Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. The Jews wanted Paul dead. Paul appealed to Caesar and ended up in a Caesarea prison.
Years passed. Eventually, a new governor appeals to Rome's king in Palestine, Herod Agrippa, and so the Gospel was taken to ever higher government levels. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Pastor Lutzer, Paul's endurance was amazing, waiting years to see the next Roman official in sequence on his way to the Roman capital. And you know, Dave, the apostle Paul was always true to the Gospel. He knew that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was the power of God unto salvation.
And of course, he spoke truth to power, as the saying goes, and he was faithful all the way to the end, even though he knew that it could eventually end up that he would become a prisoner in Rome, and many people believe that he died a martyr. Thank God for Paul. Let me ask you a question. Are you aware of the fact that some public universities have speech codes?
I'm thinking of one university that says that banned words include picnic, trigger warning, freshman, addict, disabled person, policeman. What's going on? These are the kinds of issues I discuss in my new book, No Reason to Hide. And at the end of this message, I'm going to explain to you the purpose of these speech codes.
So you stay tuned. If you've ever had anything to do with a court system, you know that it can be very unjust. Court systems, even though supposedly justice is to be blind and therefore not dependent upon the person, court systems notoriously are involved in lies, deception, payoffs, and political considerations. And today in this message, what I want us to do is to see two things. First of all, the fact that God uses injustice in court systems for his own purposes and his own glory. And secondly, we're going to be talking about that which makes God the most obvious to the world. We could say it's God at his best. Now, technically, of course, God is always at his best. We know that. But there are times when we look at a situation and we say, surely God did that.
And we're going to see one of those today. The passage of scripture I want you to turn to is the 25th chapter of the book of Acts. Acts chapter 25. And actually, to put this in context, I need to remind you that the Apostle Paul was in Jerusalem and caused a riot. People falsely accused him. They said that he was guilty of bringing a Gentile into an area of the temple where Gentiles were not supposed to go.
That was false, but it didn't matter. 40 people wanted to kill him, and they said that they were going to fast until they did. And so Paul was taken to Caesarea about 50, 60 miles. Caesarea is the Roman place. Jerusalem, yes, of course, Herod was there and so forth.
But actually, Caesarea was where the Roman courts were and many of the Roman prisons. So Paul is there, and a man by the name of Felix doesn't know what to do with him. And we find at the end of chapter 24, it says these words, and desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.
And Paul was in prison for two years in Caesarea. Now, the passage in the next chapter, 25, opens with a man by the name of Festus who took Felix's place. Festus is therefore the new governor. Felix is asked to go back to Rome because they didn't think that his relationship with the Jews was as good as it should be. Riots were beginning to break out, and so Festus has the responsibility of the apostle Paul. When Festus arrives, he goes to Jerusalem and says to all of the Jewish leaders, what shall we do with Paul? They says, give him to us. And we read in the text they want him because they want to kill him.
What I want us to do is to set up this marvelous story by putting ourselves in the shoes of Festus. What do you do with Paul? He had three options. One was to send him back to Jerusalem, let him be lynched. That would make the Jews happy, and he'd be rid of him. The problem with that is that Paul had appealed to his Roman citizenship. And for a Roman to be taken and lynched by a mob in Jerusalem without a fair trial was not exactly what Festus wanted to have happen.
There was another possibility, and it would have been the right one to say, Paul, you are innocent of the charges both religious and you have no charges against you so far as Rome is concerned. I'm going to let you go. Just promise you will never return here.
Get out of the country and stay out. And that would have been the right thing to do. But Festus had a problem with that, and that is that the Jews would have been very, very angry with him, very angry. And he needed to keep a good relationship with the Jews.
So the question is what to do. There was a third, and that's the one that Paul requested that he be sent to Rome. But the problem with that is you don't take a prisoner and send him to Rome along with the guards, et cetera, et cetera, unless you have some reason to do so, unless there is some charge that you are bringing. So Festus was in a dilemma that he didn't know how to solve. Well, he thought maybe his dilemma would be lessened by the bringing into the situation of a king. And with that now we're in the 25th chapter, the 25th chapter of the book of Acts, verse 13. Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and greeted Festus. We have to stop there.
We have to stop there for a couple of reasons. First of all, who is this man by the name of Agrippa? Agrippa is one of the Harrods. If you were listening last time, you know that his grandfather, his great grandfather, tried to kill Jesus and massacred the boys who were two years of age and under in the environment of Bethlehem. That was his grandfather. His uncle put John the Baptist to death. His father is the one, obviously, who put James to death with the sword and was planning to kill Peter.
So that's his heritage. So he is given a kingship in the northern area of the country in what was known in those days as northern Palestine. And he is therefore given by Rome the title king. So King Agrippa shows up with a woman by the name of Bernice.
