The Evidence of a Relationship

Acts: Paul's Journey to Rome

This weekend, JP walks us through Acts 25 and 26. Using the historical account of Paul being on trial before Festus and Agrippa, JP shows us four pieces of evidence that should mark Christians: belief in the Resurrection, a life of Repentance, a life marked by Righteousness, and constantly Retelling the Gospel story. If you were tried today for being a Christian—if being a Christian was illegal—would you be found guilty?

Jonathan PokludaDec 10, 2017Acts 25:14-26:8; Acts 26:29

Hello, Watermark. How are we doing? We are back in Acts, chapters 25 and 26. Paul is on trial. I like watching shows where there's a trial or the mystery you're solving. Anybody watch these? It's like 48 Hours or Forensic Files or a version of Dateline or 20/20. Anybody like these shows? Okay, I thought you guys were going to leave me on an island, like, "No, we're Christians." So I'm glad you watch them.

Anybody seen the show Snapped? It's on the Oxygen network. I'm at my in-laws' house. I'm watching this show Snapped. True story. I'm watching it, and it's about the neighbors. Not kidding. I'm watching the show. I see the house. I'm looking out the window. I'm like, "That's that house." I'm particularly intrigued by this, and it is as thrilling and riveting as these shows are. The crime happens, and it's a terrible thing. I don't mean to talk about crime in any kind of lighthearted way.

Somebody breaks in the house and murders the husband and father. Tragic thing. Everyone comes to the living widow's aid and is caring for her. She had called 911 because someone had broken into the house. Then as the police come and investigate the scene, they bring her in as a suspect. I'm watching the show, and I'm like, "No. Come on. She just lost her husband. Are you serious?" Then they start to talk about the evidence around why they would think she's a suspect.

They said the scene was too staged. It didn't really look like somebody broke in. It was staged. I'm like, "Come on. Give the lady a break." Then they said she's a nurse and she didn't seek to render aid to her husband. I'm like, "Come on. What's going through her mind? Who knows? Guys, have mercy here, and give her a break." Then they say they found the bullet casings in the kitchen trash can with a pair of gloves with her DNA on them. I'm like, "Oh, that's not good. That's not good at all."

Then it got weird. She wanted to buy a field with a pond. The real estate agent thought something funny was going on, so he contacted the authorities. The Texas Rangers go out there. They set up a surveillance camera. They go in the pond and find the murder weapon in that particular pond.

They set up a surveillance camera, and they find her going there in the middle of the night searching where they found the murder weapon, which is really compelling evidence. In fact, it took a jury five hours to sentence her to 60 years in prison. As I'm watching that, there's this thing happening in my heart where I'm like, "She's innocent" to "She's guilty," and the way that shift is happening is the overwhelming evidence.

I start there, because Paul is on trial, and he has been in prison in Caesarea now for two years, and it's really the opposite. It is not an interesting Netflix documentary or show. It's not Making a Murderer or anything like that. They're like, "What has this guy done?" That's essentially the question they keep asking, especially here in Acts, chapters 25 and 26.

Really, the only thing they can pin to him is that he has a relationship with a dead man named Jesus Christ who he says came back to life. That's all they have. In all of the questioning and all of the defense attorneys coming up and the people raising their issues with him, it's that he says he has a relationship with a dead man named Jesus Christ. So we're talking about evidence today. I love the illustration Todd used last week. It's one of my favorites.

He tells a story about receiving a letter that says, "I know what you've done." He's sitting beside his wife Alex. He opens the letter in the mail. It says, "I know what you've done." He hands it to her. "Hey, they know what I've done." She says, "What have you done?" He says, "I don't know, but I hope it's encouraging." He throws it away, and he goes on about his day. See, I heard that illustration years and years ago at Lake Highlands.

I heard it in a very different season of my life, and I thought, "Man, I want that freedom," because if I received that letter when I heard the illustration I'd think, "Man, what do they know? Of the dozens of things they could know, what do they know?" But as we're talking about Paul, the only evidence they can bring against him is that he has a relationship with Jesus Christ. That's where I want to camp. What is the evidence of having a relationship with Jesus Christ?

