3/98 8/3/98 Scripture: Acts 25:1-26
NOT being a gambling or betting man, I take little interest in the Melbourne Cup. But in 1996 there was a horse, "Saintly", with a jockey Darren Beadman. Darren is an acquaintance and has been a guest on my radio and television programs. Darren is a fine Christian following a remarkable conversion. I was quite sure that a horse named Saintly with a born-again Christian jockey would win the Melbourne Cup that year. But I never bet on these things. I know people who bet on premonitions are losers.
Melbourne Cup day produced one of the most widely heard testimonies of faith. When Darren was interviewed on horseback, as he rode back to the scales he said: "I give all the praise and glory to God." Then as he spoke on the winner dais, he said, "I would like to thank the Lord Jesus Christ." He always makes that testimony to his faith after every victory, and this one was heard by 400 million people around the world. The Sydney Morning Herald wrote "Beadman thanked the Lord Jesus for His blessing and Bart Cummings for the ride."
When we make our personal witness about Jesus Christ and what a difference He has made in our lives, some are not interested. They do not need God. They do not have any problems! They have no debts, no worries, no anxieties! They are employed, well insured, and have no concern about the future. They do not need God and they are not going to die! Others know by experience how much their own resources were not sufficient. They needed God. There are others whose deep desires cannot be met except by Jesus. Jesus alone makes the difference.
He alone makes sense of life. Jesus provides them with a sense of purpose in what they do. He removes their sense of doubt and the burden of guilt. He answers the uncertainties in life, and is their security in the midst of all insecurity. Jesus has done so much for them that they want to tell others about the confidence that Jesus gives them.
For those of us like this, having faith in Jesus Christ is the best thing we have ever done, the best step we have ever taken, and the most important commitment of life. It is true for me. Since I came to know Him, Jesus has been the central point in my life, the reference point for everything else that has happened. I make my judgments according to His teaching, I have directed my life according to His plan and I have tried to make His Way, my way.
The Apostle Paul looked to Jesus for guidance in every action, and Jesus always guided him. Paul had been in prison in Caesarea for two years, awaiting judgment. The evil Governor Felix kept him in gaol hoping for a bribe to release him. the term of Felix ended in disgrace and he was recalled to Rome. His place as Governor was taken by an upright and honest man. He looked at the civil cases awaiting trial, and Governor Festus decided to hear the trial of Paul and invited a house guest at the summer palace to join. King Herod Agrippa 11 was a minor member of the Herod family. He was thirty years of age. He had lived most of his life in Rome, although he was Jewish. He favoured the Romans above his own countrymen and later, in the year 66 A.D., when there was rebellion, Agrippa took the side of the Romans and oppressed the Jews. Later on a group of Jews murdered him.
In 57 AD, he was in Caesarea with his de facto, Bernice. She was in her mid-twenties, and had been married twice with children in Jerusalem and Rome. She left her second husband to live with Agrippa, who was her brother! They lived together in an incestuous relationship for several years. Once when Herod Agrippa and Bernice visited Rome, the Romans, whose society was morally lax enough, were disgusted and forced Bernice to go home. So Paul was brought before King Agrippa.
Paul now had the opportunity Jesus said would come to believers. "When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say." (Luke 12:11). The Apostle Paul was not slack when it came to presenting a word of testimony. He had spoken before a mob in Ephesus. He had faced a riot in Corinth. They tried to silence him in Thessalonica. When he defended his message before a crowd in Jerusalem, the soldiers had to step in to rescue him. He was not afraid to speak and he had already been twice before governors to give his witness. Now, facing a third governor and a king, he is well experienced.
"Then Agrippa said to Paul, `You have permission to speak for yourself.' So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defence. `King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defence against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently. The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, I lived as a Pharisee. And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?'"
In these words there is an expression of utter incredulity that he, Paul, who was true to the Jewish hope, should be charged with heresy by the Jews, of all people. Paul had nailed them with their own theology. The Jews believed in resurrection. Why should they be so offended, if what they believed in and hoped for had actually happened?
Then Paul unfolded just how much his direction had changed. "I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them." Paul was utterly orthodox and joined in the open hostility to the believers in Jesus. But then came the turning point of his life!
He was on a mission of persecution in Damascus. "On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, `Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' Then I asked, `Who are you, Lord?' `I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' the Lord replied. `Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'"
That was what happened, Paul told them. Then he concludes, "So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen - that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the other Gentiles."
There is the key verse. "But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike." What was the result of Paul's witness? It was the same here as in other places. At Corinth, some believed, some disbelieved, and some mocked. In Athens some of the philosophers believed, some did not. At Caesarea, the first reaction came from Governor Festus. He was embarrassed Paul had spoken as he did. "`You are out of your mind, Paul!' he shouted. `Your great learning is driving you insane.' `I am not insane, most excellent Festus,' Paul replied. `What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do."
How could Agrippa say that he did not believe in the prophets when surrounded by the Sanhedrin? King Agrippa quickly saw Paul would say, "If you believe the prophets, you must believe in the One the prophets said would come, Jesus of Nazareth." The king avoided the issue, "`Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?' Paul responded with a beautiful appeal: `Short time or long-I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.'" The gathering broke up. "The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. They left the room, and while talking with one another, they said, `This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.' Agrippa said to Festus, `This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.'"
This, of course, was nonsense. If Paul had not appeared to the Emperor he would have been killed by the Jews. Jesus had said to Paul, "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." So the Lord's plans were being fulfilled with the Romans actually arranging his transport so that he could make his witness at the centre of the empire!
For each Christian there is a time when we have to present our own testimony. When we do, some like Festus may be embarrassed. Some like Felix will want to keep you at a distance. Some like Bernice will want more, but only for entertainment. Some like Agrippa will be intolerant. God never holds us responsible for the reaction of listeners. But He does hold us responsible to testify to our experience. We have a commission to witness. Throughout the New Testament those who believed in Jesus willingly testified to their own faith. The objective was to inspire faith in others. Christians are expected to witness to their own experience and this is required of me.
If I tell you of Paul's testimony, I should also be ready to speak of my own, and this I gladly do. Jesus Christ became the central point in my life, and since I gave myself to Him, everything I have done in this life has been under His direction, at His bidding and for His purpose. He has given me meaning in my life and purpose in all that I do. He gives me satisfaction in the things I do, and a security that nothing can take away. I have a future that is full of hope.
Would you like to share this same faith in Jesus to which Paul testifies? Come believing!
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