Tuesday, May 3
Reader: “‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked.”
Response: “And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting.”
Scripture: Acts 26:1-19
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You may speak in your defense.”
So Paul, gesturing with his hand, started his defense: “I am fortunate, King Agrippa, that you are the one hearing my defense today against all these accusations made by the Jewish leaders, for I know you are an expert on all Jewish customs and controversies. Now please listen to me patiently!
“As the Jewish leaders are well aware, I was given a thorough Jewish training from my earliest childhood among my own people and in Jerusalem. If they would admit it, they know that I have been a member of the Pharisees, the strictest sect of our religion. Now I am on trial because of my hope in the fulfillment of God’s promise made to our ancestors. In fact, that is why the twelve tribes of Israel zealously worship God night and day, and they share the same hope I have. Yet, Your Majesty, they accuse me “‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked.
“And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. for having this hope! Why does it seem incredible to any of you that God can raise the dead?
“I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene. Indeed, I did just that in Jerusalem. Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many believers there to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death. Many times I had them punished in the synagogues to get them to curse Jesus. I was so violently opposed to them that I even chased them down in foreign cities.
“One day I was on such a mission to Damascus, armed with the authority and commission of the leading priests. About noon, Your Majesty, as I was on the road, a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me and my companions. We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.’
“‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked.
“And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. Tell people that you have seen me, and tell them what I will show you in the future. And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’
And so, King Agrippa, I obeyed that vision from heaven.
My guess is that most of us are familiar with this story. Paul has been arrested for preaching the gospel. He is in the process of appealing his case before Herod the Great’s great-grandson, King Agrippa II, the morally corrupt Jewish ruler in Palestine.
The Romans consulted him on Jewish legal matters, hence his presence to hear Paul’s defense. In spite of the fact that King Agrippa has an incestuous relationship with his sister, Paul treats him with respect several times referring to him as Your Majesty. The principle here is giving respect to people whose values and way of life is antithetical to godliness.
Notice the structure of Paul’s defense. He commends Aprippa’s knowledge of Jewish law. Paul then tells of his past by giving his Jewish background and credentials. This information is important because of what he is being accused of by the Jewish leadership. He is also establishing how diligent he was in practicing his Jewish faith, even to the point of casting his vote to have Christians killed. Because he was such a devout and committed practitioner of Judaism dedicated to wiping out the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, it makes his conversion to Christianity all the more astounding yet believable. At this point, Agrippa has learned of his past, what Paul used to believe.
Paul then moves on to describe the transition that happened which caused the great transformation in his life. In succinct specific detail he recounts the story of his conversion to believing in Jesus. Paul includes the actual words of Jesus in his vision which details Paul’s future ministry to the Gentiles. Notice also Paul brings out how Jesus forgives sins and accepts not only Jews but non-Jews as well. Paul lays out a very reasoned argument for his faith. He is focused on Christ Jesus, rather than the sins of the people he’s talking to. Obviously something in Paul’s words is registering with Agrippa because his response a few verses after this passage is, “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?” Agrippa clearly picks up the implications of Paul’s argument.
In these few verses we are given a model of both defending and articulating our journey of faith. Paul told about his life before he became a Christian. He told how he became a Christian both the event and the process of repentance for sin and turning to God for forgiveness. And he challenged Agrippa to believe and confess his sin. Put in the fewest words: this is who I was before, what happened, how it happened, it can happen to you as well. Something to keep in mind the next time you are asked about your faith.
Music: “Rock of Ages” James Ward Beautiful different tune. Don’t miss it!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UznDZGOLTM8 Video of composer singing and playing piano.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAriYu_4tgs Composer singing with text and still pictures. Same recording.
Jesus of Nazareth and of heaven, you have made your abode on earth for a few short years that Jews and Gentiles, all peoples might have a place to go when we leave this earth. You are the uniter of heaven and earth. You transformed Paul’s life by speaking to him from heaven. You still speak from heaven to people on earth. Your gospel is truly living thousands of years later for it continues to transform millions of lives including mine. The ordered simplicity of Paul’s defense inspires me to share your glorious news. Help me look for opportunities to share it. This world is so lost, so rebellious, and so arrogant in pursuing evil and corruption of every kind that the gospel is our only hope. Have mercy on us Lord and may we, your children like Paul, speak the truth in love.
There is no other way. This we pray in the glorious name of Jesus, amen.