“The Power of a Changed Life”
Series: The Church on Fire!
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
First Baptist Church Henderson, KY
- Take God’s Word and open to Acts, chapter 25.
We’ve been making our way through the book of Acts and we’re now in the 25th chapter. The Apostle Paul is in prison in Caesarea. He’s been there for 2 years now. This prison is really more like house-arrest. That doesn’t mean it was easy for him. Prisons then were nothing like they are today with cable TV and libraries and baseball in the yard. House-arrest simply meant that if friends came by to give him food then he might be able to eat. It was a little bit more encouraging. You had a better chance of surviving in prison if you were under house-arrest. So Paul is in prison now for 2 years and there’s a new governor in town named Festus. The Jews had been out to kill Paul 2 years earlier. Let’s see if things have changed after 2 years.
- Stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
1 Now when Festus had come to the province, after three days he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem.
2 Then the high priest and the chief men of the Jews informed him against Paul; and they petitioned him,
3 asking a favor against him, that he would summon him to Jerusalem — while they lay in ambush along the road to kill him.
It has been often said that if one set out to disprove Christianity then he would have to explain away two historical facts: 1) the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and 2) the conversion of Saul of Tarsus.
When I studied chapters 25 and 26 this past week that statement came to my mind again and again. How do you explain the conversion of Saul of Tarsus—once a persecutor of Christians—to the Apostle Paul, a man who gave us 13 letters of the New Testament? Paul is evidence of the power of a changed life.
F.F. Bruce, in The New Testament Documents—Are They Reliable? writes, “The conversion of Paul has for long been regarded as weighty evidence for the truth of Christianity. Many have endorsed the conclusion of the eighteenth-century statesman George, Lord Lyttelton, that ‘the conversion and apostleship of St. Paul alone, duly
considered, was of itself a demonstration sufficient to prove Christianity to be a divine revelation (1960, p. 77).’”
Paul is evidence of the power of a changed life. I want to talk about that this morning, “The Power of a Changed Life” and I want you to know that the power that changed the life of the Apostle Paul is the same power that changes your life and mine.
**In Christ we have Power! We have:
I. Power to Stand in the face of Opposition (25:1-27)
There’s a new governor in Caesarea and his name is Porcius Festus. Quite a name, isn’t it?! So Festus is in town and he’s ruling now and the Bible says that the high priest and the chief men of the Jews ask a favor of him. What is the favor? Verse 3: “that he would summon him to Jerusalem—while they lay in ambush along the road to kill him.” So things haven’t really changed in 2 years. The Jews are still opposing Paul and Paul is still standing in the face of opposition. Read about it here in verse 4 and following:
4 But Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was going there shortly.
5 “Therefore,” he said, “let those who have authority among you go down with me and accuse this man, to see if there is any fault in him.”
6 And when he had remained among them more than ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day, sitting on the judgment seat, he commanded Paul to be brought.
7 When he had come, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood about and laid many serious complaints against Paul, which they could not prove,
8 while he answered for himself, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all.”
9 But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged before me concerning these things?”
10 So Paul said, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know.
11 “For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.”
12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, “You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!”
Okay, so Paul appeals to Caesar Augustus, which means he is guaranteed a trip to Rome in order to have his case heard. The Lord told him back in Acts 23:11 that he would get to Rome so Paul speeds things up a bit. Pick it up at verse 13:
13 And after some days King Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to greet Festus.
14 When they had been there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying: “There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix,
15 “about whom the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, when I was in Jerusalem, asking for a judgment against him.
16 “To them I answered, ‘It is not the custom of the Romans to deliver any man to destruction before the accused meets the accusers face to face, and has opportunity to answer for himself concerning the charge against him.’
17 “Therefore when they had come together, without any delay, the next day I sat on the judgment seat and commanded the man to be brought in.
18 “When the accusers stood up, they brought no accusation against him of such things as I supposed,
19 “but had some questions against him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.
20 “And because I was uncertain of such questions, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there be judged concerning these matters.
21 “But when Paul appealed to be reserved for the decision of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I could send him to Caesar.”
