Good morning church! Just wanted to welcome everyone who has joined us here at the hall and those who have joined us online.
We’re glad that you’re with us this morning and we hope that you’re encouraged and refreshed through this time.
If you’ve been tracking with us at the Gathering, you would know that we’re going through a series titled God of Power from the book of Acts.
And it’s been a year-long exciting journey and sad to say that we’re almost nearing the end of this book.
We’ve got another 2 more chapters to go after this one but we hope that even after the series ends, what remains with us is the truth that our God is a God of incredible and extraordinary Power – not just in the mountain top spiritual moments, but also in the low valley moments –
which is what see play out in in chapter 26 where Paul finds himself not in a comfortable church service but in the middle of a hostile courtroom. I’d love to pray for us before we jump into this passage.
As we begin our time, I think it’ll be helpful for us to visualize what exactly was going down in this chapter. Paul was on put on trial and needed to defend his faith in front of some of the most powerful and feared authorities of that time.
On one hand, you had King Agrippa who was the king of Judea (he was more like a proxy Jewish ruler who ruled on behalf of Caesar) but still carried authority and moreover he was well versed with Jewish law and customs. You can expect every single word that Paul uttered being scrutinized.
On the other hand, there was the governor of Caesarea – Porcius Festus who had arranged this session precisely so that he could take down reference notes which would be passed onto Caesar who would refer to these notes during Paul’s appeal at Rome. Whatever transpired in this courtroom could have serious implications for Paul’s future. This was serious!
On top of that, the previous chapter tells us that military tribunes and prominent men of the city were also present. This trial garnered massive interest and attracted a lot of eyeballs. Everyone was watching this trial proceeding closely. The stakes couldn’t get any higher.
And usually when people are cornered in situations like these, they usually respond by talking about themselves or by talking about opponents. So they are either using the opportunity to promote and project their accomplishments which can help sway people’s perceptions about them or they can get really nasty and bring out all the stuff that’s wrong about their opponents which can possibly discredit them.
Paul had all these tools and options available to him, but yet isn’t it interesting that on the biggest platform which was presented to him, he didn’t choose to talk about himself, neither did he chose to talk about his opponents. Instead, he chose to talk about God. And to talk about what God did to him and through him. He decided to share his salvation story.
And that’s what we’re going to explore over the next few minutes – why is there power in a person’s salvation story?
- We are saved despite who we were (v4-11)
I find it interesting that though Paul was defending himself before some of the most powerful men and women alive at that point, he’s willing to be brutally honest about the man he was before he met Jesus. He’s not brushing his controversial past under the carpet.
In v4-5, he talks about how he was brought up as a Pharisee (it was the strictest sect among the Jews. They followed the Mosaic law to the tee and plus they added a lot of their own traditions which they imposed on themselves and others).
So if you were a Pharisee in those days, you were like the front seat student of the spiritual class. That was the kind of person that Paul was. So far that was the good part of his resume.
But then in v9, he starts uncovering his dark past. He was so zealous about what he believed that he fiercely opposed Jesus and anyone else associated with Him.
He personally locked up followers of Jesus in prison and even signed off on them being stoned to death.
V11 says that he punished believers in synagogues and even travelled to foreign cities to persecute them. So intense was the hatred that it made him travel miles to go and persecute them.
And yet for some reason, Paul is not covering up his violent, abusive past. He’s boldly and honestly talking about it. But why is he doing that?
It’s not making his resume look any better but he’s telling himself and everyone else how Jesus saved him despite who he was.
Acknowledging his dark past, openly confessing his violence and abuse toward the church is like a humbling reminder to himself and others that he didn’t bring anything to the table of salvation. He had no part to play in his salvation. It was simply a gift of grace.
And that’s why we can’t overlook or exclude the part about “how we were before we met Jesus” from our salvation stories.
Because we won’t be able to appreciate all that Jesus has done for us unless we acknowledge how bad our story was. We have to accept that the story was really bad before it started getting better.
To an extent this has to do with our view of the depth of our sin. When we think of how deep we were in our sin, do we imagine it to be like being stuck in a shallow pond? (Where we think that if we tried maybe we could have resolved our sin problem ourselves).
Or do we imagine the depth of our sin to be like an ocean in which were drowning and are desperately yelling for help? Because the person drowning is the one who needs to be saved. The one drowning needs rescue and so the person acknowledging is literally saying I couldn’t have saved myself. I didn’t bring anything to the table of salvation.
That’s why it’s good for our hearts to acknowledge the depth of our sin, the dark, embarrassing past because it’s a sobering, humbling reminder that Jesus saved us despite who we were.
