Sermons

Decisions

Sun, Apr 24, 2022
Teacher: Tom Blackford
Passage: Acts 26:1-32
Duration:28 mins 1 sec

Message text

Decisions, Decisions!
Acts 26:1-32

INTRO: Good morning, Church. In our study of the Book of Acts we have been on an incredible journey, especially in these last few chapters following the apostle Paul’s trials and tribulations. He had been passed from pillar to post, but he never lost sight of the fact that God was in control of his life, if he remained faithful to the task of witnessing for Christ.

Last time in Acts, we saw God was helping Paul through many different people. Even when some Jewish leaders were bent on getting rid of Paul and plotted to take his life multiple times, God was protecting him. We left Paul before Festus and he made an appeal to speak to Caesar himself. He never gave up, even when he was being passed around from one courtroom to another.

I heard an old story about a small boy with his father, who were in an elevator going up in the Empire State Building. As they flashed by the 66th floor, the child, in considerable anxiety, clasped his father's hand, and in a whisper, said, "Does God know we are coming?" God certainly knows who’s going where and even though Caesar didn’t know the apostle Paul was coming to Rome, God assuredly did.

I. Before God gets Paul to Rome, he has some unfinished business in yet another courtroom. We pick up Paul’s story again in Acts 26 and it’s here we find Paul making his defense before King Agrippa. Acts 26:1-5 – “1. Then Agrippa said to Paul, "You are permitted to speak for yourself.'' So Paul stretched out his hand and answered for himself: 2. "I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, 3. "especially because you are expert in all customs and questions which have to do with the Jews. Therefore I beg you to hear me patiently. 4. "My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. 5. "They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.”[NKJV]

A. You will recall that Festus is the representative of Rome and had the full authority of Rome behind him. But here Luke tells us that it was Agrippa who told Paul he was permitted to speak.

1. With an outstretched hand Paul began by saying he was happy to make his defense before the king, especially because King Agrippa would have been familiar with Jewish teachings and customs.
2. I suspect Paul must have had a long talk in mind since he begged the king to be patient.
3. Paul goes on and talks about his citizenship. He reminds the king that he was brought up in Jerusalem and was well known among the Jews. In fact, he was so well known among the Jews, Paul says; why not ask those who are accusing me today?
4. I suspect indeed some of his accusers may well have remembered the zealous young Pharisee in his youth. They would have remembered Saul, as he was known back then, during his time as a persecutor.

B. Isn’t it amazing what people choose to remember? Decisions, decisions, what do we select to remember?

1. I know all of us at some point in our lives have had bad experiences whether they are church related or not. I’ve heard it said that much of our memory is our choice. We select things to dwell on and then reinforce those memories by going over them again and again.
2. Yes, we may have had a bad experience in the past with some people, but not all our experiences were all bad. I’m sure there would have been some great times of friendship and love, perhaps even with those same people.
3. What I’m saying is we need to choose wisely, focus, and remember those good times. Because speaking from experience, if you dwell on the bad things, they can eat away at you and stop you from moving on.

C. Note the words of Paul in Philippians 3:13-14 – “13. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul says forget what’s happened in the past and move forward.

II. Remember in Acts 24:21 we saw that Paul said he was being judged for his hope in the resurrection. Now let’s look at what Paul tells Agrippa he was being judged for. Acts 26:5-8 – “5. "They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. 6. "And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. 7. "To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope's sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews. 8. "Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?”

A. Have the charges been changed without anyone knowing about it? Is Paul changing his argument? Paul says, he was now being judged “for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers.” Paul is referring to the hope of the resurrection of the dead as proved by the resurrection of Christ.

1. In fact Paul taught that the hope of Israel was to be found only in and through Jesus of Nazareth. This, of course, infuriated many of the Jews; but that seemed to Paul an incredible behavior on their part.
2. Imagine you live in the city and Sunday morning you are waiting at the stop for the Mayfield bus to come to take you for worship. You ask the elderly gentleman next to you ‘when does the Mayfield bus arrive?’ He says ‘in about five minutes.’

a. Seeing you have a few of minutes to spare you focus your attention on how you look, making sure your hair is nice, check your clothes haven’t got any wrinkles in them, and that your shoes are nice and clean.
b. When you have checked yourself repeatedly you ask the kind gentlemen next to you, ‘how long now before the Mayfield bus arrives?’ He says, “oh you just missed it.” The reason you missed the bus was because you were so focused on yourself, you forgot to look up for the bus.

3. That is a silly illustration of course, but as silly as that illustration sounds that’s exactly what the Jews did, they didn’t have a few minutes, they had hundreds of years to wait for the Messiah they were promised, and they missed Him because they were so focused on all the technicalities, they forgot to look up.

a. Paul says that this very hope was sought by all the tribes of Israel. In fact, he said their daily earnest service to God was based upon that very hope. Paul couldn’t understand the charge because the very essence of that hope was the basis of the Jews' accusations against him.
b. They had missed the Messiah, and they didn’t even understand their own argument.

