In today’s passage Paul’s defense before King Agrippa is recorded. When King Agrippa and his sister, Bernice, visited the governor Festus, Festus told them about Paul. The King wanted to hear what Paul had to say so Paul was brought before him and Paul gave his defense. The central thing that Paul wanted to say was verse 19 and 20.
Paul wanted to say that the reason that he was proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ was that it was a vision from heaven. Therefore, Paul was not disobedient to this vision and to those in Damascus, in Judea, and also to the Gentiles, he preached to all people “that they should repent and turn to God, and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.” (20) Today let’s look at three aspects of not being “disobedient to the vision from heaven”.
I. It is hard for you to kick against the goads (vs. 1-14)
First let’s look at verses 1-3. First Paul says politely and formally that he considers himself fortunate to be able to make his defense before King Agrippa. He felt fortunate because he thought this was a chance to share the Gospel. On the way to Damascus when Paul was converted, the Lord spoke these words about Paul in Acts 9:15. “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.”
As these words say, now Paul has the chance to testify of Christ before King Agrippa. This is just what the Lord had told Ananias that he would do. No matter if he’s a prisoner in chains or that he his being questioned out of mockery, if there is a chance to share the Gospel, then for Paul this is being fortunate. This is not just Paul. We are the same. We too at times are misunderstood or are hurt by persecution. We would be really blessed if no matter how we are hurt or misunderstood, we see it as a chance to preach the Gospel.
After Paul expresses his thankfulness, he gives his defense which is recorded in verses 4 to 11. First he tells King Agrippa that he “conformed to the strictest sect” of the Jews, “living as a Pharisee.” (5) He claims that all the Jewish people know that it is true and a fact that he lived as a Pharisee. However, he is on trial for following the teaching of the Pharisees and putting his “hope in what God has promised our ancestors.” (6) This promise is what the twelve tribes were “hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night.” (7) This is the promise of the resurrection of the dead. Let’s look at verse 8.
The resurrection of the dead was something, except for a small group of people like the Sadducees, that the Jews hoped in. Regardless of that hope, when they heard the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection, they rapidly stumbled. It is strange. Those who looked forward to the resurrection of the dead when Jesus rose, not only were they not able to accept it, but they were against those who insisted that Jesus rose.
Paul was the same. In verse 9 he says about himself, “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” (8) Not only did he just think that but in verse 10 in Jerusalem he “put many of the Lord’s people in prison,” and voted that they be put to death. Not only that in verse 11 he went from synagogue to synagogue to have the Christians punished, and “tried to force them to blaspheme.” Paul was so obsessed with persecuting them that he “even hunted them down in foreign cities.”
Paul who believed in and looked forward to the resurrection of the dead when he heard about the resurrection of Jesus, not only did he refute the fact, but he stumbled and was strongly repulsed by the teaching. In his head he believed in the resurrection, but when he heard that it actually occurred he could not consent to it. This was because in his heart he had a conviction about the cross. He was convinced that Jesus who had died on the cross could never be the Messiah. This is because the Old Testament taught that, “anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.” (Deut. 21:23, Galatians 3:13) He couldn’t believe that Jesus who died cursed by God could have risen. Of course passages like Isaiah 53:4-6 prophesize such things, but he thought there was no way the Messiah would be hung on the cross and die.
This is the stumbling block of Jesus. At the same time this is the Gospel of Christ. This is because Jesus took upon himself the pain and curses and died in our place. Then because he rose again to life, we can have real hope in the resurrection of the dead. This sounds absurd. However, even if it seems absurd, if we don’t believe in Christ, there is no way that hope can exist in us.
It bothers us when we can’t understand things fully or we can’t explain things with our heads. However we need to accept the Bible like a child and believe it. There is no other way to salvation.
Paul had an event happen in his life that led him to devote his life to the Lord. It happened on the way to Damascus. There he met the risen Lord. He tells us about this even in verses 12-14.
This is the 3rd time that Paul tells us about his conversion (also in chapters 9 and 22) However, each time he tells it there is a different audience and setting so the contents are just a little different. One difference is in this passage the resurrected Lord, Jesus, speaks to Paul in Aramaic. This does not appear in the other conversion testimonies. What the Lord said in Aramaic is “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (14)
Goads were whips made out of thorns that were used to send the cows away to work. When the farmer walked behind the cow holding the reigns with his left hand, and in his right hand held a 2 to 3 meter long goad. When the cow stopped walking he would use the goad. And often the cow would kick against the goad, but it would hurt. Therefore in the end the cow would have to walk as the farmer directed. When Jesus said to Saul, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (14), He meant that no matter how furious Paul got and he went against God and persecuted the church it was in the end the same as kicking the goads. It would mean getting hurt, and sinking in sin.
