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Acts 25:13-26:32: A Witness to the King Print E-mail

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Jesus told his disciples that they would testify before kings and governors for my name’s sake (Luke 21:12).  In the first two Roman trials, Paul spoke before Felix and Festus, both governors of Rome.  In fulfillment of what Jesus said, Paul’s third Roman trial will take place before a king.  How will he be a witness to the resurrection in this instance?

Luke tells us how the trial came about in 25:13-27.  King Agrippa and his sister Bernice came to visit Festus shortly after he became the governor.  Agrippa was in the line of Herod the Great.  Needless to say, his family had a reputation of opposing Jesus and his followers.  His great grandfather, Herod the Great, tried to kill Jesus as an infant.  His great uncle, Antipas, had John the Baptist beheaded.  His dad, Agrippa I, killed James with his sword.  You could say that Agrippa II was groomed to hate Christianity in general and Paul in particular.  Yet, when he visits Festus, the governor seeks counsel from him concerning Paul since Agrippa was aware of Jewish customs and concerns.  Festus explains that Felix left Paul in prison and how the Jews wanted action taken against him.  Yet, he also notes that when he heard the case, he was surprised at the charges and only kept Paul in prison because of his appeal to Caesar.  King Agrippa asks to hear Paul speak and Festus agrees.

Luke describes the assembly in 25:23.  Look at that verse with me.  The King came with great pomp.  Seemingly everyone of note in the government was gathered to hear this Christian prisoner speak to the King.  Festus begins with a short explanation of why they are there.  Look at verses 24-27.  The problem for Festus is obvious.  He does not think that Paul is worthy of anything deserving death.  He should be released.  Yet, he missed his opportunity to do that because he wanted to do the Jews a favor.  Thus, when Paul appealed to Caesar, he had to agree.  Yet, what charge against Paul was he going to write in his letter to the Emperor?  His hope is that maybe Agrippa can help.  So then, the scene is set.  Paul is standing before a man whose family has a reputation of hostility towards Christianity.  The audience is full of fancy clothes and high society.  What will this humble man in chains say to the King?

Paul’s life before Christ (v. 1-11)

As he has done before, Paul begins with the formal exordium.  Look at verses 1-3.  Paul knows that Agrippa is familiar with the customs and controversies of the Jews.  Thus, he feels fortunate to be making his defense before him, which he starts with his past.  Look at verses 4-8.  As Paul has done before, he wants the king to know the real reason that he is standing before him: his belief in the resurrection.  He was a member of the Pharisee party, who believed in the hope of resurrection.  Many in Israel were longing for the Promised Messiah who would save them from their enemies and grant them resurrection from the dead.  Paul simply wanted to show them that Jesus is the One that they have been waiting for.  He is on trial because he believes that Jesus was raised from the dead and because through Him we can be raised as well.

Paul then tells Agrippa that he too once doubted the truth about Jesus.  Look at verses 9-11.  Paul again makes it plain that he was a persecutor of the Church.  He went after the followers of Christ with a raging fury.  Paul notes this because he wants Agrippa to understand the grace and power of God in his own conversion.  Paul hated the Church.  Paul hunted the follower of Jesus.  It was going to take something great for him to change his mind, which is what happened to him on the road to Damascus.

Paul’s conversion to Christ (v. 12-18)

For the third time in the book of Acts, we are now told the story of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.  Look at verses 12-15.  Paul tells Agrippa of the great light and the voice from heaven.  Here he adds the statement from Jesus: It is hard for you to kick against the goads.  Although this statement could be taken in different ways, it seems the best way to understand it is Jesus pointing out to Paul the futility of trying to fight against God and His plan.  Paul asks who is talking and Jesus identifies Himself and identifies with the Church by telling Paul that he is persecuting Him.  You cannot persecute the Church of Christ without persecuting Christ Himself.  He so identifies with His people that our suffering becomes His suffering. 

Paul goes on to tell the story differently than he has before.  Instead of giving the whole story about Ananias and the vision he later had in Jerusalem, Paul just summarizes the commission that was given to him by Jesus in verses 16-18.  Look at those with me.  Jesus tells Paul that he will be a witness for Him.  Jesus promises Paul that He will protect him until his mission is completed.  And Jesus instructs Him to take the good news to Gentiles.  To tell them that the Savior has come for them as well so that they can turn from their sins and be forgiven, so that they can be delivered from the Kingdom of Satan to the Kingdom of God, and so that they can receive their portion with the people of God.

This is Jesus’ commission to Paul: go tell the Gentiles that they can be saved!  Go tell them that they can be forgiven and adopted into the family of God.  Go tell them that Jesus’ death and resurrection was for them.  It would not be an easy task, but it would be a glorious and privileged one.  A task that we are now called to carry on.  Like Paul, and all those who have gone before us, we are here to tell.

