Paul Before Agrippa
May 16th, 1954 @ 7:30 PM
PAUL BEFORE AGRIPPA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-16-54 7:30 p.m.
The twenty-[sixth] chapter of the Book of Acts is the recounting of the defense of Paul before King Agrippa. And this morning in our reading in the Word we stopped at the eighteenth verse; we stopped at the end of the recounting of the conversion experience of Paul as he met the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus [Acts 26:12-18]. Now we begin tonight at the nineteenth verse, and follow through to the end of the chapter. After relating the story of his conversion, meeting Jesus in the way:
Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:
But showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the nations, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works worthy of repentance.
For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me.
Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses say should come:
That Christ should suffer, that He should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.
And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.
But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.
For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.
King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.
And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them:
And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds.
Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.
That finishes the [twenty-sixth] chapter; and this is our last message on the chapter, before we turn to the story of Paul’s journey to Rome [Acts 27].
Coming down from Galilee, over Mount Carmel, one of the missionaries asked me if I would like to go to the site of old Caesarea, the ancient capital of Judah. I said I would like to go. As the little English car made its way off the road and turned toward the Mediterranean Sea, as we neared the site, I saw broken columns, ruins here and there and yonder, scattered all over the fields that are tilled now by the people. One column especially, I remember. It had lain there, I suppose, for two thousand, one hundred years, almost covered in dust. A Corinthian column made of solid marble, fluted, beautifully made, just one of a thousand pieces of gorgeous work that points back to the day when Caesarea by the Sea, built by Herod the Great, was made the beautiful capital of the Roman province of Judea. It was made out of solid marble, with colonnaded streets, theaters, hippodrome, circus, palace, Praetorium, colonnaded streets, arches, monuments, temples, everything that a lavish Oriental monarch could think to embellish and glorify his beautiful capital. Far over the plains of Sharon, and far out over the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, glittered and sparkled and shined beneath the sun this marbled capital of Herod the Great.
On the inside of that capital, in the Praetorium, the palace of the Roman procurator, a scene occurred that the world could never forget [Acts 25:23-27]. It’s one of pomp, one of state, one of majesty, most impressive. There in the beautiful marbled hall on a raised dais, sits the Roman procurator, Porcius Festus [Acts 25:23]. Around him are his lectors and his standard bearers, and the legionnaires, and their emblem, their insignia, all the glory and might of the Roman Empire. And by his side is King Agrippa, with the tokens and the insignia of royalty, in his scarlet robe, and attended by gaily panoplied attendants; the retinue of the king of Lebanon. And by his side is Bernice, his sister, beautifully, gorgeously gowned with flashing jewels [Acts 25:23]. And then strange to say, out in front, standing on the marble pavement is a humble Jew [Acts 25:23]. There’s an iron chain around his hand, and just back of him stands a Roman soldier, and the other end of that manacle is on him [Acts 26:29]. And he stands there facing this royal court. And there, gathered by the side of those three illustrious dignitaries, are the magistrates and the captains and the chief men of the Roman province of Judea [Acts 25:23].
It was a sight, I say, that the world could never forget. What a contrast between these who sat on the dais and that humble Jew, manacled and in chains, standing on the marble pavement [Acts 26:1, 29]. Here was luxury, and there was poverty. Here was strength and power, and there was weakness. Here was pampered self-indulgence, and there was severe self-denial and sacrifice. There was inhumanity, and here was tender sympathy. There was cynicism and skepticism, and here was sublime faith in God [Acts 26:25]. Such a day and such an hour.
