Christ Covenant Church
Series — Spirit, Gospel, Mission: Who is the Gospel For?
Text – Acts 26:1-29
The Gospel is for Politicians: For Kings, Governors, Judges, and All who are in high positions
May the grace and peace of Christ be with your spirit.
As you know we are doing a mini-series on the Spirit, Gospel, & Mission. In this mini-series we are trying to answer one big question — Who is the gospel for?
So far we have seen that the Gospel is for Hyper-Religious Folks, for God-Seekers, for Church-Goers, and for Idolaters and Philosophers.
Today we will see that the Gospel is for Politicians — and for Supreme Court Justices.
We have said many times before that Christ sends his people out on gospel mission to show and tell others what they have seen and heard about Jesus. That’s what Jesus sent Paul to do among the nations. And that’s what he sends us to do in our nooks and crannies of the world — and that is what is needed now more than ever.
Speaking of the world, many things have changed in our culture since our last gathering. But nothing has changed in our scriptures. It is fitting that in God’s providence our sermon text is Acts 26.
In this story, Paul was summoned to stand trial before a king, a governor, and others in high positions. There was not a saint among them.
The king was the great-grandson of the king who slaughtered all the infants when Jesus was born. He was also the son of the king who executed the apostles James. He was considered an expert in Jewish religion and culture. At the time of this trial he was in charge of the temple and the priests at Jerusalem. The historian Josephus (who was a close friend of the king) reported that he lived with his sister Bernice in an incestuous relationship for a period of time. She had a reputation for being a promiscuous and ambitious woman. Sadly, a few years after this trial he sided with the Romans against the Jews and betrayed his own people for personal gains.
The point is that Paul was speaking to an ungodly king, an ungodly governor, and other ungodly people in high positions. Talk about a tough crowd!
When King Agrippa gave Paul permission to speak for himself, Paul stood up and stretched out his hand and made his defense in a way that surprised both the king and the governor.
If you are able, please stand with Paul for the reading of God’s Holy Word from Acts 26.
I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and I tried to make them blaspheme; and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me.
And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but I declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.
For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.
Now to this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.
I am not out of my mind…but I am speaking true and rational words…So whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become [a Christian] as I am—except for these chains.”
The word of the Lord.
May God bless the reading, hearing, and preaching of his word.
All the church says: Amen!
Imagine yourself in Paul’s chains. If your life was on the line, and you had one chance to speak to a king, a governor, or someone in a high position, what would you say to defend yourself? If you were in his chains because of the gospel, for the sake of Christ, what would your defense be?
He defended himself (apologeomai) not by making excuses, but by proclaiming the gospel. He did not make a plea for his own release, rather he made a plea to the king to be reconciled to God.
I want everyone to notice that Paul defended himself without becoming defensive. He calmly yet confidently explained that the reason was in chains was because he believed the gospel of Jesus Christ and he hoped in the promise of resurrection from the dead.
So, in effect Paul says “I am in these chains because God sent me as a missional-witness with the gospel in my mouth.”
I want to draw your attention to the end of Paul’s defense–especially the part about Jesus appointing him to be a missional-witness. So fix your eyes on verses 16-29.
+ First, Paul was sent as a missional-witness to open the eyes of the nations so that they might turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, and so that they might receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus. (vv. 16-18)
Although he does not mention it here, we know that Paul had something in common with the people he was sent to serve: blindness.
Remember what happened to Paul when Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus?
A bright light flashed all around and Paul was blinded by the light. He spent the next few days in blindness, coming to grips with his own sin, fasting and praying. When a minister was sent to lay hands on him scales fell from his eyes and his eyes were opened. Then he was baptized and instructed to obey everything the Lord Jesus commanded.
In the deepest sense, Paul was converted by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. He turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God; he received forgiveness of sins and a place among the saints in Christ’s church.
Now, he wants others to experience the power of the truth of the gospel.
The Spirit, Gospel, and Mission of God meant so much to Paul that in one place he even said, “I do not count my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus — to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)
In another place he wrote that whatever advantages he might have had from his tribalism, sectarianism, and legalism, he now counted as disadvantages for the sake of Christ. (Phil 3:8-10).
So Paul went on mission among all kinds of people groups believing the gospel of grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, and knowing the power of the spiritual forces of evil at work in the world.
He understood that gospel mission is spiritual warfare.
In his letters he described the spiritual condition of people outside of Christ.