Let's just say a coworker walks up to you and says, "I heard you've been hanging out at Watermark. I heard you have a relationship with Jesus Christ, but then I saw this." What's in there? They say, "Hey, I heard you have a relationship with Jesus Christ, but then I found your Internet search history. Can we just go through this together?

Hey, I heard you have a relationship with Christ, but then I saw these pictures of you with someone else or this DNA report that you have this child you haven't been caring for, maybe you didn't know about. Hey, I heard you have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Can we go through your text message history? I heard you have a relationship with Jesus Christ, but then I got your credit card bill.

It came to me by mistake, and I'm looking at some of these purchases. There are some questionable purchases here. Why did you buy that? Why did you see that movie? It seems that you have an addiction to Amazon Prime. Or let's just talk about your giving. I heard Christians were generous. I see no generosity here. The evidence is telling me otherwise." What would they bring against you?

This is what they're attempting to bring against Paul, but the evidence points to the fact that he believes in a resurrection, that he has experienced repentance, that he's living a life of righteousness, and that he continues to retell the story. This is the evidence of someone who has a relationship with Jesus Christ. What I'm going to do right now is summarize all of Acts, chapters 25 and 26, and then we'll go into the verses, but let me give you the overarching picture.

Todd talked about the governor Felix last week. Felix has now gone on. He has been replaced by Festus. Festus is new on the scene. Festus knows nothing about Judaism. Festus finds this prisoner, Paul, who has been in prison now for two years, and he's trying to figure out why he's in prison. Because he's the new governor, King Agrippa comes to visit him. These guys are Roman procurators. In modern times we would call them governors.

Let me set the scene for you. Here is the Roman Empire. If you look at this map, everything in green is the Roman Empire. As Paul goes to Rome, Paul is there where that dot is, Judea. He's going to go to Rome in the coming weeks. The plot takes place here where it says "Judea." If we zoom in, you're going to see the green there. That is Festus' territory, and the red is Agrippa's territory.

King Agrippa is accompanied by a woman named Bernice. Bernice is his sister. They are allegedly in an incestuous relationship. Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian, writes about this relationship. They come in. They enter the scene as well to come and see the new governor, Festus. Here's the deal. Agrippa is a Jew, so Festus is excited to see him, because he's like, "Can you help me understand what this guy has done wrong?"

Because here's what Festus has just done. At the beginning of Acts 25, he goes from Caesarea to Jerusalem to see the high priest. He spends several days with him there. The high priest is like, "Hey, can you bring Paul? You have a prisoner there. His name is Paul. Can you bring him to Jerusalem?" and it says because they want to jump him and kill him on the way. Now this is what they wanted to do two years ago.

Their plans failed then, and they're going to fail now, because Festus says, "Hey, he's in Caesarea. I'm going to Caesarea. If you guys want to see him prosecuted, you come there." And they do. They bring all of these charges against Paul, but they can't prove any of them. So Festus is like, "I don't know what to do. Oh, I know what I'll do. I'll ask my buddy Agrippa over here. He's a Jew. Hey, Agrippa, can you help me understand what Paul has done?"

He has appealed to Caesar. Caesar (Julius Caesar, Caesar Augustus) is a title, not a name. Caesar is what you would call the emperor. The emperor now is Nero. Paul has appealed to Nero. Meaning, he has to go to Rome. Before Festus can send him to Nero, he has to tell Nero what he has done wrong, and he's pulling his hair out trying to figure it out. He's like, "I don't know what he has done wrong." He can't release him, because if he releases him the Jews will turn on him, and he has to keep the peace.

So this guy is in a real dilemma, and that's where our story picks up. Let me kind of modernize this if we can. Let's just say, hypothetically speaking, there's a case in Colorado where a Christian owns a bakery, and let's say he refuses to bake a cake on his moral standards. The governor of Colorado, hypothetically speaking, is an atheist, and let's say the governor of Texas, who, hypothetically speaking, is a Christian, is coming to visit him.

