The Light Shining On All Persons
1. King Agrippa said to Paul. "Do you intend to make a Christian out of me by persuading me in this short time?" To this Paul said. "Whether it takes a short or long time, I pray to God for not just the king, but for all those who hear this speech today that they become like me; except for being bound by chains like this." This was the last message given by Paul the prisoner who was summoned before the king and the prominent persons of the town. "I want you to become like me." --Paul is not saying there is a wide difference between the person who knows or the person who doesn't know [his message]. It wasn't that but, Paul is relating here the important message that he had to say how both a king or a person with stature in society would have the complete misfortune of losing his or her life while knowing [the light of the gospel].* Today I read you the second half of chapter twenty-six. What makes Paul, who lost everything and is now bound in chains, say "I want you to become like me?" I would like us to turn our ears to the good news from God addressed to us this week through the Bible.
The Call To Repentance
2. First I would like to read from verse nineteen to verse twenty-three. "O King Agrippa, wherefore I was not disobedient to what was shown from heaven, beginning with the people in Damascus, the people of Jerusalem, all the people in the Jewish nation, and the Gentiles, I told them to repent and turn to God, and to do appropriate deeds of repentance. For this reason the Jews arrested me when I was on the temple grounds and tried to kill me. So, I have received help from God right till today and stand firmly while giving my testimony to both small and great, and I have not declared anything that was outside of what the prophets and Moses had said would surely happen. That is, I declared that messiah would experience suffering, and raise first from the dead, and reveal the light to both the people [of Israel] and the Gentiles," (Acts 26:19-23).
3. Paul continues his speech with "wherefore, whereupon." What does this point to? I would like to return to the section in the first half just a bit. What Paul said there was the tale of his personal conversion when he had been a persecutor. On his way to Damascus, Paul and those travelling in his party were touched by the light from heaven and there he heard the voice of the Lord. "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? When you kick the stick with the thorn attached, you are having a hard time," (26:14). While Paul was being addressed like that, he completely recognized his own image as a dumb farm animal who felt pain in kicking up against the goad with the thorn attached to it. So, he finally admitted his errors and sins before the Lord and quit kicking the stick with the thorn attached. Next, the Lord gave Paul the message of his sending him. "I am delivering you from this people [of Israel] and the Gentiles, I am sending you to them. I am doing this to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light and from Satan's rule to God, and in so doing they obtain by faith in me forgiveness of sin, and will participate in a share of the grace along with those who have been made saints," (vv. 17-18). Here Paul briefly expresses what the gospel is which has been entrusted to him. So, the Lord, and only the Lord, sent Paul for this purpose to them, that is to the Jews and the Gentiles.
4. Paul continued with "wherefore." In obedience to what was revealed from heaven what Paul did was transmit first to the people in Damascus, then the people in Jerusalem, the people through out the land of the Jews, and to the Gentiles in the following manner. He transmitted to them how they should "repent and turn to God, and do works appropriate for repentance," (verse twenty). The message of the gospel is neither merely a message to satisfy the intellectual curiosity of the peoples, nor is it a message given for temporary comfort or advice for daily living. Because the Lord sent Paul in order to cause the peoples to turn from darkness to light, from Satan's rule to God, naturally his message leads to a message like this specific recommendation. He is asking for a response from the peoples to the word of God. Paul says that he has passed this matter on without discrimination to both peoples, both Jews and Gentiles. "Repent and turn to God. Do appropriate works of repentance."
