Sermon: The Abrahamic Covenant is the Gospel Acts 25:1-26:11

The Abrahamic Covenant is the Gospel

Acts 25:1-26:11

Introduction

FESTUS COIN

We will look today at Chapter 25 and see some bits and pieces of God’s sovereignty working through many different avenues. Much like how God’s plan came to pass in the crucifixion, it is also coming to pass in Paul’s life.
Before we begin this morning, I’d like to review a few items that will, Lord willing, open up this passage in a much greater way for us today.
The first thing is to understand who’s who in the text…
Last week we were introduced to Governor Felix. He did not do a very good job at all as governor and was replaced by Festus.
Festus- Now Festus when he began as governor travels to Jerusalem to meet with the Jewish leaders who immediately begin to fill him in on all the terrible things Paul has done. Remember, Paul has been in jail now for two years. So, after two whole years, the Jews are still blood thirsty to see the Apostle Paul dead. They try to get Festus to bring him to Jerusalem where, as they say, he will be better tried for his crimes, but really they have a plan laid out to ambush and kill Paul once he arrives. Agrippa- King Agrippa was from the long line of Herodian Kings. These were Kings of Jewish descent and who knew the traditions and ways of the Jews.

Herod the Great (37 BC- 4 BC)… He was in power when Jesus was born. He issued the decree to have all the infants killed in and around Jerusalem.

Herod Antipas (4 BC- 39 AD)… He was grandson of Herod the Great and the King who had John the Baptist beheaded.

Herod Agrippa I (37 AD- 44AD) He is the King who had James killed.

Herod Agrippa II (38 AD- 70 AD) This is the King Agrippa that we are going to see in our text today.

All of these kings were very much political puppets of Rome. Rome was in charge and had defeated all the surrounding area. In the Roman Empire they would conquer a people and set themselves up but allow the people freedom to practice their current religion. So, the Jews could continue to be Jews under Roman rule. This is why the Jews were coming down hard on Paul, calling Christianity a sect, hoping Rome would step in an dismantle all those of the Way.
There was also something else that will play into this understanding of our passage and that is King Herod was living with Bernice as though they were married. Can you guess who Bernice was?? She was the sister of Drusilla who was married to Felix and the sister of King Agrippa himself.
TT- Jesus is the fulfillment of all the promises God made to the Patriarchs

Acts 25:1-27 (ESV)
1 Now three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea.
2 And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews laid out their case against Paul, and they urged him,
3 asking as a favor against Paul that he summon him to Jerusalem—because they were planning an ambush to kill him on the way.
4 Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea and that he himself intended to go there shortly.
5 “So,” said he, “let the men of authority among you go down with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them bring charges against him.”
6 After he stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought.
7 When he had arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him that they could not prove.
8 Paul argued in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.”
9 But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?”
10 But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well.
11 If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.”
Herein lies one of Festus’ biggest problems. When Paul, being a Roman Citizen makes his appeal to Caesar he has the right to be heard by Caesar in Rome. Felix did not do Festus any favors by leaving Paul in prison for two years. Festus has just started serving as governor in Felix’s place had immediately has, as it were, the Apostle Paul dumped in his lap. No one knows what to do with Paul. Everyone knows he is innocent. Everyone knows he should be immediately released because he is completely blameless.
Now Festus has some problems… Rome has appointed him as the governor to handle the affairs between Rome and Jerusalem. Keeping the peace is a big part of the job. That’s why as soon as he was assigned the office he travelled up to Jerusalem to confer with the Jewish leadership. Keeping them happy and keeping Rome happy will be his full-time job.
Paul appealing to Caesar was God’s will. The Lord wanted Paul to go to Rome.
Acts 23:11 (ESV)
11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”
I wonder if we are seeing the Lord’s sovereign hand at work here? Through all these events, God’s will is prevailing in the Apostle’s life. He will arrive at Rome because God wants him to.
 

Now, there’s something else. This Paul who the Jews want dead and who Festus knows is innocent of all the crimes he’s been accused of has appealed to Caesar. When a Roman Citizen appealed to Caesar they were by rights granted that request. When the person who appealed to Caesar was taken to him for trial, the governor of the district sent a formal letter sealed with their signet ring listing the charges that they were guilty of…guess what? Paul was not guilty of anything. So, what is Festus going to write on the letter that Caesar is going to open and read before hearing Paul’s case? This is putting Festus in a very difficult position; after all, he has just taken the place of Felix who did not do a very good job.
12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.”
13 Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and greeted Festus.
14 And as they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man left prisoner by Felix,
15 and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews laid out their case against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him.
16 I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up anyone before the accused met the accusers face to face and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him.
17 So when they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought.
18 When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed.
19 Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive.
20 Being at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wanted to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding them.
21 But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.”
22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” said he, “you will hear him.”
Festus believes that Agrippa (being Jewish) might have some insight as to what he could right in the letter to send to Caesar.
20 Being at a loss how to investigate these questions,
23 So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in.
24 And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer.
25 But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him.
26 But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write.
27 For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him.”
So The Apostle Paul has placed Governor Festus between a rock and a hard place…what will he write to send to Caesar?

