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BY FAITH IN ME


 
 

BIBLE READING

 

Acts 25:1 - 26:23

 

25 Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, 2 where the chief priests and the Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. 3 They requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way. 4 Festus answered, “Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. 5 Let some of your leaders come with me, and if the man has done anything wrong, they can press charges against him there.”


6 After spending eight or ten days with them, Festus went down to Caesarea. The next day he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him. 7 When Paul came in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him. They brought many serious charges against him, but they could not prove them.


8 Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.”


9 Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?”


10 Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. 11 If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”


12 After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”


13 A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. 14 Since they were spending many days there, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. He said: “There is a man here whom Felix left as a prisoner. 15 When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.


16 “I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over anyone before they have faced their accusers and have had an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges. 17 When they came here with me, I did not delay the case, but convened the court the next day and ordered the man to be brought in. 18 When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. 19 Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. 20 I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges. 21 But when Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.”


22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear this man myself.”

He replied, “Tomorrow you will hear him.”


23 The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 Festus said: “King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25 I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. 26 But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. 27 For I think it is unreasonable to send a prisoner on to Rome without specifying the charges against him.”

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”


26 So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: 2 “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, 3 and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.


4 “The Jewish people 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. 5 They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee. 6 And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. 7 This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. 8 Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?


9 “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.


12 “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 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.’


15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’


“ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘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 and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 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.’

19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. 21 That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22 But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—


23 that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”
 

BY FAITH IN ME

 

Today brings us back to the book of Acts, and I want to focus on the heart of Paul's message before King Agrippa, and his own transforming experience with Jesus Christ, in which he describes the good news of God’s plan through Jesus before the king. Go Back and read the highlighted portion of our reading today. Isn’t that a magnificent testimony of the gospel! Here from the words of Jesus himself, as Paul recalls hearing them on the Damascus road.


Something I have noticed recently that there is a question(s) that are frequently asked on social media What is wrong with people? Or What is wrong with our world? Have you encountered those questions, have you asked them?

Paul recalls Jesus’ words to him and Jesus analysis of the problem with humankind. Jesus answers the question What is the matter with people? The world? They are blind, Jesus says, blind and living in darkness. Does that sound harsh, or offensive?


Here we are in 2021 asking the same questions. Two thousand years later perhaps Jesus’ assessment has some merit that should give rise to some reflection. Is that what is wrong with our world, blindness and darkness? That people do not know where to turn; they do not know where the answers lie? They cannot see the consequences or outcomes of their choices and decisions? They do not know where they are heading? Are they utterly blind, and in darkness as Jesus says? Staggering around in a dark room, groping and feeling and trying to find their way through the course of living, of history. Is there a “lostness” a disorientation that pervades our society, our world, ourselves?


So Jesus says blindness and darkness is what is amiss with people, the world. Did you notice Jesus doesn’t make this statement without answering the question why? Why is blindness and darkness so evident? Jesus says, because they are under the power of Satan. Behind the darkness is the great enemy, who is twisting and distorting the thinking of humankind, clouding their eyes, and spreading abroad widespread falsehoods. Jesus seems to be saying that Satan has launched on this world a great flood of misinformation, untruths that have been believed everywhere by people today.


When you really think about it, all the commonly accepted philosophies of our day reflect the basic falsehood which says that we are capable and adequate and independent, able to run our own affairs. You may disagree, but I believe that this falsehood has been blatantly displayed before us in the handling of the pandemic, I am not trying to oversimplify this, but I think we have lots of evidence that shows us that we (humankind) are not in control. You also hear that if you live for yourself, take care of number one, you will find advancement and fulfillment in life. Again, not to keep bringing up the pandemic but this looking out for number one philosophy has shown to be isolating, lonely, disconnecting and unfulfilling. And you hear that material things can satisfy you, that, if you get enough money, you will be happy. Yet, the desire for money and materialism does bring fulfillment and happiness in life. What it does is create a longing for more, one more dollar, one more toy. These are some of the lies we believe and that pervade our society. You see Jesus is pointing at such lies and saying that is the power of Satan.


But the power of the gospel is that it comes in to turn us from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to the power of God. God has provided a way to forgive sins, to wipe out all the guilt from the errors of the past, from all that was done in ignorance and dependence on the lying “propaganda” of the enemy, and to give a means, a way, that we may live in fulfillment and power and strength. That is what Jesus means by “a place among those who are sanctified.” How is this experienced? Jesus says precisely: By faith in me. That is why we believe Jesus when he says, I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one can come to the Father except by me.” We witness in our own lives, in Paul’s life, in the lives of the members of our Ambassador Community family and their stories, that wherever and whenever people have turned and believed and embraced Jesus’ truth, they have indeed turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to the power of God.

 


Father, how grateful I am that this same mighty, delivering power is just as available to people today, that you can turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, and forgive their sins, and set them free, and give them an inheritance, a new position, a new resource from which they may live. Amen.




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