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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45 am service, 2005-09-25

Text: Acts 26:1-32

This title suggests a situation where a person hears the good news of salvation through Christ but does not come to the point of accepting Christ as Lord and Savior. Perhaps many of us have friends and loved ones who are like that, and we are naturally grieved and full of sorrow for them because they are still not saved, even though they have heard the gospel. I have personally seen many people not responding positively to the gospel when it was preached to them.

The questions we might ask when this happens is: Why can't they be persuaded to receive Christ? What causes people to reject the gospel? What is it that causes them to turn away from the good news of salvation and eternal life? Why do people refuse such a wonderfully good offer to them? Are they not fearful about the eternal punishment that awaits them? Does their rejection mean in any way that something is wrong with our gospel? - that perhaps there are some important valid reasons that they have for not believing in Christ? 

Throughout th% ages of church history there have arisen many well-known thinkers, philosophers and writers who have declared themselves to be against the Christian faith. People like Porphyry, Voltaire, Bertrand Russell, Karl Marx, have not only rejected the gospel, but also challenged the validity of the Christian Faith. Some claim that it is a subversive religion that runs against the interests of the state and society, and that hinders the progress of mankind. At one time the Communists unkindly referred to the Christian faith and other religions as 'the opiate of the people.' Some have claimed that those who believe in the Gospel have had to leave their minds behind, because the Christian message about salvation through faith in a resurrected Savior is believed to be too incredible and absurd for enlightened minds of this modern age. They say that we who believe in Christ are still in the dark ages. Somekskeptics attempt to hurt us by saying that our Christian faith is merely a crutch that we hold on to, because we are unable or unwilling to cope with life's problems and questions on our own. The implication is that it is only for those who are weak.

But these reasons that people have written about and continue to use till this day when we present the gospel to them, are not the real reasons why they are not persuaded about the Christian faith. There is actually a great wealth of apologetic material written by able defenders of the Christian faith, which have answered every accusation that has been made against the Gospel. The real reasons why men reject the gospel, as we shall see today in our study from the Book of Acts, is that men are prejudiced in their minds and hearts against the Gospel of Christ by their own pride and by their own sins.

In our passage we find that the apostle Paul was being kept in custody at Caesarea by a Roman Governor named Porcius Festus. The Jews who were out to kill Paul wanted Festus to deliver Paul to be executed because he had allegedly broken the Law. The accusations were false and unfounded. For the sake of preserving his testimony for Christ, Paul rightly denied all the charges that were brought against him and appealed to the supreme court for judgment - that is, to Caesar, the emperor of Rome. Since Paul was a Roman citizen, he was simply exercising his rights, and Festus was obliged to grant Paul his request. Actually Festus might have been quite glad and relieved that Paul had appealed to Caesar, because this meant that he could now rid himself of a difficult and sensitive problem in his governorship, by dispatching Paul quickly to Rome.

But Festus now found himself facing a new problem. If he was to send Paul to face the Roman Emperor, he would have to write out the formal charges against him and the issues of the whole case. Festus knew nothing about the Jewish religion and could not understand the Jews allegations against Paul - so he was at a loss about how to write his report. He may get into deep trouble if he sent Paul at Rome's expense to be judged by Caesar, without submitting a properly written report on the case.

But in God's divine providence, Festus was visited at that time by King Agrippa and Bernice, who had come to welcome him to his new position as Roman governor of Judea. King Agrippa belonged to the Herodian dynasty of kings whom the Roman emperors had granted full jurisdiction over many parts of Israel, except for Judea, which was kept under a Roman governor because it was a troublesome area to Rome. Since Agrippa was known to be well-versed in the Jewish religion, Festus saw an opportunity to get his help to write out the report that he would send with Paul to Rome. Agrippa agreed, and asked Festus to let him interview Paul.

