Faithfully witnesses for the long haul
Paul’s example brings us to the big idea of our passage and my longing for Citylight Church: Faithfully witnesses for the long haul. One unique characteristic of Paul’s speech before Governor Festus and King Agrippa in Acts 26 is that it’s not all that unique from Paul’s other speeches. You don’t need to learn a lot of new things in order to be a faithful witness to Jesus for the long haul. Rather, you need to remember three glorious things a whole life long: 1. Remember your commission. 2. Remember your message. 3. Remember your appeal.
Acts 25:13 – 26:33
Abraham Kuruville, A Manual For Preaching
Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Acts of the Apostles, by David Peterson
Exalting Jesus in Acts, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary, by Tony Merida
He was perhaps the most brilliant man ever born in the US. At eighteen months of age, he was reading the New York Times. When he turned three, his father taught him the Greek alphabet, and he promptly began reading the poet Homer—in Greek, of course. At the same time, he also taught himself to read Latin. By age five, he had written a treatise on anatomy, and by six, he spoke seven languages fluently. At seven years, he passed Harvard Medical School’s anatomy exam. At eight, he passed MIT’s entrance exam, and at nine, Harvard’s entrance exam, but they judged him too young to enter. They made him wait till he was eleven! He graduated from Harvard at sixteen while already teaching part-time. His IQ was between 250 and 300. Bear in mind that Einstein’s IQ was only a paltry 200. William Sidis was his name. Amazing, isn’t it, that with that kind of intelligence you never heard of him. He died in 1944 at age forty-six. What was he doing? He was working as a clerk with menial duties in a New York business office. Sidis had wasted his life pursuing trivia, refusing to accept responsibilities, and turning down great opportunities and large salaries, finally to die unknown, unheard of. Started well but did not finish strong!
When it comes to evangelism – speaking the gospel of Jesus with the aim to persuade others to follow Him – many of us find ourselves to be a bit like William Sidis; we start well, but quickly become discouraged or distracted by other things, and flame out. But we long for more; we long to be faithful, not to flame out. The Apostle Paul, the central human figure in Acts 25-26 was far different from Sidis. In Acts 26 gives his final defense for believing and preaching the hope of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Paul is nearing the end of his days, but rather than becoming distracted or flaming out, he’s burning hot with passion to preach the gospel with the aim to persuade. Unlike William Sidis, Paul is faithful to the very end with what has been entrusted to him. Paul’s example brings us to the big idea of our passage and my longing for Citylight Church: Faithfully witnesses for the long haul. One unique characteristic of Paul’s speech before Governor Festus and King Agrippa in Acts 26 is that it’s not all that unique from Paul’s other speeches. You don’t need to learn a lot of new things in order to be a faithful witness to Jesus for the long haul. Rather, you need to remember three glorious things a whole life long: 1. Remember your commission. 2. Remember your message. 3. Remember your appeal.
REMEMBER YOUR COMMISSION
Ever since Acts 19, the Apostle Paul has had a burning passion to go to Jerusalem. In Acts 21, after an arduous journey, Paul finally arrives in Jerusalem and is arrested in the Jewish Temple on false charges. What follows is a series of speeches in which Paul defends himself for believing and preaching the Jesus the Christ is the risen Lord. Paul first defends himself to the Jewish crowd in the Temple, then the Jewish council and Roman Tribune in Jerusalem, , and finally the Roman governors Felix and then his successor Festus in Caesarea. Now in Acts 25:13 through chapter 26, Paul speaks before King Agrippa. King Agrippa was part Jewish. The Roman emperor allowed Agrippa to rule over the temple in Jerusalem and appoint the High Priest. When King Agrippa travels to Caesarea where Paul is being kept in custody, the Roman Governor Festus is eager for Agrippa to hear Paul’s case because Agrippa was far more of an expert in the Jewish religion then Festus. So, with a great deal of pomp and circumstance, Agrippa and his sister Bernice enter the public audience hall to hear Paul defend his hope in and heralding of Jesus. And Paul begins his defense by telling Agrippa about his conversion to faith in Jesus and his commission as a witness to Jesus.
Acts 26:15-18: And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ Paul remembered his commission. That’s how he remained a faithful witness for the long haul.
