Acts 26 contains, without question, one of the most stirring and magnificent summaries of Christianity. Christianity is not a code of ethics, morality, philosophy, or self-help. At the heart of Christianity is a man who claims to be God, offers to open our eyes, transfer us from darkness to light, forgive our sin and gives us a place among his people.
Have you ever had the experience of being completely convinced about something only to discover you were completely wrong? That is a humbling experience common to all people – particularly when it comes to the things of God. There is a tremendous amount of ignorance when it comes to who God is, what he is like, how he relates to us and how we are to relate to him. It is not uncommon, especially in Seattle, to hear people say things like, “I like to think of a God who…” or “I could never believe in a God who…”, as though he can be whoever and whatever we want him to be.
This, of course, is based on the false idea that we are able to create our own personal version of God, either to accept or reject. This is one reason why most people think that every religion is like every other: equally valid, equally acceptable, equally valuable, equally permissible. This same mindset reveals itself even within Christianity, where there is a tendency to view faith as a commodity, as you look for the best deals, best access to leadership, best parking, best children’s ministry, and best all around experience. The common denominator, in each case, is that we’re in charge – we’re in the driver’s seat.We’re sincerely convinced we’re right, but we’re sincerely wrong.
Today, in Acts 26, Paul tells his story of meeting the resurrected Jesus. Prior to this life-changing encounter, Paul thought he was absolutely right, but he came to discover he was absolutely wrong. What was he wrong about? The person and work of Jesus of Nazareth – who he was, why he came, what he accomplished and where he is right now. This is the Apostle Paul’s last recorded major speech in Acts. It contains, without question, one of the most stirring and magnificent summaries of Christianity. Let’s read it together.
Paul defends himself and his ministry by way of his conversion experience of seeing the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. Prior to that experience he opposed, locked up, killed and forced Christians to blaspheme. He was utterly convinced he was right, but he was utterly wrong; sincerely and severely convinced he was right, but sincerely and severely wrong. Then he met Jesus. Paul wasn’t converted by deep insight, self-help, self-esteem, etc. Rather, Paul met the risen Jesus. His life was suddenly interupted by an external, objective event. There is a principle here that is common to every conversion: seeing Jesus for who he is.
Paul suddenly realized that he was wrong, he had been completely in the dark. As he lay on his face on the road to Damascus, his entire belief structure was crumbling underneath him. Jesus was a man in history who really lived, really died, really rose again. It is only wise to consider his claims. Christianity is not a code of ethics, morality, philosophy, or self-help program. At the heart of Christianity is a man who claims to be God, forgive sin and to bring us home to him.
FIVE things Jesus aims to do in and through the Apostle Paul – and us.
#1 “Witness…to whom I am sending you.” vs16-17
God’s pattern is consistent: First he saves us, then he sends us. He does it with Paul here, and he does it with us today. Jesus tells him that he will be a “witness” of him. Between first and second coming of Jesus, God’s primary strategy for spreading the gospel of Jesus Chrsit is to send out “witnesses” of Jesus into world.
Acts 1:8 “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth .”
Matt 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”
John 20:21 “As the father has sent me, I am sending you”
Eph 6:15 “as for your feet…put on the readiness given by the gospel of grace”
#2 “Open their eyes” vs18
Have you ever noticed how many blind people Jesus healed during his earthly ministry? This was not merely because Jesus had a particular heart for blind people, but that he had a heart for blind souls. His earthly healing was intended to serve as a vivid illustration of the kind of deeper spiritual healing he came to accomplish.
2Cor4:4 “The god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”
We are all born unable to see and understand rightly: God, ourselves, our lives, our purpose, etc. But, Jesus came to heal and rescue us from our spiritual blindness. That is the goal of sharing the gospel with others – that they might truly see! How do we go from being blind to seeing?
2Cor4:6 “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (cf Gen 1:3)
In other words, the same God who began his great creative work in Gen 1:3 “Let there be light!” is one who makes us new creations in Christ (2Cor5:17) by shining the light of Christ into our souls.
If you’re not a follower of Jesus, I know all of this sounds strange. I thought that too. “God needs to open my eyes?” Ex. Personal relationship w/ Obama. How? The president has to want to get to know you if you’re going to know him. If this is true of an earthly leader, how much more is this true of the God of all creation? Where do we get idea of wandering into presence of God, “if you’re there, show yourself to me.” God, by definition is greater than you and I. If we come to know him its only because he’s descended, revealed, and opened our eyes.
But, did you notice that Jesus is sending Paul to “open their eyes”? How does this work? Is it God’s work or Paul’s? Answer: We are partners with God in opening eyes of blind.
