2019-03-31 – Acts 24-26 – Paul’s Courageous Finale – 2
2019-03-31 – Acts 24-26 – Paul’s Courageous Finale - 2
Good morning everyone. It is so nice to be able to spend some time with you all in fellowship with the Lord. Thank you and God bless you for being with us today.
(Lottie Moon Missionary Offering; Church Growth Training)
As we are continuing in our study of the books of Acts. Last week we read about how Paul finished his last missionary journey and made it back to his home town in Jerusalem. There he presented the offerings from the Gentile churches he helped start. But unfortunately within a short time Paul found himself again in the middle of an angry Jewish mob, who wanted Paul (the Jewish traitor) dead.
The Roman soldiers quickly jumped into the middle of the fray, and contained the situation. Paul was allowed to give his final plea and testimony, but that didn’t go so well either. The angry mob wanted to kill him. The soldiers ushered him away and took him to Caesarea to stand trial for effectively disturbing the peace.
Please turn now to Acts 24, verse 10, page 992 in your pew Bibles, which is the Inspired, Infallible and Living Word of God. But first let us pray..
As I stated last week, this is the final series of messages for this wonderful book of Acts. Unlike the previous chapters where we went verse by verse, we are only going to be covering the highlights of these final eight chapters. Today we are going to cover chapters 24-26. This series is called Paul’s Courageous Finale.
I will warn you in advance that we are going to be reading through a lot of scripture today, but please read along with me as it is really a great story-lesson.
We are going to witness Paul going through a series of trials by Roman leaders in Caesarea. The first trial is with Governor Felix who then puts Paul off for the next Governor Festus, who eventually brings Paul before King Agrippa. Paul ends up in prison for years even though at each trial the charges never stick because really all he is doing is proclaiming that his hope in the resurrection has been fulfilled in Jesus, which is hardly a crime. But at this point the Roman legal machine can’t just turn him away, and so Paul ends up appealing to Caesar, Rome’s highest court. Pay attention now to how Paul masterfully speaks to each of these officials.
Paul’s Defense before Felix
2410 When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: “Because I know you have been a judge of this nation for many years, I am glad to offer my defense in what concerns me. 11 You can verify for yourself that it is no more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem. 12 They didn’t find me arguing with anyone or causing a disturbance among the crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or anywhere in the city. 13 Neither can they prove the charges they are now making against me. 14 But I admit this to you: I worship the God of my ancestors according to the Way, which they call a sect, believing everything that is in accordance with the law and written in the prophets. 15 I have a hope in God, which these men themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection, both of the righteous and the unrighteous. 16 I always strive to have a clear conscience toward God and men. 17 After many years, I came to bring charitable gifts and offerings to my people. 18 While I was doing this, some Jews from Asia found me ritually purified in the temple, without a crowd and without any uproar. 19 It is they who ought to be here before you to bring charges, if they have anything against me. 20 Or let these men here state what wrongdoing they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin, 21 other than this one statement I shouted while standing among them, ‘Today I am on trial before you concerning the resurrection of the dead.’”
Have you ever had the chance to serve on a jury, or visit a court proceedings?
I wouldn’t call it a pleasant experience, especially if you are the one being judged. However, I always find it interesting to see how the court operates and the dynamics of who speaks when, and what the lawyers and judge has to say. Paul here was speaking to the Governor Felix, who was asked to preside over the case that was brought up against Paul by the high-priest Ananias along with some elders and a lawyer named Tertullus. In the previous verses the accusers presented their case to the Roman governor as if it was really just a simple open and shut situation. By all accounts it would seem to be just a matter of formality, however Paul was more than equipped to present his side of the story. Paul was a trained prosecutor himself, and he was educated and familiar with these types of proceedings. He also had much experience about going up against high officials and authorities as he met against much persecution when he was starting churches on his three missionary journeys. Paul was uniquely chosen by God, for he was also a Roman citizen and he knew his rights and how to appeal to the Roman courts. Governor Felix got much more than he bargained for in these proceedings, and as a result Felix didn’t really know how to even sentence Paul based upon the circumstances.
