The Book of Acts (Chapter 26) (Part 38)
Persecution for the name of Jesus always provides an opportunity for the tried and tested believer in the Lord Jesus to give a good testimony to the grace of God that they have experienced in their life. There is nothing like a personal testimony to make even the unsaved sit up and listen even if they seem to be hostile and antagonistic to the message of the Gospel. King Agrippa was not unfamiliar with the teaching of the Old Testament or what the prophets had taught. Paul understood this and took advantage of the king’s knowledge of God’s Word. In witnessing we must always seek to see where the person is at in their thinking and try to build on that. In most cases where the unsaved are concerned their knowledge of the Bible is virtually non-existent. They may remember Bible stories from Sunday school but that is all they know. As to understanding the spiritual significance of these stories they were ignorant. As Paul wrote; “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Paul’s accusers were very religious and had knowledge of the Old Testament but had no illumination from the Holy Spirit. And so King Agrippa gave Paul permission to speak. Once again an opportunity had been given to Paul to witness for the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Vs.1-3) “Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defence: “In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defence before you today; especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.”
Paul understood diplomacy without compromise and he had the boldness and confidence from the Spirit to speak because he also knew that King Agrippa was well acquainted with Jewish laws and customs and had some knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures and the ways of the Jewish people. Paul was seeking to build his defence on what King Agrippa already knew from the Jewish laws, customs and the Old Testament.
(Vs.4-7) “So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion. And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews.”
It was important for King Agrippa to know about Paul’s upbringing and background and the fact that from his youth he had been schooled in the Old Testament scriptures and after studying and graduating from the Rabbinic school of Hillel Paul joined the strictest sect of the Pharisees. Paul was most likely more conversant with the Law that even those accusing him. At this point all the religious Jews gathered there could only bombard King Agrippa with false charges as there was no evidence to convict Paul. What happened to the Lord Jesus and to Stephen was now happening to Paul. Paul understood the real reason as to why he stood on trial, not because of his impiety, but because of his hope in the resurrection through the Lord Jesus. The real issue was not the resurrection as the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, but the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ which Paul’s accusers did not want to hear about as some undoubtedly had been complicit in Jesus’ crucifixion.
(Vs.8) “Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?”
The Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is the very foundation of our faith as believers. Even Paul wrote in one of his epistles that if the Lord Jesus had not risen then we were without hope in this world and of most men miserable and that if this was the case we should all go out and get drunk and live it up in this life. Of course the Lord Jesus had risen from the dead and in this resurrection Paul had his hope and it is our hope also. This world is finished and the only reason God keep us in this world is to fulfil His will which is to seek and to save the lost, the unsaved and those who are prisoners to Satan and sin and bound for hades. Because the Lord Jesus has been raised from the dead so we who are His disciples like Him will be raised to life or raptured if we are still alive when He comes back. No one accusing Paul could deny that the Lord Jesus raised people from the dead and that after He Himself had been killed was raised to life. Even in the Old Testament scriptures people had been raised from the dead.
The Pharisees of course believed in the Resurrection whereas the Sadducees did not. The resurrection of the body was not in question by the religious Jews, the Pharisees, but the resurrection of the Lord Jesus was definitely the issue for which Paul was being tried and examined. The main reason that many do not like to hear about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is because they know that if He has risen then they have to respond to that fact. Many will have Jesus as a good man, a great humanitarian, a force for good in the world, a great sage and even a prophet but to have Him as the resurrected Son of God with power is not on their radar because if it was they would have to give an account to Him for how they have lived on earth and for how they have rejected Him as Saviour and Lord and the only way back to God. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ scares the daylights out of the devil and his demons! They will seek to stop the preaching of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus in any way that they can.
(Vs.9-11) “So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.”
When the apostle Paul had been an unsaved man he had a religious zeal for God but did not have spiritual sight. He himself wrote in his first letter to Timothy that what he did before he came to faith in the Lord Jesus, he did in ignorance. He wrote; “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent man; yet because I had acted in ignorance and unbelief, I was shown mercy. And the grace of our Lord overflowed to me, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (1Timothy 1:13-15) This was Paul’s case whereas many of his fellow ‘theologians’ were wilfully blind to the truth as it is revealed in the Lord Jesus.
