Let me invite you to open your Bibles, or tap your iPhones, or do whatever you need to do to get to Acts 26. This is one my favorite chapters, and what I’d like to do is go ahead and put an image in your mind that might be helpful.
Imagining the Audience Hall
Okay, so I want you to imagine a big fancy audience hall. So imagine a big room where people gather for special occasions. If you’ve ever been to the capitol building in St. Paul, when you walk in there is this beautiful rotunda. Okay, so imagine that. And then imagine that, there’s a special occasion, and in this rotunda there are high-ranking government officials, military commanders, VIPs in tuxedos, all of that. Super fancy. And they are all gathered to listen to this man speak who is brought in before them and he’s wearing an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs. Can you imagine that? Is that image in your head? All right, good. Hold that image.
We’re going to read some of Acts 26, but before we even get there, I want to back up and help us get our bearings on what’s going on here in these final chapters. Last week, Pastor Joe took us through chapters 21–25, and there’s a lot of movement and names in these chapters, and so I want us to talk about that, and then trace out the events that lead up here to chapter 26.
Three People, Two Places
There are really five things you should know about these chapters: three people and two places. You can hold your hands up as a reminder — I want to tell you about three people, two places. You need to know Felix, Festus, Agrippa, and then Caesarea, and Jerusalem.
Felix First, with Felix, you need to know that he was the Roman governor over the province of Judea until around the year 58. If you remember Pontius Pilate, well, Felix was in the same position that Pilate was in. He was the man who the Romans had appointed to govern Judea.
Festus And then Festus—who is introduced at the end of Acts 24—he was the Roman governor who took the place of Felix. So Festus, like Felix, and like Pilate, was the Roman governor over the province of Judea. Festus came into power around year 59, which happens to be at the end of Acts 24.
King Agrippa And that brings us to King Agrippa. He is what you would call a “client king”—which means he’s a king but he’s not really in charge. So he is a Jewish king—a Jewish ruler—but his rule is subordinate to Rome. And you know Agrippa’s family: he is one of the Herodians. His grandfather was Herod Antipas, who was king when Jesus was crucified. And his great-grandfather was Herod the Great, who tried to kill Jesus when he was a baby. So Agrippa is one of the Herods, and we don’t have a good track record with these guys.
Caesarea Now, for Caesarea, this was a city in the province of Judea that was right off the Mediterranean coast. It was basically the Roman capital of Judea. It’s where the Roman governors lived, and they used it as their administrative headquarters. That’s where Paul has been kept in prison throughout these chapters of Acts.
Jerusalem Jerusalem, of course, was the center of the Jewish nation. It was the capital of the Jewish world.
Jerusalem — Where It Begins
And Jerusalem is really where all this with Paul got started.
Remember back in chapter 21 Paul comes to Jerusalem and is arrested in the temple because the Jews accused him of defiling the temple. They said that he had brought a Gentile into the temple, and so they were beating him, going to kill him, until some Roman soldiers came and stopped them, and that’s when Paul, surrounded by the Roman soldiers asked to address the Jewish crowd, which he does in chapter 22.
Then in chapter 23, Paul is put on trial before the Sanhedrin — that’s the Jewish high priest and his cronies. And that’s when Paul said that it is because of his hope in the resurrection that everyone is against at him. That’s when dissension breaks out, and then eventually the Roman soldiers there in Jerusalem say, “We need to send Paul to Caesarea. We don’t know what to do, but Felix, our Roman governor, headquartered in Caesarea, he should know.” So they send Paul to Caesarea and then he is put on trial before Felix — that’s chapter 24.
Paul preaches the gospel to Felix, but Felix doesn’t believe, and he just leaves Paul in prison. And as Paul is in prison, a new governor is appointed, Festus, and he takes the place of Felix. And the first thing that Festus does when he takes office is try to figure out what to do with this guy named Paul. So he goes to Jerusalem to learn a little more about Paul, then comes back to Caesarea where Paul is, and that’s when Paul appeals his case to Caesar. Paul says, “Look. Take me to Rome. Let me talk to Caesar.” And Festus says, “Okay.”
So the plan is to take Paul to Rome to see Caesar, but in the meantime, King Agrippa comes to visit Festus. And while Agrippa is there, Festus says,
Hey, I need your help. We have this guy here, a guy named Paul, a prisoner left over from Felix. And he is here because of some dispute he had with the Jews, because he kept talking about a certain Jesus, saying that Jesus was alive and raised the dead. Well, he appealed his case to Caesar, and I’m going to send him to Rome, but I don’t know what to tell Caesar about him. I don’t think that he has committed any crime. I just know the Jews here can’t stand him, and I need a good reason to bring his case before Caesar. So Agrippa, since you know a lot about Jewish customs and all that, can you listen to Paul tell his story and then help me figure out what to say to Caesar?
