The deception of being religious is that it can cause you to believe you are right with God when you really aren't. It can give you the appearance of godliness without giving you a genuine relationship with God.
“THE LAST HEROD”
Acts 25 & 26
I want to read a list of names to you; and while I read through the names, I want you to try and figure out what these men had in common.
More than likely you don’t recognize the names of any of these men. You certainly couldn’t tell me what they did or how they made the list. Yet each of these men was at some point in his life Time Magazine's Man of the Year. In other words, he was perceived to have had, in a given year, the greatest impact of any human being on the rest of humanity.
A Repeated Trial
As I’ve read and studied through these final chapters of the Book of Acts, it has struck me that the Apostle Paul is standing on trial before this civilization's greatest leaders. The men Paul addressed would have been Time's Man of the year. They were the movers and shakers in the Middle East; they were the power players.
Notice the subtle reference from Luke to this fact in verse 5 of chapter 25. “Therefore,” he (Festus) said, “let the influential men among you go there with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them prosecute him.”
Basically in Acts 25, Festus, the new Governor of Caesarea, does a repeat performance of Felix. He wanted to do the Jews a favor, and so he left Paul hanging without ever rendering a final verdict. In verse 1-12, Paul repeats his defense before Festus that he had repeated for the previous 2 years under Felix.
When it seemed that Festus was, in fact, going to hand Paul back to the Sanhedrin and return him to Jerusalem for trial, Acts 25:11 says that Paul appealed to Caesar. As a Roman citizen, Paul exercised the right to appeal to the emperor Nero himself. Festus has his hands tied now; but he’s about to play host to a very important person, King Agrippa II.
So you need to understand that chapter 25 is simply an introduction, a warm up to the trial we’re about to observe in chapter 26.
Let’s go back to chapter 25 and set the stage with verse 13.
13 Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea, and paid their respects to Festus. 14 And while they were spending many days there, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix; 15 and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation upon him. 16 “And I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face, and has an opportunity to make his defense against the charges. 17 “And so after they had assembled here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal, and ordered the man to be brought. 18 “And when the accusers stood up, they began bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting; 19 but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a certain dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive. 20 “And being at a loss how to investigate such matters, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these matters. 21 “But when Paul appealed to be held in custody for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him to be kept in custody until I send him to Caesar.” 22 And Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” he *said, “you shall hear him.”
I want you to understand that what begins in chapter 25 and ends in chapter 26 is nothing less than the collision of an ordinary Christian testimony with the movers and shakers of the Middle East.
And so on the next day, when Agrippa had come together with Bernice amid great pomp and had entered the auditorium accompanied by the commanders and the prominent men of the city at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in.
The Royal Pomp and Prestige
Before we go forward with the trial, I want you to understand the kind of crowd before which Paul stood. If you think you’ve tried to be a testimony before a tough audience, you will be greatly encouraged by this scene.
King Agrippa was none other than Herod Agrippa the Second. The text tells us in verse 23 that He arrived with great pomp and ceremony with Bernice. Bernice, by the way was Agrippa’s full-blooded sister, and their incestuous relationship was the scandal of Rome.
It’s interesting to know that Bernice had a sister named Drusilla, the equally immoral wife of Felix. We studied a little of their scandalous biography in our last discussion.
Herod Agrippa the Second was appointed by Rome as political leader to be the guardian of the Jewish faith. He had the power to appoint the High Priest of Israel. He had the power to administrate the temple treasury. Yet he was as corrupt as a man could be.
His father, Herod Agrippa the First, had executed James and imprisoned Peter. His great uncle was Herod Antipas who had stolen his sister in law away from his brother and then later allowed John the Baptist to be beheaded for daring to preach against him and his wife: (Luke 3 and Mark 6), the same man who tried Jesus Christ, desiring to kill him (Luke 13:31). It was the great grandfather of Herod the II who massacred the children of Bethlehem in an effort to kill the newborn King of the Jews.
This man before whom Paul now stands came from a family that had been used by Satan in an attempt to not only stamp out the Messiah, but wipe out the church.
The family tree of Herod was covered with the blood of the early church. It is a family tree that will end its political power with the man before whom Paul now stands.
Paul is on trial before the last Herod.
And do you not think Paul knew the history of the Herods? Do you not think Paul knew of their hatred for the church and their hatred for Christ?
