There are moments when we feel completely alone. Where it seems that no one knows what we’re going through. This is a common feeling for single adults, empty-nesters, shut-ins, and the like. But it’s also possible to feel alone and not live alone. To feel alone even when you’re surrounded by other people. Everyone’s challenges are unique to them, even if there are some commonalities, and because our challenges are unique we are often tempted to believe that others can never understand, or even be trusted, with the details of our struggles.
The reality, however, is that some things in our lives can only be dealt with by exposing ourselves emotionally, laying ourselves bare, and becoming vulnerable. And if we can’t (or won’t) do that, things begin to weigh heavily on us. Left to carry the burden alone, our shoulders begin to sink down, and our brow becomes furrowed, and sometimes—even though we try to fight it back—the tears begin to come, and the emotions begin to crash like heavy waves.
It’s in moments like these—and I’ll confess I’ve isolated myself in that way before and felt that incredible burden—I’m reminded of Paul. There’s an amazing moment where Paul is standing before King Agrippa, arguing for his life in Acts 26.
Now, before we examine the text, allow me to set the stage. Up to this point, Paul has been going through it. His ministry began in God’s power and blinding light. But now? The great intellect, the great missionary, the great lawyer is sleeping among criminals and lowlifes in a dark prison cell. Paul! This is the man that was taught at the feet of Gamaliel. A contemporary of Aristotle and Socrates. A distinguished Roman citizen. But now he’s being dragged around from prison to prison, locked up with troublemakers, rabble-rousers, thieves, and murderers. And it’s here, in this lowly, lonely position, that Paul is taken to appear before Agrippa.
Agrippa would have been Paul’s contemporary. In Paul’s former life, he may have even had dealings with Agrippa’s court, and rubbed shoulders with the man outside of “work hours.” He may have hoped to one day argue a case before Agrippa, dazzling him with his legal acumen, expertise, and knowledge of the finer details of the law. This day, however, he stands before Agrippa as just another dirty criminal in need of processing and a bath.
Paul was somewhere, perhaps, he never thought he’d be. And we can certainly relate, can’t we? Life has a funny way of taking us places we never thought we’d be. From the loss of a job, to an unexpected death, to foreclosure, to lost children…many of us could say, “I never intended or thought my life would end up this way.”
So here he is, standing before Agrippa, who now holds his life in his hands. Agrippa comes from a long line of unsympathetic and, in a real sense, brutal leadership. His great grandfather is the one who signed the decree to kill the baby Jesus. His grandfather had John the Baptist beheaded. His father had James killed and imprisoned Peter. These were men who weren’t afraid to shed a little blood to impose their will and to tamp down on even the suggestion of insurrection.
And it’s before this man that dirty, tired, falsely accused Paul stands. All alone.
Paul has no lawyer, and stands before Agrippa as his own counsel. “I’ll be representing myself today, King Agrippa. And I think myself happy to stand before you.” In Paul’s opening statement he’s almost saying, “I’ve been waiting on this opportunity. I’m glad I finally get to talk to you. I’m glad I finally get to answer these accusations. I’m glad I finally get to deal with some of these things that have been said.”
If my short time as Pastor of Faith Apostolic Church in Sheridan, Indiana has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes you just have to confront the issue. Avoiding confrontation never makes it easier. It only intensifies things when you finally get around to dealing. It’s always better to just lay all the cards out on the table and confront the issues at hand. “I think myself happy to stand before you.”
Paul is amazing here. I mean, truly. He exudes eloquent, educated authority and confidence. He was not some unlearned hillbilly. He was a scholar’s scholar. A philosopher’s philosopher. A poet’s poet. I believe he sounds so confident in addressing Agrippa because he had a sense that he had been hand-picked by God for this moment. His intellect and capacity for communication with the influential figures of his day made him the perfect man for the task.
(As an aside, let me say this—God gave you what He gave you for a reason. Paul held court with people who would have laughed Peter out of the room. There’s a place for Peter, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not Agrippa’s court. I’m so encouraged and excited about this up-and-coming generation of Apostolics who are storming campuses with the gospel and, degrees in hand, engaging the culture. You’ll be shaping the landscape of the academic, political, and social world for generations to come. Don’t doubt what you have just because it’s different from the giftings of those who cleared the path that got you here. We need Apostolic lawyers, and Apostolic doctors, and Apostolic lawmakers, and Apostolic policy experts, and…)
Had Paul been any lesser of a man, he would have never even made it as far as Agrippa. He would have been long dead, perhaps. But now he begins to tell the king about his life. How he was Jewish born, but an educated Roman citizen who was as zealous for the law as one could be. Belonging to the most disciplined sect of the Pharisees, he served with fervor, shutting down Christians, and signing decrees against them.
Then Paul begins to tell Agrippa about his conversion, the blinding light that knocked him from his horse, and the booming voice of God. How he went to Damascus and had an experience that restored his sight, but left him forever changed. His mind was changed, and his habits changed, and his friends changed, and his discipline changed, and his purpose changed—and because of that, he said, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” He said, “so I preached in Damascus, and Jerusalem, and Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, and told them to repent.” Verse 21:
“For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me.”
His old Jewish friends rejected him. The Christians feared him. The disciples didn’t know what to do with him. “I’ve been snake bit. I’ve been stoned. I’ve been left for dead.” And now he’s here, all alone, arguing for his life. “My former friends aren’t with me. None of my past clients are going to be testifying as to my character today, sir.” But then a magnificent twist in verse 22:
“Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day,”
After he finishes painting this picture of the dejected loner, left for dead and all by himself, he makes a stunning revelation: “King Agrippa, just because I’m representing myself today, don’t think for a minute that I’m in this thing alone! Having received help of God, I continue…”
Let me encourage someone today with Paul’s example.
You might not have someone by your side, but you’re not alone! There might not be someone waiting for you when you get home tonight, but you’re not alone! You’re not laboring in that church alone; you’re not rebuilding your life alone; you’re not raising those kids alone; when the service is dead and no one else is dancing, you’re not dancing alone; you’re not singing alone; you’re not worshiping alone… you are not alone! God is your help, and with His help you can continue!