“Become What I Am.”
Acts 25:23 – 26:32
Key Verse 26:29
“Paul replied, “Short time or long- I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”
What is a testimony? When’s the last time you have testified to someone about your life and faith? What makes a testimony real or not? Does it depend on how many people are touched? Does it depend on how eloquently you’ve laid it out? If you’ve forgotten, or aren’t quite clear about this, this is the right message to listen to. Because today we’re going to lay out this very important part of our calling and mission using Paul’s testimony. That is the calling to testify to small and great alike about the Lord Jesus. My hope in this is not that we would have any new convictions, but that we would strengthen the ones we already have regarding this area.
The very first point in which we’ll start with is that God is sovereign. How does this relate to testifying? Well it turns out that knowing that God is sovereign is foundational for any work that we strive to do for the glory of God. Let’s read verses, 23 and 24. “The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. Festus said: ‘King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and hear in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer.” What does this scene look like to you? Does it look like Paul is in a deep mess? Does it look like everyone else is in charge and he is at their mercy? In their minds, they think so. They think they are here to help Festus advise Paul’s case. Or maybe everyone just wants to see who this guy is who keeps making all this trouble for everyone. If you list the audience, you have the King and his wife, their highest-ranking commanders and the most important and wealthiest men of the city. And we’d have to stop and wonder, “Is all this really that necessary”? Maybe they just wanted to see something entertaining. Maybe they wanted to see the king in action with his authority and wisdom. Isn’t that something though, when a person’s troubles become the entertainment and enjoyment of others. But in spite of what things may look like, or what the general consensus is, they are there because the Lord of all the earth had arranged it this way. In other words, they are there because that was the time that the Creator had appointed for them to hear Paul’s testimony and the gospel of the Lord Jesus. Our Lord had promised many of these divine appointments to Paul. And Paul knew that this was God’s doing.
And as I said before, Paul’s knowledge of this was the key in him fulfilling his task to witness to them. Knowing this was the source of his strength, his calmness, his soberness, his boldness, and everything he needed to be equipped for such a difficult task as this. If we know this truth— that God is sovereign— then we can serve the Lord in the same way— In and out of season— With and without weakness— With and without converts. A crucial step to testifying to the Lord’s grace is knowing that God is sovereign. We must be firm in our faith in this more than anything else, or else Satan will pick us apart in the mission field. Whether if it’s some sin you have, or a discouragement from the past, take heart, but the Lord is sovereign. And there really are no failures when it comes to testifying as long we are open to God’s leading.
When Paul gives his testimony, he mentions a good portion of his past life. Let’s read verses 26:4-6. Why would he have to mention this? Yes, it’s true that when we share our testimony our past might need to be mentioned. And yes, it’s true we do this to show the love and power of Christ in contrast to where we are now. But that is not Paul’s only point here. Paul also is saying that of all people, he and the religious leaders should have been the ones to have faith in the resurrection of Christ. The very promise of the resurrection is what the 12 tribes of Israel have been hoping for. But yet, in this weird world, we have it that this is the very reason that the leaders of these tribes have put Paul on trial. Why is this the case? Doesn’t it sound strange? What is it about the resurrection that drives them to persecute Paul? And why persecute him to the extent that they want him killed? It’s Righteousness! It’s all about righteousness. Let me explain.
One of the hardest things to do in our lives is to give up our own righteousness, and to embrace the righteousness of Christ that comes through faith in him. Some feel underserving of it. And others think they’re better than that, and don’t really need it. This crowd was like this. They wouldn’t renounce what they worked for in order to hold on to the righteousness God offers through Christ. To them, it was like telling them that they were no better than any other sinner who relies on Christ’s righteousness. And we know that’s no easy pill to swallow! Why is that so? Because we like feeling better than the person next to us! (I hope you’re not sitting next to your wife!) And these people always felt that they’re better than others, especially those who weren’t as religious and holy looking as them. They had their high position of honor to uphold. Afterall, they were righteous by virtue of all that they did for God. Paul who lived as a Pharisee had one of the highest achievements of all, and it would be a great loss to him if he were to give up his righteousness. And that’s why he himself was so threatened by the gospel message that he persecuted the church more than anyone else. This alone should show us how hard it is to give up one’s righteousness.