One of the Roman laws was that a prisoner could always appeal to a higher court. Even in our courts today, that is a right for the accused. Paul requested to see Caesar and have him pronounce the final judgement. Governor Felix, and his predecessor didn’t want to make waves to that higher court, so they just decided to let Paul spend time in jail instead for almost two additional years before they would finally give Paul his day in court in Rome. The problem was, Festus couldn’t just send Paul to Cesar without an investigation, so he requested that King Agrippa come and evaluate the situation. King Agrippa was not a jew, but he was in charge of that province and he understood the Jewish laws and customs. What we are going to see now is Paul’s testimony before Agrippa.
Turn in your Bibles now to Chapter 26 of Acts, starting at verse 1:
Paul’s Defense before Agrippa
26 Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”
Then Paul stretched out his hand and began his defense: 2 “I consider myself fortunate, that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, 3 especially since you are very knowledgeable about all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
4 “All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem. 5 They have known me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived as a Pharisee. 6 And now I stand on trial because of the hope in what God promised to our ancestors, 7 the promise our twelve tribes hope to reach as they earnestly serve him night and day. King Agrippa, I am being accused by the Jews because of this hope. 8 Why do any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead? 9 In fact, I myself was convinced that it was necessary to do many things in opposition to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 I actually did this in Jerusalem, and I locked up many of the saints in prison, since I had received authority for that from the chief priests. When they were put to death, I was in agreement against them. 11 In all the synagogues I often punished them and tried to make them blaspheme. Since I was terribly enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities.
Could you imagine talking to a king. Would you be nervous? What would you say? I think it would be one of those times where your tongue seems to immediately become numb. I had that kind of unexpected conversation once. I was in the island country called Bahrain, right next to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. We had a weekend off and the Army let me go to this hotel to rest. I was wearing my combat uniform, and it was a tall hotel building. I wanted to get a picture from the top floor so I took the elevator and found a small port-hole kind of window.
I got the picture, but it was unimpressive unfortunately. As I was getting back in the elevator, I heard somebody say “Hold the elevator please” and a lady and her little girl jumped in. As we were headed down to the ground floor, I proceeded to do my Disney impressions for the little girl, for which she was laughing out loud about. When we finally reached the lobby, I held the door for her and she stopped as she was exiting and said, I just want you to know who you are talking to;
she pointed with her hand to a sheik looking man in the lobby, and said this is the Emir (king) of Kuwait, and I am his first wife. Immediately I felt my tongue grow numb.. but I was able to say, that it was a pleasure to meet her. She thanked me for my part in helping her country. I told her I hoped she found it in good order, and that I was proud to serve. We parted, and I was still in shock as I made my way back to the troops. But that feeling that all a sudden comes over you when you realize you are with somebody special. You don’t want to do or say anything that would make you look like a dufus. You want to be there in the moment but you also want to run away at the same time.
Anyway, Paul didn’t seem to have this problem. He was bold, confident and brave. He gave his full testimony to King Agrippa. Paul is trying to convince King Agrippa that he really did nothing wrong. However at the same time, Paul is using this opportunity to one more time present the Gospel message. This room they are in is packed with local authorities and elders and priests and there is much pomp and circumstance. Throughout Paul’s Christian evangelical life, he has always taken full advantage of any sizable gathering so that the Gospel could be shared. This is a great lesson for us as well. If God allows you to be put in a position that has much influence, be in much prayer, because it could really be a divine appointment. Paul was brave in the face of adversity, and we can be brave too knowing that Jesus is right in the trenches there with us.
Agrippa Not Quite Persuaded
24 As he was saying these things in his defense, Festus exclaimed in a loud voice, “You’re out of your mind, Paul! Too much study is driving you mad.”
