© 2000, J.W. Carter
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People respond to the gospel in a variety of ways. The book of Acts serves as a "bridge" between the gospels and the epistles of the New Testament, and in it we see how the world responded to the Gospel of Jesus Christ following His resurrection. We see moments of ecstatic acceptance as the Holy Spirit came at the first Pentecost, and we see similarly ecstatic and even violent rejection by leaders of the Jewish Orthodoxy. Similar responses are evoked from the Gentile world as Paul and others planted churches throughout the region midst violence brought by Gentiles who were threatened by economic loss in sin-centered marketing. Paul shared the gospel message with many people from the point of his conversion on the Damascus road through his membership at the church in Antioch of Syria, on his three missionary journeys, and during his subsequent imprisonment that started under Felix, the Roman governor of Judea, and then his successor, Festus, and then on to his imprisonment in Rome.
Chapter 24 records the imprisonment of Paul by Felix, and his failure to release him. Felix did not find any fault in Paul that would warrant imprisonment, but was afraid to release him for fear of unrest that would be incited by the Jewish leaders. He allowed Paul to remain under loose house arrest for his until he was recalled to Rome and replaced by Festus. This left Festus with maintenance of Pauls imprisonment with little understanding of what was going on.
And after certain days king Agrippa and Bernice came unto Caesarea to salute Festus. 14And when they had been there many days, Festus declared Pauls cause unto the king, saying, There is a certain man left in bonds by Felix: 15About whom, when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, desiring to have judgment against him.
Festus had visited Jerusalem and heard the charges placed by the Jewish elders, and was not satisfied with his understanding of the situation. King Agrippa was the grandson of King Herod the Great who reigned over Jerusalem during Christs birth. It would be appropriate that the King visit this new governor. Festus took advantage of Agrippas superior understanding of Jewish law and custom to try to figure out what to do with Paul. Bernice is Agrippas half-sister who often accompanied him. Most believed rumors of their incestuous relationship to be true, a lifestyle that was not foreign to the Herods.
To whom I answered, It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have licence to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him. 17Therefore, when they were come hither, without any delay on the morrow I sat on the judgment seat, and commanded the man to be brought forth. 18Against whom when the accusers stood up, they brought none accusation of such things as I supposed: 19But had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. 20And because I doubted of such manner of questions, I asked him whether he would go to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these matters. 21But when Paul had appealed to be reserved unto the hearing of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I might send him to Caesar.
It is interesting to note that Festus words to Agrippa are recorded in the first person. While Paul was under arrest in Caesarea he was free to move around and receive visitors. It is likely that Luke, who accompanied him on his missionary journeys, also accompanied him during this time in Caesarea. This would give Paul an opportunity to describe Festus words as he knew them to Luke. It is evident that Festus, unlike Felix, did not waste any time trying to "get to the bottom" of this issue of Pauls imprisonment. He explained to Agrippa how he had gone to Jerusalem to learn of Pauls case almost immediately upon taking the position of Governor. This might give us an implication of Festus greater integrity.
Festus describes the Jews complaint as one of religious belief, and not of law. Consequently, his action was to take Paul to Jerusalem and have him held over for trial there. However, Paul, as a Roman Citizen had a right of appeal to a higher court, and the only higher court than the Governor was the emporer, Augustus, himself. This was the dilemma that Festus now found himself in. He had a prisoner that he had to take to Caesar, a duty that he would most likely have preferred to avoid. He was caught between the Jews who wanted Paul condemned for his religious beliefs with their potential of violence if they are not vindicated, and the duty to appeal to Caesar with the ramifications that such an approach to the emperor might invoke. This is why Festus is so interested in Agrippas opinion. He does not want to face the appeal to Caesar without the filing of specific charges against Rome.
Then Agrippa said unto Festus, I would also hear the man myself. To morrow, said he, thou shalt hear him. 23And on the morrow, when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp, and was entered into the place of hearing, with the chief captains, and principal men of the city, at Festus commandment Paul was brought forth. 24And Festus said, King Agrippa, and all men which are here present with us, ye see this man, about whom all the multitude of the Jews have dealt with me, both at Jerusalem, and also here, crying that he ought not to live any longer. 25But when I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death, and that he himself hath appealed to Augustus, I have determined to send him. 26Of whom I have no certain thing to write unto my lord. Wherefore I have brought him forth before you, and specially before thee, O king Agrippa, that, after examination had, I might have somewhat to write. 27For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him.
