Today we pick up Paul in Acts 24-26 as he defends himself in Caesarea. The high priest Ananias takes some of the Pharisees and their lawyer, Tertullus, to make their case as Paul appears before Governor Felix. Felix apparently doesn’t find Paul guilty of anything but doesn’t know quite what to do with them. He is hoping Paul will offer him a bribe to be released, but when that doesn’t happen, he leaves Paul in prison for two years until his time in office is up. His successor, Festus, inherits the “Paul problem.”
Festus offers to send Paul back to Jerusalem to stand trial, but as a Roman citizen, Paul appeals to Caesar. When King Agrippa visits Festus a few days later, Festus asks him to hear Paul’s defense and give his opinion of what he should write to Caesar as he sends him to trial. Agrippa agrees, and Paul presents his story, exactly as it has happened. He tells Festus and Agrippa who he used to be (persecutor of the church as a learned and well-accepted Pharisee), how he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and that he is now proclaiming that what the Jews are searching for has already happened: the Messiah has come, died, and has been resurrected, just as God promised in the very scriptures his accusers believe.
We leave Paul today, waiting to be sent to Rome.
Paul presented the gospel to three men as he defended himself in court: Felix, Festus, and Agrippa. All three had different responses, but the result was the same.
Felix was CONVICTED. “As Paul talked about 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 24:25)
Festus was CALLOUS. After Paul gives his testimony, relating exactly what happened on the road to Damascus, Festus “interrupted Paul’s defense. ‘You are out of your mind, Paul!’ he shouted. ‘Your great learning is driving you insane.’” (Acts 26:24)
Agrippa was CURIOUS and CONSIDERED Paul’s words. [Paul said], “’King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.’ Agrippa replied, to Paul, ‘In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.’”
Three men. Three responses. Yet not one of them acted on what they heard. The one who was convicted was no better off than the one who shouted that Paul was insane. The one that was callous was no farther away than the one who was curious and almost persuaded. Because neither man acted on what he heard, they all ended up at the same place: outside the faith as an unbeliever, still in their sin.
God doesn’t look at the level of rejection and consider us closer or farther away from Him. Our sin separates all of us equally, and the only response that changes things is not only to hear God’s word but to act on it in belief. Being tolerant is not enough. Being curious is not enough. Even being convicted is not enough. We have to act, to respond, confessing our sin and repenting and asking God to forgive us and save us.
How have you responded to what you have heard?