He's like, "This is good, because I need to send this case to the Supreme Court, and before I can do that I'd love to understand what moral standards are influencing this case. Mr. Governor of Texas, can you help me here? Can you speak into what's going on?" Are you guys tracking with me? That's what's happening here in this text. All right. Let's dive in. Acts 25:14:

" [Festus] said: 'There is a man here whom Felix left as a prisoner.'" He's talking to Agrippa. "When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned. I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over anyone before they have faced their accusers and have had an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges.

When they came here with me, I did not delay the case, but convened the court the next day and ordered the man to be brought in. When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected.""I was thinking they were going to say he killed somebody or did some terrible things." "Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. I was at a loss how to investigate such matters…""How do I know if the man is alive or not?"

"…so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges. But when Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor's decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar." Agrippa says, "I'd like to meet this man," and Festus says, "Okay. You can meet him tomorrow." The first thing I want to bring to your attention as we're talking about evidence of having a relationship with Jesus is…

1._ Belief in the resurrection_. If you have a relationship with Jesus, then your belief in the resurrection is something that would mark your life. This is central to the Christian belief and Christian teachings. When you talk about what Paul went from town to town telling people, it wasn't like he was reading the Sermon on the Mount. The message Paul carried was about a man who died and came back to life. This is why he's in prison. This is why they're going to call him crazy: because he believes a man came back to life.

I helped with a funeral here once, and it was a tragic case. A man had died, a good man by all accounts. People who knew him… He loved God. He lived his life in light of the reality of God and died in the most heinous way. He had been robbed and beaten to death. I know, it's a dark morning. I'm talking about these things, but there he was. The family was so outraged by what had happened to this man they wanted to have an open casket.

I stood there and looked at the lifeless body, and I saw the gashes, I saw the wounds, I saw the bruises, I saw the swelling, and it really communicated something. I remember when they shut the casket, and then we did the graveside. You go out to the cemetery, and there's this big hole in the ground. The casket sits on top of the hole, people mourn the loss of their friend and father and loved one, and then they lower the casket into the earth. I left, and as my week went on, several days later I'm at Starbucks, and that man walked in. The one from the casket walked in.

I don't want to make a practice of deceiving you to make a point, but I made up all of that, and I want to ask you a question. How did you feel? Were you confused? Did you think, "Wait a minute. Did I not understand him? Who walked in?" Or did you see where I was going and think, "Man, that's hokey. What's he doing?" I'm asking you. How did you feel? What were you thinking? "Wait. Are you saying he came back to life? Was it a mistake? Was it his twin? Who walked in?"

That's how they felt. That's the message Paul was carrying from town to town, from city to city, going from place to place. The rumors were spreading. People were converting, and Paul is saying, "Hey, that guy everyone saw dead… Remember? Who you took outside the city? There at the crossroads you nailed him to a piece of wood. We put him in the grave. We sealed the grave. We embalmed him. That man came back to life."

If you thought I was crazy, they think he's crazy. That's why he's in prison. But that resurrection story is central to what we believe. Verse 23: "The next day Agrippa and Bernice [his sister] came with great pomp…" It's literally in the Greek the word phantasia. They come all fantastically ornate with parades of well-to-do people and military officials, and they come riding in with sequins and feathers, and it's amazing.

"…and entered the audience room with the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. Festus said: 'King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. *I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. *

But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him.'""I don't know what to say he has done wrong." "Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. For I think it is unreasonable to send a prisoner on to Rome without specifying the charges against him." He's saying, "Agrippa, you're a Jew. Help me understand what this guy has done wrong." Chapter 26:

"Then Agrippa said to Paul, 'You have permission to speak for yourself.' So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: 'King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently. The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem.

They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee. And now it is because of my hope…'" What hope is that? ** "…in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope…"** What hope, Paul? What hope? "…that these Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?"

This is Paul's message. God raises the dead. Life is not over when you die. You go somewhere. You continue living. Because of Jesus there is a resurrection. When you read in Acts 2 that they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, the apostles' teaching they devoted themselves to was about the resurrection. This is central to everything we say…it's why you're here…to everything we say we believe, to the message of Jesus.