How? We share the gospel and pray and trust God in his timing and way to speak “Let their be light!” into their souls. This is the essence of all Christian mission. We all need our eyes opened. Interestingly, listen to how Jesus opened up his ministry in:
Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind…” (cf Isa 61:1-2)
Christianity is not about climbing up a ladder through philosophy, good works, and religious good deeds. That is the opposite of Christianity. Christianity, rather, is about God coming down the ladder to us, to reveal, and to open our eyes to who he is.
#3 “Turn from darkness to light…power of Satan to power of God” vs18
Have you ever wondered why the world is in such a mess? The Bible tells us that there there is a power of evil at work in our world and in hearts. This power is an immoral, personal, intellectual evil (i.e. darkness) that is led and propogated by Satan. Satan uses authority to entangle our thinking in all sorts of lies, false ideas and errors. His purpose?His purpose is to overturn God’s rule in God’s world and your life. That’s why the world is in the state it is.
The power of Satan is not abstract. We see it and sense it all around us AND in us: jealousy, greed, injustice, corruption, anger, revenge, bitterness, selfishness, compromise, anxiety, lying. We can see these easily in others, but they’re in your heart too. Not problem out there, but problem in here. Darkness is an Infection of rebellion that threatens to consume and destroy us. The Bible sums it up with an old fashioned word: sin. We need a power greater than the power of evil in us and around us if we’re to be rescued and freed.
Great news of gospel is that power of Jesus is able to deliver us from power of Satan and darkness. To become a Christian is to move from power of Satan to God, from darkness to light (i.e. conversion). By faith in Christ, you move from one sphere of authority to another sphere of authority. There is a real power of evil. All grow up under his authority as local residents in kingdom of Satan. We’re not born Christian. We all have an ingrained bias against God. We all need to be born again into kingdom of God. Religion can’t do that; Moral reform can’t do that. Only power of God in Jesus Christ can do that.
#4 “Forgiveness of sins” vs18
Sin is an unwillingness to allow God his proper place in our lives. This, of course, creates an insurmountable barrier to knowing Him. Sin = controversial because we tend to be proud, self-sufficient, independent. We think, “I don’t need…I’m not Hitler” Test: If you want to see if that’s true in your life, look at the two great commandments:
#1 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
#2 Love your neighbor as yourself
How do you do with that? I know how I score: negative. We all do, every day. Most people believe in heaven, but not hell – unless they are Christians. There is a popular idea that in the end, God will provide heaven for everybody whether they really want it or not. There are few mistakes as big as that one. The gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s rescue from the consequences of sin. If everyone gets to heaven then God is not holy or just, our every day moral decisions are meaningless, and Jesus life/death were worthless. Yet, millions are deceived into false security thinking, “It will be OK in end…we’ll get through..I’ll figure it out”. That is not the logic of the Bible. Jesus came to forgive our sin. Yes, heaven is a great reality, but Jesus is the way in. On the cross, Jesus took God’s just displeasure and punishment for our sin so that we might be forgiven. There is absolutely no experience like knowing you have been forgiven by God.
#5 “Place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” vs18
New life in Christ and the new community of Christ, the church, always go together. When your eyes are opened, you turn from darkness to light, and you become part of a new people, the church. The church is intended by God to serve as a miniature society; a picture of what God can do with man. (salt of earth, light of world, city on a hill) Therefore, God is against any idea that “my faith is personal and private.” If you say that you’re probably not a Christian, as following Jesus is a public declaration that I am a sinner in need of a Savior.
So, how do we receive these benefits? Look at the last four words. “By faith in me” That is how gospel works, by faith not by works. “Faith is saying ‘yes this is for me’” – Martin Luther. ”uc” />Faith is saying, “This is the Christ I want to follow. I trust him. I am going to make him mine. Yep, this is for me.” It is not by my work, but by his work. It is not by what I have done, but what he has done.
Heaven is not for good people. If heaven were for good people, it would be unpopulated. Heaven is for forgiven people. That’s what Jesus has to offer you. God doesn’t say, here is a ladder for you to climb and perhaps you’ll make it. No. God came down the ladded to seek, open and rescue. Jesus lived our life, died our death, rose to new life to forgive us and offer us a place among his people by faith. If you’re not viewing life through the person and work of Jesus, then you’re misunderstanding everything. You might be right about investing, business, programming or parenting. But, you can’t be right about the reason you exist or purpose. It is before him you will stand on thegreat day of judgment. What do you make of Jesus? Will you turn to him and trust him? Tell him, “Yep, this is for me.”
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but no you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9-10