  1. Pharisees and the Religion of Works

Acts 26:1-5 (ESV)
1 So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense:
2 “I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews,
3 especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
4 “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews.
5 They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee.
God never intended for Judaism to be a works religion. The prophets taught that salvation was by grace through faith. The Pharisees (white washed tombs) as Jesus spoke of them had perverted the true covenant of God and made it a covenant of works. This was what Paul had become. He was zealous for the Law of God because he thought through it was salvation. So, Paul worked and worked trying hard to be the picture perfect Pharisee. God never intended to extend salvation to man if he would but work hard. Salvation has always been by grace.
Noah was a man who found God’s grace, King David lived by faith and found God’s grace. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. Now it is the promise that God made to Abraham that Paul speaks of here in this passage. Notice how he sees God’s OT promises being fulfilled in Christ.
We should pause a moment for some application. So many people today still believe that salvation is of works. Listen, salvation is a wonderful miracle God performs where in the counsel of His good pleasure He brings a dead soul to life. Awake, breathe the fresh air, open your eyes…come forth! This is all a work of God. We cannot do a single thing to even help the salvation event, God even gives us the faith required to be saved.
Here’s the problem: mankind believes he has to work to be saved when in reality God does all the work. Then, after salvation, we do have work to do and many times we don’t do the work we should do after salvation.
Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins
2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—
3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Back to our story…
Last week we read Tertullus’ remark about the Way or Christianity as he called it a sect.
Acts 24:5 (ESV)
5 For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.
Acts 24:14-15 (ESV)
14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets,
15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.

The Pharasees, religious leaders, high priest, etc viewed Christianity as a plague, a sect, a faction, an unhealthy offshoot or literally a cult.
The religious leaders view Christianity as a dangerous offshoot of Judaism.
Notice what Paul claims…
5 They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee.
The word translated, as party is the same Greek word translated sect. Paul’s point here is that his early life was characterized as following the “cult” of Phariseeism which was a heretic shift from the truth that God spoke to Abraham. It reality they were the cult not the Christians. They had gotten it wrong and so did Paul till he met Jesus.
2. Abraham and the Gospel of Grace
6 And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers,
7 to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king!
8 Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them.
11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

Did you catch what Paul tells Agrippa? He says that he stands before him because he believes the promises God made to the fathers. Now the summary of these promises can be summed up in the promise God made to Father Abraham.

6 And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers,
Notice that Paul calls the promise God made to Abraham, The Gospel.

Galatians 3:7-9 (ESV)
7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.
8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”
9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
The apostle Paul, when imprisoned for preaching the gospel claimed that it was because of his hope in the promises to the fathers of Israel (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) that he was being condemned:
6 And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers,
When a person is without Christ, it means that they are strangers to the “covenants of promise”, meaning that to be in Christ is to be related to them:

Ephesians 2:12 (ESV)
12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
One of the reasons for Jesus Christ’s work was to fulfill and confirm this promise to Abraham.
Romans 15:8 (ESV)
8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,
God’s covenant was given to Abraham…his offspring will be as great as the stars in the heavens, all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through him…
Genesis 15:6 (ESV)
6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Galatians 3:16 (ESV)
16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.
The promise was made to Abraham and to his offspring. The promise was that through Abraham would come the Messiah, King.

Abraham and all his offspring…those who trust and obey God’s promise. Listen, hear’s where we come in. This promise made to Abraham is currently being fulfilled in all those who come to faith in Jesus Christ. When you believe and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at conversion you too are one of Abraham’s children, grafted in to the commonwealth of Israel. So when God told Abraham that through his seed (Jesus Christ) all the nations would be blessed, He had us in mind.

Matthew 1:1 (ESV)
1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

When Paul begins to speak to Agrippa, he begins telling him that everything he had been taught about Judaism was wrong if it doesn’t end in Jesus Christ as the fulfillment.
Notice something else as we close. During Paul’s day the Twelve Tribes of the Jews had been scattered. The Ten Tribes of Israel were dispersed. Literally, they could not be found. There were not Twelve Tribes that could be accounted for.
Yet, Paul knows that in Jesus Christ, the Twelve Tribes will be restored someday.
7 to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king!
Here is an important teaching. The Church or the Way as the early Christians were called was not a sect as the Jewish leadership called them. The Pharisees were the ones who had deviated and twisted the Gospel God preached to Abraham. The church did not replace Judaism but it is the fulfillment of what the OT pointed to as Jesus Christ is also the fulfillment of all the OT pointed to.
When Jesus was raised from the grave everything Judaism held dear was done away with because Jesus is the fulfillment. The sacrificial system was destroyed with the One true sacrifice. The priesthood destroyed by the Great High Priest, The veil of the Temple torn in two because Jesus is the way through to the holy of holies.
The Gospel is the promise God made to Abraham because when Abraham believed he was justified. The same is true for each and everyone who believes. Trust Christ today and stand on the Promises that God made to the OT fathers. Jesus is Messiah. Jesus was raised from the grave. Trust Him today and be saved.

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