Obstacles are Opportunities–part 2
Difficulties can lead to declaration, trials can lead to testimony
Christ is always faithful and true. Human governments are not so trustworthy. Scripture says in 1 John 5:19, “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” That refers to Satan. And John 12 & 16 call him the ruler of this world, meaning he wields power and influence in this world’s political systems–so much so Daniel 10 even proves to us that demons are involved in directing secular government.
Jesus said in John 8:44 about Satan, “He is a liar and the father of lies.” History is full of painful reminders that government power is easily and frequently used for evil purposes. Politicians will manipulate statistics and the media and can cover up inconvenient truths. So a discerning church cannot passively or automatically comply when the government orders a prolonged shutdown of church gatherings. No government has the right to tell the Church not to meet or how to meet.
Yes, the first amendment protects us legally–but we are not hearing any high California government official agonize over the first amendment, are we? Regardless of more importance for the believer, higher than any court of the land, more valuable than first amendment rights and of greater weight and authority is this–the Lord, our Master, commands His servants to gather weekly as a local church.
The very nature of the Church is a gathering–we are an assembly that must assemble, not via zoom, not over the internet, not on a movie screen, but face to face, person to person, life to life. The Church is a family under a team of fathers. The Church must be interactive, under forty commands to “one another” each other. The Church is a body seeking to obey the Head of the body. The Church is a community, each with a job to do for the community through their giftedness. The Church is a flock, seeking to follow and obey its one Great Shepherd. The Church is a gathering of forgiven sinners who gather to worship their Savior.
No government has the right to tell us not to meet or how to meet. We did so at the beginning when the threat of COVID-19 first occurred, out of love for people. Thinking that COVID would leave people dying in the streets, we complied and held our breath. In 1917, the Church stopped meeting–but for only three weeks with the great influenza, which infected 500 million. Only three weeks for the great influenza, which far surpassed COVID in every single way. It’s fear and intentional manipulation, which keep us under restriction now, not COVID.
As a society, we certainly want to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed–but that problem has not come close to being an ongoing crisis. The government is never to mess with the affairs of the Church. We cooperated as much as we could–we will submit as much as we can. But we cannot submit when the government begins to direct the affairs of the Church–like telling us no gathering indoors, no singing, only limited numbers, and more.
I will continue to pray for our governing officials. I will continue to honor them for the office they hold and responsibility they bear. I will continue to faithfully fulfill my responsibility in this so-called democracy and seek to vote them out of office (that was a hint) and I will continue to want to say to our governing officials, “How dare you insult Jesus Christ by saying you’ll allow the Church to meet outdoors? How dare you counter God’s Word by throwing the Church an unworkable bone of 100 or less indoors? Who are you to tell Jesus Christ, your Creator, the only Sovereign, what to do? How dare you counter His commands in His Word for His redeemed people to gather? You don’t tell the Sovereign Ruler of the universe what to do.”
Christ commands His Church to meet, so we will meet. We must obey God rather than man. I am not a prophet–but you have to know, these restrictions will not stop until they are voted out (that was a hint). The government will not give up their COVID powers. And if COVID ends or fades, another government controlling crisis will take its place. You already know this–the fallen human heart will not surrender its lust for power and control.
My believing family, we are respectfully saying no before it’s too late. Why? Because we must obey Jesus Christ to gather. It’s not my will, it is His command. It’s not our decision, but His order. Hebrews 10:25, “Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” The day is drawing near. We must not forsake gathering together. I love jail ministry, so please visit me in jail–but I won’t comply with the government telling FBC what it can and cannot do. I’m grateful to not be alone in this. Foothill Bible, GCC and many other churches also support our elders in this.
What is the answer to all this? The answer for the Church and for Christians is a person–Jesus Christ and His gospel of grace. When Paul says he is not ashamed of the Gospel–that is what he means. Paul doesn’t try to undo the wrongs, fix all the problems, but he proclaimed the Gospel. Paul did not put his hope in a new Caesar, but in Christ to transform lives.
In Acts, as Paul is arrested and unjustly left in jail for two years, his focus is still proclaiming the only hope, the only answer, salvation in Christ. Paul saw his unjust circumstances as an opportunity to proclaim Christ. Turn to Acts 25:13. The culture of Rome is very similar to our own and the decline of the Roman culture is also very similar to the decline of the USA. Two years after Felix in Acts 24 comes Festus in Acts 25. Paul has been in jail now for two entire years in Caesarea, and last week we saw there is a . . .
#1 New Leader, New Plot and an Appeal to Caesar Verses 1 to 12
Last week, we saw Festus trying to give Paul a fair trial, but the new leader is also trying to please the Jewish leadership, who hate Paul and the truth of salvation through Christ alone by grace alone so much, they’re seeking to murder Paul. So as Festus suggests that Paul be sent to Jerusalem for trial, paving the way for the Jewish leadership to murder Paul–Paul appeals to Caesar.
