Sunday, April 28, 2013

Acts 26 - Paul's Public Witness Before Herod Agrippa II

LINK: Acts 26 
File:Herod Agrippa II.jpg
By Published by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589)
 ("Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum") [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons

BACKGROUND 

Herod Agrippa II was the last of the Herod dynasty that ruled in parts of Palestine from 37 B.C. to A.D. 100. 


Here are some of his illustrious ancestors:

Great-grandfather: Herod the Great, king of Judea, 37-4 B.C. The magi approached him when looking for Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12). Then, he slaughtered the innocent babies of Bethlehem and its vicinity (Matthew 2:13-18)

Great uncle: Herod Antipas reigned 4 B.C.-A.D. 39. He had a part in the executions of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12) and crucifixion of Jesus 
(Luke 23:6-12)

Father: Herod Agrippa I reigned A.D. 41-44. He had James, son of Zebedee executed (Acts 12:2) and Peter put in prison (Acts 12:1-23). He also allowed the people to praise him as a god, but this led to being struck down by an angel (Acts 12:23). This account lines up with the historian, Josephus (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agrippa_I)


Herod Agrippa II was no better than his ancestors. He was a practicing Jew. He was a descendant of the Edomites, and they had converted to Judaism ("Herod I". Encyclopaedia Judaica, ISBN 965-07-0665-8), but he also lived with his sister, Bernice! Incest violated Jewish Law (Leviticus 18:1-18; 20:11-21). 


Acts 26 is Paul's final and finest defense after previous ones before the riotous crowd (22:1-21), chief priests and Sanhedrin (23:1-8), Felix (24:10-21), and Festus (25:6-11). Jesus has said that the apostles would be His witnesses in all Judea, and this meant public testimony. Paul had a rapt audience as there were military officers and prominent leaders of Jerusalem when Paul made his case before Agrippa. This fulfilled the Lord's promise that Paul would bear witness before "Gentiles and kings" (Acts 9:15). At the conclusion of Paul's defense, everyone who heard would know how to be saved!

Here is the outline of Paul's defense:

1) Complimenting of Agrippa II (26:2-3) - Agrippa II did know the Jewish customs and was a practicing Jew. According to Josephus, he was president of the temple and its treasures, and the appointment of the high priest. (Antiquities, 20.1.3). He did not walk as an obedience Jew as his incestuous relationship with his sister proves!

2) Paul's history of devoted Judaism (26:4-8) - He was a devout Pharisee (Philippians 3:5) and son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). He mentioned God raising the dead (26:8). The Greeks, Romans, and Sadducees would not have believed in the Resurrection (Acts 17:31-32; 23:8), but this is crucial to his witness because if Jesus had not been resurrected, there would be no Gospel for Paul to preach (see 1 Corinthians 15). 

3) His opposition to Christianity (26:9-11) - Paul had great promise as a rabbi and was a great persecutor of the church (Galatians 1:13-14). Only divine intervention could stop him!

4) His conversion and commission (26:12-18) - All Paul's righteousness and zeal were nothing (Philippians 3:1-11) when he met Christ on the road to Damascus. He recounts to his captive audience the encounter you have already read about in Acts 9. Paul had been resisting Christ and persecuting the church by "kicking against the goads."  This was a Jewish idiom that referred to the animal's futile resistance to being prodded by a sharp stick (oxgoad). Jesus was telling Paul that he was only hurting himself by persecuting the church.  
Paul was commissioned to go to the Jews and then the Gentiles and open their blind eyes, lead them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, and into forgiveness of sin and sanctification through faith in Jesus Christ. This commission closely mirrors the work of the Messiah from Isaiah 35:5; 42:7, 16; 61:1. He wanted the Gentiles in his audience to know that they had an equal share in God's inheritance (Romans 8:17; Colossians 1:12). They were part of the covenant promise made to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; Ephesians 2:19; 1 Peter 1:3,4). This was part of the reason why the Jews were so upset with him. Gentiles equal? No way! 
5) His ministry (26:19-23) - Paul responded to the heavenly vision with obedience, in spite of the persecution he faced along the way.  All the apostles preached repentance and turning to God (2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 8:22; 11:18; 13:24; 17:30; 19:4; 20:21). He asserted that his message was just a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy (26:22; 24:14; 28:23) of the death and resurrection of Jesus. In that day, there was no New Testament, so they used the Old Testament to lead others to Christ and nurture them in the faith (Something, I contend, we should all do!). He summarizes the gospel in 23:23, and that can all be backed up by Old Testament Scripture:
  • Christ would suffer and die for our sins (Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Corinthians 15:3)
  • Christ would rise from the dead (Psalm 16:8-11;1 Corinthians 15:4,20) 
  • Christ would proclaim light to his people and the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6; Acts 13:47)
6) His debate with Festus and Agrippa (26:24-29) - The above proclamation caused Festus to say Paul was out of his mind. Remember that Paul's proclamation of the Gentiles being part of God's plan also caused a strong reaction in the temple (Acts 22:21-22). But Paul just stated the facts known to all. 
Paul responded with concern for the souls of King Agrippa and all who heard his testimony despite Agrippa's sarcastic remark in 26:28. This caused the hearing to end, and Agrippa and Festus to conclude that Paul was innocent, but since he had appealed to Caesar, he would go to Rome. 

