Rev. Erik Veerman
Boldness in Our Gospel Witness
Our sermon text is the remainder of Acts 26. You can find that on page 1112 in the pew Bible. This is our third week studying the apostle Paul’s hearing with Governor Festus and King Agrippa. Paul had ppealed to Caesar - the Roman emperor. But, if you remember, Festus and Agrippa needed to determine what to write to the emperor. So Paul was brought in. In chains. And he appeared before all the roman dignitaries in Caesarea.
Last week, our study focused on Paul’s speech. In it, he highlighted his conversion and his call. Jesus himself appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. He called Paul to be a servant and witness to the Jews and gentiles. Why? Because anyone without Christ was walking in darkness and needed the light. Paul explained to Festus and Agrippa that he was obedient… and He explained that Jesus’s death and resurrection fulfilled Moses and the prophets.
That’s where we left off last week. We’ll pick up this morning in verse 24.
Reading of Acts 26 24-32
Before jumping in, let me say something up front. This text is a tremendous example of witnessing to Christ. Paul’s bold witness. But Paul was not naturally bold. Rather, he prayed for boldness. In his letter to the Ephesian church, he even asked them to pray for him, saying “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”
That is a prayer that we can pray for ourselves and ask others to pray for us.
It’s easy in a sermon that focuses on evangelism, on witnessing to others about Jesus, it’s easy to feel ashamed or weighed down, thinking “[sigh], I’m never going to be good at this.” That’s how I sometimes feel.
Maybe this morning, instead of feeling weighed down, think of God’s grace and mercy and be renewed. Think of ways to be encouraged in your evangelism. None of us are the apostle Paul, but even realizing that he needed encouragement to be bold is in itself an encouragement. And even more to see how God gave Paul boldness, there’s this kind of contagious encouragement in our own lives.
Bottom line – I want you to come away with encouragement and not discouragement as you apply Paul’s example in your own life.
There’s an excitement here. Paul had this amazing peace and grace as he stood there. And he had a confidence and steadfastness in his words. He’d seen the Holy Spirit work in amazing ways. And he knew that God had ordained this situation.
Last week, we experienced Paul’s words as he testified to the mission that Jesus had given him and his obedience in it.
This week, we see that Paul was fulfilling that mission right in their presence. The dialogue alone, I think, is remarkable. Paul stood in front of all of them in chains. They asked him to give a defense, and his defense masterfully wove in his calling and Jesus’s death and resurrection. And just as he spoke about Jesus’s own witness to be a light to the Jews and Gentiles, right in the middle of it all, Festus interrupted him! With a loud voice none-the-less. Paul probably expected it. After all, this is Paul’s fourth trial or hearing, and every time his audience interrupted him. How frustrating would that be! Maybe that’s why he asked them up-front to “patiently listen to him.”
I’m waiting for the day that one of you stands up... “Just a minute! Pastor Erik, you’re out of your mind!”
Imagine being there… listening in. Just as Paul reached a climax, the governor shouted out, “Paul you are out of your mind!” Talk about an intense situation. What was going to happen next? What would Paul say, next? What was the king thinking of all this?
As Paul had presented his case, really his mission and the Gospel, Festus must have had this uneasiness building up within him. We get this sense that Festus blurted out these words… “Paul, your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” In todays language… “you have some screws loose, you’re not thinking straight. You’re going mad.”
You see, unlike Agrippa, Festus didn’t have a Jewish background. As an educated Roman noble, Festus had no category for Paul’s words. Satan and God, Darkness and Light, and especially a resurrection from the dead. Paul knew that. In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul wrote “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing… For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” And then Paul wrote, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
That’s why Paul responded the way he did, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words.” And then Paul shifted the focus away from himself, and over to the king. “The king knows about these things…” verse 26 “I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice” And then Paul said it! He turned to the king himself, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.”
Talk about being put on the spot. This was a bold, risky move for Paul. He must have had a growing sense that Agrippa was moved by his testimony. But think of the implications if Agrippa were to answer “yes.” Agrippa would be offending his Roman audience. Festus already revealed what the Romans thought. Paul was out of his mind. Also, if word got out that Agrippa believed… the Jews would be offended. Agrippa would have agreed with Paul, enemy number 1 of the Jews. It would cause political ripples in the region. Even if Agrippa was drawn to Paul’s arguments, it would not have been politically expedient to answer “yes.”
And so, what did Agrippa do? He avoided the question. He redirected the question back to Paul.
