Today: [Acts 26:] Paul Answers to King Agrippa: In Acts 26 Paul is dragged in chains out before King Agrippa to break the boredom of a long afternoon. As Paul begins to speak the presence of God fills the room as the souls of men including Agrippa are weighed in the balances as they are confronted with the claims of Christ. Are you ready for an Acts experience such as this? What if God chooses to use you in such a way as this chapter demonstrates?
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[Act 26:1-15 KJV] 1 Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself: 2 I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews: 3 Especially [because I know] thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently. 4 My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; 5 Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. 6 And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: 7 Unto which [promise] our twelve tribes, instantly serving [God] day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. 8 Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? 9 I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against [them]. 11 And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled [them] to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted [them] even unto strange cities. 12 Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, 13 At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. 14 And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? [it is] hard for thee to kick against the pricks. 15 And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.
In this chapter, Paul stands before King Agrippa who is the fifth in the line of Herod the Great. This eventful meeting arose from the fact that against the bidding of the Spirit of God for five years in every church Paul persisted in going to Jerusalem to make a defense of his faith to his people the Jews at Jerusalem. Agrippa is king of the Jews visiting the provincial seat of power at Caesarea where Festus sits in Caesar’s seat holding Paul bound into the third year since his arrest.
Remember Jesus Himself appears to Paul in Acts 22:18 directly telling him to “Make haste and get quickly out of Jerusalem for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me…” Now, was this coded language whereby Jesus is actually saying “stay here, get arrested and go to jail for several years so you can write the New Testament?” This is the way theology interprets these events because they are unwilling to cast Paul in the light of one who isn’t doing what God tells him to do.
When Jesus tells Paul this in Acts 22:18, Paul argues with him for a few verses and Jesus cuts him off saying in Acts 22:21 “Depart for I will send you far hence unto the Gentiles.” Which of course we know that Paul ignores, and gets arrested. He is held in custody for a short time in Jerusalem, then sent to Felix in Caesarea who binds him over for two years at which time Festus comes to power. Festus agrees to send Paul to Rome to be judged by Caesar himself but before he leaves King Agrippa comes for a visit with his wife Bernice and Festus drags Paul out in chains for the king and queen’s entertainment.
Was any of this God’s original plan for Paul? A follow-up question would be does God work from plans for our lives that map out the minutiae of our lives from the cradle to the grave? Just because God knows what is going to happen does in mean that He plans it so? This is an essential question because Paul is here standing before a great king as a consequence of actions that by our standards can be equated as nothing other than disobedience. We are reminded of Abraham who fled to Egypt, released his wife to Pharoah’s harem under the pretense she was his wife. Regardless of doing something that would get a husband arrested as a pimp today Abraham came out of Egypt blessed and highly favored and God never rebuked him for his actions. Does this mean we have permission to disobey God even in morally obnoxious ways? As Paul said when accused of such things – let God forbid!
The lesson for us is that all of God’s dealings with us and promises to us take into account that our days are lived out in a very human narrative. We falter. We fail. We fall very short often times. God still involves Himself with us. He promises us He will never leave us nor forsake us. Will there be consequences? Absolutely. Paul was beaten, more than once. Ultimately he is beheaded in Rome. He was one of those Hebrews 11:35 says were in the roll call of the faithful but “did not accept deliverance…” God gave Paul a way of escape out of what was to come, but he opted not to even when personally pressed by Jesus Himself appearing in bodily form to convince Him to flee.
What about you? You have to realize whether you obey God in your situation or go your way that God still loves you and will always be with you. In Acts 17:25 Paul preached that God gives to all breath and life, even those who are not yielding to His will. If God for one moment was not with you or withdrew His presence from you at that moment, you would cease to exist. Col. 1:17 says that by God all things consist or cohere at an atomic level. Scientists can measure the fact that atoms hold together by the force of , but they cannot tell you why they do it. The book of Colossians tells us – God by an act of His will holds the atoms of creation and your physical body together moment by moment not by a process but by His determinate, active will compounded by every living human being upon the planet. This is true of you even when you are obstinant and going your own way. Will there be consequences? You bet there will but if you learn how to master the law of sowing and reaping by the law of love and taking a posture of humility you can remain in a place of alignment with God even though you know as Paul had to know you messed up.
So Paul speaks to Agrippa and his wife Bernice wrapped in chains and surrounded by his accusers. He comports himself in the most positive way declaring how cheerful he is to see Agrippa and to share with this descendant of Herod his personal story. Notice that Paul doesn’t give Agrippa theology or hand him a personal tract. No one person ever shares Christ the same way because in sharing Christ the only authentic thing you can say is what you have experienced. For Kitty and I our entire message and limited within the parameters of our own personal history. We preach nothing that we have not experienced as John says in 1 John 1 you are to tell what you have seen and heard. To do otherwise even if what you say is accurate makes you a deceiver.
[Acts 26:16-32 KJV]
16 But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; 17 Delivering thee from the people, and [from] the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, 18 To open their eyes, [and] to turn [them] from darkness to light, and [from] the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. 19 Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: 20 But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and [then] to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. 21 For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill [me]. 22 Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: 23 That Christ should suffer, [and] that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles. 24 And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. 25 But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. 26 For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. 28 Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. 29 And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds. 30 And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them: 31 And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds. 32 Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.
As Paul is speaking Festus rudely interrupts him declaring “Paul you are beside yourself, much learning has made you mad…” What is happening? The King of kings is speaking through Paul, and these strutting little narcissists who sit preening themselves while Paul speaks are intimidated at the magnitude of the otherly presence of the glory of God in the room. Paul answers that no he is not mad, referring to him as “noble Festus…” what a restraint Paul is showing after years in confinement. When he was first arrested he called the high priest the whitened wall of a fetid tomb, but now he reigns in his anger realizing that if anything good will come of his time in confinement, it will be in confronting these men with the claims of Christ.
Paul then turns his eyes to Agrippa and asks him directly does the king believe the prophets? Notice the difference between how Paul preaches and how we are taught to preach today. Paul looks his hearers in the eye and calls them by name. What if we did this today? The pastor that looked his congregation in the eye and called them out name by name this Sunday would be looking for a job on Monday. This isn’t how things are done today. The unwritten rule is no matter what is preached the people are to be allowed the religious nicety of applying it to anyone other than themselves. Agrippa looks at Paul and quietly answers, conviction gripping his heart “Paul, almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian…” I have sat with countless preachers over the years lamenting why their altar calls go unanswered. They conclude it is the coldness in the hearts of their congregations when in fact it is the cowardice in the hearts of preachers to drive their messages home in the most personal way. Paul with great compassion answers to Agrippa:
“I would to God that not only you but all that hear me this day were both almost and altogether such as I except for this chain…”
Can you fathom the scene that you have just witnessed? Paul is not preaching on a stage with four bodyguards and a check for 50,000 dollars in his pocket as his engagement fee, as some I have heard of. The chains clinking at his ankles punctuate every word he speaks. Brothers and sisters, what chains of constraint are manifest in the life that you claim to live for Christ? What pagan and narcissistic people in your life are you confronting daily with the claims of Christ? To what degree are you hazarding your life for the gospel or are you walking on eggshells unwilling to provoke even the least of those who daily commiserate with you with the claims of the gospel? As Paul is returned to his cell for transfer to Rome, the curtain falls and we can only watch in silence with our blood pounding in our ears thinking how might we dare to call ourselves of the same faith as the man who stands forever as our example of a life poured out like a drink offering to Christ and His kingdom.
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