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Allowing God to Write Your Story

We are beginning to get very near the end of our journey as we continue working through the book of Acts. We are now in chapter 25 out of 28 chapters, and this morning we plan to cover both chapters 25 & 26.

Now last week, we read how Paul was on trial before the Governor Felix – and even before the trial began, Paul’s chances of being found innocent were pretty slim. Even though the charges against him were fairly weak, Paul was being accused by corrupt Jewish leaders (who were being represented by a corrupt lawyer) and he was being judged by a corrupt Roman Governor. So right from the beginning, the likelyhood of a fair trial was nearly non-existent.

But yet, God was ultimately in control, and in the end, the Governor Felix delayed giving any sort of verdict – hoping both to appease the Jews by keeping Paul in prison, but also hoping for some sort of bribe from Paul. 

Of course, even after keeping Paul in custody for about 2 years, Felix received no such bribe – but instead, often received clear and compelling presentations of the Gospel message.

Unfortunately, it seems that Felix never accepted that message – never put his faith in Christ. He had clearly heard the Gospel on numerous occasions over those two years – but as far as we know, he never accepted Christ, and was soon succeeded as governor by a man named Porcius Festus.

Now, when Fetus took over as governor, he immediately began to deal with the loose ends left behind by Felix – which included, of course, the case of Paul vs. the Jewish leaders. And so that’s what we’re going to look at today.

As I mentioned, we’re hoping to get through two chapters worth of material today, so we are going to be moving fairly quickly, but hopefully through it all, we’ll be able to observe God’s goodness and guidance in the life of Paul. We’ll also see how, even through less-than-ideal circumstances from a human point of view, God’s perfect will comes to pass in ways that no one would ever guess.

Our passage today begins in Acts chapter 25 – starting at verse 1.

Three days after Festus arrived in Caesarea to take over his new responsibilities, he left for Jerusalem, 2 where the leading priests and other Jewish leaders met with him and made their accusations against Paul. 3 They asked Festus as a favor to transfer Paul to Jerusalem (planning to ambush and kill him on the way). 4 But Festus replied that Paul was at Caesarea and he himself would be returning there soon. 5 So he said, “Those of you in authority can return with me. If Paul has done anything wrong, you can make your accusations.”

Acts 25:1-5

It’s interesting that even after he had been kept in prison (and out of their hair) for two years, the Jewish leaders still considered Paul to be such a threat that they immediately asked Festus to transfer Paul to Jerusalem for trial – planning again, to ambush and kill him on the way – exactly as they had planned to do two years earlier before the Roman commander, Claudius Lysius, learned of their plot and sent him safely to Caesarea.

However, Festus replied that since Paul was in Caesarea where he himself would soon be returning, the Jewish leaders could come back with him and make their accusations against Paul there.

This effectively foiled their assassination plot once again – and once again, they were forced to come up with some sort of reasonable charges against Paul if they wanted the governor to rule in their favour.

But as the next verses tell us, once again, their charges were less than convincing!

6 About eight or ten days later Festus returned to Caesarea, and on the following day he took his seat in court and ordered that Paul be brought in. 7 When Paul arrived, the Jewish leaders from Jerusalem gathered around and made many serious accusations they couldn’t prove.

8 Paul denied the charges. “I am not guilty of any crime against the Jewish laws or the Temple or the Roman government,” he said.

Acts 25:6-8

So just like the trial before Felix two years earlier, Festus was left trying to decide what to do about Paul. The Jewish leaders made many serious accusations against Paul – but presented no evidence or witnesses to prove their case. Paul of course, denied their charges – and Festus was left completely unsure how to proceed.

Now history tells us that Festus was a little more honourable than Felix, so he didn’t want to condemn an innocent man – but at the same time, being the new governor, he certainly didn’t want his first trial to cause an uproar among the Jews!

