Study 29: Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa
What an amazing opportunity! We often long for opportunities, such as the one described in this chapter, to speak to our friends and neighbours and we bemoan the fact that they rarely arise. But sometimes they do and the question that each one of us needs to ask of ourselves is this: when they arise, am I ready to take full advantage of them?
Paul is an excellent example of a man ready to share his faith with anyone who was prepared to listen. He treated everyone to whom he spoke with the same degree of courtesy. Paul was a man who loved his neighbour. He put into practice what he preached: “If I gave everything I have to poor people and if I were burned alive for preaching the gospel but didn’t love others, it would be of no value whatever.” 1 Corinthians 13:3-7
So, when Paul met King Herod Agrippa II, his sister and mistress Bernice and Festus, the Governor, he was not in the least concerned when Agrippa said: “Go ahead, tell us your story.” In fact, he relished it. He began with an introduction and a compliment. When we give our testimonies, we would do well to analyse what Paul did in preparing his and to take similar steps. (Acts 26:2-3)
Paul related his testimony just as it had happened, but he put all the different parts of it together in a logical sequence, so that the people listening could understand it and, particularly, the various events as they unfolded. He began by setting his life in the context of the Jewish way of life. (See Acts 26:4-5.)
Paul’s life was a matter of record. He had made it a very public life in that he had been a model of Pharisaism.
So, who were the Pharisees? Well, they were a strict party of Jews who over-emphasised minute obedience to the law and traditions. They pretended to be superior and were very influential in the synagogues. They believed in people living for ever; the resurrection of the body (which the Sadducees did not) and the existence of angels. They believed in being totally committed to obeying God’s will – as they saw it – and would go to any lengths to enforce their view of it.
They agreed with Jesus, in that they had respect for the Old Testament law. They believed in the resurrection of the dead and they were notionally committed to obeying God’s will. But they disagreed with Jesus, in that they rejected Him as “messiah” because He did not follow their traditions. In fact, they were so taken up with these that they did not look to God for His heart of love behind every law and command – intended to bring freedom not slavery.
They did have some positive characteristics. They were committed to obeying all of God’s word. They were admired by the common people for their apparent piety. They believed in a bodily resurrection and eternal life and they believed in angels and demons. But they also had some negative characteristics. They behaved as though their own religious rules were just as important as God’s rules for living. Their piety was often hypocritical and their influence forced others to try to live up to standards they themselves could not live up to. They believed that salvation came from perfect obedience to God’s law and was not based on the forgiveness of sins. They became so obsessed with obeying their own legal interpretations in every detail, that they completely ignored God’s message of mercy and grace. They were more concerned with appearing to be good than in actually obeying God. Paul himself declared that if anyone was going to get to heaven by following tradition it would have been him. (Philippians 3:4-6) That’s a pretty impressive list of justifications for living a legalistic life, but Paul goes on to say this:
“But whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him to His death, 11 and so somehow to attain to the resurrection of the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)
Paul had tried to be a good person. He had tried to follow the law. He had tried to be zealous for God. But now he had found The Way and he was determined that nothing was going to stop him from following Jesus Christ.
Note: The word, “Christ“, means “the anointed one and his anointing”. So, whenever the word “Christ” is used in the Bible, translate it in your mind as such. It was not a surname for Jesus, or an appendage that is a mere descriptor. It carries with it the entire reason why Jesus came into the world and embodies in it the very power of God. No wonder Satan hates the word and has tried to demean it by turning it into a swear word! We need to be careful what we say and how we say it! Remember: we express our thoughts in words and we create the environment in which we live by the words that we use. One day, when teaching His disciples, Jesus emphasised this in Matthew 15:16-20. That really describes what we do when we use any of the names of Jesus (or for that matter any of the names of the triune God) as a swear word! Let us all be more aware of our speech and control our minds and, therefore, our tongues through our spirits.
Paul’s audience here was not just King Agrippa, Bernice and Festus (although, undoubtedly, they were the most prominent) but there were many others there because this had turned into a state occasion. (Acts 25:23) So now, Paul states the real reason for his trial before these important men and women. It is nothing other than his adherence to the hope in what God has promised to the forefathers of the very Jews who are opposing him, but who are supposed to be upholding and teaching that hope themselves – the resurrection of the dead! (Acts 23:6)
What strange things we do when we attempt to rely on tradition! Jesus spoke to the religious leaders of his day and warned them: “And so, by your man-made rule (traditions of men, KJV), you nullify the direct command of God to honour and care for your parents.” Matthew 15:1-6
What “traditions of men” are we holding on to and hiding behind? Is it that we feel safe in church ritual? Do we say that things have to be done in such-and-such a way? Have we put someone directly between us and God (a priest or any other leader)? God wants to have direct contact with us!