Those within the professing Christian Church, also called Christendom, who are very religious but not born again will always persecute those who are born again as we see in the case of Isaac and Ishmael. He who was only born after the flesh persecuted him who was born after the Spirit. As it is written; “But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now.” (Galatians 4:29)
We see this happening all the way back to Cain and Abel about whom the Apostle John wrote; “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he slay him? Because his own deeds were evil, while those of his brother were righteous.” (1 John 3:12) We see this in the way the prophets, the Lord Jesus and the apostles were treated by the religious establishment. And so Paul continued with his testimony…
(Vs.12-14) “While so engaged as I was journeying 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, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
All persecution perpetrated against believers is persecution perpetrated against the Lord Jesus Himself. At one time He said to His disciples; “If you were of the world, it would love you as its own. Instead, the world hates you, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. Remember the word that I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well; if they kept My word, they will keep yours as well. But they will treat you like this on account of My name, because they do not know the One who sent Me. (John 15:19-21)
Paul understood this from his encounter with the risen Lord Jesus. Paul had been such a violent and cruel man to believers in Jesus that he had to be physically knocked off of his horse by God’s power! He had already been under conviction most probably from the time of Stephen’s martyrdom which Paul had overseen personally. When the Holy Spirit starts to convict a sinner about their need to come to the Lord Jesus for salvation there will always be a resistance. Some take much less time to being to repentance and faith but others, like Paul, in their spiritual ignorance are very stubborn and need to be dealt with decisively.
While God in His foreknowledge knows the choices people will ultimately make He still gives them a choice. It wasn’t an instantaneous conversion for Paul in that he had already been under conviction for some time. Of course the end result was his conversion.
Often the blessed Holy Spirit will start His convicting and converting work for a long time to bring a specific sinner to repentance because of what God has called them to do for Him. God always perseveres with those He knows in His foreknowledge are going to be saved. In saying this He does not arbitrarily choose some for heaven and others for hades. The choice is always given. There may be exceptions such as there was with Paul who understood that he had been chosen for his task even from his mothers’ womb. (Galatians 1:15)
Likewise it was the same for the prophet Jeremiah who was chosen even before he was conceived in the womb of his mother. (Jeremiah 1:5) Of course Jeremiah had to agree to this calling as did Paul. He also understood that after preaching to others he could have been disqualified from his calling if he did not keep walking in the Spirit and in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. He had to take responsibility for this task. In His sovereign purposes God will call a man or a woman for a pre-ordained task and He will see to it that they accomplish the purpose for which they were created yet they still have the responsibility to walk by faith in that calling. This is the exception and not the rule and even in the case of one so called they still have an obligation to obey the LORD in the matter of their call.
We always need to keep in mind that “the gifts and calling of God is irrevocable.” While this applies to the nation of Israel and by extension the Body of Christ corporately that God has chosen, the principle is also applied to the fact that there are some people that God in His sovereignty chooses for a specific task on this earth and He will see to it that they perform it. This is God’s prerogative. We cannot avoid this fact that Paul was sovereignly chosen by God for the task of taking the gospel to the Gentiles. For me personally at the end of the day I would rather fall into the hands of a sovereign God than fall into the free will of man! As Job said; “He knows the way that I take and when He has tested me I shall come forth as gold!” As the late David Wilkerson used to say; “God still has everything under control!”
