Being a Faithful Witness
Sermon Text: Acts 25:1-27 & Acts 26:1-32
Sermon Theme: The many aspects of being a faithful witness for Christ from being respectful in times of rejection to explaining the gospel message to praying for lost souls.
At the beginning of Acts 25, Festus visited Jerusalem. While there, the officials and high priest of the Jews relayed stories to him regarding Paul. This Jewish pack was out to kill him. They asked for Festus’ assistance in delivering Paul to them. Festus refused to be a party to this because he wanted to first go to Caesarea to allow Paul his chance to tell his own side of the story. After his arrival in Caesarea, Festus assumed a judgment seat and listened to the Jews make many grave grievances against Paul. He then called Paul before him to hear his case. Paul ardently defended his position and swore he had done nothing to offend Caesar or the Jews. He went on to proclaim that if he was guilty as charged, he had no problem with dying. He further stated that unless his accusers could prove their case, he had no time for their harsh words. Instead, Paul requested an opportunity to plead his case directly to Caesar. Festus agreed with Paul regarding his right to stand directly before Caesar, but he said it would take some time to make it possible. In the meantime, Bernice and King Agrippa visited Caesarea to meet with Festus. Eventually, Festus related Paul’s story to the king. He told him of this man named Jesus who had died, but whom Paul insisted was alive. The king was interested to hear this tale directly from Paul and asked Festus to summon him the next day. Festus ensured that all the important citizens of Caesarea would be present as well as all the town’s commanders. He introduced Paul to this audience as the man the Jews wanted to kill. Festus fervently defended Paul, but stated that since Paul had requested a personal visit with Caesar, he would write to him on Paul’s behalf. Acts 25 ends with Festus realizing that the meeting would be significant so he would have something to tell Caesar in the letter he was going to write. He wanted Caesar to be aware of all the circumstances relating to Paul’s case prior to sending the prisoner to appear before him.
In Acts 26, Paul, who is in the custody of the Roman Empire, pleaded his case before King Agrippa and Festus, the governor of Judaea. Agrippa told Paul to speak for himself. Paul stretched out his hand and told the king that he was happy to speak for himself as the Jews have accused him of blasphemy. He also told the king that he knew Agrippa was an expert in all the questions and customs of the Jews. Paul recounted his early life and how he was a Pharisee, or member of a very strict Jewish sect, as a younger man. Because of this, he said he persecuted the followers of Jesus and had them imprisoned and even executed. He even hounded people into other cities whom he considered blasphemers. Paul told the story of when he and his companions were afflicted by a light that was brighter than the sun on the way to Damascus. This light was so unbearably bright that all of them fell to the ground. He told of how he heard a voice asking why Paul, then named Saul, persecuted Him. When Paul asked who the owner of the voice was, it claimed to be the voice of Jesus. Paul told Agrippa that the voice told him to get up and go minister to the Gentiles, which Paul immediately did with the same passion with which he persecuted the followers of Jesus. For this, Paul told the King, the Jews caught him in the temple and tried to destroy him. Still, this did not discourage him from preaching about Jesus Christ. At that point, Festus told Paul that he was foolish. Paul disagreed and reminded him that the king knew these things of which Paul was speaking. But Agrippa was so impressed that he asked Paul: “Are you persuading me to become a Christian?” Then Agrippa, his sister Bernice, and the governor sat privately to discuss Paul’s situation. The king told Festus that Paul could have been set free had he not appealed to Caesar.
[Edited from totallyhistory.com]
- What is the role of the state? In the Western world, we have fanciful ideas of what we think the state should do for us today. But the role of the state as the Bible speaks about it is just two-fold. The state exists: 1) to establish, maintain, and assure justice and 2) to provide for the defense of its citizens ― justice and defense. However, there can be different kinds of disorder. There can be disorder without; then the state must defend its citizens against enemies. There can be disorder within; then it has to defend against internal chaos. The Bible speaks very clearly about the relationship between the believer and the government. We are to obey governmental authorities, and the government is to treat us justly and fairly. Even when the government does not live up to its role, we are still to live up to ours. But, when the government asks us to do something that is in direct disobedience to God’s Word, we are to disobey the government in faithful confidence of the Lord’s power to protect us. Whether the Bible uses the terms master, ruler, government, or any other name for an established authority, the instruction is always the same – obey. We must remember that God created the authorities to rule over us. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:1-2). And “submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13-14). Also, both Peter and Paul remind slaves repeatedly to be obedient to their masters for the same reasons (Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25; 1 Timothy 6:1-2; 1 Peter 2:18-20; Titus 2:9-11). Many times, a government will stray from its purpose and become oppressive. When that happens, we are still to live in obedience. “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God” (1 Peter 2:18-19). When we look at the Roman Empire we tend to exclaim, “What a cruel empire it was.” It was capable of great cruelty. But when you look at how the authorities dealt with Paul in this instance you find a contrast here between the Romans on the one hand, into whose custody Paul had fallen, and the Sanhedrin, the leaders of God’s people, on the other hand. The Romans were promoting justice and maintaining order, or trying to. But it was entirely different in the Jewish court. Neither a concern for justice nor the maintenance of the public order was present. These men were not interested in justice. They just wanted to get rid of Paul. If one were to seek justice in this situation, you would be far more likely to get it from the Romans.