How could Paul stand before him with any courage at all? Because Paul knew that while Herod ruled, God overruled. Paul knew that, while it may seem unfair to have been imprisoned though innocent, God was in control.
I re-read recently the story of a young Bible college student who was tried for the murder of a young nursing student who lived in his neighborhood. He was found guilty primarily because he had had a troubling dream about her murder and, on the advice of well meaning friends, had gone to police to tell them about it. They arrested him, interpreting his dream account as the roundabout confession of a psychopathic killer. He was sentenced to 40 years in jail. There was just one problem--he was innocent. Often separated from his wife and children, it took 12 years of time in prison and numerous appeals until he was vindicated and set free. But 12 years were gone.
Looking back on those tough years, Steve Linscott wrote, “I have come to realize that we cannot judge God’s purposes, nor where He places us, nor why He chooses one path for our lives as opposed to another. The Bible is replete with accounts of divine action (or inaction) that does not seem fair, that does not make sense except when viewed in light of God’s perfect plan. Thousands of children were massacred while a baby named Moses was spared. Jacob was a thief; and yet it was he, not Esau, who received the blessing of their father Isaac. On one level it makes no sense that God would even allow His Son to die for the sins of humans . . . but God has a plan, a perfect plan.
For Paul, the years were passing. Two had already passed. Would he ever be free again. Would he ever get to Rome? What was the perfect plan of God?
Let’s find out. 26:1 And Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense:
Paul does so, by the way by giving his personal testimony. It is very similar to his testimony before the Jews in chapter 22.
You could divide his testimony into three sections
Number 1 - His past – verses 2-11
The key phrase found in verse 5 – “I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.”
In other words, King, you need to understand that, when it came to religion – I was serious! I kept all the rules, prayed at all the right times, never missed a synagogue service, volunteered to teach, sang in the choir, and went to every kosher potluck.
If the King had asked Paul sometime during his past, “Paul, how do you stand with the God of Israel?” Paul would have answered without blinking an eye, “We’re rock solid!”
And so it is with the deception of religion today. You can dot all the I’s and cross all the t’s. You can pray at all the right times and come to church every Sunday as you speed on your way to hell.
How could that be?? Paul will explain, that every person must exchange the moldy crust of religion for the fresh bread of heaven. Every person’s path must at some point intersect with the awesome revelation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
That’s the second point of Paul’s testimony – his conversion:
9 “So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 “And 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. 11 “And 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. 12 “While thus engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, 13 at 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. 14 “And 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 goad- or pricks.’ (those pointed sticks to drive oxen with are only more troubling to the oxen when they don’t obey- thus they get pricked even more) 15 “And I said, ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
In other words, Paul, you’ve been kicking against the truth ever since you first felt it. Stephen, whom you helped to martyr, spoke of seeing me resurrected. He was telling the truth, the Lord says, “I am indeed the Lord of heaven and earth, the Son of Man, once crucified, now the King of Kings, exalted.
Between this verse and the next verse, as we’ve already studied from chapter 22, Paul submitted his life to Christ.
Liberal pseudo-scholars don’t like to think that Paul actually had a vision of the resurrected Christ here. Some have said that Paul had heatstroke. Others say that Paul had epilepsy, and his experience on the Damascus road was actually an epileptic fit.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, prince of English preachers, said a hundred years ago, “Would God that all who oppose the name of Jesus Christ might then become epileptics; for, oh blessed epilepsy, that made such a wonderful change in this man's life.”
16 ‘But arise, 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; 17 delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you,
Now verse 18, which is, by the way, the sum and substance of the gospel message: a message Paul wants King Agrippa to hear.
18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’
The Lord views us, prior to our salvation, as spiritually blind and Satanically bound.
The gospel opens your eyes, (it brings you out of darkness and into a marvelous light, I Peter 2:9; it delivers you from the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of His blessed Son, Col. 1:12). Tthe gospel message, when believed, brings about a forgiven heart. (Paul would later write to the Romans, “Blessed are those whose sins have been forgiven.) Finally, the gospel deliverance secures your future! Peter wrote that there is for us who believe an imperishable and undefiled inheritance that will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you. I Peter 1:4)
How can all this belong to someone?? Paul ends his gospel at a glance by stating the words of Jesus Christ in verse 18, “this is what happens to those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.” Sola fide-- faith alone in Christ for salvation. Salvation is not a religion based upon works, but a relationship based upon faith in Christ.