(Vs.15-18) “And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish 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 dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’
All persecution then against believers is persecution against the Lord Jesus Christ and this is a serious business with God for those who do the persecuting whether they are without or within the walls of institutional Christianity or Judaism for that matter. Paul had been saved to serve. His call was a specific one as God’s call will differ for every child of His. From his conversion Paul had also received his calling and ministry for his life. It did not happen overnight but took many years before he entered into the fullness of his apostolic calling and ministry. The calling was there, the gifts needed for the task was there but until the Holy Spirit thrust him forth into the harvest field he was found at Antioch among other teachers and prophets exercising a regular ministry to the local Body of Messiah. It was at Antioch that the Holy Spirit called him to go out to the mission field. Furthermore, that call was confirmed to him by the local leadership. (Acts 13: 1-3)
In any ministry the Lord Jesus had called us to it is vitally important that we are thrust into it by the Holy Spirit and have it confirmed by the local fellowship. We may have the calling, the desire to go, the gifts needed to do the job and have been empowered by the Holy Spirit but until He sends us forth we should stay where we are and use the gifts we have to edify the local body of Messiah. Now there was nothing vague or indefinite about God’s call and commission. Paul knew exactly what he was called to do. He had received the assurance from the Lord Jesus that he would be protected from those Jewish leaders that wanted to kill him and from those Gentiles that would also oppose his ministry. Through Paul’s ministry the Lord Jesus would open the eyes of unbelievers in the Gentile world to the light of the gospel so that they might turn from spiritual darkness to spiritual light and be rescued out of Satan’s dominion and given to God as His possession.
Those whom the Lord Jesus would save would receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance in heaven through being sanctified or set apart to Him through their faith in Him. This was to be the thrust of Paul’s calling and ministry. As an apostle he would also be a church planter. His burning passion from the Lord Jesus given to him through the Holy Spirit was to preach the gospel where it had never been preached before. As he wrote in his epistle to the believers in Rome; “For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” (Romans 15:18-21) Genuine signs, miracles and wonders always marked the ministry of an apostle. (2 Corinthians 2:12) And so he continued to testify…
(Vs.19-20) “So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.”
Paul was very clear that he had been commissioned by the Lord Jesus to call the Gentiles to the obedience that accompanies faith. (John 3:36 NASB) (Romans 1:5; 16:26) (James 2:22-24) He could confidently say that he had not disobeyed the heavenly vision, in other words he had been doing everything that the Lord Jesus had asked him to do. He also was aware that if he did not obey then after preaching to others he could well be disqualified from his ministry. As he wrote in his letter to the assembly at Corinth; “Therefore I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight like I am beating the air. No, I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27)
Despite severe opposition Paul never wavered as he knew he was a bond slave to the Lord Jesus and was under a free will obligation to do His bidding no matter what he faced as an apostle. He kept on preaching the gospel of the Kingdom wherever the Holy Spirit sent him. His message was clear and the same message the prophets, John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus Himself preached namely repentance and a turning away from sin and turning to God in faith and proving they had genuine faith by a changed lifestyle. For preaching this uncompromising message he was hounded and hindered primarily by those in the religious establishment. And so he continued as to why he had been seized and an attempt made to kill him…
(Vs.21-23) “For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death. So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”
Religious people do not like to hear the word repentance. It cuts across their self-righteous opinions about themselves. Religious people do not think they are as bad as the ‘sinners’; out there in the streets fornicating, drinking, stealing and committing other acts of sin. The Pharisees had this condescending attitude towards ‘sinners.’ Today it is quite ‘unfashionable’ to preach Biblical repentance. Among all the fervour and euphoria of ‘seeker friendly’, ‘seeker sensitive’ programmes of one sort or another in the churches the word repentance has been dismissed or made almost irrelevant in some church circles and even made redundant among many claiming to be Biblically evangelical. Paul was preaching what was taught in the Torah by Moses and the prophets and by the Lord Jesus Himself.
Sadly today there are many ‘super apostles’ who claim to be able to work signs, miracles and wonders and do them even in Jesus name but they never preach repentance! Paul only preached what was in scripture, nothing more or nothing less. As he also wrote; “We must not go beyond what is written!” (1 Corinthians 4:6) One of the strong features of apostolic ministry was the emphasis on the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ with supernatural power. (Romans 1:4) Paul summed this up when he wrote in his letter to the believers at Corinth; “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
It was the resurrection of the Lord Jesus that made all the difference to the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Whenever the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection are boldly and unashamedly proclaimed all the devils in hades sit up and take notice. In Hades and in the spirit realm the principalities and powers and spirits of wickedness in high places experience a great ‘knee-jerk’ reaction.
