Once again, I sit here studying to prepare for our Connect Group teachers’ meeting coming up this weekend. In our Connect Groups at Southern Calvert Baptist Church, we are picking up our study of the book the Acts of the Apostles. Our focus now, is the faithful ministry of the Apostle Paul. In our previous lesson, we covered Acts 23, learning about the Apostle Paul, the pesky preacher. This lesson is a continuation of Paul’s witness of Christ before his captors. This lesson will cover Acts chapters 24-26. Our goal is to give an overview of these chapters, focusing on how the Apostle Paul stayed faithful to his calling of being a witness for Christ, even in the face of heavy ridicule and persecution. Could the same calling be true for YOU and for ME? The answer is a resounding YES!!! Let’s what insights we can glean from Paul’s faithful example.
Our story ended in chapter 23 of Acts with Paul being arrested simply for worshiping God in the temple according to the Law of Moses. He had done nothing wrong. The accusations against him were:
- Preaching faith in Christ
- Believing in the resurrection of Christ
- Teaching the Gentiles the ways of faith in Christ
- Sharing his personal testimony of how he was born again
If people were to follow you around for an extended period of time, would they gather enough evidence to accuse you of the previous 4 things? As a follower of Christ, you have been given the same calling that the Apostle Paul was given. This calling can be summed up in three statements that Christ gave to His followers.
- Preach the Gospel to all creation (Mark 16)
- Make disciples of all people groups (Matthew 28)
- Be a witness of what you have seen, heard, and experienced of Jesus Christ (Acts 1)
In Acts 24, Paul gets a chance to make his defense.
I. Paul before Felix
In Acts 24, the high priest brings his posse, elder leaders and an attorney named Tertullus. Ironically, Ananias is the high priest. His names means “to whom Jehovah has given graciously“. Ananias wanted to experience the grace of God but, he did not want to offer that same grace to the Apostle Paul. Grace means getting what you do not deserve. All of us need to experience the grace of God and then extend that grace to others. Ananias has a sin nature like we all do. We prefer to receive grace rather than extend it to others. Tertullus is the exact contrast of grace. His name means “triple-hardened“. He is hard and wants people to get what they deserve. He has no mercy and shows no mercy. This is in contrast to the character of God. Mercy, not giving people what they actually deserve, is a characteristic of God. Not only does Ananias not want to show grace to Paul, he also does not want to show any mercy. Like in Acts 23, this is a set up. Paul is aware of it. Ananias, the elders, and Tertullus bring Paul before Felix to be judged and condemned. Paul is allowed to give his defense and here is what he says:
- I came to Jerusalem to worship in the Temple
- I did not discuss matters of faith with anyone in the Temple or synagogue
- I brought alms to my people, the Jews
- I brought offerings to the Lord
- I kept the Law of Moses
- The Law of Moses and the Prophets all point to the way I am living now as a follower of Jesus Christ
- I am motivated to live the way that I do because of the resurrection of the dead, both the righteous and the wicked
Paul reminds Felix, Ananias, and Tertullus that he is being tried as a criminal simply because he believes in the resurrection of the dead, a teaching that is found in the Law of Moses and the Prophets. Felix was intreaged by this defense because he was familiar with Jesus Christ and those who were His followers. The reason that he was familiar with these things is because he was married to a Jewess named Drusilla.
24 But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.
25 But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.”
26 At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him.
27 But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned. (Acts 24)
Felix and Drusilla would meet with Paul and discuss matters of faith, as Paul was being held in custody. We do not know what motivated Drusilla to speak with Paul but, the text reveals Felix’s motivation. He was a greedy man and he expected a bribe from Paul to get out of custody. Paul explained the Gospel to Felix but, the conversation ended when the topics of righteousness, self-control, and judgment to come came up. There is a reason for that. Felix, although his names means “happy”, is a troubled man. He convinced his current wife to leave her faithful husband to find “happiness” in him (Felix). The subject of righteousness had struck a nerve. It got worse when the subject moved to self-control. It came to a head when judgment for actions and motives was discussed. Felix could not take the conviction and he was terrified of the subject of judgment. Instead of crying out to God for mercy and grace, he walked away and left Paul detained for 2 years. Felix gives way to Festus and Paul is still detained. What’s going to happen with Festus?
