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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
November 12, 2006
How to Give Your Testimony
In 1 Peter 3:14-16 the apostles writes, “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, [you are] blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always [being] ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”
Those words are as important today as they were when Peter wrote them. The question is how to do it? How do you respond with gentleness and reverence to those that are slandering you and treating you unjustly? How do you keep your focus on what is important and do what is right when your emotions may be the complete opposite? Over the last few weeks we have seen the example of Paul and his ability to fulfill what Peter later wrote.
Paul had been slandered by certain Jews from Asia and then attacked in the temple. Yet his response when rescued by Roman soldiers was to tell those same people the reason that he proclaimed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. He related the story of how the resurrected Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and called him to this ministry which included proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles.
Paul was brought before the Sanhedrin for a hearing and was unjustly physically struck just as he began to make his defense. Knowing he would not get a fair hearing he still loudly proclaimed that he was imprisoned because of his hope in the resurrection of the dead. Paul did not shy away from issues at hand.
There was a plot to murder Paul which was discovered and reported to him by his nephew. This resulted in a quick journey under military guard to Caesarea. Lysias, the Roman commander, wrote a letter that Paul had not violated any Roman laws and the had done nothing to warrant death or even imprisonment, but Felix the governor held a trial anyway. Paul refuted every charge, but Felix deferred the verdict until Lysias could come personally. Even after two years Felix never pronounced a verdict because he wanted a bribe and desired to do the Jews a favor. What was Paul’ response to this injustice? He told Felix & his wife Drusilla about faith in Jesus Christ and proclaimed to him righteousness, self-control and the judgement to come. Acts 24:26 tells that Felix would talk with Paul “quite often.” Even when slandered, reviled and treated unjustly, Paul would still take advantage of every opportunity to tell others about the reason for his hope in Jesus Christ. That is the example we are to follow as well.
This morning we come to Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa in Acts 26. This is one of the most comprehensive testimonies that Paul gives and therefore a good model for us to follow when we tell others what Jesus Christ has done in our lives.
The setting for this testimony is another example of Paul responding properly even when treated unjustly. The new governor, Festus, had acted quickly and brought Paul to trial within the first few weeks of his arrival in Judea. This was good, but because of his ignorance of the region, the religion and the rascals that were accusing Paul he proposed another trial to be held before him in Jerusalem so that he might understand the charges being made against Paul. Festus admitted that Paul had not violated any Roman laws and that the charges were religious in nature revolving around the claim that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. It was at this point that Paul gave up hope of having a fair Roman trial in Judea and appealed to Caesar. That appeal ended Festus’ dilemma of how to both protect Paul, a Roman citizen, and also please the Jews, but it gave him a new one. Festus did not have anything to write to Caesar to explain why he was being sent. A solution arrived a few days later in the person of King Herod Agrippa II who was an expert in Jewish affairs, and when Festus explained the situation to him, Agrippa wanted to hear Paul. Paul was under no obligation to come and speak, but again Paul wanted to take advantage of every opportunity to proclaim Jesus Christ regardless of how he was personally treated.
King Agrippa and his sister, Bernice, who had taken on the role of Queen in the province in which Agrippa reigned, entered into the governors auditorium with great pomp followed by military commanders and the leading citizens of Caesarea. It was a very impressive sight of royal elegance and etiquette. Then Paul was summoned and he stood before them in chains. The visible contrast was not as great as the actual contrast of who was important to God’s kingdom.
Festus then gave the introduction explaining to all present the reason for the assembly so that he might have something to write to the Emperor concerning Paul after King Agrippa had opportunity to question Paul himself. We now pick up the story in Acts 26:1.
Paul Makes His Defense to Agrippa (26:1-29)
His Introduction (1-3)
Acts 26:1 (NASB) And Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and [proceeded] to make his defense:
2 “In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today; 3 especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among [the] Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
King Agrippa has no set of specific questions to ask Paul so he simply gives Paul permission to tell his story. Paul then raises his hand in the common gesture of orators of that time period and begins to speak. Paul’s introduction is once again respectful without any flattery. Just as in the case when before Felix, Paul is glad to be able to defend himself against the charges that have been made against him when the audience is someone that is an expert in the customs and questions of among the Jews. Festus did not understand what was going on which is why he did not even know how to investigate the charges against Paul, but Agrippa understands the intricacies of Jewish affairs very well.
The usual comment made before beginning the body of the speech is to beg the indulgence of those listening for a brief hearing, as did Tertullus of Felix in Acts 24:4. That would be done whether the speech would be long or short. Paul does not do that. Instead he entreats the King to listen patiently. Paul is up front that this story may take awhile.
