Summary: When Paul testifies before Festus and Agrippa he not only shares his testimony he shows the flaw being judgmental and the difference between religion and relationship.
A man was having difficulty communicating with his wife and concluded that she was becoming hard of hearing. So he decided to conduct a test without her knowing about it.
One evening he sat in a chair on the far side of the room. Her back was to him and she could not see him. Very quietly he whispered, "Can you hear me?" There was no response.
Moving a little closer, he asked again, "Can you hear me now?" Still no reply. Quietly he edged closer and whispered the same words, but still no answer.
Finally, he moved right in behind her chair and said, "Can you hear me now?" To his surprise and chagrin, she responded with irritation in her voice, "For the fourth time, yes!"
(From “Do You Hear What I Hear” by Pat Cook on Sermon Central)
Acts 26:4-15, “The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?”
“I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.”
“On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’” ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied.”
There are a lot of people in our society that can relate to the man in the story. They give all of their complaints to God and then wait for Him, to answer, but when He does they either can’t hear or ignore the answer. It may be because they can’t hear His voice, it may be because they don’t like the answer, often times I think it may be because we don’t even stop to listen for God’s answer, or perhaps we already know the answer we want so we just put our words in His mouth.
One of the reasons that we’re going to look at today for why people can’t hear God’s voice is a simple word from today’s passage, “religion.” In this passage it appears in verse 5, “They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee.” We have seen Paul in the past few weeks point back to his own life and say, “What have I done wrong.” It was a defense to claim his innocence. But here I think we see a bit of a different tack, here we see Paul begin to point to his past and say, “This is what I have done wrong.”
It begins with living with religion. It’s such a common word, a word that is used so frequently in our society but it means a lot of different things to different people and in different contexts. Simply put religion is a set of beliefs in supernatural powers. But it has also come to refer to the rules, rituals and traditions that we use to follow or show obedience to those powers.
To some people that is all that Christianity is, it is a type of belief in God and a set of rules and rituals of how we choose to worship God. To those people it would naturally make sense that all religions are basically equal. Those no real belief that the God that is defined to be behind them is real or that he, she or it would actually want to move in our lives.