Tuesday, November 1, 2016

"The Gospel ... a LIGHT to Jews and to Gentiles!"

Day #307

Scripture Reading:  Acts 25 - 26 …

What must it be like to be on trial for preaching the Gospel?  Paul had faced what we might say was more than his share of suffering for preaching the Gospel.  He had been beaten, put in jail and treated horribly ever since he believed in Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, and began preaching the Gospel.  It had been more than two years now since Felix, the governor of Caesarea, had placed Paul in jail, not because he found him guilty of anything, but to pacify the Jews who wanted to stop Paul from preaching the Gospel and making disciples of Jesus.  Now Festus had replaced Felix and the Jews saw an opportunity to kill Paul, so they asked Festus to transfer him to Jerusalem, hoping to ambush him along the way.  Paul, however, appealed to Caesar, so Festus ordered that he be sent to Rome.

Before he was transferred there, however, King Agrippa and his wife arrived in Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus.  As God ordained it, Festus shared the details of Paul's case with Agrippa.  His explanation is classic!  After listening to the Jews' accusations and Paul's testimony, this is what Festus had come away with:  "When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected.  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" (25:18-19).  How is that for a summary of the conflict between the Jewish leaders who had rejected Jesus and Paul, who had come to believe in Him?  Truer words have never been spoken!!  It's about "a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive!"

If Jesus is alive, then the Gospel is true; if He is dead then Christianity itself is a cruel hoax.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.  For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (II Corinthians 4:4-6).  Festus was right when he said that the issue was that the Jews said Jesus was dead and Paul testified that He was ALIVE!!

Paul had been testifying to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the region and now GOD (not Festus) was sending him to Rome.  But before he went, he needed to testify to King Agrippa.  Like Festus, and Felix before him, these political leaders cared more about pleasing the Jews and others under them than about truth … especially "religious" truth.  But Paul did not miss an opportunity to share the Gospel and to call anyone, even kings and rulers, to repentance and faith in Jesus.  

As he stood before Agrippa, Paul declared his innocence of any wrongdoing, but said, "it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today" (26:6).  As a Pharisee, Paul knew the Old Testament scriptures well, but he had missed the truth that the Messiah would be the "suffering servant" of Isaiah 53.  His eyes had been opened and now he used the Old Testament to support his claim that Jesus was, in fact, the promised Messiah, who came to suffer for the sins of His people and to redeem them from the coming judgment of God.  Paul knew that he was a sinner, saved by grace, and he wanted to tell everyone the good news!

He explained his conversion on the road to Damascus and recounted what Jesus had told him:  "I am sending you to them (the Gentiles) 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" (26:17-18).  The message of the Gospel is clear.  Faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation, for forgiveness, for life.  There is no other way to be saved.  It is impossible to read through the book of Acts and come to any other conclusion.  The Gospel is the same for Jews as it is for Gentiles:  "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31).

Paul again appealed to the Scriptures of the Old Testament as he made his defense before King Agrippa and Festus:  "I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen - that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to His own people (the Jews) and to the Gentiles" (26:22-23).  Christianity is not a “new” religion; it is the fulfillment of true biblical Judaism.  No other religion, be it Judaism, Islam or any other declares the truth concerning the one way of salvation through faith in Jesus, the Christ.  

When Paul referred to the Scriptures, Festus responded the way blind people do today:  "You are out of your mind, Paul!  Your great learning is driving you insane" (26:24).  King Agrippa's response was also sadly typical of many today:  "Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" (26:28).  Paul replied, "Short time or long - I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains" (26:29).  Such must be our heart's desire today, moving us to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ at every opportunity, for without the Gospel, without the Spirit, there can be and will be no repentance, no faith and no life in Jesus.

May this message be on our lips as we live in this world, testifying to the truth that Jesus is the Christ, that He is alive, and that through faith in Him there is forgiveness and life.  This message, and this message alone, is the Gospel … a light to the Jews and the Gentiles … bringing salvation to all who believe!

"O Lord our God, to YOU alone I come, trusting in Jesus for forgiveness and life.  I believe that Jesus IS the Christ, the fulfillment of Your promises to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to all whom You have chosen to be Yours.  I believe that in Christ I find all I need and I live now to testify to the truth of who He is and what He has done, pointing people to what is yet to come when He returns.  Use me, Father, to be a light to all I meet, pointing them to Jesus, calling them to repent and believe and be saved.  Thank You, Father, for calling ME to be yours!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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