Paul the Apostle Defends Himself in the Presence of King Agrippa
[Acts chapter 26, verses 1-18]
by Minister Paul J. Bern
Last week as we left off at the conclusion of Acts 25, Paul the apostle was continuing to deal with his difficult circumstances of being jailed for preaching the Gospel. He had also begun the process of defending himself before a courtroom filled with his former peers, who wanted Paul to be given the death penalty for his conversion to Christianity. Paul’s former peers considered Christianity to be heretical and subversive. Moreover, those who were prosecuting Paul that morning were the same people who had handed Christ over to the Romans for his own crucifixion. So the Pharisees, Sadducee’s and the teachers of the Law couldn’t afford to simply let Paul go about his business, since doing so would be tantamount to their own admission of guilt in the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. This week as we take up where we left off at the latter part of chapter 25, we find Paul’s accusers having just concluded their testimony against him, and Paul’s rebuttal to the ‘charges’ of the Jewish religious establishment. So let’s take up this week’s lesson at Part One of Acts chapter 26.
“(1) 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?” In this passage, verse 8 is a clear reference to the crucifixion of Christ Jesus, and his triumphal resurrection. It also contrasts Paul’s own zeal in persecuting the early Church.
Paul then chronicled how his life had been completely transformed by his newfound faith, as we see in verses 9 -14: 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, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’“ As you recall from my previous studies, Paul is reliving his confrontation on the road to Damascus that we studied back in chapter 9.
Paul was making sure that King Agrippa and the Jews from Jerusalem remembered how Paul had lived prior to his conversion on the road to Damascus. Paul had pursued and persecuted Christians from Jerusalem to Damascus, an all points in between. Many of the early Christians who were put to death in the first years of the greater Church were ‘brought to justice’ by Paul, either directly or indirectly. 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 them 18) 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…..’”
So it is at this point in Paul’s testimony before the king, the Sanhedrin and the chief priests, together with all the onlookers, that Paul’s speech changes from the past to the present tense. Paul was doing this to make an important point, and that point was the great extent of his obedience to the voice of the Lord. This one point alone contradicted the charges and allegations of the Pharisees, who wanted Paul killed for heresy. So, would the Pharisees and chief priests finally get their wish? Or would Paul escape their kangaroo courts once again? At this point, Paul the apostle is still testifying, so be sure to return next week for part 2 of Acts chapter 26. Shalom….