When Jesus died on the cross, one of the things that happened was that the veil in the temple (which separated the “Holy of Holies”, where the presence of God resided in Old Testament times) was torn in two from top to bottom. That veil was very tall and it was not a sheet of muslin. It was a woven fabric, as thick as a man’s forearm, probably as strong as a bullet-proof jacket of today. God split that veil. (Note that it was split from “top to bottom“.) This signified that the way into God’s presence had now been made open to everyone, without the need for priests or anyone else. (Mark 15:38) The way is now directly open for you and for me to go straight into the presence of God. Let us put it into practice and take all our problems and situations directly to Him!
Paul was looking forward to the resurrection of the dead. He knew that, when he died, he would go to heaven to be with the Lord Jesus for ever more. He also knew that this hope was available to all who were in that room that day, so he told them of it. (Acts 26:7-8) In his testimony, Paul then identified further with the Jews of the day. (Acts 26:9-11) He was saying: “I have been where you are. I understand where you are coming from.” He identified entirely with the Jews but was saying that they were wrong; that there was a different way if only they would listen! We have seen how Paul himself stood and guarded the coats when Stephen was martyred. (Acts 8:1)
Now Paul gets very specific. This is the part of his testimony that was the point of change for him. When you and I give our testimonies, we always should include the part that made the difference. We have not always been Christians. At one time we were not believers, but there came a time when we made a decision to follow Jesus and to ask Him to be the Lord of our lives. That time, for some people may be very specific but, in the case of others, it may emerge over a period of time. One thing that all Christians have in common is that they can say: “Once I was walking that way; then, one day, I recognised that I needed Jesus and now I am walking this way – His way.” We should be excited by that fact, recognising that it can help others as a signpost on their own journey to faith in Jesus.
Paul was very specific and personal when giving his testimony in Acts 26:12-18.
What do we learn from this? Firstly, that there is absolutely no-one that Jesus cannot and will not reach, provided that person is prepared to listen. Secondly, that Jesus will do whatever it takes to get a person’s attention. Thirdly, what Jesus does to each one of us is intensely personal and, even though others are round about and they recognise that something is going on, it might not have the same effect on them as it does on the one Jesus is addressing.
On that day, on the road to Damascus, everyone else knew that something was going on, but it only affected Paul’s life. God saved Paul and appointed him at the same time. His assignment was huge – to bring the same light that he had just received to the Gentiles. He was to take them out of Satan’s darkness, bestowing on them the inheritance that God had intended for them all along. It also included all the protection he would need as he went about his new task.
When we become Christians, several things happen to us. But this one thing is so key to us if we understand it correctly. Jesus did not patch up our old lives when we became Christians; He made us entirely new people – brand new! He re-created us and we were, in the words of Jesus when He explained it to Nicodemus, “born again – not out of our mother’s womb, but by the Spirit of God.” (John 3:1-8) Then, Paul writing to the Corinthian church, explains it again for us. (See 1 Corinthians 5:14-18.)
What about you and me? If Jesus saved us, then we are Christians and He has a call on our lives. What has He called us to and what are we doing about it? Are we, like Jonah, trying to run away from our calling, or are we trying to ignore it, because we are having too good a time in the world? Or are we perhaps wondering when Jesus will call us? He will. He knows our address and, when the time is right, we will receive the call. We will hear it. He will make certain of it! There are so many people to reach with the gospel, so many who yet have to fulfil their own calling, even if the time is short. “Then Jesus explained: ‘My nourishment comes from doing the will of God who sent me, and from finishing His work. 35 Do you think the work of harvesting will not begin until the summer ends four months from now? Look around you! Vast fields of human souls are ripening all around us, and are ready now for reaping. 36 The reapers will be paid good wages and will be gathering eternal souls into the granaries of heaven! What joys await the sower and the reaper, both together! 37 For it is true that one sows and someone else reaps. 38 I sent you to reap where you didn’t sow; others did the work, and you received the harvest.’”(John 4:34-38)
You will reap the harvest that others have sown. You will reap the same reward as those who worked before you. What rejoicing there will be when we are all together with God at the throne of heaven! We will be part of the “crystal sea” of believers who have been called and saved through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our rewards (for longing for His appearance, for bringing others to Jesus and various other deeds) are spoken of as “crowns” in Revelation 4. They will be there to “cast at His feet“. We will do this in recognition of the fact that it is all His responsibility that we are there in the first place and it is only by grace that we are saved “and that – through faith“. (Ephesians 2:5)
Paul then takes his opportunity to tell King Agrippa that he has been obedient to Jesus’ calling on his life. He has got on with the job – not that it is finished. It is because of this obedience to his calling that the Jews hate him so much. But, don’t forget that he has already told us that Jesus said that He would protect him. (Acts 26:17) Paul here tells his hearers – particularly King Agrippa – what he previously preached (Acts 26:20) and what Moses and the prophets had foretold: that Jesus would suffer at the crucifixion; that He would rise from the dead and that He would preach the gospel to His own people and to the Gentiles.
