The Message Not the Messenger: Acts 26:16-18
We often feel we are inadequate or lack enough training or knowledge to share the gospel. Some of us think we don’t have the ability to be a great orator. We get tongue tied, or speak to softly, or stutter. Some of us are held back from the shame of our past. We wonder how could we ever confront someone on what is right or wrong with the things we have done in our past? Maybe its that we are not the right color, or the right age, or that we are just a new Christian. Insecurities creep in from every direction. Our insecurities help is to make millions of excuses why “someone else” should tell people about Jesus and not us.
We compare ourselves to Billy Graham, or some other big named evangelist and tell ourselves that I could never be that useful to God. We may even compare ourselves to the Apostles and say man, I wish I could be like Luke and write amazing things about Jesus and the church. We may tell ourselves, I could never be like Paul and plant churches everywhere I go. To often we look at our own limitations and not what God can do; if we were to just be obedient.
Peter was just an average guy when he was called by Jesus. He was a fisherman who made a living by the sweat of his brow and the sores on his hands. Peter denied Christ when he needed him most. Peter was a man of shame. He had to overcome this in love of Jesus Christ. Paul murdered Christians and suffered beatings, sicknesses, and ridicule. Paul had to be encouraged in his ministry by other believers, and even had to have a personal physician. Paul had to overcome all of this in the love of Jesus Christ. Both men, and even Luke had their failings from the past to look beyond. They had to keep looking forward to the day of redemption, and to be faithful to the commandment from Jesus that they had received. The commandment to go and tell. We however continue to look at our failures and let them assure us that we are unworthy to carry such a message.
The truth is, we are unworthy to carry such a message. However; we are also uniquely qualified to carry the message of hope. We to must overcome our past by the love of Jesus Christ. You see we did not earn the privilege to speak on his name. We received a task that is a privilege to perform for him. We know our dreadful past with all of the horrific things we have done against God and others. But we are not the only ones who know. Those who God sends us to, they know it also. Our friends and family, wives, siblings, children, parents, they all know who we used to be. More importantly, we know who we used to be. But we have something to share with them.
What we share with them is hope. We share with them Jesus and a new life that is free from the past. We show them by our lives that they do not have to be the same way they are. There is a way to live without shame, addiction and rejection. None of us started out the way we ended up. We all wanted to be something better than what we became. We show them how Jesus can make us free to live life in a better way than we ever dreamed. We can have redemption, hope, joy, and love! We can be loved! We can love others too! The gospel of Jesus Christ is that and so much more. But, we hide this important message from them because of our insecurities. We forget that it is not us, but the Spirit of the Living God who resides in us that gives us the ability to bear witness of the things he has done for us, for them.
We don’t see that before Billy Graham was a world renowned evangelist and clergy to the Office of the President of the United States, he was just another guy. He gave his life to Christ at the age of 16. He was a farmer’s son. His first ministry was to lead prayer meetings in a trailer park. He applied to be an Army Chaplain and was denied do to a lack of formal experience. He then became a Pastor of a small Baptist church. He began to host a weekly radio program. Billy Graham looked for opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Eventually he became the first full time organizer of Youth for Christ. This is what God used to open doors all across the world for many generations. Billy Graham was of humble beginnings, without experience, and largely unlearned, and often felt inadequate to speak the gospel of Jesus Christ. But he was obedient. It is God who made Billy Graham, Paul, Peter, Luke, and all the other historic men and women of God who they are today.
In Acts 26 we get a look at Paul, or Saul at this time. It is strange, but; when we consider who would have been the first martyrs of the church we would assume that it would be one of the twelve apostles. You know the guys who were right there, and saw it all go down. I could see Peter volunteering himself to go first. After all, he did tell Jesus that he would go with him unto death! However; this is not the case. Instead, the first martyr recorded was a young man. This youth was named Stephen. Stephen was one of the deacons of the church. He tended to the widows, orphans, and other needs of the church and it’s members. Like other early followers, he was not restricted to just administrative tasks, but was active in spreading the gospel himself. This is something that we should all learn. Even though he was a deacon, he understood that his work for the gospel of Jesus did not end there. He didn’t say, “I’m a deacon, not a preacher”. In fact, if you study the book of acts you will see that all of the first deacons were also preachers, and evangelists.
Scripture doesn’t tell us what seminary or special training that Stephen went though, or how powerful of a speaker he was. It does not tell us that Stephen was anything exceptional. With the exception of this, “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.” (Acts 6:8) Stephen was full of faith! That is it. Because Stephen was full of faith, God did great wonders and miracles through Stephen. So this humble young man who believed enough to share his faith soon got into trouble with the local religious groups.
Stephen was brought up on charges of blasphemy for proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Stephen was stoned to death for his testimony of Jesus. Now a man named Saul, was one of those present and took pleasure at the stoning of Stephen. This Saul, would become known as Paul, the same one who would latter change the world with the doctrine of salvation by grace, hated believers in Jesus Christ. Saul even went further and received authorization to persecute Christians throughout the Providences of Asia. This meant he had permission to go from town to town and arrest, beat, and stone to death anyone who he witnessed or was witnessed to him, as a Christian.