One of the first things then we learn from Paul about giving a testimony to someone is thoughtfulness and respect to those listening. That is the example we should follow and not fall into the extremes of either being obnoxious or flatterers. Some people focus so much on the message they are proclaiming that they fail to consider to whom they are talking. They speak the truth, but without love, and so violate the Scriptures themselves. Their lack of thoughtfulness about how to communicate makes them obnoxious and they lose a hearing for their message. Others are so concentrated on the people and their feelings that they neglect the message for fear of causing offense and so they offend God. Paul’s concern for others caused him to speak with compassion and thoughtfully to his audience, but he would not compromise the message.
His History (4-11)
In verses 4-11 Paul recounts his history.
4 “So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my [own] nation and at Jerusalem; 5 since they have known about me for a long time previously, if they are willing to testify, that I lived [as] a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion. 6 “And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; 7 [the promise] to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve [God] night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. 8 “Why is it considered incredible among you [people] if God does raise the dead?
Paul has to deal with the realities of the charges made against him and then transition that to what Christ did for him. For that reason Paul starts off with his early training as a Pharisee and their knowledge of it. He is as Jewish as his accusers and was actually from the strictest branch of Judaism in keeping the Mosaic law. Paul emphasized this fact stating this had his been his way of life from “childhood” and from “the beginning” and that they had known him for a “long time” and could “testify” about it. [Paul’s use of eqnoV / ethnos for “nation” in verse 4 instead of laoV / laos, the usual word used among the Jews for Israel, was in sensitivity for his mostly Gentile audience]. Agrippa was well aware of the Pharisees and their teachings so he understood exactly what Paul was talking about.
As a Pharisee, Paul also believed in the resurrection of the dead and he emphasizes this point because it was the focus of the charges against him. Paul points out that the hope of the resurrection was a central belief in Judaism for it traced back to God’s promise given to the fathers through the prophets and was held by all of the twelve tribes. The king would have also been aware of these facts, but Paul is also explaining it to those who would not have understood these things.
Paul was addressing a largely Gentile audience, but in verse 8 he addresses the Jews that would have been present and directly questions why any of them would consider it incredible for God to raise the dead? The question is of course directly related to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There were Jews present that believed the Biblical stories of Elijah and Elisha raising the dead, but they refused to believe such resurrections occurred in their own time though there were plenty of examples including the young man in the city of Nain (Luke 7); Jairus’ daughter (Mt. 9), Lazarus (Jn. 11) as well as Jesus Himself. It is an age old problem of people claiming to believe yet rejecting its ramifications if it would force them to change their life. Incongruity between professed belief and actual belief is still commonly found among people. Paul shows here that it is proper to challenge such people by pointing out the inconsistency.
In verse 9 Paul returns to his explanation of his past. 9 “So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 “And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 “And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.
Paul completely identifies himself with his accusers by explaining that he had previously been doing what they were now doing and even worse. He had been taking action against the followers of Jesus, whom he refers to as “saints” here demonstrating that his beliefs had changed and he now understood their innocence, but previously he fought against them. He specifically cites his casting them into prison and his casting his vote in agreement with a death sentence. That indicates that Paul was either a member of the Sanhedrin or had received some special judicial position from them. Acts 8 records the martyrdom of Stephen, but there may have been others as well. Paul was zealous for God but he was also ignorant and in the enraged state that resulted he became a violent aggressor (1 Tim. 1:13) even going from synagogue to synagogue seeking them out to punish them and attempt to force them to blaspheme. Blaspheme in this context would refer to trying to get them to renounce and even curse the work, teaching and person of Jesus. He even pursued them to foreign cities.
Paul’s statements to King Agrippa here accomplish several purposes. From the standpoint of defending himself against the charges made against him, he shows that his belief and hope in the resurrection were thoroughly Jewish in both its ancient origin and its acceptance throughout the twelve tribes. He also shows that he did not have any animosity against those who were persecuting him now because he had at one time done the very same thing against others for the same reasons. Yet, in the manner in which he tells it, he also reveals that he now knows what he did was wrong for it was against people that were “saints,” those who were holy before God. And finally, from the standpoint of declaring the gospel, it lets all his hearers know that there is hope even for those present that were like what Paul had been before. God changes people.
Telling your personal history is the first part of telling your testimony. Let people know what your life was like before you met Jesus. That doesn’t mean going into sordid detail as some do and end up glorifying sin. It does mean letting people know that you were a sinner in need a savior who would correct your wrong beliefs and set you on the path of righteousness. The particular details you share should be chosen to identify yourself with your audience as much as possible. This gives hope that they also can change.
Paul uses the mention of his persecution of those in foreign cities to transition to how Paul met Jesus and consequently changed from a persecutor of the Way into a follower.