Who is Bernice? She is his sister. And because of this incestuous relationship, his kingship was not well received by the Jews. But Agrippa, being a Herod, said that he was a Jew.
At least he tried to practice Jewish customs. So what's going on here in the text is this. Festus is saying to himself, if I can get Agrippa to come and advise me, I might know what to do with this guy by the name of Paul. So Festus tells Agrippa the whole story. And Agrippa says these words that he wants to see him too. It says in verse 22, then Agrippa said to Festus, I would like to hear this man myself. Tomorrow, Festus said, you will hear him. Now comes one of the most dramatic stories.
I love these kind. This is something like Luther at the Diet of Worms. It's the kind of setting that you hope God videotaped. You'll notice it says the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp. And they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. They are coming with all the paraphernalia of royalty. We're talking gold crowns.
We're talking about such things as purple vestments. And undoubtedly, they were loaded with bling. And they come in here. And who in the world comes in but Paul? And Paul is under arrest. He has chains on his arms.
This becomes very clear because later in the speech, he says, look at these chains. So you'll notice it says, and Paul was brought in. So there's Paul. Historians tell us that Paul was not striking in appearance. Apparently, he was short, somewhat balding. Well, that's not all bad, is it, you guys?
He apparently was sort of bow-legged and just not impressive. And so here you have this guy showing up to give his defense in the midst of all of this ceremony and all of these hot shots. And so Paul is going to defend himself and defend himself he does by giving his testimony. And what I'd like us to do is to look at that testimony. And then we'll see the response of both Agrippa and also of Festus. And then we'll talk about God and injustice and God at his best. The apostle Paul begins his defense.
And you'll notice what Festus is concerned about. He is speaking still to Agrippa. He says in verse 26 of chapter 25, I need to send him to Rome, but I have nothing definite to write to my Lord about him. Therefore, I brought him before you and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after we have examined him, I may have something to write.
He's a guy with a book contract and no idea. What he needs to do is to let Rome know why he's sending this prisoner and he can't find any reason. So he says, Agrippa, listen to this guy and help me out of this mess. All right, Paul speaks. You'll notice that Paul, first of all, begins by talking about his previous conduct, his previous conduct.
You'll notice he says, verse 4, and of course, we have to look at only a few of these verses. My manner of life from my youth, now we're in chapter 26. 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 a Pharisee. Paul says elsewhere, I was a Pharisee of the Pharisees.
I could out Pharisee them all in terms of strictness. Not only that, but I put to death people who belong to the church. You'll notice it says in verse 9, 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 tried to make them blaspheme. He tried to get them to curse Christ, to deny Christ, and in raging fury against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
Wow. Killing Christians, trying to get them to deny the faith. In 1 Timothy chapter 1, when Paul is giving his testimony, he says that I persecuted the church.
It's essentially the same as here, but he says, and my translation translates it, I was insolent. And actually, that Greek word can be translated, I was sadistic in my fury. In other words, what Paul is saying, I not only persecuted people and put them through pain, but I loved doing it. I enjoyed seeing people die. I enjoyed trying to torture them to blaspheme the name.
Now I need to ask a question. Did the Apostle Paul think that he was right in doing this? Was he absolutely convinced that he was right? Absolutely convinced.
No question at all. He thought that he was right in doing it. And you know, you have people today who believe that they are right. On Friday, Rebecca and I were here in the city to do some business and we caught a cab and the man who was the cab driver was a Muslim.
And as you might have guessed, I began to engage him in conversation. And I was trying to explain to him how Jesus died for sinners. And he said Jesus didn't die. He says the Quran says that Jesus didn't die.
And that's absolutely right. Surah 4, 157 to 159, in the Quran says that Jesus didn't die, but they thought they were crucifying Jesus, but they were crucifying someone else. I mentioned to him that Muhammad lived 600 years after the time of Jesus. The New Testament had eyewitness accounts that are even corroborated by secular history, Cassitus and others.
It became clear after a while that this discussion was one in which facts would not play any great prominence. But what I did then is what I should have done at the beginning. I appealed to his conscience.
That's the best way to witness. The way you appeal to a person's conscience is I began to ask him, how do you manage sin in your life? Do you live up to what the Quran teaches? No, he said he didn't. I began to ask him now, what is Allah going to do with you in light of the fact that you do not live up? And he said that he would just simply trust Allah. Do you have the assurance that you are forgiven when you stand before God that you'll go to heaven? No, I don't have any assurance.
I have to put a parenthesis here because this is very important for all of us to understand. There are people in the world today who are just as convinced in many respects as we are that their religion is right, but what they lack is individual assurance. No other religion on the face of this earth can give individual assurance. And the reason for that is because Christians are not depending upon their own performance. You see, the problem that you have, if you don't have Christ, the problem that you have is simply this.
You're trying your best. You know that you sin, but you know, you don't know how high God's standard is and you don't know what he's going to do with you when you get there. Whereas because Jesus came to die for us as the son of God, dying for us, paying our penalty, our faith therefore is totally in him and not our own performance.