This is the reason that it came to pass. The Roman governor Felix, on his hands he found a Jew by the name of Saul, Paul, a Roman citizen of Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia [Acts 21:39]. And having heard the trial of this Jew and all that had been laid against him [Acts 24:24], Felix couldn’t find it in his heart at all to condemn him [Acts 24:24-25]; so in order to please the Jews, he just left him in bonds. And for two years that Jew Paul stayed in prison in Caesarea [Acts 24:27]. At the end of two years, due to misdemeanor and malfeasance and maladministration, Felix was recalled to Rome in disgrace. And willing to do the Jews a favor, he left Paul in bonds [Acts 24:27]. The new Roman procurator was named Porcius Festus [Acts 24:27, 25:1]. He was a typical Roman; he was a noble man. In some respects there were many fine traits of character about Festus. After three days, he went from Caesarea by the Sea, the Roman capital, up to Jerusalem. And no sooner had he come to Jerusalem than he was surrounded by the priests and the elders of the people, saying all manner of things villainous against his prisoner there in Caesarea [Acts 25:1-3]. Isn’t that strange? It had been two years since Paul was tried, and in the meantime there was a new high priest. Ishmael had come to take the place of Ananias; yet after two years they are as vindictive and as bitter, as acrimonious in their charges against Paul as they were when they first caught him in the temple to beat him to death [Acts 21:27-36].
So they importuned Porcius Festus that he might bring Paul to Jerusalem and there be tried for his life, meaning by the way to assassinate him [Acts 25:2-3]. But Porcius Festus, either because he was a noble Roman or because he knew of that assassinating plot, Porcius Festus said, “No, it is not right that he be brought up here. We will try him where he is imprisoned. You come down, and I will sit on the throne; and you will try him face to face” [Acts 25:4-5]. So that trial was held [Acts 25:6-8]. And when it was done, to the amazement of Festus, it was nothing at all about sedition, or about treason, or about blasphemy, or about anything against Caesar or the government, but it was a question of one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul said was alive [Acts 25:19]. And I hope you have memory enough to remember my sermon on that: whom Paul said was dead—who was dead, whom Paul said was alive, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, last Sunday night. After the trial was over, Porcius Festus said, “I can’t deliver this man to death. And on the other hand, these Jews are pressing me and importuning me and begging me for his blood. And I don’t know what to do. Here I am the new governor of the people, and I want to please them; and yet my Roman training won’t allow me to deliver this innocent man unto death.” So he hit upon a happy scheme: he said, “Paul, we’ll try you in Jerusalem. We’ll go up there” [Acts 25:9]. That pleased the Jews and at the same time it obviated a death sentence on Paul. “We’ll go to Jerusalem and there be tried.” And when Paul heard Festus say that, he knew by the way it meant assassination. So Paul replied, “Sir, I refuse not to die, if I have done anything worthy of death. But I have done nothing worthy of capital punishment. I stand at the court of Caesar. I appeal as a Roman citizen to Caesar” [Acts 25:10-11]. And so Porcius Festus had no other recourse: being a Roman citizen, he had appealed to the highest tribunal in the land, “So to Caesar,” said Porcius Festus, “you shall go” [Acts 25:12]. And Paul remained in bonds in Caesarea, waiting the day of his being sent to Rome and to Caesar.
Now in those days, Porcius Festus had to write an indictment against Paul and send it to Caesar in Rome. But he didn’t have anything to say against him. It was something of religion, of Jewish faith; there wasn’t anything in the indictment that Porcius Festus could write that would in anywise be acceptable in any high court in the capital city of Rome. So wondering what he would say when he sent his prisoner to Caesar, wondering, he had a guest, King Agrippa, who was a Jew, king of Lebanon, the country to the north. King Agrippa came to salute Porcius Festus, the governor of Judea; and he had his sister by his side, who was a Jewess. So as they tarried many days together, upon a day Festus said to Agrippa, “I have a Jew here by the name of Paul. And the leaders of the nation are exceedingly vindictive against him, and he has appealed unto Caesar. But I have no indictment whereby I could write and tell Caesar why he comes.” And Agrippa replied, “I have heard much about that man and about this new religion. I would like to hear him for myself.” And Festus said, “On the morrow, thou shall” [Acts 25:13-22].
