One King, One Gospel
A look at two reactions to the gospel
Porcius Festus was the new governor, appointed by Caesar to replace Antonius Felix. Felix had been corrupt and despised by the people. Festus was a marked improvement according to historians. He knew he could not afford to continue to offend the Jews by the same corrupt policies of his predecessors. This, no doubt, weighed heavily upon his mind as he began to take care of the unfinished business of the past administration.
This unfinished business included the case of a man who had been arrested two years before. It was some sort of religious controversy that had caused this man to be in jail, and the leaders of the Jews seemed intent on doing away with him. Festus, as an outsider and a newcomer, knew absolutely nothing about any of it, but needed to make some kind of decision. He asked King Agrippa for help in determining what to do, and sent for the prisoner to be brought before them both (Acts 25:23-27). He is in a precarious position, not wanting to anger the Jews on the one hand but not wanting to lose control on the other. The prisoner was invited to speak, and so Paul began his defense.
"And Agrippa said to Paul, 'You are permitted to speak for yourself.' Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense." (Acts 26:1). Paul's defense consisted of rehearsing how it had come to be that he, who had been an ardent persecutor of the church of Christ, had become one of its most zealous soldiers.
It was during Paul's defense really was, that Festus loudly interrupted. "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 has driven you mad!' But Paul said, 'I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. For the king (Agrippa - JQ) 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. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do.' And Agrippa replied to Paul, 'In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.' And Paul said, 'I would to God that whether in a short time or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am, except for these chains." (Acts 26:24-29).
Crazy Enough to Live Eternally
Paul answered Festus' charge by insisting that he was speaking "words of sober truth". The word translated "sober" denotes "mental soundness, moderation, good sense, self-control." Certainly Paul's measured response bears out the truthfulness of his soundness of mind (Acts 26:24).
The Jews and their problems are new to Festus. Perhaps he had never heard of Jesus of Nazareth. He had lived a world away from the controversy surrounding the man of Galilee. Also, it is probable that he knew little if anything about the Prophets and Moses. Festus' might have tried to follow Paul's defense but simply did not have the knowledge necessary to put it all together.
Familiar And Obviously True
Paul appealed to Agrippa's firsthand knowledge of the things about which he was speaking so that Festus could know that Paul was not the raving lunatic Festus had thought he was.
Agrippa could testify as to the truthfulness of Paul's claims that he, indeed, had been a leader at the forefront of the movement against Christianity. He had, at one time, possessed authority to throw Christians into prison and had voted for their deaths (Acts 26:9-11). Paul affirmed that "this has not been done in a corner." If Festus had thought Paul was making it all up, he let Festus know that the things of which he spoke were common knowledge. This is a very strong evidential point for us today as well. It shows us that Agrippa and the others present knew that Paul was speaking the truth about what he had been and what he had become.
The Prophets Speak
In addition to the fact that the recent events surrounding Paul's change were common knowledge, Paul also appeals to Agrippa's knowledge of the Prophets (Acts 26:27). In fact, before Festus had interrupted him, Paul had been speaking of the prophets. Paul assured Festus that the death and resurrection of Jesus had long been foretold, as well as the preaching of the gospel (Acts 26:22,23).
Festus probably didn't know the prophets at all, but Agrippa did. Perhaps Festus looked at Agrippa waiting for him to deny the validity of what Paul was saying. The denial never came. We know why. Those of us who have studied the prophets know what they said about the coming of the Christ; hundreds of prophecies about Jesus fulfilled centuries after they were made. In fact, it is all very convincing to Agrippa. There must have been turmoil within Agrippa's soul. A spiritual battle was waged between truth and lie. Which side would win Agrippa's heart?
Two Failures and One Success
It was Festus' own ignorance which deterred him from belief. While he found that Paul was innocent of anything worthy of death (Acts 26:30-32) there is no record that he ever became the disciple that Paul desired he become. History shows that Festus served as governor until his death, which was only a very short time later (62 A.D.).
Then, there was Agrippa. The king had said, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian." With this statement, Agrippa lost the spiritual battle. Agrippa was close to doing the right thing, at least for a brief moment. Unlike Festus, he had the background for a greater appreciation of Paul's defense. But he didn't have the integrity to pay the political costs of doing what he should have done.
It was the prisoner in chains, not the governor and not the king that came out on top. Paul had remained loyal to the Savior and His truth. He had spoken of forgiveness and sanctification and inheritance and resurrection. Paul is on the journey to victory. It would not be long.
From Expository Files 23.3; March 2016