And so Festus came up with a solution that he thought might solve his problem. Verse 9

9 Then Festus, wanting to please the Jews, asked him, “Are you willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there?” Acts 25:9

Moving the trial to Jerusalem probably wouldn’t impact the verdict of the trial, but it would be a gesture of cooperation with the Jews – since that is what they had asked for earlier. However, as a Roman citizen, Paul had the right to decide if he wanted his trial in Jerusalem – where he was accused – or in Caesarea where the governor’s court was – or even in Tarsus, his hometown. These options were all part of Paul’s legal rights as a Roman citizen. Festus couldn’t legally force Paul to go to Jerusalem for trial and so he had to ask for Paul’s consent.

Of course, Paul hadn’t forgotten how the Jews had planned to assassinate him last time he was on trial in Jerusalem, and so we read in verse 10…

10 But Paul replied, “No! This is the official Roman court, so I ought to be tried right here. You know very well I am not guilty of harming the Jews. 11 If I have done something worthy of death, I don’t refuse to die. But if I am innocent, no one has a right to turn me over to these men to kill me. I appeal to Caesar!”

Acts 26:10-11

This was another legal right of every Roman citizen. If a man felt he was not getting a fair trial before the local authorities, he had the right to appeal to Caesar – the highest court in the land – to plead his case. And so this is exactly what Paul did. And as a result, we read in verse 12:

12 Festus conferred with his advisers and then replied, “Very well! You have appealed to Caesar, and to Caesar you will go!” Acts 25:12

Now just let me just interrupt here to remind you of a promise that God made to Paul quite some time earlier. Several years earlier, actually.

In Acts chapter 23, verse 11 we read:

11 That night the Lord appeared to Paul and said, “Be encouraged, Paul. Just as you have been a witness to me here in Jerusalem, you must preach the Good News in Rome as well.”

Acts 23:11

At the time when God made this promise, Paul was sitting alone in a prison cell in Jerusalem. Twice in the two days before this promise, an angry mob had nearly ripped Paul apart. The very next day after this, a band of 40 assassins made an oath not to eat or drink anything until they had murdered Paul!

In the midst of all this turmoil and danger – how in the world would Paul ever safely get to Rome to preach the Good News? It didn’t look like he would even survive the week – let alone somehow make it to Rome! But now, two years later, after God kept him safely from those assassins, preserving him from corrupt judges and unfair trials, it seems that now God has opened the door for him to head directly to Rome – safely escorted by Roman soldiers and with Festus footing the bill!

I mean, no one in their wildest dreams, could have ever anticipated that God would fulfill his promise to Paul in this way! And that’s such an encouragement for us!

There are so many times in life when we face huge obstacles or perhaps the events and circumstances of life feel like a massive step backwards from where we want to be! But yet, in God’s amazing providence, so many times, He uses those exact things in such an unexpected way to propel us to exactly where He wants us to be – and often in amazing ways far better than what we could have ever imagined! It’s like Isaiah 55:8 reminds us

8 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.

9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

Our way of seeing life is kinda like the perspective of an ant. The smallest rock or twig might seem like an insurmountable mountain to us! But God from, his omniscient perspective – seeing all things – past, present, and future – can always see exactly where we need to go and exactly how we need to get there. And most of the time, God’s ways and God’s plans look nothing like ours! His ways are far beyond anything we could imagine!

When I was a kid, my family went through a very difficult and painful conflict with the pastor of our small rural church – a church that my parents had attended for probably 20 years or more. I was just a teenager at the time, but remember how difficult that experience was for my whole family. We didn’t see a lot of good coming out of that situation – in the moment, it was just hard and painful!

But in hindsight now, we can see that God was doing something amazing! Because of that painful season of life, we ended up attending a different church and through that, some amazing doors opened! My parents ended up retiring from farming, and they entered into full time pastoral ministry. For me, through that new church that we started attending, I got connected with Camp Little Red – and that’s really where I began to take my Christian walk seriously! It was also at Camp that I met my wife, Heather, and had my first experiences of full-time ministry. In fact, I can confidently say, that without my family going through that painful experience way back when I was a teenager, I would not be here as your pastor today – and this church would not even exist!

