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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Acts 26

 

 

Verses 1-32

Chapter 26

THE DEFENCE OF A CHANGED MAN (Acts 26:1-11)

26:1-11 Agrippa said to Paul, "You have permission to speak on your own behalf." Then Paul stretched out his hand and began his defence. "With regard to the charges made against me by the Jews, King Agrippa, I count myself fortunate to be about to state my defence before you, especially because you are an expert in all Jewish customs and questions. Therefore I ask you to give me a patient hearing. All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, which from the beginning I lived amongst my people in Jerusalem. They already know from of old, if they are willing to testify to it, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion; and now it is for the hope of the promise that was made to our fathers that I stand on trial, that hope to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, earnestly worshipping God day and night. It is for that hope, your Majesty, that I am accused. Why should you judge it to be incredible if God raises the dead? It is true that I myself thought it right to do many things in opposition to the name of Jesus of Nazareth; and this I did in Jerusalem. When I had received authority from the chief priests, I shut up many of the saints in prison; and, when they were executed, I gave my vote against them. Often throughout all the synagogues I took vengeance on them and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my insane fury against them I even extended this persecution of them to cities abroad."

One of the extraordinary things about the great characters in the New Testament story is that they were never afraid to confess what once they had been. Here in the presence of the king, Paul frankly confesses that there was a day when he had tried to blast the Christians out of existence.

There was a famous evangelist called Brownlow North. In his early days he had lived a life that was anything but Christian. Once, just before he was to enter the pulpit in a church in Aberdeen, he received a letter. This letter informed him that its writer had evidence of some disgraceful thing which Brownlow North had done before he became a Christian; and it went on to say that the writer proposed to interrupt the service and to tell the whole congregation of that sin if he preached. Brownlow North took the letter into the pulpit; he read it to the congregation; he told of the thing that once he had done; and then he told them that Christ had changed him and that Christ could do the same for them. He used the very evidence of his shame to turn it to the glory of Christ.

Denney used to say that the great function of Christianity was in the last analysis to make bad men good. The great Christians have never been afraid to point to themselves as living examples of the power of Christ. It is true that a man can never change himself; but it is also gloriously true that what he cannot do, Jesus Christ can do for him.

In this passage Paul insists that the centre of his whole message is the resurrection. His witness is not of someone who has lived and died but of One who is gloriously present and alive for evermore. For Paul every day is Easter Day.

SURRENDER FOR SERVICE (Acts 26:12-18)

26:12-18 "When, in these circumstances, I was on my way to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, as I was on the road at midday, I saw, your Majesty. a light from heaven, more brilliant than the sun, shining round about me and my fellow-travellers. When we had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the spikes.' I said, 'Who are you, sir' The Lord replied, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But up! and stand upon your feet! For this is why I have appeared to you--to appoint you a servant and a witness of how you have seen me and of further visions you will have; for I am choosing you from the People and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share amongst those who have been sanctified by faith in me.'"

This passage is full of interest.

(i) The Greek word apostolos (Greek #652) literally means, one who is sent forth. For instance, an ambassador is an apostolos (Greek #652) or apostle. The interesting thing is that an emissary of the Sanhedrin was technically known as an apostolos (Greek #652) of the Sanhedrin. That means that Paul began this journey as the apostle of the Sanhedrin and ended it as the apostle of Christ.

(ii) Paul was pressing on with his journey at midday. Unless a traveller was in a really desperate hurry he rested during the midday heat. So we see how Paul was driving himself on this mission of persecution. Beyond doubt he was trying by violent action to still the doubts that were in his heart.

(iii) The Risen Christ told Paul that it was hard for him to kick against the spikes. When a young ox was first yoked it tried to kick its way out. If it was yoked to a one handed plough, the ploughman held in his hand a long staff with a sharpened end which he held close to the ox's heels so that every time it kicked it was jagged with the spike. If it was yoked to a wagon, the front of the wagon had a bar studded with wooden spikes which jagged the ox if it kicked. The young ox had to learn submission the hard way and so had Paul.

Acts 26:17-18 give a perfect summary of what Christ does for men. (a) He opens their eyes. When Christ comes into a man's life he enables him to see things he never saw before. (b) He turns them from the darkness to the light. Before a man meets Christ it is as if he were facing the wrong way; after meeting Christ he is walking towards the light and his way is clear before him. (e) He transfers him from the power of Satan to the power of God. Once evil had him in thrall but now God's triumphant power enables him to live in victorious goodness. (d) He gives him forgiveness of sins and a share with the sanctified. For the past, the penalty of sin is broken; for the future, life is recreated and purified.

A TASK ACCEPTED (Acts 26:19-23)

26:19-23 "Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. But first of all to those in Damascus, and to Jerusalem, and throughout the whole land of Judaea and to the Gentiles, I brought the message to repent and turn to God and do deeds to match their repentance. Because of this the Jews seized me in the Temple and tried to do away with me. So then because I have received the help of God up to this day, I stand bearing witness to great and small, saying nothing beyond those things which both the prophets and Moses said would happen, that the Anointed One must suffer, that as a consequence of his resurrection from the dead he must be the first to bring the tidings of light to the People and to the Gentiles."

Here we have a vivid summary of the substance of the message which Paul preached.

(i) He called on men to repent. The Greek word for repent literally means change one's mind. To repent means to realize that the kind of life we are living is wrong and that we must adopt a completely new set of values. To that end, it involves two things. It involves sorrow for what we have been and it involves the resolve that by the grace of God we will be changed.

(ii) He called on men to turn to God. So often we have our backs to God. It may be in thoughtless disregard; it may be because we have deliberately gone to the far countries of the soul. But. however that may be, Paul calls on us to let the God who was nothing to us become the God who is everything to us.

(iii) He called on men to do deeds to match their repentance. The proof of genuine repentance and turning to God is a certain kind of life. But these deeds are not merely the reaction of someone whose life is governed by a new series of laws; they are the result of a new love. The man who has come to know the love of God in Jesus Christ knows now that if he sins he does not only break God's law; he breaks God's heart.

A KING IMPRESSED (Acts 26:24-31)

26:24-31 As Paul was making his defence, Festus cried out, "Paul, you are mad. Much learning has turned you to madness." But Paul said, "I am not mad, Festus, your Excellency, but I am uttering words of truth and sense. The king has knowledge of these things and it is to him that I boldly talk; for I do not think that any of these things are escaping him; for this was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do." Agrippa said, "You surely think that you are not going to take long to persuade me to be a Christian." Paul answered, "I could pray that, whether it takes short or long, not only you but also all who are listening to me today were such as I am, apart from these fetters." The king and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them rose up; and when they had withdrawn they kept saying to each other, "This man does nothing which merits death or fetters." And Agrippa said to Festus, "This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar."

It is not so much what is actually said in this passage which is interesting as the atmosphere which the reader can feel behind it. Paul was a prisoner. At that very moment he was wearing his fetters, as he himself makes clear. And yet the impression given unmistakably is that he is the dominating personality in the scene. Festus does not speak to him as a criminal. No doubt he knew Paul's record as a trained rabbi; no doubt he had seen Paul's room scattered with the scrolls and the parchments which were the earliest Christian books. Agrippa, listening to Paul, is more on trial than Paul is. And the end of the matter is that a rather bewildered company cannot see any real reason why Paul should be tried in Rome or anywhere else. Paul has in him a power which raises him head and shoulders above all others in any company. The word used for the power of God in Greek is dunamis (Greek #1411); it is the word from which dynamite comes. The man who has the Risen Christ at his side need fear no one.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Acts 26:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/acts-26.html. 1956-1959.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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