EFFECTIVE PERSONAL TESTIMONY COVERS OUR PRE-CONVERSION LIFE, OUR SAVING ENCOUNTER WITH JESUS CHRIST, AND OUR TRANSFORMED LIFE AND MINISTRY
Remember that the purpose of this inquiry before Agrippa was to help Festus prepare specific charges to write down in the letter that would accompany Paul to Caesar in Rome (25:26-27). Agrippa’s familiarity with Jewish doctrine and practice uniquely equipped him to understand the issues of this controversy. Paul used this stage to present his streamlined (elevator speech) testimony that covered his pre-conversion days, his conversion encounter with Jesus and his post conversion transformed life and ministry. What a model for the type of testimony each of us should be prepared to offer up today.
EFFECTIVE PERSONAL TESTIMONY COVERS OUR PRE-CONVERSION LIFE, OUR SAVING ENCOUNTER WITH JESUS CHRIST, AND OUR TRANSFORMED LIFE AND MINISTRY
I. (:1-11) PRE-CONVERSION TESTIMONY OF LIFE AS A STRICT PHARISEE
A. (:1-3) Personal Entreaty to King Agrippa
“And Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You are permitted to speak for yourself.’ Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense: ‘In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today; especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.’”
Paul does not want to be interrupted prematurely; he wants to be allowed to give his entire defensive argument – explaining his conversion and the motivation for his gospel ministry
“apologia” – from which we get apologetics
Kent: Paul was not now on trial. All trials in the provincial courts had ceased the moment his appeal to the emperor was allowed. This occasion was arranged to satisfy Agrippa’s interest in Paul, and also to provide Festus with information with which to write an accusation to send to Rome.
Stott: It was a dramatic moment when the holy and humble apostle of Jesus Christ stood before this representative of the worldly, ambitious, morally corrupt family of the Herods, who for generation after generation had set themselves in opposition to truth and righteousness.
Constable: The Lord had told Paul that he would bear His name before the Gentiles and kings (Acts 9:15). Jesus had also told His disciples that before the Tribulation enemies would deliver them to prison and bring them before kings and governors for His name’s sake. This, He said, would lead to an opportunity for their testimony (Luke 21:12-13). This is exactly what happened to Paul, and he used this opportunity to give his testimony, as this chapter records.
B. (:4-5) Jewish Upbringing as a Strict Pharisee
“So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; since they have known about me for a long time previously, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.”
Paul could not be accused of being ignorant of the Jewish beliefs and practices and traditions; he was steeped in them
Constable: Paul said that it was because of his Jewish heritage, not in spite of it, that he believed and preached what he did. The Jewish hope finds fulfillment in the Christian gospel. It was, therefore, ironic that the Jews, of all people, should have charged him with disloyalty.
C. (:6-8) Resurrection Hope Consistent with Jewish Tradition
“And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?”
Abrahamic promises make no sense apart from a future hope;
Kent: the issue was the hope of salvation for Israel. This had been promised to the patriarchs and enlarged by the prophets to include the sending of a divine Deliverer whose coming would bring the salvation for which they longed, and would also issue in resurrection that even those who had died might participate in Messiah’s reign.
Bruce: That a faithful Pharisee believed in the resurrection of the dead, and saw no fulfilment of Israel’s ancient hope apart from the resurrection, went without saying. But the amazing and indeed absurd feature of the present dispute was that he was being prosecuted for his proclamation of this very hope – and prosecuted by Jews, of all people! But this hope was the hope that God would keep the promise which He made to the fathers of the nation long ago; it was the hope which gave life and meaning and purpose to the ordinances of divine worship, faithfully maintained by all twelve tribes of Israel generation after generation – the hope that God would one day come down to deliver His people as He had done when they were slaves in Egypt, that He would raise up a horn of salvation for them “in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old” (cf. Luke 1:69f.).
Application: If we were to be examined regarding our personal testimony would there be enough evidence to convict us of standing for the hope of the gospel?
D. (:9-11) Zealous Persecution of Christians
“So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.”