You don't stop at "Christ died for my sins." That's not the end of the story. "Then God raised him from the dead, and now I have hope to be raised from the dead, and his Spirit lives in me." Do you literally believe that 2,000 years ago a man died…his heart stopped beating for three days, there was no breath in his lungs for three days…that he laid there deceased and lifeless, and then came back and showed up and people saw him?

Verse 22: "I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles." He's saying, "Agrippa, listen. King Agrippa, you know what the Old Testament says. You know the stories. I know you've seen this. You've read Daniel 12, Isaiah 26, Isaiah 53, Ezekiel 37, Psalm 16, Hosea 6.

Hey, remember the story of Jonah, Agrippa, when he goes in a whale for three days and then comes out of the whale and goes to Nineveh and the people repent? That story is about Jesus. Agrippa, I know you know this." "At this point Festus interrupted Paul's defense. 'You are out of your mind, Paul!' he shouted. 'Your great learning is driving you insane.'" Why does he think he's insane? Because he's talking about a dead man coming back to life.

"'I am not insane, most excellent Festus,' Paul replied. 'What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things…'""Agrippa, you know what I'm talking about." "…and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do." He's being persuasive. He's being confident. He's almost being manipulative.

There are two guys there, and he's like, "Tell him. Agrippa, come on. Festus, you don't know anything about this. Agrippa, I know you know, man. You've been out there. You've been around that area. You've heard the people talking. Tell him. Stop playing dumb. Tell him. I know you know what I'm talking about." Why does he say that? Because it didn't happen in a corner. "It didn't happen in a closet. It didn't happen behind some curtain. Everybody has been talking about the resurrected Jesus. Tell him!"

This is central to what we teach and what we believe. When is the last time you had a conversation about the resurrection? When is the last time you defended the resurrection? Let me show you how to defend the resurrection. There's an acronym. This comes from our Equipping Team. This is a document they've created that we'll make available to you. The acronym is HEART. Put your hand on your heart for me. Remember this. With your hand on your heart, remember this right now.

The H stands for honorable burial. Jesus was placed in a known tomb, a place you could go to. Every other criminal who was crucified was thrown into gehenna, thrown in with the trash. Their bodies were burned. But Nicodemus and Joseph show up on the scene and say, "No, we want to bury him in this tomb, in this place." I've been to Israel. You can go see the alleged tomb where he was. It's a real place. There was a funeral. People showed up. They gathered to see him be buried. He was embalmed in the first-century way that that would take place. You couldn't live through it. He was buried. Honorable burial.

The E stands for empty. That tomb later was found empty. You couldn't just put somebody in a grave and then three days later find that grave to be empty. Something happened. There's no body. There are no bones. All four gospels talk about the tomb, the honorable burial, and the empty tomb, that it was found empty. This is huge that there are no bones we can point to. We can point to bones of Buddha, the Temple of the Tooth, and bones of Muhammad. There's a grave. There are no bones of Jesus. We have no bones.

The A is appearances. This is huge. He showed back up, and people saw him. First to the Twelve. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 that over 500 people saw him, and when he wrote the letter he said, "And many of them are still alive. Go ask them. They'll tell you. They saw the resurrected Lord." Three of the Gospels talk about these appearances, and Mark alludes to them. All four gospels allude to this idea of him showing back up, and as Paul writes that… "Hey, they saw him. You can go ask them. You can have conversations about that this happened, that Jesus came back to life." First Corinthians 15:6.

The R stands for rise of Christianity. You have a monotheist faith, meaning they believe in Yahweh, God the Father, and only God the Father, and something happens. People in a moment in history begin to convert by the thousands, that this Yahweh Father had a Son named Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the one we've been waiting for, and then the Holy Spirit. They begin to believe in the Trinitarian God, and Christianity explodes.

