"In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 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. 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.' And I said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles - to whom I am sending you 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.' "Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance."
God's Evangelistic Strategy
When Jesus looked into the future and predicted what would happen to his disciples, he said something very sobering, but also very encouraging. He said (in Luke 21:12–13),
They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony.
The sobering thing here is the fact that, even though the cause of Christ will eventually triumph in the whole universe because he is alive and sovereign, nevertheless in the short run following Jesus will definitely mean arrest and persecution for some of his disciples.
The encouraging thing in these words is that God intends the persecution and imprisonments to be a strategic opportunity for witness to the truth of the gospel. Luke 21:13—"This will be a time for you to bear testimony." Imprisonment will interrupt your evangelistic strategy, but it will not interrupt God's evangelistic strategy.
Paul's Plans and God's Plans
Have you ever stopped to think how much of Paul's witness to Christ was given in circumstances he did not plan? I'm not debunking planning. It's essential. Paul had very clear evangelistic plans. That's obvious from Romans 15 and from the book of Acts. The point I'm making is that God is the master evangelistic planner. What he wants is people who wear the shoes of readiness to move with the gospel (Ephesians 6:15). And once we are moving with a heart for lost people, there will be many interruptions and surprises—but none of them without evangelistic purpose.
"They will deliver you up to prisons and take you before governors and kings. That will be a time for witness." In other words, always and in every circumstance—especially the unexpected ones, and the frustrating ones—be ready to bear witness to Christ.
How Paul Got Before King Agrippa
Our text today is taken from Paul's testimony to king Agrippa in Acts 26. How did Paul get here? How does it come about that an obscure, Jewish-Christian missionary has an audience with the king of all Palestine?
Well, it was not Paul's plan! Two years earlier he had been arrested on false charges in Jerusalem. At the time he got to give his testimony to the whole Jewish Sanhedrin, just like Jesus said he would—they will arrest you and this will be a time for testimony. Then there was a plot against his life and so he was moved to Caesarea on the coast. This time he gave his testimony to Felix the Roman governor. After two years in prison in Caesarea, the new Roman governor Festus puts Paul before king Agrippa so they can hear what he has to say.
So the whole Jewish legal council, and three of the highest political officials in Palestine (Felix, Festus, Agrippa) all hear the gospel because Paul was arrested and imprisoned on false charges. Surely the lesson we should learn from the words of Jesus in Luke 21:13 and from the way they were fulfilled in the life of Paul is that God has gospel purposes in all the set backs of our lives.
The Lesson We Should Learn
Is any of you in the midst of a two year set back today? Anybody on a two year detour that you had not planned? Don't fret as though God has no gospel purpose in it. Trust his wisdom to allow what has happened. And put on those shoes of readiness to move with the gospel ON THE DETOUR. Don't take off the shoes of readiness thinking that detours don't have any gospel purpose. Jesus said, "This will be a time for testimony!"
I see so much encouragement here for an exciting way to live your life expectantly under the providence of a sovereign God. You get up in the morning and you pray and make your plan for the day. But then you pray again and say, "Lord, I know that I do not control this day—what will happen to my car, who will call me at work, whom I will see at lunch, and a hundred other unexpected details. Would you govern my day so that all its unplanned detours are spiritually valuable? Help me to see divine appointments where Satan may only want me to see interruptions and irritations."
Then life would be like jogging in downtown Minneapolis. Tuesday morning I decided to take a run through downtown. I had a general idea of where I wanted to go—that was my plan. But what I did—and I think this is a lot like life—was let the stoplights determine where I took my turns. If west was red, I'd cross the street on the green and run farther north. When I hit a red going north, I'd cross the street west and run west. And so on.
As I came to a corner near the Lutheran Brotherhood building, I ran right into David Livingston and Jerry Sundberg and David Laurion on their way home from a breakfast meeting. I thought to myself afterward. Of all the hundreds of routes I could have gone that morning, the stoplights—symbolizing the providence of God—guided me straight to this group of guys.
So I hope you live your days with a sense of expectancy and readiness to move with the gospel of peace. Paul is standing here before Agrippa by God's divine appointment after a two year detour in a Caesarean prison. A few providential red lights on the way to Rome, and here he stands before the king of Palestine. And Jesus says, the reason things like this happen is for a testimony.
And so our text today makes its point in two ways: its existence is a testimony to God's exciting providence and Paul's readiness with the gospel; and its content is a testimony to what Christ aims to accomplish in the process of evangelism.
Five Things Christ Aims to Do Through Paul
Let's look at the content now and try to get a clear vision of the five things Christ told Paul that he aims to do through his life as a witness to Christ. Every individual is not called to do exactly what Paul did—crossing cultures and planting churches and devoting full time to the gospel ministry. But we saw last week that we are all to put on the shoes of readiness to move with the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15). What our text today can show us is what we should expect and what we should pray for when we move like this into people's lives.
Paul begins to tell his story to Agrippa in Acts 26. When he gets to that part of his story about meeting Jesus on the Damascus road, he tells Agrippa—and us—what Jesus said to him. That's what we want to look at. Verses 16–18,
Rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles—to whom I send you to open their eyes, 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.
Here is what Christ aims to accomplish through the witness of his people. This is what we should pray for with great confidence that we are praying according to the revealed will of God in Scripture.
