Friday, November 2, 2012

An international Sunday school lesson commentary
For Sunday November 4, 2012

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(Sharing a testimony of faith)
(Acts 26)

In Acts 26, after Paul had made his defense to the Roman Governor of Judea, Porcius Festus, without any written charges ever being filed against him, Luke now paints for us, a very vivid description of a regal courtroom scene, full of pomp and grandeur. Here we see King Agrippa II and Bernice, the eldest daughter of Agrippa I, make their grand entry into the auditorium accompanied by military officers and other prominent Jewish men of the city.
They arrived to great cheers and adoration from the people in the audience. It is into this dramatic scene that Festus orders that Paul be ushered in to testify before the king. Here we see Paul, a somewhat diminutive man in physical statue, bound in chains, and yet, from the moment he begins to speak, he clearly has command of this royal setting. But let us go back a ways to explain how Paul ultimately found himself in this predicament.
Two years earlier, Paul had been arrested shortly after he arrived in Jerusalem, as a group of Jews from the province of Asia saw him in the temple, and roused a mob against him. They dragged Paul out of town that day, beating him all along the way. Paul was soon rescued by a regimen of Roman soldiers who were called to disperse the situation (Acts 21:26-36).
After allowing Paul to speak to the angry mob in Aramaic, the soldiers took him inside and ordered that he be whipped until he confessed his crime. As they began tying Paul down to whip him, he reveals to them that he is a Roman citizen, and legally, he couldn’t be punished without first being granted a trial (Acts 22:24-29).
The next day, Paul was released from his chains by the army commander, who ordered the leading priests to go into session with the Jewish high council to find out just what the trouble was all about (Acts 22:30). After appearing before them, and witnessing of the resurrection, and, of CHRIST JESUS, Paul was removed from chambers of the angry Pharisees and Sadducees, because the commander feared that they might kill him. That night the LORD appeared to Paul and said, “Be encouraged, Paul, just as you have told the people about ME here in Jerusalem, you must also preach the Good News in Rome” (Acts 23:1-11).
The next morning a group of more than forty Jews got together and hatched a plan, with some of the members of the Jewish high council, vowing to each other to neither eat nor drink again, until they had killed Paul (Acts 23:12-15). However, Paul’s nephew, who was standing close by, overheard the scheme, and went to Paul, where he was being incarcerated, and told him what the mob was planning to do. Paul then instructed his nephew to inform the army commander of the plan also.
The army commander then sent Paul to Caesarea under heavy guard, where he appeared before, then governor of Judea, Felix. Five days later Ananias, the high priest, arrived with other Jewish leaders and a lawyer named Tertullus, to press charges against Paul. After hearing the case Felix, a few days later, sent for Paul. At that time Paul told Felix and his wife, Drusilla, about his faith in JESUS CHRIST. As he reasoned with them about righteousness, and self-control, and, about the judgment to come, Felix became terrified and sent Paul away. After that, Felix left Paul in prison during the final two years of his term in office as governor of Judea (Acts 24). Paul’s case would not be addressed again until Porcius Festus took over as governor of Judea.
And so three days after Festus arrived in Caesarea to take over his new position as governor, he left for Jerusalem to hear allegations leveled against Paul by the Jewish leaders. The leaders actually wanted to get permission from Festus to move Paul to Jerusalem, and then, they would kill him on the way there. However, Festus invited the leaders to come to Caesarea instead, so Paul could be tried there in the official Roman court. During the trial, the Jewish leaders weren’t able to prove any of their allegations against Paul, and so Paul appealed his case to Caesar (Acts 25).
This brings us up to snuff, here in Acts 26, where in this pompous and regal atmosphere, Paul’s long and unjust ordeal is about to come to a head. He has now been divinely placed into a position where he can witness of JESUS to the King of Judea, himself, Herod Agrippa II. The defense of a man changed by GOD is all that Paul has to offer up. Perhaps the one thing that great men of GOD always had in common was that they were not ashamed to confess what they had once been.
And so that is how Paul started his defense on that fateful day in the official court of the Roman Empire. He was able to show how his shameful behavior toward the adherents of “The Way”, those men and women who preached CHRIST, was now being used to glorify CHRIST, WHOM he had once publicly and outwardly detested (Vs. 2-11).
It was William Barclay who wrote that, “In this passage, Paul insists that the center of his whole message is the resurrection. His witness is not of someone who has lived and died, but of someone who is gloriously present forever more. For Paul, every day was Easter”.
In verses 12-18, as Paul recounted his Damascus Road experience, he tells once again of the light that was brighter than the sun at high noon. But now, for the first time, we are told that CHRIST spoke to him in Aramaic. The description by JESUS that Paul was “kicking against the pricks” suggests that Paul had guilty feelings about his persecution of the Christian Church, and that he was violating his conscience, acting in ignorance and unbelief in those days.
Paul’s testimony before the court left Festus stupefied when he spoke of the idea of the resurrection of CHRIST (v. 23). In fact, Festus believed that Paul had so enveloped himself in his studies that he had finally lost his grip on reality by making such a statement (v. 24). And as for King Agrippa, he was left with a feeling of embarrassment, and was not about to admit to beliefs that his own appointed governor thought to be preposterous.
In the end, Festus had the power to acquit Paul, but he let his political astuteness overrule his heart instead. Paul had been courageous enough to share his testimony and witness of CHRIST JESUS with everyone, small and great. And clearly he doesn’t lend the impression that he is even a prisoner in this dramatic scene. He seems to emit a power that raises him head and shoulders above anyone else in the auditorium, because he spoke with the confidence of a man, who clearly had GOD on his side.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander

LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website

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