It becomes the fastest growing religion and now the biggest religion. Two billion people today gathered in this man's name that started in a town you would have never heard of except that he was born there. Nobody would ever be walking around talking about Bethlehem or Nazareth except Jesus was born there. Not just that, but these men who were complete and total cowards one moment, preserved in history… Not just the Bible but historians write about them giving their lives for the sake of this truth that this man they worshiped came back to life.

One minute denying him to a 12-year-old girl that he didn't know him ("Don't bring any evidence that I'm associated with the Galilean") and the next minute, "You can crucify me upside down if you want to. I'm just going to come back to life. He showed me. You do whatever you want. Stone me, throw me off the temple, cut off my head. I don't care. I'm going to rise from the dead. I've seen it happen." And Christianity explodes.

The T stands for the transfer of the Sabbath. Within the first few decades of the early church, some say the first few months, the Sabbath… From history past, all of Judaism happened on Saturday. You would worship on Saturday, and these people start worshiping on Sunday. Why do we worship on Sunday? Do you know? It's the day Jesus came back from the grave, the resurrection. It happened on Sunday.

The day we worship shifted to Sunday. In a moment in history, all of a sudden we start worshiping on Sunday. Two billion people now worship on Sunday. The Didache, early Christian writing, talks about this shift of the Sabbath. Justin the Martyr in AD 100 writes about it. "Hey, there's something crazy happening. These guys who were worshiping on Saturday now worship on Sunday, because that's when they say their Lord resurrected from the dead."

So you have this evidence that you can defend. Sir William Ramsay, who was one of the greatest archeologists to date, set out to disprove Christianity. He was an atheist. He was overwhelmed by the evidence surrounding the resurrection. He trusted Christ, became a believer, became a Christian, and called the resurrection the greatest apologetic we have, that we can point back to a man coming back from the dead.

What that does for us is we can live with Paul's courage. He says in Acts 25:11, "If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die.""I ain't scared to die," he's saying. As Todd said last week, death is a promotion. He's about to write from jail Philippians, chapter 1. "To live is Christ, to die is gain."

"So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven." Paul shares his story, his testimony. ** "First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike."**

2._ Repentance_. Repentance marks your life. Paul is telling his story. We're now seeing it for the third time. He's telling it for the second time. Acts is so repetitive, so redundant. He's saying, "Hey, listen. This is who I was. I persecuted Christians, women and children. I killed them. I was there when Stephen was killed. He was stoned to death. It brought me great pleasure. Then I'm walking along the road, minding my own business, going to Damascus, and then all of a sudden a bright light appears.

I'm like, 'Who is it?' and he's like, 'Hey, it's me. It's the one you're persecuting.' I'm like, 'What? I can't see. I'm blind.' I fall off my donkey, and he says, 'Stop kicking against the goads.' Which means, 'Hey, you're not going to be able to stop this force you're trying to stop. It ain't going to happen, so you might as well worship me. In fact, I have plans for you. You're going to be the greatest missionary who ever lived.' That's why I'm here. That's what has happened to me, essentially." That's Acts 26:9-22.

He's saying, "Look at my life, Agrippa. I've changed. Why would I do this? All I have to do is say, 'Jesus wasn't God. He didn't come back to life.' You guys are going to come up here, unlock these chains, and let me on my way. I don't have to rot in prison anymore. I can do that. I can leave right now. All I have to do is deny what I've seen, but I can't, because I saw it." He's saying, "I've turned from my ways to trust in Christ." That's repentance.

Repentance is you're going toward your sin and you turn from your sin and turn to Jesus. What I want to say to you is if you're here and you continue to willfully go back to sin, like, you're not doing everything you can to stop sin, you need to be concerned. You need to ask yourself, "Do I really know this Christ?"

Because repentance marks the life of someone who has a relationship with Jesus Christ. It's a change. So if, like a dog to its vomit, you continue in that sin, embracing that sin, cuddling with that sin, saying, "This is just who I am; it's what marks me," you need to be concerned, because repentance is turning from that and finding greater satisfaction in Jesus.