22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.”
So now Paul is going to appear before King Agrippa. By the way, this appearing before governors and kings was prophesied back when Paul became a Christian in Acts 9. Acts 9:15 is where Jesus says that Paul will appear before Gentiles and kings. So Paul is going to stand now before King Agrippa. This is King Herod Agrippa II. This guy is the last of the Herodians. Remember these guys: there was Herod the Great, the king who killed the babies in Jerusalem, Herod Antipas, who killed John the Baptist, King Herod Agrippa I, who put the Apostle James to death, and now King Herod Agrippa II, another loser of a guy who was living with Bernice, his sister. So there were these rumors about incest and so forth—not a pretty sight these two. Pick it up there in verse 23:
23 So the next day, when Agrippa and Bernice had come with great pomp, and had entered the auditorium with the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at Festus’ command Paul was brought in.
Picture Paul coming in here! I mean you’ve got Agrippa and Bernice entering in with “great pomp” and music and so forth and then here comes Paul. From a second-century writing in the literature of the Ante-Nicene Fathers there’s this description of Paul. It’s not in the Bible. It’s from a secular source, but it says he was, “a man small in size, bald-headed (because he was so spiritual!) . . . bow-legged…rather long-nosed.” So after the great musical pomp and cheering of Agrippa and Bernice, in walks Paul in the midst of silence and crickets chirping.
24 And Festus said: “King Agrippa and all the men who are here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole assembly of the Jews petitioned me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying out that he was not fit to live any longer.
25 “But when I found that he had committed nothing deserving of death, and that he himself had appealed to Augustus, I decided to send him.
26 “I have nothing certain to write to my lord concerning him. Therefore I have brought him out before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the examination has taken place I may have something to write.
27 “For it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner and not to specify the charges against him.”
Okay, so Paul is going to speak as he stands before Agrippa in chapter 26. We have Paul standing in the face of opposition. I am so encouraged by this! In Christ we have power to stand in the face of opposition. God gives us that power to persevere when the chips are down. We touched on this last week when we talked about trusting God even when it seems He is absent. We talked about, “Gee, why does God allow Paul to stay in prison for two grueling long years there in Caesarea?” and we said, “Well, here’s one reason: so that Paul would be writing. All of the so-called “Captivity Epistles” were written while Paul was in house-arrest, either in Caesarea or Rome. So it is while Paul is in prison that he gives us great letters like Philippians,” where he writes, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content (4:11)…I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need (4:12). I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (4:13)” and, “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus (4:19).” All this written while in prison.
In Christ we have power to stand in the face of opposition. You think about the opposition Paul faced! Here’s a short list just in these latter chapters in Acts: In chapter 14, he was stoned. In chapter 15, thrown in prison. Chapter 17, attacked in Thessalonica and attacked in Berea. Chapter 18, attacked and almost murdered in Corinth. Chapter 19, a riot in Ephesus where he almost died. Chapter 21 attacked in the Jewish Temple. Chapter 23 and again here in chapter 25, he faces an assassination plot. Yet he keeps going! He has power to stand in the face of opposition. I just love the example of persevering under fire.
Whatever you face in your Christian walk, keep standing. Paul wrote that in prison, too! In Ephesians 6:13, “Take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” Keep standing. Don’t give up on Christ in your marriage, at your workplace, in your friendships. Keep standing.
I heard about this church slogan. I hope this identifies who we are. Here’s the slogan that appeared on one church’s letterhead: “Wake up, pray up, sing up, preach up, pay up, and never give up, let up, back up or shut up, until the cause of Christ is built up!”
In Christ we have power to stand in the face of opposition. Secondly: in Christ, we have:
II. Power that Saves no matter the Obstacles (26:1-18)
As Paul stands before King Agrippa, he shares about the power that saves no matter the obstacles. I love this about the Gospel: not matter the obstacles, Jesus saves.
1 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” So Paul stretched out his hand and answered for himself:
2 “I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused by the Jews,
3 “especially because you are expert in all customs and questions which have to do with the Jews. Therefore I beg you to hear me patiently.
