Paul’s great hope, which sustained him in the face of accusations and suffering, was Jesus Christ – the fulfilment of all God’s promises.
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”
So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: 2 “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, 3 and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.
4 “The Jewish people 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. 5 They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee. 6 And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. 7 This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. 8 Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?
9 “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.
It strikes me that when Paul talks about his Jewish heritage in Philippians 3:1-11, his emphasis is that whatever gain he had from his Jewish background and his diligence to live according to the law as a Pharisee, he counts it all as worthless for the sake of knowing Christ, and him alone. Yet here, in verses 4-8, his emphasis is different. Paul is standing firmly upon his Jewish ancestry, to show that what has now happened in Christ is exactly what was promised to his forefathers. Here, Paul ties the events of the life and death of Christ to the whole Old Testament.
I love reading the Old Testament. Sometimes it takes a bit more work to read, understand, and apply… But I just love this grand story – how God stuck with his messed-up people through thick and thin, how he kept repeating his covenant promises to generation after generation, how he loved them and promised them hope, life, and salvation. When he came, Jesus’ life and death stunned the world. He shocked people, challenged assumptions, subverted power structures, turned ideas about life and religion on their heads, and spoke, lived, and died with an authority the world had never seen.
Yet, in other ways, all that Jesus said and did shouldn’t have been a surprise at all. The whole Old Testament pointed forward to him… to the promises he fulfilled, as the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, God’s true King, our great High Priest, and the true Prophet – the very Word made flesh.
The Jews accusing Paul shouldn’t have been. They were blind – refusing to see what was right in front of them… which was no less than the fulfilment of all God’s promises. The fulfilment of their own hope. The message of the coming King that they’d all been waiting for… or should have been.
In some ways, this feels distant to me… I’m not a Jew. And, although we know that people are still accused for believing in Jesus and that faith in Jesus can be costly even to us, most of us will never be dragged before a tribunal to answer for our faith, as Paul was.
But do you have the kind of hope in Jesus that Paul had? This hope, which comes not only from seeing the beauty and glory of who Jesus is and what he has done, but how he fulfils the whole of salvation history, just bleeds out of Paul. We get an incredible picture of this as we come to Ephesians. In it, we discover some of the most exalted and stunning language of God’s eternally-purposed work in Christ the Son, and how we are caught up in his glory and grace – and how we as Gentiles, though once far away from the hope of his Old Testament promises, have now been brought near, and are now partakers of these precious promises, as fellow citizens of heaven.
These promises, given to God’s people Israel, upon which Paul stands so steadfastly, are now our great hope and confidence, in Christ our Risen King. Whatever God has given you to face today, are the eternal promises of Christ your firm hope?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I don’t deserve your love or favour. Thank you for your kindness to me in Jesus, that although I was far away, you have brought me near, and given me grace, love, hope, and a place among your holy people. Help me by your Spirit to grow ever more joyful, steadfast, and confident as I stand upon your eternal promises to me in Christ. Amen.
A song to listen to: Amazing Grace
Living Church – Springfield