I WAS NOT DISOBEDIENT TO THE VISION FROM HEAVEN
Acts 26:1-32 Key Verse: 26:19
“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.”
Part one, Paul before Agrippa.
Some brief background information is called for as we set the stage for chapter 26. The apostle Paul is in prison, which we know is a situation Paul is very familiar with at this point in his life, he is in Caesarea which is located on the coast of the Mediterranean, Caesarea is the capital of the Roman province of Judaea, the seat of government for the area, and the headquarters of the Roman troops. Paul had been transferred to Caesarea to stand before the governor Felix by the commander of the centurions after he heard of the plot in which the Jews were attempting to kill Paul. We find that Paul had been placed in prison by Felix where Paul spent a period of about two years. Felix was called back to Rome and replaced as the Roman governor by Porcius Festus and one of the first orders of business that Festus has to deal with is the issue of Paul. The Jews are clamoring for the return of Paul to Jerusalem where they would have more control over the outcome of Paul’s trial; the result of this issue is Paul’s “appeal to Caesar,” which causes governor Festus to declare, “To Caesar you will go.” Chapter 25 tells us that a few days after this event that King Agrippa and Bernice arrive in Caesarea to pay their respect to Festus, the new governor. The King, Julius Marcus Agrippa (Agrippa II) is the great grandson of Herod the Great, who you will remember from Matthew’s gospel tried to kill the baby Jesus. He was the son of King Herod (Agrippa I) who had James, the brother of John, put to death by the sword. This was a man whose family history made him unlikely to receive Paul warmly.
It is obvious that the issue with Paul is on the mind of Festus because he discusses the issue with King Agrippa when he arrives in Caesarea, the case concerns a dead man named Jesus, whom Paul claimed was alive. This causes Agrippa to become curious so he requests to hear what Paul has to say, which brings us to chapter 26, where we find the Apostle Paul in chains standing before King Agrippa, king of the Jews, appointed by Rome as the curator of the temple, the one in charge of the temple treasury and who appointed the high priest. We see in verse one Agrippa has given Paul,” permission to speak for himself.” And so begins Paul’s defense, His testimony, and his obedience. You will note that the message today has three parts, and begins with Paul’s defense. As Paul addresses King Agrippa Paul tells Agrippa that he feels fortunate to stand before him to make his defense, partially because he will have the evidence of his case examined by the highest officials and secondly, because of Agrippa’s great depth of knowledge concerning Jewish customs and controversies. Agrippa was considered an authority on Jewish affairs and Jewish scriptures. I’m sure that the pointing out of these facts by Paul appealed to Agrippa’s national Jewish pride and causes him to pay more attention to the things that Paul is about to say during his defense. “The Jews all know (of whom King Agrippa is one, again appealing to Agrippa’s pride) the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem, Paul states in verse 4. Paul grew up among these people, they were well aware of his dedication to the Jewish way of life, the enthusiasm in which he pursued his life goal, which was to be a Pharisee. Paul was trained as a Pharisee by Gamaliel, a doctor of Jewish law who held a senior position in the highest court in Jerusalem. Gamaliel holds the reputation for being one of the greatest teachers in all the annals of Judaism. In acts chapter 5 we see that Gamaliel was honored by all the people. This was Paul’s teacher, and Paul excelled in his studies, to use Paul’s own words from the book of Philippians chapter 3, he was a Pharisee who was faultless in his legalistic righteousness. There is a lot more going on in Paul’s early life than the mere attainment of a great formal education. God is working, even in the very early days of Paul’s life God is preparing him, beginning the process of molding Paul into what he would eventually become, giving him the things he would need for the journey God had mapped out for his life, the journey that would end with Paul becoming the image of Jesus Christ. In Psalm 139 we read of this concept.
