Acts 26

Acts 26  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 8
ON THIS OCCASION there were no tedious preliminary proceedings. Agrippa immediately gave Paul permission to speak for himself. Thus set free, he was able to dispense with all mere details of self-defense, and come straight to the message with which God had entrusted him, after acknowledging Agrippa’s expert knowledge, and beseeching for a patient hearing.
He began by stating that he had been brought up in the strictest form of Judaism amongst the Pharisees, and that what was now charged against him was in connection with the hope that all Israel had entertained from the days when God gave His promise. That hope they still held, but Paul maintained there had been a fulfillment of it in Christ, and particularly in His resurrection. So from the outset of his address he kept the resurrection well to the fore, as being the main point at issue. Yet resurrection lay beyond men’s thoughts, whether Jewish or pagan; hence his question, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” (ch. 26:8). It would be utterly incredible if only men were in question: bring God in—the real, true, living God—and it is incredible that it should not be.
In this third account of his conversion we find the Apostle greatly emphasizing the determined and furious opposition to Christ which characterized him at the beginning. He was indeed “a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious,” (1 Tim. 1:1313Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. (1 Timothy 1:13)) as he told Timothy: he carried it to the point of being “exceedingly mad” (ch. 26:11) against the disciples, and persecuting them even to distant cities. This was the way in which he did the many things “contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (ch. 26:9). It was at midday, when the sun shines most strongly, that another light brighter than the sun arrested him on the road to Damascus, and the voice of the Lord was heard. The uncreated light threw the created light into the shade.
Several interesting features, not mentioned in the earlier accounts, appear here. The light from heaven brought the whole company down into the dust, and not Paul only. Further, the voice was in the Hebrew tongue. This is remarkable, for we have been told earlier that though his companions heard the voice it conveyed nothing to them. It was in their own language, yet they did not understand. They were affected physically, but only Paul was affected spiritually. The essential element in conversion is not great sights, nor wonderful sounds, but the life-giving work of the Holy Ghost. Jesus was manifested only to Paul, and that in such a way that he discovered Him to be his Lord.
When he owned Jesus to be his Lord, he was told plainly what he was to do as regards his own personal salvation. That we learned from the earlier accounts. Here only are we told that at the same time the Lord told him with equal plainness, that He was apprehending him to make him the servant of His will in a very special way. He was to be a witness to others of that which had just been revealed to him, and of further things that yet were to be made known to him by the Lord. Here only do we learn of the way in which the Lord commissioned him from the outset, and what the terms of that commission were. They are very striking, and they account very fully for the remarkable career which we have been tracing in the earlier chapters.
The Lord’s purpose was that he should be “delivered”, or “taken out” from among the people, and the Gentiles; that is, he was to be separated both from his own people, the Jews, and from the Gentiles, so as to stand in a place distinct from both. It has often been said that the Lord’s words, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest,” (ch. 9:5) were the first intimation that the saints were His body: we may perhaps say that the words we are now considering were the first intimation of the distinct place the church occupies, called out from both Jew and Gentile. Paul started by himself being put in the place into which were brought all those who believed the Gospel that he was commissioned to preach.
But, as the end of verse 17 says, he was specially sent to the Gentiles. As we have before noticed, he was blessed to many Jews as long as he followed his commission in the Gentile world; it was only when he turned aside from this to address himself especially to his Jewish brethren, that he failed to reach them. How fully this warns us that our Master must be supreme, and that our wisdom is to abide by His plan for our lives and service. To the Gentiles he was to go, that he might “open their eyes” (ch. 26:18).
This was a new departure in God’s ways, for hitherto they had been left to go their own way. They had been in darkness and ignorance, but now their eyes were to be opened.
If, through Paul’s labors, their eyes were effectually opened, they would turn from darkness and the power of Satan to light and God. This is what we mean by conversion. It must of course involve conviction of sin, for none of us can come into the light of God without that conviction being wrought in us. But then as the result of turning there is the reception of forgiveness. There is the Divine act of forgiveness in which we may rejoice, and not only so, but we also enter into an inheritance which we share in common with all those who are set apart for God. Forgiveness is what we may call the negative blessing of the Gospel and the inheritance is the positive. Forgiveness is a loss rather than a gain—the loss of our sins; of the love of them as well as of the penalty they entail. The inheritance is what we gain.