B. Someone once gave this little piece of advice, if you ever get into a debate with anyone about any issue, always argue using scripture. It surprises me when people, even Christians, try and make a point about something and they throw Scripture at you but that same Scripture never seems to apply to them.

1. It never ceases to amaze me when people quote Scripture to you, yet it seems to have a different meaning when it is applied to them.
2. The Jews knew about the Messiah, they knew about the hope they had in the resurrection of dead, but they forgot the Scriptures applied to them too.
3. They seem to have forgotten the power of God. I suspect that’s why Paul asked King Agrippa, "Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?”
4. Because Paul asked this specific question, it shows us that his accusers were primarily of the Sadducees, who if you remember, didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead which is a shame.

III. Paul now moves on to his time as a persecutor of the Lord’s church. Acts 26:9-11 – “9. "Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10. "This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11. "And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.”

A. Paul says he took actions to stop the teaching about Jesus and His followers, because he was convinced that is what God wanted him to do. Just as Agrippa's family had pursued an end to the life of Jesus, Paul had pursued an end to the teachings of Jesus.

1. He says that many of those saints were shut up in prison in Jerusalem because of his actions.
2. When Paul says, "When they were put to death, I cast my vote against them." What he is saying here is that as a member of the Sanhedrin he voted to condemn them.
3. As we know he didn’t stop there. He punished them in every synagogue. He even went to cities outside of Jerusalem to get them to speak against the name of Jesus.
4. Paul is saying, don’t tell me what the Jewish beliefs are. I know them. You don’t need to tell me how zealous you should be against anyone who teaches anything against our forefather’s teachings. I was.

B. Paul describes himself in Philippians 3:5-6 – “5. circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6. concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” Paul says when it came to being a Jew, he was right at the top with the best of them.

IV. Agrippa must have been a patient man as Paul continues with his defense in Acts 26:12-18 – “12. "While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, 13. "at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. 14. "And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, `Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' 15. "So I said, `Who are You, Lord?' And He said, `I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 16. `But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. 17. `I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, 18. `to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.'”

A. We will not dwell too much on this because we have studied Paul’s road to Damascus experience a few times already in this study of the Acts. Here Paul shares the account of his conversion and his purpose for that conversion.

1. To further make his point to Agrippa, he tells him that on his way to Damascus in pursuit of even more Christians, He saw a great light, which was brighter than the sun coming out of heaven at midday and surrounding him and his companions.
2. After the group fell to the ground, a voice spoke to him in Hebrew, saying, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads." Naturally, Paul asked the Voice to identify Himself and the Voice identified Himself as Jesus of Nazareth.
3. This Jesus of Nazareth told him to stand up because He intended for him to minister and witness for Him both as to the things he had seen and would see. The Lord went on and promised to protect Paul from harm coming either from the Jews or the Gentiles, to whom he was being sent, and we have seen that very powerfully in our study.

B. Then in verse 18, just in case Agrippa wondered what Paul’s purpose was, Paul tells him his purpose was to open their eyes to their own sinfulness.

1. To show them the way of receiving forgiveness of sins and the great inheritance available to those set apart by their faith in Jesus.
2. Paul, as you can imagine is now in full flow sermon mode and like all good preachers, he knows when it’s time to get to the point.

V. Acts 26:19-21 – “19. "Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20. "but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. 21. "For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.”

A. Paul could not disobey a voice from heaven, so he preached the gospel in Damascus and Jerusalem, both to the Jews and Gentiles. Paul raises an important point here, the necessity of repentance, a turning toward God and living a life showing the works of repentance.

1. We all know the importance of repentance before a person becomes a Christian.
2. Please don’t ever think that that is the one and only time you ever need to repent. Christians are a repentant people and when they sin they need to confess those sins to God, and repent.
3. We can tell each other that we have repented of a sin but we’re not fooling anyone except ourselves if our actions aren’t backing up our confession.

B. This is an important point and as Christians we need to be passionate about this. For one thing, I get a little frustrated when I get emails asking me to ‘say a little prayer and invite Jesus into my heart and I will be a Christian’. There is no mention of believing, confession, or baptism, never mind the word repent. I also get a little frustrated when people say they are sorry about this or that but their actions clearly tell me a different story.

1. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7:10 – “For godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” In other words, repentance produces fruit. Repentance is proven by the actions which follow. Repentance is not sorrow for sin, it is a change of the will, with regard to sin.
2. It’s more than feeling sorry for ourselves. Worldly sorrow is the kind of sorrow and fretting that focuses on ourselves – what I did wrong, how bad I am, why I can’t stop. This kind of grief gets us nowhere. Through he was sorrowful for his actions, Judas committed suicide.
3. Repentance, the change of will, is a clear demonstration to God and your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, that you are sorry for your sin.
4. When Paul was in Athens, he said in Acts 17:30 – “… these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,”
5. If that offends anyone we do not need to be sorry because Jesus Himself said in Luke 13:3 – “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

C. If repentance is a part of the gospel message, if repentance is a command which we are commanded to do every time we sin against God or our brothers and sisters in Christ, then we need to keep it in the gospel message. We need show our repentance in our actions.

