Bearing The Cross Before Kings

Bible Book: Acts  9 : 15
Subject: Cross; Witnessing; Testimony; Paul, The Apostle
Series: The Way of the Cross
INTRODUCTION

In this series, we have seen Paul fighting against the Cross, Paul coming to the Cross, Paul at the Cross, and Paul taking up the Cross. The bitter, vicious enemy of the Cross met the Christ of the Cross on the road to Damascus where he was authorized to take the persecution of the saints to a new city. He was breathing threats and murder in a manner consistent with the intense fury one might associate with militants in the Middle East today. However, there on the road to Damascus young Saul of Tarsus had an experience that would become proverbial to those who have sought a Damascus Road Experience down through the centuries

Paul was stricken with a blinding light that left him lying blind in the road, blinded by the light, but now seeing the Light of the World. He was led into the Damascus by his companions and three days later, a man named Ananias came to see him to tell him that Jesus had sent him to lay his hands on him and pray for him. Ananias was afraid, “But the Lord said to him, “Go! For this man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before Gentiles, kings, and the sons of Israel. I will certainly show him how much he must suffer for My name!” (Acts 9:15‑16, HCSB).

His vision was restored and he heard that Jesus had set him aside to bear the message of the Cross before Gentiles, before Israel, and before kings. He spent three years preparing for this ministry, which probably meant that he spent three years studying the Old Testament Scriptures, no longer a as a narrow-minded Pharisee, but to relate it all to Jesus Christ. He had “book learning”, as some used to say, but now he needed to be able to make a practical application of it.

Just prior to Easter, 2006, Bill O’Reilly had a guest on his program to discuss the highly publicized National Geographic program about The Gospel of Judas. Both the host and the guest agreed that the Four Gospels are not history. O’Reilly stressed over and over that the Gospels are not history but a collection of spiritual lessons. The priest agreed. The Gospel of Judas portrays Judas as a hero who agreed to betray Jesus so that he could free Him from His earthly body. O’Reilly stated repeatedly, with the priest’s agreement, that the lesson is that “you don’t sell out for money.”

The Four Gospels are in fact, the Good News about Jesus Christ, but Luke, the Gentile physician tells us that he carefully researched everything of which he wrote. He was an historian not to be dismissed too quickly. The head of the history department at a university in Mississippi had created quite a scene at a health club when he told other members that they could not blame the Iranians for the hostage situation during the Carter Administration. After all, he said, no first century historian ever mentioned Jesus, so how could these Iranians even know of His existence. In the first place, the Muslim world knows about Jesus, they just prefer their prophet Mohammed to Him.

When I walked into the health club that day, an insurance agent and serious body builder saw me and declared, “There’s a preacher. Ask him!” I love a situation like that! There was no avoiding a confrontation. Several men had the department head, who was originally from New York, backed against a wall. He was grinning at them, and grinning in anticipation at me as I approached. He demanded, “Name one first century historian who ever mentioned Christ. Can you name one?” I said, “Yes.” “Name him!”, he demanded.

“Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”

“Those are not historians, they are gospel writers. Can you name a historian who mentioned Christ?”

I said, “Yes.” Again he demanded that I name him. Again, I said, “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

It was obvious that the professor thought he had found some dumb preacher who didn’t know any better, so he proceeded to explain to me the difference in a gospel writer and a historian. I told him I knew exactly what he was saying, but there was no way I was going to concede his point. Luke’s credentials as an historian have been irrefutably established. For example, he chronicled the voyage from Caesarea to Rome as a landlubber might, but until modern methods were developed to do research on the Mediterranean Sea, Luke’s Gospel provided some of the best information ever written on the subject.

I think I may have mentioned Tacitus, Suetonius, and Josephesus, all of whom mentioned Christ in the first century. I know I mentioned one or two of them. But I was not about to concede the professor’s point that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not historians. They were Gospel writers, but they were inspired to record exactly what the Holy Spirit wanted you and me to know. Bill O’Reilly talked about contradictions in the Gospels, but after spending a life-time studying the Scripture, I have not found contradictions. The Four Gospels, especially the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) do not contradict each other, they complement each other! The Gospel According to John, written later, is the Evangelistic Gospel.

