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A Chosen Vessel - Paul before Agrippa. Acts 26

Remains of the pool of Herod's Caesarea Promontory Palace. Paul likely was kept in the Palace during his imprisonment and there appeared before Felix, Festus and Agrippa.

Caesarea Promontory Palace

March 1, 2018

 

Paul’s Hearing before Agrippa

 

Paul’s imprisonment began with his rescue and arrest in Jerusalem after his visit to the Temple (Acts 21:27-36). The Roman commander intervened before the Jews killed Paul and from that time he remained the prisoner of the Roman authorities. After appearing before the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (Acts 23:1-10) and the Roman Governor Felix in Caesarea (Acts 24:1-23), he found himself yet again on trial before the new Roman Governor Festus (Acts 25:6-12), Felix’s replacement (Acts 24:27). Paul, weary of the Jews false accusations and the partiality of the governors toward them finally appealed to Caesar in the hope of obtaining justice in a fair trial - Acts 25:11. To this Festus consented, but before Paul started on the journey to Rome, he appeared at a hearing before King Herod Agrippa II who had arrived with his younger sister Bernice in Caesarea to greet the governor (Acts 25:13). They along with the other dignitaries gathered at ‘the place of hearing’ (Acts 25:23) where Festus hoped that as the king and others listened to Paul’s defense, they may find something of which he could write to ‘Augustus’ concerning Paul’s alleged ‘crimes’ - Acts 25:24-27. And so, given permission by Agrippa to speak, Christ’s noble servant in acknowledgment ‘stretched out his hand and answered for himself’ (v 1). The prisoner became the master of his circumstances as he respectfully told his audience of his religious background, persecuting zeal and unexpected conversion. Most likely you could have heard ‘a pin drop’ in that hall as Paul spoke. Festus after listening could no longer restrain himself and in an outburst he said – “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!” – v 24. Paul responded:

 

    “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. For the king, before whom I also speak freely,

     knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a

     corner” – vs 25-26.

 

He then addressed Agrippa directly:

 

    “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.”

 

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian” – vs 27-28.

 

Perhaps Agrippa was being cynical, but it was more likely that he was moved by the posture, words and dignity of the man who stood before him. It is at this point we see the measure of Paul as he expresses the desire of his heart, the very motivation that defined his life - “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains” – v 29.

    All men need to repent and on that day an audience not accustomed to listening to a man like Paul or to the things he said and the truth he shared were receiving an opportunity from God to learn their need and respond appropriately. This was Paul’s desire and only God knows if any did. Agrippa’s ‘almost’ shows the impact of Paul’s words upon him, yet ‘almost’ was not, and never will be enough when it comes to the matter of salvation. Moving are the words of Philip P. Bliss’ hymn:

 

“Almost persuaded” now to believe;

“Almost persuaded” Christ to receive;

Seems now some soul to say,

“Go, Spirit, go Thy way,

Some more convenient day

On Thee I’ll call.”

 

“Almost persuaded,” come, come today;

“Almost persuaded,” turn not away;

Jesus invites you here,

Angels are ling’ring near,

Prayers rise from hearts so dear;

O wand’rer, 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!

 

Paul’s Testimony to Agrippa

 

Paul spoke of himself as the Zealous Pharisee (vs 4-8), then as the raging persecutor (vs 9-11) and finally as the chosen vessel (vs 12-23).  As the Lord’s chosen vessel, Paul talks about his conversion, mission and obedience.

 

    His Conversion vs 12-15

 

Paul, as he had done from the stairs of the castle in Jerusalem (Acts 22:1-21), related how he was unexpectedly and gloriously converted on the road to Damascus:

 

    “At midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who

     journeyed with me.

     And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language,

     ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

     So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’

     And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting …’” – vs 13-15.

 

When Paul, writing to his fellow servant, Timothy, reflected upon his own life and how the Lord had dealt with him, he had this to say:

 

    I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although

    I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in

    unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was  exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a

    faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

    However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those

    who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life – 1 Timothy 1:12-16.

 

The experience of Paul gives us hope. The gospel is all about ‘mercy.’ Unfortunately, people have the idea that those who are Christians think themselves better than others when in reality they are just sinners who have ‘obtained mercy’ and want others to do the same. Then there are some who, like Paul before his conversion, are immensely religious and self-righteous and resent being told that they stand in need of God’s mercy and salvation. The fact is because we all have sinned we all stand in need of mercy. The gospel proclaims that God is ‘rich in mercy because of His great love’ (Eph 2:4). While He is a holy God, He is also compassionate and loving and graciously meets us through Christ at the point of our need.      

