The apostle Paul was a man who clearly understood his life’s mission, and despite confronting many difficulties and distractions he pursued that purpose with focus and faithfulness. No matter where he was, who he was with, or the circumstances surrounding their meeting, Paul’s sights were firmly fixed on being a witness of Jesus Christ.
I. A King’s _______________
Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and greeted Festus. Acts 25:13, ESV
The last in the line of Herods who figured prominently in New Testament history, Marcus Julius Agrippa II lived from A.D. 27-100. He ruled the northern part of Palestine, and though Jerusalem was not part of his kingdom, as part Jew and part Gentile he also had been granted supreme power in Jewish religious life, having the right to appoint the high priest and control over the temple treasury.
As they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man left prisoner by Felix, and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews laid out their case against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up anyone before the accused met the accusers face to face and had opportunity to make his defence concerning the charge laid against him. So when they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought. When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed. Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. Acts 25:14-19, ESV
Festus had naturally assumed that charges brought against Paul in a Roman court would involve alleged serious violations of Roman law, and so he was surprised when the charges were essentially theological in nature and focused around Paul’s persistent claim that a dead man named Jesus had actually come back to life.
Being at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wanted to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding them. But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.” "I would like to hear this man myself.” "Tomorrow you will hear him.” Acts 25:20-22, ESV
II. A Governor’s _______________
So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. Acts 25:23, ESV
Into this scene of fanfare, elegance, and power walked the apostle, probably in an old robe, shackled by chains, one who has been described as short, bald, and physically unimposing
“King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him. But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him.” Acts 25:24-27, ESV
Now, it’s important for us to recognize that Paul was probably not legally bound to participate in this inquiry. But because he was such an on-mission person that he couldn’t think for a moment about passing up an opportunity to be a witness for Christ in the presence of so many seemingly successful but spiritually lost people.
III. A Prisoner’s _______________
So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defence: “I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defence 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. Acts 26:1-34, ESV
In the verses that follow, Paul presents his defence to the charges levelled against him, but in reality his primary goal is not to exonerate himself but rather to share the gospel message with those listening to him — especially King Agrippa.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. 1 Peter 3:15, NIV
“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.” Acts 26:4-11, ESV
Paul stresses his earlier hatred of everything to do with Christ in order to show how remarkable his coming to Christian faith was, for he had been a most unlikely prospect for such a conversion.
“One day I was on such a mission to Damascus, armed with the authority and commission of the leading priests. About noon, Your Majesty, as I was on the road, a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me and my companions. We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.’ “‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked. “And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. Tell people that you have seen me, and tell them what I will show you in the future. And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’ Acts 26:12-18, NLT
A murmur of surprised disbelief might well have gone through the assembly that day as Paul related Jesus’ words, for those gathered believed Jesus to be dead. How then could Paul claim to have spoken with him… unless, somehow, he had been raised back to life.
"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.” Acts 26:19-23, ESV
Obedience is the indispensable evidence of a person’s true conversion to Christ, and Paul was obedient to the call to ministry he had received from the resurrected Lord. He submitted his will to that of Christ and by doing so proved his love for him.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15, ESV
“By their fruit you will recognize them.” Matthew 7:16a, ESV
Paul’s personal faith story is the essence of all that he says that day to the illustrious gathering before whom he stands.
IV. A Ruler's _______________
As he was saying these things in his defence, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” Acts 26:24, ESV
The people you share Christ with are not immediately going to embrace him. In fact, more likely they’re at least initially going to reject the message, but don’t let that surprise you, for remember the Bible says that: The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18, NIV
“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.” Acts 26:25-27, ESV
Highlighting the fact that the death of Jesus and the claim of those in Christ that he rose from the dead were familiar to Agrippa, the apostle attempts to draw the king into discussion regarding the whole idea of Jesus being the long awaited Messiah foretold of by the prophets of old.
“In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” “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.” Acts 26:28-29, ESV
Instead of harbouring bitterness or animosity against Festus or Agrippa, instead of wishing God’s revenge upon them or criticizing their lifestyles, Paul loves them with the love of Christ and his heartfelt desire is that all who heard him that day would come to know the life of Christ he knew.
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.” Acts 26:30-32, ESV
Each of us who are in Christ have also been commissioned by Christ to be his witnesses to the lost and dying world all around us.
“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Mark 16:15, ESV
Those of us here who are true followers of Christ all have a faith story, but are we willing to share it with others as a witness of Christ?