Governor Festus was a Roman and he couldn’t accept that Paul (a very educated Roman Jew) could believe that Jesus really rose from the grave. He was also aghast that Paul talked to his royal visitor, King Agrippa, with such boldness.
25 But Paul replied, “I’m not out of my mind, most excellent Festus. On the contrary, I’m speaking words of truth and good judgment. 26 For the king knows about these matters, and I can speak boldly to him. For I am convinced that none of these things has escaped his notice, since this was not done in a corner.
27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you believe.”
This was a daring and shrewd comment by Paul, King Agrippa would be in trouble if he said yes or no at this question, because the prophets of old foretold about the coming Savior/Messiah. If he said yes, then it would give Paul ammo to go into what the profits said about Jesus; if he said no, then he would be going against the Jewish beliefs.
28 Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you going to persuade me to become a Christian so easily?” 29 “I wish before God,” replied Paul, “that whether easily or with difficulty, not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am—except for these chains.”
Paul always used any circumstance or situation to lead people to Christ. The others that were in the room were no doubt amazed and shocked at what Paul was saying to these highest of officials. Paul was so wise, confident and so bold.
30 The king, the governor, Bernice, and those sitting with them got up, 31 and when they had left they talked with each other and said, “This man is not doing anything to deserve death or imprisonment.” 32 Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
All this was really a travesty of justice. Paul now had been incarcerated for about four years without being convicted of anything. These high-officials recognized that Paul really did nothing that would warrant such treatment and imprisonment. That is also why they were very lax on the conditions of Paul’s incarceration. Sometimes he was in chains, but other times he was just under house arrest as he was awaiting judgement. Visitors were allowed to see him, the fact that Dr. Luke was able to chronicle Paul’s life and experiences is an example of the respect they had for him and his situation.
For me the key verse in this sermon message is verse 24, where Festus accused Paul of being out of his mind. Like Paul, if we are living for Jesus Christ, standing up for Him and His priorities, speaking out for injustice, and current issues like right to life, and God’s definition of sex and marriage, then many people will probably say or think that maybe we too are out of our minds. Our world is truly upside down on so many issues today. If you are a Christian, many will think you are a radical right wingnut, and they will try to label you as being mean or hateful even. But the truth is, being a Christian means that we are to love everyone. Treat everyone with respect and honor and serve even our enemies and the “least of these”. It is sad to know that people will try to turn your good works into something it is not.
When that happens, like Paul replied, we can also boldly say, “I’m not out of my mind. On the contrary, I’m speaking words of truth and good judgment. For the king knows about these matters, and I can speak boldly for Him. For I am convinced that none of these things has escaped His notice, since this was not done in a corner”.
Father Yahweh God is our wonderful King. Although we may experience unmerited ridicule and persecution in this world, rest assured that we will be rewarded for it in heaven for all of eternity. Jesus said in Matthew 5, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”
There is an old business standard and leadership book called the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In it Steven Covey hits home the term, “Always think with the end in mind”. That is truly a great statement and practice in business as well as life it self. For us as Christians, “the end” destination is Heaven. The Bible attests that Heaven is our goal and is our prize. So in that regard, may I suggest, that if we “always think with [Heaven] in mind”, then that should drive us forward in living and acting more boldly in representing our Savior and King in this fallen world. When I am finally laid to rest, I would like my epitaph to say, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, and I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). And like Doctor Luke had stayed alongside Paul during his trials and tribulations, we also have each other, and for that I am eternally grateful indeed. Together let us make a difference in this world for God and His children.
Next week we will read the final words of this book of the Acts of the Apostles. We will effectively say goodbye to our good brother and friend Paul, and then we will go into a couple messages about Jesus and the resurrection.
I pray you are learning from these sermon efforts. My goal is that you might be more enlightened about what it means to be a Christian through understanding God’s Inspired, Infallible and Living Word.
Would you please stand with me now, as we close with an invitation
Let us sing: Amazing Grace.. “A FRIENDLY CHURCH IN A FRIENDLY TOWN”