Paul’s life since Christ (v. 19-23)

So how did Paul respond to this commission?  Look at verses 19-20.  Paul tells Agrippa that he was not going to disobey the vision that he was given.  More than that, he was not going to disobey King Jesus.  The Lord had given him a task, a purpose, a mission, and Paul was going to gladly give his life to accomplish it.  He would go anywhere and everywhere to tell people about Jesus and to call people to true repentance, the kind of repentance that evidences itself with good works.  But completing his task would not come without difficulty.  Look at verse 21.  The Jews are upset with Paul because of his belief in Jesus and his proclamation of the gospel to any and all.  They wanted to silence him and have done all that they could to do just that.  But Paul’s conscience is clear.  He is being faithful to the God of the Jews and to Moses and to the prophets.  And he will not be silenced. 

Look at verses 22-23.  Paul is telling Agrippa that he is only being a faithful Jew in proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah.  The prophets spoke of One who would come and suffer and rise again.  Particularly, Isaiah speaks of the Suffering Servant who would give His life for the sins of the people and would rise again victorious (see Isaiah 52-53).  Jesus is the promised Suffering Servant and He is a light for both Jew and Gentile.  And Paul has done nothing but proclaim that good news since Jesus met him on the road to Damascus.

At this point, Festus interrupts Paul and Luke tells us of the powerful exchange that took place between Paul, Festus, and Agrippa.  Look at verses 24-25.  Festus thinks Paul is crazy, which is often how people respond to the gospel.  But Paul assures him that he is not insane.  Rather, the faith that he is proclaiming is both true and rational.  Then Paul addresses the King.  Look at verses 26-27.  Paul and his great boldness.  He knows that King Agrippa is aware of the events that have taken place.  He has heard about Jesus and the teaching of His followers.  Not only that, Agrippa knows the prophets.  He knows that they speak of a Promised Messiah.  So Paul is essentially saying to the King: ‘You should believe that Jesus is the Christ!’ 

How will Agrippa respond to Paul?  Look at verse 28.  In a real sense, the King is simply deflecting Paul’s question.  He does not want to deny his belief in the prophets and their promise of a Messiah.  Yet, he does not want to acknowledge Jesus as the fulfillment of that promise either.  So, he attempts to shrug off the charge, which is another common response to the gospel.  But Paul will get the last word.  Look at verse 29.  There is power here.  Paul is surrounded by government officials and prominent people dressed in all their finery.  Festus has already called him crazy and the King has shrugged off his question of belief.  And Paul simply speaks from his heart: ‘I just want you guys to be saved.  I want you to see the glory of Christ and His death for your sins.  I want you to believe in the resurrection.  I want you to turn from your sins and trust in Him as Savior and Lord.  I want you to be like me, except for these old chains.’ 

I can see him standing there in his raggedy old prison garb, holding up the chains around his wrists.  I can hear the rattle of the shackles as he scans the room.  All these ‘powerful’ people.  All these leaders and rulers.  Even a king.  But they are all desperate for what this man is offering.  They are all in need of a Savior.  And Paul is once again saying as clear as he knows how: ‘Jesus is what you need.  Jesus is what you need, O King.  Jesus is what you need, O Festus.  Jesus is what you need, O Bernice.  Throw away your pomp.  Throw away your status.  Throw away your kingdom.  And come follow King Jesus.’  It was a powerful moment.  And two thousand years later, the only real reason why we remember the King and Bernice and Festus is because they got to hear that man in chains witness to the resurrection of Christ.

Luke finishes the story in verses 30-32.  Look at that with me.  Paul was not guilty of breaking any Roman law.  He should not have been in prison.  Yet, he was and he would go to Caesar because of his appeal.  And no matter when or where, he would be a faithful witness to the resurrection of Jesus.

As we close today, I want to simply point out verse 19 to you again.  Paul was given a vision, a commission, and he tells the King: I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.  Perhaps you are here waiting on a vision.  Perhaps you are waiting on a word from the Lord.  Perhaps you are looking for a mission, a purpose, in your life.  If that is you, then let me invite you to join with the faithful few who have given their lives to being witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, just like Paul.  The Lord may not send you before governors and Kings, but He is sending you to those who have not heard.  He is calling you to make disciples of every tongue, tribe, and nation.  When I stand before the King of Kings on that final day, I want to be able to say: “I was not disobedient, O King, to the heavenly vision.  I gave my life to telling others about your death and resurrection.  It was my greatest privilege to be a witness for You.’  May we come together to finish that task as we await the King’s return.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

 

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 24 December 2014 )

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