In our study of Acts chapter twenty six, we look at Paul's testimony during his third trial. It is referred to as a trial but technically it was not a legal proceeding as those that were present did not have the authority to give judgement or punishment. Paul had appealed to Caesar and so, as a Roman citizen, he could not be touched by this "court".
Then Agrippa said to Paul, 'You have permission to speak for yourself.' So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense:
In chapter 25, we saw that he was brought before a king and now he is going to have the chance to tell the king about Jesus Christ.
'King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.'
Although there were probably several hundred people in the "court", Paul understood that he was there at that time, by the will of God, to tell the gospel to one man (King Agrippa). He considered it a great opportunity to stand before the king and to share his testimony concerning Jesus Christ. We, like Paul, are given unique opportunities by the will of God to share our testimony and we, too, should consider ourselves fortunate for that.
'The Jews 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. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee.'
Paul begins by reminding the king that he had been one of the Jewish rulers and not just a typical Jew but the strictest form of the religion. Those that had accused him were also aware of his past and what God had done in and through Paul. They simply wanted to deny the facts because it did not fit into their religion. The same type of thing has even happened in the "church" today as many reject much of God's Word because it does not fit into their tradition or religion.
And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?
The denial continues as Paul points out that they want to deny the resurrection of Jesus. This goes back to a plan that the chief priests came up with when the tomb was found to be empty (see Matthew 28:11-15). Paul faithfully proclaimed the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead and that we will be raised with Him.
'I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth.'
Paul identifies himself with those that are persecuting him as he reminds them that he used to be one of them. It is hard for us to understand and identify ourselves with those who are attacking us but we, like Paul, must remember that we were once enemies of God just like those that are attacking His children. There is also the hope that, when God gets a hold of them, He can use them in a mighty way for His kingdom just as He did with Paul.
'And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.'
Paul continues to identify with them as he explains the persecution that he led against the early followers of The Way. He explains that, like those that are accusing him, he even went to foreign cities in order to persecute them. We, too, can identify with those around us by remembering that we were once like them. It is easy for us, as believers, to develop a "holier than thou" attitude towards those that we see sinning but we must remember that we were once in their position.
'On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 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."'
Paul continues to explain that he was actually on his way to persecute more believers when God intervened. The normal reaction when a man comes face to face with God is that the man falls to his knees in worship and that is just what Paul and his companions did. A goad was a stick that was sharpened to a point on one end and flattened on the other end. It was used by farmers to get the oxen in the field to move and to keep the plow clean. Kicking against the goads speaks of rebellion and, just as it was pointless for the oxen to kick when prodded by the farmer, this passage reminds us that God is in control and has a plan for the lives of each of us (see Ephesians 2:10). He goads us along the way in order to keep us moving in the right direction. Sometimes, as here in the case of Saul/Paul, God has to show up in a big way.
'Then I asked, "Who are you, Lord?" "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," the Lord replied.'
We see, here, that he was acting out of ignorance because he did not really know who Jesus was. We also see the fact that God considers persecution of His children to be persecution of Him. You can almost feel Paul's compassion as he trys to make those gathered see that they are in the same position that he had been in. This is a good example for us of how we are to have compassion and understanding towards those who are against us.
'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 of me and what I will show you.'
Jesus told Paul to stand up and commissioned him as an apostle. Although there are many today that claim the title of apostle, we cannot rightly do so. An apostle was taught by Jesus in person and then sent out to teach others. We see both of these conditions met in this verse as Paul describes what happened.
'I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 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.'
Jesus continues to commission Paul as an apostle and promises to rescue him from the trials that are to come. We all have probably felt, at some point in time, that the whole world is against us. Here, Paul is told that the whole world (both Jews and non-Jews) will be against him. He is told his mission and the purpose for it. We, like Paul, can hold onto this promise that Jesus will rescue us from all of the trials that we face no matter what the odds.
'So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.'
People had been trying to portray Paul as a lawless rebel but, here, he lets the king know that he was, in fact, telling the people to repent and turn back to the ways of God. This passage describes the age old struggle between salvation by grace and works. There are those who want to put them in the wrong order even today. What Paul is saying here is that we are saved by grace and because we are saved our actions are different. This difference in our actions is proof of our repentance and salvation but the actions themselves cannot repair our broken relationship with God. That only comes through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ.
'That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me.'
The Jewish leaders believed that they and only they were God's chosen people and so they did not see a place in the family of God for Gentiles. Paul explains that that was the reason that they were out to kill him.
'But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen - that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.'
Paul explains that God has protected him against the schemes of those that were accusing him and we can take comfort in the fact that God will protect us too. He also reminds them that he is not saying anything different than what the Old Testament prophets had said. There are many who do not understand that the Old Testament is all about the coming of Jesus Christ. We study the Old Testament because it helps us to understand more about Jesus Christ and the nature of God the Father.
At this point Festus interrupted Paul's defense. 'You are out of your mind, Paul!' he shouted. 'Your great learning is driving you insane.'
At this point, it looks like things are going bad for Festus and he is possibly going to be blamed for this mess. Therefore, he jumps into the conversation and accuses Paul of being insane. That is a normal pattern in that, when people cannot disprove your words, they will resort to questioning your mental capacity. Jesus was accused of being out of His mind and now we see the same thing happening to Paul. If you are faithfully serving the Lord, you can expect the same thing to happen to you.
'I am not insane, most excellent Festus,' Paul replied. 'What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.'
It is good to notice how Paul handled Festus in that he reacted in kindness but then turned right back to address the king. It is easy to get distracted from the work of the kingdom by the actions of others but we must be disciplined and focused on the things that matter.
Then Agrippa said to Paul, 'Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?' Paul replied, 'Short time or long - I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.'
Evidently the Holy Spirit was working on Agrippa as he asked Paul about his motives for speaking. It is interesting to note that Paul told him that his goal was for all who heard his testimony to come to faith in Jesus Christ. That should be our goal as well and the reason that we share our testimonies.
The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. They left the room, and while talking with one another, they said, 'This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.' Agrippa said to Festus, 'This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.'
Paul gave his testimony and completed his purpose there. It was clear to everyone that he was not guilty of anything but he was to be sent on to Rome. This is the same thing that happened to Jesus, in that, everyone could see that He was innocent and yet they crucified Him.