Acts 26:21-32 is our passage today.
It’s Wimbledon fortnight, a time when many of us become tennis fans. There have been some great matches as always but yesterday there was a classic. The British number 1, Heather Watson, played the world number 1 Serena Williams. Before the match most pundits gave Watson no chance against the best player of her generation and the first set went as people had expected with Williams dominating and taking the set easily. However, during the second set Watson started to play way above her usual standard and the game changed. She won the second set and led with a double break of the Williams serve in the decider. Watson served for the match and at one stage was only two points from victory but Williams, the great champion, forced herself back into the game to take an emotional win.
Watson is obviously extremely disappointed to have come so close to the biggest win of her career and yet lose the match but there are huge positives to take from the experience. She is currently ranked 59 in the world and is aiming to become a top 20 player. When Williams was asked after the match if this was achievable for Watson she said of course she can, she just played like a top 10 player. Watson had just played the world’s best and for long periods of the game had actually outplayed her. The question is how will she respond? Will she be encouraged by her performance and push on the greater things? We will have to wait and see. I hope she does. Yesterday we saw how Paul shared his own story of coming to faith in Christ; today we will see how those present responded.
Paul began his message by sharing his personal experiences but the climax was that the Scriptures had prophesied the sufferings and resurrection of Christ. This is no surprise;
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
Paul has already revealed his own response when confronted by the reality of the Gospel; ‘I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.’ (26:19). I like this verse from The Message; ‘I couldn’t just walk away from a vision like that! I became an obedient believer on the spot.’ How would his hearers respond?
For Festus it was simple, Paul had gone mad. He acknowledged that Paul had great learning but it was obvious it had tipped him over the edge. It’s hurtful of course but if you are going to follow Jesus you should get used to it. After all, that’s what they said of him;
“Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?” (John 10:20)
Even his own family;
“When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20)
So if people consider you to be mad because you are a Christian you are in good company. The strange thing is, Paul whose life was in peril, would outlive Festus by several years. This hearing probably took place around AD60 and Paul was eventually executed in Rome in AD67. Festus however died suddenly in AD62. Perhaps he thought he had plenty of time but sadly for him time was running out.
The King James version has Agrippa’s reply to Paul’s very direct question as; ‘Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.’ It has inspired many sermons and is a good thought, there are plenty of ‘almost Christians’ around, but the Greek doesn’t really support it. Agrippa is faced with a clear choice; will he side with a man who has just been accused of madness or will he play politics? Of course he played politics and neatly sidestepped the question. The problem is there is no sidestep for the judgement. The famous comedian WC Fields was a confirmed atheist but shortly before his death was found reading the Bible. When asked what he was doing he replied; ‘looking for a loophole’. He was probably joking of course yet there are many would love to find a loophole – they want the assurance of heaven without having to become a Christian. It isn’t about loopholes or being good; it is about Jesus. He is the only way.
There is no record of any of those present responding to the Gospel which is a tragedy. The Gospel was explained, they had an opportunity but they rejected it.
Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidd’st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come. (Just as I am – Charotte Elliot)