Saturday, November 3, 2012

Taking A Stand

Unit III. - Where Does Faith Take Us? This past month we reviewed lessons which demonstrated the theme of “Who Understands Faith?” After the Pentecost, the Church had multiplied greatly. The disciples found it necessary to have the multitude choose seven men among the Greek and Hebrews to distribute the common daily ministrations fairly. Among the seven deacons were Stephen and Philip. Acts 6:5 Each became evangelists and did great wonders and miracles among the people. Stephen had the courage to speak the truth when falsely accused before the Sanhedrin Council, causing him to be martyred. As the religious leaders, false accusers, and people dragged him out of town to kill him, the accusers left their clothes at the feet of a young Pharisee, Saul. He consented to their actions while Stephen died with faith and grace, requesting forgiveness for his murderers. Acts 7:51-60;8:1a

The martyrdom of Stephen caused a great persecution against the church causing the church to scatter throughout Judea, Samaria, Phenice, Cyprus, and Antioch. Acts 11:19 The Lord had commissioned the Gospel to be spread to all nations. Acts 1:8 The scattering churches became preaching churches while the apostles remained in Jerusalem. Philip was the first to evangelize in Samaria. Acts 8:5-24 He was then used of God to successfully set out on a path as an evangelist to come across an Ethiopian eunuch returning from Jerusalem to Africa in need of a teacher. Their paths crossed while the eunuch was earnestly seeking the Word. Acts 8:26-39 Yet Saul was still threatening the Christians during this period. Acts 8:3; 9:1-2. It was not until his conversion (Acts 9:3-18) that the young Saul understood he was working against Christ. This was the beginning of his ministry. As zealous as he was in persecuting Christians, he was in teaching the Gospel. The scene of today’s lesson is many years (approximately 20) after the martyrdom of Stephen. Saul’s name was changed to Paul (Acts 13:9) as he ministered among the Gentiles. Saul was his Hebrew name as he was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin. Paul was his name as a citizen of Rome. The common Roman name of Paul was meant to give him somewhat of a reputation in Roman cities. Our lesson is recorded at Acts 26:19-32. The devotional reading is found at Acts 23:1-11.

Paul had been warned by prophets not to go to Jerusalem or he would lose his freedom. Acts 21:8-15 Paul responded that he not only would be bound for Christ, but he would die for Christ. Acts 21:13 So, the stage was set for him to be caught by Jews who were displeased with his teaching. After a seven days’ visit with friends in Jerusalem, he was worshiping in the Temple and certain Jews from Asia captured him. They incited the people to mob mentality, attempted to kill him, and the chief captain had to rescue him. Paul was allowed to defend himself before he was led away. Acts 21:27-40; 22:1-23 When the chief captain heard Paul was a Roman, he attempted to make sure he had a fair trial before the Jewish leaders. Acts 22:30 - 23:1-9 However, the religious leaders ended in a spirit of disunity between Pharisees versus Sadducees and their belief on resurrection. The Pharisees agreed fundamentally with Paul. However, they would later unite (Acts 24:1) in pursuing charges against him again. When the chief captain received word (Acts 23:16) that certain Jews had secretly plotted to kill Paul, he wrote a letter and sent Paul to Felix, governor of Judea. Acts 23:25-30 The high priest, Ananias, and the elders, and an orator, went to Felix after five days to plead their cause. However, after Paul was allowed to defend himself, Felix did not release him. He kept him imprisoned for two additional years when he was replaced by Festus as governor. The high priest and chief priest sought to have Paul removed back to Jerusalem for trial, at least that is what they told Festus. He told them they could just as well come to Caesarea. The trial was held very shortly thereafter with a multitude of charges that could not be proved. Paul stated he had not done anything against the Jews, the Law, or the Temple. When asked by Festus if he wanted to go back to Jerusalem, he explained he was a Roman citizen and wanted to appeal to Caesar’s court. His wish was granted. Acts 25: 1-12

‘Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: ‘ Acts 26:19 Festus was a new judge and did not really know a lot about Jewish laws and customs. He was pleased when King Agrippa II and his wife/sister, Bernice came to visit and welcome him. He was most pleased that Agrippa II was interested in reviewing Paul’s case. Agrippa II was a judge in the Galilee area and was familiar with Jewish laws and customs. He no doubt had heard of Saul/Paul and was anxious to hear his defense. Paul was just as anxious to tell a learned man of his experience. Acts 26:3 He believed he was doing the will of God when he was persecuting the Christians. Acts 26:5-11 Then he had a heavenly vision. Acts 26:13-18 How could he not accept what he had seen and heard? There was a light that he saw that knocked him and the others down. And there was a voice that spoke to him only. When he asked for its identity, Saul was told it was Jesus who he had persecuted. Jesus had a mission for Saul as a minister and witness to the people and the Gentiles. Acts 26:16-18

‘But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.’ Acts 26:20 In obedience to Jesus, Paul went about and preached repentance to those in Damascus, then Jerusalem. He then preached throughout Judea and finally to the Gentiles. Paul was not presenting a political argument. He was presenting an argument of obedience, one of theology.

