Today’s reading: Acts 24-26.
“I can almost believe in Jesus.”
People reject the Gospel for all reasons. It’s interesting, as Paul stands trial before two governors and a king, to hear why they say no to God’s offer of grace. And even amid all this rejection, it’s amazing to see God’s providence bring Paul and his witness before the highest men and women in the land.
Not now; I’m busy.
Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” Acts 24: 24-25
Felix was the Roman governor of Judea, married to the daughter of Herod Agrippa I. His title was procurator, but a better name would have been procrastinator. He put off what he should have decided quickly. Fear prompted his delay: fear of exposing his own faults, fear of change, fear of losing his privileged position.
I don’t understand it.
“When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. I was at a loss how to investigate such matters;” Acts 25: 18-20
Festus replaced Felix as governor two years after Paul was arrested. His initial reaction was confusion. He heard the heart of the Gospel (Jesus, who died, is alive) but did not see the spiritual significance of it. “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
You are crazy.
“But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen– that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” Acts 26: 22-24
Festus heard more of Paul’s account of Jesus, but remained unconvinced. Rather than probe deeper or try to refute Paul’s story, he attacked Paul’s character. Within the year Festus died, presumably having lost his opportunity to receive God’s grace.
You must prove it to me.
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Paul replied, “Short time or long–I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” Acts 26: 28-29
Herod Agrippa II was the great-grandson of Herod the Great, and the son of Herod Agrippa who killed James and imprisoned Peter. He was the brother of Felix’s wife, Drusilla. Though a Jew by birth, he was a Roman at heart. Rome appointed him king in Judea about seven years before Paul’s trial. Another translation of his words to Paul says “almost you persuade me to be a Christian.” So close and yet so far. He wasn’t convinced. He didn’t trust or believe Paul. He wanted certainty, but what he needed was faith.
The first evil is, that if a man is only almost convinced, he misses altogether the blessing, which the being fully persuaded to be a Christian would have brought him. A leaky ship went out to sea, and a passenger was almost persuaded not to trust his life in it, but he did so, and he perished. A bubble speculation was started in the city, and a merchant was almost persuaded not to have shares in it, but he bought the scrip, and his estate went down in the general shipwreck. A person exceedingly ill, heard of a remedy reputed to be most effective, and he was almost persuaded to take it, but he did not, and therefore the disease grew worse and worse. A man who proposed to go into a subterranean vault in the dark, was almost persuaded to take a candle, but he did not, and therefore he stumbled and fell. You cannot have the blessing by being almost persuaded to have it. Your hunger cannot be appeased by almost eating, nor your thirst quenched by almost drinking. A culprit was almost saved from being hanged, for a reprieve came five minutes after he had expired, but alas! he was altogether dead, despite the almost escape. A man who has been almost persuaded to be saved, will at the last be altogether damned; his being almost convinced will be of no conceivable service to him. This seems so grievous, that the life of God, and the light of God, and the heaven of God, should glide by some of you, and you should be almost persuaded, and yet should miss them, through not being Christians. – Charles Spurgeon
Image by Nikolai Bodarevsky.