Acts 26: 19 – 32 Paul before Agrippa – Part 3
‘So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 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 – 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.’
At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defence. ‘You are out of your mind, Paul!’ he shouted. ‘Your great learning is driving you insane.’
‘I am not insane, most excellent Festus,’ Paul replied. ‘What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe in the prophets? I know you do.’
Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?
Paul replied, ‘Short time or long – I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.’
The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. After they left the room, they began saying to one another, ‘This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.’
Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.’
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“At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defence. ‘You are out of your mind, Paul!’ he shouted. ‘Your great learning is driving you insane.’ ”
I wonder how many twenty-first century citizens feel the same as Festus? Paul is standing in a court of law talking about believing in a man rising from the dead! And Paul’s reply doesn’t make matters any better.
“ ‘I am not insane, most excellent Festus,’ Paul replied. ‘What I am saying is true and reasonable.’ ”
To a civilisation which prized the revelation of God to their ancestors in the Scripture above anything else, and in the sense that you could use the scripture to justify believing in a man rising from the dead, well, maybe Paul’s argument is reasonable. To a hard-headed Roman administrator, it sounds insane. In the modern sense, where reasonable means rational, it just sounds wrong.
To most of our contemporaries, a man rising from the dead is neither reasonable nor believable.
So how do we tell our friends why we believe it?
Paul had two arguments that he used to convey the good news of Jesus. The argument that he used most with the Jews was the argument from scripture. All prophecy from Moses onwards foreshadows the Messiah, and Jesus of Nazareth can be shown to fulfil the predictions of prophecy. It was a relatively small step from the Jewish faith to belief in Jesus the Messiah.
The second argument was that of personal witness. Paul believed he had had an encounter with the risen Lord Jesus. We read about this yesterday in Acts 26: 12 – 18. He must have told this story many times, because Luke tells of at least two other occasions, in Acts 9: 1 – 19, and Acts 22: 1 – 16.
Of Paul’s two arguments, that from scripture has very little resonance with non-Christians today. They neither know nor care about the scriptures, and yet to be fulfilled they still need God’s salvation. How can we offer that to them?
Well, just as Paul could tell of his encounter with Jesus, so can we. If we tell people about our experience of God, people then have an opportunity to take matters further. They may want to try an Alpha course; they may like to come to a church service with us; they may want to read one of the gospels, to learn for themselves what Jesus did and the sort of man that he was. It’s not up to us to convert them – that is for the Holy Spirit. We just have to witness from our experience.
Of course, we need to have the experience before we can witness to it. This is one reason why it is important to put our faith into action. The more we seek, prayerfully, to do God’s will, the more we will experience the presence of Jesus with us. We can expect to feel Jesus supporting us and helping us grow to be more like him.
In the twenty-first century, it’s hard to believe in God. It’s unreasonable. Even so, Jesus the Nazarene rose from the dead, and is still alive today – and we can share that life. Alleluia!
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One of my friends blogged this morning about Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
She spoke of how a prayer based on this verse had helped her in a very dark time.
It seems particularly appropriate for my blogpost today, and I think I shall use it often.
Please give me the faith to have confidence in what I hope for, and assurance in what I do not see.
In Jesus’ name, Amen