Gospel Power to Fuel and Fulfill the Mission – Acts 25:1-26:32
We are down to the final four chapters (which we will cover in three messages) of our yearlong series in the book of Acts. The theme of this series has been “Pulled in, Pushed Out: A Church on Mission.” The movement of the Gospel is to pull you into the heart of God and then push you out to bring others into His heart.
The Apostle Paul, in these last few chapters, is a living example, Exhibit A if you will, of what that means. He was once the chief executor of Christians, Christ saves him, pulls him into God’s heart and then pushes him out to be the greatest missionary of all time. The last eight chapters of Acts is Paul as a prisoner in Jerusalem getting to Rome with the Gospel. This is Acts 1:8 lived out before us.
Luke gives the Apostle Paul to show us that being on mission and getting the Gospel deeper in our hearts does not come easy. Paul’s life ends in prison. Jesus’ earthly life ends on a cross. As we meet Paul here, there is a lot of uncertainty. Jesus told him he will get to Rome, but two years have passed since that statement. The Roman justice system seems like a joke. It makes you wonder if you were Paul: “Can I really trust God when my circumstances scream ‘no way’!” When God seems silent? How is the Gospel going to fuel Paul and fulfill the mission? The Gospel doesn’t bring power. It is power. How do we access it for ourselves? Two things:
I. The pushing power of pain (Acts 25:1-27)
Let’s set the context. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem for disturbing the peace, causing riots and preaching heresy (Acts 21-22). The Lord meets him and encourages Paul as well tell him he will make it to Rome (not told how or when though—Acts 23:11). By God’s providence, he escaped an ambush assassination attempt by some Jews (Acts 23). He ends up on trial before the Governor Felix in Caesarea (Acts 24). Paul uses the opportunity to share the Gospel with him (Acts 24:24ff). Felix doesn’t want to hear it.
Don’t miss this verse at the end of Acts 24 in v.27. Two years pass! Sometimes we think all of this happened in a week. Two years since Jesus said you will get to Rome. Governor Felix is then out of office and a new guy, Festus, comes along. Think about it. You spent all this time defending yourself with one official. He doesn’t seem to be affected by it. Now a new guy comes. You know what I would be thinking?
I have to start all over with Festus now? I feel like I’m going backward here! To make matters worse, the Jewish leaders try to take advantage of the new guy in office and bring up the same old stuff, namely, to get Paul back to Jerusalem where they can kill him. It was hard to get Paul away from Jerusalem and now there is a possibility that he might have to go back. What happened to Rome? Two steps forward. Three steps back! Things are not changing for Paul’s circumstances. It’s been two years and they still haven’t gotten anything on him. It’s getting tougher. Where is God? No mention here of any more visits from the Lord or even from God’s people. Paul’s alone batted around like a Ping-Pong ball between the Jews and Festus. Paul is clearly innocent, but justice does not seem to be served here. Paul continues to say the same things and seeing that justice does not seem to be served with Festus, he finally says in Acts 25:10, “I want a fair trial as a Roman citizen. If you can’t resolve it, send me to the highest court.”
More time passes in v.13. The Governor Festus answers to the King, who is Agrippa, and he answers to the Caesar, who happens to be Nero at this time. Festus is trying to figure out what to do with Paul’s case when the King pays him a complimentary visit to celebrate his new office. Agrippa grew up in Jerusalem and was an expert on Jewish matters. King Agrippa’s father had killed the Apostle James in Acts 12. His great-grandfather Herod, try to kill Jesus when he was born. Agrippa arrives with Bernice. They are always mentioned together. Bernice is Agrippa’s sister. However, rumors circulated that there was some incestuous relationship going on here. She also at one time married her uncle—Herod, King of Chalcis. Later she was the Emperor’s mistress.  There are all different kinds of messed up going on here. Anyway, Festus tells Agrippa about a prisoner named Paul and how he keeps talking a certain Jesus who was dead, but now is alive (v.19). Agrippa finally says, “Let me hear this myself. Arrange a meeting.”