I think this is a common struggle that should sound familiar to most of us! Perhaps we could easily relate id we are holding on to something in our lives that we think we are doing for God by our own efforts. Some people think they are pursuing godly things for righteousness purposes, as Paul once did, not knowing that they are doing so for their own merits and not for God. And it would be very hard for them to give them up because they seem so righteous in their own eyes, when they are in far so sinful in God’s eyes. What God really wanted from Paul was to give up his own righteousness in humility of heart, and to take on the only righteousness that matters, which is Christ’s righteousness. That wasn’t easy to do at all. Paul persecuted Christ for that. Sometimes self righteous Christians find themselves doing the same thing.
Paul knew that he himself was even worse than those who were putting him on trial that day. He fully understood where these Pharisees were coming from in persecuting him. But in midst of Paul’s hot pursuit let’s look at God’s grace to him. Let’s read verses 12-14. It’s amazing that Paul went to such lengths to persecute the church of God. Look at what lengths a person can go to in order to silence the voice of God in their lives. He went through tremendous efforts to get these people to renounce their faith, and to stop preaching in this name. Why? Because a conviction from God’s voice was brewing in his heart. If someone is having no response to the gospel message, then they might need a lot of work before a conviction can occur. But if someone is violently resisting, then it could mean that God is really working to get his word inside their heart. So, what happened next? It’s amazing that God didn’t destroy Paul while Paul was destroying the church. But while Paul was on his way to bring disaster on the people of God, the Lord met him and extended to him his hand of love and forgiveness. The Lord said, “Saul, Saul, why? Why do you persecute me? Why do you try to silence my voice?” The Lord Jesus gives him a short parable. “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” In other words, “You can’t expect to fight and win against me!” “It’s too hard to resist what I am doing in your life.” What’s wonderful about this whole event is that it teaches us that the Lord is faithful. When the Lord pursues us, no matter how hard we resist, his grace eventually overtakes us. It’s a hard, losing battle. We eventually must submit. Eventually the Lord’s love fills our heart, and we come to him in our brokenness. We come to him with our guilt and shame and he cleanses us and restores us.
Let’s read verses 15-18. Wouldn’t most people know who this is? But Paul asks, “Who are you, Lord?” Paul’s answer is like a question and a confession at the same time. But he had to ask so he could know without a doubt that he was talking to the Lord. And the Lord here commissions Paul. Paul who was a murderer, and a persecutor of the church, was now being commissioned by Jesus to do the complete opposite of what he was doing. Many of us today, might have an issue with commissioning someone like Paul with grace and apostleship, with love and compassion, with kindness and understanding. But not our Lord! He didn’t even badger Paul for his sins, except to call him on the issue of persecuting him. “I’m Jesus who you are persecuting.” It was enough to bring Paul to his knees in repentance and brokenness. After that, Jesus commissioned him to be an instrument of Gospel truth to the Jews and the Gentiles. Then it was over. Paul was now sent to be a witness of what he had seen and heard of Christ. He was to turn the eyes of unbelievers from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God. Paul would no longer be an instrument of wrath but of forgiveness. He would lead many to a have a place among the saints in the kingdom of God. What opens people’s eyes? What changes people’s hearts? Paul once said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…” (Rom 1:16)
The gospel message is what Paul will be called to preach to everyone. All the power, spiritual authority and grace he would be given would be to support the preaching of this message. Similarly, all of the gifts and talents we received from God, every single one is for the same reason— that is, to aid and to uphold the spreading of this very message. If you have the gift of smiling, and that is your only gift, well guess what, you are to smile the gospel into people’s hearts. If your gift is encouragement, speaking, cooking, well you have it to usher nonbelievers into the kingdom of God. And the Lord has given it to you for the sake of spreading what you have seen and heard of Him. There can be no salvation if there’s no gospel message. A believer once asked a Pastor, “If I was mentoring someone who has major problems, how can I help him? What would be the first step?” The Pastor asked, “Are they a believer?” “No.” “Well the first step is would be doing all it takes to shine the gospel in their hearts.”
Although Paul was being called in this way, he still had a choice to make. And that is part of the beauty of our calling. God doesn’t force us to serve him. Man wasn’t forced in the Garden of Eden, and we are not forced now either. We all have a choice to make in this area. With our calling there is no middle ground. You either go to the right or to the left. Let’s read verses 19-21. “I was not disobedient…” In just about every literal translation of Scripture, this phrase is the same. Even in the KJV, it says, “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:” The problem with humanity, whether with Christians or non Christians alike, it’s that we’ve been disobedient to God. We as Christians are now on a journey back to obedience to God, and we still struggle to obey him. And when we observe Paul’s response, we can learn something crucial about obedience. Paul received his calling from the Lord and his response, as he says, was “not disobedient”. In other words, he decided not to disobey God. He could have! But he didn’t! He could have felt unqualified to obey because of his past sins and flatly disobeyed. But he didn’t. Rather he obeyed.
