Paul Before Agrippa (Acts 26:1-32)

May 12, 2013

Book: Acts

Paul Before Agrippa (Acts 26:1-32)
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Scripture: Acts 26:1-32


Sermon Notes

26 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.

12 “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic,[a] ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’

“ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. 21 That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22 But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable.26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

30 The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. 31 After they left the room, they began saying to one another, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”

32 Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

Translation differences:
This is NIV 2011, some others have NIV 1982.

Paul had been left in prison by Felix (Roman governor). Felix was recalled to Rome with complaints against him. Then, Festus was put in place there – the Jews thought “this guy is new, let’s get him to give us Paul.” They wanted to ambush Paul on the way to Jerusalem. Festus invited the Jews to come along (foiling their plans).

Now Paul is giving his testimony. “If I’ve done something wrong, I’m ready to die, but I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Festus wanted to take him to Jerusalem – asked Paul – so Paul appealed to Caesar, so “To Caesar you shall go.”

Then, Festus (newly appointed), had King Agrippa and his sister Bernice come to visit – and he wanted to get Agrippa’s insights (he was well acquainted with Judaism). So, he figured he’d talk with Agrippa to see what’s up with this guy Paul.

They met, Agrippa was intrigued, wanted to hear him personally, so Festus arranged THIS assembly (we’ve just read about).

This wasn’t a judicial hearing/trial, just an investigative hearing. Agrippa (Herod) wanted to hear him – said, “speak for yourself.” So, Paul gave his testimony (for what, a third time in Acts now?).

Paul is a “good guy”, hasn’t violated their laws – just believed in the resurrection (also a Jewish belief – but apparently not in the way Paul believed it). Paul hadn’t become a Christian on a whim, but dramatically. His claim was the Christian faith was a natural outgrowth of his Jewish beliefs. He argued that Christianity is an outgrowth of Judaism.

This is the last time we hear Paul speaking publicly – he will speak to other prisoners and other Jews, but this is the last, longest speech.

There is no animosity here. He was fortunate to stand before Agrippa because Agrippa was a fairly neutral/informed party on Jewish beliefs/theology. He was impartial – he wasn’t influenced by the High Priests, and he had power over them in fact.

Paul hoped that this guy with influence and power over them would be able to understand that Jesus was the Messiah and fulfilled their (Jewish) beliefs.

The Jews had known Paul for a long time (probably was famous/infamous as a Pharisee during his time – Pharisees bound themselves to follow the Law). Here Paul is showing just HOW Jewish he is – and that he proclaims Christianity BECAUSE of his Judaism, not in spite of it.

So, Paul makes the resurrection the real issue here. “It’s because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I’m on trial here today.” This was the promise that all Israel hoped to see fulfilled and Paul is hammering it home. This is a Jewish hope – but Christians also now have the same hope – and Christians were within the boundaries of the Jewish hope. But, Christian hope was far more specific because it was hinged on Jesus’ resurrection. The “general” resurrection of the Jewish belief hinges on the “specific” resurrection of Jesus.

This is the expectation that God will fulfill his promises in the OT. This resurrection stuff just shows that Paul believes that God HAS and WILL continue to fulfill his promises in the OT.

God had declared that the Messiah would free his people, God fulfilled that by sending Jesus. Then, God raised him from the dead as the forerunner for ALL believers to be raised.

Paul makes a cry for all of them to believe. “Why should you think it impossible for God to raise the dead?” It’s not. (He’s already done it once – at least

To disbelieve in the resurrection of Christ was actually to disbelieve in the “general” resurrection as well (prophecied in Daniel). Because Jesus’ tomb was empty – over 500 people had seen him alive (no such thing as mass hallucination), and the fearful/hiding disciples were now out boldly proclaiming that Jesus was alive.

In 1 Cor 15:12-19 Paul opposes those who disbelieve in the resurrection. “If there is no resurrection, then Christ hasn’t been raised, and if so, our preaching and YOUR faith are also useless. And we are false witnesses about God. But if he didn’t raise him, then neither has Christ been, and your faith is futile – in vain – you are still in your sins. And those who have fallen asleep (died) believing in Christ are pitiful. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied above all men.” (My favorite verses).

Why was Paul enduring all this?
He knew that this was only temporary and one day he’d meet the Lord and know him if we’ve repented, confessed, accepted Jesus as our Savior.

F.F. Bruce “this belief in the resurrection had now been validated in raising one man from the dead. And it showed that this one man was the deliverer that Israel had waited for.”

