Last week, in what feels like a never ending run of trials for Paul, he stood before Festus in hopes of achieving justice. This was after he sat in jail for two years awaiting a verdict under Felix. From there the story seemed to repeat itself as there was another plot to ask that Paul be moved and to kill him while he was being transferred.
While the plot is not uncovered like it was previously, Paul is reasonable enough to understand that no good would come from him being transferred back to Jerusalem. When Festus wishes to do the Jews a favor by carrying this out, he asserts his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar. This immediately ends the trial and guarantees that Paul will get to personally present his case to the most powerful man in the world at the time.
What we have in the rest of Acts 25 and 26 is a strange interim period where Paul is still under arrest and is awaiting an appeal but has not yet been transferred for his appeal. The two likeliest reasons for the time in between is that a) just like getting a trial before the Supreme Court today, it takes time and probably has to be scheduled months in advance. And b) Paul couldn’t just jump on a plane and be in Rome in four hours. Traveling by land would be slow and potentially dangerous. If Paul traveled by ship, it would be much faster but there were times when it was impossible to travel by ship which we’ll see in a week or two.
As Paul awaits his appeal before Caesar, Festus speaks to King Agrippa and asks for his input on the issue. It’s quite possible that Paul is just being treated like a sideshow – come listen to this raving lunatic talk about people coming back from the dead. But it’s also possible that there is a genuine interest in what Paul has to say. Not that Festus or Agrippa are interested in Christianity but if Paul has spread his message about the Roman world, it’s likely that the two men will encounter it again and may need to develop some sort of strategy on how to deal with the issue in the future.
This passage is another narrative where there isn’t a lot of action and not a lot that we haven’t heard before recently. I will be spending most of my time on one specific part of this passage this morning as it is the key to the entire story.
13 A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. 14 Since 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. 15 When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.
16 “I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over anyone before they have faced their accusers and have had an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges. 17 When they came here with me, I did not delay the case, but convened the court the next day and ordered the man to be brought in. 18 When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. 19 Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. 20 I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges. 21 But when Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.”
22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear this man myself.”
He replied, “Tomorrow you will hear him.”
This is basically a recap of the story from last week. We’ve seen before how these leaders are prone to exaggeration and outright lies. However, as Festus relays this story to King Agrippa, it does sound like genuine interest in making a right judgment. We know that he offered to transfer Paul as a favor to the Jews but here he acknowledges to Agrippa that he really doesn’t know how to judge the issue because it’s a matter of religion that he was unfamiliar with.
23 The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 Festus said: “King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25 I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. 26 But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. 27 For I think it is unreasonable to send a prisoner on to Rome without specifying the charges against him.”
There are two things that stand out in this passage. The first is that Festus acknowledges that Paul is innocent, or at least not worthy of death like the Jews requested. If he had pronounced a verdict instead of offering to transfer Paul back to Jerusalem, Paul would be a free man.
This is similar but different from Pontius Pilate and Jesus. Pilate proclaimed Jesus to be innocent as well, but he still condemned him to die at the request of the crowds. Paul is innocent but he ultimately takes the issue out of the hands of Festus as he appeals to Caesar. It seems doubtful that Festus would have reached the proper decision, or at least declared it publicly, but Paul takes advantage of to opportunity to take the decision out of Festus’ hands.
The other issue is an interesting one. Paul has been accused of a crime and has sat in jail for more than two years while he awaited a verdict. The charges against Paul relate to matters of Jewish law. But how does Festus explain all of this to Caesar? If Caesar is not familiar with the claims of Christianity and Paul is sent to him for claiming to worship a man who rose from the dead, it seems at least possible that Caesar would accuse Festus of wasting his time by sending him someone who was crazy rather dismissing the claims of a crazy person outright.
So Festus seeks King Agrippa’s advice on the matter.
Paul goes on to give his testimony once more in Acts 26. I won’t spend a lot of time on this because we’ve heard much of this before. However, I will point out a few new bits of information that appear this time that we haven’t heard before.
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”
So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: 2 “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, 3 and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.
4 “The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. 5 They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee. 6 And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. 7 This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. 8 Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?
King Agrippa is a good person to seek advice from on this matter because he’s familiar with Jewish customs as well as their controversies as Paul points out. This is a simple enough matter; Festus is new on the job. Unless you’ve lived among the Jews and became familiar with their laws and customs, it is a difficult thing to judge according to their laws. Festus may be an excellent judge in accordance with Roman laws but he hasn’t been asked to settle an issue regarding Roman law.
