Essay / Misc.

Jesus Keeps Speaking

Agrippa from Abbot Bible

In the twenty-sixth chapter of the book of Acts, Paul makes his defense before king Agrippa.

“Speak for yourself, Paul,” said king Agrippa.

Paul was hardly the kind of person who needed a special invitation to speak for himself. He was outspoken by nature, and he’d been warming the bench in prison for a long time now, waiting for a chance to make his case to somebody important enough to get something done on his behalf. Governor Felix had kept him in prison for at least two years (Acts 24:27), bringing him out periodically to have a little chat, and make some hints for a bribe, but it never amounted to anything. Then Governor Felix left office, and instead of resolving Paul’s case on his way out, he left Paul in prison during the transition to the next governor, Governor Festus.

Imagine the tiresome paperwork and bureaucratic hassle that must have generated. But now Festus has summoned Paul at last, and not just to speak to Festus, but to make his case in the presence of the great King Agrippa, the king of the Jews. Paul rises to the occasion, and makes his defense. He speaks for himself, and tells the story of his conversion to Christ and his commission to take the gospel to the world. Speaking for himself, he leads us back to the encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Agrippa from french ms
This is the third time in the book of Acts that we’ve heard this story: we saw it happen in chapter nine, and then heard Paul re-tell it in chapter twenty-two immediately after his arrest. Now here it is again, in front of Agrippa about 27 years after it happened, the same story. But it’s worth looking into again because this version delivered before Agrippa brings out some unique elements we wouldn’t want to miss. It’s also worth looking into again because when Paul speaks for himself he reminds us of the one main idea that controls the book of Acts: that Jesus Christ is alive, present and active in the world, and speaking for himself.

Jesus Christ is still at work. One way we see this in Acts is that he keeps speaking. Dead men do not keep speaking –but Jesus does.

Most authors and speakers have careers which come to an end. They say their last word, and you can then publish a book of everything they said from the moment they started their career, until they stopped saying things, and died. Jesus Christ is no such speaker. We are looking here at words he spoke after his death. His death did not prevent him from saying more words: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” –because he overcame his own death, and rose again to speak again. His teaching ministry continues, and he is a prophet whose words of prophecy can never be silenced because he keeps saying them.

Johnny Cash died in 2003, and has somehow released three more albums since then, with more on the way. He just keeps singing songs! But of course these posthumous releases were recorded before his death, and eventually there will be no more. Jesus Christ died and continued releasing posthumous works –the only truly posthumous works– because he undid his own death and went on to say things he had never said before; remarkable things like “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Rev. 1:18)

I have it on good authority that “dead men tell no tales,” but Jesus tells tales. He continues to tell his own story, to keep his own ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection from slipping away into bygone history. The conclusion is obvious: Jesus is no dead man.

Red Letter Bible cover page 1900
His words keep coming, in red print. There is an old-fashioned tradition of printing Bibles with the words of Jesus in red ink. How old is that tradition? I’ve always assumed it goes back a long long way, probably because I associate red-letter Bibles with my great grandmother and the King James Version. But in fact they’re relatively recent: The origin or red-Letter Bibles is really only about a hundred years back, right here in America. Here is the cover page of one of the very first ones, from 1901.

And here is part of Acts 26, from my old red letter King James Bible. As you can see, the red ink cannot be contained by the book of Luke, it spills over into Acts with these 5 verses. You could reasonably expect the words of Jesus to be contained in the histories of his ministry before he died, within the gospels. But there is no containing them in that way, and the red ink spills over from Luke to Acts. Five more verses of the words of Jesus Christ!
red print in acts 26

This is part of what Luke meant back in Acts 1:1, when he said, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up…” In Luke, Jesus began to do and teach, and in Acts he continues to do, and to teach. He has these further adventures.

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