“I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!”
With these words, Paul begins his long journey toward Rome to make a defense before Caesar, the epilogue to the book of Acts not preserved for us in Scripture. Luke keeps the story moving through the birth and growth of the New Testament church, taking us from Pentecost to the first Gentile convert to Paul’s conversion and his three missionary journeys. However, he shifts to low gear for the final chapters of Acts as Paul, on trial for preaching the Gospel in Jerusalem, makes his way to Rome to appeal his case to Caesar. Before he can get to Italy, however, he must first appear before three leaders in Caesarea: Felix, Festus, and Agrippa. Luke is sparse on the personal details of these rulers, but he does supply how each of them responds to the Word of Life. Though these men were not followers of Christ (nor would they be), their responses to truth should be cautionary for believers as well.
The Procrastinator (Acts 24:25)
After Paul testifies before the high priest, he lets it slip that he’s a Roman by birth, giving him the right to appeal his case to the Roman courts. Eventually this will allow him a hearing before Caesar, but before he gets there, Paul must testify before Felix, the governor of Judea. Felix listens to Paul’s testimony of salvation, and seems interested, but doesn’t seem to want to do anything about it. He ends up keeping Paul around for a couple of years, apparently hoping that at some point Paul would bribe him to get out (Acts 24:26). Meanwhile he summons Paul often to converse with him. However, he would be removed from office without receiving a shekel from Paul, and, more importantly, without ever taking the Truth to heart.
Unbelievers like Felix are not alone in the camp of procrastination. We who have embraced the Gospel can fall into this trap as well.
Perhaps one of these excuses will sound familiar:
- Once the new year starts, I’ll get back into the Word.
- When my kids are bigger, I’ll dig back into Scripture.
- That sermon was really convicting. I’ll have to think more about that sometime.
- I’m too tired to read the Bible today. Tomorrow.
I realize that time in the Word may need to look different in various seasons of life. (As I write this, I have my own infant daughter draped across my arms!) We need to give ourselves grace in those times for study not to be as deep or even as frequent. However, our hearts have such a proclivity toward procrastination that that “grace” can quickly become an excuse. And once it does, another one will always come around to take its place. We must redeem the time that we do have, even if it’s only fifteen minutes twice a week. It’s not about the amount of time, but about the stewardship of it.
The Rationalist (Acts 26:24)
Nero removes Felix as governor and appoints Festus to take his place. Festus inherits Paul as his prisoner and quickly realizes that the incarcerated apostle is innocent of any crimes and shouldn’t have to stand trial. Paul’s case, he says, ought to be settled in Jerusalem among the Jews with whom he has disagreement. However, because of Paul’s desire to stand before Caesar, Festus has to get involved. He listens to Paul’s testimony alongside King Agrippa.
When Paul finishes, Festus offers a candid response: “Paul you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad!” (Acts 26:24). In other words, Festus simply cannot believe such an outlandish story. And who can blame him? A blinding light from heaven, a voice only Paul can hear (not any of his traveling companions), temporary blindness, scales falling from his eyes, a Jewish carpenter coming back to life–Paul’s testimony and the Gospel itself—require a belief in supernatural events that are inexplicable apart from the work of God Himself.
Reader, you’re probably not in the camp of Festus. You likely believe that Christ died and rose again three days later. You have no problem accepting that He walked on the waves, turned water into wine, and fed more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two dinky fish. However, do other parts of Scripture strike you as unbelievable? I’m not talking about the miracle parts; I’m talking about the uncomfortable, against-the-grain, I’d-rather-not-believe-that parts.
- Blessed are the persecuted (Matt. 5:11-12)
- Humility is the way to exaltation (Ps. 86:11)
- The surpassing value of eternal treasure (Ps. 138:6; James 4:10)
- Homosexuality is a sinful perversion of God’s plan for marriage (Gen. 1:26; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10)
- God designed the man and woman as equals but with distinct roles within marriage (Eph. 5:22-33)
- Every person’s greatest problem is within them (Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:14-23)
Every one of those truths flies in the face of what contemporary culture teaches. To believe the Bible is to be crazy in the eyes of the world. Or, worse yet, to be “on the wrong side of history.” Professing believers in Christ who want to have a foot in both camps are popping up everywhere. They turn their back on the truth of Scripture to remain relevant and avoid being “canceled.” Like Festus, they have decided that God’s Word is too crazy to be true. How about you?
The Skeptic (Acts 26:28)
While Festus thought that Paul had gone mad with learning, King Agrippa (descendant of the Herods in the Gospels) might have been persuaded, but he wouldn’t believe so easily. He believed the Old Testament—the Pentateuch, the Prophets, the Proverbs—but he wasn’t so sure about Jesus. It seems that, like Thomas doubting Jesus’ resurrection, Agrippa wanted more proof.
Wanting evidence of the validity of the Bible or the resurrection of Christ is not necessarily sinful. Thankfully, we have scores of apologetics books chock-full of proof, arguments, and evidence for much of what Scripture says. Those volumes have helped many, and I’m grateful for them. However, it’s not just seekers who are skeptical.
Do any of these thoughts sound familiar?
- He can’t mean that I’m supposed to submit to my husband.
- God can’t possibly use this for good.
- There’s no way God will forgive this sin.
- I’m not sure God answers or even hears my prayers.
- I’m just not convinced that God is as good as you say He is.
The prophet Habakkuk understood these types of questions. After God showed him that He would judge Israel’s sins using the Chaldeans (Babylonians)–a people more pagan and outwardly wicked than Israel–Habakkuk couldn’t believe it. “How can this be so?” he asked God. God’s answer was simple, and one of the most often quoted Old Testament verses in the New Testament:
“The righteous one will live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4)
Ultimately, we must respond to God’s Word and to God Himself in humble faith. We don’t believe naively—it’s not blind faith—but it is faith, the “conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). In the words of the inimitable Elisabeth Elliot: “You either believe God knows what He’s doing, or you believe He doesn’t. You either believe He’s worth trusting, or you say He’s not, and then where are you?”1
Our response to truth—to every single word, whether it’s culturally acceptable or not—matters. So, what will you do with the Living Word that . . .
. . .teaches, corrects, reproves, and instructs us (2 Tim 3:16)?
. . .provides our only weapon against the fiery darts of the enemy (Eph. 6:17)?
. . .acts as the mirror the Spirit uses to expose our sins (James 1:22-25)?
. . . is the very lifeblood of our sanctification (John 17:17)?
May we respond to it with humility and meekness.
Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (Jas 1:21)
1 https://www.reviveourhearts.com/podcast/revive-our-hearts/acceptance/, accessed July 16, 2021