June 21, 2010 David Balzer

Acts 25-26: When being sincere isn’t enough

Did you hear about the speech Pope Benedict made last week? It got Muslims all over the world furious.  The pope quoted a Christian emperor from the 1300’s – Manuel Palaeologus. Among other things he quoted him as saying “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was NEW, and there you will find things only EVIL AND INHUMAN, such as HIS COMMAND TO BY THE SWORD THE FAITH HE PREACHED.’

And, while Christianity isn’t squeaky-clean in this regard EITHER, you don’t have to be an expert in the Koran to know that Mohammed DID advocate forceful conversions – especially after he’d gained the upper hand in Mecca.

And you don’t need to be an expert in HISTORY to know that it’s EXACTLY how much of the Muslim world has been won. And how it MAINTAINS control in Islamic countries TODAY.

But I think what’s proved the truth of these ideas better than ANYTHING/ has been the response of MUSLIMS THEMSELVES.

Muslims who are SO COMMITTED – so SINCERE in their beliefs – that they’d KILL for them.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq warned Pope Benedict XVI on Monday that its war against Christianity and the West will go on until Islam takes over the world.

Dozens protested outside the Vatican Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. And schools and shops in the Indian-controlled section of Kashmir shut their doors in protest. In Iraq, effigies of the Pope were burned.

And in the Middle East, attackers hurled firebombs at seven churches in the West Bank and Gaza Strip last weekend, and a nun was shot to in Somalia.

All because the Pope dared to suggest that Islam was a religion that through the USE OF ! It seems like all they’ve done/ is SUPPORT HIS POSITION!

1. Setting the Scene

That’s Christianity and Islam. But it wasn’t much different between Christianity and JUDAISM. Back in Paul’s day. The same sort of commitment and sincerity. The same radical extremism and against Paul.

Let’s set the scene. Forty Jewish zealots / who are SO ANGRY at his blasphemy/ they swore to ambush and kill Paul – and they wouldn’t EAT OR DRINK until they’d succeeded. That’s commitment! We saw that back in Ch 23.

But Paul escaped, and made it to Caesarea. He’s made it through his trial before the Roman governor Felix. But then he got stuck in prison for two years until Felix was succeeded by Festus. That’s the start of Ch 25.

And the Jews haven’t forgotten Paul. Two years has done nothing to calm them down. In v3, they URGENTLY request Festus to transfer Paul to Jerusalem for his trial. The plan is still to ambush and kill him.

Those 40 men must be pretty hungry by now. Maybe THAT’S why it’s so urgent.

But Festus convenes the trial in Caesarea. And once again, there’s lots of charges, but no proof.

Festus can’t make head nor tail of it. The only thing he can think of doing is to let the Jews have their way, send Paul to Jerusalem, and see if THEY can make any sense of it.

But Paul knows that’s just asking for trouble. So, v11, he appeals to Caesar. Any Roman citizen had the right for his case to be heard in Rome by Caesar. And Paul’s fairly sure that he’ll get a better hearing THERE/ than so close to Jerusalem.

Besides, God’s already TOLD him he’ll make it to Rome, and testify about Jesus there. He’d hoped it would be under his own steam, but it seems Paul’s resigned to seeing Rome as a prisoner.

But then the story starts to get interesting. Because King Herod Agrippa comes to visit. He’s the Jewish ruler in those parts. And he’s come to introduce himself to the new Roman governor. And it doesn’t take long before the men start talking SHOP. And the subject of PAUL comes up. Festus can’t work out WHAT to do. So Agrippa offers to help.

2, On the Big stage

Which takes us up to v23. Where we pick up the story. When Paul moves on to the BIG STAGE. Have a look at it with me.

23 The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in.

All the top dogs are there. Whether they’re Jewish or Roman. Military or civilian. Dressed in their finest. There’s the trumpet fanfare. The pomp and ceremony. And they’re all there to hear what Paul’s got to say.

It’s just what Jesus SAID would happen. Way back in Ch 9, just after Paul’s been converted, here’s what Jesus says about him (Acts 9:15-16)

This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles AND THEIR KINGS and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must SUFFER for my name.”

We’ve seen THE SUFFERING. Now, Paul’s getting to “the KING” bit. He began speaking to a Roman commander. Then to the Roman GOVERNOR. Then to the NEXT Roman governor. And now, he’s speaking to a Jewish king. And before long, it’ll be CAESAR HIMSELF.