‘For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come:’ Acts 26:21-22 Paul states the Jews caught him in the temple and shut the doors (Acts 21:30) with the purpose to kill him because they were upset. Some reasons given were that he preached resurrection of the dead. Although the Pharisees believed in resurrection, everyone did not. Paul believed and preached the resurrection of Jesus Christ, whom they had crucified. Not only did they not want to believe in the resurrection, but many did not want to believe they had been wrong in crucifying Jesus Christ. And they believed the disciples of Christ had stolen His body. Paul preached that this Jesus was the promised Messiah. That was simply going too far. Wasn’t this the carpenter’s son? They were not ready to believe this because Christ had not come in and saved them from the Roman empire. They expected a warrior not a babe in a manger. And when Paul offered salvation to the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, did he not realize the Jews were God’s chosen people? What could he have possibly been thinking? Some Jews were furious with him. It required the daily assistance of God to protect him as he witnessed to all classes of people, (kings, priests, peasants, etc.) telling them what had been said since the days of the prophets and Moses as to what would and had happened. Moses wrote that a ruler would come from the tribe of Judah whom the people would obey (Gen 49:10), and of a prophet like unto himself who would come from the people of Israel (Deut 18:18-19). That ruler and prophet was Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

‘That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.’ Acts 26:23 It was taught by the prophets (i.e. Isa 53:1-12) that Christ, the Messiah, should suffer. The problem was that many Jews did not want to accept that idea because of their prejudice. They expected a grand prince or King and not a suffering Christ for their sins. He was crucified, died, and was the first to be resurrected of the dead to die no more. Col 1:18 Others were raised from the dead, only to die again. Elisha restored the life of the Shunammite woman’s son (2 Kings 4:32-36) and Jesus restored the life of Lazarus (John 11:39-45). But it was not a restoration of eternal life. Death was to be expected. Because Christ was the first to be resurrected of the dead and die no more, He offers eternal life (salvation) to the people (Acts 26:17) or the Jews and the Gentiles. This, too, was foretold by the prophets. Isa 49:6; 60:1

‘And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.’ Acts 26:24-25 The Roman governor could no longer take it. He did not understand what Paul was saying. He had already heard this discussion about Jesus rising from the dead and concluded it was ridiculous. Festus probably felt he had too much learning from an overabundance of reading the scrolls. In response to the loud voice that interrupted his defense, Paul addressed the governor by a respectful title in stating he was sane and in his right mind. He wanted Festus to know that he spoke the Word of truth which always made sense.

‘For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.’ Acts 26:26 Paul then turned to King Agrippa. His witness to the king fulfilled the prophecy at Acts 9:15. Agrippa had been in the area a long time. Paul was sure that Agrippa had heard of Jesus, his ministry, and his crucifixion. He was just as sure that he had heard of Paul’s great conversion. If he had not heard of any of these things, he had heard of the Jewish laws and customs. None of this had been kept secret.

‘King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.’ Acts 26:27-28 Knowing none of these things had been done in the dark and Agrippa’s close ties to the Jewish nation, Paul asked him if he believed the prophets. This would mean that Agrippa believed the prophecies they wrote pertaining to the coming Messiah fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Paul knew he had more than peaked the spiritual interest of Agrippa II. He was teaching spiritual concerns to someone already highly educated in the Jewish religion. Paul’s discerning spirit allowed him to answer affirmatively the question asked to Agrippa. Now Agrippa II recognizes that Paul is attempting to convert him to Christianity. He interrupted Paul, perhaps jokingly, inquiring whether Paul attempted to persuade him in such a short time. Agrippa professed the Jews’ religion, knew of the writings of the prophets, and gave them credit. But he is not persuaded to confess Christ outwardly. Rom 10:9-10 He has a strong conviction and duty toward his job. It would be political assassination to confess a hope in Christ and he would fear for his life because of the hatred and prejudice of the Jews.

‘And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.’ Acts 26:29 In response to King Agrippa, Paul prayed to God that not only Agrippa but everyone within the sound of Paul’s voice would receive Christ. This was his heart’s desire. Rom 10:1 However, he preferred all Christians to always to be comforted and never have to experience chains and imprisonment for their love of Christ.

‘And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them: And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds.’ Acts 26:30-31 Paul’s hearing was formally over. King Agrippa, his wife Bernice, Governor Festus, and all that were present left. As they were leaving, they concluded Paul was innocent and not dangerous. This is the same conclusion reached by the other tribunals: Claudius Lysias (Acts 23:29), Felix (Acts 24), and Festus (Acts 25:26-27). Since he had appealed to Caesar’s court in Rome, it would appear that he would be acquitted there, also. All the lower courts had found him innocent.

‘Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.’ Acts 26:32 Agrippa’s statement is proof of his conviction of the truth Paul spoke. The question becomes why was he not released? Do you have to take the appeal to Rome even though he is innocent? Felix, Festus, and King Agrippa wanted to appease the Jews. In fact, Felix kept him imprisoned two years awaiting money to release him. Acts 24:26-27 Continuing to have Paul in custody served as an excuse, even though they believed he should be released. They believed their problem was solved by passing Paul off to another until finally he requested the appeal. Paul had yearned to visit the Romans, but he did not expect it to be in this capacity. Rom 1:11 Jesus had told him in a vision (Acts 23:11) that he would “…bear witness to Christ at Rome,”

After this hearing Nero (Caesar) made a law for putting to death all those who profess the Christian religion, but as yet there was no law. Paul was found innocent, but soon after he will be adjudged under Nero’s law that was implemented following his judgment.

Written by Deborah C. Davis


It is generally believed Paul was found innocent when he was heard by Nero initially. He then embarked on his Fourth Missionary Journey. It is unknown when or where he was arrested, but he was brought to Rome a second time. This time his imprisonment followed was harsher. It followed the implementation of Caesar’s law for putting to death all those who profess the Christian religion. He was beheaded in approximately A.D. 67 or 68.

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