At A Loss For Words.

13 Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and greeted Festus. 14 And as they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man left prisoner by Felix, 15 and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews laid out their case against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. 16 I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up anyone before the accused met the accusers face to face and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him. 17 So when they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought. 18 When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed. 19 Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. 20 Being at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wanted to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding them. 21 But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.” 22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” said he, “you will hear him.”

23 So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25 But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him. 26 But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him.”

1 So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense: Acts 25:13-26:1 ESV

Paul had made an appeal to have his case transferred to Rome, so that he might stand trial before Caesar himself. Because Paul was a Roman citizen, Festus, the governor, was obligated to fulfill Paul’s wish. But before he could send Paul to the emperor, he was required to include a formal document outlining Paul’s crimes. And that was where Festus was at a loss. He had no clue as to what charges he could file against Paul that would warrant a hearing before the emperor. Festus had listened to the accusations leveled against Paul by the Jewish Sanhedrin, but he had heard nothing that would make Paul a threat against the state. Sure, the Jews had accused Paul of inciting riots and desecrating the temple, but they had been unable to prove anything (Acts 25:7). Their rhetoric was unaccompanied by realistic facts that could be backed up by hard-and-fast evidence.

It just so happened that King Agrippa and his sister, Bernice, were visiting Caesarea about that time, so Festus shared his predicament with the king, relating the situation involving Paul and the Jewish religious leadership. Festus explained that it all had to do with “…something about their religion and a dead man named Jesus, who Paul insists is alive” (Acts 25:19 NLT). In other words, it all appeared to be nothing more than an internal, religious dispute among the Jews. He expressed his predicament to King Agrippa in no uncertain terms:

25 But in my opinion he has done nothing deserving death. However, since he appealed his case to the emperor, I have decided to send him to Rome.

26 “But what shall I write the emperor? – Acts 25:25-26 NLT

King Agrippa was intrigued and asked for an opportunity to hear Paul for himself. Now, at this point, a little background is necessary. The Agrippa Luke refers to in this passage is Marcus Julius Agrippa II, the son of Agrippa I (Acts 12:1-25) and great-grandson of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1-23). His great-grandfather was the Herod who had ordered all the Jewish baby boys under the age of two to be slaughtered – in an attempt to eliminate the “newborn king of the Jews” who the wise men had informed him about (Matthew 2:1-1). So, Agrippa came from wicked stock. And he had not fallen far from the family tree. Luke records that he was accompanied by Bernice. In some translations, she is described as his wife. But she was actually his younger sister. At one point, she had been married to her uncle Herod, the king of Chalcis. But upon his death, she had moved in with her brother and the two of them began an incestuous relationship, a fact that was well-known throughout Palestine and Rome. So, Paul was brought before this notoriously sinful and extremely powerful couple to state his case.

Festus set up the interview by reiterating his belief that Paul was innocent of any crime worthy of his death. The Jews had demanded that Festus condemn Paul (Acts 25:15). In other words, they were looking for a death sentence. They were demanding the right to put Paul to death for desecrating the temple, even though they had provided no definitive proof. But Festus made it perfectly clear that he had heard nothing that warranted the handing down of a death sentence. It was his hope that perhaps, after having heard Paul’s story for himself, Agrippa might be able to shed some light on the matter and help come up with a believable charge against Paul that would make sending him to Caesar worthwhile and not a waste of the emperor’s time.

Now, stop for a moment and consider the gravity of this situation. Paul has been accused of crimes against the state and violations of the Mosaic law that were punishable by death. He has already had to appear before the former governor, Felix, and he had been forced to endure a similar hearing before the new governor, Festus. And now, he was given the opportunity to state his case before King Agrippa. With each one of these encounters, Paul had been given a God-ordained opportunity to speak openly and boldly about the good news concerning Jesus Christ. As Festus had made clear, Paul had spoken to him about the resurrection of Jesus. Now, Paul was going to get the same chance with King Agrippa and sister/mistress. What an incredible occasion. How many people get the opportunity to speak of Jesus before kings? But this was all in keeping with the promise Jesus had made to Ananias, when He had sent him to visit the newly converted Saul.

“Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel.” – Acts 9:15 NLT

Paul had already spoken to a Roman tribune and two Roman governors. Now, he was being provided with a remarkable opportunity to address a king. And, if all went well, he would soon find himself standing before the most powerful man in the world at that time: The emperor of Rome.

Yet, Paul’s life was on the line. The accusations against him were serious and the Jew’s hatred for him was intense. They wanted him dead. Consider how you would react if you suddenly found yourself in his sandals. What would you do? How would you feel? What would you say? It is so easy to read these stories and to assume that Paul, Peter, John and all the rest of the early founders of the church were just some special breed of super saints. They were especially brave and supernaturally gifted to endure the trials and tribulations they experienced. And they were. But it is essential that we remember what Jesus said to His disciples when He was preparing to send them out on their first ministry excursion on their own. He had warned them:

16 “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. 17 But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. 18 You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. 19 When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. 20 For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. – Matthew 10:16-20 NLT

Paul had already experienced the reality of these verses. He had known what it was like to stand before the Roman tribune and two Roman governors. The Spirit of God had given him not only the courage to stand his ground, but the content to speak. And this situation with King Agrippa would prove to be no different. Jesus had told His disciples not to worry.

26 “But don’t be afraid of those who threaten you. For the time is coming when everything that is covered will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. 27 What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear! – Matthew 10:26-27 NLT

And while Paul had not been present when Jesus spoke those words, they undoubtedly had been communicated to him in some form or fashion. Either from the disciples themselves, or by the Holy Spirit. And Paul inherently knew that his life was in God’s hands, a fact that Jesus had tried to convey to His disciples.

28 “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” – Matthew 10:28 NLT

Paul saw the opportunity placed before him as a God-send. He was going to get to speak to a king, a man who had a reputation for promiscuity and for unbridled ambition. Yes, he was powerful. He had the authority to set Paul free or to seal his death sentence. But Paul seemed to know the reality of the words spoken by Jesus to His disciples some years earlier:

38 “If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine.” – Matthew 10:38 NLT

As we saw earlier in Luke’s text, Paul had already made his intentions known. “I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13 NLT). Now, he was in Caesarea. But his attitude remained the same and he articulated it to the believers in Philippi. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21 ESV). As long as Paul drew breath, he would speak on behalf of Christ – to kings, governors, tribunes, Gentiles, Jews, and anyone else who would listen. But, in Paul’s mind, death, while always a potential, was never a cause for fear. Which is why he was able to say, “I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die” (Philippians 1:20 NLT).

Festus was at a loss for words and incapable of knowing what to write to the emperor. But Paul would prove to be anything but tongue-tied or at a loss for what to say. And what he had to say would have little to do with saving his own skin, and everything to do with seeing others experience the saving grace of God made possible through His Son, Jesus Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson