “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses…..”
Notice the participle in vs 17. A participle is one of the “ing” words which tells us how the main action will be accomplished. I have appointed you to be my servant and my witness, and that calling will be realized as I protect you, as I deliver you from both Jew and Gentile – I will sustain your witness to the very people who will resist it so violently that you will need supernatural, divine protection in order that you are not stomped out and your candle extinguished and your witness silenced.
Paul is standing as a solitary figure in the midst of this massive assembly of notable dignitaries and important political players and the highest Jewish counsel of his day is bent on killing him, even if they must subvert justice. And he stands before Herod whose family has killed every prior witness to Christ and he has appealed to appear before the Ceasar who was about to launch a kingdom wide persecution against Christians….. and he can stand there with boldness and confidence because Christ stands alongside him and with God you are always a majority…
I love vs 18. What has Jesus called him to do? To open blind eyes, to turn people from darkness to light, to turn people from the power of Satan to the power of God that they might receive forgiveness and a place among those who are set apart as God’s servants, God’s people.
This is a summary of what salvation accomplishes. Salvation is not merely the work of Christ on the cross, that is the objective, historical basis for it. His death to pay the penalty for sin, for the wages of sin is death according to Rom 6:23. Christ died in order to pay the debt our sin deserves. But that historical reality, that substitutionary death, that divine gift means nothing o so many people. It meant nothing to Paul until Jesus shone into His heart and removed the scales from his eyes.
· Salvation is not only the historical work of Christ on the cross, it’s the ongoing work of the resurrected Christ as He opens the spiritual eyes of men and women who have been blinded by sin and are groping around in the dark.
· Salvation allows us to see what we could not see or understand before. It allows us to recognise the truth of what we have heard and ignored for so many years before. To sense the weightiness of the gospel message. Jesus died, Jesus rose, repent for the forgiveness of your sins.
· Salvation is a turning around of a persons’ life from the power of Satan to God. All men, everywhere are under the power of Satan and sin. We belong to his realm and serve his bidding.
· This is Ephesians 2:1-4 “You were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind…..But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our tresspasses and sins – made us alive in Christ.
· Salvation removes the penalty and power of sin in our lives and gives us a place in the assembly of the holy ones.
· Note that salvation is not just a personal, inner experience and transformation. Salvation results in a change of citizenship. We transferred out of the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. We become citizens of heaven and take our place in the assembly of God’s holy ones.
· That’s why there is no such thing as a Christian who is not a part of the church. No such thing!.... If you haven’t taken your place among God’s elect, then you are not forgiven of your sins, then you haven’t been delivered from the power of Satan and your eyes haven’t been opened. These all go together. You can’t separate the one out from the other. Salvation is a package deal. You are either saved or you are not. These things are either true of you or they are not.
· Christ saves us in order to commission us to His service and make us His witnesses and that witness is carried out in and through His body, the church.
· There is no such thing as a Christian who is still demon-possessed, under the power of Satan, who is still under the condemnation of sin and who is still serving self as a lone ranger….
Notice who is responsible for what here:
· I am sending YOU to open their eyes
· So that THEY may turn
· So that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who have been set apart by faith.
· First their eyes are opened, so that they may then repent and believe and receive the benefits of salvation, and be reconciled to God and become part of His special people.
How is Paul supposed to open blind eyes. Why does Jesus make him responsible for that? Surely that is a divine work?
Only Jesus can open blind eyes and soften hardened hearts but He does this work through the preaching of the gospel. He does this work through those who bear witness. As Paul says it in Rom 10:17 “Faith comes from hearing and hearing from the word of Christ” as it is preached in the gospel. “How will they believe in one of whom they have not heard, how will they hear unless someone preaches, how will they preach unless they are sent – how blessed are the feet who carry the good news of the gospel…”
The gospel is the power of God for salvation, this simple message carries in it the power to transform the unbelieving heart which has been hardened by sin, this message and this message alone saves. Which is exactly why we need to keep preaching it even to those who reject us and our message and why Paul never stopped preaching.
3: The Fruit of Salvation (19-23)
Here is Paul summary….I was saved, I was sent and so I went….
Notice vs 20 – when did Paul first start preaching the gospel? To those in Damascus. He was on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians and Christ so turned Paul around that when he arrived at this destination He preached Christ in order to win people for Christ rather than try turn them from Christ…..
Paul wasted no time in fulfilling His calling and he immediately got busy with the work of bearing witness and he stayed busy with that work wherever he went and whatever the cost.
The gospel has an ethical implication. It’s not just to believe certain truths about Jesus intellectually. It’s not become religious and go to church and read your Bible every day. It’s not raise your hand and sign your name in the back of some Bible and then go on living you life just the way you always have. The gospel message is this according to vs 23 “Jesus died, Jesus rose, repent for the forgiveness of yours sins.” Do a 180 degree turn around, a complete u-turn. Turn away from Satan and sin and the empty way of life you were following and follow Jesus, entrust yourself to Jesus, live for Jesus, serve Jesus, receive from Jesus.