Paul admitted that he’d once denied it as well, that he’d persecuted and helped imprison and murder Christians who’d believed. (v. 10)

Paul had stood by the cloaks of the men who stoned Stephen (Acts – early).

1 Cor 15:9-10 Jesus appeared to the different people and to Paul the last of all “I’m the last and the least – because I persecuted the church – but I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. I worked harder than all of them.”

1 Tim “I thank my Lord who appointed me to his service even though I was a blasphemer and violent man. I acted in unbelief, but his grace was poured out on me abundantly. Here is a trustworthy statement that should be accepted fully: Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom, I’m the worst.”

Paul continues (v. 16) “but I was shown mercy, so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ might display his unlimited patience – for all the other believers who would believe and receive eternal life.”

If he was the WORST sinner in the world, then there’s hope for literally EVERYONE.

No matter their background, whatever they’ve done, they are accepted by Christ.

Paul gave his approval against the Christians who were persecuted to death.

Williams “Would Paul have been a member of the Sanhedrin who actually voted against the Christians? Unlikely, he had unknown/obscure origins (he wasn’t an aristocrat like the rest of them) and he was young. It’s just possible that he HAD won a place there on sheer ability – but ‘voted against’ likely means he gave his approval.”

He certainly worked together with them to bring Christians to trial and death. He went from one synagogue to another, including those in foreign cities – attempting to get the Christians to blaspheme so he could put them to death.

How did Paul have the authority to do this? It’s doubtful that the Romans allowed it. Any executions were probably illegal. The fact that the Jews got away with Stephen’s murder meant that it was either well hidden, or that the authorities turned a blind eye to that kind of stuff.

But, along the way Paul, met Jesus. This is third account (Acts 9, 22, 26). Each account is slightly different – each has its own emphasis so that it fit the audience to whom it was given (as well as Luke’s context). There is a general agreement (also Galatians 1), but some differences.

For example, no Ananias mentioned here, nor his blindness. He didn’t mention that he’s taken to Damascus. But here he DOES mention the intensity of the light and that the voice spoke to him in Aramaic. (v. 13-14) Everyone in his party was stopped dead in their tracks.

This also seems to concentrate on Jesus’ divine commission to Paul. “It’s hard for you to kick against the goad” (a poker stick to make stubborn cows move). This was a proverbial saying in Greek and Latin indicating that no one can resist the will of the gods. It was a pagan saying, but Jesus used it about THE God. Sometimes stubborn cows can kick back against that, but that prompts MORE prodding.

What were “Paul’s goads”?

Perhaps contrary thought to what he’d once believed. Perhaps hesitation on Paul’s part. (Imagine when Stephen prayed to forgive those who were killing him – that must have affected Paul). It may have been a combination of factors, but now, clearly, Paul has a different direction.

“Who are you Lord?”
“I’m Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

He was told that he was chosen and appointed as a witness for Christ – to turn people’s eyes from darkness to light, to receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life from God (v. 16).

Jesus (in John’s gospel) said, “Behold, I go to prepare a place for you.”

Paul tells of his obedience to this vision from heaven. “First to those in Damascus he preached (had to be let down in a basket or he’d have been killed), then to Jerusalem, Judea, and the Gentiles – I preached to EVERYONE. That’s why these guys don’t like me. But, I’ve had God’s help from the beginning. I’ve only been repeating what’s in their Scriptures – that Christ is the Messiah and was raised and would give light to their eyes.”

Festus had no idea what was going on… “You’re totally insane man!” Paul said, “No, no, no, this is totally reasonable – ask your buddy Agrippa.” True, true.

Paul “I’m sure that Agrippa knows of all these things, nothing has surely escaped his notice. Agrippa, do you agree with the Prophets?”
Woah, caught Agrippa off guard, “Don’t put me on the spot like that buddy.”

Paul “I pray that everyone here will become a Christian, like me (but not in chains).”

The king then arose, with Festus and Bernice – they said, “he’s totally innocent.”

Agrippa said, “should have set him free, if not for his appeal to Caesar.”

Yet, we know if he HAD gone to Jerusalem, the Jews probably would have ambushed and killed him – and he’d had a vision from God to go to Rome and proclaim the gospel. So, all this is working together for God’s plan.

Were Paul here today, he would ask, “Is it impossible for God to raise the dead? Surely not. And I pray that all of you would accept Christ as your Lord and Savior.”

Let’s pray.