So it's not a matter of saying, I wonder if I'm good enough. We already admit we aren't, but Jesus stands in for us, bears our penalty, takes our sin on his shoulders. And then on top of that, when you believe you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which confirms that in your heart, the spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. So what you always need to do is to understand there are people fanatically committed to their religion like Paul was, killing people, but they do not have assurance. And by the way, before we left, we mentioned that God loved him. We wanted him to understand that. And Rebecca actually also quoted John 3 16, where God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. But the bottom line is this, the Apostle Paul in being a violent, sadistic man was absolutely convinced he was right.
That was his conduct. Well, we'd better hurry on to his conversion. You'll notice that he says, he journeyed to Jerusalem.
I'm in verse 12 now with the authority and the commission of the chief priests. And at midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the light of 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. Couple of comments here.
So rich. First of all, notice that the light came and all of them fell to the ground. This was not some kind of a private hallucination.
Everybody saw the light. Not everyone in the delegation heard the voice. Paul makes that clear, but he hears a voice because this is directed toward him. And the voice says, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goad. A goad is a stick that was used to prod cattle. And so what he's saying is, Paul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to resist my will. And also, I am goading you in an entirely different direction and it is hard for you to resist it.
Parenthesis. I believe that the apostle Paul, when he was putting Christians in prison, when he was trying to get them to renounce Christ, when he was in cahoots in killing them, when he stood there at the stoning of Stephen and the Bible says that they took Stephen's clothes and they laid them at the feet of the apostle Paul. I think that Paul had moments of deep disquiet in his conscience. You know, when you find violent people, you have to understand that one of the reasons for their violence is because they are so interested in defending their faith. But the other reason is to cover a very troubled conscience.
People are not willing to take the time to follow their conscience where it leads. So Jesus said to him, it is difficult for you to kick, he says, against the goads. And he said, who are you, Lord?
Talk about a revelation right there. And the Lord said, I am Jesus who you are persecuting. There's a magazine that comes out periodically that is the magazine of the martyrs.
And I don't read it as often as I should, but as I look at those pictures of people in places such as Sudan and elsewhere, Saudi Arabia. When I think of young men asking to dig their own graves so that they can be buried in those graves, here's a verse of scripture. It is Jesus whom they persecute.
It is Jesus in that grave digging it. It is Jesus in that jail when people persecute believers. Well, Jesus revealed himself to Paul and then Jesus said, rise and stand on your feet because I have appointed you. Now we've talked about his conversion and I need to explain that and it will become a little clearer as we now look at his commission. God says, Jesus said, I'm sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light, 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. That's verse 18. That's Paul's commission.
Boy, we have to stop here now, don't we? Because this is New Testament conversion. What Jesus is saying is, Paul, I am commissioning you to preach a message that is going to take people from darkness into light. Why is it that the gospel is light? We're talking about the fact that people without Christ live in moral darkness. They live in moral darkness and they manage their sin.
Yes, indeed, we have an entire generation that manages its sin, but thankfully in the midst of this, God is still calling people to himself. At the beginning of this broadcast, I mentioned that there's a public university that has speech codes. In fact, many universities do. You're not supposed to use the word picnic, trigger warning, freshman, addict.
And by the way, if there's a barbershop in your area, don't say that they take walk-ins because it might offend those who cannot walk. Let me ask you a question. What's going on there? Is it to heighten the discussion, to enliven the debate? Of course not. The purpose of these speech codes is to silence the debate. More than 50% of students say that they keep their views to themselves. They're afraid of saying a simple, straightforward sentence.
When you go into a restaurant, can you ask for a menu? Nobody knows. These are the kinds of issues I discuss in my new book entitled No Reason to Hide. As a matter of fact, in chapter 6 I give six different ways that language is used in propaganda.
These are the kinds of issues that we must confront today. Now for a gift of any amount, this book can be yours. Simply go to rtwoffer.com.
Write that down, rtwoffer.com, or call us at 1-888-218-9337. Ask for the book No Reason to Hide, Standing for Christ in a Collapsing Culture. The Sadness of Almost. Next time on Running to Win, Paul's personal testimony has a deep impact on a Roman king who almost believes. The apostle pled his case before the king, seizing the moment to make sure the gospel was understood. We'll turn to Acts chapter 26 and hear Paul recount the words Jesus said to him on the Damascus road.
It's no secret that America is in crisis. Pastor's book No Reason to Hide, Standing for Christ in a Collapsing Culture, will be sent as our gift to you when you give a gift of any amount to support Running to Win. Just call us at 1-888-218-9337. That's 1-888-218-9337. Online go to rtwoffer.com. That's rtwoffer.com. Or write to Running to Win, Moody Church, 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois 60614. This is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
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