5. What Paul is referring to here in "appropriate works of repentance" is important. Repentance is not just merely "feeling sorry." In this world there are many people who regret afterwards. However, regret itself will never bring one salvation. Repentance [with heart, mind, and habits] turns one to God. So, this matter of repentance is not just an issue of the heart as it is a definite changing of the direction of one's life. It is a turning or coming to God and a beginning to live with God in a definite way. It is when one fears God and begins to live as a person in God's presence. This has to do with life activities visible to the eye each day. Based on this quality of definiteness for instance, Peter and others connected baptism and this together in their preaching. Please recall the words Peter spoke to the people on the day of Pentecost when the church was born. He said this: "Repent. Each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and receive forgiveness of sins. By so doing you can receive the Holy Spirit as a gift," (Acts 2:38). From the moment in which you receive baptism you probably will not become a person able to perfectly perform appropriate works of repentance. So, the label "appropriate works of repentance" may be imperfect or inadequate, but in any case, repentance ought not to stay in the realm of the ideal but "baptism" which is visible to the eye expresses well how to have a solid start.
6. Paul was looking for this "repentance" from both the Jews and the Gentiles without discrimination. He said because a person was a natural born Jew, a relationship with God was not automatically and by special right given to him. He also had to repent and turn to God. On the other hand he said because a person was a Gentile, the door of salvation had not already been shut closed to him. If a person had been living in big time rebellion against God up to then or if a person had served idols which are not god, the door of salvation had not been shut closed to him. He would need to repent in the same way and turn to God as well.
7. However, as for this matter of repentance, it was very difficult for the Jews to be forgiven because they bragged about their being the chosen people of God and had self pride over [their chosenness]. High-minded people cannot respond to the call to repentance. Instead, they start expressing hostility towards the gracious call of God. Paul told how "For that reason the Jews seized me when I was on the temple grounds and tried to kill me." But, this was terribly odd. This was so strange because the basis of the call to repentance which Paul was telling forth was written in the scriptures which all Jews had. Therefore, Paul continues in the following way. "So, I have received help from God right till today and stand firmly giving a testimony to both small and great, and I have not declared anything that was outside of what the prophets and Moses said would surely happen. That is, I have declared that messiah would experience suffering, and raise first from the dead, and reveal the light to both the people [of Israel] and the Gentiles," (verses 22-23). What Paul said indeed was that the resurrected messiah was nothing but the light given equally to both Jews and Gentiles, and here Paul gives testimony for that.
What Is Truly Consistent With Reason
8. However, Paul's testimony was interrupted by Festus' voice. Please look from verse twenty-four to verse twenty-seven. "When Paul defends himself here, Festus spoke with a loud voice, 'Paul, you are funny in the head (mad, insane). You have had too much studying and have become odd.' Paul said, 'Your Majesty Festus, I am not funny in the head. What I am saying is truly consistent with reason. As the king knows these matters quite well, I am speaking clearly. This matter did not occur in a corner somewhere. So, I have confidence there is not one thing you don't know. O King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I think you do believe them,'" (Acts 26:24-27).
9. For Festus who was a Roman, it was very difficult to believe the sufferings of the messiah and the situation of his resurrection from the dead, and it must have passed beyond his comprehension. He probably only thought Paul insane. I think his thinking of Paul like that was in a certain sense unavoidable. It couldn't be helped because matters dealing with the resurrection which crosses over death and matters of the world to come both belong to God and do not belong to human experience. So it is quite likely that a story dealing with matters that don't belong to human experience are only heard as utter madness. It's the same thing as when a story about ice crystals falling from the sky (in other words, snow fall) would only be thought of as a state of madness to a person who has never gone one step off an island south of the equator.
10. Well then, can the truth dealing with salvation by God in the final analysis only be grasped when reason has no connection? Can matters related to God only be known in mysterious experiences apart form reason? Perhaps only in throwing away our senses will we "truly believe in" any- thing? No, it is never to be like that. Paul answers Festus in this way, "Your highness Festus, I am not funny in the head. What I am saying is truly consistent with reason." Superstition is believing whole in what is inconsistent with reason. What Paul has been saying has no connection with superstition. God has not locked up in heaven the circumstances relating to salvation. God is definitely forming his people in this world and has given them a messiah according to the promise he had made to them. There is a system of logic in the gospel. God has a system which is consistent with reason that he has made clear in this world.