Paul avoids the certain death trap by appealing to Caesar, which is a request any Roman citizen can make, requiring Festus to send Paul to Rome for trial by Caesar himself. This certainly is exciting for Paul in some measure, because he now gets to do what Jesus promised he would do–share the Gospel in Rome. But this unjust situation is so much like today. This event is not about right and wrong. It is not about what is fair and just, but it is about politics and murder. Everything is twisted, just like it is was in the time of the judges, and just like it is today.
#2 New Visitor, New Politics and a New Possibility Verses 13 to 27
Felix and Festus both needed to keep the peace with the Jewish leaders as their governing leader. If they released Paul, the Jewish leaders would riot and complain to Caesar. So Felix’s decision was to avoid making a decision and let Paul rot in prison. On the other hand, Festus determined to send Paul back to Jerusalem for trial. But because Paul knew the Jews would kill him, Roman citizen Paul appealed to be tried in Rome before Caesar.
The problem now is, Festus must send a report along with Paul to Rome, explaining the charges. But the charges are theological, general in nature and not in violation of Roman law. Since Governor Festus didn’t understand the nuances of theology, he couldn’t write a proper report. Thankfully, a solution presented itself with the arrival of King Agrippa and Bernice, two seasoned politicians.
First The REVIEW of Paul’s imprisonment Verses 13 to 22
Read the first half of verse 13, “Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and paid their respects to Festus.” Several days after Paul’s appeal to Caesar, King Agrippa (literally Herod Agrippa II) and his consort, Bernice arrived at Caesarea. They had come to pay their respects to the new governor of Judea, Festus and sister Bernice. This Herod is the last in the line of Herods, who figured prominently in New Testament history.
Agrippa II ruled the northern part of Palestine during the Roman occupation. His father, Agrippa I, was the Herod who killed James, arrested Peter, and met an untimely end, being eaten by worms after failing to give God glory in Acts 12. His great-uncle, Herod Antipas, was prominent in the gospels as the ruler who executed John the Baptist, sought Jesus’ life, and later tried the Lord. His great-grandfather was Herod the Great, who ruled at the time of Jesus’ birth and murdered the children of Bethlehem in an effort to kill the newborn King.
This Agrippa (the second) lived a lecherous life. His personal life was scandalous. Bernice was not only his consort, but also his blood sister. Their sister, Drusilla, was the wife of the former governor, Felix. Their incestuous relationship was the subject of gossip in Rome, where Agrippa had grown up. Bernice would occasionally leave her brother and lover for another man. She had been the mistress of Emperor Vespasian, and later of his son, Emperer Titus. But she always seemed to return to this Agrippa II.
In verses 13 to 22, Festus didn’t bring Paul’s case up right away, but waited for the proper moment. Festus explained the situation to Agrippa, as though the problem were too much for him and asked for his experienced help. Appealing to Agrippa’s pride, Festus called the whole case “a matter of superstition” or religion in verse 19.
Look at verse 19 and read between the lines, “but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive.” The unsaved, especially Gentile Festus, doesn’t understand the Old Testament, though he does understand that Paul asserts Jesus is alive, while the Jews say he’s dead. Agrippa is intrigued and in verse 22, “Then Agrippa said to Festus, ‘I also would like to hear the man myself.’ ‘Tomorrow,’ he said, ‘you shall hear him.’” But the real reasons why Festus asks Agrippa are discovered in verses 23 to 27.
Second The REASONS for hearing from Paul Verses 23 to 27
Remember, the real reason is Festus must send a report along with Paul to Rome explaining the charges. But the charges are theological, and not in violation of Roman law. Verse 23, “So, on the next day when Agrippa came together with Bernice amid great pomp, and entered the auditorium accompanied by the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in.” Paul faces royalty here, who enter the room with pomp and ceremony.
Yet out of everyone present, Paul is the most noble of all. The apostle of Jesus Christ is about to represent the great King, who rules over everyone present. Paul’s situation is unfair–the Roman commander Lysias has already declared Paul innocent of all charges. Both Festus and Agrippa will agree today that Paul is not worthy of death. But Sovereign Lord will give Paul an opportunity to, again, clearly share the Gospel to the leaders of the world.
And in verses 24 to 27, Festus fesses up. He confesses in verse 26, “I have nothing definite about him to write to my lord.” Then in verse 27, “For it seems absurd to me in sending a prisoner, not to indicate also the charges against him.” What am I going to say to Caesar? If I have no crime to accuse him of, then I will look like a fool to the Emperor. The need for clarity is high for Festus, and the drive of curiosity is high for Agrippa–so he gives Paul permission to speak.
