Recently a dear friend sent a birthday card to me with an Amazon gift card enclosed. Uncharacteristically I used the gift card to purchase a small gift for her, in addition to applying it to my purchase. Not surprisingly, my friend was offended, as if I didn’t appreciate her present. At first, I had no idea why I did this, but later I realized that I felt guilty (for reasons I won’t explain here). My friend forgave me because she is a godly, merciful woman. I now know more about my negative attitude toward personal gifts. Whenever someone refuses a gift, he or she has a reason. When people reject the generous gift of salvation in Christ, they do so from hardened hearts, incomplete understanding of sin and redemption, pride, fear, or a host of otherworldly reasons. Our extended passage today from Acts describes Paul’s witness to two Roman rulers and their rejection of Christ. He was prepared and not discouraged when they scorned Jesus’s divinity. Let us follow Paul’s example to press on for the sake of others who will repent of their unbelief. Jesus is the eternal God who calls us to be his ambassadors.
Paul’s witness for Christ, Savior of all
In Acts 26, Luke reports how Festus and Agrippa rejected Paul’s witness of Christ’s ministry and salvation during his trial. “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason, the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day, I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles. And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.’ But Paul said, ‘I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.’ And Agrippa said to Paul, ‘In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?’ And Paul said, ‘Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.’” (Acts 26:19-29)
Jesus, very God of very God
“One of the first marks of our conversion is that we obey Jesus Christ. We might even call it the first mark, except that faith itself is the first evidence. Are you obeying Jesus? Jesus said, ‘Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say?’” (Luke 6:46). If you are disobeying Jesus, you are not his disciple. If you are not his disciple, you are not saved. People who have heard the voice of Jesus Christ just do not ignore it.” (2) There are so many ways to witness for Christ today. Blogs, tweets, social media, emails, phone calls, texts, personal interactions, preaching, Sunday school lessons, family devotions, and cards or letters. The method or medium must dictate to some extent how we approach our testimony for Christ and His invitation for forgiveness through repentance. But “The first and most important thing any person needs to understand about Jesus is that he is the Son of God, ‘very God of very God,’ as one of the ancient creeds puts it. That is because the value of his work, dying for sin, depends on who he is. If he is not God, his death would have no more value than any other person’s death. But because he is God his death has infinite value and is able to take away sins.” (3)
Jesus, God of love and mercy
“What should our response to such a gospel be? Paul gives this as well, no doubt for the explicit benefit of King Agrippa, Festus, and the others. He says that the Gentiles should ‘repent,’ ‘turn to God,’ and “prove their repentance by their deeds” (26:20)…It means finding righteousness and a new life in Christ. This new life is not only different but better. It is a life lived in and with God.” (4) Repentance is one aspect of our rebirth for a different quality of life that is impossible when we are enslaved to sin. “Being dead in our sin” expresses our inability to have the blessed life outside of the divinity of Christ applied to ourselves. (See Ephesians 2:1-5). Festus and Agrippa would have none of it, being spiritually dead and unable to yield to Christ. They specifically denied the possibility that Christ was who Paul said he was. Festus accused Paul of being insane from too much study. “Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft deftly shows why we must reject the option of Jesus being a liar or a lunatic…Jesus has in abundance precisely those qualities which liars and lunatics most conspicuously lack: His practical wisdom, His ability to read human hearts…His deep and winning love, His passionate compassion, His ability to attract people and make them feel at home and forgiven, His authority; and above all…His ability to astonish, His unpredictability, [and] His creativity. Liars and lunatics are all so dull and predictable! No one who knows the Gospels and human beings can seriously entertain the possibility that Jesus was a liar or a lunatic, a bad man.’” (5)
Christ, the wisdom and power of God
Then, “Paul, who all along had chiefly been addressing Agrippa, turned to him, making a neat little transition in which he began by replying to Festus but quickly switching over to Agrippa, saying…‘King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.’ Agrippa was no Roman. He would have had some acquaintance with what Moses and the prophets had written. Agrippa probably believed in the resurrection. But he had his position, and he just could not humble himself, acknowledging himself to be a sinner like anybody else, and receive Jesus Christ as his Savior. He was put on the spot—embarrassed, no doubt, before the governor. So he dodged the question, saying, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’ This is precisely what men and women do today. When the supernatural gospel of a crucified but risen Savior is proclaimed, a gospel that demands that we turn from sin and begin to show our conversion by good works, the world puts up barriers and rejects it for precisely these reasons: pride of intellect and pride of position” (6) Agrippa diverted Paul so as not to consider Jesus’s divine ability to convert him at that time. The Bible prepares us to hear rejection. For example, Paul encouraged the Corinthians believers: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-25)
Paul, like Peter, and all us believers, know that Jesus Christ is “the exact imprint of [the Father’s] nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:3) He is God, the Redeemer, Savior, and Propitiation for our sins. “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi…He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’” (Matthew 16:13-18) So we continue to witness for Christ, the Alpha and Omega, Almighty God who calls all people to repent—to receive his gift of forgiveness—and we pray for a great, global penitent revival.
- Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” Acts 26, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/acts-26.html
- Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Act of the Apostles,” Acts 26, Baker Books, Software version, 2006.
- Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 16:13-20 “Peter’s Great Confession,” Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
- Josh McDowell Ministry a CRU ministry https://www.josh.org/jesus-liar-lunatic-lord/
- Boice, Acts, Ibid.
- Boice, Acts, Ibid.
Related Scripture: Isaiah 52-53; Psalm 22; Matthew 3:8-10; Mark 3:21; Luke 2:30-32; John 10:20-21; 12:34-36; Acts 2:38-39; 13:46-48; Romans 1:1-6; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; 15:1-4.
February 19, 2021