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Sep 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 11, 2016 – Acts 26

Autobiography In Three Sentences

Agrippa sad to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense: “In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today; especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.” Acts 26:1-3

Intro: This chapter begins and ends with the words of King Agrippa

So we can surmise that he is at least a key player in the story
– it is in his power to influence the next turn in Paul’s situation
– here, at the beginning of the chapter, he gives Paul permission to speak

As a rule, defense lawyers don’t want their accused on the witness stand
– the average person too naive about the law
• and can be rattled by a skilled attorney
◦ this could result in them saying something that can be used against them
• having no one else, Paul testified in his own defense
◦ but what he gave was a dual witness – for himself and also for Jesus
◦ in the end, his defense rested on the probability that his message is the truth
– that Jesus has witnesses is a central theme, if not the main theme, in Acts
• beginning with Jesus’ statement in 1:8, then repeatedly throughout the book
◦ here in verses 16 and 22 (“testifying”)

Paul’s story could be titled “God gets his man”

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophetic call follows a basic pattern
– we come across several of these “type scenes” in scripture
• in the case of prophets, the type scene generally goes like this:

  1. God calls
  2. The person declines
    (Moses gives several excuses, Isaiah is impure, Jeremiah is too young, etc.)
  3. God insists
  4. The person undertakes his or her prophetic work

• the prophet was not given a choice – the call was not an offer, but an order
– in some ways, Paul’s experience follows this pattern
• he was able to identify three seasons of his life
◦ each season is characterized by a single line or sentence
• now, these happen to be lines I’ve always loved and found inspiring
◦ so I’ll refer to them as our three fantastic sentences

Paul’s story began with him growing up in Jerusalem (although not born there)
– his religious education led to him become a Pharisee
• a devout follower of Judaism, which he refers to as the strictest sect of our religion
• he was, in fact, so passionate that he took violent action against defectors (i.e., followers of Jesus)
◦ Paul provides quite a list of his actions against believers (cf. 2 Cor. 11:21-33) — he:

  • locked up many in prisons
  • cast his vote for the execution of some
  • punished others in synagogues
  • tried to force them to blaspheme
  • kept pursuing pursuing them even to foreign countries

• Paul summarizes these violent actions in verse 9:

So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

– when you read “name” in scripture, think “person”
• a name was fused with a person’s identity

“. . . the name is regarded as to such an extent an expression of the individual character  of it’s owner that it can, in fact, stand for him, become a concept interchangeable with him.” Walther Eichrodt

◦ taking Yahweh’s name “in vain” was not so much about cussing as swearing an oath in his name falsely
◦ to say his name was to call him, to include him in your affairs and interactions
• the name was one of those forms by which its owner could be present (when physically absent)
◦ so God could say My Word is with you; My Spirit is with You; and My name is with You (cf. Mt. 18:20)
◦ listen to what Paul wrote the Corinthians:

In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus (1 Co. 5:4)

So the target of Paul’s rampage was not a name–like a label–but the person of Jesus Christ
• and his goal was to stamp out the influence of Jesus over Jewish lives
• that is why he was traveling to Damascus when he suddenly hit a wall
◦ he was confronted by Jesus himself
◦ so that Jesus’ question was personal, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?

This brings us to the first of our three fantastic sentences

V. 14, It is hard for you to kick against the goads

This idiom is found in Greek literature
– “goad” refers to a stick with a sharpened point
• it was used to train and drive donkeys and oxen
◦ today’s equivalent would be the cattle prod
• to kick against a goad was to fight the will of the master
– what I hear the Lord saying to Paul:

  1. Jesus had been goading Paul – working on him for awhile
    ◦ it had been like breaking in a horse
  2. The whole time, Paul resisted Jesus
    ◦ this would require Jesus to respond with greater force (more pain)
    ◦ this was one fight Paul would not win
  3. Paul found it hard to resist, but he kept kicking
    ◦ I wonder if in that moment King Agrippa could see himself in that role
    ◦ or if Festus and the others had also been kicking and finding it hard

Personally, I love the fact that Jesus used an idiom or popular saying
– I grew up thinking everyone in heaven, would speak King James English
• when Jesus talks to us, he uses familiar language
◦ we don’t have to pull out a dictionary or encyclopedia
◦ Jesus wants to be understood

This is how Paul expressed his concern for the Corinthians: I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led from the simplicity and purity to Christ. (2 Co. 11:3)