Even after twenty centuries, there are people who have a little knowledge of the Scripture, whose interpretation is not only wrong, it is dangerously wrong. It is easier to accept false doctrine if one does not accept the New Testament as the Word of God, truth without any measure of error.

Paul did not waste three years before beginning the ministry to which God called him. In fact, I do not believe he would have spent those three years studying theology, the study of God, if Jesus had not compelled him to do so. When he was ready, the Lord opened the door and sent him out with the message of salvation, which he was take to Jews, Gentiles, and various officials. He took up his cross and followed Jesus, suffering as Jesus had suffered to preach the Cross. Thinking of this, I recalled lines that have always meant a lot to me:

I have His cross upon me,

And easy ‘tis to bear.

In the burden which He carries,

I gladly take my share.

I. PAUL OFTEN STOOD BEFORE KINGS AND OTHER OFFICIALS.

A. On the First Missionary Journey He Stood Before Sergius Paulus, Acts. 13:7ff.

“Being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they came down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. Arriving in Salamis, they proclaimed God’s message in the Jewish synagogues. They also had John as their assistant. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came across a sorcerer, a Jewish false prophet named Bar‑Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and desired to hear God’s message. But Elymas, the sorcerer, which is how his name is translated, opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith.

Then Saul—also called Paul—filled with the Holy Spirit, stared straight at the sorcerer and said, “You son of the Devil, full of all deceit and all fraud, enemy of all righteousness! Won’t you ever stop perverting the straight paths of the Lord? Now, look! The Lord’s hand is against you: you are going to be blind, and will not see the sun for a time.” Suddenly a mist and darkness fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.

Then the proconsul, seeing what happened, believed and was astonished at the teaching about the Lord (Acts 13:4‑12, HCSB).

B. On the Second Missionary Journey He Stood Before Officials in Philippi, Acts 16:17ff.

On the Second Missionary Journey, Paul was accompanied by Silas after the split between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark. Barnabas, a native of Cypress, took Mark and went back to Cypress. He was willing to give Mark another opportunity to prove himself. Believe me, there are times when we need a Barnabas to encourage us more than a Paul to condemn us. This division between Paul and Barnabas did not hinder the work of the church. In fact, it expanded it. Paul and Silas visited the churches planted on the First Missionary Journey by with Barnabas; invited Timothy to join them in Lystra, and then moved on to Troas where the physician Luke joined them. Paul had his own plans, but the Holy Spirit prohibited him from going in his chosen direction and instead, gave him a vision of a man from Macedonia asking him to come over there. Thus, the Gospel was taken to Europe.

The first place they visited was Philippi, a Roman colony and a military outpost to protect the Roman Empire from barbarians. This city demanded a new approach. He could not follow his normal missions strategy because there was no synagogue there. Ten heads of families were required for a synagogue. Philippi was a Roman military garrison town and a distinctly Roman cith.

On the Sabbath Day, Paul and his companions went down by the riverside to worship and there discovered Lydia, a seller of purple from Thyatira. She was converted and the church at Philippi was probably started in her home. But that is not what caused Paul and Silas to be dragged before Roman officials. Luke tells the story:

Once, as we were on our way to prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit of prediction and made a large profit for her owners by fortune‑telling. As she followed Paul and us she cried out, “These men are the slaves of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” And she did this for many days.

But Paul was greatly aggravated, and turning to the spirit, said, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out right away. When her owners saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. And bringing them before the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are seriously disturbing our city. They are Jews, and are promoting customs that are not legal for us as Romans to adopt or practice.”

Then the mob joined in the attack against them, and the chief magistrates stripped off their clothes and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had inflicted many blows on them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to keep them securely guarded. Receiving such an order, he put them into the inner prison and secured their feet in the stocks” (Acts 16:16‑24).

Luke continues this amazing narrative:

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains came loose (Acts 16:25‑26).

You know the story of the conversion of the jailer:

Then he escorted them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household” (Acts 16:30‑31).

Luke writes that the chief magistrates sent the police to say, “Release those men!” However, Paul said,

“They beat us in public without a trial, although we are Roman citizens, and threw us in jail. And now are they going to smuggle us out secretly? Certainly not! On the contrary, let them come themselves and escort us out!”

Then the police reported these words to the magistrates. And they were afraid when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. So they came and apologized to them, and escorting them out, they urged them to leave town (Acts 16:35‑39).