“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
And why does Paul find himself in the circumstances he is in, one reason and perhaps the main reason is that Jesus said it would happen, in chapter 9 we see Jesus tell Ananias, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the gentile their kings and before the people of Israel, but the reason Paul states in the passage today is that it is because of Paul’s hope in what God has promised their fathers. Paul is being persecuted because he believes what the bible says, and as Paul learned this hope had been fulfilled in Jesus. And one of the main problems people had with Jesus was the fact that he had been raised from the dead, as evidenced by Paul’s remark in verse 8, “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” Remember that Paul is addressing Agrippa, a Jew, and there is more than likely a large Jewish presence here, so they know the scripture, they are well aware of the things God has done in the life of the Jewish people. But they, like us put limits on God, they like us sometimes assume too much or too little when it comes to what God can and cannot do. Yes, Paul was one them as he pointed out in verse 4, and Paul was convinced that he ought to do all that was possible to eradicate this blasphemous sect that had sprang up. Let’s look at verses 9-11.
Then Paul met Jesus.
Part two, Paul’s testimony.
Paul explains that he had been commissioned by the chief priest to travel to Damascus to persecute the believers there, and he describes what happened as he traveled. I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun blazing around me and my companions and we all fell to the ground. Then I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” Then I asked, “Who are you, Lord?” “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” the Lord replied. We need to pause for just a moment at this point and think on what has just transpired in Paul’s life. The great I am, the creator of all that is, the one Paul had studied about his whole life became a very real presence in his life. I am Jesus. Read verses 16-18; Paul’s commission. The first thing that our Lord tells Paul to do is, “Now get up and stand on your feet.” Jesus is about to give Paul something to do and we all know that you are not going to accomplish a whole lot lying in the road, or sitting on your sofa watching TV, the first order of business is to get up, to begin. Then Jesus explains his reason for appearing to Paul, to appoint him as a servant and a witness. Why is Paul a servant of Jesus? Because, as it states in 1 Corinthians chapter 6, Paul, like each of us, was bought with a price. Jesus then tells Paul he will take care of him as he goes about this work and what he will be doing and what will be accomplished. In verse 18 we see five things that are characteristic of believers. Our eyes are opened, we are turned from dark to light, from the power of Satan to the power of God, forgiveness of sin, and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus, this brings us to verse 19, our key verse, “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.” What is important about this verse is not so much what is said but what is implied, I was not disobedient, implying that Paul had a choice. Paul did not have to obey the vision, Paul was not a robot controlled by God with no will of his own. And neither are we, we all get to make a choice, every man and every woman created by God gets to choose, has a choice to make. Jesus speaks to each of us just as surely as he spoke to Paul that long ago day on the road to Damascus. Our desire and our prayer should be that we be obedient to our vision from heaven.
Part 3, obedience.
Paul then speaks of his obedience to the vision; we see beginning in verse 20 that Paul is everywhere testifying that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the hope of Israel. Preaching that the hope he described earlier in verse 6 had been fulfilled in Jesus, that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles. It is at this point in Paul’s defense that governor Festus has had enough. “You’re out of your mind Paul; your great learning is driving you insane.” We are reminded of 1 Corinthians 1:18, “for the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Paul’s reply to the governor outburst is, “I am not insane, most excellent Festus.” And he then appeals to Agrippa’s Jewishness, the King is familiar with these things and I can speak freely to him. We see an important point Paul makes at the end of verse 26; “because it was not done in a corner.” The gospel was never meant to be hidden from people, to be put away in a corner, but is to be proclaimed and available to all people everywhere. Then Paul puts Agrippa on the spot, remember where Paul is and who is sitting with King Agrippa, there’s Bernice Agrippa’s sister, the Roman Gentile governor Festus, also the group of Jews who came from Jerusalem to see that the charges are levied against Paul. And Paul asks Agrippa, Do you believe the prophets? I know you do.
King Agrippa has a choice, and what is his choice? He asks Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” And in Paul’s reply we read in verse 29,”short time or long-I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains. Here we see a changed heart, a heart that went from breathing murderous threats against believers to a compassionate heart whose passion is that all should come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
This message is about choices, the Jews chose to limit God to what they thought he should be, not what he is. Festus chose to dismiss God altogether, to see it all as nonsense. Agrippa chose not to do anything. And then there is Paul, only eternity will tell us the impact his choice made in the world. This is true in each of our lives, we may never know the true impact of our choices but we can be assured that God will give us the strength and guidance we need if we are obedient to our vision from heaven.
Let’s Read verse 19. “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.”