When things are getting personal as the gospel is being shared, people can become very uncomfortable. Some of them will respond as they should by giving their lives to Jesus. Others will just ignore what is being said as if they have never heard it, whilst others will make their excuses and leave.
The latter is what Festus did on that day in the courtroom. As Paul spoke, Festus accused him of being out of his mind. Paul replied politely but firmly, reminding Agrippa of all he already knew from the prophets.
“Then Agrippa said to Paul ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to become a Christian?’ Paul replied, ‘Short time or long – I pray God that not only you, but also all who are listening to me today may become what I am – except for these chains.’” (Acts 26:24-29)
You never know who is listening to what you are saying and who is responding to Jesus’ call on their lives. Neither do you know whether they will become believers some time later.
We do not yet know what finally happened to all of the men and women who listened to Paul that day but, one day, we shall. Then we too will rejoice with those who accepted what Paul said and (perhaps secretly, like Nicodemus in response to Jesus) gave their lives to Jesus.
We do know that they talked with one another and said amongst themselves that Paul had done nothing worthy of death or imprisonment.
In fact, Agrippa said to Festus: “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” (Acts 26:32)
God had other ideas. He had people who needed to hear the gospel in Rome itself and Paul was just the man to preach it!
Study 29: Paul’s testimony – Challenge Questions
Please complete all questions marked with * and then complete the rest of the study. The more you look in God’s word, the more you will get out of it.
Read the chapter at the beginning of the week then you have time to meditate on it, rather than rushing! Make God’s word your number one priority.
1. *Read the notes and the Bible verses referred to in them. Highlight the points that “speak” to you and share with the group.
2. *From Philippians 3:4-11 what point challenges you most? Can you give any example of the cost of following Christ from Paul’s life and also an example from your own life?
3. *What does it mean to you that the veil was torn in two from the top to the bottom? Does it affect your prayer life? How?
Read Acts 27:1-12
4. Sum up what Paul had done that resulted in him finding himself as a prisoner on a ship bound for Rome? Why could his trip not have been cancelled? Why did he not want it to be cancelled?
5. *On his voyage, who accompanied him? Was the trip a direct one? What do you think Paul would have done as he sailed along the coast of what is today called Turkey? Can you imagine what was going through his mind as he travelled?
6. *The early part of the trip was not smooth. Why do you think this was? Sometimes we encounter spiritual headwinds. What do you think their purpose in our lives might be? Can you write down some examples in your own life?
7. Would you like to be frank in telling the Lord the story of your life so far? What would make the big list of problems into a much smaller list? How would you be able to get rid of the list altogether?
8. *This voyage can represent what happens when we choose to make wrong decisions in our lives. Can you think of a time when you made a wrong decision? What happened and how did you either trust God or not?
Read Acts 27:13-44
9. Why is it important to grow our faith now? Paul had an amazing relationship with God. Why was this important at a time such as this?
10. *Read Ezekiel 3:17-21. How does this passage describe our responsibility? Can we apply that to our lives in our churches? Did Paul act out his responsibility when the ship was in “Fair Havens“? How did he do it?
11. The Bible is clear about our own relationship to God. In our lives we have to prioritise the following: partner, children, friends, God, church, work, ministry and others. Write down this list in the order that would enable you to live a God-centred and responsible life. Explain why you chose this order.
12. *After they had left “Fair Havens“, they had no option but to go through the subsequent storms. Write down some of the problems they faced. How would you have dealt with these problems and can you apply their reactions to decisions that you have made in your life?
13. Give some examples of what the Bible describes as the characteristics and reputation of wise men. Do you know anyone who will give you wise and honest advice regarding your life and your Christian walk? Have you ever asked them for advice and, if they were to give it, would you take notice of it?
14. Acts 27:30 describes the selfishness of some of the people on board. In what circumstances could you imagine people taking similar actions in the Christian church today? Why is it important that they do not take similar action to those described in this story?
15. *How many people were saved from the storm? Did they all come ashore in the same way? What did they manage to bring with them from the wreck of the ship?
16. *When considering this storm that Paul went through, what point did you find most challenging and what was most relevant to your situation?