#3 New Opportunity, New Reactions and a New Hope Verses 1 to 29
Any Christian who understands why he is here will jump at this opportunity. This is Paul on Larry King Live. This is Paul being interviewed on FOX news. Paul will not fail to share Gospel truth.
First The REPORT from Paul Verses 1 to 23
Paul’s report is his testimony. A great marriage or family project is to have everyone write out their testimony on a single page, one side only, answering three questions—1) What was your life like before Christ saved you? 2) How did Christ call you to himself? 3) And what is your life like now that you are saved? Always make certain you focus on Christ’s death and resurrection on your behalf as the center of your testimony.
In verses 1 to 3, Paul gives the expected compliments to Agrippa functioning as a judge. Paul affirms his gratitude for Agrippa’s knowledge of Jewish beliefs and Jewish customs. And even though Paul is following the custom of first being courteous, he won’t water down the truth or distort the Gospel in any way. What’s Paul say?
1) What was your life like before Christ saved you? Verses 4 to 11
Look at Acts 26:4 to 6, “So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; 5since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion. 6And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers.”
Paul pointedly declares, “I was the most religious Jew there was–a Pharisee. And I was trusting God’s Word for the promise of a coming Redeemer.” God promised in the Old Testament Scriptures that He’d provide the only way of salvation. But Paul says, “I was so strict, so legalistic, so works-driven–when the promise of God’s gracious salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection finally arrived, I completely missed it.” In fact, verses 9 to 11 reveal, “I was so zealous, I actually attacked the only true faith by seeking to imprison or kill every Christ follower at home or abroad.”
2) How did Christ call you to Himself? Verses 12 to 18
By His mercy, Jesus stopped me from attacking His people–which is the same as attacking God Himself. While traveling to Damascus at noon, on the road, God blinded us with His glory. He identified Himself as Jesus, God the Son, whose glory is brighter than the sun. Jesus ordered me to get up and get going, so that I might serve Him alone.
Verses 16 to 18 reveal God’s purpose in saving Paul. “‘But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness …17rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, 18to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’”
Jesus says He will protect Paul while He sends him to preach to Jew and Gentile, so that God would do for them, what I am currently doing for you. What’s that? This is rich—that God would open your eyes, turn from darkness to light, turn from the dominion of Satan to God, to receive the forgiveness of sins, and receive an inheritance. For all? No, verse 18, “for those who have been sanctified by faith in Christ.”
What Jesus says to Paul here is deep–this is profound theology. God must open your eyes to see your need of salvation. You are dead in your sins and God must make you alive (cause you to be born again), so you can turn to Christ. When you do, you will turn from lies to truth, from sin to holiness, from being a child of Satan to a child of God. You will be forgiven for all your sins and be made family, in that you will inherit the Son’s riches now and forever. And it is for those who live by faith, depending on Christ, who will grow in godliness. It will not come by works, but by Christ, working through you in faith.
3) And what is your life like, now that you are saved?
Paul declares in verse 19, “So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20but kept declaring,” Paul tells Agrippa. His entire life now is declaring the Gospel to all–Jews and Gentiles. Verse 20, “That they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.” More profound theology–when you repent, there will be a change of life. “Deeds appropriate to repentance”–you do not do deeds to be saved–but when you’re saved, you do deeds.
Faith without works is dead and repentance without deeds is false repentance. There is no way you can have Christ living in you without Him living through you. When you are truly saved, you will hate sin and demonstrate you’ve turned from it. As Paul now declares Christ everywhere, he demonstrates true repentance. And Paul says in verse 21, “This is why I was seized in the Temple and why the Jews want to kill me.”
Paul affirms, “I thought I was living right as a Pharisee, but it was not the truth.” But verse 22, those promises of a coming Messiah and true salvation in the Pentateuch and by the prophets in the Old Testament that declare, verse 23, “that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” Paul is saying, this is what the Jewish Scriptures declare. And this Gospel is what I continually declare. Plus, this Gospel is the reason for my arrest and imprisonment.
Second The REACTION of the LISTENERS Verses 24 to 29
Festus interrupts and shouts in verse 24, ”Paul you are out of your mind.” Paul has blown them all away with his scholarship and learning and Festus shouts, that same learning has driven Paul mad. Listen friends, God never discredits learning unless it discredits His Word. Every intelligent Roman knew that dead men do not come back to life and talk to people–therefore, Paul’s mental musings must have caused him to lose touch with reality.
In verse 25 Paul says, no, this is “sober truth.” In fact, focusing on Agrippa now verse 26, “You know this is true, because you watched it happen–this is recent history.” Paul ignores Festus and corners Agrippa. Verse 27, Paul reminds Agrippa, “You know the teaching of the Old Testament prophets and how they predicted the Messiah would do what Christ did exactly.” Paul is making it clear that just believing in the prophets will not save you. The more light a person has, the more responsible he or she is to make a right decision. What about . . .
