GETTING THE MESSAGE/The truth of Christ and the gospel
In Acts 26:19-32 the apostle Paul concludes his testimony before King Agrippa, Governor Festus, and many other dignitaries in Caesarea. Paul’s testimony was to defend himself against the Jewish accusations that he had instigated riots and desecrated the Jewish temple. Paul proves his innocence and uses the opportunity to bear witness to the truth of Christ and the gospel.
Paul especially directs his address to King Agrippa, and you can see in verse 28, the King understands Paul’s appeal: “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” King Agrippa finds no guilt in Paul (verses 30-32), but neither does he accept the gospel message. It is instructive for us to consider what truths the King was confronted with, and yet he still rejected the Lord Jesus.
Agrippa rejected the benefits of the gospel Paul listed in verse 18: the light of Christ, deliverance from the devil, forgiveness of sin, and a place among God’s people. These are supernatural benefits from God himself, given through his gift of Christ to sinful men. To turn away from Christ is to turn away from life with God.
So we should ask why King Agrippa or any soul would reject Christ and the gospel he offers. One reason in our passage is the command to repent. In verse 20, Paul says he proclaimed to both Jews and Gentiles, “They should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with repentance.”
Paul had testified about his life before he knew the Lord Jesus. He then explained to King Agrippa how he had lived from that point on. Paul made very clear he was worthy of judgment, but had received grace, and that he had responded to that grace with a dedicated life to the Lord. That is what repentance looks like from a broad perspective.
This repentance, or a sincere turning to God as evidenced in Paul’s life, keeps proud souls from coming to Christ. King Agrippa knew what coming to Christ would entail. He would have to humble himself, admit his sins, and follow the ways of the Lord. It’s the way that leads to life and blessedness, but sin has such great power over the heart of a man that he would lose his soul for the corrupt world.
Paul was a much different man with Christ, but for the better. Life with Christ doesn’t diminish a soul, but instead enriches the soul. Paul was pointing out to the King the blessedness of repentance. Repentance is a blessed thing because it brings us to God. The sinner may have many comforts in this world, yet he is still under a curse.
Agrippa saw in Paul a man who had suffered in his service to Christ and was still bound. But a godly man in the midst of sufferings is a blessed man. He is blessed in afflictions; he is blessed in life and in death. Whatever short term benefits King Agrippa received from his position, his wealth and power couldn’t deliver him from death and judgment. Paul was offering him Christ, the only one who could.
King Agrippa knew the prophets (verse 27). It wasn’t because of any rational reason that the King rejected Christ. Paul had pointed out that the great things Christ did, as well as his death and resurrection, were not things done in secret. These things were well known, and the works of Christ were fulfillments of what the prophets had foretold (verse 22).
King Agrippa also had to reject God’s desire that all men, great and small, might avail themselves of Christ and live. Paul says to the King in verse 29, “Would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am.” Paul’s desire reflects that of Christ, who offers salvation to all men. God is justly offended with our sin, but there is no fury in God for those who come to Christ, for Christ has swallowed up their sin.
Richard Sibbes once said that the world is like a town where all the residents have the plague that leads to death. God knows the afflicted cannot come to Him, so he sent His Son to be their physician with the cure. Those who reject Christ reject the only cure.
In King Agrippa, we see a man who is offered the cure and rejects it. He had many reasons in his mind and heart to reject Christ. They were all folly. Men’s reasons can all be reduced to the refusal to have God rule over them. But in Christ we find it is a good rule, a blessed rule, and a saving rule.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.