Paul remains on trial. It is fascinating that we think of Paul as a great missionary and church planter, but he spends almost as much time in the New Testament as a criminal defendant as he does anything else. You cannot quite claim to be copying Paul if you’re not spending as much time in prison as you are preaching.
Paul comes to his trial before Festus and Agrippa and presents his own testimony and his experience. This is not unlike his prior defenses: he explains how he is no threat to any legitimate Roman (or any other) government on this earth. He then goes on to express the Gospel.
He then gets the two responses that I think we can expect as Christians in this world:
1. The Festus Response: Festus looks at Paul and states that his “great learning is driving you mad.” (Acts 26:24) This is a response we should all expect. First of all, we should, as Christian people, have great learning. Ignorance does not glorify God, except, perhaps ignorance of experiencing evil. We should honor God with our minds by being learned.
This includes what the reputation of Christian institutions of higher learning should be. They should be a place of grace for behavior and growth, but a place of strong standards of education. A school or educational system that cannot produce real results is not appropriate. Claiming it’s “Christian” is no substitute.
Meanwhile, though, the other issue at hand is Festus’ response. He assumes Christian belief to be evidence of insanity on Paul’s part. If we are not occasionally called crazy, we are not encountering enough people in our Christian walk.
And we should respond by standing firm on the Gospel, not worry about justifying ourselves. Some people will always think we are loons.
2. The Agrippa Response: Agrippa is drawn to the Gospel. He just does not fully accept the idea. One can conjecture all day long what might have pulled Agrippa over the line into the Faith, but we know this, as best we can: there’s no evidence Agrippa ever became a Believer in Christ.
He does suggest that he could be persuaded to become a Christian. Yet he walks out, persuaded of Paul’s innocence, and walks away. Paul accomplished the first of his goals, but not the greater one.
Paul remains in custody, and will be sent off to Rome for his appeal to be heard. Agrippa goes back to ruling his kingdom, and life goes on.
The issue at hand is this: Paul remains faithful to witness, but with no results. What do we gather? That we should be the same: faithful. Even when there’s no visible result for it.
So, what do we do in response to this?
1. Recognize that we will never see 100% measurable effectiveness in Christian life. It’s just not going to happen.
2. Admit that we will not only be rejected, but we will also be mocked. This is unavoidable if we are faithful. We can either soften to hide it or we can just accept it and move forward.
Today’s Nerd Note: There is some question regarding Agrippa’s response: Is he asking a question or making a statement?
His sentence can be translated: “In a short time, you will persuade me to become a Christian” or “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
The simpler translation is the declarative sentence, but there are some reasons to use the question. The first is that Agrippa was, apparently, never persuaded to become a Christian. The second is that it appears unlikely that Agrippa would admit a religious leaning in a public forum. That would be odd for a king who had to watch his words a lot.