The stage is now set for Pauls appeal before King Agrippa. Paul was able to give a defense of the Gospel to Felix who listened to Paul repeat it many times.
It appears that Felix did not respond to Pauls presentation of the truth. What kept Felix from giving his life to God through Jesus Christ? Felix was a weak man, freed from slavery and raised through the social ladder by marrying the adolescent daughters of royal families. His leadership style showed the brutality of one who lacks personal confidence, a shortcoming that would cause him to surrender to his fears. He may have felt that his position of Governor was above responding to anyones advice to give authority to anyone but Caesar, since emperor worship was required of Roman citizens. To him, Christianity was for someone else. This same excuse is used by many people today. Most people who are not sincerely involved in a religious group believe that any religious belief is correct and sufficient. To them religion is for everyone else. To those involved in other world religions, Christianity is also "not for them". Increasingly as our world slides down the "slippery slope" of relativism, more and more people will argue that faith in God through Jesus is "for someone else." This is one of Satans most powerful weapons: the lie that Christianity is "not for me."
Whereas Festus repeatedly heard the message from Paul over a period of a couple of years, Festus had just met him and, most likely, heard his message only once or twice. Still his personal response was the same. Christianity was a religion that did not deserve his attention. All that he was concerned with was the current necessity of sending Paul to Rome without specific charges.
Consequently, Paul had an opportunity to present the gospel to Felix, to Festus, and now to King Agrippa.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself: 2I 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: 3Especially 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.
One could recall the first words of the prosecuting attorney who approached Felix on behalf of Ananias, the High Priest when they came to condemn Paul. That opening statement was filled with lavish, yet hollow and insincere praise for the brutal and wicked Governor. We see none of this here. Though Paul did not agree with the brutality and wickedness of King Agrippa, he approaches him with a manner that both gives deference to his authority as King, and maintains integrity of purpose and content without compromise. He is truly fortunate to be standing before the King, being given an opportunity not only to defend himself, but to defend the cause of Christ before the appointed King of the Jews. The appointment of this king is quite a paradox when shown in the light of the One true King, Jesus Christ. It is also true that Agrippa, as the King, was very familiar with the customs of the Jews. He was partially Jewish by heritage and played the part of a Jew as their King. He spend his life in preparation for being a Jewish king. Paul then asks the King to listen to him patiently, implying that he would like to make his case without undue intervention, yet still giving deference to the King.
When we find ourselves in a situation where the Gospel can be shared, we can recall what Paul just did. Though he did not respect what the King was doing, he respected him as a person, loved him as God loves him, and showed him the respect that he deserves. Paul did not place himself in a position above Agrippa, but rather, Paul showed him the greatest respect. When we share Gods love with someone it is only through Gods love that we do so, so we must not only love the one to whom we share, but also treat them with great respect.
Even though due respect was shown, Paul asked that Agrippa listen to him patiently. Sharing the gospel is not an argument between two sides of an issue. It is simply telling the story of Gods love, mans sin, and Gods remedy for that sin with an appeal to make a decision to receive that remedy. Such a telling requires the listener to hear the whole gospel, and a request for patient listening is appropriate. It was appropriate for the King, and it is appropriate for those to whom we minister. One can gain a lot of ground in such situations by asking questions rather than by barking orders. The question, "may I tell you what I believe?" is certainly a good way to start a presentation. Also, once asked, the one giving the testimony is committed to continue. This is a great way to start a gospel presentation.
My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; 5Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. 6And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: 7Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hopes sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. 8Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?
When sharing the gospel, it is crucial that the one who is hearing can identify with our message. Consequently, we must be open to identify with the hearer. Our message must be uniquely presented each time we do so, with that uniqueness defined by the needs of the hearer. Pauls testimony is also recorded in Acts chapters 9 and 22. In each of these three presentations we see a unique perspective presented even though the facts he shares do not change. King Agrippa is, arguably, a Jew. And a presentation of the Gospel to him must identify with his world view as a Jew. A Jew believes that the Messiah has yet to come. They place their hope in this Messiah. The gospel message includes the irrevocable fact that Jesus is that Messiah.