       Paul was uniquely apprehended on the road to Damascus and completely transformed by the glory and power of the risen Christ. The light from heaven shone, the voice spoke and that which Paul had feared and felt was finally confirmed to him – the Lord is Jesus, whom he was persecuting (vs 12-15). While Paul’s experience was unique, he was saved the way all people are saved – by believing on the LORD Jesus Christ. He wrote elsewhere:

 

    If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be

    saved – Rom 10:9

 

Also, humbled and blinded before the Lord on that dusty road he learnt that to persecute believers in the Lord Jesus is to persecute Him.

 

    His Mission vs 16-18

 

After the conversion of Paul or as he was known then, Saul of Tarsus, the Lord Jesus told Ananias that he was “a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” – Acts 9:15-16. Paul relates to Agrippa and those listening what the Lord Jesus communicated to him:

 

    “‘… But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both

     of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish

     people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to

     light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who

     are sanctified by faith in Me’” – vs 16-18.

 

         Gospel Illumination

 

Paul was himself a blind Pharisee. Yes, like Paul, we can be zealously religious believing in God and yet spiritually blind. Spiritual blindness refers to the effect of sin on the human understanding regarding God’s person and truth. We need our ‘eyes’ opened because we live in spiritual darkness without the true knowledge of God. Physical blindness is a tragedy. Sir John Wilson, who founded ‘Sight Savers International’ in 1950, said: ‘People don’t go blind by the millions. Each of them a human being goes blind individually and as personal tragedy.’ The work of the charity he founded has brought sight and light to millions. Indeed in 2017 they performed their ‘one billionth treatment’ in the fight against ‘neglected tropical diseases.’ Spiritual blindness is also a tragedy. In the ignorance of our understanding we neglect or reject or misunderstand God. We either ignore Him or believe He’s not there or believe Him to be what we want Him to be or even religiously serve Him in the way we’ve been told by men or in a way that appeals to us. With spiritual blindness we lose our sense of spiritual and eternal values and are ignorant of our danger as we move toward and often along the very ‘precipice’ of eternity. God never intended man to be in this state nor did He abandon him to it. He built into us the light of conscience (Jn 8:9; Rom 2:15) and put a sense of eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastics 3:11) giving us the capacity to respond to the illumination of His revelation whether in Creation or the Gospel. Creation is God’s natural revelation to men of His existence, the gospel His message to men concerning His way of salvation.

    Persistence in spiritual blindness is a choice aided and inspired by Satanic smokescreens of deception as the god of this age blinds ‘the minds of them which believe not’ – 2 Cor 4:4 (KJV). When people refuse to look at creation, listen to conscience and hear the gospel of God, greater becomes their darkness. Paul wrote this concerning the peoples of the first century:

 

    The Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God,

    because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given

    themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness – Eph 4:17-19.

 

Such a description is still true concerning those who reject God and give themselves over to a pernicious lifestyle. The Lord Jesus Himself the very ‘Light of the world’ – Jn 8:12 taught:

 

    “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He  

    who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in

    the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men

    loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not

    come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be

    clearly seen, that they have been done in God” - Jn 3:17-20.

 

         Gospel Transformation

 

The gospel’s purpose is to open our eyes to light and life. It is God’s full and final revelation of truth and salvation to the world. It shines ‘to turn’ us ‘from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God’ (v 18). The gospel reorientates and redirects us. This is called repentance. Paul goes on to say before Agrippa: “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance” – vs 19-20. It is repentance that brings us back to God and into relationship with Him. Repentance happens when we say to God ‘I have sinned’ and He has assured us that forgiveness will be given to all who forsaking their sin make such a confession and believe in the Lord Jesus .

 

Deliverance from spiritual darkness and satanic power is what the world needs, but mostly does not want. God continues to offer it just the same and while time is running out for many, it’s never too late to turn. Satanic power, his dominance and deception are particularly evident everywhere today. There’s an evil energy and strong deception operating destructively in society and more and more Satan’s mask is slipping and we are seeing the ugliness of his malignancy and its effect on humans who are just ‘pawns’ in his hands. Today, God is largely rejected and people refuse to worship Him instead worshipping self, others and things. Wrong as these forms of idolatry are, we are fast heading toward the time when the greatest blasphemy of all will be committed – people will worship the Devil through ‘the man of sin,’ ‘the son of perdition’ (2 Thes 2:3) and if they don’t they will be made to or die.

      Paul Harvey, an American Radio Broadcaster, first wrote the following insightful words concerning satanic strategy in his Newspaper column in 1964: While he addresses an American audience particularly, what he says is true universally:

 

'If I were the prince of darkness, I would want to engulf the whole world in darkness.

I’d have a third of its real estate and four-fifths of its population, but I would not be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree — thee.

So, I would set about however necessary to take over the United States.

I’d subvert the churches first, and I would begin with a campaign of whispers.

With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve: “Do as you please.”

To the young, I would whisper that the Bible is a myth. I would convince the children that man created God instead of the other way around. I’d confide that what’s bad is good and what’s good is square.

And the old, I would teach to pray after me, “Our Father, which art in Washington …”

Then, I’d get organized, I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting so that anything else would appear dull and uninteresting.