The interview was held on the very next day, and it turned out to be like a trial or hearing in a court of Law, with King Agrippa sitting in the place of a judge, together with Bernice and Festus in a grand hall filled with big Roman and Jewish officials as witnesses (Acts 25:23). And Paul was brought forth like a criminal in chains, to defend himself against charges in the hearing of Agrippa and all the officials. The 'trial' began with Festus giving an introduction to the case against Paul (25:24-27). Then the 'judge' who was King Agrippa turned to Paul, the 'defendant' and said, 'Thou art permitted to speak for thyself.' (26:1)

Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul delivered his greatest and longest defense recorded in Scripture. In this famous defense, Paul proved that he was innocent of all the charges brought against him. He also turned this occasion into an opportunity to preach the gospel to the king and to all the high officials who were present, and Paul actually confronted the king with an important question, that would have led to a decision made about Christ. In 26:27 he asked the king, 'King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.' If the king admitted that he believed the prophets, then Paul's next question would have been, 'Then will you also believe in Christ, whom all the prophets wrote about?'

King Agrippa recognized where Paul was leading him, and he evaded the question by making light-hearted remark: 'Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.' This may also be paraphrased, 'Do you seriously think that in such a short while, you can successfully persuade me to believe in Jesus Christ?' This remark perhaps brought the house down with peals of laughter in the hall. It also ended the hearing abruptly. It seems as if the king was not willing to continue to listen to Paul, just in case Paul might successfully persuade him to receive the Lord Jesus Christ. 

In the subsequent remarks made by the king in v.32 however, we see that though King Agrippa had personally rejected the Gospel, he now did not regard it as being contrary to the Law or to society. His judgment on the case was that if Paul had not appealed to Caesar, he could be set free, free to go on preaching and proclaiming the same message. Now, we must realize the King's verdict was applicable not only to Paul, but to the whole Christian faith. If there ever was any point in history when the Christian message and ministry was placed under the examination and scrutiny of political and legal authorities, this was it. King Agrippa and Festus represented the Jewish and Roman authorities respectively. By acquitting Paul, both authorities were also acquitting the Christian faith. If anyone ever tried to find fault with the Christian faith from that time onward, they could never do so on the same charges or reasons any more.

Let us now consider what these reasons are. We will look first at what this passage tells us are not the reasons why the gospel is rejected by men. 

I. Christianity is not rejected by men for the following reasons:

a. 'It is illegal'

Although some have tried to portray Christianity as a subversive or illegal religion, the verdict given in the trial in Acts 26 proves that it is not. The purpose why this account of Paul's trial before Agrippa is given in such great detail in the Book of Acts is to show that Paul and the gospel are innocent of all charges brought against them. At the end of Chapter 26 we are told that 'when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds. Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.' Both Festus (The Roman Governor) and King Agrippa (The Jewish King) pronounced him 'not guilty.' There is therefore nothing illegal about the gospel.

And if people today make any attempt to challenge this verdict, we can use the whole of Church history to prove that Christianity has never taught men to be criminals or destructive elements or terrorists in society, but to be good, responsible, law-abiding citizens. Some other religions may teach that it is all right for a man to steal if he is poor, or that it is all right for a person to harm and kill others if it is in a 'holy war' but the true teachings of Scripture teaches its followers to be law-abiding, peace-loving, good citizens of their country. There are some who try to point out that the Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries show the ugly side of Christianity. But we deny that the wars of the crusades were ever inspired or led by God. The crusades were rather motivated by the political motives of the corrupt Church leadership at that time, which misled multitudes of men into an awful rampage of hatred, destruction, looting and killing people.

On the contrary, history has repeatedly shown that every nation that has given true, biblical Christianity free reign to grow and flourish has always been blessed by the peace and good influence that it brings. Christians have contributed much good to this world, like the abolition of slavery, the high respect for human life, the maintenance of law and order in society, the establishment of the first schools, colleges and universities, and the building of the first hospitals, and orphanages to care for the sick and poor in society. The only time when Christians have refused to abide by a nation's law is when the law goes beyond its proper limits and tries to legislate man's spiritual beliefs. All peoples of the world today recognize that freedom of religion is one thing that national and international law should uphold. No one can therefore justifiably claim any more that the Gospel is to be rejected because it is illegal and teaches men to go against the law.

Let us now look at another invalid reason for rejecting the gospel: Some try to claim that Christianity is....

b. 'It is alien and foreign to men':

People tend to reject whatever is alien and unfamiliar to them. They become suspicious about anything new because they cannot understand it. Most men would rather hold on to what they are used to believing, and would only change little by little to something different from what they are used to having. In the course of the development of missions, some have tried to accuse Christianity of being a foreign or western religion, and thus too different from our eastern culture to be followed. Actually this accusation is false, because Christianity originally did not come from the West, but from the East. The European powers that colonized Asia and Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries did not originate the gospel. To them Christianity was also at one time a foreign and alien religion. But Israel, where the Gospel was first proclaimed, actually has more in common with us here in the East than with most western nations. 