My daughter plays fifth-grade basketball. Fifth-grade girls' basketball is a terribly frustrating thing. I've had to repent many times from the stands. At halftime they change goals. You change sides. One of the girls gets an offensive rebound after halftime and begins to dribble to the other side, to the opponent's goal.

Everybody in the stands is going, "Hey, you're going the wrong way." The coach is going, "You're going the wrong… It's that way. Go that way!" She gets to about half-court, and she finally listens. She stops and turns, and with the same speed, tenacity, and vigor, the same efficiency and effectiveness, she begins to move toward the other goal, the right goal, the correct goal.

That is repentance. In your life you don't have a mindset of God. You're thinking, "Oh, this world is all there is. I need to stack up dollars. I need to collect trinkets and treasures. I need to make a big name for myself. I need to live for the things of this world like this world is all there is. I need to focus on my body, on my image, on what I look like, on what others think of me. This is what I'm living for."

Then the Holy Spirit is saying, "You're going the wrong way. You're going the wrong way. Those are the wrong goals," and you go, "Oh. Jesus. I'm going to go that way," and with the same tenacity, the same vigor, the same speed, the same efficiency, the same effectiveness, you begin to move toward Jesus with all you can. May that repentance mark our lives. He says, "…I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds." By their deeds, by what they do, by how they live, by what others see.

3._ Righteousness. An evidence of having a relationship with Jesus is that your life produces righteousness. What do I mean by _righteousness? I mean virtues, values, morality, that you would demonstrate your repentance by what you do. It's what Paul did. He said, "Hey, look at my life." The problem for Felix, Festus, Agrippa, and the Jewish people is they have nothing on Paul. They're going back in his record, and they're like, "Man, the dude is squeaky clean. I've got nothing to pin on him."

It's clear in this text. It couldn't be more clear. Back in chapter 25, verse 7: "They brought many serious charges against him, but they could not prove them." Verse 8: "I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar." Then verse 10: "I am now standing before Caesar's court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well." Which was his problem.

I'm afraid there has been an overcorrection, where we are guilty, as Paul says, of abusing grace. We're saved by grace through faith. I don't want anyone to leave here confused. I'm convinced you are saved by grace through faith. What does that mean? It happened in spite of you. You did nothing to earn eternal life with God. Nothing. He did it to you. But if you've been saved, you've been saved to produce good deeds, that your life would produce fruit.

Now don't believe me if I'm just saying that. Don't believe me if I can't support that. Why would I say that? Why would I stand up here and preach that? Because Jesus did. You want a message of grace. Let me give you the message of Jesus in Matthew, chapter 7. "You will know a tree by its fruit. The fruit it produces… That's how you know what kind of tree it is. Do you want to know if they belong to me? Does it produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control? Because that's how you know it's my tree."

Matthew 5:16: "…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." I understand Ephesians 2:8-9. It's a passage that changed my life. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…" What that means…

"For it is by grace…" Amazing grace. "…you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves…" I didn't do anything. "…it is the gift of God…" The free gift of God. He did it to me. He gave it to me. "…not by works…" I can't work my way there. "…so that no one can boast." I can't boast in my works, because he did it.

Can I tell you the next verse, the very next verse? It's a very important verse. "For we are God's [workmanship] , created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." He saved you in spite of you so that you become his and produce good deeds. If you're continuing to sin and not working to kill that sin, you should be concerned. Likewise, friend, if you are not living a life of generosity, a life of kindness, a life that does good to others…

"If anyone sees the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it's sin for them." Likewise, you ought to be concerned. It is by Christ's power that we do good, not our own power. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit. So if you're like, "What do I do if I'm concerned?" you return to the source. That's Jesus Christ. You return to the one Paul is preaching about, the one who came back from the dead. I love it, that repentance would mark our lives.

We were going to a Christmas party this week, and we were in charge of bringing the fried okra, so I called Dickey's. Because who makes fried okra, right? Dickey's does. That's who. So I called Dickey's. I'm like, "We need fried okra for 10 people." Then I went to pick it up, but they hadn't made it.