We are not sure what Paul is thinking, but if I were he, meeting King Agrippa would be nerve wracking for me. Violence is in this guy’s blood. Paul knows this. He could very well chop off Paul’s head here! Two years of silence, starting all over with a new governor, escaping another assassination attempt from the Jews and now having to stand before this King. What is going on?
Being on mission always means trusting God for His timing even when we feel like the time’s up and it’s too late. There is a clue about how Paul learned to see his life in Acts 26 when he shares his testimony. Look at Acts 26:14:
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” I never understood that until recently. I always pictured Paul on the ground kicking the air like a kid with a tantrum.
What is a goad? Goads were spears basically that shepherds used, pointed sticks that shepherds used to jab the sheep to keep them from going in dangerous ways. What God is trying to say is the way he gets us to go into his arms is usually through disasters, through troubles. Not through successes; through failures.
Sheep never feel loved when they’re being loved. Remember Jacob at the end of his life he says, “God has my shepherd all my life long to this day” (Gen. 48:15). It doesn’t say, “He is my Rancher and I am His horse.” If a horse gets away from a rancher, the horse leaves and becomes a wild horse. If a sheep gets away from the shepherd, the sheep dies. Sheep cannot get back home on their own. They are helpless against parasites and predators. Jacob was a professional shepherd so he knows this.
It’s an amazing statement that Jacob says, especially when you think about his life. He was raised by a dad who didn’t love him. This poisoned his life as he schemed to get his father’s love and blessing. He worked 20 years for an uncle, Laban who exploited, manipulated and stole from him. He was forced to marry a woman he didn’t love. When he finally got to marry the woman he did love, she died within just a few years in childbirth. Finally, the light of his eyes, Joseph is seized by his jealous brothers and sold off into slavery. Jacob has spent 20 plus years in clinical depression and now he says that God was his shepherd.
How do you love a sheep? You poke it with a goad, seize it, you grab it and tie it up and carry it on your shoulder. The shepherd is always doing what is best for the sheep and the sheep don’t know it. When the shepherd is loving the sheep, the sheep never feels loved, though the shepherd loves them.
Paul realized that even before he knew Christ, Christ was pursuing him, poking him into His arms. The Lord’s silence is never His absence. In the silence, He’s allowing pain, hurt, disappointment, annoying people, heartbreak, etc. Why? Because we are sheep who need to be poked into the Saviors arms.
The Gospel says that Jesus became a lamb who was led to the slaughter. He didn’t get a goad. He got execution. He experienced ultimate silence and separation in darkness as He bore our sin. He didn’t need to be poked by a goad to the cross. He went willingly in His suffering and lost His father’s arms, so today, in our suffering, we can run into His.
I feel like life is one big goad. Everything and everyone in our lives, our good times and bad, annoying people and best friends, spouse, kids, strange cousins, awful supervisors, irritating in-laws, demanding parents, the slow driver on the left lane, the delay of God with things, unanswered prayers, breakup of a relationship, etc. Everything is a goad to push you into the arms of Jesus. But we kick against the goads. The underlying problem of our heart is that we want to kick God out of our lives. We kick our spouses, friends, authority figures, etc. not seeing that God sends them to steer us in the right direction, to make us wiser, stronger, big hearted and mature. We think everyone else is the problem or the situation is the problem, but the greatest problem in the universe as GK Chesterton said, is me. We kick and we kick against the goads that the Lord sends.
I remember there was a time I felt really inadequate: as a husband, father, pastor, etc. in every way (this happens a lot actually). One time I blurted out, “Lord there is nothing good about me!” And it was a still small voice of the Lord in my heart that replied, “You’re right. You finally admit it. The only thing good about you is me.” The only thing good about Robin Koshy is Jesus Christ. The only thing righteous about Robin Koshy is Jesus Christ. I have no other argument. I have other plea. Nothing else to boast in. I worship you Lord, my righteousness and my all. See what happened there? I finally stopped kicking against the goads. That pain pushed me into His arms. This needs to happen over and over again in our lives.