- Are you trusting in God’s Devine, perfect plan for your life? The Bible itself is replete with accounts of divine action (or inaction) that does not seem fair, that does not make sense except when viewed in light of God’s perfect plan. Thousands of Egyptian children were massacred while a baby named Moses was spared. Jacob was a liar and a thief, and yet it was he, not his brother Esau, who received the blessing of their father Isaac and of God. On one level it makes no sense that God would allow His Son to die for the sins of humankind. But God has a plan ― a perfect plan. Though our life circumstances may not go smoothly, none of us likes to be falsely accused. To do what is right and be charged with doing wrong, to work hard to maintain a good job record or reputation and have someone smear it ― such injustice can easily crush the human spirit, even in a follower of Jesus Christ. We know the truth, we know who we are in Christ, but slander hurts. In the words of the great reformer John Calvin: “Christ’s servants … must be all the more courageous to carry on through good and evil reports; they should not think it anything remarkable that evil is spoken of them when they have done good. At the same time, they must easily defend themselves before men when the opportunity arises.” How do God’s servants not only survive but thrive in such straits? “When Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God” (Daniel 6:23). “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world ― our faith” (1 John 5:4). The false accusations of men and women, though they may hurt us and alienate us from those we love, can do us no ultimate harm. We require only God’s approval and acceptance, and if Jesus Christ is our Savior, we have it. For “who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died ― more than that, who was raised to life ― is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us… For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:33-34, Romans 8:38-39).
- Most of us do not live in circumstances where the world’s accusations against us are as fierce as these were against Paul, though there are places in the world where they are harsh and Christians do suffer physically. Nevertheless, we face a world whose value system is hostile to the standards of the Lord Jesus Christ and in which we are constantly pressured to compromise or deny our faith. How are we, weak and sinful human beings as we are, to stand against such pressure? How are we going to stand when the world says, “You have to go along to get along. Nobody who is rigid ever gets ahead?” Let us consider three things: 1) Knowing God is sovereign over your circumstances gives you great power, because it means that even if things do not go right for you from a human point of view, it will still be right, since God understood and ordained those hard circumstances from the beginning. God knew they were going to come, and they are part of his plan for your life. Where does your strength come from? It came from your knowledge of God’s sovereignty. 2) You have to know your Bible because the situations we face are generally not black or white. If the situation is black and white, we know what to do. But the problems we face are usually gray. It seems that we ought to do one thing, but then again there is another side to it. And if the situation does not seem gray immediately, if you talk to your friends, it will become gray soon enough, since everyone has different viewpoints. There is only one way to find your way through the gray areas ― studying, meditating on, and seeking to apply the Bible. There are things in it we may not fully understand, but when we do understand them, they are clear. The path is dark because the world is dark. But the Bible illuminates the path and shows us where to go. 3) You have to be willing to pay any price necessary to stay true to Jesus Christ. You may say: “Any price?” Yes, any price. There are times in history when Christians are told, “Bow down or die,” as Daniel’s three friends were. They have refused to bow down. And the history of the church is filled with the stories of many who have died. At other times it is not death that is required but such things as loss of reputation, success, advancement, or the good opinion of our friends. We say, “If I acted as a Christian in that situation, my boss would never understand; my wife, my parents, my friends would never understand.” We fail to do what is right because we are not willing to pay that high price. We are not ready to surrender everything to follow Jesus. You can know that God is sovereign. You can know what is right because you study the Bible. Yet you can still fail to do what is right because you value something else more than your obedience to Christ. We are servants of the Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of a hostile world, and the only way we are going to be able to stand against the world when it pressures us is if we are willing to give up everything to follow him. “Everything?” Yes, everything. But why should we be surprised? He gave up everything for us, and it is He who said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). A cross is a symbol of death. He was teaching that we must be willing to die to be his followers. That is the victory of faith that overcomes the world.
