Scripture

Acts 25:23-26:23

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.”

26 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”

So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.

“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. 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. And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. 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. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?

“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,[a] ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

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.”

Reflection

Paul began his speech by acknowledging that his audience, including King Agrippa, was not antagonistic to him. He said of Agrippa, “You are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies.” Paul was speaking in front of someone who understood the nature of the Jewish religious theology and circumstance. Also, Agrippa did not rule Judea so he was insulated from political pressures from the high priests. Paul’s hope was that a person who was knowledgeable in the details of Jewish belief and practice would grasp the fact that his Christian beliefs were the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes.

He spent considerable time recounting his conversion experience so that it was understood that he had not become a Christian on a whim. Dramatic events in his personal life had led to his change of viewpoint. Paul insisted that his Christian faith was an outgrowth of his Jewish beliefs as a Pharisee; it was organically connected with Judaism. Paul proclaimed the gospel because of his Jewish ancestry and culture, not in spite of it.

Paul again made the resurrection the real point of contention between himself and his Jewish accusers. “It is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today,” he told Agrippa. The resurrection was the promise all Israel was “hoping to see fulfilled.” He hammered home the resurrection: “King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me.” Paul pointed out that the resurrection was a Jewish hope. He implied that Christians and their hope were within the boundaries of first-century Judaism.

The word “hope” was a key term in Paul’s defense throughout Acts (23:6; 24:15; 26:6; 28:20). It refers to the believing expectation that God will fulfill the promises and prophecies made in the Old Testament. It was absurd, Paul was saying, that he should be persecuted for proclaiming the very hope in which the Jews believed! The Messiah had promised that he would free his people. God had honored Israel’s hope by sending Jesus as the Messiah and then raising him as the forerunner of the promise to raise all the righteous dead. This was the specific “hope” Paul had in mind.

As Paul tried desperately to convince the Jewish people of his time that Jesus was the answer to prayers, that their hope was revealed in Christ, I wonder how often we miss the revelation of God or answer to our prayers right in front of us. The Jews who opposed Paul had been praying for a savior for literally thousands of years. Jesus had been in their midst. Many of those who were against Paul probably met, heard or saw Jesus in the flesh. They knew of the stories of resurrection and the teachings of the Apostles. So why didn't they believe? What prevented them from hearing the truth? In my own life, it is often failure to really listen to another, fear of change, or pride in my own beliefs. God is always answering prayers, revealing God’s self to us in small and big ways. What can you do to see the truth right in front of you?

Prayer

Dear Lord, Open my eyes and ears to your work around me. Let me see the big and small ways you are answering prayers. Guide me to be a light in the darkness, proclaiming your beautiful and magnificent ways. Make me an instrument of grace and peace in the world. In Jesus' name, Amen.