The truth of the whole matter is this: the teachings of the gospel are not new or strange at all to this world. They had already been in existence for 2000 years since the time of Abraham. Moses and the rest of the prophets that came after him had foreseen it, been encouraged by it, and even preached on it. Because of this, Paul, in his defense, could appeal very easily to King Agrippa's knowledge of the prophets' declarations and prophecies concerning Christ and the gospel.

Furthermore, anyone who is truly and sincerely seeking after God will find that the gospel is not local or cultural, but universal in its scope. It provides all the right answers about life that every man woman and child who lives in this world needs to know regardless of race or country. Blaise Pascal said that in every man there is a God-shaped vacuum that is waiting to be filled. The truth of the gospel is not foreign or alien at all, but universal, meeting the deepest needs that all men are familiar with.

But there are others who say, 'it is true that the Gospel may not be illegal or that it may not be alien to men. But we cannot accept it, simply because....'

c. 'It is too incredible'
'How can you ever expect rational-minded people to believe in miracles and in someone becoming alive after he is dead? These are things that belong to the realm of fantasy and fairy tales. They are too unbelievable to be classified as reality.'

This must have been in the thoughts of Festus when he called Paul insane and out of his mind in 26:24 'And as [Paul] thus spake for himself, Festus, said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself [out of your mind] much learning hath made thee mad.' What was it that caused Festus to make shout such an insulting remark? It was because Paul had just mentioned in v.23 that Christ had risen from the dead. The resurrection is one point that men have always claimed as being too incredible. When Paul preached earlier on to the learned Greek philosophers at Athens (Acts 17), he received the same reception from them: they all laughed and ridiculed him. In their minds, only a fool or a mad man would believe that a dead person can come back to life. Modern day rationalists still continue to use this against the gospel, saying that we Christians are fools who have abandoned our minds and reason to 'take a blind leap in the dark.'

But contrary to this whole concept, Christianity actually has the most objective bases for its beliefs. In the gospel, God is not some abstract idea or unseen Spirit, but One who came down to Earth and became objective reality to all men - for men to see with their own eyes, hear with their own ears, and touch with their own hands. Secondly, God made His love objective and real when He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ to die in our place as our substitute, although we were not deserving of such a great sacrifice. 

Thirdly, God gave objective reality to our hope of eternal life when Christ miraculously rose from the dead. The evidence for this unique event was not vague or inconclusive. It was actually common knowledge for any first century person who lived in Jerusalem. We see this fact used by the apostle Paul in his defense before King Agrippa. In v.26, he said: '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.'

Christ did not live, die and rise from the dead 'in a corner' (i.e. only within a small group, hidden from public view) but He ministered visibly to the masses. He journeyed up and down Palestine to proclaim His teachings. When he died, He was publicly exhibited and held up high for all to see that He had really died. Then he arose and appeared alive many times to more than 500 people over a period of 40 days. Those who have studied all the evidence behind the event of Christ's resurrection have reached the conclusion that there is no other event in history that has such a great foundation of evidence behind it, as the event of the resurrection of Christ. 

And this means that no one who believes that Christ rose from the dead, is a fool who has to abandon his mind. Rational objective study shows beyond doubt that the resurrection is a reasonable, factual, historical event (cf 26:8). And in the light of this, men must respond most objectively to the reality of the truth that it teaches.

Thus we have seen how invalid all these reasons used by men to reject Christ are. What then are the real actual reasons why men do reject the Gospel? There are really two very simple reasons, which men will never want to admit for themselves. Let us now look at them:

II. Christianity is rejected by men for the following reasons:

a. It goes against the glory of men

Accepting Christ is not at all easy for men, because it means that one must be willing to surrender all of one's earthly glories and pride for the sake of Christ. This is something many people are unwilling to do. In Acts 25:23 we see the glory of men portrayed in King Agrippa and Bernice as they entered the hall with great pomp and display of royalty. With a long retinue of military officers in procession, their importance was emphasized by the fact that Porcius Festus, a high Roman official, had humbly requested for their help and wisdom in settling a difficult problem. 