And Agrippa says, “Yeah, I want to hear this man for myself.”
So it happens. Paul is brought before King Agrippa, and he gives his defense of Christianity. And that’s where we pick up in Acts 26:4.
4 “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. 5 They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. 6 And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! 8 Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
And then after Paul says this, he repeats again the story of his conversion, like he did in ch. 22. So Luke goes on to show for the third time in Acts, the story of Paul on the way to Damascus and the collision he had with Jesus.
So Paul explains his conversion, we pick up in verse 19.
Acts 26:19–23 . . .
19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. 21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
Two Themes Emerge
There are two themes that emerge in chapter 26. I think these two themes are at the heart of what Luke is trying to do in the book of Acts, and therefore these two themes have everything to do with your life. These themes have to do with:
- The Identity of Christianity
- The Genesis of Our Mission
So it’s about who we are, and then what we do.
The Identity of Christianity
We’ll start with the identity of Christianity, and what you need to know, from this chapter, is that the story of Israel is central to what Christianity is.
Look back up in Acts 26:4–8 — this Paul making his defense before Agrippa. Paul is defending Christianity, and do you see the first thing he does here, just like he did in chapter 22? Giving his defense of Christianity, the first thing Paul says is, “I’m Jewish.”
We need to get this. This is Paul, called as a missionary to the Gentiles, explaining the legitimacy of Christianity, and the first thing he says is: “I’m Jewish. Hey guys, I’m like really really Jewish.”
But not only that, Paul says that everything he’s been preaching about Jesus is actually in line with what the most devout Jews believed. Let me show you that again in verses 6–8.
6 And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! 8 Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
So the hope here that Paul refers to is defined in verse 8 as the resurrection of the dead. Hope in the resurrection has been a staple of Jewish faith for centuries, and all the Pharisees know it. They know the ancient Hebrew Scriptures talk about the resurrection, and what the resurrection is supposed to bring their own restoration as a people.
They know Hosea 6:1–2,
“Come, let us return to YHWH; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”
They know Ezekiel 37:12–13,
“Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.”
They know about the resurrection. They know that God told their famous King David, in 2 Samuel 7, that he would have a son, the Messiah — and this Son of David, this Messiah, would reign as king forever over Israel. And they remember what David says in Psalm 16, verse 10, that God “will not let his Holy One see corruption.”
So the devout Jews here, the Pharisees, they believe in the resurrection. And they believe in the resurrection of their Messiah-king. And they believe that the resurrection means good for their people.
And Paul says, “Hey, that’s what I’ve been trying to say. What the Jews say they believe is what I’ve been talking about this whole time.”
You see that again in verse 22. Paul says that he is preaching “nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass.”
So what Paul is saying here, and what Luke wants us to see, is that Christianity has remarkable continuity to Judaism. In fact, we could go as far to say that Paul thinks that any Jewish person who opposes the Christian proclamation of Jesus’s resurrection actually put themselves in contradiction to their own tradition. Do you see the brilliance here?
Paul is being opposed by Jews and he is saying that they are actually opposing the very thing they say they believe —
I’m talking about the hope of Israel. I’m just saying what Moses said. I’m just saying what the prophets said. You just need to connect the dots to Jesus.
Why It Matters
And this matters for us for two reasons:
1. The story of Israel as central to Christianity means that what we believe is historically rich.
The foundation of our faith is not something like, say, a man was in a cave one day in around the year 600 who heard God speak and so he wrote it down. That’s not the story of our faith. The Christian faith is actually much more ancient. It goes way back to the beginning of the world, where see promises for us in the book of Genesis. We see the promise of a redeemer in Genesis 3, and then the promise of the offspring of Abraham in Genesis 12 through whom the entire world would be blessed.
We need to see that Christianity didn’t just pop out of a vacuum, but that it is actually the fulfillment of ancient Jewish hope.
That’s who Jesus is. Jesus is the realization of God’s ancient promise. And this helps us because we need to remember that our faith is grounded in this greater story — something greater than our own little lives, greater than America, greater than the Western hemisphere. Our faith in Jesus means that we are part of an ancient, glorious, beautiful story.
Okay, so second reason this matters for us . . .
2. The story of Israel is central to Christianity, but Christianity is still something new.
Now this really gets into the strategy of Luke here. Because not only is there continuity between Christianity and Judaism, but there’s also discontinuity. And Luke has shown us this throughout the whole book. For all the root Jewish connections that Christianity has, we’ve seen over and over that Christianity is for all the nations. And we’ve seen that Christianity, rather than label itself as just this or just that, it is actually much more integrated, and its truth is for all cultures. You see the gospel preached to Jewish crowds in the synagogues, and you see the gospel preached to a Gentile prison guard. You see the gospel preached to the Jewish aristocracy, and you see the gospel preached to pagans in Lystra who almost sacrificed a bull to Paul and Barnabas. You see the gospel preached to a Jewish convert like Lydia, and you see the gospel preached to a large group of Greek philosophers.