Paul’s defense is nothing new but it also appeals to common sense to anyone familiar with the Old Testament. Paul continues to testify about his faith in Jesus and explains the hope that he has because of the resurrection of Jesus. As Paul attempts to explain this hope, the argument essentially amounts to – look at the Old Testament and all of the incredible things that have happened in Jewish history. Everything beginning with Abraham being blessed with a son in his old age to Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, to the miracles of Elijah and Elisha. If you believe God could do those miraculous things, why is it so farfetched to believe that He could raise someone from 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 Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.
12 “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, King Agrippa, 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 we heard the last line of Paul’s story. Odds are good that you don’t use the word goads in every day conversation so the expression “kick against the goads” is a very awkward one to your ears.
A goad was usually a metal end on a stick that would be used to keep a plow animal going in the right direction. If it veered off course it would get pricked and this would normally cause it to correct its course. However, a stubborn ox would continue to go its own way and cause injury to itself. In fact, the more it worked against going the way its master wanted it to go, the more it would injure itself.
In layman’s terms, Paul is told that he’s as stubborn as an ox and he’s only hurting himself by insisting on going his own way. Without need for further commentary, I think we all know people who are like this whether it is in regard to sin issues or personal issues. They continue to go their own way and just hurt themselves more.
15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
“ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘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 and will see of me. 17 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.’
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 then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. 21 That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22 But God has helped me to this very day; 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 Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”
Because Agrippa is familiar with Judaism, this is the most detailed defense that we hear from Paul. The resurrection of Jesus is an important part of Paul’s preaching but ultimately Paul has caused an uproar because he has preached repentance. And the reason that Paul calls for repentance is that the Messiah that the Jews had been waiting for for so long has arrived. And Jesus is that Messiah.
24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “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.”
Festus reacts strongly to Paul’s testimony by stating that he has gone insane. This is the central theme of the message this morning. When you look at what the Bible says is wisdom, it goes against what the world calls wisdom basically every time.
If you look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the things that He calls blessed are all things that we wouldn’t hold in high esteem. Blessed are the meek, the humble, those who mourn. These are not things that we naturally strive for. You are not taught in school that you should be meek. Everyone’s self esteem is constantly built up with participation trophies, so it’s awfully hard to be humble if no one is better or worse than anyone else but instead we must treat everyone as though they’re the best at everything. Nobody should spend their time mourning because we all apparently have a constitutional right to be happy at all times.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:27
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
What God considers great is not what the world considers great. What God considers wise is not what the world considers wise. So it’s no surprise that when Paul gives his testimony, it sounds like insanity to Festus.
And nothing has changed. Christianity sounds like craziness to the rest of the world and they will react accordingly. The idea of miracles is preposterous to many people because by definition miracles would defy the laws of nature and science. Of course to me it makes perfect sense because I believe in a God who sets those laws in motion to begin with and He can choose to suspend them at any time that He chooses.
The wisdom of man says that the universe is 14.4 billion years old and that man evolved from a single celled organism over a process of billions of years. Honestly, this sounds like the most idiotic thing imaginable to me but even worse is the reason that people believe it. They believe it because they read it in a book that was written by a guy who claimed to understand what he was talking about. And yet these same people mock Christians for their beliefs which are based upon a book written by men who claim to know what they are talking about.
The difference between the two? The science that I’m supposed to believe is based upon a whole lot of complex equations that no common person can ever hope to understand so they must take it on faith that somebody did the math right. And the part that I believe in which is considered foolish and blind faith, I can certify I believe because I have witnessed changed lives based on the book that I follow. As far as I know, the idea that I came from a monkey hasn’t changed anybody’s life aside from dehumanizing us all because we’re just a product of stupid chance rather than created out of love and with a purpose.
If the Bible’s teachings are madness, I’ll gladly adhere to madness than to embrace the alternative of what the world says is right. I think we have ample evidence of what kind of world we get when people will stop at nothing for fame and power and wealth. I think that if people would think about it, they might consider that the opposite might lead to a better world than the one that we are in now.
28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to 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 After they left the room, they began saying to one another, “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.”
It’s interesting that Agrippa recognizes Paul’s attempt to persuade him to be a Christian. I would say that is the Holy Spirit’s conviction working upon him. Unfortunately it seems to be resisted at the time but Paul doesn’t give up hope.
The best thing about the gospel is that it is not a onetime offer. It is always available until a person draws their final breath. It can be discouraging when we try to present the gospel and we get a cold reception. Or even when we invite a friend to church and they show no interest in doing so. But God can still work in their life and soften their heart. That was Paul’s hope even as Agrippa resisted the message at the time.
Ultimately, Agrippa agreed with Festus that Paul was innocent and could have been set free. But because Paul had appealed to Caesar, it didn’t matter what they thought any longer. Paul would be heading to Rome. This appeal probably seemed like madness from their human perspective because Paul could have been free, but God was at work and He had a purpose for Paul in Rome.