Are you kicking against His goads today? Are you saying, “I trust you with this, but you can’t have that?” It’s my time. It’s my reputation. It’s my money. It’s my heart. It’s my life! My spouse is the problem. My parents are the problem. My in-laws are the problem. This church member is the problem. Surrender to His goad. There is a pushing power to our pain. The more you do, the more you will be on mission. Secondly,
II. The wonder working power of the Gospel (Acts 26:1-32)
In Acts 26, Paul gets the opportunity to stand before Agrippa. This is amazing. Paul recognizes this situation is not an obstacle in his life, but an opportunity to testify of the Gospel to the world’s most elite people. In Acts 26:1-16, he shares his painful past of being so religious and sincere, but without knowing God. He replays yet again how he was full of rage as his veins protruded out of the side of his neck as he ruthlessly killed Christians.
While he was arresting Christians, Christ arrested him. The Gospel of Grace never gets old for Paul. He is always captured by the wonder of it all Christ forgave him, pulled him in with love and look at v.17: “sending you.” What was he sent to do? To be used for people to get four things in v.18: bring illumination because they are in darkness, to give liberation, because they are in bondage, to receive pardon because they have offended God and to give them belonging, because the positions and places of this world is empty. Paul then calls him to repent as Christ has ordered Paul to tell others in vv.19-21. He shares the Gospel and invites Agrippa to believe in vv.22-23. This Gospel is for everybody! This is pretty bold move towards Agrippa and almost presents Agrippa as the one truly in chains here, a beggar in bondage.
As he shares, Festus interrupts and blurts out in v.24: “You’re nuts! You are just a smart idiot.” Paul stays calm and polite in v.25 and moves closer to King Agrippa. Agrippa is not dumb. He knows of Christianity all of his life. Paul says, “We were not some cult that met in some basement secretly. This stuff has gone viral already. Look at the all the hits on Youtube. Look at how many times those status’ were shared and tweets retweeted” (Robin Standard Version of v.26). Paul also throws in the card of “I know you believe in Judaism” in v.27. Agrippa probably doesn’t but if he admits that, he will lose the Jewish audience. Paul knows that.
I like Agrippa’s response in v.28: “Are you trying to convert me in such a short time?” Paul, could it be that my life of debauchery and immorality could be turned around like yours was—in an instant? Notice he doesn’t say, “Festus is right. You are nuts.” He’s conceding to the fact that Paul is right. There is rational validity to what he’s saying. Remember that at the end of John’s gospel, John says that he didn’t write everything because the books couldn’t hold it all (John 20:25). 1 Cor. 15 that Paul says Jesus appeared to people and even 500 at one time (1 Cor. 15:6). We can believe one or two could have hallucinated, but 500, at one time? So people were around who saw Lazarus raised, Jesus resurrected, who were at the feeding of the 5,000. All of this evidence cannot be ignored.
We don’t have to check our minds at the door when we believe the Gospel. It makes rational sense if you care to do the research. So the Gospel is about to grip Agrippa here and he feels the tug to believe. Look at Paul’s response: “I’m not trying just to convert you, but everyone here, so you might become just as I am, without these chains.” He wanted everybody to be like him, including the king—everybody a Christian, but nobody a prisoner. 
Go back to Acts 25:23. Agrippa and Bernice had come with a lot of razzle dazzle with lots of military personnel and elite of the elites. It was a gala affair. Picture this: Agrippa and Bernice arrayed in purple, Festus in red, commanders, rigid legionnaires, manipulative politicians, and in walks Paul, appearing even smaller and more insignificant in his chains and humble dress. The scene was carefully constructed to intimidate. Luke seems to mock human attempts of grandeur and the emptiness of it all. But it is in light of all this Paul says, “You can have bright lights, but they cannot dispel the darkness of your heart. You can have all these resources to your disposal, but they cannot deliver you from being slaves to those things. You can have towers and cathedrals, cities and land, places you can own as King, but those will be taken away from you, but the Gospel gives me a place where nothing can take it away from me.”