His Conversion (12-18)
12 “While thus engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, 13 at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. 14 “And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 “And I said, ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 ‘But arise, and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; 17 delivering you from the [Jewish] people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me. ‘
Paul recounts the story of his conversion in much the same way that he did when making his defense in the temple in Acts 22, but there are some specific things Paul changes in order to clearly communicate to his current audience. One of the things we should be well aware of when giving our testimony is that we can and should chose our words and what we emphasize in order to reach our current audience.
Paul tells Agrippa about his experience while traveling on the road to Damascus to persecute the Christians there. He explains how there was suddenly a supernatural bright light that caused them all to fall to the ground [22:6 only talks about Saul falling to the ground]. A voice speaking in Hebrew then challenges Saul, his Hebrew name, about Saul’s persecution of Him and questions him about the difficulty of his actions. The phrase “kick against the goads” was an agricultural illustration of futility that Agrippa would have understood. [This is the only account of this question and it brings in the idea that Saul was fighting against God]. A goad is a sharp stick used to prod animals. These were sometimes embedded in the crossbar directly behind the animal so that if the animal started acting up and kicking, it would feel the pain of these goads and quickly settle back down in order to be guided by its master. Saul thought he was serving God but he was actually fighting against Him, but God would bring him back under control and direct him.
Saul’s question, “Who are you, Lord?” is a full recognition that the one talking to him was more than just a “sir,” but was the “Lord” Himself. The answer to the question was that it was Jesus who also gave him additional directions. The first instruction was for Paul to stand on his feet. Paul reveals this here because Agrippa would have recognized that this was the same instruction God gave to Ezekiel when He called him to be a prophet (Ezek. 2:1f). God called Paul in a similar manner to be a minister and witness. Here before Agrippa Paul clearly states that it is Jesus that issues this call, while in his earlier testimony in the temple to the Jews this call came from God through the prophecy of Ananias. Again, Paul understood who he was talking to and would speak accordingly choosing his words carefully and emphasizing different elements of the story in order to bring the gospel to his hearers.
Paul is specific on several aspects of the ministry that Jesus gave to him including that he was being sent to the Gentiles “to open their eyes so that they may turn form darkness to light and from the domain of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.” This was not only informative to King Agrippa, but also an invitation to all the Gentiles present to listen closely, for Paul’s message was one of salvation for them. When Paul was speaking to the Jews in the Temple he did not mention the Gentiles specifically until the end of his speech.
The first part of Paul’s testimony concerned what Paul had been like. This part of the testimony concerned what happened that made Paul change his beliefs and in doing so he explained who Jesus is and His commands to him. That should the center of our own testimonies as well. This is who Jesus is and this is what he requires of me – repentance and submission. The next part of Paul’s testimony concerns how Paul responded.
His Life as a Christian (19-23)
19 “Consequently, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but [kept] declaring both to those of Damascus first, and [also] at Jerusalem and [then] throughout all the region of Judea, and [even] to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. 21 “For this reason [some] Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death. 22 “And so, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; 23 that the Christ was to suffer, [and] that by reason of [His] resurrection from the dead He should be the first to proclaim light both to the [Jewish] people and to the Gentiles. ”
Paul was obedient to God’s commands and proclaimed God’s message of repentance where ever he went, starting in Damascus where he had been at the time, and then in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and to the Gentiles. [Paul was unknown to the churches in Judea – Gal. 1:22. The grammar change here indicates not him preaching personally but the news of his message]. It is during his explanation of his response to Jesus’ commands that Paul points out that it was because of his preaching to the Gentiles that the Jews had seized him and tried to put him to death. [ diaceirizw / diacheirizô; – kill with hands, a reference to the attempt in the temple]. However, God helped him so that he could stand before them and testify to the same truths.
At this point Paul summarizes that message pointing out that it was the fulfillment of what the Prophets and Moses had said would happen. The promised Messiah would suffer and then be raised from the dead and proclaim light to both Jew and Gentile. The phrase “proclaim the light” is from many prophecies in Isaiah (9:2; 42:6,7; 49:6; 60:1-3) of the coming of Messiah and the blessings of His righteousness.
At this point Festus is completely confused and responds.
Festus’ Reaction (24)
24 And while [Paul] was saying this in his defense, Festus ^said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind! [Your] great learning is driving you mad.”
Festus responds in the same way that many still do today. If it does not make sense to them then they conclude that the one making the claim must be mad. For Festus, the idea of a man being raised from the dead and have that predicted centuries before hand was outside of what he thought could be rational. But note here as well that Festus recognizes that Paul is very well educated and concludes that is what has lead him to make such statements that he considers insane [mania / mania]. But it is not insane to say what is true and be enthusiastic about it, yet many Christians are intimidated to say anything for fear other people will consider them to be insane or fanatical.
