"Paul Before Agrippa" Page 4 of 6 (series: Lessons on Acts)
by John Lowe
Now Paul, in a few pointed phrases, presented the heart and soul of the gospel message to every man and woman in that courtroom. Festus, with all his Roman pride and paganism; King Agrippa, living in sin and shame, sinning against great light and opportunity; Bernice, with her sad, stained record; the tribunes with their air of easy command; the ranking members of Caesarean society, living between two worlds—one and all were confronted with their own heart’s deep needs. The words of Paul were a direct quotation from his Master in heaven.
This is one of those places in the Bible where God’s salvation is brought into sharp focus within the range of a sentence or so. As we look at this marvelous message, given to Paul by Jesus there on the Damascus road, we discover two truths.
FIRST, we see how the Lord sees us. He sees us as spiritually blind: “To open their eyes and to turn them from darkness.” That is exactly what had happened to Paul himself on the Damascus road as, bathed in dazzling light, aware of the lovely face of Jesus; he had listened to His gracious words, enthralled by His tender voice.
The Lord sees us as satanically bound: “To turn them . . . from the power of Satan unto God.” We must never minimize the power and authority of Satan over the lives, beliefs, actions, words, and destiny of the lost. The Lord never does. People are Satan’s captives. He is the prince and god of this world, the “prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). That is the way the Lord sees us—a much different view than we have of ourselves. We need to be turned from “the power of Satan” to God.
SECOND, we see how the lord saves us. He saves us by giving us freedom: “to open their eyes . . . to turn them.” The power to do that is inherent in the gospel. Satan might have authority, but in the gospel resides power, the mighty, irresistible power of God, the power to open our eyes and break chains. Satan is no match for the Holy Spirit.
The Lord saves us by giving us forgiveness: “that they may receive forgiveness of sins.” No presentation of the gospel is adequate that does not bring people face-to-face with the fact of their sin and their need for God’s forgiveness—a forgiveness that can be granted only by the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord saves us by giving us fulfillment: “That we may receive . . . inheritance.” Salvation is far more than forgiveness. We become children of God, joint-heirs with Jesus. We have a salvation that cancels our past, provides for our present, and fills the future. It is a full salvation, which gives us “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
The Lord saves us by giving us fellowship: “That they may receive . . . inheritance among them which are sanctified.” He makes us members of a new community; the community of those who are set apart from the world to live for Him. Man was not made to live alone: we all need the company and friendship of others. The redeemed need the love and fellowship of those of like precious faith.
The Lord saves us by giving us focus: “Sanctified by faith that is in me.” This new life does not come about by chance. It is not the product of our own good resolutions or determined effort. It is focused and centered in Christ. He is the One who imparts this life and who divinely energizes it. All comes to rest in the glorious person of the once crucified but now risen and ascended Lord Jesus.
19 Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:
Paul used here a deliberate figure of speech. “I was not disobedient . . .” This figure of speech is known as tapeinosis or demeaning—deliberate understatement, the lessening of a thing in order to increase its intensity. Paul was far more than merely “not disobedient.” He flung himself wholeheartedly into the new cause. He gave himself wholly to the glorious One who now owned all the passion of his heart, all the greatness of his mind, and all the purpose of his will. He was now as zealous to spread the gospel as he once had been to stamp it out. Indeed, it was his burning zeal for Christ that provoked the enemies of the gospel, Paul’s former friends and acquaintances, into such outbursts of fury.
The conversion of Paul was an event of so revolutionary a character, of such far-reaching consequence and with such an impact on the history of the world, that it demanded an adequate cause. That cause was Paul’s confrontation with the living Christ.
“I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” indicates that the experience was real, but visionary (12:9). Such visionary experiences are not for personal enjoyment or the stimulation of one’s religious sensibilities, but call for obedience, and Paul complied.
20 But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
Repentance is a change of mind, regeneration is a change of heart, redemption is a change of state. All are part of a genuine salvation, and all are produced by Jesus Christ.
So Paul took advantage of his opportunities, never flinching in the face of persecution, ever reaching out to all mankind with the life-transforming news. In his letters, Paul himself emphasizes his independence from the original apostles and the Jerusalem church (Galatians 1:1; 1:11-2:14).
21 For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me.
And now Festus had what he wanted—the reason for the riot in the Temple and the subsequent arrest of Paul. He was originally apprehended because some Asian Jews mistakenly thought he had illegally brought Gentiles into the inner court of the temple and defiled it (21:27-32). The Tribune, Claudius Lysias, had simply done his duty and, as it turned out, had rescued a Roman citizen from mob violence. Festus was now forced to face the fact that an innocent man, guilty of no crime Rome would recognize but rather the object of intense religious hatred simply because his views no longer coincided with those of his one-time friends, had been forced to appeal to Caesar because of his own incompetence and opportunism.
Festus knew the Jews well enough to know how fierce would be the passions Paul’s conversion had kindled in the ruling elite, and how Paul’s boldness in preaching the gospel would infuriate them. But what would fuel the fires of their hate most of all was that this former rabbi, this former agent of the Sanhedrin, was now running all over the world telling Gentiles that they through faith in the detested Jesus of Nazareth could enjoy special privileges equal to and greater than those enjoyed by the Jews.
22 Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come:
“Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great.” Paul’s message was not something new, something he had concocted himself. It was solidly based on God’s revelation in the Old Testament of Himself and of His purposes.
In the Gospel of Luke, the author had been intent on presenting Jesus as God’s agent, who breaks down the economic and social barriers that separate people, and especially on sounding the note that Jesus’ ministry meant “good news to the pour” (Luke 4:18). In his efforts in Acts to show that Christianity is not a foreign superstition that appeals only to the “lower classes,” Luke has emphasized its appeal to, and reception by, especially the “upper classes” (4:34-37; 10:1-2). But Luke has written the Gospel and Acts as two parts of one message and here reminds the reader that the Christian message includes both “little” people and “big” people—though at the moment Paul is pictured as addressing only a governor, a king, and assembled nobility (25:23).
“Saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come.” Again Luke stresses the continuity between Judaism and the church (Luke 1:5-23; 2:21-52), arguing that the Christian faith does not go beyond the Jewish Scriptures. The difference, of course, was in how these Scriptures were interpreted. The Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) nowhere speaks of a Messiah who must suffer, die, and rise from the dead. The modern reader of Acts might reflect on the fact that the pre-Christian Paul had studied the Scriptures thoroughly, and had never come to this conclusion. It was only after his meeting the risen Christ and in the light of this event that he began to see that the Scriptures pointed to Christ.
23 That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.
Had Paul been before a Jewish audience instead of a Gentile one, and had he been preaching a sermon instead of giving testimony in court, he might have pause here to introduce Scriptures supporting his testimony.
That the Christ should suffer was the theme of Psalm 22 and 69 and Isaiah 53. That He would conquer death was the theme of Psalm 16:10. That he would bring light to the Gentiles was the theme of Isaiah and Hosea and many other prophets.