Thursday, August 1, 2013


Acts 26:19-32

Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking the sober truth."

—Acts 26:25


26:19 "After that, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout the countryside of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance. 21For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22To this day I have had help from God, and so I stand here, testifying to both small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would take place: 23that the Messiah must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles."

24 While he was making this defense, Festus exclaimed, "You are out of your mind, Paul! Too much learning is driving you insane!" 25But Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking the sober truth. 26Indeed the king knows about these things, and to him I speak freely; for I am certain that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner. 27King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe." 28Agrippa said to Paul, "Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?" 29Paul replied, "Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am—except for these chains."

30 Then the king got up, and with him the governor and Bernice and those who had been seated with them; 31and as they were leaving, they said to one another, "This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment." 32Agrippa said to Festus, "This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to the emperor."


Paul, who as a Roman citizen has the right to appeal all the way to the emperor, has an advantage that Jesus, a lowly Palestinian Jew, lacked. He has the right to a trial in the highest courts. By claiming the rights of a Roman citizen to appeal to the Emperor Nero, Paul assures that he will have a chance to take his stand to the heart of the Roman Empire.  Festus, a Roman government official,  is faced with a major dilemma: many are clamoring for Paul's death, and Festus can't build a case against him. By inviting King Agrippa II to hear Paul, he hopes that this representative of the emperor can uncover some evidence he can use. Agrippa came from a long line of officials who crossed paths with Jesus and his followers. He was the great-grandson of Herod the Great (see Matt. 2; Herod was the infamous murderer of boys under age two) and grandnephew of Herod Antipas (in Luke 23 this Herod questions Jesus; Mark 6 reports that he ordered the beheading of John the Baptizer and took part in Jesus' trial). King Agrippa was also the son of Herod Agrippa I (in Acts 12, he martyred James and vigorously persecuted early Christians). Agrippa II was also a Jew and perhaps could provide unique insights into Paul's defense that would soon unfold.

Paul knows his audience; he spins his story to his advantage. He aligns himself with Rome while claiming his association with Jerusalem and Jewish tradition and with followers of the new Way of Jesus. Paul is clear that his appointment to serve and to testify compels him to proclaim that Jesus is the promised, resurrected Messiah. He drives home a two-part message: that Jesus is the one who suffered and who first rose from the dead and the one who will bring light to Jew and Gentile alike.

Paul stands before powerful people, empowered by his commission to testify and serve the risen Christ. He is intent on inviting his hearers to make these beliefs their own. To establish credibility before his audience, he draws on his position as a member of the Jewish elite and a Roman citizen. The strength of his personal, subjective testimony provides a powerful dimension to his public testimony. Those who would judge him are more than frustrated by it. They resist his evangelism but acknowledge that he has done nothing worthy of imprisonment or death. As the scene ends, it is as if Agrippa II and Festus are worried that Paul's appeal—and their role in it—will be a royal waste of time.

As a Pharisee, Paul was known to have been a formidable enemy of Christians. His call to serve and to testify, however, led to the end of his "kicking against the goads." A goad was a sharply pointed pole used to prod animals such as oxen into doing their work; the figure of speech was common in Greek literature, referring to the futility of pushing against a powerful force. Paul could not resist the power of Christ and the promise of forgiveness, redemption, and salvation.

Enlightened against the powers of darkness, Paul obeyed this call for the rest of his life. His journey of faith took him across the known world, into prisons and into the midst of people who knew of other gods but not the God of Israel. He found ways to raise funds, to encourage fledgling communities of faith, and to spread the teachings of Christ.


Theologians generally acknowledge three reasons that the church finds itself called to make public statements of faith or to write confessions or creeds. The conditions for a status confessionis are times of external threat, internal dissent, or inspiration to speak a new word, perhaps what Paul would call a "sober truth." Throughout the church's history, people of faith have recorded faith statements, often referred to as creeds and confessions, testifying to their beliefs at a given point in time. This is not a dead tradition, as new statements continue to be written in faith communities across the globe. Many new-member or confirmation classes include an exercise in creating a personal faith statement as a snapshot of one's beliefs at that particular age or stage of faith.

Consider Paul's words in Acts 27 as his confession. It seems that he is compelled to position himself squarely within the Roman Empire (state) and as a Jew who follows Jesus (religious authority). Paul affirms the bodily resurrection of Jesus and leaves no doubt that he believes that Jesus is the Messiah. Paul is called to share this news with others and believes that the promise of salvation and eternal life are worth risking his life before the powers of the state, the prevailing Greco-Roman gods, and Jewish tradition.


How has your faith changed over time? Do you have a sense of call to a particular ministry or kind of service? Reflect on where you feel most fulfilled and challenged in your faith walk.

What "goads" do you face in seeking to share the good news of Christ and the promises of the resurrection with others?

Who are some of your mentors in the faith who serve as examples to you to find ways to "kick against the goads" and stand up for what you believe as a Christian?


God of all Life, may we be inspired by Paul's strength of purpose, clarity of call, and assurance that his witness was worth the cost. May we find ways to invite others to join us in this journey of faith, demonstrating the good news in word and deed, in all those places our faith will take us.  Amen.

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From The Present Word © 2012 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.