He’s spoken at some pretty impressive gatherings. And in some unusual places. From Jerusalem half-way around the world to Corinth. From synagogues and temples to public halls and river banks and private homes. But this must be the most impressive audience yet.

Most of us would be nervous wrecks, They say people fear public speaking more than DYING. But Paul fears NEITHER. He knows he’s just where God wants him. And so, the occasion doesn’t seem to faze him. At the start of Ch 26, after a short introduction from Festus, he begins.

3. Before and After

It’s your classic BEFORE AND AFTER story. Like the Weight Watchers ads. This is what I was like BEFORE. And here’s what I’m like NOW.

Before: the strict Pharisee (4-8)

Once, I was a strict Pharisee. That’s vv4-8. No-one tried harder to keep the law. I thought the better I KEPT the law, the more God would NOTICE, and the sooner he’d send his Messiah. See that there in v6.

6 And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers  that I am on trial today. (He’s talking about the MESSIAH- Jesus)7 This is the promise our twelve tribes are HOPING TO SEE FULFILLED AS THEY EARNESTLY SERVE GOD DAY AND NIGHT.

They’re waiting for God to send a deliverer from the Gentiles. And they’re earnestly hoping to speed him up by their obedience.

Notice that even though he’s changed in LOTS of ways. In OTHERS he HASN’T. His hope’s ALWAYS been that God would send his promised Messiah. But now he’s actually MET Jesus, he KNOWS the One he was HOPING For.

And he knows how far off the mark his expectation was of what he’d be like. And what he expected of his followers.

Once, the fanatical persecutor

He used to think God wanted him to PERSECUTE Christians. To keep the purity of God’s people. Not only was he a strict Pharisee, but he was a fanatical persecutor. That’s vv9-11.

9 “I too WAS CONVINCED that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

It just goes to show you, that when it comes to religion, being sincere isn’t enough. As a strict Pharisee, Paul was SINCERE. He was EARNEST. He THOUGHT he was doing the right thing. As a fanatical persecutor, he was CONVINCED he was right to OPPOSE the name of Jesus.

But being sincere wasn’t enough. Because he was sincerely WRONG.

It’s just like the disagreements between Pope Benedict and the Muslims. Because Christianity and Islam just CAN’T fit together. The two religions say basically contradictory things about each other. In particular about JESUS. And SALVATION.

Christians and Muslims are equally SINCERE. But, when you look at the claims, LOGIC tells you that at least ONE HAS TO BE WRONG.

the commissioned apostle

Paul was SINCERE. But he was WRONG. Until he met Jesus. When he changed to being a commissioned apostle.

He tells the story from v12. Which we’ve heard before. About how Jesus appears to him. And shows that he really DID rise from the . And really IS the Messiah.

And that rather than Paul’s BRINGING ON the Messiah, he was actually PERSECUTING him.

But the bit I want to look at/ is from v16. Paul’s commission.

I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you.

It’s all about Jesus

And look at what HIS MESSAGE IS. V18.

I am sending you to them 18 to OPEN THEIR EYES and TURN them from DARKNESS TO LIGHT, and from THE POWER OF SATAN TO GOD, so that they may receive FORGIVENESS OF SINS and a place among those who are sanctified by FAITH IN ME.’

See it there at the end? It all begins with FAITH IN Jesus. A bit further down in v22, we see what the center of Paul’s message was all about. It’s ALL ABOUT Jesus.

I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen- 23 that THE CHRIST WOULD SUFFER AND, AS THE FIRST TO RISE FROM THE , WOULD PROCLAIM LIGHT TO HIS OWN PEOPLE AND TO THE GENTILES.”

Jesus is the one who brings it all to pass. By his and resurrection  Who brings in all those benefits in v18.

And if you’re looking for a summary of what being a Christian is all about. It doesn’t get much better than that. Have a look at it again.

I’ve come up with five P’s that describe it. Perspective, power, pardoned, place, proof.

A Christian has had his EYES OPENED. He’s got a new PERSPECTIVE. He sees the WORLD in a whole new way. His family, his friends, his possessions. He sees HIMSELF differently – his money, his time, his worth, his purpose. He sees ETERNITY and his FUTURE differently.

He sees Jesus differently. Not as someone who’s weak and . But who REIGNS. And who’s ALIVE. Who we can speak to. And who demands our allegiance.

Second – POWER. A Christian’s been turned from DARKNESS to LIGHT. From the POWER of Satan to the POWER of God. He’s transferred allegiances. Changed his citizenship. He’s stopped listening to Satan, and started listening to God. He’s done with darkness and secrecy and guilt, and is living with freedom and open-ness and perspective. With purity and holiness.

