At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. — Acts 26:13-14
Paul’s defense before Agrippa, recorded in today’s text, skillfully wove together a tapestry of his own experiences, doctrinal elements, persuasive arguments, and even a call to decision. However, his impassioned address centered on his personal testimony. His eagerness to share the story of his life-transforming encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road brings to mind the old Gospel hymn “I Love to Tell the Story.” That song title clearly was the theme of Paul’s life after his conversion!
Katherine Hankey (1834-1911), the woman who wrote the lyrics of “I Love to Tell the Story,” was born into a Christian home in London, England, where guests were often invited to come and study the Bible. Her father especially was a devout Christian. He was also a banker and very prosperous, so Katherine, nicknamed Kate, never wanted for the better things in life. Although she could have chosen her friends from the elite, she had a place in her heart for the poor and hungry people in the most poverty-stricken parts of the city.
As a young girl, Kate taught Sunday school. When she was eighteen, she organized a Bible study for factory girls, taking the message of Jesus into the London slums. When her missionary brother fell ill in South Africa, Kate traveled there to assist him. That trip sparked a passion for foreign missions, and in her later life, when she became a published author, she donated all proceeds from her writing to missionary work.
At the age of thirty, Kate contracted a serious illness, and doctors ordered her to stop her church work and stay in bed for an entire year. She complied, in part. Though she did not travel as she had before, she remained a missionary via her pen — she composed poetry that told the story of Jesus. The most famous poem she wrote during that period had two parts and was one hundred stanzas in length, the first part titled “The Story Wanted,” and the second part “The Story Told.” She completed the poem in 1866, though it took most of the year to write it.
In 1867, the Young Men’s Christian Association held its international convention in Montreal, Canada, and one of the leaders ended a sermon by quoting from Katherine’s poem. Songwriter William Doane, who was in the audience, put part of the poem to music, composing the hymn we know today as “Tell Me the Old, Old Story.” Two years later, another composer, William Fischer, created a unique melody based on the second part of the poem, and his hymn, “I Love to Tell the Story” has been a favorite Gospel song of many ever since.
Katherine Hankey and Paul the Apostle both had a fervent desire to tell the story of Jesus. That desire can and should be ours as well! Perhaps no one has ever asked us for evidences of the Resurrection, a list of prophecies fulfilled by Jesus, or examples of intelligent design in our physical universe. However, most of us have likely experienced times when someone inquired about how we “became religious” or why we have peace and joy despite troubling circumstances. In most cases, people would rather hear about our personal experiences than our personal convictions.
We all have a testimony! We all can relate how Christ drew us to Himself and transformed our lives. Unbelievers can choose to argue with what the Bible says, but they cannot argue with what God has done for us. Like Paul, let’s choose to use every opportunity to share our testimony with others.
Chapter 26 is a record of Paul’s defense before Agrippa. (The setting, participants, and Festus’ explanation for why he convened the hearing are described in verses 23-27 of the preceding chapter.)
In verse 3, Paul’s comment to Agrippa suggesting that he was an “expert” in Hebrew matters may have been because Agrippa, in his position as king, supervised the appointment of the high priest in Jerusalem, controlled the Temple treasury, and had some influence in Jewish affairs.
Paul began by directly addressing Agrippa, though he quickly broadened his remarks to include the others present, as reflected by the plural pronoun in verse 8. The words translated “answered for himself” in verse 1 are from the Greek word apologeomai, related to our English word apologetics, which means “to give a defense or explanation of one’s beliefs.”
Verses 9-21 give the third description of Paul’s conversion in Scripture (see also Act 9:1-18; 22:3-21.)
In verse 14, the reference to kicking against the pricks was a common proverb in classical Greek. It alluded to an ox striking back against the sharp goad used to direct the animal, and thus hurting itself.
Some Bible scholars consider verse 18 to be one of the most important passages in the Book of Acts. Similar to Colossians 1:12-14, it contains a concise but clear summary of Paul’s message. It points out that salvation opens the eyes of those who have been blinded by sin and turns them from darkness to light, freeing them from the authority of Satan, and bringing forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified through faith in God.
Festus, the governor who granted Paul’s request to be tried before Caesar, evidently had little knowledge of Jewish thinking or the teachings of the Old Testament. His abrupt statement in verse 24, “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad,” may indicate he thought Paul’s study of the sacred Scriptures had developed into a mania. Festus died in office after serving for only two years, but in that period, though he lacked strength of character, he is considered by historians to have been wiser and more honest than his predecessor, Felix, or his successor, Albinus.
Bible scholars offer differing opinions regarding King Agrippa’s comment in verse 28, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian,” because the words in the original Greek are somewhat ambiguous. Some feel he was being sarcastic or contemptuous; others suggest that Paul’s persuasive arguments had affected Agrippa, causing him to briefly consider whether Paul’s testimony could be valid.
The hearing concluded when Agrippa, Festus, and those with them left the judgment hall. As they consulted privately, their joint conclusion was that Paul was not guilty and could have been released had he not appealed to Caesar. However, Paul’s steps had been ordained by God, and He had promised Paul that he would have the opportunity to testify in Rome (see Acts 23:11). This was simply the next step in the fulfillment of God’s plan for Paul.
(Hannah's Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
IV. The witness “unto the uttermost part of the earth”
E. The journey of Paul to Rome
2. His witness in Caesarea
c. Paul’s defense before Agrippa
(4) Paul’s defense before Agrippa (26:1-23)
(5) Paul’s answer to Festus (26:24-26)
(6) Paul’s interaction with Agrippa (26:27-29)
(7) The conclusion (26:30-32)
Paul set an example for us by sharing his testimony in every situation where he had an opportunity.