The guy sensed that I was thinking, "I wonder why it's not made when I called," and he said, "This is the hardest product we sell." I was like, "I didn't know that. Why do you say that?" He said, "Because it has a shelf life of five minutes. That's why we wait till you order it to cook it." I'm like, "I had no idea. Five minutes. I'd better hurry."

He said that he was blessed. He used the word blessed, and I could tell he wasn't from here. I said, "Hey, where are you from?" He said, "I'm from Iran." I said, "Oh man. You said you were blessed. Do you have a faith?" He said, "Yes, I'm of the Islamic faith." I said, "Oh, do you have a mosque you go to in town?" He said… These are his words, not mine. He goes, "No, I don't trust those people." That's what he said.

I said, "What? That's a weird thing to say. Why not? Who do you trust?" He goes, "I trust Christians. I love Christians." He's telling me this. No hyperbole here. This is what he said. I said, "You trust Christians? Why do you trust Christians?" He said, "Because I came here with $4 in my pocket, and the opportunity this land has given me and the people who come here, my customers… Most of them are Christians, and they're so kind to me. I see a kindness that marks them."

He's telling me. He's explaining it to me, because I haven't told him I'm a Christian. He's like, "There's a kindness that marks these people." He's telling me. He goes, "You know something? I know people who have converted to Christianity who have become the most wonderful people." He said, "They were terrible people, and then they come into this Christianity, and they are now wonderful people."

I'm like, "I'm not even going to share the gospel with this dude, because he's sharing it to me." I'm like, "How do I become one of these Christians, man? Tell me." I love what's going on. Think about what he's saying. He's saying, "I've seen the change in their lives. Something happened. Righteousness began to bleed from them. There's a change." Why would he say he saw that? Because it happens. Because it's true.

I want you to think about what's going on in this narrative. Paul is saying to this man Agrippa, who's sleeping with his sister, who's a king and has all of the things kings have… He's like, "You too can be righteous. It's not my righteousness. It's Christ who produces a righteousness in me. That man I'm talking about who came from the dead can wash away your sins, and you can be declared clean. Don't you see, Agrippa?" Verse 27:

"'King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.' Then Agrippa said to Paul, 'Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?' Paul replied, 'Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.'"

He says, "I don't care if it's a little bit of time or a lot of time. I just want…" Right here in verse 29 you see Paul's motive. You see why he lives. You see why there's breath in his lungs, why his heart beats in his chest. You see what he's about. You see his core message.

He says, "I don't care how long it takes. Here's what you need to know. I'm in chains right now on this earth. You're going to be in chains forever unless you realize this man came back from the grave and that happened for you. You think I'm the prisoner. You guys are the prisoners. I'm the most free person here. I'm earthly bound. You guys are eternally bound. I'm eternally free. You guys are earthly free. What is your mere 70 years? I'll sit in chains so you can hear this message."

4._ Retelling the story_. Those who have a relationship with Jesus retell the story. I hope you feel like I feel right about now, which is like, "Man, it's the same thing over and over." Paul is in prison, and he gives another message pointing to Christ. Somebody is in prison preaching the gospel. Over and over now in Acts there's incredible repetition. The Holy Spirit preserved this repetition to show us something.

Paul is telling a story, and he's pointing to Jesus over and over, and we should too. We've been given a key that unlocks the chains of those who are in the bondage of sin, and as we've been unlocked from the chains of our bondage of sin, we can go now and unlock the chains of others. That's what we do. We are the tellers and retellers of the story. Why would God do that? He could use angels. He can use rocks. He can make the rocks cry out.

Why would he use us? Because people often trust a Christian before they trust Christ. Very rarely do they just wake up trusting in Christ. Somebody comes into their life who demonstrates righteousness and repentance and kindness and tells them about the resurrection, and they trust that person, and then they trust their God. That is his strategy. The only reason we're called messengers is because we've been given a message. If you've believed upon the message, then you become a messenger.