So, Paul starts with a testimony of his "Jewishness," a form that is consistent with that of his accusers and of the King. When sharing the gospel, we can always find common ground and use that as a part of the context of our message. Paul then presents the point of conflict, appropriately early in his testimony, since this is the basis for his audience with the King. He repeats the same argument that he states in every such occasion, that the conflict surrounds the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the hope of the nation, Israel.
I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10Which 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. 11And 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.
Paul then describes how his life was before he met Jesus. He was "just like" his accusers, and vicariously, like the King himself. Here he was, being persecuted for the very thing that he was once the chief persecutor. He could identify one-on-one with the lost Jews he is speaking of. Likewise, we can identify one-on-one with those lost souls that we meet because all Christians were originally quite lost and in need of the Savior. Paul mentions it, but does not dwell on it. We can do likewise. We can describe our own lives in sufficient detail to identify with the hearer, and then, leave it there. It is easy to get too excited about the wickedness of the "old days," to the point that they are almost glorified. Many of us have probably heard such testimonies. The key here is identification with the hearers state and view. The hearer is more likely to respond to the gospel we present if they feel that we understand who they are and what they are experiencing. Consequently we cannot be either condescending or ascetic. Simply make the identification and go on.
Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, 13At 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. 14And 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. 15And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. 16But 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; 17Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, 18To 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.
Paul then describes how he learned of the Gospel message, from a personal standpoint. Certainly, Pauls conversion was unique, but the point of each persons salvation is unique. Each had a set of unique circumstances that brought us to the point that we understood our need for salvation and moved upon it by making a commitment to God through Jesus Christ. It is appropriate that this be part of our description of the gospel to one to whom we are sharing.
It is interesting to note that we see the words of Jesus quoted here in language that differs from Pauls other presentations of this testimony. This is one example that can help us understand how the scripture was written. Our modern sensibilities would demand that a quote be exact, word-for-word, in order to be considered a quote. The culture of Pauls day had no such possessive or literal demands. They did not place the scrutiny of scientific accuracy on their world as we do. Science itself was in its infancy. Paul states what Jesus said to him on the Demascus road, not necessarily word-for-word verbatim, but what it was that Jesus said. This was still done, completely and accurately. We must understand that this is the world view of the culture of the scriptures, and any attempt on our part to impress 21st century scrutiny on 1st century literature is inappropriate.
Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: 20But showed 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. 21For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. 22Having 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: 23That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.
Paul then presents the gospel in power in a way that these who are listening must make a decision. If they agree with his presentation, they are in a position to accept Christ. If they disagree, they are not. He states that since meeting Christ, he has been obedient to the calling that he received from the Messiah. He preached repentance and faith everywhere he went, and for doing so he was attacked by the Jews. He then talks of Gods hand of protection over him as he has continued to proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah who was prophesied in Jewish history as one who would suffer, be raised from the dead, and bring light and life to both the Jews and the Greeks. Every word of Pauls description is backed in Old Testament prophesy, a prophesy that Agrippa knows. However, just as the contrary Jewish leaders, their application of the prophesy is skewed by their world view. The lost people we meet have a world view that is skewed against the truth of the gospel, and it is up to the Christian voice to proclaim the truth in a way that challenges the listener to respond either for, or against the message.
A question that will prompt such a decision is, "Is there any reason why you cannot give your life to Jesus right now?" This is another one of those transitional questions that, once asked, takes the gospel presentation on an irreversible path towards a response. If the person says, "yes" we can take them through a sinners prayer. If they say, "no", we can back off the presentation and continue with them in a positive relationship.
And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.
Festus was so incensed by Pauls proclamation that he shouted out words that proclaimed Paul to be tragically in error, to the point of insanity. We can expect that, if the Holy Spirit has not moved in the one hearing the gospel, we will be treated the same way. It is interesting that the words, "Much learning doth make thee mad" has been taken out of context in order to discredit great learning. These words were said by Festus as he reproached Paul, not by one led of the Holy Spirit. However, the more that we learn of Gods word, the deeper will be the chasm between our world view and that perceived by the lost. Consequently, the more we will be seen as different, and the more we can expect persecution.