So they gathered together in the scene in the Praetorium that I have described, and the hearing began. Festus introduces it: “King Agrippa, I have a prisoner here who has appealed unto Caesar; but I have nothing wherewith to write an indictment against him as I send him to the highest court of the empire. And now thinking that in your wisdom and in your experience I might gain somewhat to say when he’s sent, I have brought him here, and you may hear him for yourself” [Acts 25:23-27].
Then King Agrippa spake unto Paul, and said, “Sir, thou mayest answer for thyself.” And Paul began to speak to the king and the Roman procurator, and to the retinue of the court of Lebanon and Judea [Acts 26:1].
This defense, as I have said, is one of the most eloquent in all literature. After speaking of the conscience that was pure before God, having done no evil in the sight of God or of men, he says, “I thought within myself, King Agrippa, that I ought to do things contrary, many things contrary against this Jesus of Nazareth and against His disciples [Acts 26:9]. And having obtained authority and letters [Acts 26:12], I was on the way to Damascus to hale any that I found who believed and called on that name into prison and unto death. And as I journeyed toward Jerusalem, there came a light from heaven, above the brightness of the Syrian sun” [Acts 26:13]. I’ve gone over that journey; and as I neared Damascus, how impressive the memory of that story.
There was a man who studied all the battlefields of the world that was on his way to Damascus. And a guide pointed out to that man, a student of strategy and logistics and military prowess, pointed out to him the traditional spot where Paul met the Lord Jesus on the road to the city. And that great military leader said, “I have visited and studied all of the great battlefields in the world. But the most decisive of all of the decisions that were ever made were not those on any battlefield I’ve ever seen, but it was made in this spot right here.” That is the conversion of the apostle Paul. On the road to the city, above the brightness of that Syrian sun and how it can burn, and flame, and heat, and in fire, above the brightness of that meridian sun, there came a light from heaven, and in it was the glorious Lord Jesus [Acts 26:13-15]. And Paul said, “King Agrippa, the thing that I have done, and the gospel that I have preached, and the message that I have tried to carry to the world is none other thing than an obedience to the call of God. Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision [Acts 26:15-19]: but the thing that I have done is the thing that God told me to do. And I have no other choice, no other recourse” [Acts 26:19-20].
Lots of men have felt that. Lots of men have felt that. If I could, my life might be different. If I could, my life might follow another course. But I have no other choice:
King Agrippa, the thing I do is life’s answer to God’s highest call; and I have no other choice. I began to show unto them at Damascus, then at Jerusalem, then at all of the regions of Judea, and now to the ends of the civilized world, I began to show to them that they should repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. And while I was preaching this message and story of the Lord Jesus, having come to mine own nation and mine own city, the Jews caught me in the temple, as I was declaring none other thing than what the prophets and Moses said that should come to pass in the Lord Jesus: that He should suffer, that He should die for our sins, that He should be the first to rise from the grave, that He should show forth light and salvation to the peoples of the earth. While I was preaching it, and while I was making the message known, they seized me, to kill and destroy me.
While he was preaching that furious, flaming word of the gospel of Christ, the Roman procurator broke in and said, “Paul, Paul, Paul, thou art mad; much learning doth make thee mad. Paul, Paul, thou art beside thyself” [Acts 26:24].
