Acts 26:1-11 (NIV)
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 Jews 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 according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers 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. O king, it is because of this hope that the 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. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.”
Agrippa allowed Paul to speak for himself since he had no attorney to represent him and had not had one during this whole process. In this case, it was not as much of a problem because the stakes were lower than they had been at other times. Paul was not on trial for his life here. This was a hearing to allow Paul to plainly state his case so that Festus would have something to write about his case when Paul was sent to the emperor.
Paul was actually grateful that Agrippa was present for this hearing. While definitely not a Christian nor even a devout Jew, Agrippa had grown up in and around Palestine and so was aware of the culture of the place as well as many of the controversies that had occurred over the past couple of decades.
Paul’s defense was in three parts:
- His background. Paul was raised not only in Tarsus of Cilicia, but in Jerusalem as a student of Gamaliel, the honored and conservative teacher of Israel (Acts 22:3). Paul himself had become a Pharisee, the most conservative branch of Judaism, at the earliest opportunity, and had lived faithfully under the Pharisaical interpretation of the law for many years.
- The present situation. Paul identified the main crux of the case against him as his belief in the resurrection of the dead, especially the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and of an afterlife spent in the presence of God. Though denied by the Sadducees, these doctrines are found all throughout the Old Testament, sometimes overtly, but usually more subtly. The entire Sanhedrin had concocted a story designed to explain away the clear eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 28:11-15), a story which had spread widely among the Jews, successfully immunizing many of them against belief in Jesus.
- His past. Paul had been such a staunch believer that the Christians were both deceived and deceivers that it had launched him on a crusade against the Church and all its people. This included not only arresting Christians, even in far-away cities, and voting for their deaths on the charge of blasphemy, but also mistreating them in an effort to get them to deny Jesus.
This testimony demonstrated two key things. First is that Paul had once been the same as his accusers were now in his opposition to Jesus and had been actively working against the Church. Second is that something extraordinary had to have happened to turn someone that rabidly against the faith into one of its greatest advocates. That extraordinary something is where Paul turns next.
Father, what Paul is pointing to in all this testimony is the power of the gospel to literally transform a person’s life from the inside out. Whereas Judaism was a system of laws and structures to which a person who wanted to convert agreed to submit themselves, Christianity begins with a life-transforming encounter with Jesus. Obedience to His commands comes, not from external lists of rules, but from a changed heart, motivated by a love for Jesus that springs out of gratitude for the redemption that He has made possible. Paul evidenced all this in both his history and in his present life and demeanor, and the remarkable transformation was clearly evident to any who had known Paul in his Saul of Tarsus days, a group that included many of those calling for his death! Thank You, Lord, for the complete transformation You have brought to my life, and for the testimony of that transformation that You have given me to share with others. Amen.
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