But not only does our Salvation Story tell us that we are saved despite who we were but it also tells us that
- We are saved because of who He is (v12-18)
In these verses, Paul is describing his life altering encounter with the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus. Lets not forget that he was on a persecution mission, and enroute, Jesus decided to meet him.
Jesus appeared to Paul in an extremely bright, radiant blinding light – in Paul’s words – brighter than the sun. The impact of the encounter was so great that Paul and his companions fell to the ground!
And then Paul heard a voice telling him in Hebrew “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?”
“It is hard for you to kick against the goads” was a Greek proverb, but it was also familiar to the Jews and anyone who made a living in agriculture.
An ox goad was a stick with a pointed piece of iron on its tip used to prod the oxen when plowing.
The farmer would prick the animal to steer it in the right direction. Sometimes the animal would rebel by kicking out at the prick, and this would result in the prick being driven even further into its flesh. In essence, the more an ox rebelled, the more it suffered.
And then person introduces himself in verses 15 as this “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting”. What Jesus meant was that by persecuting His’ followers, He was personally attacking Jesus himself. This was considered as a personal attack, and Jesus was not going to take this attack lying down. Jesus had to intervene.
So at this point, we can understand why Jesus decided to meet Paul. He had to intervene and stop this man from what he was trying to do.
In fact we’re expecting Jesus to bring down fire and immediately judge Paul and his companions because of all the terrible atrocities that they’ve committed towards the church.
Or at the very least where Jesus takes out a list of all the offences that Paul has committed and throws it on his face – shame him, guilt him, condemn him – put in his place. That’s how we would normally respond to someone who has treated us as an arch enemy.
And yet that’s not how Jesus treats him in v16. We see grace and kindness in the way Jesus treats Paul – the fact that Paul didn’t die immediately was an indicator of God’s grace.
But to then save him from his son and then him and enlist to go as an authorized servant and witness to tell others about Jesus! That doesn’t make sense to my human mind!
I know that most of us are familiar with Paul’s conversion story, so it kind of loses the impact it should but if you heard this Salvation Story for the first time, it would shock and amaze us because there is no worldly explanation as to why Jesus would select a persecutor to be His preferred preacher to the world!
And yet it’s true because through this Jesus wanted to reveal that He is indeed a God of immense kindness and grace.
And every believer in Christ can relate to this. If anyone were to come and ask us a believer “why did God decide / chose to save you? Was it your spiritual life? Was it your talents? Was it your looks? Was it your accomplishments?”
And our response to that would be “Jesus didn’t save me because I had any great quality. In fact Jesus saved me despite who I was. In fact I don’t know why Jesus did chose to save someone like me. It was simply God showing His grace on a sinner like me”.
But not only does our Salvation Story tell us that we are saved despite who we were & we are saved because of who He is but it also tells us that
- We are saved to proclaim what He has done (v19-23)
In V19, Paul goes on to share “what changed in his life after meeting Jesus”. It’s no small minor change, it’s radical change! He starts preaching from the very place where he went on a persecution mission – but this time he’s on Jesus’ side.
And then he proceeds to preach the same in Jerusalem and Judea and in all of the Roman known world about all that Jesus did for him and for them!
So much so in v21, that Paul becomes a threat to the Jews because of the message that he’s preaching and the growing influence of the church.
So the Jews now are responding to him with the same hatred and anger that he once had toward Jesus and his followers.
And then in v22-23, he goes on to faithfully testify about Jesus’ death and resurrection in the middle of a courtroom where’s he’s on trial.
God had it all planned out and had Paul in the middle of what He planned long ago. Paul was deeply aware of what was happening in the background.
Somehow and in someway, that hostile courtroom was being converted into a holy church service as Paul was lifting the name and work of Jesus before some of the most powerful and feared people of the time.
In that moment, God was using Paul’s words and his life to showcase how gracious He is to a lost and dying world. Grace wasn’t just a theory or a concept, Paul was able to show and tell with his own life.
This is how he describes grace in 1 Tim 1:12-17:
12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.[d] Amen. (1 Tim 1:12-17)
And maybe that’s God’s calling for each and every one of us as well – not to give an eloquent, intellectual lecture on grace, not to release a thesis on grace but to show and tell about Grace through our lives.
The perfect preachers and examples of grace are the ones who have firsthand experienced it themselves, and that’s why He has chosen us.
- Question – Do you have a Salvation Story? If yes Reflect and Praise God for it daily / If no, it’s not too late today – God is eager to give you your own Salvation Story.
- Persuade others by sharing your Salvation story (v26-28) –
26 For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” 28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”
- Have a real burden for those who don’t have a Salvation Story (v29) :
29 And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”