The Promises Of God And Their Fulfilment
1. Last week we readhow Paul had been summoned before king Agrippa. As we enter chapter twenty-six, Agrippa gives Paul permission to defend himself saying, "You may speak about your personal affairs." What the risen Christ told before comes to fulfilment through this. It is exactly as Jesus had been saying in Acts 9:15, "That person is the vessel whom I have chosen to pass my name on to Gentiles, kings, and to the children of Israel." That is, although it may seem here like Agrippa is giving permission when he has Paul summoned before them, actually in summoning Paul Agrippa himself is the one being summoned before God. He is summoned before God with all his pomp and puff stripped away and not as a king but as a sinner by himself. This was done in order to pass on to him the name of Jesus and to pass on to him in proclamation the goodnews of the gospel. Chapter twenty-six contains a record of the contents of that message. Today we read the first half. We shouldn't think that Luke was recording this as some simple record of the past. That's not what he did. This passage was recorded so that as we also read the Acts of the Apostles we would stand in the same place with Agrippa and hear the message of the gospel which Paul gave out.
Paul The Jew
2. After the brief introduction,Paul begins telling Agrippa first about himself. Please refer toverses four and following. "Well, any Jew would know how my life from my younger days, which was from the beginning among my fellow countrymen and amid Jerusalem. They knew the way I was. So, if they wanted to testify about me, they could testify about how I lived as a member of the Pharisees which is the strictest sect in our religion. Now, my standing here on trial in judgment is placing hope on the fulfilment of the promises God gave to our ancestors. Our twelve tribes served God fervently both night and day and hoped for the fulfilment of those promises. O king, because I embrace this hope I am being accused by the Jews. Why are you thinking it is so hard to believe that God causes the dead to resurrect?", (26:4-8).
3. Without touching on the fact he was born in Tarsus of Cilicia he says that he was just a Jew belonging to the Pharisee sect. It would also be known by other Jews how he had received a rigorous education under the famous teacher Rabbi Gamaliel. So Paul said they could have testified about those facts as well. And on top of his having affirmed these points, Paul was beginning to tell how he shared the same hopes with other Jews. That is, this was the hope of the kingdom of God at the end of the world, and it was the coming of the messiah and the hope of the resurrection. Although the Sadducees did not believe these things, at least in those days the hope of the resurrection had become an important element of Jewish traditional faith. Beginning with the Pharisees, many people believed in the fulfilment of this promise; they hoped and waited and hoped for it. There were people holding fast to this simplistic hope just like Simeon and Anna who appear in the Luke chapter two and who earnestly hoped and prayed steadfastly for the kingdom of God. Paul is emphasizing that he also believes this as one of the Jews. This point was also referred to in the defense speech (chapter twenty-four) given before Felix. Ironically, he was on trial and was being charged by the Jews for waiting in hope for the fulfilment of the promises of their God. Paul repeats that fact twice. In short, he makes the charge that this whole situation was inconsistent with reason in every way.
4. Well, this section was written and simplified to a large degree, but instead the story became more difficult to understand. Whether it was Paul's own abridgement of this story or Luke's who recorded this [in Acts] is not certain, but either way we should listen supplementing the standardized form of the wording that we now have here. Next in verse twenty-three Paul says the following: "I stated how the messiah suffered, and he first rose again from the dead, and revealed to both the people [of Israel] and the Gentiles the light." In other words, Paul was not simply embracing a hope of the resurrection that would occur at the end times. It is important what he was basing his cherished hopes on. According to his own statements the basis of Paul's hope was the historical events that messiah has already come, he suffered according to what is written in the scriptures, and he was first to be raised from the dead. Paul stated in his sermons that this messiah indeed was Jesus of Nazareth. Paul is making the assertion here that his messages have never deviated from the orthodox faith of the Jews. Rather, as one of the Jews Paul had increasingly become a person living in this same hope. He tells here of the irrationality of being accused by those persons who cherish the same hope.
Paul The Persecutor
5. However, on the other hand, where Paul speaks about their irrationality he understood intuitively why the Jews were hostile against him with such intensity. For the Jews it was a major problem that Jesus of Nazareth as messiah suffered and rose again, which was very much the central event of Paul's messages; because they were precisely the characters who hung this very Jesus on the cross, and because in the name of God and through their own brand of righteousness they judged and killed Jesus. After that they proceeded to persecute the disciples of Jesus. They imprisoned many Christians and forced them to death. For them, acknowledging Jesus of Nazareth as messiah would be an acknowledgement of their own sin. That would be tantamount to throwing the self away and a rejection of their own person which had [always] claimed personal morality. We understand by reflecting on our own experiences how impossible that is. Their decision to see Paul dead is not because they say Paul is at bottom against the scriptures. Neither is it because they say he is completely inconsistent with reason and truth. It is because this is their own very personal problem. Their very personal problem is that they cannot throw away their own endlessly self-justifying selves .
6. Paul understood this fact quite well because he felt the same way himself. At one time he used to fight against the name of Jesus. There he began to tell about how those days used to be. "In fact, I myself also used to think I had to fight hard against that name of the Nazarene Jesus. So, I moved to Jerusalem to practice that fight, and when yours truly received the authority from the chief priests, I put many saints in jail, and when they got the death penalty, I agreed with it all. Again at synagogues spread everywhere I frequently punished and forced them to curse Jesus, and I was extremely mad with anger against them and extended a persecuting hand even up to cities in foreign countries," (verses nine through eleven).
