Against all odds – Truth telling
Paul before Festus and Agrippa
WHO AM I?
- Received 39 lashes on five occasions
- Beaten with rods 3 times
- Stoned almost to death (or perhaps killed and raised from death)
- Shipwrecked 3 times
- One day and night adrift in the open sea
- Constantly on the move, living out of a suitcase
- In danger from rivers, bandits, Jews, Gentiles
- In danger in the city and in the country
- In danger at sea
- In danger from false believers
- Often without sleep
- Sometimes hungry and thirsty
- Cold and naked
- And also burdened for the churches and its people
(2 Corinthians 11:23-31)
The Apostle Paul!
Porcius Festus was successor to Felix as procurator (overseer) of Judea. Finding Paul in prison at Caesarea, Festus proposed to send him to Jerusalem to stand trial. Knowing that he was in danger of being assassinated by the Jewish religious leaders, Paul appealed to Caesar. While waiting for an opportunity to send him to Rome, Festus was visited by Herod Agrippa and Queen Bernice. Paul was brought before Festus, Agrippa and Bernice and made a speech in his own defence (or, rather, in defence of the Gospel).
Readings: Selection from Acts 25:13 – Acts 26:32 with comments in blue…
Festus Consults King Agrippa
Verse 13… A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. 14Since they were spending many days there, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. He said: “There is a man here whom Felix left as a prisoner. 15When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned. (Of course, these charges were spurious)
I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over any man before he has faced his accusers and has had an opportunity to defend himself against their charges. (It’s important to remember that Paul was a Roman citizen, so had to be accorded certain privileges and courtesies)
Verse 22… Then Agrippa said to Festus, ‘I would like to hear this man myself.’ Festus replied, “Tomorrow you will hear him”
23 The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in…
1 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defence (This speech was not a defence of Paul, but rather of the truth of the Gospel)
Verse 8… Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead? 9 I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.
Verse 12… On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 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. 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.’ (This is the first time that the Bible reveals this detail to us. ‘Kick against the goads’ is a powerful expression.)
15 Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘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. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 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.’ (See the descriptions…’from darkness to light’…’from the power of Satan to God’…’forgiveness of sins’…’sanctified by faith in me’)
19 So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. 21 That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22 But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 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.’
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.”
25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.” (Because Agrippa was a Jew)
28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (We don’t know the tone of voice in which this question was asked, whether sceptical, angry or hopeful)
29 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.
30 The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. 31 They left the room, and while talking with one another, they said, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”
32 Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” (But there was a higher purpose at work)
For Me To Live Is Christ, to die is gain
A few years ago, Jane Tomlinson was told by doctors that her cancer was inoperable and that she would die sooner rather than later
With a death sentence hanging over her, she determined to make good use of every remaining hour…
- Over the next six or seven years she raised or helped to raise upward of £1 million for charity
- She ran, swam, canoed, cycled…you name it, despite being in pain and knowing that such involvement could shorten her life further
… And she inspired many others to get involved in fund-raising
Some people suggested that she deserved a statue in her honour…
- Her husband said that Jane would hate for money to be used in this way when there are so many needy people in the world
To many, Jane is rightly viewed as a heroine.
The Apostle Paul was also a hero… often an ‘unsung’ hero
- Read Paul’s life story in the Bible and you will agree with me that he was a true hero in every sense of the word
- Remember the long list of difficult and dangerous experiences he had endured that I read earlier… all for the sake of the Gospel
For example, in Acts 14: 19-20, not long after healing a man in Lystra, who had been unable to walk since birth, we read…
Some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.
Notice that phrase, ‘went back into the city’…
- If I had come within a whisker of being murdered (or had been killed and raised from death) and was black and blue with injuries, the last place I’d go would be back into the place where it had happened!
It takes someone of immense courage and conviction to do that
In Philippians 2: 17-18 Paul writes:
‘But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me’
He cared little for his own life:
‘For me to live is Christ’, he said, ‘and to die is gain’ (Philippians 1:21)
Yet when death threatens we do everything in our power to escape … It’s human instinct to survive!
Peter Marshall, whose dynamic preaching attracted crowds of people, died suddenly on the morning of January 25th 1949, aged 46. In one of his final sermons (as it turned out) he had said:
When the clock strikes for me, I shall go — not one minute early and not one minute late. Until then there is nothing to fear. I know that the promises of God are true, for they have been fulfilled in my life, time and time again. Jesus still teaches and guides and protects and heals and comforts, and still wins our complete trust and love.
Can each of us truthfully say: My times are in your hand
Paul seemed to be in a real fix!