How are we doing? Just weeks ago we talked about a top 10 list. How are we doing? Have you shared with those people? Have you invited them? It's a good time to light that fire again if you've fallen off. Leave here with that encouragement or convince me (I'll hang out as long as you need) that God doesn't want you to. If that's your message, if you're like, "I don't know that I'm actually supposed to share my faith," I'd love to hear and learn.

Let me ask you something. Is there anything in life that you love that you don't talk about? That man at Dickey's… I'm talking to him, and he starts to talk about his daughter. He's like, "I moved here. She's at SMU. She's in law school. Let me show you a picture." He pulls out his iPhone, and he's like, "Look at her. She's my daughter." I'm like, "I love how proud you are of your daughter. Clearly you love her and you talk about her."

Every now and then on social media, on Twitter or on Facebook, I'll ask a question like, "Hey, what's a good date spot in North Dallas?" or "What's a good restaurant you guys like?" or "Has anybody seen a movie they like lately?" and those are the only things people respond to that I tweet. All the other stuff about Jesus I get crickets, but I'm like, "What's your favorite restaurant?" and it's like, "Oh, dude, here are 273 restaurant recommendations."

I'm like, "Oh wow." You know, "Rise n°1. Go check that out." I'm like, "Okay, I'm going to go. I heard you." We are evangelists about things. Why do people do that? Because they've been impacted. They've had a good experience. They enjoyed it and want to share it. What about Jesus?

"The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. After they left the room, they began saying to one another, 'This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.' Agrippa said to Festus, 'This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.'" Again we see the innocence of Paul.

In summary, the evidence of having a relationship with Jesus is belief in the resurrection. That evidence is also repentance. That evidence is also righteousness that marks your life, and that evidence of having a relationship with Jesus is retelling of the story. Let's just close with this question. Let's just say it was, hypothetically speaking, illegal to be a Christian, and the charges are brought against you that you are one.

Someone said, "I think they follow that man Jesus. I think they have a relationship with Jesus," and people begin to come and testify. What would they say about you? Your neighbor comes, your coworkers… "That guy does not believe that anyone has come back to life, because those are the kinds of stories you tell, and I've never heard him talk about… I've never heard her share with anybody that somebody came back from the dead. Let them off the stand. Your honor, you're wasting your time."

"I went to high school with him or her. There has been no change in their life. They're the same old person. They were this way then. They're this way now. That's who they are. There has been no real change that has occurred in their life. These Christians talk about this word repentance. I haven't seen that there. Let them off the stand. You're wasting your time."

"Your honor, one of the things that marks someone who has a relationship with Jesus is righteousness. I want you to know that I've been that person's neighbor now for 10 years. They've never said a word to me. I've never been inside their house. They've waved at me sometimes from the car.

Never brought me food. Never loaned me any… One time maybe they leant me a lawn mower. No, that was the other neighbor. No, nothing. There's no righteousness there, your honor. I would allow them down. I've seen them. They hold on to their stuff really tightly. They do not share it with others. Generosity does not mark them. Your honor, let's let them down."

"Your honor, I'd like you to know that I've worked with this person for 15 years. Never once have they told me about Jesus. I sit next to them. I share a cube wall with them. I'm Hindu; I worship the god Brahma. I'm Muslim; I worship Allah. They have never once talked to me about this man Jesus Christ. I am confident they are not one of his followers. They do not have a relationship with him. Your honor, please let them down."

What would they say? What I want you to know is in this envelope is legit evidence against one of you. It talks about your porn struggles, adultery, womanizing, alcoholism, and drug use. It's all in here in great detail, but it's just somebody who has been set free. I pray that you would go and do likewise. Let me pray for you.

Father, we love you so much and just thank you for the stories you've preserved, for the way you encourage us through the life of the apostle Paul. God, I pray that it would be abundantly clear to a watching world by the light we let shine and the deeds we do that we have a relationship with a man who was once dead and now very, very much alive.

God, may that truth mark our lives above and beyond any and all other truths. May that be the greatest thing about us. Would you do that now as we worship you, Lord, as we sing to you? If there's anyone here who doesn't know you, God, would you woo them into a relationship with you? By the power of Christ, amen.