Roman citizenship afforded Paul privileges the other apostles did not enjoy. These officials were frightened because if they might well have been thrown into the jail from which he was being released.

C. On the Third Missionary Journey Paul Faced Grave Threats from Authorities, Acts 19.

Any disturbance could have caused Paul and his companions to have been beaten, thrown into jail, or stoned. Jews in some of the cities were quick to incite Gentiles officials to take action against Paul. In Ephesus, Paul and other believers found themselves in a dangerous situation, this time from Gentiles, when the Gospel threatened the income of those who made idols:

During that time there was a major disturbance about the Way. For a person named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, provided a great deal of business for the craftsmen. When he had assembled them, as well as the workers engaged in this type of business, he said: “Men, you know that our prosperity is derived from this business. You both see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost the whole province of Asia, this man Paul has persuaded and misled a considerable number of people by saying that gods made by hand are not gods! So not only do we run a risk that our business may be discredited, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be despised and her magnificence come to the verge of ruin—the very one whom the whole province of Asia and the world adore” (Acts 19:23‑27).

Any situation like this was potentially dangerous for Paul and his companions. Yet, all the officials were not evil men. When Demetrius and supporters dragged Paul’s companions into the amphitheater he wanted to go in and speak for them, but “ Even some of the provincial officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent word to him, pleading with him not to take a chance by going into the amphitheater” (Acts 19:31).

II. FOLLOWING THE THIRD MISSIONARY JOURNEY, PAUL FACED MORE TRIALS.

A. He Was Rescued by Claudius Lysias in Jerusalem, Acts 24.

Claudius Lysias was captain of the Roman guard quartered next to the temple in Jerusalem. Jews from Ephesus saw Paul with Gentiles and incited a riot by telling people that he had taken them to the Temple. The mob had taken him and was about to stone him when Roman soldiers rescued him. They were going to kill him to prove their love for their religion! One may assume that Paul had been arrested since he was thrown into jail, but in reality he was rescued from the mob and then treated like a criminal. He appeared before Claudius Lysias to answer questions about the incident. When the captain learned of a threat against Paul he slipped him out of Jerusalem and had him taken to Caesarea.

B. He Stood Before the Roman Governor in Caesarea, Acts 24.

A hearing was scheduled and Jewish officials from Jerusalem were there with their Roman attorney, Tertullus, to bring charges against Paul. When he was given an opportunity to answer the charges, he refuted them very effectively and then surprised the governor, Felix:

“Since Felix was accurately informed about the Way, he adjourned the hearing, saying, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.” He ordered that the centurion keep Paul under guard, though he could have some freedom, and that he should not prevent any of his friends from serving him.

After some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and listened to him on the subject of faith in Christ Jesus. Now as he spoke about righteousness, self‑control, and the judgment to come, Felix became afraid and replied, “Leave for now, but when I find time I’ll call for you.” At the same time he was also hoping that money would be given to him by Paul. For this reason he sent for him quite often and conversed with him (Acts 24:22‑26).

This is amazing! Paul was standing where countless prisoners had stood trembling before a powerful and ruthless Roman official. This prisoner, however, was not afraid. When given an opportunity to speak, the prisoner stood before this ruthless governor and reasons with him about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, and the governor trembles in fear and dismisses him. I love the KJV, “Felix trembled,” and sent Paul away, saying, “When I have a more convenient season I will call for you.” The Gospel is never a matter of convenience! Felix was, for a moment, under conviction. He might have repented. He didn’t. Instead, he wanted to give Paul an opportunity to offer him a bribe. He called for Paul often to hear him. His motives were obvious. Felix knew that Paul was a Roman citizen and there were but very few ways whereby one might receive citizenship. He might be born a Roman citizen, but this prisoner was a Jew. He might earn it in battle, but Paul did not look like a warrior, and besides, he was a Jew. He might purchase citizenship and if that had been the way Paul received it he would have to have a lot of money. Felix assumed the latter. Paul’s father was citizen of Rome, so he inherited his citizenship. Felix, however, had no way of knowing that when he first called him to appear before him.