It is also interesting that Festus reproach came in front of the King to whom Pauls testimony was directed. This was certainly outside of expected protocol, and would leave Festus to the mercy of a very brutal King. Festus response clearly was not led of wisdom, but of ignorance. Even this attack on Paul, however, gave him a context to continue his testimony. When we receive reproach, we can respond in one of two ways, one which furthers the presentation of the testimony and one which does not. Such a reproach can derail the testimony. One must be vigilant against the wiles of Satan to deflect, by our faith, such "fiery darts," (Eph. 6:12 ff). Pauls response is one of faith.
But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. 26For 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. 27King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
Upon receiving reproach, Paul gently expresses his disagreement in a way that still honors Festus. The word "noble" that is used here does fit Festus, as he gained the position of Governor by his integrity, rather than that done by the usurper Felix. At this point, Paul gets back on track and presents the big question. One who hears the gospel must be asked to respond. Even though Paul is speaking to King Agrippa and not someone of less social standing, he still pops the question. Pauls question was, "Do you believe the prophets?" He had just declared that the prophets proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah, so if King Agrippa says "yes," he is being set up to agree with Paul. When presenting the gospel, we must bring the hearer to a crisis of belief by asking that same question. We might say, "Do you believe what I have been saying?" and follow it up with the question stated earlier, "Is there any reason why you cannot give your life to Christ right now?" Of course, King Agrippa is not in a position to give his life over to Jesus, even if he believes Paul. It is this crisis of belief that frustrated the Jewish leadership. Likewise it is the same crisis of belief that makes it so hard for many who are self-sufficient either socially or financially to respond to the Gospel. They, like all who have come to Christ, must remove themselves from the throne of their own authority and place Christ there. This would be almost impossible for the enthroned King of the Jews, particularly one who was as brutal and self-centered as Agrippa II.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. 29And 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.
King Agrippas answer shows his stature. It also shows his knowledge of "the Way." The word, Christian is only used twice in the New Testament, here and in 1 Peter 6:16 when Peter encourages one who "suffers as a Christian." King Agrippa is the first one recorded to refer to the church by the name, "Christian." It seems that King Agrippa fully understands the message that Paul is bringing, but cannot positively respond. What is it that keeps people from responding to the Gospel? Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all that he had because his wealth stood between Gods desire for his life, and his willingness to follow it. Each person has walls of dependency that must be turned over to God, and it can help when we learn what those walls are. Usually, when we present the gospel, we do so in a context that contains enough knowledge of the hearer that we already know what those walls are, and we might be able to address those directly, and gently.
Paul demonstrates here how he responded to Agrippas rejection. He simply states that is prayer is that Agrippa, and all those who have heard his testimony, would accept Jesus Christ in faith, and become as he is, and without the bondage that he had been placed into.
One would think that Pauls case was settled, and he could be set free. Felix was afraid of the backlash that would be created by the Jews if he did so. Festus did not appear to have such reservations, and Agrippa was the King, so he could do whatever he chose.
And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them: 31And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds. 32Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.
Agrippas response appears devastating. However, it fits the protocol of the situation, and certainly was Gods plan. Pauls testimony before Agrippa was not a trial at which his freedom was to be judged. Paul had already posted his appeal to Caesar. This hearing was brought at the request of Festus as he tried to figure out what to do with Paul. As a result of this meeting, Festus responsibility was clear. Paul would be granted his request to stand before Caesar.
What was the ultimate effect of Agrippas decision? Paul would later go to Rome under a similar loose arrest, and would be able to present the Gospel to Caesar Augustus himself. Augustus successors would treat the church brutally, but the gospel would return to Rome, and Rome would become the center of the Christian world for many generations.
We have seen in this segment of scripture a wise and complete presentation of the gospel that gave sufficient opportunity for the hearers to respond. We can learn to do the same, proclaiming the gospel boldly, and yet sensitively; completely, yet within the context of the hearers needs; and bring closure, enabling the hearer to respond.