The Promises Of God And Their Fulfilment
Authored by Takao Kiyohiro, Osaka, Japan firstname.lastname@example.org
Translated by Rev. Mike Furey email@example.com
TEXT: Acts 26:1-18
Last week we readhow Paul had been summoned before king Agrippa. As we enter
chapter twenty-six, Agrippa gives Paul permission to defend himself saying, "You
may speak about your personal affairs." What the risen Christ told
before comes to fulfilment through this. It is exactly as Jesus had
been saying in Acts 9:15, "That person is the vessel whom I have chosen
to pass my name on to Gentiles, kings, and to the children of Israel."
That is, although it may seem here like Agrippa is giving permission when
he has Paul summoned before them, actually in summoning Paul Agrippa himself
is the one being summoned before God. He is summoned before God with
all his pomp and puff stripped away and not as a king but as a sinner by
himself. This was done in order to pass on to him the name of Jesus
and to pass on to him in proclamation the goodnews of the gospel.
Chapter twenty-six contains a record of the contents of that message.
Today we read the first half. We shouldn't think that Luke was recording
this as some simple record of the past. That's not what he did.
This passage was recorded so that as we also read the Acts of the Apostles
we would stand in the same place with Agrippa and hear the message of the
gospel which Paul gave out.
Paul The Jew
After the brief introduction,Paul begins telling Agrippa first about himself.
Please refer toverses four and following. "Well, any Jew would know how my life
from my younger days, which was from the beginning among my fellow countrymen
and amid Jerusalem. They knew the way I was. So, if they wanted
to testify about me, they could testify about how I lived as a member of
the Pharisees which is the strictest sect in our religion. Now, my
standing here on trial in judgment is placing hope on the fulfilment of
the promises God gave to our ancestors. Our twelve tribes served
God fervently both night and day and hoped for the fulfilment of
those promises. O king, because I embrace this hope I am being
accused by the Jews. Why are you thinking it is so hard to believe
that God causes the dead to resurrect?", (26:4-8).
Without touching on the fact he was born in Tarsus of Cilicia he says that he was
just a Jew belonging to the Pharisee sect. It would also be known by other Jews how
he had received a rigorous education under the famous teacher Rabbi Gamaliel.
So Paul said they could have testified about those facts as well.
And on top of his having affirmed these points, Paul was beginning to tell
how he shared the same hopes with other Jews. That is, this was the
hope of the kingdom of God at the end of the world, and it was the coming
of the messiah and the hope of the resurrection. Although the Sadducees
did not believe these things, at least in those days the hope of the resurrection
had become an important element of Jewish traditional faith. Beginning
with the Pharisees, many people believed in the fulfilment of this promise;
they hoped and waited and hoped for it. There were people holding
fast to this simplistic hope just like Simeon and Anna who appear in the
Luke chapter two and who earnestly hoped and prayed steadfastly for the
kingdom of God. Paul is emphasizing that he also believes this as
one of the Jews. This point was also referred to in the defense speech
(chapter twenty-four) given before Felix. Ironically, he was
on trial and was being charged by the Jews for waiting in hope for the
fulfilment of the promises of their God. Paul repeats that fact twice.
In short, he makes the charge that this whole situation was inconsistent
with reason in every way.
Well, this section was written and simplified to a large degree, but instead
the story became more difficult to understand. Whether it was Paul's own abridgement
of this story or Luke's who recorded this [in Acts] is not certain, but either way we
should listen supplementing the standardized form of the wording that we
now have here. Next in verse twenty-three Paul says the following:
"I stated how the messiah suffered, and he first rose again from the dead,
and revealed to both the people [of Israel] and the Gentiles the light."
