Text: Acts 26
Proposition: Hope is what all people need, a hope built not on our own self disciplines or on some sense of entitlement but hope built on the Promise of God.
Introduction: Hope is one of the most critical things necessary to life and yet at the same time a thing most misunderstood. Almost every classic ever written from Shakespeare to Tolkien has the element of hope woven into it. In the Scripture hope is counted as one of the three greatest virtues. 1 Cor. 13:13 says, “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith and hope are linked together, hope brings the evidence and the evidence fuels faith. Hope is at the center of the passage we are going to look at this morning. Paul is being held by Festus the Roman governor and is being examined by King Agrippa, the great grandson King Herod. In a few minutes we are going to hear Paul talk about hope but it is not a hope for being released from jail. Paul’s hope is grounded on past promises that speak of future outcomes, enabling us for life in the present… Acts 26.
I. Hope That Is Built on Entitlement or Legalistic Effort is False Hope.
Paul shares his testimony of how he grew up, how people saw him as a young man, how the Jewish leadership regarded him. As he tells his story what becomes clear is that Paul had a hope in gaining the favor of others, in excelling as a legalist. Vs 5 “They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.” Paul put everything he had into becoming a Pharisee. In the earnest zeal that characterized him, he became more and more self righteous. Self righteousness is like a 1960 Cadillac, it looks great on the outside but it’s a heavy thing to keep moving. It takes a lot of fuel to keep it going. Self righteousness takes a lot of emotional energy and the premium fuel it uses is the refined anger of rage. Self righteous indignation in Paul began to turn to rage and the more righteous he acted the more enraged he became… Vs 11 “And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” You could see this attitude of entitlement grow in Paul as the hope that he embraced was one that said he must make this happen. Hope that is built around your own ability demands performance. It creates a belief of entitlement because of how you followed the rules. This hope is dependent upon you being constantly capable to achieve it all, all by yourself, until suddenly you find yourself all alone. Essentially that is what Paul ran into, it was the sense of suddenly finding yourself all alone. He had based his life on a false hope. It was not a hope that was connected to faith in what God had promised nor in what God sees nor in what God wants to do. It was this false hope that God overruled by putting Paul into the dirt outside the city he was headed for. Legalism and entitlement are built on a false hope that is often fuelled by anger more than faith and the outcomes of it will not take you where you want to go.
II. Hope That Is True Is Built On God’s Promise and Points to God’s Future. In verses 6,7 Paul says, “And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews.” The point is that Paul now had a hope based on God’s promise which was upheld by God’s ability not Paul’s. It was a hope that though built on the past was anchored to the future and the nature of this hope was that it empowered the people of Israel to earnestly serve God day and night. The emotional fuel that drove them was not anger and rage, it was faith, love and hope. Hope that is true, the opposite of false hope, is built on what God has promised and is underwritten by the capability and personhood of Who God is. It points to a sure and certain future that is not determined by either my personal efforts at self righteousness nor on any sense that I have of being entitled to it. It is not because of what I can do but because of what He has done. Real hope is anchored to a real promise, brought about by the real power of a real risen Christ!
That is what Paul’s testimony here is all about. He starts with himself and describes a person caught up in a false hope that demanded self righteousness as its vehicle. Paul points out that the very people that are accusing him, the High Priest and the Pharisees are still caught up in that same false hope. So what it comes down to is the way that ‘hope’ is being used here is not the same way that we typically use it. Hope typically infers a longing for something which may or may not actually come to be. People hope to win the lottery, hope that it doesn’t snow, hope they don’t get the flue. The hope that Paul is referring to moves past uncertainty to absolute promise and the promise is underwritten by the very person of God. That is true hope and it will enable you to move forward in life, to face trial and struggle and to rightly reflect the wonder of Jesus Christ in your life. So that’s what this hope looks like but what exactly is the promise that it is hoping in?
III. The Promise That Paul Hopes In Is A Person Who Changes Everything.
In one of the earliest books of the Scriptures the patriarch Job says this in Job 19:25-27, “For I know that my Redeemer lives and He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” What is Job hoping in? It is The Redeemer, the Messiah. What is it that the Messiah will bring about? Job says the Redeemer will stand at last on the earth alive and that one day Job, in his flesh, shall see this Redeemer, he shall see God. Then he says, ‘How my heart yearns within me!’ The Redeemer is the Promise, the resurrection is what that Redeemer will bring about. The Promise is certain and it outlasts everything and then changes everything. Isaiah the prophet many years after the days of Job wrote down the words of well known hymn that the people would sing. It’s in Isaiah 26:19, “Your dead shall live; together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; For your dew is like the dew of herbs and the earth shall cast out the dead.” If someone were to ask you, ‘What is the main theme of the Old Testament’, how would you answer? The main theme of the OT is the same as the main theme of the NT, it is all about the Messiah and His promise of eternal life and resurrection. Look what Paul says in verse 22, “Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come— that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”
That’s the Promise, the Christ would come, the Christ would suffer and die, the Christ would be the first to rise from the dead, the Christ would proclaim the light, the gospel, the good news, the great hope, to the Jewish people and the Gentiles.
The light that the Christ would proclaim was not a possibility, not a maybe, not a vague hope… it was an accomplished truth. Christ would die for the sins of mankind and whosoever that believed in Him would be saved eternally.
When Festus heard Paul say this he interrupts Paul saying that ‘You must be out of your mind’. When King Agrippa heard Paul say this his reply was, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” How would you respond? Before you answer that let me remind you about the hope Paul has been talking about is The Promise, the Christ who changes everything. He starts to change things in your life the very moment you accept Him as your Savior. But he doesn’t stop there, He fully intends your resurrection, both of those who believe in Him and those who never did. And then He changes everything for each group. Let’s just talk about heaven for a second. Just what do you think heaven will be like? Is it just a better version of here? Not at all. Are people just a better version of who they were, not at all. Is God just a little closer than before? The presence of God then will be like living inside the Omnipresence of God. That will be for us an absolute change from now, here we are so out of tune with God, then we will belong, have lasting purpose, then we will love and be loved beyond our capabilities of today. The glory of God is what the resurrection of Christ invites us to come and live in. As we do the discovery of Who God the Father is, of Who Jesus Christ is, of Who the Holy Spirit is will make the greatest discoveries in the history of mankind seem like common, everyday thoughts in comparison. This, this is our hope, this is the Promise. It leaves no room for being almost persuaded, it invites us to an absolute certainty in Christ, our Hope.