It is possible to have faith short of salvation. Agrippa believed the prophets, but his faith did not save him. And your thoughts about Jesus will not save you. Your religious ideas will not save you. Your moral choices will not save you. No–you must surrender to Christ, exchange all that you are for all that He is. You must turn from your sin in repentance and put your entire life in His hands by faith.
The King, like Felix from chapter 24, makes the worst mistake anyone can make in the universe in verse 28. Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” The phrase is better translated as a question, “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian in such a short time?” The idea behind it is, “It will take more than your proclamation to make a man like me into one of those hated Christians!”
Agrippa delays salvation. He waits for another day, and sadly as a result, misses eternal life and embraces eternal torment after death. Hey, you! Do not be an “almost Christian.” Turn to Christ today, I beg you–like Paul did.
He responds to Agrippa’s comment with incredible grace. Verse 29, “And Paul said, ‘I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.’”
Picture this scene–this lowly prisoner in chains is telling these kings, political elite and military leaders that he wishes they could be like him. They enjoy fleeting treasure on Earth, but Paul has “an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys.” Don’t you love Paul’s Christian heart? No matter how long it took, it was Paul’s heartfelt desire that everyone who heard him would come to know Christ in salvation.
Third The RESULTS Verses 30 to 32
What happened? Verse 30, “The king stood up and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them, 31and when they had gone aside, they began talking to one another, saying, “’This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment.’ 32And Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.’”
This exchange closed the trial. Once again, Paul is found innocent of any wrongdoing. He had boldly proclaimed the Gospel to some of the most important people in Israel. Now after two years of waiting, it was time for the Lord’s promise to Paul to be fulfilled–from Acts 23:11, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.” The Jews failed to kill Paul, and in spite of unjust jail time, the Romans moved Paul closer to fulfilling God’s will. Next week, Paul sets sail for Rome.
TAKE THIS HOME
A TRUST Your Savior who is Sovereign
Jesus does as He pleases, only as He pleases and always as He pleases. Once again, the Jewish leadership meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. No matter how corrupt this world gets, God is still in total control. You are living in the midst of evil and watching God pour out his wrath on sin. But Habakkuk says to his children in the midst of God’s wrath, Habakkuk 3:19, “The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places.”
If God the Son would suffer and die in your place., i God knows the number of hairs on your head, if God knows when a sparrow falls, if God’s thoughts toward you exceed the sand of the seashore–then you can trust him as He pours out His wrath on this world. Even when it is scary, when it feels like you are standing on a one-inch ledge with a thousand-foot drop, hinds’ feet–you can choose to trust Him. Rest in His promises. Stop long enough in prayer for Him to calm your heart. Focus your thinking on what is true, and trust your Savior.
B Embrace your RESPONSIBILITIES
God must awaken a heart for someone to turn to Christ in salvation. You can’t compel anyone to be saved, but you are still responsible to proclaim. Paul knows God must transform hearts, but he was responsible to share the Gospel. You know God is in charge, but you’re responsible to serve, give, love and encourage. You know God appoints rulers, but you are responsible to vote and pray. You know God alone causes someone to be born again, but you must share the Gospel. Turn every issue, every conflict, every injustice to the Gospel. Embrace your responsibilities.
C Uphold God’s CHARACTER
You know God’s Word and God’s character are opposed to homosexuality, a distortion of male female roles, divorce, transgenderism, sexual immorality and abortion. You know to bring God glory, you must faithfully represent His Word and His character. So bring God glory and represent His Word and character when you vote.
When you talk with friends and they bring up race say, “I know the God who made every race.” When they bring up immorality in any form say, “God had a better plan–purity.” When they bring up abortion in some form say, “God is the author of life.” Bring God glory by upholding His character, so that you might share the Gospel.
D Make CERTAIN of your salvation and PURSUE your sanctification
Do not be the almost Christian. Peter challenges his readers to make certain of His choosing and calling of you. Make certain your life backs up your claim. Make certain you see Christ manifesting Himself through you–not just with morality, but a passion to know Him, a passion to represent Him and a passion to faithfully serve Him. And Christian, make certain you are pursuing the truth, knowing the Word, memorizing the Word, and applying the Word.
Be in discipleship, be in ministry together, grow with brothers and sisters in Christ–quit being the casual Christian. Prove Christ is your first love by your commitment to serve, give, and sacrifice for others in love. You bring Jesus Christ glory when His enemies become His friends in salvation. And you bring Christ glory when His friends become more like Him in sanctification. Christ is all we need, all we want. Thank you for pursuing Him with all your heart. Let’s pray.