1. To Go and Tell
The first thing we need to see is that Christ aims for us to go and tell, not just wait or others to come and see. This comes from verse 17b: " . . . to whom I send you."
From the first coming of Christ to the second coming of Christ the strategy of our mission is incarnation. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. He left one place and went to another place. He gave up the glories and comforts of his heavenly home in order to go where the people were and tell them about the Father. And he said, "As the Father has sent me so send I you."
Bethlehem's mission in Minneapolis must never be mainly a come and see mission. It must be a go and tell mission. Suppose that all 1,000 of you had just arrived on the scene in Minneapolis as a team of tent-making missionaries. You know what they are—people who will work at secular jobs to support themselves and their families and to penetrate a given population with the gospel.
And suppose that we all got together and said, Well, here we are, and we have no jobs yet and no place to live and there are 1,000 of us. What should we do to reach this metropolitan area for Christ? I think the answer would be, Let's all go out and find jobs. All different kinds of jobs all over the cities. And let's pray and let the Spirit guide us to houses and apartments all over the cities and the surrounding suburbs. Let's not all live together in one apartment complex. And let's not make a Christian industry. But let's live among the nationals and get jobs where they work. In other words let's develop a go and tell model of penetration instead of a come and see model of concentration. Great idea! Terrific strategy!
Well isn't it encouraging that that's just what God has already done. We are a church of 1,000 tent-making witnesses to the gospel of Christ. We don't live or work at church. We live and work among the natives. And that is just where God wants us. That is the first thing Christ aims to do with his witnesses—cause them to go and tell, not just wait for others to come and see.
2. To Open the Eyes of Unbelievers
The second thing Christ aims to accomplish in our witness is the opening of the eyes of unbelievers. Verse 18: " . . . to whom I send you to open their eyes."
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4, "The god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God." But Christ tells us in this text that he aims for this blindness to be healed. He aims to give sight. That's the goal of evangelism.
But we ask, how can I do that? How can I open the eyes of the blind? The answer of course is that in ourselves we can't. 2 Corinthians 4:6 says, "It is God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' who has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." It is God who created light in the beginning with an omnipotent, "Let there be light!" And it is God who now can open the eyes of the spiritually blind.
But Acts 26:18 says that Christ sends Paul to do it: "I send you to open their eyes." I take this to mean that we Christians are partners with the Holy Spirit in opening the eyes of the blind. We do two key things. We pray for God to open the eyes of the blind. And we speak words of truth about Christ so that when the people's eyes are opened, there is something to believe. The Holy Spirit never opens the eyes of the heart until there is gospel truth in the mind to believe. That's our job. We put the truth of Christ into a person's mind with a testimony; we pray for the miracle of spiritual sight for the blind. And God in his time and in his way says, "Let there be light!"
Don't take on more than is your human responsibility in this process. But far more urgent for us is: DON'T TAKE ON LESS!
3. That Unbelievers Turn from Darkness to Light
The third purpose of Christ through our testimony is that unbelievers turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Verse 18: " . . . to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God."
Let me make two comments about how these two turnings relate to the opening of the eyes.
3.1. Darkness Isn't Strange Until Your Eyes Are Opened
Noël and I had a guest once in our little apartment in Germany. She was totally blind and lived with us for a few days. One night I walked out into the hall and noticed that the hall was totally dark and I could hear our guest at the end of the hall in the restroom but there was no light on. I opened my mouth to call out where the switch was and then caught myself. She's blind. She never turns on the light. It was a strange sensation.
Here's the point: our friend will never treat the darkness as something strange until her eyes are opened. Darkness is her native land. If her eyes were opened to know light, she would turn from darkness to light. And so it is in the spiritual realm. Where there is spiritual blindness, people are at home in the darkness of sin. If you say, "Hey, turn on the light, you're going to hurt yourself," they won't know what you are talking about. First the eyes must be opened. Then they will turn and walk in the light.
3.2. Satan's Only Power over Us Is Through Deception
The other comment has to do with the turning from the power of Satan to God. Do you see what it implies about the power of Satan that we will turn from him when our eyes are opened? Paul says, I want you to open their eyes that they might turn from the power of Satan. It implies that the only power Satan has over men and women is through deception—through making things look like something they are not.
So when the eyes are opened to see Christ the way he really is, and to see God and the world and sin and righteousness and heaven and hell they way they really are, then the power of Satan is broken. The power of Satan is broken by the Spirit of truth. What are the first and last pieces of armor Paul lists in Ephesians 6 to protect you from the principalities and powers and make you effective in fighting them? Answer: the belt of TRUTH and the sword of the Spirit which is THE WORD OF GOD.
In your witness to the truth of Christ God aims to open the eyes of the blind and to deliver them from Satan because the only way Satan can hold you is by deceiving you about what is really desirable.
4–5. To Grant Forgiveness and a Place
The fourth and fifth things Christ aims to accomplish through our testimony are mentioned at the end of verse 18: that people who turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God might "receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me."
So there it is—a summary of what Christ aims to do through you and me when we testify to the truth of the gospel. He aims to open the eyes of the spiritually blind; he aims that they would then turn from the darkness of sin to the light of righteousness; he aims that they would turn from the power of Satan who can only hold them by lies, and come to God. He aims that all their sins be forgiven. And he aims that by faith, not legalistic burdens, they would join the saints in the pursuit of holiness.
O what great, eternal things God aims to do through us as we go and tell about the truth of Jesus Christ.