Trial & Testimony (Acts 21-26)


What makes a great team: offense or defense?

  • Offense excites the casual fan, but Defense excites the committed follower.
  • Coaches say: Offense wins games but Defense wins championships.
  • Teams strategize with an air raid Offense or a steel curtain Defense.
  • Reality is that a thriving offense AND an effective defense are needed for great teams… and for the Christian faith.

Thus far in Acts, the gospel has been on offense. The apostles preach in the open air and people get saved. The church sends missionaries into cities and homes with new disciples being made and new churches started. The Holy Spirit guides Peter, Philip, and Paul to advance the Christian movement among strategic people and places.

But now, the gospel goes on defense. Paul reaches Jerusalem and goes on a series of trials for his life. He is no longer choosing the destinations for disciplemaking. Instead, God is orchestrating Paul’s movements from public testimony to private trials, to prison exchanges where the gospel advances in ways Christians could never have imagined.

We have 3 more messages in Acts.

  • Trial & Testimony (Acts 21-26) – – – fly through chapters…
  • Shipwreck (Acts 27)
  • Rome & Beyond (Acts 28)

EXAMINE       Acts 21-26

Acts 21:10-14 10 While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping, and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”

Paul continues his journey to Jerusalem. He received multiple warnings not to go to Jerusalem (21:4, 12). The language suggests repeated persuasion attempts with emotional pleas for Paul to change his mind about traveling to Jerusalem. Paul is often sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s directing his travels but, in this case, he appears to have a divine urging to go to Jerusalem.

  • In life, we frequently look for the path to walk and road to travel. It is wise to gather input and advice from sources and friends. Yet, we must always follow how we believe God has directed our decisions.
    • For friends advising others, ask more questions than give instructions. This not only frees you from the burden of giving faulty advice but enables the person to discern the Spirit’s direction.
    • For decisions, we are accountable for our own actions. While we can be influenced by others and our environment, we cannot constantly blame-shift. There are times each person must learn responsibility for their own decisions and behaviors.  

Acts 21:30-39 30 Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. 31 And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35 And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, 36 for the mob of the people followed, crying out, “Away with him!” 37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.”

Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem ends in mob violence. He’s attacked and arrested, and then mistakenly accused of being an Egyptian terrorist. 1st C. secular historian Josephus notes the activity of this Egyptian terrorist as gathering 30K rebels in the wilderness.
He threatened to bring down Jerusalem and several hundred died in unsuccessful attacks on the Romans. Paul corrects the accusation by speaking in Greek to the Roman soldier and relaying he was a Jew from Tarsus, an important Roman city.

Unfortunately, the passage has a chapter break from 21:40 to 22:1. Chapter 22 is largely Paul’s defense testimony while under arrest. He changes communication from Greek to Hebrew in speaking to the Jewish crowd/mob. He reminds them his religious pedigree (22:1-5)

  • Born in Tarsus (Jewish born Roman citizen)
  • Studied with Gamaliel and became a Pharisee (strictest sect).
  • Zealous by persecution followers of the Way (Christians), even to the point of jail and execution of men and women.
  • Explains his encounter with Jesus the Nazarene, the One he persecuted (22:8). This encounter immeasurably humbled Paul and irrevocably transformed his life mission to proclaim the gospel to Jews and Gentiles (cf 1Cor 9:16; 15:9-11; Gal 1:6-10; Php 1:20-21; etc.).

Paul’s emphasis on Christianity’s mission to all, including Gentiles, caused an uproar.

Acts 22:22-25 22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23 And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. 25 But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” 27 So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” 29 So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.

Luke’s narration communicates Christianity as rational, law-abiding, but relentless about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. While the Roman justice system treated Paul fairly, the Jewish system violated its own law and quickly erupted into mob violence.

  • Roman commander withdrew from punishing Paul at revelation of Paul’s citizenship (22:29-30).
  • 40+ Jewish religious leaders formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under a curse, neither to eat or drink until they had killed Paul (23:12-13).
  • Romans uncover the plot of Paul’s assassination and protect Paul (23:16-35).
  • Jewish leaders accuse Paul of being “a plague, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the Roman world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” (24:5)
  • Roman governor Felix orders for Paul’s imprisonment to be loose and allow for his friends to attend to his needs (24:23). Yet, Paul remains in prison for over two years (24:27).
  • Jewish chief priests conspired for Paul’s transfer to Jerusalem, so they could ambush and kill Paul. However, Roman governor kept Paul at Caesarea for fair trial (25:1-5).
  • Further, Paul appeals to the Roman Caesar, the highest court, to have his case cleared. And, the Roman system remained impartial to send Paul to the capital city for justice (Ac 25:12, 32).
  • Interestingly, King Agrippa became aware of the commotion about Paul’s criminal case and requested to hear him. Paul provides another detail defense of his testimony and about the resurrection of Jesus. Their response is ironic:  
    Acts 26:30-32 30 Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. 31 And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

This is a summary narrative of Acts 22-26. We can be grateful that Christianity is rooted in a history of events not fictional legends. God is ceaselessly and relentlessly writing His story in the circumstances of our world. Nothing happens without the divine hand of God. As Christians, we take great confidence and security in God’s sovereignty.  We may not understand the twists and turns, or the peaks and valleys of life, but we can trust God is working together all things for His glory and our good.


