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Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 26:24-29

24 And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” 25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. 26 For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” 28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”[a] 29 And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”

————————————————————————————————————

My last post, just before Easter, discussed Paul’s account of his conversion. He ended by saying that Christ was the first to rise from the dead.

That statement caused Festus, the Roman governor, to accuse the Apostle of having lost his senses through too much education (verse 24). Festus was a pagan and knew nothing of ancient Scripture, which mentions life after death in several places.

John MacArthur explains:

Festus couldn’t handle that resurrection idea. He – he thought there’s only one kind of person who would babble on about visions and about revelations and about voices out of heaven and about resurrections, and that’s a mad man. Paul, you’ve learned too much.

But, then, Jesus was also derided in a similar fashion. So were the prophets of the Old Testament (emphases mine):

Jesus spoke what He spoke in John 8 and they said, “You’ve got a demon”In chapter 10, verse 20 and 21 of John’s gospel they said, “You’re mad. You’re out of your mind talking like that.” Yes, and that’s what Paul said. In I Corinthians 1, he said, “The preaching of the gospel is to them that perish foolishness, foolishness, because the natural man understandeth not the things of God.” It isn’t even anything new. In Hosea 9:7 they said the prophets were mad.

Matthew Henry’s commentary takes Festus’s remark further, as an excuse not to condemn Paul. The reason Festus has Agrippa in attendance is so that Agrippa can work out a criminal charge that Festus can put on his report accompanying Paul to Rome, where he requested trial. Henry says:

he thinks he has found out an expedient to excuse himself both from condemning Paul as a prisoner and from believing him as a preacher; for, if he be not compos mentis–in his senses, he is not to be either condemned or credited.

Paul responded by saying he was speaking ‘true and rational words’ (verse 25). He responded to the charge with courtesy, by referring to the governor as ‘most excellent Festus’.

Paul then narrowed his focus to Agrippa, his primary goal all along. He told Festus that Agrippa knew about these events in the life of Christ, because news of them had spread everywhere; they did not happen in a vacuum (verse 26).

MacArthur provides this analysis:

Oh, the Jews had bought off the Roman soldiers and told them to tell everybody that the disciples stole the body. But still it was common knowledge that the Christians had gone everywhere preaching Jesus was alive. Here we are 25 years later and Agrippa is no dumbbell. He knows what the Christians taught. Common knowledge. “You know the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were common knowledge, you know that, Agrippa, don’t you? You know that what I’m saying is not the babbling on of a madman. You know there are people who believe there’s evidence for this.”

Beloved, you know how Paul – he is so brilliant. He has presented to Agrippa the whole gospel and now he just nails him against the wall and forces him to a conclusion that he probably wouldn’t have made on his own. And he forces Agrippa to be a silent witness to Festus. Agrippa hasn’t said a word, and yet Agrippa is standing there with his mouth shut attesting to what Paul has said as being true. You know this, don’t you, Agrippa? By the very fact that Agrippa didn’t say anything he acquiesced. The case is clear. The king knows it.

Anybody who believes the prophets, anybody who believes Moses, and anybody who believes historical fact must conclude that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. “And you know it Agrippa, you know it.” Ooh, that is – I mean going after it. That’s attack folks. He really tackled Agrippa head on.

Then Paul confronted Agrippa directly, first by asking him if he believed in the prophets then by stating he believed in them (verse 27). Recall that in addition to Festus and Agrippa, also listening were Agrippa’s incestuous sister Bernice and a roomful of local dignitaries. Everyone knew Agrippa and Bernice were adherents of the Jewish faith. Paul took clear advantage of that fact.

MacArthur explains:

He wants to do for Agrippa what he wants him to do for himself. Make the only logical conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah. Well Agrippa’s stuck. If Agrippa says, “Yes, I do believe the prophets,” then he has admitted that he believes Jesus is the Messiah and he’s in real trouble with his whole nation. If he says, “No, I don’t believe the prophets,” then he’s still in trouble with his nation. So he can’t say yes or no. “You believe, don’t you Agrippa?” Argh.

Agrippa knew where Paul was going with his rhetoric, so he asked Paul if he expected conversion in such a short time (verse 28). Agrippa’s question can be interpreted in a number of ways ranging from tongue-in-cheek to a serious response. Henry’s commentary posits that Agrippa was close to conversion, as Festus’s predecessor Felix was until he sent Paul away because the Apostle had disturbed his conscience:

Some understand this as spoken ironically, and read it thus, Wouldst thou in so little a time persuade me to be a Christian? But, taking it so, it is an acknowledgement that Paul spoke very much to the purpose, and that, whatever others thought of it, to his mind there came a convincing power along with what he said: “Paul, thou art too hasty, thou canst not think to make a convert of me all of a sudden.” Others take it as spoken seriously, and as a confession that he was in a manner, or within a little, convinced that Christ was the Messiah; for he could not but own, and had many a time thought so within himself, that the prophecies of the Old Testament had had their accomplishment in him; and now that it is urged thus solemnly upon him he is ready to yield to the conviction, he begins to sound a parley, and to think of rendering. He is as near being persuaded to believe in Christ as Felix, when he trembled, was to leave his sins: he sees a great deal of reason for Christianity; the proofs of it, he owns, are strong, and such as he cannot answer; the objections against it trifling, and such as he cannot for shame insist upon; so that if it were not for his obligations to the ceremonial law, and his respect to the religion of his fathers and of his country, or his regard to his dignity as a king and to his secular interests, he would turn Christian immediately. Note, Many are almost persuaded to be religious who are not quite persuaded; they are under strong convictions of their duty, and of the excellency of the ways of God, but yet are overruled by some external inducements, and do not pursue their convictions.

Paul answered Agrippa by saying that he did not mind a short or lengthy conversion. He would pray that Agrippa — and everyone else present — could enjoy the same experience in Christ, minus the persecution — ‘chains’ (verse 29).

MacArthur says:

You know, he wasn’t bitter. He didn’t say, “Ah, you ought to have these chains and I ought to be sitting up on that throne.” There wasn’t any of that brash talk. He just says, “I wish you had, I wish you had what I have. I want to give you my soul liberty. Oh I don’t mean I want to give you my physical chains. I just – I want to give you the freedom of soul that I know. There’s Agrippa in purple, Bernice decked out in all of her jewels. Festus is there in his Roman scarlet. All the dignitaries are there, and Paul looks at all this fancy group and he says, “I wish you were all like I am.” They’re looking at each other and he says, “Except for these chains. I’m talking spiritually.”

They had everything in the world but they had nothing, right? “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and loses his own soul.” What will a man give in exchange for his own soul? Jesus said. I will die to save Agrippa but I wouldn’t wish my chains on him. Yeah, because you know he could have died on the spot for what he said. He would die to save Agrippa. He was expendable. It didn’t bother him. But he wouldn’t wish his chains on Agrippa. That’s the heart of the Christian. That’s sincere evangelism. That’s evangelism with love.

How true.

Some might say this was another ‘loss’ for Paul, but MacArthur views the matter differently:

People say to me, “You know, I – I’ve tried to share Christ here, there, and everywhere and there doesn’t seem to be any response.” That’s all right. God didn’t call you to save people. He called you to preach Christ. He’ll do the saving. All He asks out of you is that you be faithful. You could not sublimate Paul’s passion. You could not catch his dominant spirit and squelch it. He just continued to be faithful. Why? … Because his orientation to service was toward God not based on the response of men.

Spread the Gospel and be faithful to the Lord. That is all He asks of us.

Next time — Acts 26:30-32

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