11. Please try to think about what he has said once more. In the first place the speech started with the hope Paul was holding to. "Now, I am standing here and am put on trial because I am hanging onto the hope of the fulfilment of the promise God made to our ancestors," (verse six). What Paul is talking about has to do with the ultimate salvation of humans, the kingdom of God, and the hope of the resurrection. Being made a person who lives in the world of life which God alone rules is very much the hope of salvation which has been given to humans. For a human who is controlled by sin and death, there was no hope anywhere being so far from God. Therefore, the call was given out to "repent and turn to God."
12. However, this matter of God's summoning in this manner should never be taken for granted because the call to "turn to God" makes a prerequisite of God's forgiveness. God's forgiveness of sin is never an ordinary thing because God is a holy Being and hates sin. Why is this Being even seeking for the act of repentance and turning and why does he pardon sinners? At this point Paul says, "What the prophets and Moses said will surely happen." What was it they said? Paul will tell it. "In short, I declare that the messiah suffered, rose first from the dead, and revealed light to both the people [of Israel] and to the Gentiles," (verse twenty-three). The anguish of the messiah was the very basis itself of God's forgiveness. So, from the very resurrection of Christ God made good out of the anguish of the messiah and the resurrection of Christ was a sign that God had received it as payment. That was also, as the first fruits of the resurrection from the dead, a sign pointing to the hope we have in this life.
13. Paul is not merely telling one of his ideal concepts. He is not doing that; as for prophecy and its realization, he is relating the event which has been fulfilled through the one called Jesus of Nazareth. He had to tell how Jesus was like a wedge nailed very deeply into the midst of history by God. So, Paul addresses king Agrippa in the following manner. "Since the king is quite familiar with these matters, I will speak plainly. This matter has not occurred somewhere in a corner. So, since there is not one thing you don't know, I am confident. O king Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I think you do believe," (vv. 26-27). What the prophets said has been fulfilled in this horizon of history, and thus the Lord of the resurrection has brought the light of salvation equally to both Jews and Gentiles. If the case is that God's forgiveness and salvation's basis are only in Christ, then being a Jew or a Gentile makes no difference [in salvation]. He paid the cost of sin already. What he wants from a person is to repent and turn to God and only to begin living with God.
14. King Agrippa said to Paul. "Do you intend to make a believer of me by persuading me in this short time?" Thereupon, Paul says, "Whether it takes a short or long time, I pray to God for not just the king but for all these who hear this story today that they become like me; except for being bound by chains like this." Although there might be a king or prominent persons of a town, if a person does not experience repentance and turning to God, I have to say he or she is truly unfortunate. And so Paul confidently speaks about it. "I pray to God that they become like me." We ourselves must hear the address directed to us and no one else but us. The truth of that gospel which made Paul who lost everything and was tied up in chains say "I want you to become like me," is revealed to us. The great light given to all persons was made clear. So, the Bible is asking us "How are you going to receive this message? Are you going to walk the same road as Paul?"
*Following this quote of our translation is a clarification of our translation. Here is our quote: "Paul is not saying there is a wide difference between the person who knows or the person who doesn't know [his message]. It wasn't that but, Paul is relating here the important message that he had to say how both a king or a person with stature in society would have the complete misfortune of losing his or her life while knowing [the light of the gospel]."
Here is our paraphrase on this quote: Paul is not talking to amuse his audience. He is not just talking to defend himself, either. He is not just saying anything that is unimportant or irrelevant. It is a message that makes a difference in people's lives. It is the kind of talk that makes a difference between those who hear it and those who don't hear it. Actually Paul has been trying to deliver this supremely important message and make it understood by the king and the others. That's what Paul has been doing in the whole of chapter twenty-six. The message is so important that if he or she misses it, it'll be a great disaster for him or her. Actually if the person has not heard the message of the gospel and is not living according to it, he or she is in total misery whether the person realizes his or her state or not. The person is miserable because he or she is still in darkness under the power of Satan, without forgiveness of sins, and with no place among those who are sanctified by faith in Christ and therefore have no inheritance in the Kingdom of God.