In one place he says, “even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)
He knew that showing and telling the gospel of Jesus to unbelievers is like shining a light in the eyes of the blind or shouting into the ears of the deaf. There is plenty of light, but they cannot see it.
In another place he describes the enemy who is at work in the world. The devil has snared people and captured them to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26).
A person who will not or cannot believe the gospel is never acting alone. The devil holds people captive and hinders them from seeing the light. He blindfolds their minds and binds them in their sins.
Keep these things in mind the next time you get frustrated with someone who just doesn’t get it, who can’t see what you are showing, or can’t hear what you are saying.
They are not stupid ignoramuses — they are just spiritually blind, captives of the devil.
So, if the minds of people are blinded to the light of the gospel, and if the devil has taken people captive to do his will, what in the world can we do?
How in the world can we open their eyes so that they can turn from the dark-power of Satan and turn to the light-power of God?
The short answer is that we cannot open their eyes on our own.
The longer answer is that we cannot open their eyes, but God can open their eyes through our words and deeds.
Testifying about Jesus and preaching and teaching the gospel to the nations is an act of spiritual warfare. It’s not a matter of out-smarting people by using a set of ideas and concepts. It’s a matter of over-throwing the devil and sin and the flesh with the power of the truth of the gospel.
Our warfare is “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
And “though we walk in the flesh, we do not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
The point is that Paul was engaged in spiritual warfare and fighting the good fight of the faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. And so are we.
Every time we show and tell Jesus to others, every time we preach or hear the gospel, every time we gather for worship we are engaging the enemy in spiritual warfare.
Every time we confront false scientific theories and combat false religious heresies or collide with false political ideologies, we are engaging the enemy in spiritual warfare.
Every time we celebrate the marriage of one man and one woman for one life, we are engaging the enemy in spiritual warfare. Every time we give birth to children or adopt them into our families we are engaging the enemy in spiritual warfare.
Every time we sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and confess our sins, and eat bread and wine, and pray we are engaging the enemy in spiritual warfare.
We are not smart enough to defeat the enemy or strong enough to deliver captives, but we have divine wisdom and power in the gospel and from the Holy Spirit to destroy the enemy and to deliver his captives.
We are fighting the good fight of the faith for the hearts, minds, and souls of other human beings – we are shining the light of the gospel for our friends, neighbors, children, spouses, loved ones.
We carry the fire.
But we dare not go on mission alone. We may go on mission “with the help that comes from God.”
God uses ordinary means to accomplish extraordinary ends. He sends human witnesses on gospel mission in the power of the Holy Spirit.
As we testify to the power of the truth of the gospel, the Spirit of God opens the eyes of the blind and turns them from darkness to light, and sets them free from the power of Satan to the grace of God.
Ultimately, God is the one who opens eyes, illuminates minds, and releases captives by the power of the truth of the gospel; but we participate by engaging people small and great with the gospel.
+ Second, Paul was sent as a missional-witness to preach repentance and obedience to the nations — (vv 19-20)
Paul says that he told people in Damascus, Jerusalem, Judea, and to the Gentiles to repent. These are the same places Jesus commanded the original missional-witnesses to go and preach in Acts 1:8.
At Lystra he said, “We bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain idols to a living God” (14:15).
At Athens he said, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
So everywhere Paul went, he preached that people should turn and return to God. In other words, he preached that people should change.
For as long as I can remember ministers have been telling us to change – to change our worship style, to change our methods, to change our version of the Bible, to change our programs, to change our traditions – but very few ministers have been telling us to change our minds, to change our hearts, or to change our lives.
That is tragic because one of the first words of the gospel is repent. The gospel requires people to change. When Jesus started preaching his first sermon was change. When Jesus sent Paul to preach his message was change.
The Greek word for repent means change your thinking about God, life, the universe, and everything; and it means change your living before God’s face, in the universe that God created.
True repentance is an alternative lifestyle. That requires you to do an about face, to change your direction and actions towards God.
So we must change our minds, from thinking like the devil to thinking like Jesus, from living in darkness to living in the light.
And as we go out on mission our message must be change.
Repent of your racism. Repent of your sexual confusions. Repent of your unbelief. Repent of your patriotism. Repent of your greed and lust and control.
The king and governor and all those in high positions needed to repent of their particular sins particularly — adultery, treachery, blasphemy — whatever their sins were.
And so do we.
We must change our sins for Christ’s salvation.
+ Third, Paul was sent as a missional-witness to testify about Jesus — (vv 22-23)
After all that Paul had seen and heard and experienced, he testified to the person and work of Jesus, the gospel of grace, and the kingdom of God on the basis of the Holy Scriptures.