Before closing this message, it is helpful to look at the pages of Scripture and review the words in red. The red letters are not any more inspired than the black font in our Bibles. Yet, they are meant to highlight the words of Jesus and hone our attention. In these closing chapters of Acts, we can reflect upon some of the red letters – the words of Jesus to the apostle Paul.

Jesus gave Paul a second chance (Ac 22:6-9).

  • “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Paul frequently remembers his Damascus road experience with Jesus. While Jesus scolded Paul, He also gave him a second chance.
  • Your second+ chance might be today or tomorrow, but you never know when it will be your last chance. It’s been said, “Atheism has condemned thousands, but procrastination has condemned its tens of thousands.”[1]
  • Do not miss any opportunity to follow Jesus.
    • Don’t delay that conversation you’ve been postponing.
    • Don’t hesitate to take a step of faith stirring in your soul.
    • Don’t wait to worship Jesus with your all bc you’re not ready, knowing you’ll never be ready. Be careful of lingering in delayed disobedience.  
    • Gal 6:7 “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will they reap.”
    • Heb 10:30-31 “How much worse punishment will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant, and outraged the Spirit of grace?… It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

  • Overall, the grace of God can overshadow our guilt. If God can transform a chief of sinners like Paul, or like David, and so many others… then the grace of Jesus is sufficient to save you and provide a new start.

Jesus gave Paul a distinct mission (Ac 22:21).

  • “Go, I will send you far away to the Gentiles.”
  • Paul’s calling was distinct from Peter. While Peter preached primarily to the Jews, Paul’s call was to proclaim the mysteries of the gospel to those far from God, and those who had never heard of the Messiah. He desired not to build on the foundation of others but begin new hubs of gospel ministry.
  • Friends, God has made you and our church unique with a distinct mission. We are not in competition with one another or other churches/ministries. Some are called to partner and pool their resources for shared mission. Others are called to generate and grow new gospel centers in unfamiliar and unreached places. “Some plant, some water, but only God gives the increase” (1 Cor 3:7).
  • Overall, your distinct mission is determined each day with where God has sovereignly placed YOU in…
    • your neighborhood.
    • your vocation / school classes.
    • your encounters and opportunities.
    • 1 Peter 3:15 “set apart Christ as Lord, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”
  • What are you doing with the resources/opportunities God provides?

Jesus gave Paul a galvanizing confidence (Ac 23:11)

  • “Have courage. For as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
  • This word θαρσέω is a word used only a few times in the NT and only spoken by Jesus. It means to “have courage” or press onward in confident faith. Jesus speaks this to individuals in their greatest moments of struggle and intense suffering:
    • A paralyzed man who had no hope (Mt 9:2)A suffering woman whom no one wanted to hold or touch (Mt 9:22)The disciples with insurmountable fear during a storm
      (Mt 14:27)
    • A blind man crying for mercy (Mk 10:49)
    • Paul in prison and uncertain his next adventure or how many more days of his life. (Ac 23:11)
  • Paul needed this word of reassuring hope. Paul was able to proclaim the gospel in the heart of enemy territory. His travel and lodging costs would be paid by the Roman government instead of costly church finances. Further, Paul’s imprisonments provided time to write letters, which would further establish the Christian faith.
  • Many of us are frequently waiting for life to get easy.
    • If I can just make it to Friday (… in some cases “pay day”)
    • If I can just get past these next few months…
    • If I can just get that promotion…
    • If I can just get this problem solved…
    • If I can just _____.

In life we keep waiting for an easier season. It never comes. Life will always give us challenges and struggles. Sometimes we cannot go around issues but must face them and go through them. We often seek escape and ask God to deliver us when what we really need is God’s strength to endure. If we never learn to endure then we miss seeing the blessings and becoming the person God desires. We can trust that God is in control, on the move, and always working.

Jesus says, Tharséō. In this world you will have tribulation, but I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33)


This morning we celebrate communion to remind ourselves of God’s conquering power over our worst failings and our greatest fears. We recognize the sinless life, substitutionary death, and satisfying resurrection of Jesus is for us in profound and personal ways.

[1] Skip Heitzig, sermon on Acts 25.

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