That repentance can be seen according to vs 20. Repent and turn to God and perform deeds in keeping with repentance. If there is no objective, observable change of life. If there is no change in the patterns of your thinking and speaking and acting. No change in the pattern of your relationships, not change in your relationship to sin so that you no longer love your sin and pursue you sin but you love Christ and try to move away from sin – then your repentance is not saving repentance and your faith is not saving faith.
Christians are not perfect and sinless – but our lives are on a different trajectory than they were before, one which leads away from sin to Christ rather than one which leads away from Christ to sin. If you can’t see that change of trajectory, that fruit of repentance – then your profession of faith is just that – mere profession, merely lip service, merely intellectual understanding of certain facts – but lacking the true transformation that salvation brings about.
Jesus said, in Lk 6:43, we will know a true by its fruits. A good tree cannot bear bad fruits and a bad tree cannot bear good fruits. When God has opened our eyes and transformed our hearts and turned us from Satan and placed us into His kingdom along with His people and washed our sin away – a radical transformation has happened, so radical that it can be seen by all. It can be seen in Damascus, where now we preach Christ rather than persecute Him.
That is what James meant in James 2:18 when he said, “I will show you my faith by my works….” He was saying the same things as Paul, show me the fruit of your repentance and faith in Christ. Let me see Christian apples hanging on your Christian tree, let me pick the fruit and glory in what Christ Jesus is doing in your life for His glory alone…
Look at vs 21 “That’s why” this is the reason why the Jews seized me. The gospel rightly preached, offends people or saves people. Those are the only two outcomes. They either believe and are saved or they are offended and reject the message and try to silence the messenger….
But notice the encouragement in vs 22 – to this day I have had the help that God alone can provide. God has stood by me and sustained me in this witness. He has put me on a pedestal to proclaim Christ to small and great alike, to whoever will listen and nobody and nothing can stop me preaching until God says my work is done….
The need for salvation, the nature of salvation, the fruit of salvation and lastly, the rejection of salvation.
4: The Rejection of Salvation (24-32)
You have to enter into this scene to appreciate how radical it is….
Paul is mid sentence in his gospel presentation when Festus breaks out in mocking Paul. Paul, you are mad, your great learning has driven you mad. You belong in a mental asylum rather than a prison. Festus has already heard the gospel in chapter 25 so Paul has his eyes on Agrippa now.
He answers Festus in vs 25-26, no, you are wrong. Everything I have said is true and rational, and verifiable. King Agrippa, who is responsible for everything Jewish, whose job it is to keep up with all the latest news and rumblings in Judaism surely knows all these facts and has been following this story closely.
Then in vs 27 Paul turns to king Agrippa and looks him in the eye and says, “Do you believe…” And the courtroom is stunned into silence and the atmosphere is thick and heavy. You can hear a pin drop…The boldness and audacity of this prisoner to address this judge and king directly and personally… and all at once it’s no longer Paul who is on trial but King Agrippa. And the curtains are opened to the court of heaven and Jesus is seen sitting on His throne as Lord of all and judge of judges and king of kings and Agrippa is suddenly dethroned and derobed in front of everyone and its no longer Paul the prisoner speaking, but Jesus the Lord speaking, “Do you believe?”....
Do you sense the power of this moment as the gospel lays bear the hearts of all men and calls them to account to their creator and savior. It really doesn’t matter how lowly the person who brings the message or how high the person who hears the message – the gospel cuts all men down and strips them of all their pride and pomp and position and leaves them kneeling before their God.
Agrippa senses the offence, the audacity, the directness of this confrontation and he is not willing to yield, not willing to be brought low, to look the fool. All the notable people of the city have been gathered to witness his wealth and power and importance, he is certainly not going to exchange his robes for Paul’s chains in front of all these people – so he laughs Paul off and evades the question. And in order to save face he draws attention to his prominent position and Paul’s pitiful condition. Paul, would you the condemned criminal, try to convince me, the great king, to become a Christian, of all things. Paul can’t you see how absurd this is, how pitiful this is? Do you really think I would want to become like you?
And Paul realizes that his gospel has fallen on deaf ears, Agrippa is not willing to bow the knee to Jesus. Paul is not the crazy one, Paul is not the one to be pitied, Herod is. So he turns to the crowds, to everyone who is listening and makes one last appeal in vs 29 “If anyone is hearing me today – this message is for you too. Not just for the king, but for you. If you have heard with faith, if your eyes have been opened by God to understand “Jesus died for your sin, Jesus rose conquering sin and death, Jesus is Lord of all – turn from sin and entrust yourself to Him and him alone for the forgiveness of your sins.”
And now all who have heard the gospel message that day must render their verdict. They must make their decision, not about Paul and his relative guilt and innocence, but about themselves and their guilt before an all holy God. Paul probably held up his chains and rattled them in front of everyone and said. I don’t want you to be in these physical chains, but I do want you to be free from the chains of sin and death that bind you all for eternity.
And so I close by turning to you this morning and simply asking, “Do you believe?”……