Sunday July 14th - Acts 26
I heard a story about two brothers who walked into a Walgreen’s. One of the boys was 7, the other was 5.
They walked around the pharmacy for about twenty minutes, going up and down every aisle very carefully, looking for one specific item. Eventually the boys found what they were looking for and headed for the counter.
The cashier was a bit surprised to see that the boys were buying a box of feminine hygiene products.
"Are you getting those for your mother?" he asked.
"No, they are for my little brother, he's only 5." the 7 year old answered.
"Why would you buy those for your little brother?" the cashier asked.
"Well, we saw a commercial on T.V. yesterday, and it said you could ride a bike or swim if you were wearing these, and my little brother can't do either right now."
I want to tell the story of Acts chapter 26 today by placing it between the stories of two famous brothers. These two stories will be book-ends for the significant truth that we’ll see in chapter 26.
The first story is told by the former pastor of First Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. He said this:
“We missed him. Our chance to change things came and passed and we did not know it was there.
A dark-skinned little boy sat through Sunday school classes for three years at our Church, but somehow we missed him. His name was Sirhan Sirhan.”
In case you don’t recognize that name, at age 24 Sirhan Sirhan shot and killed Robert Kennedy.
That’s a really sad story isn’t it? To know that a Baptist church had the opportunity to reach that infamous assassin with the love of Jesus while he was still a little boy, but somehow he slipped through the cracks. Would Sirhan’s Sunday School teachers have tried harder to reach him if they knew where his future was headed? Would it have changed anything? Why is it that some people hear the Gospel and receive it while others hear it and ignore it?
We’re going to see those same questions facing the Apostle Paul as he tries to make the most of his chance to reach Governor Festus and King Agrippa with the message of salvation through faith in Jesus (verse 1):
Agrippa said to Paul, "You are permitted to speak for yourself." Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense:
2"In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today;
3especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
4So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem;
5since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.
6And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers;
7the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews.
8Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?
Paul opens up his presentation with a little flattery toward the king, acknowledging that Agrippa was considered an expert in Jewish laws and customs. Then Paul points out that he too was considered an expert in all things pertaining to the Jewish faith, having been one of the strictest of Pharisees in his younger years. In verses 6-8 he points out to Agrippa that the thing that the Jews keep accusing him of doesn’t really make any sense, because the belief in the resurrection is a central part of the Jewish religion. In the next few verses Paul shows Agrippa how he himself was once confused about this issue, even to the point of hostility toward those who claimed that Jesus had been resurrected:
9"So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
10And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them.
11And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.
12While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests,
13at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me.
14And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'
15And I said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
16But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you;
17rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you,
18to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.'
19"So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision,
20but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.
21For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death.
22So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place;
23that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles."
So Paul repeats his testimony again, having spoken it already to Felix and then to Festus, and probably to many others. He points out one crucial truth; that the only thing that changed his mind about the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was having a direct encounter with the risen Lord! Apparently this is too much for Festus to comprehend:
24While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, "Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad."
Festus sums up his viewpoint very simply, “Paul…you’re nuts!” Isn’t that the way that some people react to our faith?
One commentary puts it this way: “You know, the world can put up with many church members with no problem at all. If you don’t make waves with your faith the world will tolerate you. You can go to church once in a while. That doesn’t bother anybody. And you can be nice to other people and that doesn’t bother anybody, either. But if you get serious about Christianity - If you start coming to church even on rainy days or Sunday evenings - if you read your Bible and pray regularly - if you begin to change the way you think and speak and live - if you start tithing - if you do a few fanatical things like that, the world really has trouble understanding what that’s all about. They start to say things like, "You’re insane. You’ve let this Christianity thing go too far. All of your Bible learning is driving you mad."
Paul realizes that Festus isn’t listening to the truth, so he turns his attention to Agrippa.
25But Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth.
26For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner.
27"King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do."
28Agrippa replied to Paul, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian."
29And Paul said, "I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains."
