Bible and crossThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 26:12-18

Paul Tells of His Conversion

12 “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language,[a] ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

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Last week’s entry discussed the first part of Paul’s witness — and self-defence — to King Herod Agrippa II, the last of the Herods, who heard him in a grand assembly with his incestuous sister Bernice, the Roman governor Festus and local dignitaries decked out in their best finery.

Festus had to place a criminal charge on his report that would accompany Paul to Rome, to be heard, at the Apostle’s request, by the emperor — Nero, at that time. Therefore, Festus asked for Herod Agrippa II to hear what Paul had to say. Agrippa II, a Jew by practice but not by tribe, would know more about Jewish law than the recent newcomer from Rome.

Think of it. Paul believed he stood a better chance of justice in Rome, by a pagan court under a mad emperor, than in Jerusalem, where he was educated as a young Pharisee.

Paul explains his Damascene conversion, which really gives witness to the supernatural. Paul continued his defence by saying that he was going the Syrian city as as the chief persecutor of Christians. Not being content, he journeyed with all the authority provided by the Jewish hierarchy in Jerusalem (verse 12).

He then went on to say that at midday, a light immeasurably brighter than the noonday sun struck him and those travelling with him (verse 13). What else could it mean than a divine act, especially when that indescribable light caused them to be struck to the ground (verse 14)? As Matthew Henry’s commentary says, if only Paul had been struck to the ground by its brilliance, one might hold his testimony suspect. Yet, all his companions were similarly blinded and lost their balance, too (emphases mine):

… it shone round about those that journeyed with him: they were all sensible of their being surrounded with this inundation of light, which made the sun itself to be in their eyes a less light. The force and power of this light appeared in the effects of it; they all fell to the earth upon the sight of it, such a mighty consternation did it put them into; this light was lightning for its force, yet did not pass away as lightning, but continued to shine round about them.

Paul recounted that he heard a voice — Christ’s — speaking in Hebrew asking him why he was persecuting Him, noting that Paul was having a tough time kicking against the goads (verse 14). Goads are used to tame animals. They are strong restraints which they learn to accept. Restraint — as well as repentance and conversion — was what the future Apostle was about to experience in the three days to come, blinded and duly restrained from his zealous urge to persecute the faithful.

Paul said that he stopped kicking at the goads at that point, addressing Christ as Lord — unthinkable for such a puritanical Pharisee as he. Yet, there he was, blind, helpless — and, most importantly, powerless.

These three posts describe, scripturally and with theological sources, what Paul experienced, as recounted in Acts 9:

Part 1 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion

Part 2 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion (includes interesting info from John MacArthur on his own conversion)

Acts 9:10-19 — when scales fell from the eyes of Saul of Tarsus (final part of St Paul’s conversion story)

Paul then sped up the story for Agrippa II by giving him his ministry: to witness for Christ in having seen Him via that brilliant light, delivering him from the spiritually blind Jews of his day into giving him the power to witness to the Gentiles (verses 16, 17).

The message to Paul from Christ Jesus was that he would send him to open the eyes of both to turn from Satan — from ‘darkness to light’ — so that they might receive forgiveness of sins and sanctification by faith through belief in Him (verse 18).

Even reading this passage now, Paul’s fifth defence, it is equally as powerful when told it before and Luke, the author of Acts, recounted as the Apostle experienced it early on.

Paul was trying not only to defend himself and his scriptural beliefs. He was also trying to urge Agrippa — and, possibly indirectly, his incestuous sister Bernice (known throughout the ancient world as such) — to repent of his sins and embrace the risen Christ as Lord and Saviour. MacArthur posits this about Agrippa II and Paul’s discourse:

He doesn’t need more of God. He doesn’t need more information. He needs a total rebirth. And then, in addition he [Paul] says, “My message was this. To tell that they may receive forgiveness of sins.” Boy, I imagine old Bernice was wiggling around at that point. I imagine Agrippa was going, “Mph,” like this. Paul was a penetrating personBut when he said that they may receive forgiveness of sins, I can see a long stare and a long pause. Because Agrippa and Bernice knew enough to know that what they did was sin. They knew it not only because they knew the Scriptures, but – the Old Testament, but they knew it because they knew their conscience.

In a sense Paul was saying, “Forgiveness is available, Agrippa. Whatever you and Bernice have done, whatever you are, that’s our message.” I’m telling you that’s an exciting message to be able to give the world, isn’t it? To be able to say to somebody who is a Christian, “My little children, He has forgiven you all your trespasses for His name’s sake.” Oh what a blessed thought. That’s what Paul meant when he said, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impugn iniquity. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord charges no sin.”

Some might object to that, however, MacArthur rightly points out that we do not know who God’s elect are. And, as Sunday’s Gospel reading, that of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, teaches: those who repent at the eleventh hour are part of that elect. MacArthur tells us:

You say, “But surely even if you’re a Christian, God will lay some sin at your feet.” Not at all. “Who shall lay any charge to God’s elect? It is God that justifies. Shall Christ? Nay.” Shall Christ accuse the one He died to save? No. Shall Christ accuse you of the sin He died and bore? No. There’s no accusation against you. Forgiveness is full and free and complete. In addition to the moment transformation from darkness to light, power to Satan to God, forgiveness of sin, there’s the future. He gives you an inheritance among them who are sanctified. The word sanctified means holy. You know another marvelous thing about becoming a Christian is the future promise of an inheritance undefiled and reserved for us. Isn’t that marvelous? An inheritance with God.

And then he gives the way you can attain it. Look at the end of verse 18. It’s all yours Agrippa, by” – What? – “faith that is in Me.” Jesus said to Paul that day, Paul you go and you preach “to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to the power of God, that they may receive forgiveness of sin and inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith that is in Me.” You tell them that if they believe in Me it is all theirs. And so Paul quotes to Agrippa the words of Jesus, the words of our Lord as they were given to him in Damascus.

There’s only one way to know those things and that’s by faith. The simple gospel of Jesus Christ that we’re called on to preach is the gospel of Ephesians 2:8 and 9, “For by grace are you saved through faith, that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” So he says, “Agrippa, look what happened to me. I was a Jew of all the Jews. I was zealous not only for Judaism, but I was killing Christians and trying to get them to blaspheme

Paul’s testimony continues next week.

Next time — Acts 26:19-23

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