REFLECTION 


I have been doing grading for the local Perspectives on the World Christian Movement class. Here is a summary from this week's reading that talks about Acts 26:

Staying in Jerusalem was the surest and most public way to encounter the pressure of political and religious powers. Standing the test by their clear testimony is exactly what Jesus meant by the word "witness." The idea of "witnessing" in our day usually means attempting to communicate the gospel to others. But the use of this term was much different in biblical days. To "witness" was to offer prolonged public testimony. The court setting was not a way to get a public venue to preach "sermons." The trials were not really about conveying gospel information. Instead, the ordeal of public trials established the value of following Christ and thus confirmed the validity of the Christ-following movement to the common people. 
(Perspective on the World Christian Movement: Study Guide, Fourth Edition, by Steven C. Hawthorne, p. 50)
Here is a longer excerpt that expands upon the summary above. Read it if you have time: 
Boldness in Costly Public Witness 
Were they faithful to the mandate Christ had given them? As Luke records it, they were to take a public stand as witnesses (Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8). To act as a "witness" in Luke's way of speaking had very little to do with personal one-on-one communication of the gospel to friends and family. Only in recent times has the term "witness" been equated with general gospel communication. Reading Luke's use of the term "witness" reveals that almost every time someone acts as a witness, they did so in a public setting. 
Why was a public declaration in courts or in the streets so important? God wanted something more significant than a widespread awareness of Christ's resurrection. God was establishing an unshakable church. A witness not only asserted the facts of Jesus, they also established the profound value of following Jesus by their readiness to suffer. 
The ordeal of public trial served to distinguish the movement of Christ followers, placing the entire church in public view. Ordinary men and women went on public display, along with their Christ-like character. Even their enemies recognized them "as having been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13). Their lives became an expression of the highest ideals of their people (5:13). The function of witnessing could not be reduced to a brief communicative action -- it was a process. Their obedience as witnesses transpired over weeks or months or longer.  
Witnessing has to do with the paradox of shame and glory. After one courtroom appearance, Peter and his fellow witnesses rejoiced that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name (5:41). Jesus relays word to Paul by Ananias that Paul was a chosen instrument "to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel." It sounds like a regal duty, but the cost is severe -- a testimony comprised of suffering. The very next phrase the Lord gives Paul is this: "for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake" (9:15-16). Their shame brought Christ's glory.  
The Lessons for Obedience Today 
Witnessing is not so much personal sharing of the gospel as it is the public establishing of the Church. It will take more than slick communication to plant churches where there are none. The drama of Acts may be a portrait of the way any new church is planted. There may be exceptions but for the most part, the record shows that thriving movements for Jesus must emerge into the public view. 
Secret movements grow weak and often disappear entirely. Movements that endure bear Christ's name boldly and at the same time display much that is recognized as the finest ideals of their people. How does this happen. It is by men and women (usually ordinary local people rather than missionaries), who are falsely accused and are brought into a setting of open testimony. At that moment, the value of following Christ is established.  
(Excerpt from "Acts of Obedience" by Steven C. Hawthorne from Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Fourth Edition, edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, p. 139)
APPLICATION

Pray that God will be glorified as Chinese believers give public testimony in the face of persecution.

smith_hearing_050312.JPG
May 3, 2012: Rep. Chris Smith, left, and ChinaAid President Bob Fu, right, listen as
 Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng addresses a Capitol Hill committee over the phone
http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/02/21/christians-house-churches-in-china-see-erious-escalation-persecution-report/.
See the article "China's Christians see mounting persecution in country's effort to disband churches, report finds" HERE

References to witnesses or witnessing in the book of Acts are all in the public arena. Here is a list of references for future study:

1:8, 22; 2:32; 3:15; 4:33; 5:32; 10:39-40,43; 13:31; 14:3; 15:8; 16:2; 20:26; 22:15,18,20; 23:11; 26:16,22


PRAYER


Lord, what does it mean for us to make public declaration of You before a lost world?  Prepare us to be brave to suffer for Your name and strengthen the hearts and minds of believers around the world who suffer as they make public declaration of You in countries, like China, that are closed to the Good News. Open doors for Your Word to go forth with power and conviction, and may the leaders not be like Agrippa and Festus who closed their hearts to You.  We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen. 
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