Term 3 – Week 10
Big Idea – Paul defends himself and witnesses to the gospel, wanting all there to be saved!
Be ready to say why you follow Jesus and pray for people believe as they listen!
- Belief – Following Jesus is reasonable… and every Christian can say why!
- Behaviour – Be prepared to talk about Jesus in front of anyone!
During Paul’s third missionary journey (18:23-21:16), Paul is resolved in the Spirit to journey to Jerusalem and then to Rome (19:11). This is an ambitious gospel-driven aim to encourage the church in Jerusalem and then take the gospel to the furthest reaches of the known world and the capital of the magisterial Roman empire. In 20:22-23, Paul says the same thing to the Ephesian elders. ‘I am going to Jerusalem, compelled by the Holy Spirit’ even though he knows imprisonment and affliction await him. His only goal is to complete the task the Lord Jesus has given him, the task of testifying to gospel of Jesus (20:24), despite the suffering he endures. So Paul heads to Jerusalem, with the goal of getting to Rome. Once he gets to Jerusalem, he is arrested (21:33) and was accused of sedition (i.e. subverting the nation & opposing Caesar) and blasphemy (opposing the Law of Moses and desecrating the temple). Throughout his subsequent defences, Paul defends himself of these charges and holds out the gospel he is preaching.
Paul defends himself before 5 different tribunals: the crowd in Jerusalem (ch.22), the Sanhedrin (ch.23), Governor Felix (ch.24), Governor Festus (ch.25), and King Agrippa (ch.26). In these ‘trials’ and after Pauls varied defences, Paul is declared innocent on three separate occasions – 23:29, 25:25 and 26:32. Paul declares, ‘neither against the Law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense’ (25:8). In fact he defends himself as one who a faithful Jew and a faithful Roman. The trumped up charges on both counts are insubstantial and therefore do not hold up to Paul’s reason and the judgement of the officials.
In this lesson we focus upon Paul’s final public defence, of which Luke records most in detail. Before setting sail under guard to Rome, he appears in front of King Agrippa, Bernice, Festus, all the prominent men and many onlookers. This is an intense and public trial. Agrippa’s father executed James the Zealot, his father executed John the Baptist and his father (the first Herod) tried to eliminate Jesus through ethnic cleansing. Festus wants Agrippa, the more senior Roman official who has particular oversight and interest in Jewish matters, to hear Paul and help frame the charges against Paul for his letter to the emperor (25:26b-27).
Paul’s defence contains three elements – his Jewish upbringing (4-8), his persecution of Christians (9-11), and his commissioning to go the Gentiles (12-23). The essence of Paul’s speech is this: Jesus, the resurrected Messiah has commissioned him to bring people from every nation to repentance and faith. Through this speech he defends himself once again against the Jewish charges brought against him. His Jewish upbringing (4-8) demonstrates his public development as a strict Pharisee, and how this is not at odds with his position today – rather this Jesus fulfils the promises he studied as a student – and therefore are neither ‘innovative’ beliefs nor opposed to Jewish teachings. His persecution of Christians (9-11) builds bridges with his accusers – he also shared their position on this new teaching and pursed persecuting it with ferocity. But Paul goes back to his conversion to explain his commissioning to go to the Gentiles (12-23). This personal experience of Paul changed his approach and gave him a witness of the risen Messiah, who commissions him (much like the famous OT prophets) to go to the Gentiles. Paul’s witness to and communion with Gentiles was the root of Jewish aggression against him (20-21). He repeats again that this teaching is nothing but what ‘the prophets and Moses said would happen.’ Paul is both defending himself and witnessing the truth of the gospel as seen in the resurrection of Jesus (23).
In an exhilarating exchange, Festus declares that Paul is out of his mind (v.24). Paul’s response, as ever full of grace and truth, turns the question to Agrippa and asks what he thinks – with great boldness he asserts that Agrippa must have seen and might even believe the prophets! Agrippa mockingly asks if Paul expects Agrippa to convert to Christianity, from which Paul finishes his defence with his genuine, heartfelt desire that this King and all those find salvation in Christ. Paul is declared innocent once again (31). 26:6-8 are key verses in this passage for they sum up the essential reason for his trial – Paul’s hope in the promise of God to the fathers, which he and they (the Jews) both shared. Namely, that God would send his Messiah (which was foretold in the Old Testament) to rescue and redeem his people. The 12 tribes were still waiting for the fulfilment of this promise. But Paul believed it had already been fulfilled in Jesus, whose resurrection was the proof of his Messiahship. Paul says, ‘why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?’ We want to extract the many good things Paul says, but also marvel at his boldness before these powerful men to not only defend himself but declare the gospel and his desire that they be saved. Paul defends himself and witnesses to the gospel, wanting all there to be saved!
43… everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his nameActs 10v43
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