Devotional # 69. 1/13/14. Paul’s Defense before Agrippa.
This week’s Reading: Acts 26:1-11.
Introduction. Over the last couple weeks we’ve seen Paul go on trial several times. Last week Paul was tried by Festus and later Festus explained why he wanted King Agrippa to hear Paul. Remember that King Agrippa was there with his sister (and lover) Bernice. This week we’ll read through about half of Paul’s statement of defense.
vv. 1-3. This wasn’t an official trial, Festus didn’t understand the Jew’s charges against Paul and since Herod Agrippa II knew the people, the laws and the culture (as Paul says in v. 3), Festus was asking Agrippa to help him word the charges before he sent Paul to Rome. Because this wasn’t official the Jews weren’t there to charge him so Paul was allowed to speak for himself. This is a cool situation that was caused by God. Paul had the attention of all the royal people (Acts 25:23) and although he didn’t really care too much what happened to him he used the opportunity to share the gospel (especially without the distraction of the Jews yelling accusations).
So Paul stretched out his hand, which was a common gesture before starting a speech (Source 1), says he is “happy” that he gets to talk to Agrippa and explain himself. It is really interesting that Paul didn’t start off by hatefully judging Agrippa for sleeping with his sister, but he spoke to him respectfully. This Sunday I am giving a sermon on Romans 13 and I would encourage you to read the whole chapter but especially verses 1-7. Romans 13 is a very clear explanation from God, written by Paul on how to handle the government and politicians. There is good evidence that Romans was written before Paul went through these series of trials (according to Source 2) so he was able to back up God’s words with his actions: truly living his faith. It isn’t that Paul was afraid of the confrontation (surely he agreed with John the Baptist’s stance on an almost identical situation, do you remember in Mark 6:14-29, Devotional 17) but he respected all Agrippa’s work in keeping peace with the Jews and Romans (Source 3) and showed respect for the position that God had given Agrippa. It should be noted that we obey the government until they tell us to disobey God’s commands (as read in Acts 5:29, Devotional 46).
vv. 4-8. In this section Paul explains his upbringing and how he had been faithful with their customs and even was made a leader in the Jewish religious system. He explains that he is in custody because the Jews haven’t recognized that Jesus was actually the fulfillment of the Law. He hasn’t even explained his supernatural, incredible conversion story (although he will in vv. 12-18!) he’s just telling about Jesus being the Messiah. And then he asks Agrippa one of the most important questions that can be asked, “Why does it seem incredible to any of you that God can raise the dead?” (NLT). It’s a good question. Matthew Henry says that since most of the audience were Gentiles they may have mocked Paul for this belief (Source 4). But MacArthur explains that Paul thought it too hard to believe that he should be condemned for believing in resurrection from the dead when that was the great hope of the Israeli people (Source 1).
But regardless of whether you are Israeli or Gentile everyone has been asked by God if they can accept resurrection from the dead. Whether it was reading the Bible, a still small voice in your mind, a question from a friend, a TV or radio show or a devotional like this one, you have heard the question. There are very strong arguments that Jesus rose from the dead (see books like Josh McDowell’s The Resurrection Factor and Lee Strobel’s The Case for the Resurrection) but ultimately you’ll have to let go of the logical mindset and accept that if there is a Creator then He can choose to bring back people from the dead. No doubt about it, resurrection is a miracle. But Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is more than a miracle, it is the conquering of an enemy and it is a promise that anyone who does what He says (leads a transformed life) and believes in what He did, will also raise from the dead.
vv. 9-11. Paul doesn’t give a one-sided argument. He doesn’t just tell how he was a good, law-abiding citizen. He tells about the stuff that he is most ashamed of. He gives the full picture. He explains how he hated Christians so much that he imprisoned them and killed them. It is hard to argue with someone who hated a certain group of people and their religion so strongly and then turned around and became one of them. Not only that but he was willing to die (and did die a martyr’s death) for Jesus.
Conclusion: Today we have read over some of Paul’s defense before Agrippa. We learned a lot: Paul thought of a trial as an opportunity to share the gospel, he gave a real life example of how we are to treat governments with respect, he explained that the resurrection was a believable event and how although he wasn’t proud of how he’d acted in the past he was honest about it. We can learn a lot in copying Paul’s ways but he was only a man. As always we follow what Jesus commanded us to do. We can’t even try and perfectly copy the example set by Jesus because we’ll fail. But Jesus says that if we believe in Him and confess Him with our mouth than we will go to heaven (Romans 10:9) and we are to take that good news and share it with everyone (Mark 16:15, Devotional 42).
Source 1: John MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible, pp. 1681-83.
Source 2: Using the “Author and Date” sections for Acts and Romans in the MacArthur Study Bible, it is thought Romans was written in A.D. 56 (p. 1688) and Acts was probably written around A.D. 62 (p. 1630).
Source 4: Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry Commentary, NT, p. 538