It’s just an incredible testimony to the Providence of God! I am so thankful for the truth of this passage in Isaiah:

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.

For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

And this is exactly what Paul was experiencing! If it were not for the corrupt Jewish leaders falsely accusing him, (and plotting to assassinate him!) and if it weren’t for governor Felix greedily hoping for a bribe – keeping Paul in prison for two years, and then if it weren’t for Governor Festus lacking a bit of backbone and being unwilling to declare Paul innocent even though he obviously was – if it were not for all those hard and painful events, Paul never would have had this unique opportunity to appear before (and share the Gospel with) Caesar himself – with his entire journey to Rome paid for by the Roman empire and escorted under the protection of Roman solders!

And actually, this whole process would give Paul many unique opportunities to share Gospel with people that otherwise, never would have heard! In fact, one of those unique opportunities is recorded in the very next verses. Take a look now in verse 13.

13 A few days later King Agrippa arrived with his sister, Bernice, to pay their respects to Festus. 14 During their stay of several days, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. “There is a prisoner here,” he told him, “whose case was left for me by Felix. 15 When I was in Jerusalem, the leading priests and Jewish elders pressed charges against him and asked me to condemn him. 16 I pointed out to them that Roman law does not convict people without a trial. They must be given an opportunity to confront their accusers and defend themselves.

17 “When his accusers came here for the trial, I didn’t delay. I called the case the very next day and ordered Paul brought in. 18 But the accusations made against him weren’t any of the crimes I expected. 19 Instead, it was something about their religion and a dead man named Jesus, who Paul insists is alive. 20 I was at a loss to know how to investigate these things, so I asked him whether he would be willing to stand trial on these charges in Jerusalem. 21 But Paul appealed to have his case decided by the emperor. So I ordered that he be held in custody until I could arrange to send him to Caesar.”

22 “I’d like to hear the man myself,” Agrippa said.

And Festus replied, “You will—tomorrow!”

23 So the next day Agrippa and Bernice arrived at the auditorium with great pomp, accompanied by military officers and prominent men of the city. Festus ordered that Paul be brought in. 24 Then Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are here, this is the man whose death is demanded by all the Jews, both here and in Jerusalem. 25 But in my opinion he has done nothing deserving death. However, since he appealed his case to the emperor, I have decided to send him to Rome.

26 “But what shall I write the emperor? For there is no clear charge against him. So I have brought him before all of you, and especially you, King Agrippa, so that after we examine him, I might have something to write. 27 For it makes no sense to send a prisoner to the emperor without specifying the charges against him!”

Acts 25:13-27

As we see again here, there is still no clear charge against Paul – which really should have led the governor to throw out the case and free Paul. But of course, God was using all these events for his good and perfect purposes. And right now, God has brought about an incredible opportunity for Paul to share the Gospel before a huge crowd of people – including many influential leaders, all the prominent men of the city, and many military officers – people who otherwise may have never head the Gospel!

And so, in the following verses Paul makes good use of this opportunity to share his testimony – which we will read beginning in chapter 26 now. And by the way, in our baptism class, this is the passage I shared as a template for how to share your testimony. Paul does a great job of sharing what life was like for him before he met Christ, and then he explains how he came to make that personal decision to follow Christ, and then he concludes by explaining how following Christ has totally changed his life since then. This is a great pattern to follow anytime you’re sharing your story with others! So let’s take a look! Chapter 26 – verse 1 and we’ll actually read right to the end of the chapter.

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You may speak in your defense.”

So Paul, gesturing with his hand, started his defense: 2 “I am fortunate, King Agrippa, that you are the one hearing my defense today against all these accusations made by the Jewish leaders, 3 for I know you are an expert on all Jewish customs and controversies. Now please listen to me patiently!

4 “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. 5 If they would admit it, they know that I have been a member of the Pharisees, the strictest sect of our religion. 6 Now I am on trial because of my hope in the fulfillment of God’s promise made to our ancestors. 7 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! 8 Why does it seem incredible to any of you that God can raise the dead?

