The Gospel And The Complacent
by David Legge | Copyright © 2009 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
In Acts chapter 25 we see that Festus is the new Roman Procurator of Judaea, he has succeeded Felix. In chapter 25 verse 1 we read that the new procurator of Judaea, Festus, travels from Caesarea – which is Caesarea on the coast, not Caesarea Philippi some of you may know of – he travels from Caesarea, incidentally, where Paul was held in custody, to Jerusalem. When he reaches Jerusalem he meets some of the Jewish leaders who confront him there and bring charges against the apostle Paul. We read that in chapter 25 verse 2: ‘Then the high priest and the chief of the Jews informed him against Paul, and besought him, And desired favour against him, that he would send for him to Jerusalem, laying wait in the way to kill him’.
What is happening to Paul the apostle? So often he is a prisoner, he is incarcerated, he is enduring hearing after hearing before judges and dignitaries – what is going on in this man’s life?
Now secular history tells us, and the Bible indicates, that Festus was more ethical, he was more moral and upstanding than his predecessor, Felix. Yet – and you should know this living in Northern Ireland – politics can be a dirty business. Returning to Caesarea, where Paul is held, Festus brings charges against the apostle Paul and asks him to answer. His reason for doing that, he wants to use Paul as a pawn to win favour with the Jews, and we read that in verse 9 of chapter 25: ‘But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure, answered Paul, and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me?’. Now Festus knew right well that if Paul went to Jerusalem he would be killed, and yet he was willing to run that risk to pander to the Jews.
But Paul, wise as he was, appeals to Caesar – he was, of course, I’m sure you know, a Roman citizen, and it was his right to appeal to Caesar to present his case before the Emperor. Now Festus had a problem: how could he send Paul to Caesar, when he had no charges against him that could be proved? So, when King Agrippa arrived a few days later in all the pomp of his official visit, Festus was in a quandary, unable to understand the Jews’ charges against Paul. That’s what we read in verse 25 of chapter 25 through to 27, he says to Agrippa: ‘I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death, and that he himself hath appealed to Augustus’, the Emperor, ‘I have determined to send him. Of whom I have no certain thing to write unto my lord. Wherefore I have brought him forth before you’, before King Agrippa, ‘and specially before thee, O king Agrippa, that, after examination had, I might have somewhat to write. For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him’.
Now we might ask, as observers in this historical incident: what is happening to Paul the apostle? So often he is a prisoner, he is incarcerated, he is enduring hearing after hearing before judges and dignitaries – what is going on in this man’s life? The simple answer to that question is: God was fulfilling His word. Now, I hope you know that. You’ve heard mention about covenants in a Bible study regarding that, promises; I hope you know that God fulfils His word. In chapter 23, if you go right back to there, and verse 11 you will see that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared to Paul and told him that he must go to Rome, chapter 23:11: ‘And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome’. God had told him this had to happen, and so it had to happen. Go back in chapter 9 of the book of Acts to Paul’s first account of his testimony of how he was converted, and there Ananias, who was there to help Paul, was told – verse 15 of chapter 9 – ‘Go thy way: for he’, that is, Paul, ‘is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings’, rulers, ‘and the children of Israel’. God told Paul he had to go to Rome, so he had to go to Rome. God saved Paul in order to be a testimony even to rulers, to judges and dignitaries – so he had to witness before these types of people. But what I want you to notice, and this is remarkable – we saw it last week, and we’re seeing it this week again – Paul, as he stood before these rulers, was no respecter of persons. He was absolutely fearless!
These people had Paul’s life in their hands, they could have decided at a whim that his life would be taken from him, he would be executed or beheaded…
These people had Paul’s life in their hands, they could have decided at a whim that his life would be taken from him, he would be executed or beheaded. Yet he stands before them fearlessly and presents the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we see him using every opportunity to present Christ. The question begs to we who are believers in the Lord Jesus: do we do that? Do we use the opportunities, small and great, that we have to present the gospel? Indeed, here he is standing again before Festus and King Agrippa, and instead of defending himself – what we, I’m sure, would be tempted to do – he presents the gospel to Agrippa and all those who are accompanied with him. It reminds me of what Peter the apostle said in his epistle: ‘Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation’, your good way of life, ‘in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing’.
