By Sam E. Stone
The remaining four lessons in this unit help answer the question, “Where does faith take us?” We will look at examples of the apostle Paul’s faith and ministry recorded in the book of Acts. Paul was preaching fearlessly in Jerusalem when a riotous crowd threatened his life (Acts 22:22-24). The Roman soldiers took him into custody in an attempt to restore order. When the commander ordered that he be flogged, Paul asked, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?” (22:25).
That quickly convinced the commander he needed to learn more about this man and why the people were stirred up. In the course of a hearing with the Roman ruler, Festus, Paul finally declared, “I appeal to Caesar!” (25:11). Those words changed everything. No longer would he have to defend himself before the prejudiced Jewish leaders; now his case would be decided by Caesar himself, the highest authority in the Roman Empire.
Paul’s Obedient Life
Festus, the Roman governor of Judea, then had the responsibility to send Paul to Caesar—but he needed to report some specific charge against him. In an effort to come up with something, he invited King Agrippa (the great grandson of King Herod who tried to kill Jesus) in to assist in the interrogation. Agrippa knew the Jews. He served as an advisor to the Romans, as a knowledgeable student of the Jewish Scriptures (Acts 26:3). He told Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself” (26:1).
With appropriate respect and diplomacy, Paul began to recount what led him to become a preacher of Jesus. J. W. McGarvey outlined his message like this: his introduction (vv. 1-3); his position toward Jewish parties (vv. 4-8); his former position toward Jesus (vv. 9-11); his interview with Jesus (vv. 12-18). This is where our printed text begins.
Since his conversion in Damascus (Acts 9:10-19), Paul had faithfully declared Jesus as Lord wherever he went. The Jewish leaders had become even more upset when he included the Gentiles in his message of salvation. Paul assured Agrippa, however, that he had been true to the Old Testament message in all he said. He reminded him 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.”
Paul’s Bold Message
At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. How could he say that someone the Romans executed has risen from the dead? Respectfully Paul responded that he was not insane, but that his words were true and reasonable. Then he quickly continued his appeal to King Agrippa. He was determined to win him, if possible.
Each part of Paul’s message had been designed to bridge the chasm between them. “I am convinced that none of this has escaped (the king’s) notice,” Paul told Festus. Turning again to the king, he said, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.” The ruler knew the facts about Christianity, but he had not acted on them.
A King’s Perplexed Response
Agrippa’s response to Paul has generated many questions. How did he say it? Exactly what did he mean by it? Most scholars agree that the old King James Translation (“Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian”) is inadequate. The NIV is better. “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” One scholar paraphrased it, “Do you think you can win me with just one sermon?” Clearly Agrippa was moved—but not moved enough to act on what he believed. He would not be persuaded by one speech, no matter how well presented it was.
The apostle’s response made clear that he wanted to reach everyone with the gospel. “I pray to God that
. . . all who are listening to me today may become what I am.” We can imagine him raising his shackled arm and adding with a smile, “except for these chains.”
With that, Festus, Agrippa, and his wife all rose and left the room. Once out of earshot, they agreed, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment” (compare Acts 23:29). Still, the innocent prisoner had to be sent on to Caesar in Rome.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.