April 28, Tuesday
The next day, Agrippa and Bernice proceeded to the audience chamber with great pomp and ceremony, which included an escort of military officers and prominent townsmen. Festus ordered Paul to be brought in and proceeded to address the gathering, “King Agrippa and all who are present, I present before you the man about whom the Jewish people both at Jerusalem and in this city have petitioned me. They keep insisting that he ought not to live any longer, but I, for my part, discovered nothing that he has done which deserves the death penalty.
“Now that he has appealed to Caesar I must send him to Rome. I have nothing specific to write to the emperor about him and have therefore brought him forward before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa. I trust that from your examination of him there may emerge some charge which I may put in writing. For it is embarrassing to me to send a prisoner before the emperor without indicating the charges against him.”
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have our permission to speak for yourself.”
So Paul, gesturing with his hand, began his defense:
“King Agrippa, in answering all the charges that the Jews have made against me, I consider it a privilege to be making my defense before you personally today. I know that you are thoroughly familiar with all the customs and disputes that exist among the Jews. Please bear with me as I present my case.
“It is known to all the Jews that I grew up among my own people in Jerusalem from my youth. If they would admit it, they know that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.
“Even today I stand here on trial because of a hope that I hold in a promise God made to our forefathers, a promise for which our twelve tribes served God zealously day and night, hoping to see it fulfilled. It is because of this hope, your Majesty, that I am being accused by the Jews! I cannot understand why it should seem impossible to anyone here that God will raise the dead.
“There was a time when I felt it was my duty to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Right there in Jerusalem with the authorization of the chief priests, I had many of God’s people imprisoned and on trial for their lives. I gave my vote against them. Time and again in all the synagogues, I had them punished; I did everything I could to get them to deny their Lord. I was mad with fury against them, and I hounded them to distant cities.
“Once, your Majesty, on my way to Damascus, armed with the full authority and commission of the chief priests, my journey was interrupted at high-noon when a light from Heaven, far brighter than the sun, blazed around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground and I heard a voice saying to me in Hebrew, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It’s time for you to stop kicking against your own conscience.’
“‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. And the Lord said to me, ‘I am Jesus Whom you are persecuting. Now get up and stand on your feet for I have shown Myself to you for a reason. You are chosen to be My servant and a witness to what you have seen of Me today and of other visions of Myself which I will give you. I will keep you safe from both your own people and from the Gentiles to whom I now send you. I send you to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God Himself, so that they may know forgiveness of their sins and take their place with all those who are uniquely identified by their trust in Me.’
“So you see, King Agrippa, I could not disobey the heavenly vision. I proclaimed the Message in Damascus and in Jerusalem, through the whole of Judea, and to the Gentiles. Everywhere I went, I preached that men should admit they’ve been living for themselves, repent and turn to God, and let Him change them from the inside out. This is why the Jews seized me in the Temple and tried to kill me. God has been my help and I stand here as a witness to both rulers and peasants. My Message is nothing more than what the prophets foretold should take place; that is, that the Messiah should suffer and that He should be first to rise from the dead. This is the Message of light which I declare boldly both to our people and to the Gentiles!”
Festus wasn’t buying any of this. He blurted out in the midst of Paul’s statement, “You are crazy, Paul! All your learning has gone to your head!”
But Paul replied, “No, your Excellency, I am not out of my mind. I am speaking truth. The king here understands what I’m talking about because none of it has been done in secret.” Addressing King Agrippa directly, Paul said, “You believe the Prophets, don’t you? I’m sure you do.”
“You keep this up, Paul,” returned Agrippa, “and before long you will be making me a Christian!”
“O King,” Paul replied, “whether it happens ‘before long’ or down the road, I would to God that both you and all who can hear me today might become what I am — except for these chains, of course.”
Then the king and the other dignitaries stood up and excused themselves from the assembly. They discussed the matter among themselves and agreed, “This man is doing nothing to deserve either death or imprisonment.” Agrippa commented to Festus, “He might easily have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.”