Have you ever noticed, as you read through the Word of God, have you ever noticed how many, many times, how many times you will find that reaction to miracle, to the supernatural, to conversion, to inspiration, to a great experience in God? “It’s madness, or it’s drunkenness, or it’s insanity. No normal somebody would ever act that way. They’re fools and fanatics.” You remember the story of the Lord Jesus? The Bible says, “And His friends came to take Him home because, they said, He is beside Himself [Mark 3:21], beside Himself, He is mad; let us take Him back to His mother and His family and home in Nazareth. The Lord Jesus, in His work, is beside Himself” [Mark 3:21]. His friends said that about Him. You remember what His enemies said about Him? His enemies said, “He has got a devil. He has got an unclean spirit. He is actuated by Beelzebub [Matthew 12:24]. No normal man do like that.” You remember when those women came, saying, “He has risen from the dead. He is alive!” [Luke 24:5-9]. Remember what those disciples said about those women? They said, “Why, they have seen hallucinations! They are just conjuring up things that never happened” [Luke 24:5-11]. You remember at Pentecost what they said when these men were [filled] by the Spirit [Acts 2:1-4], and began to preach the gospel in other tongues and other languages, remember? [Acts 2:4-12]. They said, “These men are all drunk. New wine has gone to their head, and they have lost their balance and their equilibrium” [Acts 2:13].
Again here in Paul, that’s materialism and skepticism’s answer to any great drive, to any vast consecration, “Why, the man’s crazy. He’s a fool. He’s a fanatic. It’s gone to his head. No normal person ever acts like that.” That was Festus’ reaction as he heard Paul preach in his defense before King Agrippa. “Paul, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. No sane man would ever talk like that, preach like that. No normal man ever had an experience like that. Paul, Paul, thou art mad” [Acts 26:24]. And Paul replied, “I am not mad, I am not beside myself, most noble Festus,” that’s a technical term for the order, the place of a knight in the oligarchy of the Roman Empire, “most noble Festus,” most noble Festus. “But I preach the words of sobriety and truth. I’m a sane man, Festus, and I know that I speak words of sanity and credibility. I am not mad, most noble Festus, for the king knows of these things whereof I speak; for they were not done in a corner” [Acts 26:25-26].
The Lord, when He was crucified, was crucified openly. Right in front of Mount Calvary ran the main highway to the north; and the crowds as they passed by saw the three crosses there [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12]. And the sun went out, and the darkness covered the earth [Matthew 27:38, 45]. Everybody knew that story. “King Agrippa, you have heard it, and you know it. And King Agrippa, the thing that I am preaching is none other thing than what Moses and the prophets said,” that the Lord should die, be buried, and the third day rise again [Acts 26:22-23]. “King Agrippa, believest thou that Book? King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? King Agrippa, believest thou this Word? Believest thou?” [Acts 26:25-27].
And he didn’t answer. I can see Paul pause as he asks that rhetorical question, “King Agrippa, believest thou the Word of God? Believest thou the prophets?” King Agrippa wasn’t prepared to answer. And Paul answered for him, “I know that you believe. I know that you believe” [Acts 26:27].
Then Agrippa finally answers, “Paul, en oligō thou persuadest me to be a Christian” [Acts 26:28]. And Paul said, “I would to God, I would to God that not only thou, but all that hear me this day, were both en oligō and en megalō such as I am, except for these bonds” [Acts 26:29]. And he raised his manacled hands with the chain dangling down, tied to a Roman soldier. “En oligō, en megalō, I wish you were such as I am, except these bonds.”
How do you translate that en oligō? Well, you’ll never find any philologists and interpreters and translators, you’ll never find them agreeing. All of your grammarians say that Agrippa sneeringly, sarcastically, was saying, “In a little summary, to put it all together, Paul, you want me to be a Christian, is that right?” En oligō, in a little, “Just briefly to sum it up, you want me to be a Christian, is that right, Paul?” That’s one translation, and a grammarian’s right. Now I’m not saying that “almost” is the correct translation of that en oligō, “thou persuadest me to be a Christian” [Acts 26:28]. But I do say this, that what Paul preached, his experience, and the message of Christ, to a man who knew the Prophets and knew the Word of God, when Paul preached and got through with his witness and his testimony, there was something about it that got hold of Agrippa’s heart, and he couldn’t deny it.