Paul’s Appeal to Agrippa (25-29)
Asserting the King’s Knowledge (25-27)
25 But Paul ^said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. 26 “For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner. 27 “King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.”
Paul defends himself by addressing Festus directly stating that all he said was sober truth and that King Agrippa knew all about them. Paul asks a direct question to the King and then confidently answers for him. The question however was not just about believing the prophets. Agrippa could answer that easily with an affirmative. What put him in a dilemma was the ramifications of that answer. If he believed the prophets and Jesus’ resurrection proved he was the fulfillment of their prophecies about the Messiah, then did Agrippa believe that Jesus was the Christ?
Agrippa’s Response (28)
Acts 26:28 (NASB) And Agrippa [replied] to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” This is an idiom with the a sense that is more of a question, “Do you think you can persuade me to be a Christian in such a short time?” This was a way for King Agrippa to save face in front of the others present. He does not want to offend the Jews by any sort of statement that he did not believe the prophets and neither did he want to look foolish before his Roman friends in saying he did believe Jesus rose from the dead. He simply sought to skirt the question by implying it would take more to persuade him to be a Christian than one hearing. Paul’s response was heartfelt, gracious and to the point.
Paul’s Desire for the King (29)
29 And Paul [said,] “I would to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.”
Agrippa was concerned about what others thought, but Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, and his desire was that someday Agrippa and everyone present would also be Christians and know and experience all that he had except for the chains. This ended the hearing.
Agrippa’s Conclusion (30-32)
30 And the king arose and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them, 31 and when they had drawn aside, they [began] talking to one another, saying, “This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
The hearing ended when King Agrippa got up and left. In the discussion that followed they concluded once again that Paul was innocent. King Agrippa added that he could have been set free except that he had appealed to Caesar. That is what Festus could put in his letter. Paul had appealed so he was being sent, but in their questioning after the appeal they had found him to be innocent.
Paul’s testimony before Agrippa gives us a good model and example to follow for ourselves. It has three parts. First, what you were like prior to salvation – a sinner in need of salvation (but without glorification of your sin). This is the opportunity to identify with those listening. Second, how you were saved with an emphasis on who Jesus is and what He did to save you from your sin. This is the opportunity to explain the gospel. Third, tell about the changes that have occurred in your life since salvation. And then if you have the chance, and Paul did not always have that chance, make a personal invitation to your listeners just as Paul did to King Agrippa.
Remember also to be personable and that you are talking to real people. Speak the truth, but be sure it is in love. Be as thoughtful as possible of their backgrounds to tailor your testimony to communicate the gospel as clearly as possible to them in a way they will understand, yet never compromise the truth of the message. Don’t be afraid of being considered a fool or a nut by them. You can either be a fool for God or fooled by the devil. You know which is better.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Keep track of how many times King Agrippa is mentioned. 2) Talk with your parents about how to tell others what you believe about Jesus
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What is the main purpose of your life? What goals have you set in order to fulfill that purpose? How are you progressing toward those goals? How can you respond with gentleness and reverence to those that slander you and treat you unjustly (1 Pet. 3:14-16)? What was Paul’s example in doing this? Who was King Agrippa II and why was Paul defending himself before him? Describe the nature and tone of Paul’s introduction to his defense? What does that teach us about talking with others? Why does Paul bring out the particular aspects of his history before that particular audience? How did those facts prove the charges against him were false? How do you deal with people whose actions are contrary to their professed beliefs? How does Paul identify himself with his audience? Why did he do that? How does that help when giving your testimony? What are the differences between Paul’s conversion story in Acts 26 and in Acts 22? Why does Paul make those changes? What does that teach us about giving our testimony? What should be the key elements of the story of your conversion? How does Paul’s story of his life as a Christian affect Festus? Agrippa? What is Paul’s appeal to Agrippa? What does this teach us about giving a testimony? If you have never written out your testimony, do so? When was the last time you told someone your testimony? Pray for opportunities to tell someone else.
Sermon Notes – November 12, 2006
How to Give Your Testimony – Acts 26:1-32
Paul’s Example in the Temple
Paul’s Example before Felix
The Setting – Acts 25
Paul’s Defense Before King Agrippa (26:1-32)
His Introduction (vs. 1-3)
His History (vs. 4-11)
His Conversion (vs. 12-18)
His Life as a Christian (vs. 19-23)
The Reaction of Festus (vs. 24)
Paul’s Appeal to Agrippa (vs. 25-29)
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