In other words, Paul was not simply embracing a hope of the resurrection
that would occur at the end times. It is important what he was basing
his cherished hopes on. According to his own statements the basis
of Paul's hope was the historical events that messiah has already come,
he suffered according to what is written in the scriptures, and he was
first to be raised from the dead. Paul stated in his sermons that
this messiah indeed was Jesus of Nazareth. Paul is making the assertion
here that his messages have never deviated from the orthodox faith of the
Jews. Rather, as one of the Jews Paul had increasingly become a person
living in this same hope. He tells here of the irrationality of being
accused by those persons who cherish the same hope.
Paul The Persecutor
However, on the other hand, where Paul speaks about their irrationality he
understood intuitively why the Jews were hostile against him with such intensity.
For the Jews it was a major problem that Jesus of Nazareth as messiah suffered
and rose again, which was very much the central event of Paul's messages; because
they were precisely the characters who hung this very Jesus on the cross,
and because in the name of God and through their own brand of righteousness
they judged and killed Jesus. After that they proceeded to persecute
the disciples of Jesus. They imprisoned many Christians and forced
them to death. For them, acknowledging Jesus of Nazareth as messiah
would be an acknowledgement of their own sin. That would be tantamount
to throwing the self away and a rejection of their own person which had
[always] claimed personal morality. We understand by reflecting on
our own experiences how impossible that is. Their decision to see
Paul dead is not because they say Paul is at bottom against the scriptures.
Neither is it because they say he is completely inconsistent with reason
and truth. It is because this is their own very personal problem.
Their very personal problem is that they cannot throw away their own endlessly
self-justifying selves .
Paul understood this fact quite well because he felt the same way himself.
At one time he used to fight against the name of Jesus. There he began to tell
about how those days used to be. "In fact, I myself also used to think
I had to fight hard against that name of the Nazarene Jesus. So,
I moved to Jerusalem to practice that fight, and when yours truly received
the authority from the chief priests, I put many saints in jail, and when
they got the death penalty, I agreed with it all. Again at synagogues
spread everywhere I frequently punished and forced them to curse Jesus,
and I was extremely mad with anger against them and extended a persecuting
hand even up to cities in foreign countries," (verses nine through eleven).
[There are] the disciples preaching that the crucified Jesus came back to
life. And, [there are] Christians who have begun to live in obedience to the
risen Christ after receiving the witness of the disciples. This flock [of believers]
spread through out Jerusalem as fast as fire. That's exactly what
we've seen in the Acts of the Apostles. Living in hope of the resurrection,
they were far from shrinking under the threats made by the ruling authorities
of the Jewish community and the chief priests, but preached the resurrection
of Christ filled with more and more power and hope. That present
state of affairs was a problem which even for Paul in his younger days
could not be overlooked. He persecuted them in earnest. At
one time he supported the death penalty for Christians and at one time
he tried to make people repudiate the resurrection of Jesus and to curse
So the story of his conversion on the way to Damascus continues. It has
already been told twice in the ninth and the twenty-second chapters of Acts.
But, here he has something new to tell. It is the message Christ told Paul.
I would like us to pay attention to this. The Lord said, "Saul, Saul,
why are you persecuting me? When you kick the stick with the prick
attached, you are having a hard time."
"The stick with a prick attached" is a jabbing prod to chase domestic animals.
If a beasts hates it [i.e. the stick] and kicks it, the beast gets hurt. This
is a saying heard almost anywhere. Paul heard it. And, even
after as much as thirty years pass that message still remains deep within
his heart. That saying accurately surmised the condition of his soul
and it means that Paul himself was in acknowledgement of that fact.
In short, while he was persecuting Christians, he was on the other hand
unable to thwart the pains and worries that were spreading inside him.
I think such an image of him like that corresponds with the image of the
dumb domestic animal which continuously kicks the stick with thorny edge
attached. Undoubtedly he believed what he was doing was right and so began
persecuting Christians. Then, as he says, he jailed Christians, and
forced to death certain persons. But, his convictions must have crumbled
in view of those persons overflowing with the resurrection hope so contented
though in jail and on death row. There was the image of Stephen who said,
"O Lord, Jesus please take my spirit," and then kneeling he cried out with
a loud voice, "O Lord, please don't charge them with this sin," and at
the same time he was struck by rocks and died. Before the death of
Stephen Paul was proud that he believed he had thus far lived as a righteous
man keeping the law, but now he was feeling things begin to corrode into
complete vanity. But, even with that in mind a person is basically
a being who is unable to acknowledge himself or herself as unjust.
