I’ve had a common misconception that if Paul had not appealed to the emperor then he could have been freed and he would have been fine. We see that alluded to by Agrippa at the very end of chapter 26 in vs.32. But the problem was not that the Romans were going after him, but rather that there were 40 sworn men who were determined to take Paul’s life. You can find them again in Acts 23:12. They were already twice foiled in their plot to ambush Paul, and any opportunity that might arise they would be sure to take. If Rome had not protected him in their prisons then he surely would have died at the hands of the Jewish mobs riled up by the chief priest and his lackeys. So no, Paul would not have been okay if he had just kept quiet and not appealed to the emperor, in spite of what Agrippa says in these verses.
I love Paul’s unabashed attempt to bring the Gospel to Agrippa, and Festus, and Berenice. It becomes obvious to all gathered that he was trying to win them over to his side. Listen to what he says in vs.26-27: “Indeed the king knows about these things, and to him I speak freely; for I am certain that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” Agrippa calls him on it and Paul responds right back with saying: “How I wish you were just like me.” Paul understood what it meant to be exposed to Jesus and to his teachings and turn your back on it. He knew what it meant to “kick against the goads”. What does that mean?
When Paul recounts the story of his conversion he speaks about how he had consistently been the one who gathered the names and persecuted the Christians more than anyone else. He was probably present when Jesus taught and when he was killed. No matter what we say, any exposure to Jesus would be sure to put a seed of thought in your mind that his words weren’t necessarily so crazy after all. But he continued to carry out his duty and to live his life as a righteous Pharisee…until Damascus.
“Why do you kick against the goads.” The goads were sharp pointed sticks that were used to ensure that animals behaved. The more the animals kicked against the sticks the more painful it would be. The term: “goad someone on” comes from this usage where a person is cajoled to go in a certain direction, hopefully not with pointy sticks. But Paul had been tapped to be a leader within the Christian community but it took him a long time to respond to the guidance. He fought Jesus’ presence and he kicked against anything which might turn him to follow him and to love him. Until Jesus spoke to him directly.
I am sure we have all had times when we have kicked against the goads. There have been times when we have simply decided that God’s way is not the way that we are going to take, either because we have too much to lose, or the alternative is too compelling. In the end, however, we will find out that it is much more painful to resist God’s desires in our lives, than to pursue our own wishes. This Scripture is a great reminder that God is going to eventually win us over, it is just a matter of when. On their way out, if nothing else, the three people of power, Festus, Agrippa and Berenice all realize that he was innocent. But off to Rome for Paul.