Third, he’s been FORGIVEN. PARDONED. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that God KNOWS about your sin. But has WASHED you CLEAN. That there’s no longer any barrier between you – a sinful human – and a perfect God. That the relationship’s RESTORED.

And fourth, the Christian’s RECEIVED A PLACE. A place among the most privileged and select group ever. Better than any concert ticket, or club membership.

People lined up for 24 hours to score a ticket to Steve Irwin’s memorial. And they’ll be doing the same thing for the footy grand finals this week. And plenty of people missed out.

But to receive a place among those sanctified by faith in Jesus – God’s people That’s MUCH MORE IMPORTANT. It’s a PLACE FOR ETERNITY. You don’t want to miss out on THAT ticket.

Before we move onto the FIFTH “P”, notice something ELSE about v18. Look at the way Jesus words it. “YOU will open their eyes”. In other places the emphasis is on GOD doing the work. But here, it’s PAUL who’s opening eyes, who’s turning from darkness to light, from Satan to God.

It says something about THE EFFECTIVENESS OF PREACHING. Of telling others about Jesus. We play a crucial role in opening eyes and turning people to God. We’re not doing irrelevant, insignificant, unimportant things here. That’s what the WORLD thinks about churches. A relic. A dinosaur. This news we have – this WEAPON WE’RE WAVING AROUND – is powerful, cutting-edge, and life-changing. It’s dangerous. It’s E. And there’s no more IMPORTANT thing you can be doing than to be introducing people to Jesus.

Each of these first four aspects are about what GOD does. His GIFT to his children. But there’s a FIFTH aspect too. And it’s about OUR part. Our response. How we ACCEPT his gift. It’s a bit further down in v20. I’ve called it PROOF.

I preached that they should REPENT and turn to God and PROVE THEIR REPENTANCE BY THEIR DEEDS.

God’s forgiveness comes to those who REPENT. To those who STOP travelling AWAY from God. But more than that – who TURN AROUND and start travelling TOWARDS him. Who PROVE their new direction by A CHANGED LIFE.

Because it’s a mistake to think when you read about REPENTING that it’s just a matter of crying some crocodile tears then keeping on doing what you like.

It’s not about going to MASS at 5 pm Saturday before a big night out. Getting the slate wiped clean, so you can ENJOY yourself committing a whole stack MORE sins. There’s no repentance THERE. That sort of thinking shows you’re NOT someone who’s been forgiven by God.

Think about this. Paul’s on trial for being a Christian. And he’s talking about PROVING your repentance by your deeds. Let me ask YOU a question – If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Would there be enough PROOF that you’d TURNED from doing the things of DARKNESS, and begun doing the things of LIGHT? That you were now under the power of GOD, rather than SATAN. That you’d stopped doing what PLEASED YOU, and begun doing what PLEASED Jesus INSTEAD?

Would there be enough evidence? Or would the prosecution be forced to dismiss the case because of a LACK OF EVIDENCE?

Is your life PROVING the reality of your repentance?

Billy Graham, the famous American evangelist, was here on a preaching tour back in 1959. Preaching exactly the same message Paul preached.

3 million people heard him speak. And the effects were dramatic. There was A MEASURABLE CHANGE IN SOCIETY. REDUCTION in crime. In drunkenness, in . In robbery. It’s there in the historical record.

One guy who heard him was a safecracker. The night he came along, he was in the middle of planning a robbery with his mates. He came along; he heard he had to repent. so he did. And the next day, fronted up to the gang and told them he couldn’t do it. Turn around. And prove it by what you do.

Another guy was cheating on his wife – actually went to hear Billy Graham with his friend. It was their last date. Because when he heard the gospel he was cut to the heart. The next day he was back apologising to his wife. Begging her to take him back. A changed man. With a changed life. turn around. And prove it with your deeds.

Or the bank clerk. Who’d been embezzling money and he’d never been caught. The next morning, he confessed; and offered to pay back every cent.

Real repentance means real change. Paul said repent. Turn back to God. And prove it by the way you live. And I can guarantee there are people here today who need to hear that. And do something about it.

Stop playing the Christian. And be real. Be SINCERE.

And the great news is, when your repentance is SINCERE. Proved in your ACTIONS. … there’s real forgiveness – real PARDON – waiting at the end of the road. And a REAL PLACE among God’s people. Which is great news!

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