9 “I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene. 10 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. 11 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.

12 “One day I was on such a mission to Damascus, armed with the authority and commission of the leading priests. 13 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. 14 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.’

15 “‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked.

“And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. 16 Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. Tell people that you have seen me, and tell them what I will show you in the future. 17 And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles 18 to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’

19 “And so, King Agrippa, I obeyed that vision from heaven. 20 I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must repent of their sins and turn to God—and prove they have changed by the good things they do. 21 Some Jews arrested me in the Temple for preaching this, and they tried to kill me. 22 But God has protected me right up to this present time so I can testify to everyone, from the least to the greatest. I teach nothing except what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead, and in this way announce God’s light to Jews and Gentiles alike.”

24 Suddenly, Festus shouted, “Paul, you are insane. Too much study has made you crazy!”

25 But Paul replied, “I am not insane, Most Excellent Festus. What I am saying is the sober truth. 26 And King Agrippa knows about these things. I speak boldly, for I am sure these events are all familiar to him, for they were not done in a corner! 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do—”

28 Agrippa interrupted him. “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?”

29 Paul replied, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that both you and everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am, except for these chains.”

30 Then the king, the governor, Bernice, and all the others stood and left. 31 As they went out, they talked it over and agreed, “This man hasn’t done anything to deserve death or imprisonment.”

32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “He could have been set free if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar.”

Acts 26:1-32

And we’ll stop here for today. Over the course of our study of Acts, we’ve heard Paul’s testimony several times now and so I won’t comment too much about what Paul has just said – even though there is lots of great stuff in there. But I do want to take note of the comments of Festus and Agrippa.

After hearing Paul’s testimony – after hearing the Gospel – Festus reaction is “Paul, you are insane! Too much study has made you crazy!” and Agrippa’s reaction is “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?”

Both seem quite unwilling to accept what Paul has said as the truth. But the seeds have been planted. We’re never told anything more about these two men, but we know they (and the entire audience) have heard the Gospel clearly that day – the decision now laid with them.

Of course, Paul’s prayer is that each one of them would accept the gift of God’s forgiveness and life – just as He had done on the road to Damascus. He says in verse 29…

29 Paul replied, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that both you and everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am, except for these chains.”

Acts 26:29

And that’s really our prayer as a church! All of our prayers and efforts are in hopes that everyone in this audience – everyone in this town, and ultimately everyone in this world would experience the love and forgiveness and eternal life that comes from trusting in Jesus.

You know, every believer in this room – everyone who has put their trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins has a story – a testimony of what God has done in their lives! Like Paul, we could all share what our life was like before knowing Christ, and then we could follow that up with how God worked through people or circumstances to bring us to trust in Him, and then we could share the amazing things that God has done in and through us since that time!

In just a few weeks we actually get to hear some of those stories at Family Camp from our baptism candidates. I’ve had a chance to read some of their written testimonies already – and it’s amazing to see what God has done even among the young people right here in this congregation!

And God wants to do something in you too! Perhaps your story won’t sound quite like Paul’s – being blinded by a vision from heaven or even having to go through assassination plots or imprisonment – but God’s given you your own story.

The question is: will you be like Festus and Agrippa – and deny the truth of what God has done – and is doing? Or will you accept the truth? The truth that God loves you like crazy, that he died and rose again for you, and he wants you to know Him and trust him with your whole life?

in just a few moments, we want to celebrate communion together. This is a time when all believers – everyone who has put their trust in God – can pause to remember all that Jesus Christ did for them on the cross. Its a time when we get to be thankful to him for re-writing our story and giving us a totally different ending!

So just as we prepare to do that, I’m going to ask the music team to come up and lead us in a song. And as they do, I’d really encourage you to consider your own life. Have you come to the place where you’re ready to trust God with your life and your story? Have you put your trust in Him? And if not, I really encourage you to consider that today.

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