That would be what Paul is saying in verse 19 “disobedient to the vision from heaven.” “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” We have all experienced this many times. We kick against the goads wanting to go our own way. We go our own way hurting all the time. We get hurt and actually aren’t happy. Kicking the goads only hurt and we aren’t really happy. God has his plan. There is a road that he wants us to walk. Walking on that road is the most natural and has the most happiness. What is this road?
II. The vision from heaven (vs.15-18)
Next let’s look at the vision from heaven, God’s road. Let’s look at verse 15. When Paul asked, ”Who are you, Lord?” (15), Jesus answered, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (15) For Paul, to say that Jesus of Nazareth was God’s son, the Savior (Christ) was to blaspheme. It was something that he couldn’t definitely do, It was something unforgivable. That is why he had come to Damascus. He was going there to punish those who insisted such things about Jesus. Regardless, Jesus said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (15) This showed him that what he believed in what was totally wrong. He thought that there was no possibility that Jesus of Nazareth was God’s sons, Christ. In reality Jesus was the Son of God. No matter how much he thought about it, he couldn’t understand it. That was the vision from heaven.
Up until now Paul was not able to comprehend that Jesus was the son of God. No matter how much he thought about it in his head, he was not able to give birth to such thinking. He wasn’t able to stand the central aspects of the Gospel either. It was “the vision from heaven” that completely changed his thinking. Then the Lord spoke to him the words recorded in verses 16-19.
These words are not recorded in 9:22. These words tell us why the resurrected Lord appeared to Paul and the purpose of doing so. Jesus has appeared to Paul to appoint him as a servant and as a witness of what he has seen and will see of Christ. He is being sent out to tell the people about what he has experienced that they will have their eyes opened, that they will turn “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 Christ. (18)
This is the vision that Paul received from heaven. Therefore, the correct understanding of the Gospel the zealousness Paul had for evangelism was not a human enthusiasm. It was completely revealed by the vision from heaven.
This is something that we can say about our salvation and evangelism too. No matter how much we think about it in our heads, we cannot have a correct understanding of the Gospel. A correct understanding of the Gospel begins when a sudden light from heaven hits us, and knocks us to the ground. By the vision from heaven the way we used to think and the ideas we had that was our foundation and the lifestyle drenched with self that we have had up until now in a blink of the eye is broken down. The Bible calls this devoting our lives to God.
Before Jacob had to have this experience in order to receive the blessing of God. This is recorded in Genesis 32. He heard that his brother Esau was coming to meeting him and he was so nervous that he was unable to sleep all night. He had the experience of wrestling all night with God. “His hip was wrenched as he wrestled.”( Genesis 32:25) However this experience changed him into a real vessel of God. In the same way, in order for us to experience anew the Gospel we need to take ourselves out of the center of our lives and devote ourselves to God.
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3) The word “again” means “from above”. No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born from above.
Paul was born anew “from above”, in other words, “from heaven’s” awesome power and vision and he was able to find a new direction of living. Also, his extreme enthusiasm for evangelism was the same. We too, if we are not born by the grace and power from above, we can not be born anew. If we have no vision from above, then we can not evangelize enthusiastically.
III. Do not be disobedient to the vision from heaven (vs. 19-23)
Paul “was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles” (19, 20) Paul “preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.” (20) The root of Paul’s evangelism was “the vision from heaven”. The change in his life was not the result of meditating over and over again. It was from the “the vision heaven.” He preached to “repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds” (20) “to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles” (20) was because of the vision from heaven. He couldn’t be disobedient to this vision of heaven, but was obedient and chose to follow this road.
This is really important. If we can follow this vision, then we can be obedient to it. Jesus said, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (14) Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t kick.” You can kick, but it will hurt. In other words, we are given the choice to not be disobedient and to believe and follow or to kick. Paul was not disobedient and followed. How about you? We must me a decision to not be disobedient to the vision from heaven if we don’t want to be wounded and hurt. We need to not just believe and have our sins forgiven and then live our own selfish way, but it is necessary to life for the kingdom of the Gospel. At a glimpse to give up your life of living however you want to, and live within the fellowship of the church may seem to be lacking freedom. However, this is actually is the number one blessed way. Let’s not be disobedient to the vision, and just walk the road that God shows us and earnestly move forward.
There are very few Christians in Japan, less than %1. However, if we have love and follow this vision from heaven, we will be able to overcome this wall. This depends upon the decision that each of us make about our faith.