Citylight, for months now the book of Acts has urged us to live as Jesus witnesses. We know that we’re called to speak the gospel with the aim to persuade. But if we are honest, life these days is so difficult that we’re tempted to forget and flame out when it comes to living as witnesses. But there is something strong enough to keep us going even now: our commission. Let’s take a closer look at this commission. In verse 16, we learn that conversion comes with a commission built in. We are not saved by good works, but we are saved to the good work of being witnesses. Every gospel-believe is commissioned to be a gospel-proclaimer. Our commission is to speak the gospel with the aim to persuade. In verse 18, we that the gospel spoken from our little lips has the power to open, to turn, and to receive. The gospel has the power to open eyes. The Bible says that every person is born in our father Adam; blind and under the darkness of God’s judgment. Even worse, are born dead in our sins and are completely unable to turn from darkness and from the power of Satan to God. As a result, we are unwilling and unable to receive the forgiveness of sins and join those set apart by God for his glory. But we have been commissioned to speak the gospel of Jesus, which has the power to open blind eyes and awaken dead hearts, so that people can turn from darkness and Satan to God, receive forgiveness of sins, and become one of God’s beloved and set apart children forever. The gospel of God, through the power of the Spirit of God, creates the people of God from among blind, dead, darkened sinners and you’ve been commissioned with that gospel! I don’t want to be a spiritual William Sidis. Do you? I want to be like Paul, who lived as a faithful witness to the end with no regrets. Remember your commission and you’ll remain faithful.
REMEMBER YOUR MESSAGE
After Paul recounts his commission, he shifts gears and tells King Agrippa that he has been faithful to this heavenly commission ever since by speaking the same message again and again. Acts 26:22-23: To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” Paul remains a faithful witness to Jesus for the long haul by remembering his message. Citylight, we don’t need a lot of new information in order to be faithful witnesses for the long haul. Rather, we need to remember the same glorious message that we first believed, that we stand in today, and we have the privilege of extending to others.
Let’s take a closer look at our message. Verse 22 reminds us that our message is profoundly Jewish. When we speak the gospel with the aim to persuade, we say nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass. In verse 23, Paul reminds us of our message: Jesus Christ suffered for the sins, rose from the dead, and is the only light not just for Jews, and proclaims light to the Jews and Gentiles alike. Where does the Old Testament teach all that? Isaiah 53:5 teaches that the Christ will suffer for sins: But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. Psalm 110:1 teaches that the Christ will rise: The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Isaiah 49:6 teaches that God the Father will make Christ the Son as a light to the nations: He says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Citylight, remember your message. You’ve been commissioned to speak the gospel; the good news that Jesus is the promised Christ who suffered for sins, rose on the third day, and proclaims light to all peoples through us! Remember that you carry the message that was promised for thousands of years and fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the message that God is redeeming a people for himself from all nations through the death and resurrection of Christ the Son. Remember, we have a message that is for poor and rich, small and great, black and white, old and young, male and female. We love the Christian message because there is no Christian type. This message is for all who repent and believe in Christ. Share it with everyone, no matter their type because the power is in the message. To be faithful witnesses, you don’t need a new message. Remember and treasure the old gospel, remember your message, and you’ll remain faithful witnesses for the long haul.
REMEMBER YOUR APPEAL
The final glorious reality that will keep us faithful is remembering our appeal. After Paul recounts for Agrippa his message, the good news that Christ suffered, rose, and is light to all peoples, Governor Festus interrupts Paul and with a loud voice tells Paul that Paul’s great learning has unhinged him from reality! Not to be deterred, Paul quickly deflects the comment and continues addressing Agrippa. Acts 26:27-29: 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?” 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.” Faithful witness to the end means not only telling the good news, but, like Paul, appealing for people to respond to the good news of Jesus in faith. To remain faithful to the end, remember your appeal. Remember that you’re not telling people about the weather. Their eternity (eternity!) hangs in the balance. You’re telling them the news that only through Christ they can be rescued from eternal darkness. Don’t simply tell them about it half-heartedly. Remember to appeal and implore them to become like you are; reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. An appeal may offend, but no appeal leaves them groping in the darkness. I believe that one of the reasons why we don’t remain faithful witnesses to the end is because we become bored with telling people about Jesus. But the reason we get bored is because we never bring people to the point of decision like Paul does with Agrippa. We rarely ask them, “do you believe?” “Will you embrace Jesus as Lord?” “Do you want to repent and be saved?” It’s exhilarating to not just preach the gospel with the aim to get it done, but to preach the gospel with the aim to persuade. Remember your appeal and you’ll remain faithful.
Recently, a woman in my Citygroup messaged everyone over GroupMe to ask us to pray for a woman she had recently met at work. The woman was going through a season of suffering so the gal from our Citygroup asked if she could pray for her and the other woman agreed. Days later the woman from my Citygroup shared the gospel with this suffering friend. Wonderful! But I wasn’t prepared for what came next. “I asked her if she wanted to receive Christ and she said yes and received him right there on the spot!” That’s exhilarating faithful witness! Not everyone is going to respond positively, but faithful witness means providing people with the opportunity to respond like this young woman from my Citygroup. To be a faithful witness for the long haul without becoming distracted or exhausted, remember your appeal. Providing the appeal will keep you faithful. There is little more exciting than clearly asking a sinner to repent and fall into the gracious arms of Christ.
CONCLUSION – GOSPEL-APPLICATION