And what Luke tells us here, over and over again, is that Christianity is neither Jewish nor Gentile — it’s Christian.
So the story of Israel is still important to Christianity, but to be a Christian still means to be a Christian. Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean that you are confining yourself of a certain people’s culture or ethnic tradition. Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean you are becoming this type or that type. Being a Christian actually encompasses all types. As Paul says in Galatians 3, to be a Christian is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female — to be a Christian is to be a Christian.
And that’s important for us because it means it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you’ve been, or what you may have believed in the past. It doesn’t matter if you are Jew or Greek, or if you’re this type or that type, you can be become a Christian. Any type of person can turn from their sin and trust in Jesus. Anyone.
And right now, if you are here, and you’ve never put your faith in Jesus, I want to invite you to do that. I want to invite you to trust in Jesus, to put your faith in Jesus. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ — embrace him — and you will be saved.
This actually brings us to our last point, the second theme found here in Paul’s defense before Agrippa.
The Genesis of Our Mission
See, all of us here, if you’re a Christian, you’ve had that moment when you put your faith in Jesus. Now it may have happened in one big moment, one great experience, or it may have happened over the course of some time, but all of us here, no matter where we’ve been, if we are Christians, we have had a collision with Jesus.
And you need to know, Christian, that your collision with Jesus, your conversion, was the genesis of your mission.
Let me show you this in Acts 26.
Paul is giving his defense to Agrippa, and somewhere in there in goes from defense-mode to basically a sermon. He preaches Jesus boldly, with clarity and courage, and it becomes so obvious that he’s presenting the gospel, that Festus interrupts him. Look at verse 24.
And as [Paul] was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” [Really neat here: the phrase translated, “your great learning,” is literally “your many books.” And by saying books, Festus is most likely referring to the Old Testament Scriptures. So Festus is saying: “all these books — all these Scriptures — are making you insane.”]
And Paul replies to him in verse 25.
And it’s here, I think, where we find one of the most beautiful dialogues in the entire Bible. Look at verse 25 . . .
But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. 26 For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.”
28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” 29 And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
So bring back that image in your mind. This scene is a black tie affair. This audience hall, this rotunda, Acts 25:23 tells us, is filled with “great pomp.” There are military officials there in uniform, prominent citizens in their tuxedos, and king in his outfit, ladies are in their dazzlingly dresses, and there is Paul standing before them in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs. And Agrippa asks him, “Paul, are you trying right now to make me a Christian?”
And Paul says, “Yeah.”
He says, in the orange jumpsuit, with the handcuffs on, looking at all these beautiful people, he says: “Whether now or later, my prayer is that everyone listening to me would get to be like me — except for this jumpsuit and handcuffs.”
I want all of you, Paul said, to be like me. And the only way any man can say something like that is if he has truly experienced the grace of God. See, Paul remembered what it was like to collide with Jesus. His appeal right now to Agrippa here flows from that collision.
Paul is so secure, so changed by the forgiveness he found in Jesus, that he can say: I want you to be like me. I want you to experience the mercy of God like I have experienced the mercy of God.
And we need to know as a church that our mission in these Cities will only be effective when we can say the same thing.
Our mission in these Cities will be effective when the mercy of God is so real to us — when the forgiveness of Jesus that we have experienced is so overcoming to us — that we look at our friends and our neighbors and our coworkers and we think: I want so bad for them to know what this is like.
No matter what our circumstances are, have we felt God’s grace so deeply that we can look at others and think: I want so bad for them to know how it feels to be forgiven like this. To be free like this. To be alive like this.
See, if we can’t say that, if we don’t feel that, we’re probably not going to make disciples — because it means we’re not tasting the grace that we proclaim. This is when we need to understand that our mission from Jesus is an extension of our collision with Jesus.
And that means one of the most important things we can do for mission is remember our collision. We need to remember when Jesus saved us. Christian, who remembers what it was like to meet Jesus? Do you remember? . . .
. . . Do you remember what it was like to be lost and then be found? Do you remember what is was like to be be dead and then made alive? Do you remember?
This brings us now to the table, because the table is that time when together we remember.
Let me invite the pastors to come. And let me be clear that there is no one in this room who deserves this table. See, Paul has his past, and we all have ours. And none of us would be able to come to this table if Jesus had not come to us. I want you to know that and feel that this morning.
You were far from God, and he came for you. Jesus took your sin, your guilt, your shame, he suffered in your place, he was raised from the dead for your salvation, and he has laid this table of fellowship before you. You didn’t find him, he found you, and he says: eat and drink.
And in just a moment when we symbolize our faith by taking the bread and cup, I want you to remember that. Remember what it was like when he found you.