ISSUE: 2017, Volume 14, Issue 3
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Who is the most important person you have ever met? Perhaps it was a famous politician, a television celebrity, or a sports star? At Caesarea, the apostle Paul had an audience with King Agrippa and his princess sister, Bernice. Previously, Paul had encountered a Jewish high priest, and successive regional governors – but at this point he came face-to-face with royalty. Agrippa was a notable historical figure, since he was a descendant of Herod the Great and a friend of the Roman emperor Claudius.
As Paul saw the king, what would he say in those few moments when he commanded the full attention of such an important person? Paul wanted to tell Agrippa about a personal, life-changing experience – the day he met Christ, the King of kings. Agrippa is equally keen to hear from Paul. There is a dual challenge here: if we know the Lord, then our top priority must be to tell others about Him; if we don’t yet know the Lord, then our top priority must be to find out about Him.
Throughout this chapter, Paul outlines his life story for the third time in Acts. He reiterates the events surrounding his conversion in several letters, e.g. Gal. 1. 16; Phil. 3. 7. Paul never became tired of telling how Christ saved him. After all, a personal testimony is about the story of God’s saving grace – the convert is merely a background character, while Christ is the lead actor. In Paul’s life, as in world history, there was a BC (Before Christ) period, 1 Tim. 1. 13; Eph. 2. 3. At that time, Paul was an aggressive persecutor of Christians. C. S. LEWIS1 characterized people’s opinions of Jesus as one of ‘mad, bad, or God'. Paul was definitely in the ‘bad’ camp. He considered Jesus of Nazareth to be an imposter, and he hated all Christ’s followers.
Then there came a moment of crisis. As Paul was travelling to Damascus to confront and arrest Christians there, he found himself confronted and arrested by the risen Christ, Phil. 3. 12. That ‘heavenly vision', Acts 26. 19, transformed not only Paul’s outlook on life, but also the man himself. Natural conversions are remarkable – think of how stormy days are changed by rainbows, or how caterpillars metamorphose into butterflies. Spiritual conversions are even more amazing – Paul describes the process to Agrippa, v.18. When individuals are saved through faith, they receive a new spiritual sense (sight), they are brought into a new environment (light), and they are transferred to a new kingdom (God’s). The past is dealt with (forgiveness) and the future is assured (inheritance). Paul never lost the wonder of the transformation that God had accomplished in his life.
As he explained this narrative to Agrippa and his companions, Paul’s passion for souls was clear. His enthusiasm was transmitted through his gestures, v. 1, and his animated speech that provoked such agitation from Felix, v. 24. Paul knew Christ’s transforming power, and he wanted others to know it too. These were not the ramblings of a crazy religious fraud, but the keen words of a man who cared deeply about his message. It’s not only what we say that matters, but also the way we say it.
How did Agrippa respond? His words are potentially ambiguous, v. 28. The ‘almost thou persuadest me’ of the KJV implies that Agrippa is convicted about the truth of the message – perhaps he was ‘not far from the kingdom', Mark 12. 34. However, other renderings of this verse cause Agrippa to sound more like an indignant scoffer: ‘“At this rate,” Agrippa remarked, “it won't be long before you believe you have made a Christian of me!”’, Acts 26. 28 (Moffatt). In any case, Paul has discharged his duty, Rom. 1. 14, and he leaves the results with God. We must be just as daring in gospel witness, and just as dependent upon God who ‘gives the growth’, 1 Cor. 3. 7, ESV.
1 C. S. LEWIS, Mere Christianity, Macmillan, 1952.