Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” So Paul stretched out his hand and answered for himself: “I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, especially because you are expert in all customs and questions which have to do with the Jews. Therefore I beg you to hear me patiently. My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews. Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead? Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities. While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’ Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come–that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles. Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!” But he said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.” Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” And Paul said, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.” When he had said these things, the king stood up, as well as the governor and Bernice and those who sat with them; and when they had gone aside, they talked among themselves, saying, “This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains.” Then Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” (Acts 26:1-32)
A Four Part Defense Of The Gospel
It had been more than two years since his arrest in Jerusalem. Paul had been brought up on charges by his fellow Jews of sedition against their own laws. Taken to Caesarea to appear before a governor of the land named Felix he continued to defend his position of innocence. A new governor took over the case and Paul again shows he had done nothing wrong. During his stay under the governor Festus, King Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea where Festus explained the case to the king. Desiring to know the facts the King had Paul brought before the council to hear his story. With great pomp and circumstance the entourage of the King entered the auditorium. It was with much less pomp the prisoner was brought before the bar. Paul’s defense was a masterful piece of declaring the message of Jesus Christ. With a simple four-point presentation the apostle opened the gospel of redemption to a Roman court.
Paul first posed a philosophical question about resurrection. “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?” For anyone who believes in God the immediate conclusion is that the Lord is not limited by anything. To believe in God is an example of great faith. When a person accepts the reality of the one Creator who formed the world in six days what would limit the Creator to raise a man from the dead? Belief in Jesus is founded upon the knowledge that God raised Him from the dead. Paul spent his early life trying to disprove an event that was impossible to ignore. The resurrection is an easy doctrine to believe.
Second, Paul knew that Agrippa had a personal knowledge of the Law of Moses and the customs of the Jews. Appealing to this understanding the apostle poses a question of Jewish scripture. “Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come–that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” What happened to Jesus was exactly what the scriptures foretold would take place. Belief in the prophets and Moses required belief in the sacrifice of Jesus as being the one promised. A careful survey of the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms would declare that Jesus was the Christ.
A third argument presented by Paul was the historical evidence. He declares, “For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner.” The events of the empty tomb and the furor that followed did not escape the attention of Roman officials. Jesus life and his death became news. His followers were turning the world upside down. Agrippa knew of the story of Jesus. Anyone could have visited the tomb of Jesus and seen it was empty. The soldiers guarding the tomb knew what had happened. Jesus resurrection was a matter of historical record.
Finally the wearied apostle made a personal appeal. The King had been touched by Paul’s words. He admitted there was little evidence to support a denial of Jesus. Yet the king was not ready to change his heart. Paul’s final exhortation was to beg those gathered to believe in the story of Jesus like he had done. His life had been spent destroying everything Jesus stood for and now he was standing before the world defending the reality of the Son of God. Paul said, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.” A prisoner who was free appealing to those free to come out from their bondage of fear.
Paul touched the hearts of those gathered that day. Sadly the opportunity to obey the gospel never came to those privileged to hear one of the great sermons of the day. They went back to their own lives without realizing the joy of God’s redeeming grace. Paul would go to Rome. Imprisoned for a time and released he was arrested one final time before a Roman blade removed his head. It was not a moment of defeat but a life of glory that awaited the aged apostle. He stood before kings. Now he stands before the King of Kings. And that is a great story.