• Jesus speaks to us in our own dialect, even our slang–he makes it simple

And now comes our second fantastic sentence

V. 19, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision

In the vision, Jesus recruited Paul for Gentile mission
– “Gentile” was a Jewish term–meaning “everyone else”
• the everyone else included Agrippa, Festus and the rest of Paul’s audience
• if God’s people found it difficult to win his favor, Gentiles were considered hopeless
◦ but faith in Jesus works in place of DNA and religion
◦ Jesus provides the ultimate ultimate way to life in God
– it is strange to me that some Christians would divide the world in two
• Gentile Christians disconnecting from Gentile non-Christians
◦ Jesus tears down those walls of division (Ep. 2:12-14)
◦ we all have been broken, in the world, without God and without hope
• the message Jesus gave Paul was a radical breakthrough
◦ that Gentiles would receive an inheritance among God’s people
◦ that is to say, Gentiles would be given a space in the land of promise with God’s chosen people

In verse 9 Paul could say, “I thought I had to fight against Jesus”
– now he can say, “I have not failed to do what Jesus told me to do”
• this is a transformed man
• we can change habits and superficial details without being transformed
◦ but when no longer hold on to old prejudices or resentments,
◦ a deeper and more fundamental work is happening within us

Paul goes on to describe how he obeyed the heavenly vision
– and all the way, he had obtained help from God
• have we seen this in his recent circumstances?
◦ we’ve seen that others helped him — Lysias, his nephew, believers in Caesarea
• but we have not seen God intervene directly (not like he did for Elijah or Elisha!)
◦ only faith could see that God had helped Paul indirectly
– Jesus doesn’t appear to all of us as clearly as he did to Paul
• what matters is that Jesus does appear somehow
◦ that he enters our field of consciousness
◦ our thoughts, memories and bodies
◦ by word both written and spoken, by music and movement
• and within our present moment experience
◦ our part is to be looking, listening, and becoming attentive
◦ with our hearts fully open to God’s kingdom and Jesus who stands at its threshold

There’s still one more fantastic sentence

V. 26, . . . for this has not been done in a corner

Here we have another idiom — our equivalent might be, “out in the open”
– a theme that runs through Paul’s story is light (vv. 13, 18 & 23)
• it was Christ who suffered and rise from the dead that was the first to proclaim light to Jews and Gentiles
◦ this provoked a reaction and outburst from Festus

Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad. (v. 24)

• Paul responded that he was not so crazy as he might sounds
◦ in fact, Agrippa knows about these things, because they had not been done in a corner
◦ that is, performed in secret and intentionally hidden from the public eye
– this is Paul’s big opportunity, when the words of Jesus to him would be fulfilled
• that he would bring the name of Jesus to the Gentiles and kings (Acts 9:15)
• but what has he been doing up to this moment? research for this one gig?
◦ no! he has been living it

Something happened a few years ago involving a representative in the California State Assembly
– while behind the bar, prior to a session in a Capitol hearing room
• he began telling a colleague details of an affair he had with a woman representing a particular lobby
◦ what he did not know, was although his voice wasn’t being broadcast
◦ he was talking into an open microphone and everything he said was recorded
• this cost him public humiliation as well as his position
– it is wise to remember that the microphone is always live and the cameras are always on 
• we are always the message of Jesus
• no day passes without an opportunity to preach with our lives

Paul’s monologue is over and is replaced by what I consider playful banter
Agrippa: Do you suppose that in so short a time you’ll make a Christian of me?
Paul: Short time or long time, I wish to God that all of you would become like me–except for these chains, of course.

Conc: After the hearing, Paul suffered the greatest injustice yet

As I said, the chapter ends with the words of Agrippa

And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” (v. 32)

– so Paul was judged as being responsible for his imprisonment
• it was his fault, according to Agrippa, that he was still locked up
◦ how typical it is when faced with a difficult moral decision to blame the victim
• this is where healing lies for many people
◦ when they stop accepting the blame for what others have done to them
– but Agrippa’s adding insult to injury  reveals something else
• something that is embedded in being a witness of Jesus
• the same Greek word translated witness is the root of our English word martyr
◦ so good can come even through an injustice we suffer
◦ something inside dies so something else can come to life

So I cannot think of a better conclusion that another quote from Paul:

I have been crucified with Christ;
and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me;
and the life which I now live in the flesh
I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

Galatians 2:20

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