Avoiding the question is a logical fallacy. In a formal debate or legal setting, a fallacy is when something you say has a logical inconsistency. Some of the high schoolers here have recently studied logical fallacies. In fact, in my house, you have to be very careful what you say. “Dad, that’s a Red herring” or you’re “begging the question.” “Ad hominin attack” “post hoc ergo propter hoc” “false cause” I don’t even remember what each of those means.
Agrippa avoided the question! He replied with a question back at Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” To be sure, I don’t think that this question was said sarcastically. Agrippa had been respectful to Paul, before and after. Rather, I think Agrippa was being honest. He could easily have said “no.” But he didn’t.
And next, we again experience Paul’s deep desire that anyone and everyone would believe. You see, everywhere Paul went, everyone he met, he sought to see Christ exalted. It didn’t matter who you were... those who imprisoned him, those out to kill him, those who thought he was out of his mind. Everyone needed to hear about Jesus…
In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, chapter 9, Paul wrote, “I wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” His desire for the Jews to believe in Christ was so deep, he wished he could swap places with them. They wanted Paul killed. Paul wanted them saved. Well, the Jews weren’t here at this trial, but Paul’s desire was the same for Agrippa and the Romans. He responded to Agrippa, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
To Paul, it didn’t matter how long it would take, he desired that everyone in the hall would believe in Christ.
Remember from chapter 25, the room was filled with Roman military commanders, city officials, other leading men. We’re not told how many, but all through out his speech, Paul spoke to everyone. To be sure, Paul’s primary audience was king Agrippa, but look with me at a few verses earlier in the chapter:
• First, up in verse 4. Paul referred to his own “nation.” Well, that word “nation” in the Greek is not the usual word used for the nation of God’s covenant people. Rather Paul used the generic word for nation. If Paul was just focusing on Agrippa, he would have used the Jewish word. He had his full audience in mind.
• Second, verse 8 is really clear - Paul was speaking to everyone. He asked the question: “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” He didn’t focus his question on Agrippa. He was speaking to everyone there.
• Verse 22 as well. As Paul concluded his speech he said, “I stand here testifying both to small and great.” Small and great in the sense of status or standing in the Roman system. His audience included those with great social standing, the governor and king, but also those with much less influence and power. Paul was speaking to all the assembly.
• And finally, here in verse 29, Paul affirmed that he was speaking to every soul in the great hall. He called out to everyone, “I would to God… that all who hear me today might become such as I am”
Paul’s audience included everyone in the room. Paul desired not only Agrippa to know the hope of Christ, but everyone who heard his words.
In southern California, there’s a ministry called Living Waters. It was started by an evangelist named Ray Comfort. Maybe you’ve heard of him. He’s written several books…. Well, Ray is a street preacher. I know, street preachers generally don’t have a good reputation. Often times, I feel they turn people away from Christianity.
But Ray Comfort is a different kind of street preacher. He’s up front, to be sure, but he has a compassion for everyone in the crowd. He answers questions with a sensitivity to the individual and brings to bear the Gospel in ways that penetrate deep within.
Well, most Friday evenings, you’ll find Comfort out on the street with a couple of microphones set up. What’s interesting is that he and his team will pray that hecklers will show up. They want people to come and barrage Comfort with questions or throw out nasty accusations. Why? Because it draws a crowd. People are interested to hear how Comfort responds to yelling. Even if the heckler walks away, Comfort still has a crowd. Because he knows, the one-on-one interactions he has are witnessed by dozens of people.
For those willing to engage with him, most often Comfort will ask them whether they believe they are a good person. The answer is usually “yes.” But over the course of a few minutes, Comfort weaves in Scripture with the person’s own answers about their life. He’s able to help them see that their own actions and words and thoughts violate God’s law. He speaks to them about a holy God, shows that their own sin is an offence to God. An ultimate offence. Through the ongoing dialog, Comfort brings them to a point of recognizing their need for salvation. And by the end, he reveals the hope that only Christ brings to them. That Jesus can atone, can repay, can forgive, and restore. Comfort explains why Christ was the only one who can, as God, and as one of us, could accomplish salvation. That Jesus has done it through the cross which he proved through the resurrection.
Comfort makes clear that salvation is for any who believes by faith. He then asks them if they believe. He speaks of the urgency. And he does this all with a desire to see not only that person believe in Jesus, but each and everyone in the crowd.
It’s an encouragement to see and hear. If you watch some of the videos, you will witness the outward signs of an inward recognition as people come to faith in Christ.
Well, in Acts 26, Festus was the heckler. And Paul took advantage of it. He turned the conversation, he brought his entire audience to ask whether in their own hearts and minds they believed.
“King Agrippa, do you believe…? I know you do. I desire that everyone here believe as I do… “
Paul concluded, “except of course, for these chains” …as he reminded the governor and king of his situation.
