19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. 21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
24 And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” 25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. 26 For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” 28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” 29 And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
30 Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. 31 And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” – Acts 26:19-32 ESV
The governor and the king sat in rapt silence, as Paul continued to make his defense. But whether they realized it or not, Paul was on the offensive, with a single goal in mind: To share the truth regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ with the two powerful men sitting before him. Up until this point, the resurrection had been the central theme of Paul’s entire talk. In fact, he claimed to have seen Jesus alive, having received a “heavenly vision” directly from Jesus Himself. And all that Paul had done since the day he received that vision, had been in obedience to the command of Jesus, the risen, living Messiah. Jesus had provided Paul with an explanation for His appearance to him and a description of his assignment.
16 “I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” – Acts 26:16-18 ESV
And Paul claimed to have been obedient to the task given to Him by Jesus. It was the very fact that Paul had done what Jesus had told him to do that he had been arrested and beaten by the Jews. “For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me” (Acts 26:21 ESV). Paul knew full well that the reason for his ill treatment by the Jews had nothing to do with him violating the Mosaic law by bringing Gentiles into the forbidden areas of the temple grounds. That had been a ruse. Their real issue with Paul was the message he had been preaching about Jesus being the Messiah, and the fact that he had been preaching it to Gentiles. Paul’s work had struck a nerve with the Jews because it had struck a chord among the people. Both Jews and Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ. But the real stumbling point for the Jewish leadership was that Paul had been propagating the idea that the Jewish rite of circumcision and adherence to the laws of Moses were not necessary for Gentiles to be made right with God. So, in the end, it was Paul’s message regarding the resurrection and the means of attaining righteousness that was at the root of his problem with the Jews.
Paul had an astute awareness of God’s sovereign power and constant presence in his life. In spite of the fact that the Jews had tried to kill him, he knew that it had been God who had rescued him, keeping him alive because there was a greater purpose for him to accomplish. “To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great” (Acts 26:22 ESV). God had protected and preserved him because He had unfinished business for him. And here he was, standing in front of Festus and Agrippa, sharing that “the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:23 ESV). What an incredible opportunity. Even Paul, in his wildest dreams, could not have imagined or envisioned that he would one day stand before a Roman governor and a king, sharing the message of Christ’s resurrection and the hope of salvation that it made possible.
But to Festus, it all sounded like the ravings of a lunatic. He suddenly interrupted Paul and shouted, “Paul, you are insane. Too much study has made you crazy!” (Acts 26:24 NLT). This had not been the first time Paul had heard a Gentile refer to the gospel as crazy talk. He would later write to the church in Corinth, describing the typical response he encountered from both Jews and Gentiles.
So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. – 1 Corinthians 1:23 NLT
Festus knew little about the Jews and their religion. And all Paul’s talk about a crucified rabbi miraculously coming back to life sounded like crazy talk to him – much as it does to many today. On the other side of conversion, the message of the cross always sounds ridiculous. Paul put it this way, “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 NLT). In other words, it is only after coming to faith in Christ that one can truly understand the remarkable truth of the cross and Christ’s death on it. The description of Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of mankind sounds farfetched and difficult to comprehend. It comes across as little more than some kind of religious fantasy story. But for those who have come to faith in Christ, the cross becomes the hope on which their salvation hangs and their eternal life depends. Again, Paul expressed this sentiment to the church in Corinth.
24 But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. – 1 Corinthians 1:24-25 NLT
Festus thought Paul had lost his mind. But Paul insisted that his words were truth, not the crazy thoughts of a madman. And at this point, Paul turned his attention to King Agrippa, appealing to his knowledge of the Jewish people and their ways. Paul somehow knew that Agrippa was aware of all that had happened concerning Jesus. He also knew that Agrippa was the great-grandson of Herod the Great, the man who had been king when Jesus had been born. He was the one who had tried to eliminate the potential threat of Jesus, who the magi had described to him as the newborn king of the Jews. Herod the Great had ordered the executions of all baby boys under two living in the vicinity of Bethlehem. Agrippa had a family heritage that was directly linked to Jesus, the Messiah. And Agrippa, as the official who had jurisdiction over the temple and held the authority to appoint the Jewish high priest, knew the ways of the Jews. He was familiar enough with Jewish history and their beliefs to know that what Paul was saying was based on truth, not fantasy. And Paul boldly asked the king, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe” (Acts 26:27 ESV). What is Paul doing here? Is he claiming that Agrippa was a God-fearer and believed in the Hebrew Scriptures. That’s unlikely. But Paul was putting Agrippa on the spot. He was creating a dilemma for the king, by forcing him to state whether he believed what the Jewish prophets wrote or not. Because of his close connection with the Jewish people as their king, his oversight of the temple and his ties to the high priest, Agrippa had to be very careful how he answered Paul’s question. If he replied that he did not believe what the prophets had written concerning the Messiah, he would risk offending the Jews. So, he chose not to answer the question at all, replying instead, “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?” (Acts 26:28 NLT). He avoided the question by asserting that Paul had been trying to convert him. And Paul didn’t deny it.
“Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that both you and everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am, except for these chains.” – Acts 26:29 NLT
It would have been Paul’s greatest wish to see Agrippa, Festus and every other person in the room that day come to faith in Christ. He wanted them to become as he was. Paul was chained, but a free man. They were free from chains, but imprisoned by their sin and under the curse of death because of their rebellion against God. Paul’s desire was that they might discover the joy of forgiveness for sin and freedom from the penalty of death found in Jesus Christ and made possible by His death and resurrection. But there would be no one saved that day. And Paul would remain a prisoner of the Roman government. In fact, Agrippa replied that, had not Paul made his appeal to go to Caesar, he could have gone free, because he had done nothing worthy of death or imprisonment. So, Paul was destined to go to Rome. His fate was sealed. But it was all part of God’s perfect plan for his life and His overarching plan for the redemption of mankind.
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.