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PAUL’S TRIAL BEFORE KING AGRIPPA

Acts 26:1-26:32
Key Verse: 26:18

In the previous passage Paul appealed to Caesar. This appeal to the Emperor became a big issue among the governor Festus and King Agrippa and other authorities. They were all in the audience room and it was likely that Paul silently dominated the court. It was because Paul had Jesus’ words of promise in his heart and faith in the sovereign God who rules over all the kingdoms of the world. Today's passage takes place in the same setting: Paul now stands on his trial before King Agrippa in the presence of Festus and other high officials. This is the last of Paul's trials in Acts (five total), and this can be the culmination of all. We can hear Paul’s heartfelt message in his defence.

First, Paul’s defence before Agrippa (1-23). Look at verse 1. “Then Agrippa said to Paul, you have permission to speak for yourself.” Here “then” refers to what Festus had said at the end of chapter 25, that Festus brought Paul before King Agrippa and other leading men so that he might have something to write to Caesar. When he got permission to speak for himself, Paul motioned with his hand and began his defence. Paul thought it fortunate to stand before the king Agrippa and make his defence against all the accusations of the Jews, because Agrippa was well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. And he begged the king to listen to him patiently.

In verses 4-8 Paul said that his life was known to the Jews from his childhood, particularly that as a Pharisee, adhering to to the strictest sect of the Jewish religion. And he spoke repeatedly of his hope, the cause of his trial, hope in what God had promised to the Jews, that is, the hope of the resurrection of the dead (as we had studied thus far). Then he asked a question, “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” It was humanly not understandable to Paul that the Jews did not believe what they hoped for in serving God earnestly, when in fact their hope had been fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus.

Then in verses 9-11, Paul said that he lived just like them opposing in all possible ways the name of Jesus of Nazareth. On the authority of the chief priests he put many of the saints in prison and agreed when they were put to death. Many a time he went to synagogues one after another to have them persecuted. And then he said that in his obsession against them, he even went to foreign cities to persecute them.

Now he gets into his personal testimony about his association with Jesus. On one of his journeys he was going to Damascus with the authority and command of the chief priests. Then what happened? Look at verse 13. “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.” This light did not belong to this world, but to another world. Jesus once said to Pilate at the trial before him, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn 18:36). The light came from the heavenly kingdom. Look at verse 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.’” Not only a light but also a voice came from heaven. The light blinded Paul, and the voice was audible and decipherable (in Aramaic (Hebrew)), but it was also totally unexpected. Paul had never imagined that he would persecute someone in heaven. It was frightening. The voice reminded Paul that he was living a hard life kicking against the goads. A goad was a sharp prod used to drive draft animals forward by pricking their backsides. Most animals go forward when prodded, but some are rebellious; they kick against the goads. They resist to the point of self-destruction. Paul was living such a hard life fighting against God.

At this point Paul undoubtedly knew the voice was that of Jesus. Before, he did all things possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Now he began to be attracted to him. For the one who was speaking from heaven did not strike Paul, although Paul persecuted him through persecuting his saints. In his fright Paul still felt Jesus' embracing love, when he heard the voice. He was genuinely interested in the person. So, he asked, “Who are you, Lord?”

At this the Lord replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Paul surely didn’t want to hear the word, “persecute” anymore. But the voice spoke it repeatedly and clearly revealed himself in connection with Paul’s persecuting. It was so that Paul might know his love. The Lord continued to speak. Look at verse 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 of me and what I will show you.” What a marvelous grace! Jesus not only forgave Paul, the persecutor, but was appointing him as his servant and witness. This grace remained in Paul’s heart. He was so thankful to this grace that he said in 1 Timothy 1:13, “I thank Christ Jesus…who considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy…”

Look at verse 17. “I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles.” The Lord would not just let him live as his servant and witness but be mindful to rescue him from any danger, from his own people of Israel and from the Gentiles. This was the Lord’s promise of protection. Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:17,18, “I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.”

Then the Lord said, “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.” This can be the climax in Paul’s defense this time, and this is the heartfelt message of the Lord given to Paul and to all people down through generations through Paul. It indicates that people’s eyes are closed and so they are spiritually blind. They cannot tell light from darkness. They are living in darkness, that is the kingdom of Satan. The greatest misery of all the miseries of mankind is that people are living in the kingdom of Satan. Satan is like a merciless, powerful slave-driver. This world is under the power of Satan, the prince of this world (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). It has been so ever since man sinned against God by disobeying his command. The life of the Israelites under Pharaoh in Egypt was the vivid description of people’s life under the power of Satan. It was the life of nothing but hard labour for three meals a day. They moved as much as they were whipped. They groaned in suffering day and night and day after day. There was no meaning and no hope in life. They were born in slaves and gave birth to slaves and died in slaves. It was unthinkable for them to be liberated. Only by the power of God could they be liberated from the slavery in Egypt.

Paul described the lives of people in the last days in 2 Timothy 3:1-4. “Mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lover of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” This is the phenomenon of people under the rule of Satan. They cannot free themselves from this situation.

Paul himself was in darkness under the rule of Satan. He was brutal and abusive despite his outstanding scholarship. He could not escape Satan’s rule by himself. Only when a light from heaven shone on him could he be saved and freed from the dungeon of Satan. Then Jesus wanted to use him to turn people from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sin and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus. The kingdom of God is such a wonderful place where each member is sanctified by faith in Jesus. In God’s kingdom each one is made holy, humble, pure, obedient, and loving like Jesus. And we need to know that the kingdom of God starts here and now. The new life in Christ and the new community of Christ always go together.

To bring people from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God was the vision Jesus gave Paul. It seems be a fantastic work to do. Yet, it required his obedience. Paul said that he was not disobedient to the vision. He did not say, “I was obedient” but “was not disobedient.” It was because it was unthinkable for him to be disobedient and reject the vision from heaven, when he thought of the grace of Jesus that the Lord Jesus forgave him and chose him as his servant. Practically he preached repentance which was not pleasant to the people of this world. Yet, he preached to the people in Damascus, Jerusalem and all Judea and to the Gentiles that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.” But he fought a spiritual battle against the god of this age through preaching repentance and Christ. Then the Jews seized him in the temple courts and tried to kill him. But God protected him. What he preached was not 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.” Actually it is the risen Christ who proclaim light to the people of this world through his obedient servants. He rescues people one by one from the dominion of darkness and brings them into the kingdom of God, that is the kingdom of Christ, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col 1:13,14).

Dr. Waksman was the Nobel-prize-winning scientist who invented the antibiotic Streptomycin. In order to receive Nobel Prize in 1952 he went to Stockholm, Sweden. At that time two unexpected guests visited him: a father and his daughter. The father was an ordinary man, a mechanic. They came, the girl holding her father’s hand and carrying five beautiful carnations. As the daughter was giving the flowers to the Dr. Waksman, the father said, “Each carnation symbolizes one year of my daughter’s life. Five years ago, this child was diagnosed with meningitis (brain fever) and had no hope of living according the doctor. But before she could die, streptomycin was obtained and she could live because of the antibiotic.” Hearing this, Dr. Waksman was deeply moved and received the young girl’s kiss and embraced her in his arms. After receiving the Nobel Prize, he said at the News Press interview, “As for me it was a greater honour to receive the five carnations than the Nobel Prize from the Swedish Emperor, His Majesty Gustaf Adolf.” Then what a grace it is that through the blood and the very life of Christ Jesus we have been redeemed and moved from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God and have eternal life in him.

Martin Luther was serving Sunday school. In his class there was a child named Steven, who was mentally challenged and underdeveloped. The teacher gave a homework assignment to the class before Easter Sunday. The homework was to bring a box with any kind of new life in it. The next day the children came and began to open their boxes one by one. There was a flower in a child’s box, and in another box a butterfly came out. Another child took a green leaf out of his box. Now it was Steven’s turn. He opened his box, but it was empty. The teacher Martin was embarrassed. He thought he had made a mistake by giving the same home to Steven, who was mentally challenged, thus unwittingly putting him in public disgrace. At that moment Seven said, grinning, “Teacher, you said, ‘Jesus rose again’? So my box is empty.” Martin embraced him tightly and said in his deeply moved heart, “You are right. Your home work is the best.’” When our hearts are empty, the vision from heaven can occupy our hearts and the power of Jesus’ resurrection can work in

We thank and praise God for his marvelous grace through his Son Jesus Christ that he rescued us from the kingdom of Satan and brought us to the kingdom of God. Also, thank God that he called us to turn people from darkness to light, from the kingdom of Satan to God and his kingdom. What a glorious task and vision given to us! May we also not be disobedient to this vision from above. For this we may know that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the power of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil and be armed with his words and prayer for ourselves and for God’s flock of sheep and those who are in our mission field.

Second, Agrippa’s response (24-32). At this point what was the response of the audience? Look at verse 24. “At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defence. ‘You are out of your mind, Paul!’ he shouted. ‘Your great learning is driving you insane.’” When Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come in his trial before Felix, the former governor, Felix was afraid. He was a man of lax morals. But maybe Festus had better morality. After hearing the gospel message from Paul in the trial, Festus was proud and tried to diagnose Paul’s mental state with insanity. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:7,8, “…we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden…None of the rulers of this age understood it.” In truth, Festus was also blinded by the god of this age so he could not see the light of the gospel.

Paul replied, “I am not insane, most excellent Festus. What I am saying is true and reasonable.” Then he said to King Agrippa, “Do you believe the prophets? I know you do.” Agrippa knew that Paul was not insane, but he felt that he was about to be persuaded by Paul’s proclamation. So he said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Maybe he felt sorry that Festus interrupted Paul and Paul’s message became short, while he wanted to hear a longer message. Agrippa did not know that "Christian" is such an honourable identity (Ac 11:26; 1 Pe 4:16). Most importantly he did not know that life is short there would be no more such opportunity. 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.” Paul truly wanted all people of this world to be brought from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God, a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus.

After hearing Paul’s defence, all the audience, King Agrippa, governor, Bernice and those sitting with them knew that Paul was innocent of the charges made against him and did not deserve death or imprisonment. Agrippa felt sorry that Paul had appealed to Caesar, for otherwise he could have been set free. In truth he could have been set free if he had listened to Paul.

In this last trial of Paul, we see the wonderful grace of Jesus that shone in Paul’s soul and appointed him as his servant to turn people from darkness to light, from the kingdom of Satan to God. And he was obedient to the vision from heaven. Jesus is the only true light that can shine dark souls and rescue them from the dominion of darkness and bring them into his kingdom, the kingdom of light. May we bear the grace of Jesus that also came upon us.

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