We are to use every opportunity to witness to Christ, and here Paul is now before Agrippa. We read that Paul was happy to answer the Jews’ accusations before Agrippa, because – if you look at chapter 26 verse 3 – ‘Especially because’, Paul says, ‘I know thee’, Agrippa, ‘to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently’. King Agrippa was an expert, he is Agrippa II, he was a youthful King. He was to be the last of the Herodian Dynasty, he was the great-grandson of Herod who killed the Bethlehem babies, and the son of Agrippa I, who we read of in Acts 12, who killed the apostle James – but as we’ve already said: he was more upright, more fair in his rulership, and yet we read in this passage, Acts 26, of his sister sitting beside him and travelling with him, Bernice, and all of his journeys – and it was thought that he had an incestuous relationship with her.
Here stands Paul the apostle before this dignitary, King Agrippa and his sister. Tradition tells us that Paul the apostle was short – I’m glad of that! – bald, probably of a scrawny frame, quite a physically unimpressive figure. Certainly he wouldn’t have featured on the cover of many of today’s celebrity magazines, and to some people his speech was no better than his physical demeanour. In fact, we read in 2 Corinthians 10 that some said of him, whether true or not, that his bodily presence was weak and his speech contemptible. Yet, as we read the New Testament record, we are struck by this fact: he must have been the greatest evangelist that ever lived. We are forgiven in asking the question: why is that so, if he wasn’t physically impressive and he wasn’t a great orator, perhaps? Simply because the power of God rested on him! Now I’m addressing Christians here in our gathering just now, because we in the modern church, with all our slick programs and advanced technological resources – which I do not despise, I hasten to add – we do well to remember that those things, good as they are, and having their uses, are no substitute for the power and the demonstration of the Holy Spirit. That is what Paul so evidently had.
He stands before them fearlessly and presents the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we see him using every opportunity to present Christ…
Here, I want you to see him, this seemingly insignificant little man, is given his cue by King Agrippa to make his defence and appeal, and we read that Paul stretched forth his hand and began a stirring recital of his faith in Christ. Do you see him? So let us look at Paul’s appeal, it is masterful. In verses 4 and 5 he begins by speaking of his Jewish pedigree. This man was an expert in matters of Judaism, and so Paul begins to appeal to his own Jewish lineage, verse 4 of chapter 26: ‘My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews’, everybody knows about me, ‘Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee’. ‘I’m a Pharisee, I’m a Jew, the Jews are bringing charges against me, but I’m a Jew of the Jews’. Then he appeals in verses 6 and 7 to the promise of the fathers to the Jews: ‘And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews’.
What Paul was doing here was: he was appealing to the covenants that the Jewish people had been given. Men such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and Solomon were given promises by God, and the central aspect to those promises was the fact that Messiah would come from the Jews to be their Deliverer. All Paul is saying is: ‘All I’m doing is standing up for the promise of those covenants, and yet the Jews are bringing charges against me’. He not only appeals to his own Jewish pedigree, and to the promise of the covenants to the fathers, but we see thirdly in verse 8 that he appeals to the hope of the Resurrection: ‘Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?’. This was a hope that the Jewish people had – now it wasn’t fully hammered out in doctrinal terms, but they had this consciousness that God one day would raise the dead. All Paul was preaching and standing up for was that hope.
Then fourthly, in longer terms, Paul appeals to his own miraculous conversion. In verses 9 through to 12 he speaks of how he opposed Christ, his opposition to the gospel – verse 9, look at it: ‘I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities. Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests’. His opposition to Christ – but that opposition to Christ gives way to his transformation by Christ, that is Paul’s miraculous conversion.
In verse 13 he speaks of it: ‘At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks’, or the goads. ‘And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest’. His transformation by Christ – this man who was completely opposed to the gospel, is now transformed by the gospel, and we see now that he is commissioned by Christ to take the gospel. In verse 16 the Lord Jesus says to him: ‘Rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me’ – what an excellent summary of what the gospel does! It relieves us from darkness, it opens our eyes and turns us from darkness to light, it releases us from the power of Satan unto God, it remits or forgives our sins, it cleanses us of our iniquities, and it restores the lost inheritance to humanity.
