CAUGHT BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
“No Man Can Serve Two Masters…” Matthew 6:24(a)
In chapter 26 of the Book of Acts we find the Apostle Paul
defending himself before King Agrippa. And to properly identify this particular
king, Herod Agrippa II, we need to understand that he was the great grandson of
Herod the Great, the one who ruled over
And this king was every bit as wicked as his predecessors.
His consort Bernice was his sister and their incestuous relationship was said
to have been the talk of
So Paul faced a daunting task in trying to convince this despicable excuse for a man that he was innocent of the charges leveled against him by the Jews. And in exercising his right as a Roman citizen to appeal directly to Caesar, thereby circumventing any possible ruling by the king, it appears Agrippa may have been peeved by that decision and insisted on hearing what he had to say.
The details of Paul’s defense begin at Acts chapter 25 and verse 13:
“Now after an interval of some days, Agrippa the king and
Bernice arrived at
Even though under Roman law a ruling by Agrippa was a dead issue at that point, I do not know if Paul had any choice but to argue his case before him. And how he went about it is most interesting—especially in view of the fact that he knew the king could not declare him innocent and relieve him from having to appear before Caesar. So why did he go to such lengths in trying to prove his case when it was pretty much a waste of time?
We must remember that Paul was specifically commissioned by
the risen Lord to take the Gospel message to the Gentiles. And he was
definitely on his way to
So in verses 1 through 11 of chapter 26, Paul tells the king about his early life and the fact that he had been a Pharisee who literally persecuted the people of the “way” (something he told the Jewish mob when he was arrested):
“[Yes] I harassed (troubled, molested, and persecuted) this Way [of the Lord] to the death, putting in chains and committing to prison both men and women” Acts 22:4 (Amplified Bible).
Then Paul had this to say about his sudden change of heart and subsequent actions:
“When on the road at midday, O king, I saw a light from heaven surpassing the brightness of the sun, flashing about me and those who were traveling with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice in the Hebrew tongue saying to me, Saul, Saul, why do you continue to persecute Me [to harass and trouble and molest Me]? It is dangerous and turns out badly for you to keep kicking against the goads [to keep offering vain and perilous resistance]. 15 And I said, Who are You, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus, Whom you are persecuting. 16 But arise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, that I might appoint you to serve as [My] minister and to bear witness both to what you have seen of Me and to that in which I will appear to you, 17 Choosing you out [selecting you for Myself] and delivering you from among this [Jewish] people and the Gentiles to whom I am sending you— 18 To open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may thus receive forgiveness and release from their sins and a place and portion among those who are consecrated and purified by faith in Me. 19 Wherefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision, 20 But made known openly first of all to those at Damascus, then at Jerusalem and throughout the whole land of Judea, and also among the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works and live lives consistent with and worthy of their repentance. 21 Because of these things the Jews seized me in the temple [enclosure] and tried to do away with me. 22 [But] to this day I have had the help which comes from God [as my ally], and so I stand here testifying to small and great alike, asserting nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses declared would come to pass— 23 That the Christ (the Anointed One) must suffer and that He, by being the first to rise from the dead, would declare and show light both to the [Jewish] people and to the Gentiles” Acts 26:13-23 (Amplified Bible, emphasis mine).
At this point Porcius Festus, the Governor of Judea, interrupted the proceedings and accused Paul of being insane! He was shocked that a learned scholar like Paul would profess to believe in a literal resurrection from the dead—a concept no intelligent Roman would even consider, much less accept:
“And as he thus proceeded with his defense, Festus called out loudly, Paul, you are mad! Your great learning is driving you insane! 25 But Paul replied, I am not mad, most noble Festus, but I am uttering the straight, sound truth. 26 For the king understands about these things well enough, and [therefore] to him I speak with bold frankness and confidence. I am convinced that not one of these things has escaped his notice, for all this did not take place in a corner [in secret]” Acts 26:24-26 (Amplified Bible, emphasis mine).
And in a summation that would make a “dream team” of defense attorneys proud, the Apostle Paul rests his case by putting Agrippa between the proverbial rock and a hard place!
The facts concerning the death, burial and resurrection of
Jesus Christ was common knowledge throughout
Why do you suppose those hardened soldiers would appeal to the very ones who had insisted upon a guard being placed at the tomb in the first place? The Jews hated the Romans, so the only plausible explanation is obvious—they knew with a high degree of certainty that the evidence was so overwhelming their story would be accepted as legitimate. And when all was said and done, they were not only given a considerable sum of money to keep quiet about it (Matthew 28:11-14), but were reassured that even if the Roman governor found out they (the chief priests) would intervene to keep them from being punished. Does it make any sense that the priests would have acted in that manner if there had been any doubt in their minds?
What was the evidence that was so powerful it could not be refuted? Simply that the burial shroud (the linen strips with which the Lord’s body was wrapped) was an empty “cocoon” and only a supernatural resurrection would have left them undisturbed!
So by the time the soldiers had met with the Jewish leadership, untold numbers of people—along with the Lord’s disciples—had witnessed the evidence and the soldier’s claim that the body had been stolen would not have been taken seriously. That is why verse 15 of Matt. 28 tells us the whole thing was “the talk of the town” at the time the epistle was written.
And because of that common knowledge, Paul set his trap for Agrippa.
“King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? [Do you give credence to God’s messengers and their words?] I perceive and know that you do believe. 28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, You think it a small task to make a Christian of me [just offhand to induce me with little ado and persuasion, at very short notice]. 29 And Paul replied, Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you, but also all who are listening to me today, might become such as I am, except for these chains. 30 Then the king arose, and the governor and Bernice and all those who were seated with them; 31 And after they had gone out, they said to one another, This man is doing nothing deserving of death or [even] of imprisonment. 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, This man could have been set at liberty if he had not appealed to Caesar” Acts 26:27-32 (Amplified Bible, emphasis mine).
By insisting that Agrippa believed the Old Testament Scriptures and thus accepted what they proclaimed about the Messiah, Paul shrewdly put the king in an untenable political situation. Because if he said he did not believe the Prophets he would enrage his Jewish subjects and if he admitted to belief his Roman friends would think him foolish! So being the consummate politician that he was, Agrippa deflected Paul’s comments by rejecting Jesus Christ.
Of course his reply pleased the Jews present and at the same time it did no harm to his reputation with the Romans. But even though King Agrippa was morally reprehensible and had made many grievous mistakes in his life, this attempt at “saving face” was by far the worst because it sealed his fate before a holy God.
Is it possible that you are about to make the same one?
If you have been born again and received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, but have been very lukewarm in your spiritual walk with Him, you need to immediately ask Him for forgiveness and for renewal. He will instantly forgive you, and fill your heart with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Then, you need to begin a daily walk of prayer and personal Bible Study.
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