Last week we got to verse 23 of Acts 26. You’ll remember that Paul was put in prison by the Roman governor, Felix. And he remained there for two years. Now there’s a new governor, Festus. And the Jewish authorities pressed him to do something about Paul. But when Paul was brought before Festus, it became clear to him that he wouldn’t receive a fair hearing from Festus. So, he appealed to Caesar. In other words, he wanted the whole case transferred to Rome where the Roman Emperor could hear the case against him.
But before Paul could be transferred to Rome, there was an opportunity given to him to address Festus as well as King Agrippa and his wife as well as some other high ranking officers and leading men in the city of Caesarea. And that’s what chapter 26 is: it’s an account of what Paul said to them. And we were looking at most of his speech last week. Paul first of all described his background and how he used to be a Pharisee. And he also used to go from place to place, persecuting the church of Jesus Christ. However, when he was on the way to Damascus, the Risen Lord Jesus spoke to him from heaven. And the Lord Jesus appeared in order to send Paul to appoint him a servant and a witness. From that time on, he was to bear witness to Jews and Gentiles of what he had seen so that their eyes would be opened, and so that they would be delivered from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, and so that they would receive the forgiveness of sins and become a member of God’s people. And what had Paul seen? He had seen the Lord, who had died but who has risen from the dead and who has been exalted to God’s right hand in heaven. And so, the great persecutor of the Christian faith became the great preacher of the Christian faith.
We reached verse 23 last week where Paul mentioned that the Lord Jesus Christ, who was the first to rise from the dead, now proclaims light to his own people (the Jews) and to the Gentiles. And we thought about how the Risen Lord Jesus works through the preaching of his word to call sinners out of the darkness and into the light. That’s what the book of Acts is all about: how the Risen Lord Jesus built his church through the preaching of the Apostles and others. And that’s how he continues to build his church today: as the first to rise from the dead, he proclaims light to sinners through the preaching of his word and he calls sinners into his kingdom of grace.
Before moving on to look at the remaining verses of this chapter, I wanted to return to verses 22 and 23 to consider what Paul said here about the Old Testament. And really, it’s quite remarkable. Listen again to what he said:
But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen — that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to risen from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.
When Paul mentions ‘the prophets and Moses’, he’s really referring to the whole of the Old Testament. And so, he was telling them that the whole of the Old Testament says that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead and that he would proclaim light to all people.
That’s remarkable. When people think of the Old Testament, they often think of Genesis 1 and what it says about the creation of the world. Or we think of the great Old Testament stories, like the great flood and the rainbow in the sky afterwards; or we think of the building of the Tower and Babel; and then, moving into the book of Exodus, there’s the escape from Egypt and the manna from heaven in the wilderness. And then there’s the fall of Jericho later on. We think of those great stories. Or we think of great Old Testament characters like Noah and Abraham and Moses and David and Solomon. That’s often what people think about when they think about the Old Testament. But here’s Paul teaching us that the whole of the Old Testament tells us about Jesus Christ and how he would suffer and die before rising from the dead and proclaiming light to all.
But, of course, Paul is only telling us what we already know from other places in the New Testament. Think of the Lord Jesus on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection and how — beginning with Moses and all the Prophets — he explained to those two unnamed disciples what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. Or think of the Lord’s rebuke to the Jews in John 5 when he said to them:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.
Or think of what Peter wrote in his first letter. He said about the Old Testament prophets:
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.
The Spirit of Christ enabled them to predict the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. The Old Testament speaks to us about the Lord Jesus Christ and what he would do for us.
And in the book of Acts, we’ve seen how the Apostles interpreted the Old Testament this way. Think back to Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost and how he used Psalm 16 to teach about the Lord’s resurrection from the dead. Do you remember? According to Peter, when the Psalmist wrote that God would not abandon him to the grave or let his holy one see decay, the Psalmist was talking about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And then he used Psalm 110 to teach about the Lord’s ascension to heaven:
The Lord said to my Lord [Jesus Christ], ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’
Then in Acts 3, Peter quoted Moses who predicted that God would raise up a prophet like him. And according to Peter, Moses was referring there to the Lord Jesus. And we have an example of Paul’s preaching in Acts 13 and the whole sermon is sprinkled with references from the Old Testament. So, Paul quoted from Psalm 2 and Isaiah 55 and Psalm 16 to teach the resurrection of Christ from the dead. And then he quoted from Isaiah 49 to prove that the Lord Jesus had made them a light for the Gentiles in order to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. The Risen Lord Jesus — the first to rise from the dead — brings light to sinners through his preachers. And, of course, we’re all familiar with the Suffering Servant passages in the book of Isaiah:
He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.