Paul, was brought in, in chains, for them to examine and judge. But Paul unexpectedly switched roles and became the examiner of King Agrippa, when he asked him the question, 'King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets?' All of a sudden, the king must have felt that he was about to face great embarrassment in front of such a great audience. How could he, a king, be subjected to such questioning by a chained prisoner?

Furthermore, the insult that Festus had made earlier on about Paul being out of his mind for preaching the resurrection had already set the tone in the audience that it is utterly foolish to believe in the resurrection. If King Agrippa now said that he did believe the prophets and agreed with Paul on the resurrection, then everyone would think that the king also is mad. The king knew that his glory was at stake, and this much was too precious to him to give up. He therefore evaded the question and quickly ended the interview. 

Many people today are like King Agrippa. They reject the gospel primarily because they want to avoid any embarrassment to their own glory and pride. It is more important for them to 'save face' and uphold their own pet beliefs, rather than to surrender themselves in humility to Christ. It is just not convenient to believe. The apostle Paul himself had been like that before, a proud Jewish Pharisee, until Christ humbled him to the dust on the road to Damascus by blinding him, so that he helplessly needed someone to lead him around. Only then was he willing to surrender all his proud knowledge and learn like a little child about Christ and His salvation.

Perhaps there is someone here who has not yet surrendered his or her life to Christ, because there is a high wall of human glory and pride that stands in the way. If you are such a person, please do not let the transient glories of this life keep you away from Christ and the eternal life He brings. It is simply not worthwhile. The things that men are so proud of, and that they love to glory in will be gone forever after a short time. Please do not allow them to keep you from following the Lord Jesus Christ and obeying Him

But besides these things, there is one last and very important reason that keeps men from following Christ:

b. It goes against the sins of men

The ultimate reason why the good news of Jesus Christ is so often rejected, is that 'men loved darkness rather than the light.' (John 3:19) The gospel of Christ is diametrically opposed to sin. But fallen human nature is inherently sinful. People realize, 'if I receive Christ, then I am not free anymore to do all the things I want to do - to enjoy the pleasures of sin, to indulge in corrupt practices without worrying whether God approves or not.' The gospel of Christ demands repentance from us, which is a total turning away from sin. It requires us to hate that which we formerly loved, and to love the things we formerly hated.

One probable reason why King Agrippa and Bernice did not respond to the gospel was that their lives were filled with sin, and they did not want that to change. Although they were respectable rulers, they were far from being perfect people, or exemplary leaders of Israel. From secular history we know that the life of the courts of Herodian royalty was filled with all kinds of evil intrigue, murder, covetous quests for power and influence, extortion, bribery, immorality and corruption. 

King Agrippa's Herod great grandfather was King Herod the Great, who was notorious for the slaughter of the innocents at Bethlehem because he was jealous that a new king had been born. John the Baptist had rebuked Agrippa's Grand-father for having an affair with his brother's wife. This king eventually executed John the Baptist. King Agrippa himself was the subject of great scandal at that time. His consort, Bernice, was actually, not his wife, but his younger sister, who was living with him in an illicit relationship. History tells us that Bernice later became the mistress of the Roman emperor, Titus.

With such a morally loose and corrupt background, it is easy to see how Paul's gospel could receive such a cold reception from King Agrippa, who said to Paul: 'Do you seriously think that in such a short time, you can successfully persuade me to be a Christian?' In his mind Agrippa may have thought, 'Do you think you can so easily make me give up the pleasures of sin I am enjoying and the glory of being a great King in the eyes of the Romans?'

King Agrippa was 'Almost Persuaded' at this event, but he never turned to Christ after that. He died about 40 years later without any son to carry on his throne. He was the very last of the Herodian kings, and his death brought the glory of the whole dynasty to an untimely end. The glory that Agrippa would not give up has long since disappeared from this world, and only his sins still endure to condemn him one day at the Great White Throne Judgment, where he will one day have to stand to be examined by Christ. How sad it will be for this king, but it will then be too late for any regrets. If only he had listened to Paul.... 

How about you, dear friends? Are you also like King Agrippa, 'Almost Persuaded,' but not yet reaching the point in your life where you have received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior into your life? Please do not delay any more 'Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation' (2 Corinthians 6:2)

 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25