GETTING THE MESSAGE/Christ alone is our atoning sacrifice
In Acts 26 Paul has been summoned by governor Festus to give his defense before King Agrippa and other Roman leaders for the charges the Jews made against him. Paul first spoke of his past life before becoming a Christian (Acts 26:2-8). His life as a dedicated Pharisee and his persecution of Christians were easily verifiable (verses 4, 10-11).
Paul then gives his testimony of Christ appearing to him on the road to Damascus (in light greater than the sun) and giving Paul a commission to be his servant and bear witness about Jesus to Jews and then to Gentiles also (verses 12-17).
The heart of Paul’s witness is to point sinful men to the glory of Christ and the value of the salvation that is in Christ. Paul said Christ sent him to the Gentiles to “Open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (verse 18).
One of Jonathan Edward’s first sermons was entitled “The Value of Salvation.” Edwards said that the great need men had was to see the value of their soul. God created the world to bless man, so God set a higher value on man’s soul than the world. Man has corrupted himself by sin, so God has made the salvation of the soul of man his great purpose.
All the prophets God sent and all the miracles he wrought were to this purpose, the salvation of souls. The ultimate evidence was God sending his own Son into the world to give his life to save the souls of men. That the salvation of a soul is of inestimable worth is summarized by three facts. First, the saved soul shall be delivered from all evil. Second, he shall be brought into the enjoyment of all good. Third, this happiness shall be eternal.
In our passage Paul says that the gospel is preached to open the eyes of men to their need of salvation and the benefits of salvation in Christ. Paul lists four such benefits in this passage (verse 18). We will look at the first of these great benefits this week.
First there is being brought out of “darkness into the light”. Most people know what it is to be terrified in the dark, and darkness is a terrible condition. Here Paul means the darkness of the soul that cannot apprehend the glory of God or the truth of God. And that is the dismal condition of all men.
In 2nd Corinthians 4:6 Paul says this about converted souls brought into the light of God: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
So what light is to the natural world, Christ is to our souls in a far greater degree. He is a greater light than the sun. Paul says that when Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus, “A light from heaven, brighter than the sun shone around me and those that journeyed with me.”
So Paul saw in the air a visible light greater than that of the sun, but he also had the “eyes” of his soul enlightened to see the truth of Christ. And the heart of Paul’s soul was transformed by such a light as the knowledge of Christ. He went from a determined rebel against Christ to a willing, thankful servant who even rejoiced in suffering for Christ’s sake.
Most Christians do not have as dramatic conversion as the apostle Paul had, nor the extent of clarity, affection, and dedication to Christ as Paul exhibited. Nevertheless, the light of Christ in a soul is never just bare knowledge. The truths Christ claims for Himself are transforming truths that command willing, thankful service to Him.
Consider the foundational truths: Christ is God manifested in the flesh, the great I Am. He is the messenger sent from God who testifies to the truth. He alone is our atoning sacrifice for sin. He has rightful Lordship in our souls, and authority over us. He gives a great salvation, even eternal life.
The greatest sin is to ignore or reject him. It is in opposition to the clearest light and evidence of loving the darkness. But for those who believe, he is the light and blessing of the soul. We made debts, he paid them. We walked in death, he gave us life. He is of much greater worth than this poor world.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.