II. PAUL PROCLAIMED THE GOSPEL BEFORE KING AGRIPPA, ACTS 25-26.

A. He Appeared Before Festus, Who Replaced Felix, Acts 25.

After two years, Felix was replaced by Festus, who sought to please the Jews, so he told Paul he was sending him to Jerusalem for a trial there. Paul, knowing there would be an attempt on his life, appealed to Caesar, which was his right as a Roman citizen. Before he was sent to Rome, Festus arranged a hearing before King Agrippa.

B. He Appeared Before King Agrippa in Caesarea, Acts, 25-26.

King Agrippa I, was the son of Aristobulus and grandson of Herod the Great, who began rebuilding the Temple. Agrippa I ruled with the title of king from A.D. 41‑44. It was Agrippa I who ordered James the son of Zebedee killed with the sword and imprisoned Peter (Acts 12:1‑23). Agrippa II was the son of Agrippa I. It was he who heard Paul’s defense (Acts 25:13‑27; 26:1ff). With his death the Herodian dynasty came to an end, in title as well as in fact (See Holman Bible Dictionary).

When given permission to speak, Paul gave his personal testimony (26:1ff). He told about his Damascus Road Experience and: “As he was making his defense this way, Festus exclaimed in a loud voice, “You’re out of your mind, Paul! Too much study is driving you mad!” (26:24).

That Paul was an intellectual is indisputable. In fact, Simon Peter assumes his readers are aware of the depth and brilliance of Paul:

Also, regard the patience of our Lord as [an opportunity for] salvation, just as our dear brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you. He speaks about these things in all his letters, in which there are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:15‑16).

Paul was not one of those intellectuals who could not communicate with common people. He was inspired to write about theories and principles that were very deep, and if we are going to go very deep into the Word of God we need to be prepared to do some serious work. I once had a pastor friend to talk with me in my study. It was obvious that he thought he was in a position to help me. What he wanted to set me straight about was that I had invited Dr. Leo Eddleman to preach in revival services. My friend “tactfully” explained that Dr. Eddleman was a preacher’s preacher, but that laymen could not understand him. I had heard Dr. Eddleman preach in my home church several years earlier and after the Friday evening service I could recall every sermon and the outline he had followed from Sunday through Friday. It is a challenge for me to remember what I preached last Sunday! Dr. Eddleman was brilliant but he was well aware of the fact that the real test of wisdom is in the communication of it.

Paul was deep, but he could state his message in language the average person might understand. He responds to Felix, but his primary focus is on King Agrippa who had a better understanding of Judaism. Luke write:

But Paul replied, “I’m not out of my mind, most excellent Festus. On the contrary, I’m speaking words of truth and good judgment. For the king knows about these matters. It is to him I am actually speaking boldly. For I’m not convinced that any of these things escapes his notice, since this was not done in a corner! King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you believe” (26:25-27).

Now, here is where this gets especially interesting. The KJV reads, “Almost, thou persuadest me to become a Christian.” The HCSB reads: “Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you going to persuade me to become a Christian so easily?” (26:28). King Agrippa was not under conviction, he found it incredulous that Paul would try to persuade him to become a Christians so easily

“I wish before God,” replied Paul, “that whether easily or with difficulty, not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am—except for these chains.”

Acts 26:29).

4) Wherever he went, Paul preached the Cross. He wrote to the church at Corinth, “ When I came to you, brothers, announcing the testimony of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:1‑2).

III. GOD HAS OFTEN HAD SERVANTS TO STAND BEFORE KINGS.

A. This Happened Many Times in the Old Testament Period.

1) Abraham appeared before Melchizedek.

2) Joseph appeared before Pharaoh.

3) Moses appeared before a different Pharaoh.

4) Elijah appeared before King Ahab with a word from the Lord.

5) David appeared before King Saul.

6) Nathan appeared before Kings David to say, “Thou art the man!”

7) Amos stood before the king of Israel.

8) Isaiah stood before good King Hezekiah and before evil kings.

9) Jeremiah stood before ungodly kings.

10) Nehemiah stood before the King Artaxerxes of Persia.

B. Early Christians Stood Before Kings and Other Officials.

1) John the Baptist preached repentance and a king sentenced him to death.

2) Jesus faced three religious trials and three Roman trials.

3) James would be put to death by King Agrippa I.

4) Peter was thrown into prison by King Agrippa I.

5) John was exiled to Patmos for the cause of the Gospel.