What an excellent summary of what the gospel does! It relieves us from darkness, it opens our eyes and turns us from darkness to light…
So Paul appeals to his miraculous conversion, how he was in opposition to Christ, he was transformed by Christ, and now he is commissioned for Christ to take the gospel. Look at verse 19, Christians especially, Paul says to Agrippa: ‘Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision’ – what he was called to do, he did. He takes the gospel, in verse 20 we read: ‘Shewed first unto them of Damascus, he preached it at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles’.
What a masterful appeal and defence! He first of all appeals to his own Jewish pedigree, he appeals to the promise of the Jewish patriarchs and fathers, he appeals to the inherent hope for Resurrection that the Jews had, and he appeals personally and subjectively to his own miraculous conversion – one who opposed Christ, transformed by Christ, now commissioned to preach Christ: Him crucified for our sins, raised again for our justification, and coming again to judge this world. Paul’s appeal.
Now, having heard all of that, Festus, the new procurator of Judaea, exclaims in verse 24 – this is Festus’ accusation: ‘Festus said with a loud voice’, interrupting Paul, loudly, ‘Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad’. After such an appeal, such is Festus’ accusation: ‘Paul, you’re mad!’. This is the classic scheme of the enemy: discredit the messenger, and attempt to debunk the message – and that is exactly what is going on all around us in our post-modern society. What am I talking about? Well, people are parroting Christians as being intellectual pygmies, spiritual fantasists, brainless fundamentalists. ‘You have to put your brain in neutral in order to believe all this Christian nonsense’. Particularly Richard Dawkins, and the new atheists, who are fundamentalist in their approach, are basically saying you have to be an uneducated idiot to be a Christian, or for that matter to believe in God at all. That is really what Festus was saying of Paul: ‘Paul, much learning has made you mad! You’ve lost your marbles!’ – that is what the world is saying to us today.
Now, what was Paul’s answer? Please learn, notice this, especially the Christians here this morning: did he answer from a scientific vantage point? Did he start to go into Greek and Roman philosophy? No, he didn’t! He appealed to – now watch this, verse 25 – he first of all appeals to straight, sound truth. Look at verse 25: ‘But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness’. Paul appeals to straight, sound truth. You have got a conscience given to you by God, now you may have seared that conscience, you may have ignored it many times, it may not be operating presently in your personal life – but God has given you that – and that is why many people, irrespective if they’re religious or not, in our society are balking and horrified at many of the things that are going on in the moral sphere. That’s why ordinary people, who don’t go to church on a Sunday, are reading the newspapers, and reading all sorts of horrific events and tragedies of abuse, and are saying: ‘That’s not right! That can’t be right!’ – because ordinary people have been given by God, though it can be distorted at times, a straight, sound understanding of truth.
It is the only plausible explanation of why this world is in such a mess. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that this plain truth of the gospel is what men today are saying is mad…
But also the gospel, given to us by God, of our Lord Jesus makes perfect sense – and this is what Paul is appealing to – the straight, sound truth of the gospel. It is the only plausible explanation of why this world is in such a mess. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that this plain truth of the gospel is what men today are saying is mad, and how man has raided – as someone has said – the shop window of God’s values and switched the price tags. You can see that here, why? Festus calls Paul mad, considers him mad for being a Christian – and yet if you look back at verse 11 when Paul was giving his testimony, he describes himself as being mad persecuting the church – but Festus didn’t think he was mad then! This world is mad, Festus was mad, Paul is the only sane one on this scene – and if Paul was insane, as someone has said, lunacy would be more desirable than sanity.
When we consider the character and the claims of our Lord Jesus Christ, both irrefutable, we must face the straight, sound truth that the apostle Paul here was appealing to. Either the Lord Jesus Christ was who He said He was – Lord – or He was a liar deceiving others, or a lunatic, He was deceived Himself. But the straight, sound truth that Paul appeals to is: Christ, the gospel, your conscience that knows right from wrong – I am not mad! Christians are not mad! It is this whole world system that is mad and turned on its head! Does that appeal reach you this morning?