II. Paul before Festus
Over those two years while Paul was detained, the chief priests and elders of the Jews could not touch Paul. He was free to minister in the form of letters and conversations with visitors. Now that there has been a changing of the guard, the chief priests and elders of the Jews reach out to Festus in order to get to Paul and silence him with death. They still have murder in their hearts, even after two years have passed. Festus, whose name means “festival”, wanted to please his followers. He was not a man of principles. He want to please the crowds and be liked by them. Festus was ready to allow a man to be murdered in order to please his followers. He was not interested in justice. He was not interested in life. He was interested in being liked.
while Paul said in his own defense, “I have committed no offense either against the Law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.” (Acts 25:8)
As Paul stands before Festus, he simply recaps the fact that he is being detained for no real reason. He had done nothing wrong. He had not acted contrary to the Law of Moses, he had done nothing offensive against the Temple, and he had done nothing to break any of the secular laws of the land. Paul realizes that he is being set up once again and instead of playing into the hands of his accusers, he does the following:
11 “If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is true of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar.”
12 Then when Festus had conferred with his council, he answered, “You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go.” (Acts 25)
This is the fulfillment of Acts 23:11.
But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.”
The Lord had already told Paul that he would go to Rome and proclaim the Gospel. Paul did not realize, at the time, that the Roman Empire was going to pay for his mission trip to Rome. This appeal and Festus’ response seals the deal. Paul is going to Rome with a Roman escort. But, before going to Rome, Paul is going to have one more chance to share the Gospel. This time, it is going to be proclaimed before King Agrippa.
III. Paul before Agrippa
Felix was not interested in justice. He wanted money and he did not like hearing the message of the Gospel. Festus was not interested in justice. He wanted to please the crowds and he was not interested in even listening to the message of the Gospel. What’s going to happen with king Agrippa? Interestingly enough, Agrippa’s name means “heroic”. It comes from two Greek words, “savage” and “horse”. How will he respond to the idea of the Gospel and justice? When given the chance to speak, Paul shares his personal testimony again. He was raised to be a Pharisee in the Jewish religion. He was taught the promises of God from his youth. After encountering Christ, he believed in the resurrection from the dead, a promise that God had made in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets. Paul also recounts what his life was like before he encountered Jesus Christ. He did not love and serve the people around him because he did not love and serve God. He had no problem throwing people in prison (for no reason) which is ironic in the current situation. Paul also had no problem seeing people murdered under the guise of “breaking the Law of Moses”. Upon encountering the resurrected Jesus Christ, Paul was transformed and given a new task in life.
to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ (Acts 26:18)
This is what a faithful witness of Jesus Christ is sent to do.
- Proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ
- See people have their eyes open to the reality of God
- See people turned away from their old way of life to a new way of life
- This is the exact message of the testimony that Paul just shared with King Agrippa.
There’s more to the story and to the testimony.
but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. (Acts 26:20)
Paul explains what he said in verse 18, using different terminology.
- Repent – having a change of mind that leads to a change of heart that leads to a change of direction in life. That is what happened to Paul. That is what having your eyes opened to the reality of God.
- Turn to God – this is a word picture of what belief/faith is. This is what it means when we say to trust in God.
- Deeds appropriate to repentance – this is the lifestyle change that faith brings about. The good works appropriate to repentance is obedience to the Word of God.
After sharing this clear message of the Gospel, Festus demonstrates his feelings toward the message of the Gospel. He mocks Paul by saying:
24 While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.”
25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. (Acts 26)
Paul does not let this mocking response phase him. He turns his attention to King Agrippa and asks the following:
26 “For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner.
27 “King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.” (Acts 26)
Agrippa has the opportunity to respond to the Gospel in faith. He even admits that he is close to making a statement of faith with the following:
28 Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” (Acts 26)
Agrippa is so close yet, he does not commit himself to following Christ. I want to ask you, dear reader, the same question that Paul asks Agrippa, “do you believe the Word of God”? Are you ready to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord (Master) and Savior? Do you have hidden motives like Felix? Will you mock the message of the Gospel like Festus? Will you remain indecisive like Agrippa? The choice is yours. You can become a follower of Christ just like the Apostle Paul. If you are a follower of Christ, are you bold like Paul, ready to share your personal testimony with others? Do you know the message of the Gospel well enough to present it to others? Do you present the message of the Gospel to others? I want to be a faithful witness like Paul was and I want the same for you. The ball is in my court and the ball is in your court. What are we going to do? How are we going to respond?
May the Lord help us respond to the message of the Gospel the way that the Apostle Paul did!