Easter 2 / April 12, 2015
Acts 26:19-29 / Peace through Christ
“Envision Whirled Peas.” When I first saw that bumpersticker, I had a good chuckle. It wasn’t “world peace,” but the green spherical seeds that your children don’t like to eat and you probably use more frozen as an ice pack, those peas, whirling about as if it was in a blender. The bumper sticker was actually a satyrical name of a musical band in the 90s. Whirled peas! We hear of peace, and people hope for it, but it isn’t realistic. We almost mock the idea of peace like the bumpersticker. Whether it be world peace or inner peace or at least some sense of tranquility in our lives, we are constantly searching for the means to bring that about, searching for the people or activities to bring equilibrium, or searching for the events that might be the catalyst to some sense of happiness.
I look at the apostle Paul. Did you see the pickle that the apostle Paul was in? What peace could he possibly have in that spot? It didn’t seem like a very peaceful situation. These final chapters of Acts are quite the adventure for Paul, to say the least. Paul had just finished his third missionary journey arriving in Jerusalem. He had traveled all over the world and yet when he landed in Jerusalem, Paul never stopped doing what he did best: preaching the gospel. Unfortunately, that made a lot of people mad, even vowing to kill Paul. And because of his preaching and the riot that he caused along with it, Paul was taken to be beaten and questioned by the authorities.
But once Paul revealed that he was a Roman citizen, he was put into prison but would be able to speak to the Roman governor of the area, named Festus. Remember that Roman citizens had special privileges. A noncitizen could be tortured in a judicial examination. However, a Roman citizen could not even be beaten before being condemned. And a citizen could never be put to death in some of the more brutal ways adopted within various parts of the empire. So he wouldn’t be brutally punished or even killed the way that the Jews wanted him to be, but he was still imprisoned! How could he be so laid back about that situation? What could he possibly have that would put him at ease?
Paul could tell the people were looking for some kind of peace, to be relieved of that tension. They wanted justice for Paul speaking of the Messiah in what they thought was a bad light and speaking of the messiah rising from the dead. The Jews knew that the prophets and Moses had prophesied about a Messiah who would bring peace. That is why Paul addressed King Agrippa here. King Agrippa was a grandson of Herod the Great and ruler of northeast Palestine. He had come to pay his respects to the Roman governor. Agrippa was a Jew. The Jews wanted peace of mind with a messiah who would help them out. Could this Messiah finally bring that peace to Israel? Peace with the Romans? Would this Messiah bring the peace of knowing that the people would be provided for? They were envisioning world peace, with them on top. But what Paul was proclaiming, what he was offering was a different world peace. A peace that the world can’t give. A peace that the world can’t even figure out. Paul was trying to explain that the search for peace was over. The path to peace was a simple one: repentance.
Paul appeals to the religious side of the Jews. Could anyone possibly say that Jews should not repent and not turn to God. And what jew could say that the gentiles should not do the same? Of course they knew that repentance was important. Would we deny that? Of course not. We know repentance is important. But our minds get tired of being told what to do. Oh great here is pastor telling me that I’m a sinner again. You know, I don't want to go to church if I look bad and feel bad. Why should I go to church when I see all those hoity-toity christians who I know are sinners but make me feel bad? I thought church is supposed to make me feel good about myself so that I can be a better person?
Paul would have been the first to say, church isn’t meant to make you feel good about yourself, in that respect. Church isn’t a time to hear a bunch of morals about how if you try hard enough you can bring about peace and tranquility to your life or to other people’s lives. That isn’t where peace comes from. The lives you think you live that are “so good” are nothing in God’s eyes. He laughs at a response like that. You aren’t a good person. You are worthless through the lens of the law. Paul would have been the first to admit that he was the worst of sinners. In fact, he killed people because he thought he was doing his religious responsibilities. The good he wanted to do, he didn’t do. And that which he didn’t want to do, he did. Paul was a sinner. We are sinners.