The Jews are treating him unjustly even as he had tried to force Christians to blaspheme
II. (:12-18) CONVERSION TESTIMONY LEADING TO HIS COMMISSIONING
A. (:12-14) Crisis Conversion = Damascus Road Experience
1. (:12-13) Saw the Light
“While thus engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me.”
2. (:14) Heard the Voice
“And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’”
Bock: All fell down, but only Saul heard the voice. Only this version notes that all fell to the ground. This shows that it was a real, external event, not merely an internal vision of Jesus. Only Saul, however, understood the exchange.
Constable: Goads were sharp sticks used to drive cattle. The figure of kicking against goads was and is a common rural metaphor that describes opposing the inevitable (like “banging your head against a wall”). Such action only hurts the one doing it, not the object of his hostility. This was the case in Paul’s antagonism to God that his persecution of Christians expressed.
Dave Guzik: These words emphasize:
· The personal appeal of Jesus (Saul, Saul).
· The misdirected nature of his persecution (Me).
· The folly of persecuting Jesus (Why).
Application: When people offer resistance to our presentation of the gospel and treat us harshly because of our identification with Christ, they ultimately are persecuting Christ Himself. We should not take it personally but count it joy to fellowship in the sufferings of Christ.
B. (:15) Confrontation with Jesus
“And I said, ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”
C. (:16-18) Commissioning to Bear Witness
1. (:16) The Directive = Appointed to Communicate God’s Revelation
“But arise, and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you;”
Stott: Christ’s commission of Saul took the form of three verbs, all in the first person singular of direct speech, although respectively in the past, future and present tenses: “I have appeared to you”, “I will rescue you” and “I am sending you”.
Application: We all have been called to be witnesses for Christ. It is not a matter of whether or not we will be a witness … but rather what type of witness will we be?
2. (:17) The Deliverance = Lifting of the Veil of Darkness / Freedom from Bondage
“delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God,”
Bruce: That believing Gentiles were to have an equal and rightful share in the heritage of the holy people of God, was a feature of the gospel which it was Paul’s peculiar mission first to understand and make known (cf. Eph. 2:19; 3:1 ff.).
Stott: A similar promise of “rescue” was made to Jeremiah. This did not guarantee immunity to suffering. On the contrary, it was part of the vocation of prophets and apostles to endure suffering (cf. 9:16). But it did mean that their testimony would not be silenced until their God-appointed work was done.
3. (:18) The Destination = Lofty Goal
“in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.”
Bock: So the gift of the gospel has two prime elements:
(1) the forgiveness of sins and
(2) the reception of a place with God and the saints
III. (:19-23) GOSPEL WITNESS OF THE NEED FOR REPENTANCE AND FAITH ON THE PART OF ALL PEOPLE
A. (:19-21) Preaching Repentance and Faith to All
1. (:19-20) The Preaching
“Consequently, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.”
2. (:21) The Persecution
“For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death.”
B. (:22-23) Pressing the Application to All People
“And so, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”
Stott: This renewed claim that Paul was not an innovator, but a faithful exponent of the Scriptures, also had its parallel in Luther and the other sixteenth-century Reformers. They were accused by the Roman Catholic Church of teaching novelties. But they denied it. “We teach no new thing,” Luther claimed, “but we repeat and establish old things, which the apostles and all godly teachers have taught before us.” Or, as Lancelot Andrewes was to say a century later, “we are renovators not innovators.
Lenski: Paul does not complain about the treatment he received from the Jews, his own nationalists. Two years of Roman imprisonment have not embittered him against those who occasioned it by their murderous attack upon him in the temple. Not one harsh or hateful word appears in his address. What he sees is this wonderful help of God which came to his rescue at that critical moment and by rescuing him then enabled him to stand as a constant confessor to this very day.