Paul wove threads of the gospel into his defense:
I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers — that God raises the dead (26:6-7)
Jesus of Nazareth appeared to me and sent me to preach the gospel that others might receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus. (26:18)
I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles. (26:22-23)
This is a remarkable testimony.
It was not about his dramatic conversion story with all the visions and experiences. It was all about the person and work of Jesus Christ.
It simply echoed the testimony of the prophets revealed in the Holy Scriptures.
Likewise, our testimony ought to echo the testimony of the apostles and prophets.
Your testimony is not the soft-quiet voice in your head; it is not the warm fuzzy feeling in your heart; it is not the ecstatic dream you had in your sleep; it has nothing to do with a tingle in your spine or goosebumps on your arms.
Our testimony is simply this: Jesus Christ suffered — he was crucified according to the scriptures, and resurrected on the third day according to the scriptures, for the salvation of the world.
Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.
We should not be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord or ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes.
+ Fourth, Paul was sent as a missional-witness to persuade others to become Christians – (vv 24-29)
Paul’s story was so intertwined with Jesus’ story that it was impossible to separate them. As he made his defense, he couldn’t help but proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ.
King Agrippa realized that Paul was making a play for his heart, so he cut him off and asked: “Would you persuade me to be a Christian in a short time?”
If all Paul was doing was making a legal defense, why did the king react so strongly? Why did he jump to the conclusion that Paul was trying to convert him?
Because he realized that Paul’s defense was actually a testimony. It was not really about Paul; it was about Jesus Christ.
His story was intended to persuade the king, not to release him. Not to change laws to suit him, not to give him special favors, but to persuade him to become a Christian.
Paul wanted the king to become a true follower of Jesus, so he aimed for aimed for and struck the king’s heart.
When King Agrippa saw that Paul was a real Christian all the way down to his chains, it shook him to the core.
The governor objected and accused Paul of being out of his mind, but Paul answered: “I am not out of my mind…but I am speaking true and reasonable words.”
Christians are often accused of being weak and foolish by their critics. From their worldly point of view we are crazy because we believe something that seems irrational and irresponsible to them.
To those who are perishing the message of the cross is foolishness and weakness.
But to us who are being saved it is the wisdom and power of God.
Even though Paul was a prisoner in chains, he acted like an ambassador for Christ.
Even though he was supposed to be on trial, he turned the tables and put the king and governor on trial.
And God made his appeal to the king, governor, and crowd through Paul:
“No matter how long it takes, I pray to God that all y’all who hear me this day might become [followers of the Lord Jesus Christ] as I am.”
In one of his letters, Paul said, “knowing the fear of the Lord we persuade others…if we are ‘out of our minds’, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. Why?
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised…therefore, we implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
Paul was sent as a missional-witness to open the eyes of the nations by testifying about Jesus, by preaching repentance and obedience, and by persuading others to become Christ-followers.
And so are we.
We can’t let critics and criticism silence our witness or shutdown our mission. We have nothing to lose, and they have everything to gain.
Jesus is the light of the nations and the Savior of the world.
So — Who is the gospel for?
In light of recent events I am compelled to remind you that —
The gospel is for Kings and Governors and all who are high positions; it is for Politicians and Plebs.
The gospel is for Democrats and Republicans; it is for Confederates and Yankees.
The gospel is for the President of the United States; it is for Supreme Court Justices.
The gospel is for gun-waving rednecks and rainbow colored LGBT people.
All they have to do is turn away from their sins and trust in Christ — just like you and me.
All they have to do is turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, and they will receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus.
A place in the light of God’s glory and grace.
A place without chains and bonds.
A place of pardon and peace.
A place among other sinner-saints in the church of Jesus Christ.
A place among us at the foot of the cross and the table of the Lord.
Who is the gospel for? The gospel is for you and me and us and them.
The gospel is for everyone great and small.
The gospel is for sinners one and all.
Pastoral Prayer – Psalm 67
God, may you show mercy to us and bless us
and make your face shine on us Selah
To make known in the earth your way in all people your salvation
Let the peoples confess you God.
Let all the peoples praise you.
Let the peoples rejoice and let them cry out praise,
because you will judge the peoples from a level place you will rule on earth. Selah
Let the peoples confess you God.
Let all the peoples praise you.
The earth will give her produce and God our God will bless us.
God will bless us and all the ends of the earth will fear him.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen