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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sermons: Shim Habte, November 13, 2011: Ambassador in Chains

(Acts 26: 8-23)
“For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself—we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us…” 2 Cor.5:19-20.
A Hindu who had become a Christian, on his way to church one Sabbath, passed some British soldiers who thought they would joke with him."Hello, Sammy," they called. "How's Jesus this morning?" The Hindu stopped and looked at them. "You Sahibs come from a great country that has known Jesus a long time. It is your country that has given us this Book to teach us of Him," and he held up his Bible. "You ask how Jesus is this morning. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever." Two of the soldiers could not sleep that night. The next day they went to the Hindu. They said, "We could not rest until we gave ourselves to Jesus. You brought us to him."—The Presbyterian
The Hindu Christian was representative of Christ when he gave an accurate answer to the question about Christ. We see Paul in Acts 24-26 defending his claims by pointing to his encounter with the risen Christ. Let’s look at the man in chains.
1) Paul’s life before his conversion to Christ. (Act 26:2-8)
A) Paul told King Agrippa that he was a former member of the Pharisees, (vs.4-5)
Since King Agrippa was familiar with the Jews’ religion and customs, Paul called on him to stand for the truthand not for political advantages when he said to Agrippa, “I consider myself fortunate that it is before you I am making my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews.”
Paul’s showed his brilliance in the way he presented his case to the king. He stuck with the facts of his life without accusing anyone and by calling on his accusers as his witnesses. “As the Jewish leaders are well aware, I was given a thorough Jewish training from my earliest childhood among my own people and in Jerusalem. If they would admit it, they know that I have been a member of the Pharisees, the strictest sect of our religion.”
Perhaps Paul imagined a question in Agrippa’s mind: “If Paul is telling the truth why then do the Jews want to kill him?”
Paul tells King Agrippa the reason for his trials. “Now I am on trial because of my hope in the fulfillment of God’s promise made to our ancestors. In fact, that is why the twelve tribes of Israel zealously worship God night and day, and they share the same hope I have. Yet, your Majesty, they accuse me for having this hope! Why does it seem incredible to any of you that God can raise the dead?”
Paul testified about persecuting Christians (Acts 26:9-11). Paul, too, did not believe the claims of Christians about the resurrection of Christ when he was persecuting Christians. He thought Christians were false witnesses and deserved to be destroyed. “I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene. Indeed, I did just that in Jerusalem. Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many believers there to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death. Many times I had them punished in the synagogues to get them to curse Jesus. I was so violently opposed to them that I even chased them down in foreign cities.”
Paul told the truth about the sufferings he caused with the authority the priests gave him. Like Paul, there are people who corrupt justice because of false information or false witnesses or because of hate. The recent story from Iran about a pastor there shows how a Christian can suffer for just being a Christian. “A jailed pastor of one of Iran's largest evangelical house church movements remains ‘strong in his faith’ in Christ, despite facing execution before Christmas for refusing to return to Islam, a church official told BosNewsLife Wednesday, November 9. ‘Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani remains in Lakan Stefan J Bos Prison in Iran’s Gilan Province. He continues to stand strong in his faith and remains in good spirits and health,’ said Firouz Khandjani, a council member of the Church of Iran.” Source: Stefan J Bos.
Powerful people can take away the right of anyone who does not agree with them. We need to stand against injustice with prayer and support for those who advocate justice. It is the right thing to do. As Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “Injustice anywhere, is injustice everywhere.”
If you wonder like me why Paul told King Agrippa about the crimes he committed against Christians in Acts 26:9-11, I believe it was because of his encounter with Jesus Christ, the embodiment of grace and truth. John 8:31-32: “Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. ‘If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.’” Having found truth in Christ Jesus, Paul stood ready to tell King Agrippa of his conversion. This was Paul’s opportunity to act as Christ’s ambassador as he stated in 2 Corinthians 5:19-21: “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (The Message Bible)
As far as Paul was concerned, even Kings and Queens need the transforming grace and truth of Christ, Paul proceeds with his testimony about Christ, for whose sake he was in chains before Agrippa and all the Jewish and Roman VIPs.
Paul testified about the difference Christ makes (Acts 26:14-15). He said he was on the Road to Damascus with a letter of approval from the high priest in Jerusalem. Suddenly, “about noon, Your Majesty, as I was on the road, a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me and my companions. We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.’ ‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked. And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting.’” Paul understood Christ was a power that couldn’t be ignored or explained away as a myth, but a God to worship and obey.
Paul’s received the core message of the Gospel (Acts 26:16-18). Jesus gave Paul comfort and assurance that it was he who appeared to him to appoint him as his servant and to send him as his good news ambassador - about what he has seen and will see. Here are the five core points Christ gave to Paul to preach and teach both to the Jews and the Gentiles. Christ was always move compassion to save the lost that did not stop even in heaven. Jesus charged Paul as His ambassador of the Good News with the following mandates:
1) To open the eyes of the Jews and Gentles-by telling them about the Gospel of saving grace;
2) To turn the Jews and Gentiles from darkness to light by sharing Jesus, the light of life;
3) To turn the Jews and Gentiles from the power of Satan to God by teaching them truth;
4) To teach the Jews and Gentiles about receiving forgiveness of sin through repentance;
5) To prepare Jews and Gentiles to receive the inheritance which God prepared for His own.
Paul took Jesus charge to heart and he followed his Master’s instructions. We can tell when we read about his concerns and warnings to the Galatians about sticking with the Gospel he preached to them: His assignment was to preach it without change or compromise. His loyalty was to God. Paul affirmed his conviction about the Gospel and his warning to Galatians, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” (Gal.1:6-9)
Paul’s encounter with the Risen Christ was one of the most important happenings in Paul’s life. Paul wrote thirteen books of the New Testament and influenced the world for Christ more than anyone except Christ himself. In his effort to spread Christianity, Paul was tried eight times and was imprisoned many times. It’s estimated that he spent twenty-five percent of his life in chains. Paul’s achievement and suffering hinged on his encounter with Jesus Christ; therefore, nothing would make him compromise witnessing for Christ. Christ was his life (Phil.1:21).
Paul always witnessed for Christ, even to those who opposed him. “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.” Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you trying to convince me that, in such a short time, you’ve made me a Christian?” Paul responded, “Whether it is a short or a long time, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today will become like me, except for these chains.”
Application: We, too, are commissioned to share the Gospel with everyone around us (Mt.28:19). We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses for Christ (Acts 1:8).
Pastor Shim Habte