Conversion: A Case of Near Conversion
Much of the book of Acts deals with Paul's efforts to expand the borders of God's spiritual kingdom, the church. It tells of his efforts in cities far and near. It clearly pictures his trials, and persecutions. It tells of those converted by his preaching, and of those who rejected his teaching. Three weeks ago we studied from Acts 24 the account of the "Nonconversion of Felix." This lesson we want to study another case of non-conversion. We are studying about a king by the name of Agrippa. The account may be read in Acts 26.
You will remember that the Jews in Jerusalem rebelled against the preaching of Paul, and tried to destroy him as they had Him who was Paul's example, Jesus the Christ. They sought Paul's life, so that it became necessary for Paul's to be sent to Caesarea to prevent the Jews from killing him without a trial. While in Caesarea Paul had gone before Felix and had sought to get him to repent, but in vain. Meanwhile Felix had been replaced by a man named Festus. Felix and his wife Drusilla had been sent into a distant land. When Festus became the Roman procurator, he found that Felix had left Paul in prison. The Jews readily appealed to Festus to sentence Paul to death. But Paul had appealed to the highest Judicial assembly in the Roman empire, Caesar. Nevertheless, Festus called Paul before him, but could find him guilty of nothing worthy of death, or even of bonds.
Later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesara and Festus asked Agrippa to listen to Paul. Here was Festus' predicament: He was sending Paul to Rome to be tried before Caesar, and absurdly enough, Festus had not a single charge to make against Paul. Festus told Agrippa that the Jews were asking death of Paul, but he said: "I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death: and as he himself appealed to the emperor I determined to send him. Of whom I have no certain thing to write unto my Lord. Wherefore I have brought him forth before you, and specially before thee, king Agrippa, that, after examination had, 1 may have somewhat to write. For it seemeth to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to signify the charges against him" (Acts 25:25-27).
So Festus wanted Agrippa to help him ascertain what charge should be sent with Paul as he went to Rome. So Paul was brought before such an august assembly. Luke, the writer of the book of Acts says, "So on the morrow, when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp, and they were entered into the place of hearing with the chief captains and the principal men of the city, at the command of Festus Paul was brought in." This was probably the greatest assembly, from a secular standpoint, to which Paul was ever privileged to preach the gospel.
Two people in Paul's audience are worthy of special notation. Festus was not at all touched by the truths preached by Paul. Festus had replaced Felix, as we have mentioned before. "But when two years were fulfilled, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and desiring to gain favor with the Jews, Felix left Paul in bonds" (Acts 24:27). To Festus, Paul was but another step in his quest for greater political power. If he could handle Paul fairly or dishonestly, he was willing to do so to better himself. In telling Agrippa about the Jew's request for Paul's death, Festus indicated his complete ignorance of Jesus Christ. In speaking of these Jews, Festus said: "When therefore they were come together here, I made no delay, but on the next day sat on the judgment-seat, and commanded the man to be brought. Concerning whom, when the accusers stood up, they brought no charge of such evil things as I supposed; but had certain questions against him of their own religion, and of one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive" (Acts 25:17, 18). Notice the vague expressions in Festus' language. Paul was accused of declaring that "one Jesus" was raised from the dead. Poor Festus was wholly ignorant of anything about Jesus the Savior. He obviously had been so engrossed in his political affairs that he never had taken the time to investigate seriously the Christ. There are millions of people over this country today who are so entangled in the affairs of the world, that they never seek the truth.
But in Agrippa we see a quite different person. Who was Agrippa? He is the only son of the Herod who beheaded the apostle James. When his father was eaten of worms so that he died, young Agrippa was but seventeen years old. He was the great nephew of the Herod who beheaded John the Baptist. He was the great grandson of Herod who sought the life of the Christ, and who in this attempt, had the innocent babes of Bethlehem slain in a futile effort to destroy Jesus. He was the great nephew of Herod before whom Jesus was arrayed in a purple robe and mocked. He was a man well acquainted with the events connected with Jesus' life. At this time he was yet a relatively young man only about thirty years of age, but had the title of king.
Paul must have been quite surprised when the message came to him that young King Agrippa wanted to hear him concerning the faith in Jesus Christ. It would likely have been no surprise to Paul had he been told that Agrippa would like to see him beheaded, for so had been the actions of all his ancestors. Paul certainly was very thankful that there was a possibility of saving one of this family who had done so much to hinder the cause of Christ.
