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How God Changes People


How God Changes People

Text: Acts 26:1-11 

Paul is standing in the great auditorium, surrounded by important people. Agrippa gave him permission to speak, v1 Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself.  and he begins.  Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself:  This hand gesture, seems to indicate that it’s a formal defence.  As a Pharisee…

1 Paul Expected the Fulfilment of Israel’s Hope. V6-7

Every pious Jew was looking for the promise of God to Israel to be realised. At the circumcision of Christ in the Temple, there was a man serving God as a priest.  Listen to how the Bible describes him, in Luke 2:25  He was one of those devout Jews, who waited daily for God to fulfil his promises to the nation.   Let’s briefly recollect some of those promises:- To Adam and Eve. Genesis 12:2-3 Genesis 13:16 .To David. 2 Samuel 7:12-16  To Israel through Isaiah.  Isaiah 9:6-7   Now, Paul as a devout Pharisee, fervently believed every one of those promises and more.  He believed that God would raise up a deliverer, a saviour, a Messiah, who would be sent from God to deliver Israel, and to establish David’s kingdom for ever and ever.  But as a Christian, Paul believed that all of those amazing promises were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  Christianity was not a deviant, heretical sect within Judaism, but it was the logical fulfilment of everything Israel for which the Jewish nation was raised up and called.  In Christ, Israel had become a light, to lighten the Gentiles, and bless all the nations of the world.  He wrote to the gentile churches, explaining this… Galatians 3:6-8  Galatians 3:29  

Certainly Simeon, that old man of the Jerusalem Temple connected the dots.  As the infant Jesus was brought into the temple he praised God, Luke 2:28-33  Jesus is Israel’s Messiah!

Now, secondly, as a Pharisee:-

2 Paul Believed in the Resurrection of the DeadV8  

Paul has been speaking to King Agrippa, but there’s a change in this sentence.  The word ‘you’ is plural.  The Gentile crowd will be sceptical, they will think it impossible that a dead man can rise. So Paul takes his gaze off Agrippa, who as a Jew, would have certainly believed in the resurrection, and looked around the room, or the arena, and he asked this question of them all.  “Why should it be thought incredible, (the word is ἄπιστος – apistos – unbelief) that God should raise the dead?”  What a challenge!  It’s the challenge that must be put to every secular sceptic to this very day, for the Gospel hangs on the fact of the risen Saviour, who lives, and is able to save. READ: 1st Corinthians 15:1-4:-   Belief in the resurrection of Christ is absolutely fundamental.  You cannot be a Christian, without a firm and convinced belief that we have a risen Saviour, who lives, eternally, and is seated in heavenly places. 1 Cor. 15:14  So Paul challenges his audience.  Why do you think it so incredible, that God should raise the dead – the God who created the world, and who breathed life into dust and made a man, and who sent his own Son to be born of a virgin, – how could that powerful God not raise his own son, – and us – from the dead! To believe in resurrection is one of the basic doctrines of Judaism, a doctrine treasured and fervently believed by the Pharisees.  Job 19:26, Psalm 17:15, Psalm 16:10, Hosea 5:14; 10:13–15; 13:1, Isaiah 25:8, Ezekiel 37:3–5-10, – and the key verse in OT Theology, Daniel 12:2 Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. As a Christian, Paul was only preaching the logical outcome of OT doctrine, that God had raised His Son from the dead.  Finally, as a Pharisee:-

3. Paul Learned His Guilt under the Law.  V9-11 

Paul lists his crimes against the church, crimes that he had committed in his unconverted state, and crimes that he had believed at the time were fully justified under the laws of the Pharisees.  Let’s just examine them for a moment:-

  • The object of his crimes. things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. – and many of the saints.  Remember that at his conversion on the Damascus Road, Jesus had said, Acts 9:4 When Paul was persecuting the church, he was in effect, persecuting Christ, for the church is His body!
  • The geographical extent of his crimes.  Paul carried out his persecution through the agency of the local synagogues. And when he had done his devilish work in Jerusalem, he wasn’t finished, for he even went on to foreign cities.  
  • The description of his crimes.  Now, this is the really important part.  Look at the language that Paul uses to describe his sinful activities. It began within his own sinful heart, V9.  He got permission from the Jewish authorities, he shut them up in prison, he spoke against them, voted against them, executed them, tortured them to the point of blasphemy, was full of bitter fury against them, even following them when they fled elsewhere.

Now, note carefully the ferocity of his rage and depth of his wickedness, and the candour of his confession. He just blurts it all out, and he holds nothing back.  In this defence, he expands upon those crimes, and makes a more complete confession of the heinous nature of what he had done.  Now that has lead some commentators to see a pattern of a growing deeper recognition of his own sinful life, his own unworthiness and the natural sinful state of mankind in general.    Here’s the progression.  Compare 1 Corinthians 15:9 and 1 Timothy 1:15.  Between ‘the least of the apostles’ to ‘the chief of sinners’ is there a growing realisation of the depth of sin, utter abhorrence in the sight of God, the awfulness of the burden of sin, which was laid upon Christ at the cross, and the greatness of of the extent to which forgiveness has been obtained?   

We seek Christian growth in young believers.  Typically we want to see them grow strong in the faith, and confident in their salvation, gaining more and more assurance.  But should not we also be seeking a deepening appreciation of our sinfulness?  Only when that happens can we recognise sin when it rears its ugly head in our hearts, only then can we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the mortification of that sin.

© Bob McEvoy January 2022

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