Furthermore, the Holy Spirit goes to work with His convicting power calling sinners and the religious to repent and believe on Him who died for their sins and rose again for their justification. The preaching of the resurrection sets off the ‘alarm bells’ in the hearts and conscience of sinners under conviction by the blessed Holy Spirit. Now Festus lost his composure as the Holy Spirit drove home to his heart and conscience the message of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. And so we read what happened next…
(Vs. 24) “While Paul was saying this in his defence, Festus *said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.”
When the Gospel of the Kingdom and the power of Jesus’ resurrection are preached in the power of the Holy Spirit some sinners under conviction will try to shout down the preacher and Festus ‘lost it!’ He reacted to the resurrection of Jesus! He accused Paul of being mad because Festus could not handle his conscience being pricked by the Holy Spirit using the Word of God. Festus was not ignorant but had some knowledge of the things Paul had been speaking about. He was so convicted he could no longer be rational! Often sinners under conviction because of their unbelief in the Lord Jesus will react this way.
(Vs.25-27) “But Paul *said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. For 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. King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.”
Sober truth always hits home and the message of the Gospel delivered in the power of the Holy Spirit will always achieve this purpose. Even King Agrippa was under conviction and he knew that what Paul was preaching was the truth but he did not want to come to terms with it. Paul then spoke directly to King Agrippa knowing full well that the king knew what Paul was talking about because Agrippa knew the scriptures to a degree. He too was under conviction for we read…
(Vs.28) “Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.”
There are some people when they hear the gospel message delivered in the power of the Holy Spirit they become almost persuaded. They are tempted to respond and would like to respond but are held back, usually by a favourite sin or situation that they do not want to give up or by figuring that the cost to their reputation and status in society would be tarnished. Others are fearful of what their friends, colleagues and relatives might think and so they shut down their conscience to the sobering truth. Agrippa knew the word of God and knowing what the prophets had written would have known that the Lord Jesus Christ was the one all of the prophets had pointed to. He understood the Word of God but would not commit his life to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Living Word of God made flesh!
Paul obviously felt kindly disposed to Agrippa as he saw in this man the potential for God to use him if he repented and completely yielded his life to the Lord Jesus Christ, but Agrippa, being almost persuaded, decided in his heart not to choose the Lord Jesus and so shut himself off from the only one appointed by God to save him from the eternal flames. King Agrippa would come to stand before a higher court and find that he was already condemned and appearing before the bar of God for sentencing. Paul undoubtedly felt for this man and wanted to see him saved.
(Vs. 29) “And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.”
Paul had experienced an encounter with the risen Lord Jesus Christ as his saviour, Lord and Messiah. It was not something he had made up but an experience supernaturally wrought in his heart and mind by the Holy Spirit. In fact the gospel he preached did not come from man but from God directly. As he wrote in his letter to the believers at Galatia; “For I certify to you, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not devised by man. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former way of life in Judaism, how severely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.” (Galatians 1:11-13) Paul’s conversion and the revelation he had received came from the Holy Spirit.
So it is with all those who have come to a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They have been born again supernaturally by the Holy Spirit. As we read in the letter Paul wrote to Titus; “But when the kindness of God our Saviour and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not by the righteous deeds we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of new birth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This is the Spirit He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” (Titus 3:4-6) Paul may have been physically chained but he was a truly free man on the inside!
(Vs. 30-32) “The king stood up and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them, and when they had gone aside, they began talking to one another, saying, “This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
It was obvious to Festus and Agrippa and to all of them gathered in that place that Paul was innocent and had committed no crime and furthermore he had not done anything that deserved death or imprisonment. They did not know what to do in this situation. Like the Lord Jesus experienced at his trial before Pilate and Herod, Paul also experienced the same thing in that there was no evidence to convict him of any wrong doing. God had said to Paul that he had to testify to the Gospel of God at Rome and before Caesar at that and so to Rome he would go in the comfort and joy of the Holy Spirit knowing that he was at the centre of God’s will! He was as strong as the will of God!