The entire content of Paul's sermon seems directed at this young King Agrippa. Paul began by saying, "I think myself happy, king Agrippa, that I am to make my defense before thee this day touching all the things whereof I am accused by the Jews: especially because thou art expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: whereof I beseech thee to hear me patiently" (Acts 26:2, 3).
Paul's effort was to make a point of contact with Agrippa. He told of his past life. Paul said that he was a Pharisee, one of the strictest sect of the Jews religion. Paul was saying that at one time I was a Jew in faith just as these, my accusers are. Not only was Paul a Pharisee, but he was a fiery persecutor of the church in Jerusalem before his conversion. Paul told Agrippa that before his conversion to Christianity, "I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Narzareth. And this I also did in Jerusalem: and I both shut up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, and when they were put to death I gave my vote against them. And punishing them oftentimes in all the synagogues, I strove to make them blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto foreign cities" (Acts 26:9-11). Paul went on to tell Agrippa that even at the time the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him, he was on the way to Damascus to find any saints he could, bind them, and bring them back to Jerusalem for persecution.
This must have really set Agrippa to thinking. He must have thought, "This man once thought and acted like my father, and grandfather did toward this one Jesus." Certainly he was impressed with Paul's sincerity and honesty for one would not have purposely told the story that could cost him his life if he were not sincere in it. But Paul, regardless of personal costs to himself, was intent on winning this young king to Christ if he oossibly could. So he related the story of Christ's apearance to him while on the way to Damascus. Many scholars have expressed a belief that this is the greatest sermon Paul ever preached. Paul concluded this great discourse by saying, "Having therefore obtained the help that is from God, I stand unto this day testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses did say would come; how that the Christ must suffer, and how that he first by the resurrection of the dead should proclaim the light both to the people and to the Gentiles" (Acts 26:22, 23).
Festus had been sitting there and listening to what Paul had spoken to Agrippa and had listened to about all he could stand. In modern parlance, we would say Paul was "stepping on Festus' toes." So in retaliation to what Paul had spoken, Festus interrupted Paul's sermon by crying out with a loud voice, "Paul, thou art mad; thy much learning is turning thee mad" (Acts 26:24). Festus' explanation for the marvelous events transpiring in the life of the apostle was that Paul was going crazy. You have studied too long. This event has been reenacted thousands of times. Some preacher of the Gospel of Christ declares something that hits someone, or something that they do not believe, and rather than measure what is spoken in the light of truth, they try to discredit the speaker. Oh, he is just an ignoramus, or a fanatic. But, this attitude is no more acceptable to God today than it was when Festus employed these tactics.
Paul virtually ignored Festus' statement and went back to work trying to save the King. Paul said, "I am not mad, most excellent Festus; but speak forth words of truth and soberness. For the king knoweth of these things, unto whom also I speak freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things is hidden from him; for this hath not been done in a corner." Paul seemed unimpressed by Festus' insinuation, for he had a greater work of trying to persuade this king.
Effect of the Sermon
Paul had taught Agrippa to the place where he was in position to obey what he had heard. Paul asked, "King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. And Agrippa said unto Paul, With but little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a Christian" (Acts 26:27, 28). The King James Version quotes Agrippa as saying, "almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." Probably Agrippa could hardly realize that Paul had so nearly persuaded him to say that father and grandfather were wrong in persecuting the cause of this one, Jesus.
This is a tragic situation. Here was a man that has been touched by the Gospel, almost persuaded, but instead of listening again, he turned and walked away. The Bible says, "And the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them," and they departed from Paul's presence.
Are there not many people who have studied with us from time to time that are "almost persuaded"? In Agrippa we find a case of "near conversion." Are there not other cases of near conversion in our world? One can walk away from the preaching of the Gospel today, but in judgment, the righteous decrees of Christ will still be there to judge him, and he can only walk away to enter into eternal punishment. If you are almost persuaded, I say with Paul, would to God that you were not almost, but altogether persuaded to become a Christian. Agrippa was almost persuaded, but only being almost persuaded, he was lost. Almost persuaded people are in no better condition than those not touched by God's truth at all. Agrippa was in the same lost condition as Festus. If you are almost persuaded, become altogether persuaded, and obey the Gospel of Christ. An almost persuaded person is no Christian at all.
Truth Magazine XX: 50, pp. 787-789