Proclaim Light!

isaiah_8767cImagine the pomp and circumstance that Luke describes as royalty and officials enter the audience room for, not a trial, but a hearing concerning a prisoner. The the prisoner enters in chains. His “defense,” however, is an evangelistic message calling his royal hearers to turn from darkness to light, Acts 26:22-23.

Come to the light of the promised Messiah. Christ fulfills the Old Testament prophecies of light. Paul, who has been held in prison for more than two years, has appealed to Caesar. The new governor, Festus, takes advantage of a royal visit from Herod Agrippa II. It is also a family affair. This Herod is the son of Herod Agrippa I, who had killed James and arrested Peter. Agrippa’s grand-uncle, Herod Antipas, had executed John the Baptist, and his great grandfather was Herod the Great, who had murdered the children of Bethlehem. Not only was Drusilla, the wife of former governor Felix, Herod Agrippa’s sister, so was his consort, Bernice. Despite the sordid personal lives of the rich and famous, Paul begins his speech with an expression of gratitude that Agrippa is familiar with the Jewish customs and with the Scriptures. Once more Paul tells the story of his conversion, focusing not only on the light he saw on the Damascus road, but also on the light that would shine from Christ, particularly through Paul. He emphasizes the continuity between his apostolic message and the writings of the prophets. The Messiah would be the light, not just for Israel, but for the Gentiles as well, Isaiah 52:6; 49:6.

See the light of the coming of Christ. Not only did the Messiah fulfill the specific prophecies of the coming Servant of the Lord, but the references to light abound. Isaiah 9:2, the shinning of God’s face in blessing, Numbers 624ff., and the shinning cloud that led Israel through the wilderness all prepare fo the One who is the Light of the World. The prophecies made clear that the Messiah would come, not just for himself or for Israel alone, but for the nations as well. Paul’s apostolic ministry grows out of the Old Testament. This is a new exodus. The goal is not the physical land of Canaan, but the kingdom of God established by the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is as the risen Christ that Jesus is the light, and as such, sending Paul on his behalf. “Like Christ, Paul ‘opens eyes to turn from darkness’ and ‘shines light to the Gentiles’ (cf. esp. Acts 26:23 with 26:18). Christ and Paul are leading the second, new exodus and return from exile prophesied in Isa. 40-66.” (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, p. 242). It is not enough to know that Jesus is the light. You need to come to him, to have his light shine into your heart so that you no longer walk in darkness. You need that light to continue to shine.

Reflect the light of Christ. Christ proclaims light to his people and to the Gentiles. Christ is light, and he proclaims it in the Scriptures and in the apostolic proclamation of the Word. John 1:4-5, 11-14 records how the Word came into the world, coming to his own, but only to be rejected by them. Later, in John 12, where he speaks of himself as the Light of the world, he also announces that he will draw all men to himself. That was part of his motivation for obediently going to the cross. He would go to the cross so that sinners would be drawn to himself, and Paul makes every effort to have that light shine into the heart of Agrippa.

Call your neighbors from darkness to light. Paul is not content simply to show that his message about the Christ fulfills the Jewish Scriptures. He drives them home to his hearers, especially to one. As always, he stresses the resurrection. It is risen Christ who appeared to Paul, sending him to reflect the light to the Gentiles. That is enough for Festus, who interrupts with a shout. Paul respectfully denies the charge that he is insane. But the focus narrows to Agrippa. Agrippa knows the Scriptures. “King Agrippa, do you believe the Scriptures?” Paul asks. Paul is driving home the challenge to believe, but Agrippa evades. The response, whether question or statement, has a note of irony. Agrippa cannot chose. To admit that he believes the prophets would move him to the gospel Paul proclaimed. But to deny that he believes the Scriptures would be politically disturbing to his Jewish subjects. So he dismisses Paul. But before the king rises, Paul makes one last plea. His prayer is that Agrippa, and all present, would be like he was—except for the chains. That is Paul’s heart. That is his prayer: that the light would shine into Agrippa’s heart and bring him the one who is the Light of the world. How ready are you to give a response? “When you encounter the unexpected opportunity to give ‘a reason for the hope that is in you’ (1 Pet. 3:15), what you say will reveal what you know by heart. What Paul knew by heart was Jesus, the suffering and risen Messiah.” (Denis E. Johnson, Let’s Study Acts, p. 317).

How eager and ready are you to bring the good news to those whose situations seem beyond redemption? Perhaps what kept Paul trying to shine the light of the Gospel to Agrippa was the story he had just repeated. He had been walking in darkness until the light of the risen Christ struck him down. Has that light changed your life? Does it reflect from you?

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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