Just try searching on the interwebs how to find peace. It speaks of eliminating negative energy and replacing it with positive energy. Great, I guess…But that does not eliminate sin. It’s like replacing a Mcdonald’s burger that has fallen on the ground at a dog park with a delicious grass-fed bison burger, that has also fallen on the ground at a dog park. It’s still gross, dirty, and probably has picked up some other fecal materials. The point is, There is no peace when sin is in the picture. That’s why Paul says, “Repent!” The idea of repentance is to turn away from your life of worthlessness, of sin, of hostility and aggravation, and turn to God. See what He has done for us!
Paul doesn’t use the art of persuasion with his audience, but simple logic. Paul knew the Scriptures like the back of his hand and clung to them. Where was the crime in clinging to Moses and the prophets? What jew would dare to condemn Paul for that? What Roman court would find crime in that? By accusing Paul, these jews were outlawing their own prophets, their own Old Testament mediator, Moses. In other words, Paul was asking them the question, “What, do you think that Moses and the prophets got it all wrong?” Paul leads them to the conclusion that there is no other one who could be the christ and the messiah, except Jesus. He is the Son of God. He was the one who came to fulfill all the prophecies. We saw that last week when we saw his suffering, death, and resurrection. He was the one who brought peace, peace with God.
Are you still thinking of whirled peas, those little vegetables, when I say peace? Well then, let’s think of peace as relief. Jesus gives us relief from the guilt that stores up and burdens us, making us think that we could never be forgiven for the sins we’ve committed. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” he meant it. He didn’t just forgive the simple sins, but all of our sins. Jesus gives us relief from the worry of what happens after this life. Because Jesus rose from the dead and went to heaven, we too will be able to experience that eternal relief, away from all the pain of this world.
We have peace and relief knowing what he has done for us and what he will continue to do for us. He promises us his faithfulness, that he’ll be with us, and that all things will be for our eternal good. Jesus gives us relief from the threats and struggles of this life. Look at Paul’s life! Without God’s help, Paul would have been murdered by these Jews or the Roman guards. Yet, Paul doesn’t complain. Even after 2 years of imprisonment, he wasn’t bitter. No harsh or hateful words appear in his address. What he sees is the wonderful help of God, coming to his rescue at that critical moment and enabling him to stand that very day as a constant confessor.
Paul’s witness alone was an example of God’s love. Paul was in front of some big wigs in the government. He probably wasn’t in literal chains since Roman law forbade the use of chains on Roman citizens when they became prisoners. Nevertheless, he was still a prisoner who's life could have been crushed with a simple thumbs up or thumbs down. We may not be burdened with chains, we may not have an audience with the president of the United States. But our message is the same as Paul’s, no matter who we are talking with, even if the people don’t want to listen.
Festus, this pagan Roman governor, heard the call to repentance in Paul’s words. If Jesus rose from the dead, then He is the divine judge who will call people to account on the Last day. Festus understood it but didn’t want to believe it or admit it. He even tried to silence the apostle with a charge of madness because people don’t like hearing the law. Paul responded with calm courtesy that his words were true and he wasn’t insane. But Paul turned back to Agrippa. Paul assumed that in his heart Agrippa knew very well that the disciples had not stolen and hidden the body of Jesus. If Agrippa believed the prophets and Moses, he couldn’t deny the resurrection. All of that news had been proclaimed on Pentecost. It wasn’t just news for a few disciples anymore. The resurrection was now on the world stage.
But, people often think themselves as too clever, too po werful, or too intelligent to bow before a crucified savior. His peace and relief make no sense to them, and they reject both. But did Paul stop preaching the gospel? Does that mean we stop sharing God’s Word? Of course not! People need to hear the law and the gospel because people are still searching for peace and tranquility in this life and especially the life after.
Our peace comes not from what we are, what we try to do, or the peace we try to bring about, but it only comes from a God who knows what peace is and demonstrates peace. That is why Paul could stand before powerful government figures who held his fragile life in their hands and he could be confident and at peace. That is why we can do the same as we live our lives. We know peace, we have that peace, and we want to share that peace. Take Paul’s words to heart, “Repent and turn to God.” Dear brothers and sisters, I pray that we continue to find peace, tranquility, equilibrium, happiness, and relief in the only one who can provide it: Christ our risen Savior. Amen.