And friend of mine, it gets hold of your heart, too. There’s not any man, there’s not any man who listens to the gospel message of the Son of God, that He died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], that He was raised for our justification [Romans 4:25], but that somehow it touches the soul. God made us for that. There is a chord in every heart that vibrates when it’s touched by the story of the gospel of the Son of God. “En oligō, Paul, en oligō, in a little, in a little you would persuade me to be a Christian” [Acts 26:28]. And Paul answered, “King Agrippa, would to God, would to God that not only en oligō, in a little, but en megalō, in much, in everything, all that hear me this day were altogether such as I am, except for these bonds” [Acts 26:29]. When he had said this, the king rose up, and Bernice, and the court, and the Roman procurator, and going aside, said, This man doeth nothing worthy of bonds. He could be set at liberty had he not appealed unto Caesar” [Acts 26:30-32].
And they disappeared from the record of God, waiting these two thousand years the last judgment day of the Lord [Revelation 20:11-15]. You can’t read that story without sadness in your heart. What an opportunity! What an hour! What a day! “O King Agrippa, King Agrippa!” There never was such a time when a man could have stepped down from his throne, over to the preacher of Christ, seized his manacled hand, and say, “Saul, Paul, this day, this day, en oligō and en megalō, in little and in much and altogether, I’ll be as you are, one in the faith, and in the fellowship, and in the service, and in the patience, and in the trust, and in the love of the Lord Jesus. This day I too become a Christian.” But he passed it by [Acts 26:28-30], like so many of us pass it by.
Some of us say, “Some other time, some other day.” Some of us just lack that one final ounce of will and courage to step out in the aisle and down to the front, and to the pastor. And some of us have other things we call reasons that we say to ourselves and to the pastor, and pass it by. Almost, but lost [Acts 26:28]. Ah, blessed friend, tonight, would you make it now? Make it now. And as our people pray and sing, as in this solemn and precious moment, you weigh the for and the against of the Lord, “Yes. No. I will. I won’t.” As you weigh it in your soul, tonight would you make it forever and eternally, “Yea, and Amen,” in Him? [2 Corinthians 1:20]. “Both in a little and in much I cast my life’s lot, destiny, and forever in the keeping of His precious hands.” Would you? Make it now. By letter, by confession of faith [Romans 10:9-13], by baptism [Matthew 28:19], however God shall say the word, would you come? In the balcony around, anywhere, anywhere, while we sing this song, would you come and stand by me? “Tonight, pastor, I choose the Lord, and here I come, and here I am” [Ephesians 2:8]. While we stand and while we sing.
A. Caesarea by the Sea,
inside the Praetorium
1. Festus on a
raised dais, Paul below him in chains
B. Events leading up to
this unforgettable scene(Acts 25:23-27)
had been procurator, now in disgrace replaced by Festus
a. Felix had left Paul
in bonds to please the Jews(Acts 24:27)
importuned Festus that he send Paul to Jerusalem to be tried
Festus hears him in Caesarea, decides he cannot deliver him to death(Acts 25:19)
appeals right of Roman citizen to be heard by Caesar(Acts 25:10-12)
Paul awaits transportation to Rome, Festus receives as visitors Herod Agrippa
II and Bernice, who request to hear from Paul(Acts
II. Paul’s defense
A. The experience on
the Damascus road – his conversion(Acts 26:9-12)
1. He had been a
vigorous persecutor of the Christian faith
2. Conversion of
any man a miracle of God
obedience to God’s call(Acts 26:13-23, Jeremiah
20:9, Amos 3:8)
III. The results
A. Festus – he called
Paul “mad” and “beside himself”(Acts 26:24-25)
1. So the family
and friends of Christ(Mark 3:21, 31-32)
2. So the enemies
of Christ who said He had a devil(Mark 3:27)
those at Pentecost (Acts 2:13)
So the response of materialism, cynicism and secularism
B. Agrippa – a sneer, “You
would persuade meâ€¦”(Acts 26:28-29)
2. What an
opportunity Agrippa had passed by