Chapter 26 (ESV) - So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense:
“I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
“My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
“I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
“In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 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.’
“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
Question to consider: Why did Festus think Paul was out of his mind?
As I’ve mentioned a few times throughout this study, Luke’s book of Acts was to give an ordered account of the early church to his friend, Theophilus. In his first book, Luke demonstrated that the Jewish Messiah had come and fulfilled the law, offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins, and then rose from the dead and took His place at the right hand of God. The reason for the follow-up book was to inform Theophilus about the coming of the Holy Spirit and the good news that salvation had not just come to the Jews but to people from every tribe and nation.
Christians today can sometimes confuse their personal testimony of how they came to faith with the gospel. “What Jesus means to me” may have an emotional appeal, but it’s more important that people understand what Jesus has done for the world, and this requires that people understand their guilt before God. Being able to receive the righteousness of Christ is meaningless if someone thinks they can stand before God as a “pretty good person.”
In today’s passage, Paul is giving a testimony of his encounter with the risen Christ to king Agrippa because Agrippa would have been familiar with the resurrection of the dead, not because he thought the king would be inspired by his faith story. Paul was making an argument that all of the prophets in scripture had been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, and this proved that Paul did not despise the law or the temple or profane the name of Moses. Having encountered the risen Christ, Paul heard directly from Him that the good news of salvation through Jesus was also meant for the Gentiles.
Festus, upon hearing this, thought Paul was out of his mind, but Festus was ignorant of the scriptures so it all sounded impossible to him. So Paul made an appeal to king Agrippa to affirm what he was saying. Agrippa stopped short of affirming what Paul said was true about Jesus, but he could see nothing that Paul said was worthy of imprisonment or execution.
Agrippa seemed incredulous that Paul would have appealed to Caesar, but Paul ultimately wanted to go to Rome because Christ wanted him to go to Rome.
Dear Lord, You have commanded us to make disciples of all nations, baptizing in Your name and teaching people to obey Your commands. May we not replace this duty with the sharing of inspirational faith stories but be faithful to the message that only by Your righteousness can we be saved from our sinful nature and world. May we all hear Your word and be like Paul except for his chains. Amen.