Not only does Paul appeal to the straight, sound truth – in verse 26 we see he appeals to the evidence for that truth: ‘For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner’. ‘You know the historical evidence of the Christ who lived and died’, and the story was that He was resurrected, and I feel that Paul is really getting to the truth of the Resurrection here. Of course he referred to it in verse 8 already: ‘Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?’. ‘Agrippa, you’ve heard of all these things, the evidence is all around you!’ – yet even today there is so much historical prejudice concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, His life, His death, and His resurrection. But you need to understand that historical prejudices are usually philosophical prejudices – what do I mean by that?
Well, it is often the sceptic’s approach to history to have what is called a rationalistic presupposition, and that simply means that they come to the story of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection with the presupposition that the dead cannot rise again, that miracles are fanciful and farcical. Therefore their historic prejudice against Jesus Christ of Nazareth is determined by a philosophical prejudice that they believe these things can’t happen, so they couldn’t have happened. Yet these are the same type of people who call upon God to prove Himself, when God, in evidence, has proved Himself beyond reasonable doubt – how? Through the Resurrection! The evidence is there, He appeared 11 times, on one occasion to 500 people at once – that’s what Scripture records. You say, ‘Well, Scripture is a fabrication’ – well, it doesn’t read like a fabrication. I challenge you to test it out. The disciples said He had risen from the dead. You might say, ‘Well, they lied’ – well, was it in their interest to lie? Did it fit their characters? Did it fit what they were preaching? It certainly didn’t advantage them to lie, because almost all of them lost their lives for that lie. The opponents of the Resurrection never were able to present one piece of evidence against it, and you would think if there was evidence against it they would have produced it by now – and they haven’t! You need to face the great question: what is the reason for the empty tomb? Where was the body of Jesus? Why couldn’t His corpse be produced and the whole affair be discounted? The fact of the matter is, as DeWitt, one of the greatest leaders of rationalism who studied the Resurrection with precise investigation, said: ‘The resurrection of Jesus Christ cannot be called into doubt anymore than the historical certainty of the assassination of Caesar’ – it’s a fact of history.
My friend, whilst you might have doubts, make sure that you’re not unbelieving, because unbelief is not an intellectual problem, it is a moral problem…
So Paul is appealing to the evidence, it is not blind faith to be a Christian, Paul is saying, it is intelligent faith. On another occasion he says: ‘I know whom I have believed’. The Lord Jesus said: ‘Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free’. It is not a suppression of the facts, but it is an objective view that is based on the facts! Now, I’ll submit that doubt can often be because of intellectual problems. People want to believe, but their faith is overwhelmed by problems and questions – but that is different than unbelief. My friend, whilst you might have doubts, make sure that you’re not unbelieving, because unbelief is not an intellectual problem, it is a moral problem. Doubt wants facts, but unbelief ignores the facts even when the facts are presented! Doubt says: ‘I can’t believe’, unbelief says, ‘I will not believe’ – and that is the attitude of many people in our society today, but it is not reasonable because it ignores the evidence. Do you understand what I’m saying?
Paul appealed to these straight, sound truths; Paul appealed to the evidence; and I’ve been presenting it to you this morning, and I’m challenging you: what category are you in? Are you in the category of doubt, you still have questions? That’s okay – but make sure you’re not in the position of unbelief, that you see the facts, you face the facts, and say: ‘I won’t believe’. Josh McDowell, in his book ‘Evidence That Demands a Verdict’, tells the story of a student he met in a New England University who said he had an intellectual problem with Christianity and therefore he could not accept Christ as Saviour. Josh McDowell asked him: ‘Why can’t you believe?’, and he replied, ‘The New Testament is not reliable’. Then Josh McDowell asked them, ‘Well, if I prove to you that the New Testament is one of the most reliable pieces of literature in antiquity, will you believe?’, and he retorted, ‘No!’. If they can prove to you that it’s true, would you believe? He said: ‘No!’. Do you know what Josh McDowell said to him? ‘You don’t have a problem with your mind, you have a problem with your will’.