And let me tell you something else about Paul’s obedience. It wasn’t an emotional kind of obedience either. It wasn’t the kind where he needed to stop and think about it; He didn’t weigh the issue of obedience to see if his calling felt he would be doing the right thing or not— or if it felt good or not— or if he felt like obeying his calling or not— or if he wanted to obey God or not— or if he felt good about his calling or not. The issue of our obedience to God is again one of the most important issues of our lives. Paul decided not to disobey God. It was the pattern of his life in Christ from then on— a pattern of obedience, regardless of how difficult the road may be. He wasn’t just talking about obedience with lip service and live in disobedience as some do. Paul lived it. Paul was even now obeying God before the king where his obedience to God in this circumstance could cost Paul his life. But he obeyed God anyway. Even in chains he obeyed his calling to preach the gospel truth. He looked at the king and the military officials, and all the important people there, and challenged their life style and all that they stood for when he confronted them with the gospel truth. He fought for the faith. On the other hand, these people didn’t know who they were talking to! They were being challenged by the man who’s willing to sacrifice everything for the Lord’s calling. These people were blessed beyond measure to be in his presence.
So how did they respond to his gospel message? Let’s read verses 24-28. They found it strange. Festus for one, thought that Paul had lost his marbles on account of his great learning. And Agrippa thought of himself as one not easily swayed by just one group Bible study. After all, what would the neighbors think if he showed humility before a mere prisoner! Paul, on the other hand, was convinced he had an advantage because King Agrippa was familiar with the Jewish faith. But what’s amazing is that even in Paul’s difficult circumstances he uses every opportunity to appeal to these men. Even though Paul was shut down multiple times, look at his response! What kind of response was it? It was wonderful. Let’s read verse 9 together. “Paul replied, ‘Short time or long— I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.’” Short time or long? What’s he saying? Paul is saying that he’s not willing to back down. No matter how long it takes, no matter how many rejections, he’s ready to go the distance with them. That is not an easy commitment to make. Once you meet someone and finally realize what you’re really up against, to say, I will go the distance with you is no small sacrifice. This was an opportunity for Paul to back down, and to quit. But instead I can see him pulling up a stool, folding his legs, and saying, “Well king, how much time you got?” “I’m willing to be in these chains, and in this company as long as this will take so that you O king may be turned from the power of Satan to the light of God.” This is no small commitment. Especially in our day, when commitments seem hard to come by. The priority that Paul is giving these men is noteworthy. He was willing to put down even his life for them.
Let’s go back to verse 9. “I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” Let me ask you again. What’s he saying? What does he mean when he says “become what I am”? Paul didn’t appear to be afraid. He didn’t appear to be shaken. Paul didn’t envy anyone in that room. He wouldn’t trade his place for any one of these men even if he could. He in fact hoped that they would envy him in the way he is like Christ. Look at him! Look at how highly he values his position and his identity in Christ. This should be how we see ourselves. We should all be able to say, “I’m deeply content with the position and identity that God has given me in Christ.” This should be the echo of our hearts. We shouldn’t feel short-changed by God, like we weren’t given much to offer, or speak as if we have nothing. We should walk with our heads held high. Even in tough and challenging circumstances, we can take comfort in our identity in Christ. Among all people, we are the most privileged. Do you believe that? We have been lavished with the love of God. We have been called to his service. We have been given blessing upon blessing of being bonded together as brothers as sisters in the blood of Christ and made one family. We have been entrusted with the great task going to the ends of the earth with the good news. When we look at ourselves, we were probably the last person that people thought would be chosen in this way. Who would have thought that Paul would be the guy to have this conversation with these kings and officials? Even the church had a hard time believing it at first. But thank God, that by the grace of God, we are what we are. I hope that each day we learn to stand on this truth more and more.
So then, as a reminder, when we testify about the grace of God, we should remember that the God is Sovereign. We should remember how Christ loved us in spite of our rebellion. Now that his love has reached our hearts, we no longer live in rebellion but in obedience to God, and have become who we really are. And as Paul said, we have become his ambassadors who should stand before anyone and share our testimony with all the pride of one who has been called and blessed by God. May God give us the faith to believe what the Bible says about us and give us the strength to persevere in our calling to go into all the world and make disciples. I pray that we may all have the same conviction as Paul did that regardless of what circumstances we may be in, we can still testify to great and small alike that: “I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” God bless you.