Paul himself testifies of his own evil deeds that he did. He tells King Agrippa that he threw many “followers of the way” (Christians) into prison and saw to it that they were executed. Paul himself would testify against them in courts. He said that he often punished them in the synagogues. He would back them into a corner with his knowledge of scripture and his intellect and force them to commit blasphemy in front of the Pharisees so that they would be stoned to death. When the persecuted fled Jerusalem, then Paul proceeded to hunt them down throughout Asia. Now, I ask you. What have you done that is shameful? What has disqualified you from sharing the gospel? How many innocent lives have you taken? How many followers of Jesus Christ have you condemned to death?
OK, so this Saul was on a hunting trip to catch more followers of the Way. Then while Paul is riding along and anticipating his trophies to be won, suddenly, he runs right smack dab into Jesus. Jesus blinds Saul with his glory and then confronts him on his sin. Saul, like you and I, repented. Saul saw the error of his ways, his foolish pride and arrogance, his sins against God himself. His errors in the past swept before his heart and his mind’s eye. Saul was immediately sorrowful and his shame was displayed before him. He suddenly understood how shameful he was. He was not the righteous soldier of God he had imagined in his vanity. Instead he was a murderer of the ones that truly loved God. Saul had worked his whole life and studied hard to be pleasing to God, and yet he had not seen the light. He was lost, more than any other man. He also knew that his actions, above of all other men’s, could not be forgiven. The pride that had blinded him, was now gone. Saul was broken.
Then something happened. Jesus forgave Paul. He forgave him of everything, with nothing left out to hold over his life. Just like Jesus forgave you and I. But that would not be the only thing that Jesus did for Saul. Jesus sent Saul on mission. Acts 26:16-18 tells of about this, “But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.”
Paul was to rise to his feet, but to never think to highly of himself again. Paul’s humility would be the strength that God would use to spread his gospel of grace by faith. Jesus told Paul, “rise and stand upon thy feet.” Jesus told him to stand up, I have a job for you. Jesus confronted Paul of his sin. Once Paul confessed and repented, Jesus stood him up and gave him purpose. The Lord gave Paul a new life and a new purpose, in and for Jesus Christ. Now that Paul had been delivered, he was not to return to his old life. Paul would no long serve his own purposes. Paul, now that he was redeemed was now a servant of the Lord who had redeemed him.
Paul’s new purpose was to go where the Lord directed and “to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.”
How did Paul start out this mission? He was humble. He was blind. He was dependent upon those around him. He was led about by the hand. He had to wait on the Lord. When Paul first started preaching, no one listened to him. His past immediately came up, and people did not trust him. They didn’t believe in his conversion. Then when they did start listening they tried to kill him. Does this sound familiar? When you first believed in Christ, were you not treated in such a way? Did friends and family disbelieve the sincerity of your conversion? Did they say things like, “Awe you just on a Jesus kick!” Afterward, they would then grow tired of you talking about Jesus and even begin to be confrontational, or avoiding you. See these same things you go through, even the great Apostle Paul went through. All of these feelings of inadequacy. Things that encourage you to just crawl in a hole and not mention the name of the one who redeemed you. They are real things the enemy uses to silence us.
See we are all the same. We are all just servants, none of us is better or more important than the other. We all need to be obedient and follow the calling of Christ. This mission that Jesus gave Saul, it the same one he gave the other disciples. It is the same one he gives us as new disciples. This is part of our inheritance. We have the great privilege to speak life to people in the name of the Lord Jesus
Christ. Let us then do like Saul, who became known as Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles.
Let us get up and put our old lives behind us. Live the life and purpose that Jesus has now given to us. Go on mission to tell others about what God has done for you. How he has delivered YOU from death and shame into love and life in Jesus Christ. Have we forgotten that the Lord told the Pharisees, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” We are who the Lord chose to reveal himself to; those who are sick, and feeble, those who are in need. He did not come to call the religious, but those who are lost and need redemption. He did not call the perfect, but those who are broken and distraught. Those who need him are the ones he came to deliver.
We who have believed have now been made anew. Like a new garment that is clean and nicely pressed we have a new life. The Spirit of God has come to indwell this new wineskin, not the old. Jesus had laid his hands upon us and healed us from our infirmities. Jesus removed the shackles of death and the bondage of sin (addictions) that once crippled us. He has raised us up to be glorified in him, to him, and for him. We like Saul have been redeemed, bought, for his purposes. It is by faith that we have been made whole. Faith that God exists. Faith that Jesus if the Son of God. Faith that Jesus dies and was buried for our sin. Faith that we will be resurrected just as he resurrected. Faith that he will return to establish his kingdom here on earth and destroy his enemies. Faith that we are delivered to eternal life through Jesus Christ.
This is our hope in this life. We have this newness of life in Christ. Death died with the old man we used to be. Now we have a new life in Jesus Christ. This new life is free from sin, shame, and death. We have nothing to fear in this life and can then love as Christ has love us. There is nothing that anyone can hold against this new creature in Christ that we have become. Paul told Timothy, “let no man despise they youth”. Let no man despise you’re youth, in age or spiritual maturity, for many elders in the church have gone to sleep spiritually.
So again let us, open their eyes, and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among we which are sanctified by faith that is in us concerning Jesus Christ.