I’d threaten T.V with dirtier movies and vice versa.

I’d peddle narcotics to whom I could. I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.

If I were the devil, I’d soon have families at war with themselves, churches at war with themselves and nations at war with themselves until each, in its turn, was consumed.

And with promises of higher ratings, I’d have mesmerizing media fanning the flames.

If I were the devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellect but neglect to discipline emotions. I’d tell teachers to let those students run wild. And before you knew it, you’d have drug-sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every schoolhouse door.

Within a decade, I’d have prisons overflowing and judges promoting pornography. Soon, I would evict God from the courthouse and the schoolhouse and then from the houses of Congress.

In his own churches, I would substitute psychology for religion and deify science. I’d lure priests and pastors into misusing boys and girls and church money.

If I were the devil, I’d make the symbol of Easter an egg and the symbol of Christmas a bottle.

I’d take from those who have and give to those who wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious.

What’ll you bet I couldn’t get whole states to promote gambling as the way to get rich?

I would caution against extremes and hard work and patriotism and moral conduct.

I’d convince the young that marriage is old-fashioned, that swinging is more fun and that what you see on T.V. is the way to be.

And thus, I could undress you in public and lure you into bed with diseases for which there are no cures.

In other words, if I were the devil, I’d just keep right on doing what he’s doing.'

 

         Gospel Reconciliation  

 

Coupled with forgiveness is the promise of an inheritance or place among God’s people, the sanctified. All ours by grace through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus. Forgiveness is necessary for we have sinned against God. Forgiveness is costly for sin, like debt, has to be paid for. Many never seek forgiveness because they don’t consider it necessary – ‘I don’t believe in God’ or ‘what right has God over me?’ is the attitude. The proof that forgiveness is both necessary and costly is the Cross. This is why Jesus hung on a Cross – to pay for our sins that we could receive forgiveness. God, according to His justice demanded payment, but according to His love gave His Son to make that payment at an infinite cost to Himself. It is through the precious blood of Christ, the merits of His sacrificial death that forgiveness and reconciliation are offered to us through the gospel – ‘In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace’ – Eph 1:7. Our eyes need to be opened to the seriousness of sin, the certainty of judgment and the only way back to true relationship with God. ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures’ – 1 Cor 15:3-4.

    A simple illustration highlights the principle of God’s right to expect payment for our wrong. If I at my local convenience store today, first fill my car with fuel in the forecourt and then enter the shop and fill a trolley with whatever I want from the shelves after which I walk out of the shop door without paying and pile the unpaid goods into the back of my car filled with unpaid fuel and drive off – would I have done wrong? The answer is obvious. Such actions are called theft, still a universal crime. Now suppose the police eventually catch up with me, what do I do? Tell them it’s nothing to do with them, I do what I want? That will hardly work. The premises and shop belong to its rightful owners. They created the business and offer the services and rightly expect people to avail of them within the law. I have no right to rob them and violate the law; to do so invites the ensuing consequences as many who engage in crime can testify. Whether we like it or not, this is God’s world. He created it and has complete authority over it. The Bible says: ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein’ Psa 24:1. All that we do in it either conforms to His laws and standards or it violates them. We don’t have a right to do as we please and for the wrong that we do we will, if never forgiven, stand before Lord Jesus in ‘the court’ of divine justice to face the same according to the unchanging standard of divine truth. We can avoid that day and earnestly ought to by ‘settling out of court.’ This requires our repentance and receiving divine forgiveness for our sins. The Lord Jesus told a parable to teach the need of ‘settling out of court’ and the cost of not doing so:

 

    “As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the

     judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until

     you have paid the very last penny” – Luke 12:58-59 (ESV).

 

The solemn truth implied by the Lord's words is this, should we end up in 'the prison house' of hell we won't have the ability to pay 'the very last penny.' There will be no getting out.

 

In God’s estimation humanity is divided into two companies. Sinners and saints. Faith in the Lord Jesus gives the believer a lot or portion and a right to be numbered with the people of God, ‘the sanctified’ and the guarantee of all the blessings that come with such privilege. John wrote in his gospel that ‘as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name’ – Jn 1:12. Together, the sanctified ones of Christ will ultimately enjoy ‘an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven’ – 1 Pet 1:4. Heaven isn’t a fairyland. It’s a real place and there believers will enjoy their portion in and with Christ forever.

 

    His Obedience vs 19-23

 

Paul talks about his obedience to the ‘heavenly vision’ in the fulfillment of his mission which was the cause of the murderous attack he faced from the Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 21:27-31). Nonetheless with God’s help he continued to the very day of speaking before the king ‘witnessing to both small and great’ of Christ’s suffering and glorious resurrection and the illumination brought to the world through His gospel.

 

May its light shine in your heart today?   

 

Thanks for reading.

 

AJC