Today we are turning the page into a new section in our walk through Acts, the last and shortest section.
This book starts off with Jesus commissioning His disciples:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Empowered. Sent. In this book we see this empowering and being sent lived out. It starts off with the utopian picture of it in Jerusalem, where their numbers exploded, they were in one heart and mind, they were meeting each other's needs, and they were doing life together.
But this empowering and being sent is not always a utopian experience. There was selfishness, deception and pride. There was persecution. Stephen was stoned. The believers were scattered.
Still, people believed and followed Jesus, and lives and communities were changed. Still, there was persecution and opposition and people who did not get it. Still, Jesus was the Messiah for all–it was not about becoming Jewish, but about embracing Jesus, and God’s grace and transformation were for all. Still, it was difficult, maybe impossible, and it was beautiful and worth it. Still, isolation was available, persistence was available, and intentionality was available.
And now as we walk into a new section and as Paul has been arrested, we will see that change is available–and not just available, but in the human experience change is inevitable. Even if you keep every variable of your own life the same for every day you’re alive, you’ll still encounter external changes you have no control over.
Before we go into the text and dig into what we see in Acts 26, I want us to dialogue in order to build some connection with each other and to connect us with what we will be talking about today. As we are talking today about how change is available:
What would change if you unexpectedly received one million dollars?
Now another question, one that invites us to process a little deeper. This can be a question about money, but it can go so much farther.
What are some potential risks, challenges, and/or dangers to making or experiencing a rapid major life change?
What about the other end of risk? What if someone refuses to change, or at minimum hates it or fights it? An article in Harvard Business Review points out these ten reasons people are resistant to or hate change:
- Loss of control - loss of autonomy
- Excess uncertainty - unusual pain
- Surprise, surprise - only unknowns
- Everything seems different - loss of stability
- Loss of face - a departure from identity
- Concerns about competence - new skills required
- More work - easy is gone
- Ripple effects - this will change everything
- Past resentments - this type of thing didn’t go well in the past
- Sometimes the threat is real - it will hurt
And just like this list, there’s probably a list out there as to a number of reasons why people enjoy change. But whether or not you like change, it’s a very powerful experience for most people.
What is it about you that makes you competent or ineffective in dealing with change?
Some change is easy; some is hard. Of course, whether a change is for the better or not, it can still be hard and painful; it can still be hated and fought against.
In our preparation for this week, we talked a lot about the process of change. What is change? How long does it have to last in order for it to be change? What are some of the risks that can come in rapid change? What is your regular change process?
Here is a massive question. I am inviting you into the process. This will not be a question that leads to a nice neat packaged answer.
When should a change take time and when should a change happen quickly? How do you know?
Change is a theme in the New Testament. It is a theme in relationship with Jesus.
I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. (Luke 13:3)
Repentance is change:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)
Jesus is unchanging:
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:7)
We should be changing:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)
We become new:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
We become Equipped:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
We are to be changed:
That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:20-24)
Why is change an element to relationship with Jesus?
In Acts 26, Paul has been arrested and now has been passed around several times. He will eventually arrive in Rome and be put under house arrest. In this chapter, he is appearing before king Agrippa. Herod Agrippa, also known as Herod II or Agrippa I, was king of Judea from AD 41 to 44. He was the last ruler with the royal title reigning over Judea, and the father of Herod Agrippa II, the last king from the Herodian dynasty.
Paul was given permission to speak freely and so he did. Paul did what Paul does: he shared his story and it pointed towards Jesus.
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.” 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.” (Acts 26:28-31)
I love this quote of Paul:
“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.”
Paul is putting the commission and its process into words, in connection to Jesus, in that change, in that transformation, in that hope and prayer.
What are some reasons people quickly choose to follow Jesus?
What are some reasons people take a long time to decide to follow Jesus?
Reading Acts and processing it is not about parallel replication of it. It has such different cultures and realities than we know today. But what is happening in Acts is that people are being empowered by the Spirit and are living out the commissioning of Jesus. This is what we are called to as well.
And Paul’s specific story is definitely exemplary of this idea–empowerment by God’s Spirit, living out the commission of Jesus–and most of the time it’s in the hardest situations imaginable.
I can imagine Paul having this kind of conversation with someone at the beginning of his ministry. “I pray that you would become what I am.” And then going through years of hardship, suffering, imprisonment, etc., and getting to a point of “maybe this isn’t so great.” But what’s fascinating is the timing of these conversations and messages that we hear from Paul. He’s completely committed, no matter what. Change after change after change.
The stories of the people in Acts are powerful in their breadth. The changes that they walked through and the changes that we walk through may be different, but change is still a part of a growing and maturing relationship with Jesus.
You’ve likely faced many changes, some welcomed and some hated or avoided. The story of Acts and the commission of Jesus is the same regardless of change. And this doesn’t mean “just suck it up and get through it,” but evaluating our perspectives in light of changes, looking for where God is at work in the midst of them, asking Him for empowerment to walk through them well and to continue to follow Him.
Paul’s prayer is about patience and persistence in the process of change. So we end with this:
How do patience and persistence impact your personal changes in deeper connection with Christ?
How do patience and persistence impact your walking with others in their changes in deeper connection with Christ?
Take It Deeper Questions:
- Read Acts 26.
- When have you had to put your fate in someone else's hands? How did it go? How is that experience still affecting you today?
- What was King Agrippa’s tone in Acts 26:28-31?
- What was Paul’s tone at the same moment?
- What are some things that change in a person as they become a follower of Christ?
- What is the risk of pushing those changes to happen immediately?
- What is the risk of being too passive in seeing those changes take place?
Bible Reading Plan:
- Joshua 18
- Joshua 19
- Joshua 20
- Acts 2
- Acts 3
- Acts 4