After the trial, we’re told that Festus, Bernice, and Agrippa all agreed that Paul was innocent. Yet, they felt bound because of his appeal, to send him off to Rome. And as we’ll see, Paul continued to proclaim Christ.
Ok, let’s take a step back. There are a few things here that can help direct us, or encourage us in our evangelism – meaning our call to proclaim Christ.
Last week, we focused on Gospel missions. We talked about the reason to take the risks and make the effort to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Why? Because the Gospel is the only hope for every tribe, tongue, and nation.
This week, let’s key off of Paul’s evangelism. Paul is a model for us. Embedded in his example is guidance about how we can be a witness for Christ – again with the sensitivities I mentioned earlier.
And if I could boil it down, there are 5 take-aways from Paul’s example.
1. First, your own testimony. In Paul’s case, his own conversion testified to Christ. Yes, he was answering the Roman authorities as to why he was going around proclaiming Christ, but as he did so he proclaimed Christ to them.
If you are believer in Christ, you have a testimony of faith. That includes God’s saving work in the past as well as God’s work now in your life. Just like Paul, your testimony can testify to Christ. And just as he did, you can ground your testimony in the Scriptures… and answer what it means to put your faith in Christ. In other words, as you share what God has done or is doing in your life, you can focus on God and his work through Christ. Share your own testimony as you point to Jesus and the cross.
2. Second, be ready for opportunities. Most often Gospel opportunities will be with people that you know through your daily activities. The opportunity could involve a neighbor or co-worker experiencing a crisis of some kind or searching for meaning. It could be a relative. The hardest hurdle may be fear of what people think of you.
For me, that’s where I’ve struggled. I was 15 when I began taking my faith in Christ seriously. But the school I was in was very secular. Religion wasn’t talked about. There weren’t many Christians. I was afraid to say anything about faith. And I carried that fear with me for several years. Even when someone would pray over a meal in public, I’d have this overwhelming sense of self-consciousness. By God’s grace, over time, that fear has dissipated, and through God’s grace, I’ve been more and more sensitive to seeing opportunities to be a witness for Christ. Look for opportunities to bear witness to Jesus.
3. Third, the Christian faith is a reasonable faith. Back to verse 25… Did you notice how Paul responded to Festus? “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words.” Christianity is reasonable. No other religion answers the questions of meaning, life, origin, destiny, evil, and morality as clear as Christianity does. Just because the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing doesn’t make it unreasonable. No, rather Christianity is truth. Jesus himself said he is “the way, the truth and the life.” Faith and hope are not a blind faith nor an uncertain hope.
No, our faith is grounded in the reality of God’s promises which He has worked out in real history. Our hope is in a real person, Jesus, and a clear understanding of how Jesus accomplished salvation. Paul demonstrated his confidence in the truth of Christianity through his boldness. Stand firm in the truth and reasonableness of Christianity.
4. Fourth, Evangelism needs to include a call to believe. It’s an uncomfortable question. Yet, it’s at the heart of conversion. Do you believe? Do you believe in Christ as your savior? Do you turn from your unbelief and sin and commit your life to him?
Paul boldly appealed to Agrippa. He wanted him to believe in Christ... that all the prophets pointed to Jesus. That’s why Agrippa responded the way he did. “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”
Ray Comfort’s evangelistic style also appeals to the person. He prompts all his hearers to search their souls on whether they’ve professed faith in Christ. Call others to believe.
5. And last, know that God is at work. Isaiah 55 says that God’s Word will not return void, but it shall accomplish all that God has purposed. You may never know how God uses the witness of your words and life in others. Paul may have never known if any of his hearers believed that day. Yet, Paul fulfilled his role. Our responsibility is to speak, and God does the saving work. I know, it can be discouraging to not see fruit from our labors, but we need to be reminded that it’s God who changes hearts and minds. He uses our words, but we need to trust him on his timing and grace in peoples lives. Know that God is at work.
So may we be ready for opportunities to bear witness to God’s work in our own lives, testifying to the salvation that is found in Christ alone. As we do, may we have a bold confidence like Paul, knowing the truth and reasonableness of our faith in Christ. And as we speak of Jesus, may we call people to believe, trusting in the work of God’s Spirit.
Let me conclude by asking you. Do you believe in Christ as your savior? Do you believe that he’s God’s son? And that your sin and shame was atoned for by him on the cross? Have you put your faith in Christ and his grace? If you haven’t, will you believe today? If that’s you, please come find me or someone else after the service. There are many people here more than willing to talk and pray – and witness to the love of God in Christ.