We know a lot more about God than our minds are able or willing to understand. Weve all had experiences that we know took place, but we cant explain. There have been moments in our lives when we recognized that someone was present with us, even if we didnt know His name. There have been times when an unseen hand came out of nowhere to protect us, or a voice interrupted our thoughts with information we needed to hear. Since we are spiritual beings living in a spiritual world, it shouldnt surprise us when such things take place, but it usually does, because we live in a culture that has been trying to deny that anything spiritual exists, for the past 300 years. Were repeatedly told that the universe arose out of nothing, that life is a meaningless accident, and that when we die our conscious minds cease to exist and our bodies decompose and return to the earth. And those voices are getting louder and more demanding. So people tend to hide their spiritual experiences, feeling confused or even embarrassed that they had them. They assume they must have imagined it, or what happened was merely a very unusual coincidence. Yet spiritual encounters cant be explained away that easily, because deep down inside theres a part of us that still remembers what happened.
Paul shared his testimony with Agrippa in an effort to help this man listen to his own heart. The king was an expert in religious tradition, but at the same time tragically enslaved to the passions of his flesh. The man desperately needed Jesus, but his rational mind was in the way, so Paul shared his own personal story to try to help him listen to his spirit. On this occasion Paul described everything Jesus said to him during that encounter on the road to Damascus. He disclosed things that arent recorded anywhere else, and he did so for a reason. He was trying to awaken Agrippas spirit to remember things he had already heard. If we listen carefully hell awaken ours as well.
Pauls encounter (Acts 26:9-16)
Paul went on to present the gospel to Agrippa in a concise, but very clear way, and then he assured him that the things he was saying about Jesus had all been prophesied in the Scriptures. And he told Agrippa he was certain that the king had heard about Jesus and the miracles which were taking place through His church. By this time, nearly 30 years after Jesus ascended into heaven, the church had grown huge and spread throughout the region, so Paul assumed Agrippa was not ignorant of all that had been taking place. As he put it,
The king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner (Ac 26:26).
Paul also assumed that, like himself, Agrippa had kicked against the goads, and that the Holy Spirit had faithfully reached out to this troubled king, just as He had Saul of Tarsus. He was sure that God had tried to draw this man to Himself. He knew that Agrippas spirit knew that what he had been hearing about Jesus was true, even if his rational mind was arguing against it.
The real God
There are moments when our spirit encounters God and recognizes Him, whether our rational mind will admit it or not. And that encounter forces us to react. It tests and exposes our heart. I dont think we make decisions in those moments, I think those moments expose decisions weve already made. When we see Him we either draw closer, or pull away. This is because God is a real person, with a distinct personality, which is why there are people who dont like Him. They prefer another spirit. In fact, some of the most religious people dont like the real God, while some of the least religious people do, even if they dont know they do. Hes the One theyve been searching for all along. Listen to how Jesus describes the process:
This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God (Jn 3:19-21).
Whats the real God like? The answer is very simple: Jesus; that is, the Jesus you read about in the Bible, not one of the self-projections some people invent. The Jesus in the Bible had a very distinct personality and people reacted to it. Some were thrilled by the things He did and said, but others hated Him. And since Hes still alive, nothings changed. People still react the same way. Hes still the Light, so some come to Him when they see Him, and others turn away because they dont want to be held accountable for their actions. What Paul is telling Agrippa is how he reacted to the Light.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus picked Paul? At that time no one was working harder than Paul to stamp out Christianity, yet while on his way to Damascus Jesus physically appeared to him. The answer must be that He knew if Paul really saw the truth he would believe, and he would throw that same energy into proclaiming the truth that he had been using to attack it. There are people who havent seen the truth and people who dont want to see it. Had Paul been one of the latter, this encounter would never have happened, but Jesus words to Paul about kicking against the goads are foreboding. They imply that Paul was on his way toward the line that divides ignorance from defiance. Apparently he had been routinely hardening his heart to the pangs in his conscience, yet that line had not been crossed. Paul can later report
I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief
Have you ever wondered why Paul was blinded by the light, but his traveling companions were not? They all saw the same light (Ac 22:9), but his companions received no damage. Afterward they were able to take Paul by the hand and lead him into the city (Ac 9:8). I think Paul was blinded because he stared into the light to see who was speaking to him, but the others must have turned away to shield their eyes. Thats how much he wanted to know the truth.
Jesus words to Paul about kicking against the goads can only mean that His conversation with Paul had started long before Paul realized it. His spirit knew things his mind didnt understand, and that type of spiritual conversation is not unique to Paul. His point in revealing his experience to Agrippa was because he hoped Agrippa would recognize that God had been speaking to him too. And its equally important for you and me to recognize these conversations. We too can get stuck in the reasonings of our rational mind and not hear what the Spirit is saying to us.
God has given each of us a mind and He wants us to use it, but He warns us not to lean on it (Pr 3:5). Were also supposed to listen to Him with our spiritual ears, and observe what Hes doing with our spiritual eyes (Mt 13:13). There is theological knowledge we can learn about God, but there is also intuitive knowledge. We can speak His will through rational deduction, but we must also spiritually listen for His voice, and the process is difficult because it requires faith. It means I have to acknowledge someone I cant see with my eyes and obey a voice I didnt hear with my ears. I have to allow a part of me to awaken that others may mock. But, as weve discovered watching Paul today, Jesus takes those conversations very seriously. He knows what our spirit has heard, whether we admit it or not. If were hesitant to acknowledge that voice, Hes not. He knows what Hes said, and He knows what weve heard.
A dangerous prayer
Ive met numerous people over the years who said the process of becoming a follower of Jesus Christ began for them by praying this simple prayer:
Jesus, if youre real, please show me. Now, why would a prayer as simple as that work? First, it shows theyre willing to awaken their spirit and listen for Gods voice. And second, theyve determined to walk toward the light if they see it. So its easy for God to reach a person like that, and Hell gladly answer their prayer. Theyll soon encounter Jesus.
But sadly, thats not how Agrippa responded that day. He said,
In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian (Ac 26:28),
but then he stood up and walked away. Maybe he felt the price was too high.
1) Describe a time when you believe God spoke to you. What did He say?
2) As you look back on your life, do you recognize that God was at work with you long before you knew it?