Johnny Potter: What is this new and different light that Christ would be the first to proclaim? Could it be The Light that is uniquely found in the person of Jesus Christ, a LIGHT that produces a LIFE that is also uniquely found in Jesus Christ, a LIFE that up until the time of Christ had not been available to mankind, a truly new LIFE? I think this is exactly the thought behind this phrase. Listen to these Scripture readings: regarding light: Gen 1:1-3; Psalm 27:1; Psalm 36:9; John 1:1-4; John 8:12; 2 Timothy 1:10. The Christ “would be the first to proclaim light” in the sense of the unique light that yields the ultimate life God intends for us, life that is distinct and different than the biological life with which we are familiar. Paul testified of the Christ who was the first to proclaim THAT LIGHT AND LIFE!
IV. (:24-32) CONCLUDING INTERACTIONS – SEEKING CONVERTS
A. (:24-26) Paul’s Interaction with Festus – “I Speak the Sober Truth”
“And while Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.’”
“But Paul said, ‘I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth.’”
“For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner.”
Interesting that Festus interrupts but Agrippa does not deny Paul’s claims; Festus still has nothing concrete to write down to pass along to Caesar
The gospel message is foolishness to the Gentiles
Steven Cole: Festus was a rationalist. For him, the notion that Jesus or anyone else could rise from the dead was just plain crazy. He thought that in spite of Paul’s great learning, saying such things proved that the man had lost his mind. He believed in philosophy and logic, not in religious superstition.
B. (:27-29) Paul’s Interaction with King Agrippa – “I Desire Your Salvation”
“King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.”
“And Agrippa replied to Paul, ‘In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.’”
“And Paul said, ‘I would to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.’”
Saying essentially: “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” e.g. I see where you arguments and questions are going; you are calling for a decision
Bruce: Therefore he could not admit that he did believe the prophets; on the other hand, he could not say that he did not believe them, for his reputation for orthodoxy and his influence with the Jews would be gone if he did. So he turned Paul’s appeal aside with a smile…”
Humor on the part of Paul = “except for these chains”
C. (:30-32) Sidebar Discussions – Paul is Innocent of All Serious Charges
1. (:30-31) General Consensus
“And the king arose and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them, and when they had drawn aside, they began talking to one another, saying, ‘This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment.’”
2. (:32) Official Dilemma
“And Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.’”
Dave Guzik: It seems that Paul might have been set free here if he had not appealed to Caesar. So, was Paul’s appeal to Caesar a good thing or a bad thing?
i. Some people believe it was a bad thing, and that Paul was trusting in the power of the Roman legal system instead of in the power of God. They say that Paul might have been set free by Agrippa if he had not appealed to Caesar.
ii. However, we should see the fulfillment of God’s plan through all these events. By his appeal to Caesar, Paul will have the opportunity to preach to the Roman Emperor the way he had to Felix, Festus, and Agrippa, thus fulfilling the promise that Paul would bear My name before…kings (Acts 9:15).
iii. The appeal to Caesar, and his subsequent journey to Rome at the Empire’s expense, were also the fulfillment of the Holy Spirit’s purpose that Paul should go to Rome (Acts 19:21, 23:11). This also answered a long-standing desire in the heart of Paul to visit the already present Christian community there (Romans 1:9-13).
S. Lewis Johnson: There’s a marvelous story with which I’ll conclude, of a well-known preacher who was concluding his message, and in concluding his message he wanted to bring home the facts of the gospel of Christ, and he chose to use the text in the Old Testament, “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die O house of Israel?” And he said first, “Why will ye die? Why this desperate resolve? Why this firmness? Why will ye die? You vacillate elsewhere, why are you so obstinate here?” He emphasized the first word “why.” “What reason have you got? What motive have you got? What argument? What apologies? What excuses? Why will ye die?” And then turning to the little pronoun “you” he said, “Why will ye die, you gray heads?” . . . You face soon, perhaps, the relationship with the Lord God. Why will you die? Or you young people, why will you die?” He said, “You who have such promise and opportunity, your life, so far as we know, lied ahead of you. Why will ye die?” And finally, he emphasized the final word, “Why will ye die? Why this determination to make your way ultimately to the lake of fire? Why are you so purposing in all that you do, to spend your time in separation from the Lord God? And he concluded with the text, “Turn ye, turn ye from your evils ways, for why will ye die O house of Israel?” Well, that’s a marvelous way to conclude this sermon. Why will ye die?