After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him. And all the king's servants who were at the king's gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage. Then the king's servants who were at the king's gate said to Mordecai, “Why do you transgress the king's command?” And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai's words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew. And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, as they had made known to him the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.
In the first month, which is the month of Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, they cast Pur (that is, they cast lots) before Haman day after day; and they cast it month after month till the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar. Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king's laws, so that it is not to the king's profit to tolerate them. If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay 10,000 talents of silver into the hands of those who have charge of the king's business, that they may put it into the king's treasuries.” So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. And the king said to Haman, “The money is given to you, the people also, to do with them as it seems good to you.”
Then the king's scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and an edict, according to all that Haman commanded, was written to the king's satraps and to the governors over all the provinces and to the officials of all the peoples, to every province in its own script and every people in its own language. It was written in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with the king's signet ring. Letters were sent by couriers to all the king's provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the document was to be issued as a decree in every province by proclamation to all the peoples to be ready for that day. The couriers went out hurriedly by order of the king, and the decree was issued in Susa the citadel. And the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion.
(Esther 3 ESV)
So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense:
“I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
“My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
“I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
“In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all 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 goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
(Acts 26 ESV)
Something to Consider
Acts 26: Paul’s personal testimony provides his critics with powerful evidence concerning the authority of his gospel message. Paul’s testimony also provides us with a powerful example concerning the nature of his message as well. In examining his testimony before King Agrippa, we can make three strong observations about the nature of the gospel message that he preached.
1. Christ isn’t calling us into a religion.
Paul’s appeal to his own training as a Pharisee is a way of telling the religious authorities, “Listen, I’ve been there done that. I was at the top of all religious schooling. I was rigorously upholding all the religious traditions. I was even passionately persecuting those who seemed to be compromising the customs of our religion. It doesn’t work. You cannot please God through your religious performance. Instead, I’ve met a Man who has called me out of religion. He’s made it plain to me that salvation is by God’s grace through faith alone. Not faith plus religion.”
How is Christ able to call us out of religion and call us by grace instead?
Because Christ fulfilled all the requirements of religion for us. It’s just like He said in Matthew 5, “I haven’t come to abolish the religious requirements. I’ve come to fulfill them.” Christ has fulfilled religion and replaced it with Himself.
2. Christ isn’t calling us based on our resume.
Paul had been devoting his life to fighting against the same gospel he was now preaching. He rejected Christ because He felt like everything about Him was a lie and even worse was blasphemy. He was hunting and killing Christians. Paul’s resume wasn’t necessarily Christ-worthy, and yet Christ still chose to call him by His grace and use Him for His purposes. God doesn’t love us because we’ve done anything worthy of His love. We do not and can not earn God’s love and acceptance. God loves us simply because He freely chooses to love us.
How is Christ able to secure this kind of love for us who don’t deserve it?
Because at the cross, Christ replaced our resume with His own. He took on our record of imperfections and sin and substituted it with His own record of perfection and righteousness. Christ secures God’s love for us by making us worthy of such love.
3. Christ is calling us into a relationship.
A big aspect of Paul’s defense of the gospel concerns the nature of his message. His message about Christ is not something that he was simply taught or learned. It was revealed to him by Christ Himself. It went beyond an intellectual understanding of Christ, and was something he actually experienced.
Christ has called us to more than just an intellectual understanding of who He is. There’s an experiential aspect to true Christian faith. There’s a personal sense and experience of a real relationship with Christ. A true Christian experiences his theology. He experiences what He believes to be true about God. And the true Christian knows that with this experience comes the responsibility to reveal Christ to others as well.
Christ calls us out of religious performance, Christ makes us worthy of this calling and Christ calls us into a relationship with God. This is the heart of what it means to be a Christian, and this is the very essence of Paul’s gospel message. This is a message from God, not simply a message of men. When we embrace this truth about God, we embrace a new relationship with the God who has revealed this truth about Himself.