“I will rescue you from the people and from the Gentiles. I now send you to them to open their eyes so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that by faith in Me they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified.’ “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. Instead, I preached to those in Damascus first, and to those in Jerusalem and in all the region of Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works worthy of repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple complex and were trying to kill me. To this very day, I have obtained help that comes from God, and I stand and testify to both small and great, saying nothing else than what the prophets and Moses said would take place — that the Messiah must suffer, and that as the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light to our people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:17-23 HCSB)
Have you ever been surprised by how much you don’t know? Now, most of us have an area of knowledge that we know fairly well. We’ve been trained and we work in that area, so we feel fairly competent in that knowledge. But, how about other areas of knowledge in which you aren’t quite so competent? I can remember in the early days of my career in technology when computer networks in schools and businesses was relatively new and I was trying to figure out how to build network in one of our school computer labs. I had struggled for several weeks trying to understand network nodes, addresses and subnets (smaller segments of a larger network). One day, as I worked on it, for what seemed like the millionth time, the light in my head finally came on, the angels were singing and a light from heaven illuminated the room, and I understood. Ok, I just made up that part about the angels and the light from heaven but it really was like a light turned on in my mind.
Have you ever had a moment like that? A moment when you suddenly understood something that had previously been a mystery to you? That’s the experience that Paul is describing here. Things that he had understood in a different way suddenly changed, the light came on and he was able to see them for what they truly are. Enlightening! What he had considered as heresy and worthy of contempt, persecution and even death was suddenly changed when the light turned on and he was able to really see, fully see and understand the truth. That’s the focus I want to take with today’s focal passage. That journey from darkness to light, from ignorance to understanding, from fear to faith and from doubt to discipleship. Let’s get started…
I mentioned last week, Paul was “rescued” from the people (the Jews) and from the Gentiles and that, while this statement can be seen as a literal rescue from the dangers that Paul would face from these different groups as he preaches and teaches the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I think it can also refer to his being “taken out” in a spiritual sense. He lives “in this world” but he’s not “of this world.” (See John 15:19, 17:16) Peter puts it his way, “Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you.” (1 Peter 2:11 HCSB) In other words, we might live here but we don’t belong here. This really isn’t home. We’re just visiting, temporary residents of this place so, don’t put down roots, don’t settle in and get comfortable. Remember Jesus words, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34 HCSB)
Have you ever been outside right at dusk when things begin to get just dark enough that you have trouble seeing and making out details? It affects what you think you see and what you really see. In a spiritual sense, that’s what Jesus is describing and what He wants Paul to combat. With spiritual darkness, we can’t see spiritual realities very well. What we do see we often misinterpret or misunderstand and perceive as reality when, in fact, it is not. Spiritually speaking, we are stumbling around in the dark and can’t find our way. Here’s the real challenge in this situation, we often don’t recognize our own blindness. Paul didn’t recognize his own spiritual blindness until he encountered the REAL light, Jesus. Jesus actually stated this about religious leaders who refused to listen to Him, “Leave them alone! They are blind guides. And if the blind guide the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:14 HCSB, see also Isaiah 35)
Have you ever gone hiking and either started too early or stayed on the trail too late? It can be really dangerous, especially without really good lighting. As you walk along a trail in the daylight you can see all of the rocks, sticks, dips, turns and dangers and you can easily avoid them. Now, take that same trail and try it without sunlight. Suddenly, what was easy and enjoyable in the light becomes dangerous and nerve wracking in little or no light. You stumble and trip over the smallest obstacles and the possibility of being seriously hurt is very likely. Now, translate that same scenario from a physical world to a spiritual world and you’ll see the issue that Paul is being called to address. Jesus pulls him out of his darkened world, gives him a portable flood-light, and then sends him back to the very people He rescued Paul from so that he can lead them out, safely. That is precisely what I’m attempting to do today with you, and what you are called to do once you have your faith powered flood-light. Go light up a darkened world with the love and hope from the real Light of this world, Jesus the Christ.