In Scotland, six miles north-west of Dumfries and Galloway is Trailtrow Hill. On that hill is a watch tower named "Repentance" when it was built.
What gave the tower its name we are not told, but it is said that an English baronet, walking near the castle, saw a shepherd boy lying upon the ground, reading attentively.
"What are you reading, lad?"
"The Bible, sir."
"The Bible, indeed!" laughed the gentleman.
"Then you must be wiser than the parson. Can you tell me the way to heaven?"
"Yes, sir, I can," replied the boy, in no way embarrassed by the mocking tone of the other; "you must go by way of yonder tower."
The gentleman saw that the boy had learned right well the lesson of his book.
Being rebuked, he walked away in silence.

D. We all, every person on earth, has a decision to make, repent and live or don’t repent and die. That’s John’s point in 1 John when he talks about the sin that leads to death. Any sin which isn’t confessed and repented of will lead to death. I know that the word repent not only silences some people but it also upsets some, but that is nothing new, is it?

1. At the core of those Jewish people who were trying to get rid of Paul were those who could not tolerate the idea of the need for repentance and rejected the idea of the resurrection.
2. I find it of note that it is the Sadducees, those of secular Israel, who totally rejected Christ, leading the way.

E. Paul being the devote Christian that he was gave credit where credit was due. We are now at Acts 26:22-23 – “22. "Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come, 23. "that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.''”
F. Paul said, it was only by God's help that he was still alive to tell Agrippa that Moses and the prophets had said the Christ would suffer, rise from the dead, and spread the good news among Jews and Gentiles.

1. He wasn’t alive speaking to Agrippa because he was an eloquent speaker, he was still alive because God had a purpose for him.
2. He gave credit where credit is due. We need to do the same. It is important to thank God today for the life He has given us.

VI. After a long time speaking with the king, Festus has heard enough. Acts 26:24-27 – “24. Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, "Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!'' 25. But he said, "I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. 26. "For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner. 27. "King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.''”

A. Luke tells us that Festus interrupted with a loud declaration that Paul had gone crazy from too much learning. Festus showed the total lack of spiritual discernment which is always the mark of the carnal man. A typically cynical subaltern of Rome, he decided to break up the meeting. I wonder if he even noticed that his royal guests were getting the message.

1. Paul replied by simply and respectfully saying he was not crazy but spoke the truth.
2. Paul uses his opportunity to speak in his defense to focus more on trying to convert his judges. The apostle went on to note that the events surrounding and following Jesus' life were done in the open for all to see and had been well known to King Agrippa.
3. He then asked Agrippa if he believed the prophets. Paul answered for him, perhaps sensing, or through the Spirit knowing what the King was thinking, of course he believed the prophets.

CONCLUSION:
Agrippa recognized that Paul was using a concise argument intended to persuade him to follow Jesus as the Christ. Acts 26:28-29 – “28. Then Agrippa said to Paul, "You almost persuade me to become a Christian.'' 29. And Paul said, "I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.''”

God gave us free will, the power of choice, and that implies the need to make decisions.
Luke tells us that Paul expressed his true desire that Agrippa, along with everyone else who heard his voice, would be converted to the point of zealously following the Lord just as he did. That should be the goal of every single Christian.

Yes, we have friendships. Yes, we have people we just say hi to, but underneath all of that there should be a desire within every one of us, for them to become what we are… Christians.

Every now and then people will realize this and do one of two things. They will either want to know more, or they will walk away. That was the choice which Agrippa, Festus, and Bernice had to make.
Acts 26:30-32 – “30. When he had said these things, the king stood up, as well as the governor and Bernice and those who sat with them; 31. and when they had gone aside, they talked among themselves, saying, "This man is doing nothing worthy of death or chains.'' 32. Then Agrippa said to Festus, "This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.''”

Agrippa, Festus, and Bernice left the room concluding that Paul had done nothing worthy of death or chains. In fact, King Agrippa stated that Paul could have been released had it not have been for his appeal for the case to be heard by Caesar.

Yes, they left the room, but Paul had seized the moment, and the seed was sown. The decision was theirs to make. These people knew where Paul was brought up, they knew what he was like as a young person, they knew what he was like as a Jew, and they knew what he was like before becoming a Christian.

There are many people in our lives who know certain things about our past just as Paul was known. Like with Paul they also need to see the transforming power of the gospel in our lives as Christians now. We’re not born Christians, we are born again Christians.

It should be the prayer of every single Christian that all of our friends, family, neighbors and enemies, that in the short time or long, they too will be become what we have become.

Remember we have already made our decision to follow Jesus, it’s our friends, family, neighbors, and enemies who need to decide for themselves who they want to follow.
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We learn from the New Testament how to be saved. We need to hear the word; believe in Jesus; repent of our sins; we must confess our belief that Jesus is the Son of God; and be baptized for the remission of our sins… If we follow these steps, the Lord adds us to His church.

If anybody needs to respond, either to dedicate themselves to Christ, be buried with Him in baptism, and become a part of the work He has for us; or if you need to ask for prayers on your behalf, won’t you come forward as we stand and sing our Invitational song.

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Reference Sermon: Mike Glover

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