- Is your embarrassment about what other might think causing you to live for this present world? Peer pressure has always been a powerful force to draw people away from God and to keep them in this world. You don’t want the other kids at school to think that you’re weird. So don’t take a stand for Christ. Just go to all of the parties and have a few drinks like everyone else. Just laugh along with the dirty jokes. At work just cut corners and fudge the truth like everyone else. Just go with the flow. But the flow is heading straight toward hell! While we can legitimately enjoy the material blessings that God has given us, we need to be on “guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (1 Timothy 6:17-19; Luke 12:15). We need to remember that we are stewards of what God has entrusted to us. When we stand before Him, we will give an account of how we invested it in light of eternity. The power of the flesh, especially when you are in the beauty and strength of youth, is a strong temptation, even for Christians. But if we yield we are crazy, because we gain momentary pleasure, but long term misery and pain. The lives of Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice show us that the crazy person is the one who lives for this superficial, fleeting world. Often, there is an intense struggle involved in a person’s coming to saving faith. The Lord describes that process for Paul as “kicking against the goads” (Acts 26:14). A goad was a sharp stick, sometimes with a metal tip, which was used for prodding oxen, especially as they were harnessed to a plow. To resist serving its master by kicking against the goads would only hurt the oxen. The only safe and sane path was to submit and obey. Paul apparently went through a time of resisting and kicking against the truth of the gospel, perhaps after he witnessed the death of Stephen. The point is, to fight God on the matter of conversion is insane. It is only to wound yourself. The path to blessing both now and for eternity is to quit fighting God, to repent of your sins, and to trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. You have to keep shrugging off the enticements of this world in order to be obedient to the heavenly vision.
- Where does insanity lie within our society? Festus had rudely interrupted Paul, saying he was out of his mind. “‘I am not insane, most excellent Festus,’ Paul replied. ‘What I am saying is true and reasonable’” (Acts 26:25). Paul remained cool and unruffled by the governor’s outburst. Refusing to accept the charge against him, he courteously deflected Festus’ putdown, then used it to pursue Agrippa’s dark heart on behalf of Jesus Christ. The world system has always thought Paul was crazy. But actually, it is the world that is insane. Such insanity is not confined to Roman materialists. It also flourishes in the West, even today. Millions of people starve, while on the other side of the world people pay hundreds of dollars for a pair of Calvin Klein jeans just because they were worn by some celebrity. Or consider the insanity seen when society mourns the terrible epidemic of AIDS and other diseases due to sexual license but mocks those who suggest that the solution is chastity. To be earnest about wealth or power or science or pleasure or athletic championships is not crazy from the world’s viewpoint. But to be fervent about spiritual things is called madness. True sanity lies with the Pauls of this world ― those who build their lives on the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is madness to live, as the majority does, as though ultimate reality resides in what we can see, taste, and touch. As Paul so aptly stated in 2 Corinthians 4:18: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” So let us ask ourselves: How can we know when we are “worldly?” Is it permissible to enjoy the luxuries of American life? How can we know when we “love the things of the world?”
- What should characterize our attitude toward the lost, even those persecuting us? We must maintain an honest view of ourselves, even when the charges leveled against us are unfounded, whether in a legal proceeding or in a passing conversation with a friend or the media panning Christian believers. Even though there is probably some element of truth in the charges ― none of us are perfect. We all have areas in which we need to grow spiritually as is made clear in 1 John 1:8-10. At the same time, recognizing our shortcomings and limitations, we can serve our Lord with a clear conscience, confess our sins to him, and allow him to help us become the persons he wants us to be. But why do wicked people love to slander believers? And how should Christian believers respond to their accusers? The ungodly would like to do away with any convincing argument for the truth of Christ’s gospel, the existence of a God who holds men accountable to him, the reality of moral absolutes in our world, so they can live as they wish, without fear of divine penalty. Sadly, they are walking blindly toward judgment and eternal darkness. The supreme example of godly behavior toward one’s evil accusers is Jesus Christ himself. Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:21-23). Therefore, let us pray for guidance from our Lord, when we are unfairly criticized or misjudged or wrongly charged with misbehavior, to help us respond with love, not hate; forgiveness, not bitterness; hope, not despair. When circumstances threaten to thwart our spiritual work or growth, let us look up to Jesus ― our life, our salvation, our God. Reminding us again and again to be fruitful ambassadors through God’s strength and for His glory.
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