You will avoid in every way shaming yourself. You just can't pitch
who you are. When a person thinks like that the person becomes more
and more on the offensive. Paul got madder and madder and went running
off to persecute others, and it is understandable why he stretched out
his hand to persecute others even as far as Damascus. If you become
so offensive trying to preserve yourself, you'll be tormenting yourself
instead. The more you cling to yourself the more suffering you'll have. The Paul
who was heading for Damascus must have been in that state of mind. Therefore the
words spoken by the Lord stuck in his heart. "When you kick a stick with a thorn
attached, you are having a hard time." He must have realized that
he was inviting destruction upon himself by continuing to kick the thorn-edged
stick. So, he who had been struck down by the light of Christ and
broken quit kicking the stick with the prickly edge attached to it.
Paul The Gospel Preacher
Paul completely omitted the story about his meeting Ananias, his having received
baptism from him and the other things. The text only says that the risen Christ
sent Paul. For what purpose did the Lord send Paul? It said [his being sent] was
"to open their eyes, to cause them to return to the light from the darkness
and to God from the control of Satan, and to participate in a portion of
his grace with those who have become saints and obtained forgiveness of
sin through faith in me." Paul the witness and preacher of Christ
briefly gives a summary here of the mission given to him. Paul expresses
and defines what the gospel is which he himself had received and which
had been entrusted to him.
Christ said, "to cause them to return to the light from the darkness." The gospel
deals with human darkness because every one is in darkness whether Jew or Gentile.
How should we think about this darkness? A person may say, "My life
is not as dark as that." A person may say, "This society is not as
gloomy as you say it is." But, there are times when a person acknowledges
he or she is in a kind of darkness as when a person is under one of life's
various kinds of sufferings, or sorrow, or sadness or even on one's death
bed. However, during such a time when a person says this is the first
time I have lived in darkness, this is not really correct. They had
already been living all along in darkness. You don't know where you
come from, where you are, or where you are heading. If you don't
have true peace neither do you have any assurance of hope.
You can't do anything with your self so deep in sin. You just come
to realize that you have been living in such a state of darkness.
So, why is there darkness? It's not because there isn't light. He says it's
because their eyes have been shut. The light has been given to them long ago.
The sun has risen already. God raised Christ up in resurrection and
he revealed that power by which he is able to save men and women completely
from sin, death, and hell. The light of eternal life has already
been revealed. Therefore, there is no need for people to live in
darkness. However, when eyes have been shut, a person can't avoid living
in darkness. That is not merely because a person is ignorant.
A person is under the great power that will lock him or her up in darkness.
The Bible calls it "the control of Satan." Therefore, having one's
eyes opened and coming to live in the light is being freed from Satan's
control and returning to God.
In so doing, a person coming to God and getting forgiveness of sin is said to
be "coming into participation of a portion of his grace with the people who have
been made saints. "That is, in so doing we are made God's property and people, and
we are made the inheritors of the kingdom of God. We are saved in
due time completely from the chains of sin, death, and hell, and now we
are made as subjects living under God's complete control and as persons
resurrected to the world of the living. It is no longer a question
of being a Jew or a Gentile. The Lord just says, "through faith in
me." It's simply that this salvation is realized by a faith that
believes in the One who suffered for us and was resurrected. As for
the promises God gave us in ancient times, we are still looking to see
them fulfilled completely, and they call us to live in the light.
The Lord has sent Paul and has sent missionaries for generations; even
now the message of the gospel which is being told to us is the same.
Translated by Mike Furey
Hanover, IN, USA