Next, I want you to notice how Paul responds… immediately. He tells King Agrippa that he was “not disobedient” to the vision but immediately began preaching Christ to those in Damascus. Now, filled with a light that could not be contained, he began to shine that light for all who would listen. Paul didn’t want anyone else to blindly stumble around and risk missing an encounter with the living Lord, Jesus. To be honest, that is the entire purpose of what I do each week as I write these words. I want you to experience the light that has shined in my soul and now illuminates the path that I had previously been stumbling over. Don’t stumble along through life blindly, pay close attention to this next part.
What did Paul preach? He tells us, to repent, turn to God and to do works “worthy” of repentance. Repent and turn to God. Repent is one of those religious words that most people just breeze right past. We think it means to “feel sorry” or guilty for what we’ve done. We have an entire generation who have been taught that we shouldn’t feel guilt, we should just do what makes us feel good. In our post-modern world view, we are being told that guilt is just a means by which those who currently hold power over you to continue to oppress you and keep you under their power by making you feel guilt and, thus, control your actions. In other words, they view the church and its message of repentance and forgiveness as means of exercising power over you.
Here’s a thought for you, if pain causes you to pull your hand back from the flame before it gets burned then is pain oppressing you and keeping your from experiencing the real joy of the flame or is the pain protecting you and keeping your from burning yourself? In a similar way, guilt is the “pain receptor” of the soul. It alerts you to danger but you must “feel” the pain and appropriately respond by jerking your hand away from the flame. Guilt alerts us to the danger of disobedience to God’s Word but we must “feel” the pain and appropriately respond and repentance is that response.
You can actually see the real meaning of repentance in Paul’s statement, “they should repent and TURN to God.” Repentance is not “feeling guilt” about our actions. Guilt occurs prior to repentance and is the spiritual “pain receptor” that get’s our attention and alerts us to the need to act on those feelings. Whereas, repentance is really the act of “turning away from” those actions that are causing our spiritual pain and “turning towards” God. So, guilt makes us aware of spiritual pain and impending spiritual danger and should really cause us to stop, turn away from the pain and turn towards God.
Now, don’t miss this… doing works worthy of repentance is NOT doing something that earns God’s forgiveness. The word translated as worthy(axia) is a word that means “something that weighs the same as.” So, do something that “weighs the same as” repentance. This means that our actions flowing out of or following our repentance should be consistent with our declaration of repentance. They should “weigh the same.” Our words of repentance and our actions resulting from repentance should “match up.” Our actions should be consistent with our words. Don’t just say “I repent,” and then continue doing what you were doing before. You must really repent by turning away from those actions that cause spiritual pain and turn towards God, discovering His grace and forgiveness. Let me tell you, that’s not oppressive… that’s experiencing true freedom.
“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 HCSB)
I want you to notice their response to Paul’s message of true freedom… “For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple complex and were trying to kill me.” Paul now brings the King up to present time in his story and the root cause of his imprisonment – they rejected the message and reacted violently. But, why? Why would someone react so violently to a message of grace and forgiveness? We tend to react in violent ways to radical ideas that challenge our core beliefs and values. Remember that blindness I mentioned earlier? This is where that blindness really comes into play and has a significant impact. If we are unaware of our blindness, we will continue on our merry way never recognizing or responding to the imminent danger on our path.
In many ways, that is the same response to this same message I proclaim, today. Many will reject it and some will react violently. Those who believe that faith in God is nothing more than a “power play” by those in control, the church, may respond with a violent rejection of the message and the light for their path. However, I pray that is NOT your response. My hope for you is that you will recognize this message for what it truly is, a plea for you to feel the pain of walking without God and to turn, not just in word, but by truly turning away from those things that are causing you pain and to turn towards God. By doing so, you will discover the joy of God’s love, the amazing power of His grace, the freedom of His forgiveness and the light that illuminates the way forward, the beautiful path towards Him.
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