So all of you with your pomp, wealth and position, be like me, a dirt prisoner, but co-heirs with Christ, who happens to own the universe. This interaction with King Agrippa reminded me of what another king, a self-proclaimed King said in the media recently:
Pro basketball star LeBron James is a four-time league MVP who has won two NBA championships. In an interview with USA Today, King James said,
“What really got to me [when we won the NBA championship] was how short of a time it lasted. The championship lasts (he snaps his fingers) just like that. The confetti rains, you go in the locker room, pop the champagne, you do the media, you have the parade and then it’s over. It’s over. You’re looking around, and everybody’s back to normal. I was like, “Wow, that was an unbelievable 48 hours. I want it again.” It was the best 48 hours of my life, and I needed that again … I have a drive that’s burning inside of me, and I want to continue to be successful.”
It is like my three year old chasing bubbles. Looks great initially, but you end up with a hand of soap. John Piper adds, “If you don’t see the greatness of God, then all the things that money can buy become very exciting. If you can’t see the sun, you will be impressed with a street light. If you’ve never felt thunder and lightning, you’ll be impressed with fire works. And if you turn your back on the greatness and majesty of God, you’ll fall in love with a world of shadows and short-lived pleasures. If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night.” What small things have we stuffed our souls with that have left no room for the great wonder of the Gospel?
The reasons for a lot of our discontent of life, our grumbling, our anxiety and fear is due to losing the wonder of the greatness of the Gospel. We become used to it and then bored like the people living by Niagara Falls who don’t hear the water anymore. Notice that it is not just that Paul got saved by the Gospel that fills him with wonder but the effects of the Gospel, i.e. all that is his now because of the Gospel. There is a sense of wonder that overflows from his heart, even in the midst of such persecution and unfavorable circumstances that give him power to not only survive, but to thrive.
Paul has come to realize that the Gospel was sufficient for him. The Gospel has given him everything. Forgiveness, to start with, is already huge. As one pastor said, “Santa Claus makes a list and checks it twice in order to find out who’s naughty and nice. Our Father, on the other hand, makes a list and checks it once. Then He nails it to the Cross, where the blood of His Son covers it completely. The list of our sins, shortcomings, and stupidity is blotted out in totality by the blood of the Son of God.”  And that’s just the beginning. Not just pardon, but a place, a home and not just the get out of hell card.
He’s given everything away because of the Gospel. How can you take something from someone who has given it all away? The Gospel has given him forgiveness, liberation, illumination and belonging and a future hope of resurrection (26:6-8, 23). Whatever you give to Jesus, He will return in better condition than when you first gave it to him. Even if Paul’s head is cut off here, he will be planted in the ground like seed and one day come forth even better than he looks now. You can give your reputation away for Jesus, because one day you will reign with him. He’ll make it better. In the resurrection, you won’t just get a new body, but the body you always wanted. You won’t just get a new life, but the life you always wanted. In the words of Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” For Paul, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). What about for us? Would we say, “To live is Christ and to die is gain?” Or would we say, “To live is money? Then to die is to leave it all behind.” Or would we say, “To live is fame? Then to die is to quickly forgotten.” Or would we say, “To live is power and influence? Then to die is to lose both.” Or would we say, “To live is possessions? Then to die is to depart with nothing in my hands.”
How can Paul say “To live is Christ and die is gain”? Through the Gospel. The Gospel tells Paul he is standing in front of a greater King than Agrippa. A King who gave him illumination, but went through great darkness to get it. A King who gave him liberation, but at the expense of suffering as a criminal for a crime He didn’t commit. A King who offers pardon, though paid the cost of His life, dying the death we should have died. A King who gives him a place to belong, a home, but at the expense of losing His place as the King, becoming a slave, even to death on the cross.
If this King did all that for me and I have a place in that King’s home pardoned, accepted, welcomed and free, I need not worry about bowing down to you or worry about my future or my life. Even when pain pushes me, I run into His arms for love so amazing and so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all. As the songwriter says,
How many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Only one did that for me.
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Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer
Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (842). Nashville, TN: Thomas
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Zillgett, J. “LeBron James on his personal goal ‘to be the greatest.’” http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/heat/2013/10/28/lebron-james-greatest-of-all-time-threepeat-miami-michael-jordan/3289391/ accessed 6 December 2013.
Piper, J. “The Curse of Careless Worship,” http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/the-curse-of-careless-worship accessed 17 March 2012.
Piper, J. (1997). A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer (23). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.
Piper, J. (1997). (14).
Courson, J. (1315).