Thursday 7th July 2022

ACTS 26

The gospel has three ‘tangible’ strands that make it so compelling to its hearers, and one ‘intangible’ strand.  These all feature in this chapter of Acts.  1) Truth and Reasonableness (v25):  It is hard to commit yourself to a message that is either meaningless or non-sensical, so the mind needs to be convinced that the call of Christ is based upon a ‘reasonable’ historical, true narrative of his life and sayings. 

2) Loving actions (v20):  “…demonstrate their repentance by their deeds”.   As true believers express the life of Christ in the form of loving acts, the world is much more likely to be convinced that the gospel is true.  Jesus himself tells us to “Let your light (i.e., the gospel message) shine before mankind in such a way that they will see your good works and so glorify your Heavenly Father”  (Matthew 5:16).

3) Supernatural power (v8):  The Resurrection is, of course, the pinnacle of this, but it is important for the church to exhibit spiritual gifts and miracles as part of its demonstration of the truth of the gospel.  Even a cursory reading of the Book of Acts will show how effective the miraculous is in convincing the sceptic.  For most of the Western churches today, it is the missing link in our missional journey, and one that we need urgently to rediscover.

The ‘intangible’ strand of the gospel is the operation of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer.  King Agrippa was becoming very convinced by Paul’s message, but he still needed that ‘push’ that only the Spirit of God can provide in the heart, before applying his will to commit to Christ.  There is no evidence in this chapter that his conversion progressed any further, sadly.

Paul makes the valid point that all good and faithful Jews are waiting for the appearance of their Messiah; their only problem was/is that they rejected the real one when he came (John 1:11).

Verses 16 and 18 supply the Job Description for every Christian believer: “I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me” (‘Personal Qualities’)… “…to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (‘Key Roles’).  We are part of a worldwide operation to shift millions of humans from one kingdom to another, so that their allegiance changes completely, whilst their humanity does not. 

Repentance is all about changing our mind and centring it on Jesus Christ from now on.  The Greek word used is ‘Metanoia’, which is literally translated:  “To think differently after”.  Repentance includes acknowledging Jesus as the Boss of our lives (“Jesus is Lord!”).  Repentance itself is not doing acts of ‘penance’ or good works, as Acts 26:20 proves, but it will usually lead to performing loving actions, remorse for past wrong actions and being resolved to follow the will of God in the future.

If Agrippa was still unconvinced of the gospel truth, he did at least realise with certainty that Paul had done absolutely nothing wrong and could have been set free at that moment if he had not been pushed by Festus into appealing to Caesar.

2 KINGS 15

Uzziah – whose name means: “My power is the Lord” – was the official name of Azariah – meaning: “Helped by the Lord”.  He reigned in Judah for 52 years, longer than any other king except the evil Manasseh (who reigned 55).  The length of his reign was helped by the fact that he began it at the age of sixteen, as a co-regency with his father, Amaziah.  He was instructed wisely by Zechariah, who instructed him in the ways of the Lord and encouraged him to seek Him, which he did with successful results.  He did what God approved of and obeyed the Law.  He was a great builder and a military engineer, constructing weapon machines and huge defensive battlements.  His armies were well-trained, disciplined and superbly equipped for battle, and he was blessed by God in all he did.  None of the neighbouring powers dared attack him and his fame and wealth became great. 

Then the problems arose: seeking God and trusting in him always seems to bring success; success often produces pride in successful people; pride then causes their downfall.  The thing that feeds this vicious circle is being forgetful: failing to remember that it was the Lord who made you successful in the first place.  Grace, at one level, is only effective if received with gratitude and applied with humility.

Uzziah became forgetfully proud and decided that he had earned the right to burn incense to the Lord in his temple – after all, those priests only had a job because Uzziah had promoted the true faith for so many years of his reign!  Ignoring the protests and warnings of wiser men than he, he blundered into the sanctuary and paid the price for his pride: leprosy came upon his flesh and never again left him.  (Remember how many centuries before, Miriam the sister of Aaron and Moses incurred the wrath of God and a dose of leprosy, as a punishment of pride and presumption?).  So they hurried him away and he lived in isolation, forever separated from the temple, until the day he died.  His son, Jotham became the effective governor of the land in his place.  What a sad ending for a great king!  How great the fall is engineered by pride!

His son, Jotham, was also a generally good king, although not much is said about him in scripture.  He also had a co-regency with his son Ahaz.

Meanwhile a whole succession of kings reigned and were deposed in the Northern Kingdom.  Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekahiah, and Pekah, no longer from the line of Jehu, but on a ‘winner takes all’ basis!  The land of Israel was now really starting to fall apart at the seams!  The Assyrian empire was gaining in strength and military influence, and the lack of a living faith or moral compass amongst the Israelite kings was also a cause of military erosion.  Israel was a couple of hundred years ahead of Judah in terms of the nation’s disappearance altogether and was now completely under God’s wrath.

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