7. [There are] the disciples preaching that the crucified Jesus came back to life. And, [there are] Christians who have begun to live in obedience to the risen Christ after receiving the witness of the disciples. This flock [of believers] spread through out Jerusalem as fast as fire. That's exactly what we've seen in the Acts of the Apostles. Living in hope of the resurrection, they were far from shrinking under the threats made by the ruling authorities of the Jewish community and the chief priests, but preached the resurrection of Christ filled with more and more power and hope. That present state of affairs was a problem which even for Paul in his younger days could not be overlooked. He persecuted them in earnest. At one time he supported the death penalty for Christians and at one time he tried to make people repudiate the resurrection of Jesus and to curse his name.
8. So the story of his conversion on the way to Damascus continues. It has already been told twice in the ninth and the twenty-second chapters of Acts. But, here he has something new to tell. It is the message Christ told Paul. I would like us to pay attention to this. The Lord said, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? When you kick the stick with the prick attached, you are having a hard time."
9. "The stick with a prick attached" is a jabbing prod to chase domestic animals. If a beasts hates it [i.e. the stick] and kicks it, the beast gets hurt. This is a saying heard almost anywhere. Paul heard it. And, even after as much as thirty years pass that message still remains deep within his heart. That saying accurately surmised the condition of his soul and it means that Paul himself was in acknowledgement of that fact. In short, while he was persecuting Christians, he was on the other hand unable to thwart the pains and worries that were spreading inside him. I think such an image of him like that corresponds with the image of the dumb domestic animal which continuously kicks the stick with thorny edge attached. Undoubtedly he believed what he was doing was right and so began persecuting Christians. Then, as he says, he jailed Christians, and forced to death certain persons. But, his convictions must have crumbled in view of those persons overflowing with the resurrection hope so contented though in jail and on death row. There was the image of Stephen who said, "O Lord, Jesus please take my spirit," and then kneeling he cried out with a loud voice, "O Lord, please don't charge them with this sin," and at the same time he was struck by rocks and died. Before the death of Stephen Paul was proud that he believed he had thus far lived as a righteous man keeping the law, but now he was feeling things begin to corrode into complete vanity. But, even with that in mind a person is basically a being who is unable to acknowledge himself or herself as unjust. You will avoid in every way shaming yourself. You just can't pitch who you are. When a person thinks like that the person becomes more and more on the offensive. Paul got madder and madder and went running off to persecute others, and it is understandable why he stretched out his hand to persecute others even as far as Damascus. If you become so offensive trying to preserve yourself, you'll be tormenting yourself instead. The more you cling to yourself the more suffering you'll have. The Paul who was heading for Damascus must have been in that state of mind. Therefore the words spoken by the Lord stuck in his heart. "When you kick a stick with a thorn attached, you are having a hard time." He must have realized that he was inviting destruction upon himself by continuing to kick the thorn-edged stick. So, he who had been struck down by the light of Christ and broken quit kicking the stick with the prickly edge attached to it.
Paul The Gospel Preacher
10. Paul completely omitted the story about his meeting Ananias, his having received baptism from him and the other things. The text only says that the risen Christ sent Paul. For what purpose did the Lord send Paul? It said [his being sent] was "to open their eyes, to cause them to return to the light from the darkness and to God from the control of Satan, and to participate in a portion of his grace with those who have become saints and obtained forgiveness of sin through faith in me." Paul the witness and preacher of Christ briefly gives a summary here of the mission given to him. Paul expresses and defines what the gospel is which he himself had received and which had been entrusted to him.
11. Christ said, "to cause them to return to the light from the darkness." The gospel deals with human darkness because every one is in darkness whether Jew or Gentile. How should we think about this darkness? A person may say, "My life is not as dark as that." A person may say, "This society is not as gloomy as you say it is." But, there are times when a person acknowledges he or she is in a kind of darkness as when a person is under one of life's various kinds of sufferings, or sorrow, or sadness or even on one's death bed. However, during such a time when a person says this is the first time I have lived in darkness, this is not really correct. They had already been living all along in darkness. You don't know where you come from, where you are, or where you are heading. If you don't have true peace neither do you have any assurance of hope. You can't do anything with your self so deep in sin. You just come to realize that you have been living in such a state of darkness.
12. So, why is there darkness? It's not because there isn't light. He says it's because their eyes have been shut. The light has been given to them long ago. The sun has risen already. God raised Christ up in resurrection and he revealed that power by which he is able to save men and women completely from sin, death, and hell. The light of eternal life has already been revealed. Therefore, there is no need for people to live in darkness. However, when eyes have been shut, a person can't avoid living in darkness. That is not merely because a person is ignorant. A person is under the great power that will lock him or her up in darkness. The Bible calls it "the control of Satan." Therefore, having one's eyes opened and coming to live in the light is being freed from Satan's control and returning to God.
13. In so doing, a person coming to God and getting forgiveness of sin is said to be "coming into participation of a portion of his grace with the people who have been made saints. "That is, in so doing we are made God's property and people, and we are made the inheritors of the kingdom of God. We are saved in due time completely from the chains of sin, death, and hell, and now we are made as subjects living under God's complete control and as persons resurrected to the world of the living. It is no longer a question of being a Jew or a Gentile. The Lord just says, "through faith in me." It's simply that this salvation is realized by a faith that believes in the One who suffered for us and was resurrected. As for the promises God gave us in ancient times, we are still looking to see them fulfilled completely, and they call us to live in the light. The Lord has sent Paul and has sent missionaries for generations; even now the message of the gospel which is being told to us is the same.