The opponents of Christianity say it is a leap in the dark, no it is not! It is a leap into the light! It is a leap into the facts! It is not blind faith, it is intelligent faith – and Paul appeals to Agrippa with the evidence. If you’re rejecting Christ today, and you’re familiar with the evidence, it’s not so much a problem that you have of the mind, but of your will. You’re not saying: ‘I can’t believe’, but ‘I won’t believe’. Often people develop intellectual doubts in order to excuse an immoral life. Jesus said this in John 3: ‘This is the condemnation’, this is the judgement, ‘that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil’. We don’t want the light of the gospel because it will affect the things I do, the things I love, the lifestyle I am leading – but you’ve got to see that that is not a credible nor a reasonable opposition argument against the gospel, and in fact it is the very thing that will take your soul to hell! It is the lie!
Aldous Huxley, the atheist who destroyed the beliefs of many and has been hailed as a great intellect, admitted his own biases in his approach to Christianity. In his book ‘Ends and Means’ he says this, and I’m quoting him – listen carefully: ‘I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics. He is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves. For myself’, now listen carefully, ‘the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political’ – it was a means to an end to live as he pleased.
It was a masterful appeal, wasn’t it? It was more than that: it was a gospel appeal from the greatest evangelist who ever lived…
It wasn’t that the evidence said that Christ and the gospel was false, it was that his sinful selfish heart wanted to believe it was all false so that he could do as he pleased! The evidence is that the world is mad, for it rejects the facts. Paul presented the straight, sound truth, he presented the evidence. In verse 27 he presented the prophets: ‘King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest’. Now we haven’t got time to go into this, but there are over 300 Old Testament prophecies, over 300 specifically fulfilled in the birth, the life, the death, and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ – that historical figure – and there are eight times more of those prophecies concerning His return again. Paul levels with him: ‘Agrippa, do you believe the prophets?’. Now Paul had him, we would say, on the ropes – this is a King who prides himself on knowing Jewish matters, and Paul has appealed to his own Jewish pedigree, to the promise of the covenants to the fathers. He has appealed to the Jewish hope in resurrection, he has appealed to his own conversion, he has appealed to straight sound truth, he has appealed to the evidence for Christ and the resurrection, now he is appealing to the prophets – and he’s pushing Agrippa for a decision!
By the way, that’s what all good evangelistic preaching should do – bring people to the point of decision. Paul was preaching for a verdict! ‘What will you do with the facts, Agrippa? Do you believe the prophets?’. In effect what he was saying was: ‘I believe all that the prophets said in the Old Testament, you too say that you believe testimony, don’t you Agrippa? How then can the Jews accuse me of a crime deserving of death, or how could you condemn me for believing what you believe yourself?’. It was a masterful appeal, wasn’t it? It was more than that: it was a gospel appeal from the greatest evangelist who ever lived.
It may be a revelation to you, and certainly to Richard Dawkins and his like, that most people in the world are not atheists. Most people subscribe, interestingly, to the facts concerning the Lord Jesus Christ – perhaps with some reservations – yet, equally, most people seek to avoid the issue. Is that you? Now, Agrippa’s reply is extremely revealing, and yet at the same time it is concealing. Verse 28: ‘Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian’. Now, I have a problem, I cannot absolutely interpret that statement for you – was this Agrippa’s admission: ‘You’ve got me, I’m on the ropes, I’m nearly bowing the knee to Christ’, is that what he was meaning? Was he under the conviction of the Holy Spirit that we thought about last week when Felix trembled. Now he’s not trembling, but was he feeling the prick of the Holy Spirit’s conviction in his heart? Or was this arrogance? ‘Paul! Almost you persuade me to be a Christian!’. Or was this avoidance – that he did feel the piercing of the two-edged sword of truth, and yet he wanted to look blasé to cover up his true feelings?