- He was a prisoner in chains, appearing before a king whose grandfather had ordered the execution of all boys under the age of 2 years at the time of Jesus’ birth and whose father had killed James and imprisoned Peter
- In fact, Herod Agrippa’s father was such a conceited man that he became contemptuous of God… and paid with his life
Now here was Paul…by his own admission nothing to look at… not a great orator… suffering from a physical condition… under guard
- He could have saved himself… by being accommodating … compromising… asking for pardon… saying it was all a misunderstanding…
But that wasn’t Paul’s approach! He was 100 per cent Christ-focused
WE SEE THIS ATTITUDE THROUGHOUT HIS LIFE after HIS conversion…
For example, in Acts 21: 13, 14 on a previous, happier time in Caesarea with the believers, they had begged Paul not to go back to Jerusalem in case he was killed. This was his response…
“Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”
Paul knew that he was under a death sentence…
- But it’s true for ALL of us! We are all under a death sentence
- The difference is that Paul (and people like Jayne mentioned earlier) had some idea about when it would be… and we do not know
It’s a good job we don’t know when we are going to die…it would be an intolerable pressure as the time approached!
So how will we spend the time we’ve got left of our lives?
- Will it be to keep our heads down and fret about our impending doom?
- Or to give each day to the LORD for Him to use as He sees fit?
Some of you are older and may feel that time is getting short…
- But none of us know… a lady of 110 was in the paper claiming that it was having lots of salt in her diet that her kept her going!
- Some of you will know the heartbreak of losing loved ones early
The comedian, Woody Allen, once commented grimly:
“It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
If we are going to learn how to DIE well… we need first to learn how to LIVE well, as unto the Lord
Billy Mills was a Sioux Indian who won a gold medal against all the odds in the 1964 Olympic Games. He once said:
“Your life is a gift from the Creator. Your gift back to the Creator is what you do with your life”
LISTEN TO WHAT SOME PEOPLE HAVE SAID AS THEY APPROACHED DEATH…
Joyce Cary, Irish novelist, said: “I look upon life as a gift from God. I did nothing to earn it. Now that the time is coming to give it back, I have no right to complain.”
Tyron Edwards, American theologian, said “This world is the land of the dying; the next [world] is the land of the living”
So as martyred missionary Jim Elliot once insisted:
“Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
Paul was in a fix… humanly speaking… but he turned the situation into a wonderful opportunity to preach the Gospel
We don’t know what happened to King Agrippa…whether it made the slightest difference to him…whether he was ‘persuaded’
- But who knows if someone else present on that day or who later heard about Paul’s testimony was convicted and transformed
- It’s easy to think that we are “wasting our time”… but nothing done for the glory of God is ever wasted if…”you do it unto Him”
One thing is sure…our attitude to life and death and the decisions we make from moment to moment about living for Jesus Christ, not only influence our lives today but also affect eternity.
So what now?
- How will Paul’s example be reflected in MY life and yours?
It’s not too late to begin living wholeheartedly for Jesus Christ … to make what you do in life count for eternity!
Philip Bliss was a gifted hymn writer, musician and singer, who worked closely with evangelists Moody and Sankey. On 29th December 1876, the Pacific Express train in which Bliss and his wife were travelling approached Ashtabula, Ohio. While the train was in the process of crossing a trestle bridge, the bridge collapsed and all the carriages fell into the ravine below. Philip escaped, but all the carriages caught fire and Bliss returned to try to extricate his wife, Lucy, who was trapped beneath ironwork. No trace of either body was ever discovered. Bliss was just 38. Their two toddler sons had been left behind with his mother, thereby surviving the tragedy. 12,000 people attended the funeral. Some years before, Philip Bliss had been inspired to write a hymn after listening to a sermon preached by Rev. Brundage on this passage from Acts 26 about Paul before Herod Agrippa…
“Almost persuaded” now to believe;
“Almost persuaded” Christ to receive;
Seems now some soul to say,
“Go, Spirit, go your way
Some more convenient day
On You I’ll call.”
“Almost persuaded,” come, come today
“Almost persuaded,” turn not away
Jesus invites you here
Angels are lingering near
Prayers rise from hearts so dear
O wanderer, come.
“Almost persuaded,” harvest is past!
“Almost persuaded,” doom comes at last!
“Almost” cannot avail
“Almost” is but to fail!
Sad, sad, that bitter wail:
“Almost – but lost!”
Don’t delay. Place your trust in Jesus Christ today and experience hope in this life and the certainty of eternal life with God in the next.