And there’s Psalm 22:
My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?
And there are so many other places where the suffering of the Lord Jesus was announced. Whenever we read the Old Testament, we ought to be looking for the Lord Jesus because Moses and all the prophets testified about him and about the salvation he would accomplish for Jews and Gentiles, and for all who will believe in him.
Verses 24 to 29
Paul’s speech was interrupted at this point. Festus, the Roman governor, blurted out:
You are out of your mind, Paul. Your great learning is driving you insane.
Now, up to this point, Paul was really only making his defence. I said last week that this was not an evangelistic meeting. Paul wasn’t giving his testimony the way we understand that word today. He was answering the charges and accusations that had been made against him by the Jews. In other words, he was making his legal defence. But now, his speech becomes more direct and personal and from this point on it becomes overtly evangelistic.
And so, in verse 25 he denied that he was insane. Everything he had said so far had been true and reasonable. In other words, they’re not the ravings of a madman. And then he turned to King Herod and made a personal appeal to him. He said that the king was familiar with these things. You know, he’s not a newcomer like Festus, who had only just taken up this new post in Judea. Agrippa has lived there all his life and would have been familiar with all of this because — look at verse 26 — none of this was done in a corner. Christianity is not a secret society. We don’t meet for worship in secret, behind closed doors. We don’t have secret handshakes and signs. Christianity is a public religion and when we gather for worship, our doors are open and everyone is welcome to join us. That’s the way it is now; and that’s the way it was in the days of Paul: not a secret society and not done in a corner; it’s out in the open. So, Paul was sure that Agrippa would have heard about these things already. And then, look at verse 27. Paul made a personal appeal to the king:
King Agrippa, don’t you believe the prophets? I know you do.
Paul was asking Agrippa if he believed the prophets because Paul understood that the Old Testament prophets are all about the Lord Jesus. So, what he’s saying to him is: If you believe what the Old Testament prophets have written, then you need to understand that they were predicting the sufferings of Christ and the glories to come. So, come on now, King Agrippa. Do you believe the prophets? I know that you do.
But the King will not be persuaded. Look at verse 28:
Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?
Now, the commentators suggest various reasons why Agrippa said what he said. Was he simply surprised by Paul’s question; so taken off guard by it that he didn’t really know what to say. Was he being cynical? You know: ‘Yeah right, Paul. Not in a million years.’ Or was it a light-hearted attempt to avoid what Paul was saying to him? You know, using humour to get himself out of an awkward position. We don’t really know, but we’ve all met the same or similar reactions, because on so many occasions those who hear the good news of the gospel are almost persuaded. But only almost, because the deep-down, deep-seated, implacable opposition to Christ which lies in our hearts prevents them from being fully persuaded.
But Paul is undeterred and keeps going. It occurred to me here that in 2 Timothy, Paul wrote to Timothy that the time would come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. They won’t want to listen to him anymore. What’s the solution, according to Paul? Preach the word, said Paul. Keep preaching. And here in Acts 26, though Festus thinks he’s mad, and Agrippa is unpersuaded, Paul continued to appeal to him in verse 29. And not only to Agrippa, but to all of them. He said:
Short time or long — I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.
The words ‘I pray God’ were, in those days, a way of expressing a wish or a heartfelt desire. So, it was Paul’s heartfelt desire that all of them might become believers too. However, ‘I pray God’ is really the only solution (isn’t it?) because God is the only one who is able to remove our hard hearts and he alone is able to turn sinners from their unbelief to faith in Christ. And so, it’s right that we pray to God to convince and convert sinners to faith in Christ. And it’s right that we gather like this, week by week, to pray to God that he will bless the preaching of his word in this place and around the world and enable sinners to receive and believe his word.
Verse 30 to 32
However, with that, the meeting breaks up. Agrippa and everyone else got up and left the room.
Now it appears none of them were convinced by what Paul said. However, they’re all agreed at least that Paul was entirely innocent of the charges against him. He had done nothing to deserve death or even imprisonment. But Paul was on his way to Rome. And in Rome he would continue to do what the Risen Lord Jesus appointed him to do. He would continue to serve his Lord and Saviour and bear witness to the truth that Jesus Christ who died for sinners rose again; and whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.