Read: Acts 25:13-26:32
This narrative begins with Festus talking to King Agrippa and his sister Bernice about an interesting case, i.e., Paul and the Jewish leaders from Jerusalem. Festus had a problem. He didn’t know how to write the letter to the Emporer, so he took the opportunity to ask Agrippa and Bernice for advice. King Agrippa is intrigued by the case and asks to have a chat with Paul. Festus made the arrangements for the next day. Paul seized the opportunity to tell his story all wrapped up in the gospel message. We don’t really know if Agrippa and Bernice were changed, but Paul was able to share the message with clarity, though he remained a prisoner.
Of all the things Festus likely talked to Agrippa about, he chose to discuss the odd case of Paul and the Jews. It’s not surprising that he would bring this up because Agrippa knew a lot about the Jews. Paul uses this detail in his argument (see Acts 26:3). Festus’ summary includes an absurd notion that the central character The Way, Jesus, was crucified but is no longer dead.
Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges. Acts 25:19-20
At a loss, he appeals to one he hoped to please.
Agrippa and Bernice
Agrippa yields the floor to Paul and invites him to speak. As mentioned above, Paul’s argument includes an appropriate preamble:
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. Acts 26:2-3
I love the way Paul sets up his defense with respect and dignity. There’s a lesson to learn in that alone. He also clears the way for taking some time to explain his case completely, i.e., present the entire Gospel message.
Paul’s defense adds to the narrative Luke provided in Acts 9. Considering his desire to chronicle events in an orderly fashion, I would suggest this is by design. Paul’s conversion (as Saul) in Acts 9 focuses on the interaction with Ananias. Here, the focus is more on his interaction with Jesus.
We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ Acts 26:14
The explanation and reference at the bottom of this post explain that:
To “kick against the goads” is nothing less than an exercise in vanity; futile and pointless. The Greeks and Romans used this saying to imply ‘ruinous resistance.’See Goads
Agrippa and Bernice patiently listen to the entire presentation. They know what Paul is getting at, Festus is not quite following when Paul explains that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.
Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” Acts 26:24
Agrippa gets it:
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Acts 26:28
I love Paul’s response, and while I know I’m including lots of quotes here, I’m not ashamed:
Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” Acts 26:29
Short or long, we’re in this for the long haul.
I pray that each of us will be patient as we pursue our call to ministry, our deep desire to reach those who are lost and make disciples of the world. Join Paul in praying that all who are listening will become a follower of Jesus Christ.
Goads: The phrase was a common expression found in both Greek and Latin literature at the time of St. Paul. It was a rural image, which rose from the practice of farmers goading their oxen in the fields. Goads were typically made from slender pieces of timber, blunt on one end and pointed on the other. Farmers used the pointed end to urge a stubborn ox into motion. Foolishly, an ox might kick against the goad, causing injury and pain to its leg. Source