4 “My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know.
5 “They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
6 “And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers.
7 “To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews.
8 “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?
When Paul asks that, he’s addressing the entire audience. “Why should it be thought incredible by you all that God raises the dead?” By the way, that’s an excellent question. Can we vote on a few things here? How many of you believe God created the world? How many of you believe God created human beings? Okay, so if God spoke stuff into existence, giving life where there was not life, why should it be thought incredible that God gives life again to those who have died? This is good logic, isn’t it? Paul continues:
9 “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
10 “This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.
11 “And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
So Paul’s like, “I did a lot of things in my past for which I am not proud. If anyone had obstacles to salvation, it was I.”
12 ” While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,
13 “at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me.
What light shines brighter than the noonday sun? The glory of God!
14 “And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
A goad was a thing that prodded oxen forward. When the ox kicked against it, it just brought greater harm to itself. God was drawing Paul to His side, but Paul was kicking against the things of God. But here the Lord Jesus has Paul’s attention and he is saved:
15 “So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 16 ‘But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.
17 ‘I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you,
18 ‘to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’
In Christ we have power that saves no matter the obstacles. Whatever your past, whatever obstacles you think are keeping God’s love from you, are they any worse than the Apostle Paul’s? I mean Paul was a guy who persecuted Christians. He says, “When they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.” That’s pretty bad, but God is a God who overcomes our obstacles to salvation by His glorious grace. That’s the point of the last verse we just read, verse 18. God is going to send Paul to people that he may do what? Verse 18:
“to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified (or made holy, how?) by faith in Me.”
Here is the beauty of the Gospel: any person may be saved no matter his or her background. It doesn’t matter what you have done. You may be forgiven. God wants to give you forgiveness of sins and an inheritance, a heavenly reward as well! This all comes by way of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul is preaching the Gospel. He is saying to King Herod Agrippa and the crowd the same thing he is saying to you and me today: believe that the Lord Jesus Christ died for your sins and that He was raised for your justification, that you might be declared, “Not guilty” before God. Those of you who were present Wednesday, remember that definition of justification? Justification means God declares us “not guilty.” It comes only by faith in Christ.
In Christ we have power to stand in the face of opposition, power that saves no matter the obstacles and, thirdly:
III. Power to Share whatever the Outcome (26:19-32)
Paul never stops sharing his faith. I hope several of you who picked up one of those little, evangelistic booklets I handed out Wednesday have had an opportunity to share your faith. Trust God to give you an opportunity today. Watch Paul share his faith:
19 ” Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,
20 “but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.
21 “For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.
22 “Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come —
23 “that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”
24 Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!” (That’s “mad” as in, “crazy.” Festus is under conviction).
25 But he said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. 26 “For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner.
That is, “Everybody knows what’s been going on here and around Jerusalem over the past several years. You don’t have to go far to find someone who can tell you about Jesus of Nazareth.” Now, not only is Festus under conviction, but so is King Agrippa;
27 “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.”
28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”
I think the best translation here is something of a question. I think Agrippa is asking, “Do you think you can make me a Christian in such a short time?”
29 And Paul said, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.”
Isn’t that great?! Paul is like, “My goal in life is that not only you, but everyone in this place would become what I am—except for these chains.” That is, “I want everyone to be a Christian. My goal in life is not to have the most money, not to have the most toys, not to be the most powerful person in the world, not to waste my life on worldly amusements and recreation. My goal in life is that others would come to know Christ.”
30 When he had said these things, the king stood up, as well as the governor and Bernice and those who sat with them;
31 and when they had gone aside, they talked among themselves, saying, “This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains.”
32 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
So Agrippa doesn’t become a believer. He just stands up and everyone else stands up and it’s all over. They agree Paul has done nothing deserving of death or chains and the chapter ends. But I love this about Paul: he stays focused on the main thing. He’s more interested in others than himself. He’s like, “My main goal in life is not my release. It’s that others might come to know Christ through me.”
That’s the power of a changed life. And by God’s grace that’s the power God gives you, too.
- Stand for prayer.
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