9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
12 “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness of the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles – to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.Acts 26:9-20
I hope that this finds you well and ready to dive into God’s Word together!
Last week, we started looking more closely at what it means to have been in the presence of Jesus. Our theme verses for this devotional are Acts 3:19-21, and, in them, we see that “times of refreshing…come from the presence of the Lord”. Those words came from a sermon that Peter preached, and we followed those events through to their end when the hearers of that sermon were “astonished” that “uneducated, common men” – working class fishermen – could have spoken so eloquently (Acts 4:13). It was clear to all that the only way this could have happened was that they “recognized that they had been with Jesus”.
So, today, we are continuing our look at what happens to one’s life when they have been with Jesus – when He has saved them and “caused [them] to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). Peter and John were standing trial for practicing their faith, and it is the same for Paul in today’s passage.
Paul was standing before King Agrippa and was given the opportunity to “make a defense…for a reason for the hope” that was in him (1 Peter 3:15). I am sure that it had to be tempting to speak up for release. In fact, Paul had been imprisoned for a while by that point. Yet Paul saw this as an opportunity to share the gospel with his captive audience.
King Agrippa was really nothing more than a figurehead, but he had been summoned to hear Paul’s case by the Festus, an official representing the Roman government. Paul was originally put in jail for his own protection as some Jewish men had made a vow to kill him. He could have been released, but he had instead appealed to the emperor (Acts 25:25) since 1) it was his right as a Roman citizen, and 2) he felt compelled to take the gospel to the household of Caesar (Philippians 1:13, 4:22). You see, he had no desire to free himself from his worldly bonds because he was right where Jesus had already freed him to go – “…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
I have often heard people say that they wished that they had a life like Paul’s, but, hearing his testimony, I do not think that people have really thought that through. Paul did not candy-coat his story or gloss over the rough bits. He was unashamedly sharing his sinful past because there was “now no condemnation” for those actions (Romans 8:1); he had already been forgiven!
He testified to the fact that he had been heavily involved in persecuting those who are now his brothers and sisters. He testified to the fact that he put them in prison (where he now finds himself) and that he sought to have them speak against Jesus. Why did he share these terrible bits? He cannot have been proud of them. Why would he tell these strangers about his sinful past? He wanted them to understand that they too could be forgiven – that they too could be saved!
He moves on from his sinful past to the moment that he encountered Jesus. For us, it is through His Word and the prompting of His Holy Spirit as it is read or preached. But, for Paul, it was an experience like no other. The very same Jesus he was persecuting – and trying to convince people that He was dead – showed up on the road to Damascus! Talk about a life-altering experience! The very Light that he was trying to extinguish shined so brightly on that road that he became literally blind. And the gospel truth of the resurrected Christ that he was blind to suddenly became clear!
Any time that a lost sinner, dead in his or her trespasses and sins, gets saved and finds new life in Christ, it is a miraculous thing. Men and women dead in their sins can come alive in Christ through faith and repentance in Him – even today! Think of the awesome opportunity that Paul had that day: he stood before the political leaders of his day and shared with them how to be saved. Let us look at the message he proclaimed to them.
He shared with them that – just as his blind eyes were opened – the gospel of Jesus Christ could “open their eyes” (v. 18a). Isaiah 42:7 tells us that God can “open eyes that are blind” and “bring out…prisoners from the dungeon”. This is especially cool since the prisoner (Paul) is seeking for Christ to free his jailers from the true prison – sin! He hoped that – as he would later write – their eyes would be opened to see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
He also shared with them how Christ can turn us from “darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (v. 18b). This reminds me of the imagery that we read about around Christmas time: “…the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16). Paul introduced them to Jesus who was the “life and light of men” and who “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome” (John 1:4-5)! He wanted them to have the opportunity to turn away from their lives of sin to the light and light that only comes from Jesus Christ.
The last part of his message focused on forgiveness. How many of us could forgive those who had wrongfully imprisoned us? How many of us can forgive things much less than that? But this was not some great character trait of Paul; it is a trait that comes from being forgiven of much ourselves (Matthew 18:21-35)! You see, Paul’s sharing of his former wickedness and life change through Christ showed that he remembered what Christ had done for him. And he knows and wants others to have it, too.
He wanted King Agrippa, Festus, guards, and anyone else who would listen to “receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith” (v. 18c). He wanted them to know that it is in Christ “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14) and that “to Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name” (Acts 10:43).
I want you to know that the same thing is offered today. I hope that you have looked at the life of Paul today and noticed whether your life shows that you have been with Jesus. One day, we will all stand before Him, and we will either stand on the merit of our own works and the “wages of [our] sin” or on the merit of the work He did on our behalf and “the free gift of God…eternal life” (Romans 6:23).
It is my hope and prayer that, if you are reading this, you have had your eyes opened by the gospel of Jesus Christ and moved from darkness to light, the power of Satan to God by repenting of your sins, believing in Him, and finding the forgiveness that only comes from Him. If you have, pray with me that God will make Himself evident in your life. If you have not received this eternal life, I would love to talk with you and introduce you to the One who gives it in abundance.