19 “Consequently, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but 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. 21 “For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death. 22 “And so, 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; 23 that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” 24. And while 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.”
Now I’ve been interrupted before while preaching by babies crying, children getting up and going out to the bathroom, and beepers going off; but I’ve never had anyone interrupt a sermon by hollering out, “You’re insane.”
They are kind enough to tell me after the sermon, but never during it.
Paul, you’re out of your mind – the Greek word gives us the word maniac. “Paul, this belief in the resurrection of a dead man, proves you are a maniac.”
Notice 25 But Paul *said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. 26 “For 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.”
It’s as if Paul says, “Listen, King Agrippa, I know that you respect the prophets, the prophets who spoke of this coming Messiah which I’ve introduced to you. He has changed my life, and He can change yours too.”
Paul, in effect, says, “King Agrippa, would you now become a Christian too?!”
28 And Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” 29 And Paul said, “I would 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.”
Some believe here that Agrippa is jeering at Paul. Interpreting the phrase to read something like this, “Paul, do you really think, that in such a short time, you can persuade me to become a Christian??!!”
Others interpret it to mean something like this, “Paul, in such a short time you have almost persuaded me to become a Christian.”
Almost . . . but not quite!
30 And the king arose and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them, 31 and when they had drawn aside, they began talking to one another, saying, “This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
That wasn’t exactly true – according to Roman law, an appeal to Caesar was only necessary if the lower court rendered a guilty verdict. In their private conversation, they actually reveal their belief that Paul was innocent – yet they play a political move that keeps the Jewish leaders happy and yet not have to render a verdict.
He wants to see Caesar. We’ll let’s just let him go and see him.
1) The response of derision
"Anybody who believes in Jesus Christ is a fool. Furthermore, anybody who would serve a dead man they claim to be alive is a bigger fool."
“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” Paul would write from his jail cell.
“He is no fool to give up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose” Eliott wrote.
Just don’t expect the world to understand.
2) The response of delay
Almost . . . but not yet.
Hearing the truth of the gospel does not automatically bring about the conversion of the soul.
The truths of Christ are like the rays of the sun; they can bring growth and life; they can also harden hearts made of clay.
King Agrippa the Second, the last of the Herods, heard the gospel that had been ignored by his great-grandfather on down to his father; and his heart was hardened in unbelief in this fateful hour.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote, "Almost persuaded to be a Christian is like the man who was almost pardoned, but he was hanged; like the man who was almost rescued, but he died in the fire. A man that is almost saved is lost."
There’s an old hymn text based on this event – when Paul stood before King Agrippa – the man who almost believed.
"Almost persuaded, now to believe,
Almost persuaded, Christ to receive.
Seems now some soul to say,
Go, Spirit, go thy way;
Some more convenient day,
On Thee I’ll call."
The hymn ends with the words,
“Sad . . . sad that bitter wail; almost but lost.”
For this man, the last of the Herods, almost would mean never.
For this man, who would have been featured as Time’s Man of the Year, the things that really mattered the most were missed.
Almost, but lost.
This is an incredibly challenging, yet inviting passage for anyone who has never invited Christ to become his personal Savior. I urge you to take that step today!
Furthermore, it is a wonderful encouragement to those who have already believed in Christ and desire to stand for His cause.
Has it occurred to you that, if it were not for scripture, you’d probably never think of or even read the names of Herod Agrippa and Bernice, Festus and Felix.
In light of eternity, the real mover and shaker in this scene was not the King or Queen, not the Governor of Caesarea or even the Jewish Sanhedrin. The real man worthy of being called the Man of the Year was a former Pharisee, a rabbi named Paul, who stood before them in chains and simply told them, “This was who I used to be, but then I met Christ, and now I live for a much higher calling than the things of this world."
The truth is, you and I, like Paul, will probably never go down in secular history as Time’s Man or Woman of the year. But in reality you are the mover and shaker of your generation!
So let’s live in the light of our position in Christ, in the light of our power through Christ and in the light of that higher calling. Then we will finally stand before Him after the chains of mortality fall off and we hear the only words of commendation that really matter – “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”