6) Early Christian were often martyred for the Cause of Christ.

C. Christians have been persecuted through history.

When the early saints took up their cross and followed Jesus, they often faced persecution, and in many cases torture and death for their effort. Some were slaughtered by gladiators. Others were torn to pieces by half-starved lions to entertain the crowds in the Roman arena. Many were crucified, and others forced to live in catacombs under the city of Rome to avoid persecution or death.

Persecution did not stop when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire. The Reformation launched a new round of persecution that saw Christians persecuted, not by pagan Romans, but by others who professed faith in Jesus Christ. A lot of people were burned at stake by those who thought they were doing the Lord a favor.

The Voice of Martyrs ministry reports persecution around the world today. According to their research, more people have been martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ during the past one hundred years than in the previous nineteen centuries all put together. The Nazis, as we know, killed six millions Jews. What is less well known is the fact that Hitler and his henchmen killed a lot more non-Jews than Jews. The Jews have just done a lot better job keeping it before the world. I had heard that the Nazis killed fifteen million people. Retired General Dutch Shoffner informed me that his figures were more like twenty-two million.

Stalin and Mao killed many millions more than Hitler, yet the media in America that hated anything to do with Hitler, often give the Communists a pass. Christians have been persecuted for decades by Communist regimes. The good news is that the more they persecute the saints the more the church grows in those countries. Today, there are more Christians in Communist China than there are Communists. Seven percent of the population in China are Christians and only five percent are Communists. The more the Communists persecute the church, the more it grows.

Today, Muslims are persecuting Christians in various parts of the world. The most recent report comes from Afghanistan where a man who had converted to Christianity was sentenced to death. President Bush announced that we did not free Afghanistan to see them carry out such a sentence. The Muslim clerics demanded his death, continually claiming that he deserved to die. He was finally allowed to fly to Italy.

Throughout the world, Islam is taking the fight to Christians, and you can be sure that wherever radical Islam takes over, Christians will be persecuted. Well, I have news for them. If there is one thing we have learned over the past two thousand years it is that the more you persecute the church the more it grows. Someone recently wondered what it would take to make America turn back to the Lord. I had one answer: “Persecution. It has worked every time it has been tried, but I don’t want to be persecuted.

CONCLUSION

I don’t want to be persecuted, but when anyone takes up his cross and follows Jesus, he can expect certain things. He can expect the world to hate him. When I was a student at Mississippi College, my friend Billy Pearce, who would become a seminary roommate, and I went to the state Evangelism Conference where we heard W. A. Criswell and R. G. Lee preach. Dr. Lee asked that his sermon not be recorded because it was going to be included in a new book. I heard the sermon and when it was released I bought the book. The title for sermon is the title of the book, WHEN WE BLEED WE BLESS. He said, “We must bleed if would be ministers of the saving blood.” We must be prepared to pay whatever price the world demands if we are to take up our cross and follow Jesus.

Bearing one’s cross can be a dangerous thing. We have the Lord’s word on that. If the world does not hate you, you are more conformed to the world than to Christ. If you have no concept of the difference between the world and the kingdom of God, you may not be a part of the Kingdom. You need to repent and seek salvation in Jesus Christ.

If you are a born-again believer, Jesus calls on you to take up your cross and follow Him. How are you doing with that right now? Do you remember those lines I quoted at the beginning of this message?

I have His cross upon me,

And easy ‘tis to bear.

In the burden which He carries,

I gladly take my share.

Have you been to the Cross? If you haven’t, let me urge you to humbly confess your sin and ask Jesus Christ to forgive you and give you eternal life. If you have already done that, you will praise Him for what He did for you on the cross, and then you will take up your cross and follow Him.

Down at the cross where my Savior died,

Down where for cleansing from sin I cried,

There to my heart was the blood applied;

Glory to His name.

I am so wondrously saved from sin,

Jesus so sweetly abides within;

There at the cross where He took me in;

Glory to His name

Oh, precious fountain that saves from sin,

I am so glad I have entered in;

There Jesus saves me and keeps me clean;

Glory to His name.

Come to this fountain so rich and sweet,

Cast thy poor soul at the Savior’s feet;

Plunge in today and be made complete;

Glory to His name

Glory to His name,

Glory to His name;

There to my heart was the blood applied;

Glory to His name.