I like how the Amplified Version of the Bible translates verse 28, it says this: ‘You think it a small task to make a Christian of me? Just offhand to induce me with little ado and persuasion, in very short notice?’. Now I don’t know, I can’t tell you what was in Agrippa’s heart. The reason why that is, I feel, is that he was sidestepping Paul’s question in verse 27: ‘Agrippa, do you believe the prophets?’. He was neatly avoiding, neither denying his belief in the prophets, nor accepting Paul’s interpretation of the prophets – what is behind his words? Was this an admission? Was this arrogance? Was this avoidance? No one knows, but that’s the way Agrippa wanted it! I want you to see that. He was sidestepping. The ambiguity of his reply is representative of how and where people are today, whether they feel conviction for their sinful lives that they’re living or not, whether they actually believe the truth of Christ and who He said He was and what He did or not. They try to sidestep the issue, they are complacent with the issue of issues. When they are confronted with the crucified and risen Christ, they nonchalantly dismiss it, usually under the pretext that Agrippa used: the pride of intellect – ‘My mind won’t let me become a Christian’ – or the pride of position, ‘I could never become a Christian’.
I want you to look into your heart and ask yourself the question: is it either or both of those things that keeps you from Christ? The pride of intellect, or the pride of position?
Now, I want you to do something just now. I want you to look into your heart and ask yourself the question: is it either or both of those things that keeps you from Christ? The pride of intellect, or the pride of position? ‘Do you think, with a little persuasion, you can convince me, the likes of me, to be a Christian?’. Paul’s answer was wonderful, in verse 29 Paul replied: ‘I would to God, that not only you, but also all that are listening today, might become such as I am, except these chains’ – that is the Christian position. ‘However short or long time it takes, Agrippa, I want everybody to be like me, a Christian, apart from these chains’.
How is God speaking to you this morning? Are you saying, like Agrippa, ‘Almost, almost persuaded’. Maybe that is a genuine admission, that you have felt the conviction of God on your heart and you realise you need to be saved, you need to embrace the claims and the work of Christ on the cross. Or maybe you’re saying ‘Almost persuaded’ in arrogance, or maybe you don’t even know which it is, because there is an avoidance in your heart – you won’t be pinned down, you’re sidestepping the issue, you want to be ambiguous with your husband, your wife, with the preacher, with the folk in this church. Pride of intellect, pride of position, let me warn you – as C.H. Spurgeon, the great gospel preacher, put it – ‘Almost persuaded to be a Christian is like a man who was almost pardoned, but was hanged; like the man who was almost rescued, but he was burned in the house. A man that is almost saved is damned’. The old gospel hymn put it like this:
”Almost’ cannot avail;
‘Almost’ is but to fail!
Sad, sad, the bitter wail –
‘Almost,’ but lost!’.
Almost, but lost. Let us pray. Now while our heads are bowed, and I trust people, Christians in this gathering, are praying for you – I want you to consider again in this moment of quietness the claims of Christ that Paul so expertly presented to Festus and Agrippa. But it’s not Paul, Paul is dead and his spirit is in heaven, it’s the Holy Spirit now coming to you directly and appealing to your reason, appealing to your conscience, appealing to your soul and your spirit with the truth of the gospel message. The Holy Spirit is now asking you: ‘Do you believe this?’. What is your response? Make sure today that you’re not complacent with the truth of the gospel, the reality of your sin, the Saviour who bled and suffered and died in love that you might be saved from it – don’t be complacent. You could be almost there, and I feel that there might be one or two here this morning – you come regularly, maybe, on Sunday morning to Scrabo – and you’re almost there. That’s not enough! Almost might be never.
O God, in the quietness and the sobriety of this moment, we cry from the depths of our being that Your Holy Spirit would strive with those who as yet have not bowed the knee, and have not believed and embraced Christ. O God, this appeal to Agrippa is Your Spirit’s appeal to them of the truths of the gospel, the evidence for the gospel, the prophecies of the gospel. There is a verdict that must be reached in their heart. O God, impress upon them now that they cannot put it off, and by putting it off they are sidestepping it and rejecting Christ. O that just now their heart would be naked before You, Lord, no more hypocrisy, no more acting, no more ambiguity, no more intellectual or positional pride – but humble brokenness, confessing sin and receiving the grace of God. Lord, let them say ‘Lord, save me, save me now’. Hear us we pray, Lord, for Christ’s sake, Amen.