And all this is “by faith that is in Me” (ch. 26:18). Here we have the way in which the blessing is reached. Not by works, but by faith; and of that faith Christ is the Object. The virtue is not in the faith but in the Object in whom faith rests. Thus from the very moment of his conversion Paul’s future course and ministry was marked out for him, and by revelation from the Lord he was given the message that he was to preach. We have then in verse 18, a complete summary of the blessings that the Gospel brings to the one who receives it in faith. The eyes of his heart and mind are opened to the truth; he is brought out of darkness into light, and from Satan’s power unto God; his sins are forgiven and he knows it; he shares in the inheritance common to those who with himself are set apart for God.
Having received these instructions, Paul had been faithful to his commission, and beginning where he was and widening out to the nations, he had showed to men everywhere what their response to the Gospel should be. They should repent; they should turn to God; they should do works in keeping with the repentance they professed. Repentance involves that coming into the light which enables one to see and judge one’s own sinfulness, and then the confession of it before God. Now the more we see our own sin, the more we distrust ourselves; the more we distrust ourselves, the more we learn to trust in God: consequently turning to God follows this turning from ourselves. All this is an inward process of mind and heart of a more or less secret nature, but if it is real it soon produces actions and works in keeping with it. If there be no “works meet for repentance,” (ch. 26:20) we may be sure that the repentance professed is not the genuine article. Paul insisted on all three things, and he knew of course that not only are they God’s appointed way in which the blessings of the Gospel are received, but they are themselves produced by the Gospel, where it is received in faith.
Now it was just this which had so stirred up the animosity of the Jews, for if this was the way of entrance into God’s favor, it was as much open to the Gentile as to the Jew. But he made very plain to Agrippa that what had been predicted by Moses and the prophets lay at the foundation of all that he had preached. He announced the suffering of Christ; His resurrection; and that as risen He should bring the light of God to all mankind —not only Jews, but Gentiles also. How clearly this last point is stated in Isa. 49, just as the death and resurrection of Christ are predicted in Isa. 53.
In verse 23 then we have a plain testimony rendered to Agrippa, Festus, and all others present, as to the glorious basis of fact on which the Gospel rests. Indeed we may say that primarily the preaching of the Gospel is the declaration of those facts, and we need to keep them in the forefront of our preaching today as much as in Paul’s day. Then, as we have seen, verse 18 gives us the blessings that the Gospel confers; and verse 20 the way in which the Gospel blessings are received.
To the pagan mind of the Roman the idea of resurrection was simply incredible, as Paul had anticipated at the opening of his address, so the mention of Christ risen from the dead moved Festus to a loud exclamation. How often through the centuries has the Christian been charged with madness! Here is the first recorded instance of the taunt being flung by the man of the world. Yet it was not vulgar abuse, for Festus was a polished Roman. He did at least attribute Paul’s “madness” to an excess of study and learning. But mad he thought him nevertheless!
Paul’s reply was moving in its dignified simplicity. He addressed Festus in a way that became his high estate, and then asserted that on the contrary what he had said were “words of truth and soberness” (ch. 26:25). To Festus it was all the romance of an intoxicated mind, for the gods that he venerated wielded no powers beyond the grave. Feeble man can kill and bring down to the grave—that is an easy thing: only of the living God can it be said, “The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up” (1 Sam. 2:66The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. (1 Samuel 2:6)). Let us all aim so to declare the Gospel that our hearers may recognize that we are speaking the sober truth.
Having answered Festus, Paul launched an appeal to Agrippa, knowing that he professed to believe the prophetic Scriptures, and would therefore know that what he preached as fact had been foretold there. The appeal evidently went home. Agrippa’s answer, we fear, was not a confession that he was very nearly convinced of the truth of the Gospel, but rather an attempt in a semi jocular way to throw off the effect of the appeal. He said in effect, “In a little you will be making a Christian of me!” From his words it is evident that the term “Christian,” first coined at Antioch, had by now obtained wide currency. By it the disciples were very accurately described.
About Paul’s rejoinder there is a moral elevation which is not easily surpassed. A poor prisoner stands in the midst of great pomp and magnificence and desires for his august judges that they might be just as he himself is, save for his bonds! As the angels looked down on that sight they saw an heir of everlasting and supernal glory standing before potsherds of the earth robed for a brief moment in tawdry display. Paul knew that, and that there was nothing better for any man than to be almost and altogether such as he was.
This closed the session. Paul had the last word; and we rejoice to note how, filled with the Holy Ghost, he is standing in the full height of the great calling that had reached him—the calling that has reached us too.
Once more also is his innocence declared by competent authority. Had he not appealed to Caesar he might have been free.
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