30The king stood up and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them,
31and when they had gone aside, they began talking to one another, saying, "This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment."
32And Agrippa said to Festus, "This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar."
Paul is sure that Agrippa has already heard of Jesus of Nazareth, heard about his miracles, heard about his crucifixion, AND heard that his tomb was found empty! Then he presses Agrippa even harder with the reality that is right in front of him. He asks, "King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets?" Why does he ask that?
Because anyone who is familiar with the prophecies of the Old Testament would know that more than 300 prophecies in the OT that were fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ. Agrippa would know that hundreds of years before Jesus was born prophets said that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem of a virgin and that He would be crucified on a cross (and this was before the world had ever heard about crucifixion) - that His side would be pierced - that He would be buried in a borrowed tomb and on the third day be raised from the dead.
So how does Agrippa react when presented with such overwhelming evidence? He says, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian."
Agrippa seems to be both drawn to the truth that he’s hearing and resisting it at the same time. He doesn’t say, “Paul, you’re nuts!” because he realizes that what Paul is saying does line up with the facts, and with the scriptures. Agrippa is saying something more like, “Slow down, Paul! I’m not ready to make that kind of decision!”
Festus and Agrippa represent two types of people that you might encounter when you try to explain the gospel to someone. Some will say, “You’re Nuts!” and some will say, “I’m not ready yet”, but we can’t let either of those responses discourage us, because the cost of someone NOT hearing the gospel is an eternal cost.
I told you at the beginning of this message that I was placing this chapter between the bookends of two famous brothers. Since the first brother was Robert Kennedy, I suppose you can guess who the second brother is.
In his autobiography, “Just as I Am”, Billy Graham tells about a conversation he had with John F. Kennedy shortly after his election as president of the United States. He says, “On the way back to the Kennedy house, the president-elect stopped the car and turned to me. ‘Do you believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?’ he asked. ‘I most certainly do.’ Graham replied. ‘Well, does my church believe it?’ (John F. Kennedy was a Roman Catholic) ‘They have it in their creeds.’ was Billy Graham’s answer. ‘They don’t preach it,’ Kennedy said. ‘They don’t tell us much about it. I’d like to know what you think.’ Then Billy Graham says, “I explained what the Bible said about Christ coming the first time, dying on the Cross, rising from the dead, and then promising that he would come back again. ‘Only then,’ I said, ‘are we going to have permanent world peace.’ ‘Very interesting,’ Kennedy said, looking away. ‘We’ll have to talk more about that someday.’ And he drove on. Several years later, the two met again, at the 1963 National Prayer Breakfast. “I had the flu,” Graham remembers. “After I gave my short talk, and he gave his, we walked out of the hotel to his car together, as was always our custom. At the curb, he turned to me. ‘Billy, could you ride back to the White House with me? I’d like to see you for a minute.’ ‘Mr. President, I’ve got a fever,’ I protested. ‘Not only am I weak, but I don’t want to give you this thing. Couldn’t we wait and talk some other time?’ Graham said, “It was a cold, snowy day, and I was freezing as I stood there without my overcoat”. ‘Of course,’ John Kennedy said graciously.” But the two would never meet again. Later that year, Kennedy was shot dead. Graham comments, “His hesitation at the car door, and his request, haunt me still. What was on his mind? Should I have gone with him? It was an irrecoverable moment.”
What does it take to bring someone to Christ? How many chances do we get before it’s too late? What will we do when people reject our message?
When King Agrippa told the Apostle Paul that he wasn’t ready to become a Christian in such a short time, Paul replied, "I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am…”
Whether it takes a short time or a long time, our hearts should wish for that same thing - that everyone who hears us, everyone who knows us, might come to know the same saving grace and endless love that we have found through the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
I think the pastor of the First Baptist Church of San Antonio Texas wishes that he had a longer time to reach young Sirhan Sirhan. And it sounded like Billy Graham wished that he had been able to spend a little more time sharing the Gospel with President John F Kennedy.
Let’s make good use of the time that we have. You never know when someone’s time is going to run out.