There are many people who have lost their lives because of religious prejudice and persecution. One of the reasons that the Puritans and Pilgrims came to America was to escape the religious persecution in Europe and other parts of the world.
After Paul had appealed to Caesar, Festus told him that he would go to Rome, but some time remained before arrangements could be made. During this intervening time, King Agrippa, the last of the Herod kings visited Festus to learn about Paul’s case.
The Bible says, “After some days King Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to greet Festus. When they had been there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying: ‘There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix, about whom the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, when I was in Jerusalem, asking for a judgment against him. To them I answered, “It is not the custom of the Romans to deliver any man to destruction before the accused meets the accusers face to face, and has opportunity to answer for himself concerning the charge against him.”
“ ‘Therefore when they had come together, without any delay, the next day I sat on the judgment seat and commanded the man to be brought in. When the accusers stood up, they brought no accusation against him of such things as I supposed, but had some questions against him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. And because I was uncertain of such questions, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there be judged concerning these matters. But when Paul appealed to be reserved for the decision of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I could send him to Caesar.’
“Then Agrippa said to Festus, ‘I also would like to hear the man myself.’ ‘Tomorrow,’ he said, ‘you shall hear him.’ So the next day, when Agrippa and Bernice had come with great pomp, and had entered the auditorium with the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at Festus’ command Paul was brought in. And Festus said: ‘King Agrippa and all the men who are here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole assembly of the Jews petitioned me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying out that he was not fit to live any longer. But when I found that he had committed nothing deserving [worthy] of death, and that he himself had appealed to Augustus, I decided to send him. I have nothing certain to write to my lord concerning him. Therefore I have brought him out before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the examination has taken place I may have something to write. For it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner and not to specify the charges against him’ ” (Acts 25:13–27).
King Agrippa needed a compelling charge in order to send Paul to Rome to stand before Caesar, but he was at a loss because no crime had been committed. So, why is it that people have such hatred that they want innocent people convicted when no crime has been committed?
The Jews, denying Jesus’ claim that He was “the light of the world” (John 8:12) and it was He alone who bore witness of Himself, “… said to Him, ‘Where is Your Father?’ Jesus answered, ‘You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also’ ” (verse 19).
It is interesting that these were the religious leaders of God’s chosen people, yet Jesus said they did not know either Him or His Father. The Jews greatly protested against this, saying, “ ‘Abraham is our Father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father’ ” (verses 39–41, first part).
Though the Jews may have been physical descendants of Abraham, spiritually they were not his children. Vehemently, “Then they said to Him, ‘We were not born of fornication; we have one Father—God.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it’ ” (verses 41, last part–44).
Jesus said they were being influenced by their spiritual father, doing the deeds of the devil, who is the one who stirs up religious persecution and prejudice. Later in private, Jesus gave the warning to His disciples. He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me” (John 16:1–3).
Religious persecution comes from people who claim to be following God, but in fact are following an imposter—a different God. The Bible describes that imposter as the god of this world. Claiming to be followers of the Prince of Peace, they follow him who is an accuser of the brethren from the beginning.
No official could find any wrong in the conduct of the apostle Paul. In fact, as you read the account from beginning to end, you find that Lysias found nothing, Felix found nothing, Festus found nothing, and neither could Agrippa find anything in Paul’s conduct worthy of imprisonment. When Paul is sent to Caesar, Caesar himself could find no reason to charge him; so finally he was set free.
Intrigued by Paul, King Agrippa wanted to hear the apostle’s story. Agrippa was a transgressor of God’s law, corrupt in his heart and his life, but he wanted to hear Paul’s story and gave him an opportunity to speak.
You may wonder if during that time Agrippa ever thought about the history of his own family and of their fruitless efforts against the One of whom Paul preached. Did he think about his great-grandfather, Herod, and the massacre of the innocent children of Bethlehem? Did anything pass through his mind about his great uncle, Antipas, and the murder of John the Baptist? Did he think about his own father, Agrippa I, who was responsible for the martyrdom of the apostle James? Did he think of the disasters which speedily befell these kings, in evidence of God’s displeasure because of their crimes against His servants? Did he think about the time when his own father, a monarch who was more powerful than he, stood in that very same city, in glittering robes, giving a speech that was such powerful oratory that the people shouted, “This is a god, not a man” (Acts 12:22)?
Had he forgotten how, before the admiring shouts had even died away, that vengeance, swift and terrible, had befallen the vain-glorious king who died a miserable death under the justice and judgment of God? Did he think of any of these things? This was Agrippa’s one best chance to be saved.
The Bible says that Jesus is the true light that enlightens everyone that comes into the world. But many people ignore the opportunity that they have. “Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You are permitted to speak for yourself.’ So Paul stretched out his hand and answered for himself: ‘I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, especially because you are expert in all customs and questions which have to do with the Jews. Therefore I beg you to hear me patiently. My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee’ ” (Acts 26:1–5). Agrippa knew exactly what the apostle Paul was talking about because he also had been instructed in all the laws and customs of the Jews.
Paul said, “ ‘And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews. Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead? Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign [strange] cities’ ” (verses 6–11).
Paul had never seen Christ while He dwelt on earth as a man. He had heard about Him and did not believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah. He could not believe that the Creator of all the worlds, the One who upheld the universe, the giver of all blessings, could appear on earth as a mere man. He had looked for the Messiah to come in robes of majesty just as the rest of the Jews had hoped. He expected the Deliverer to be attended with pomp and proclaimed to be the Messiah by a host of angels.
But later he discovered that he had misread the Scriptures and that the Old Testament prophecies predicted the Messiah would come as a humble man, preaching the word of life with gentleness and humility. Jesus came to awaken the noblest impulses in the soul of man, to satisfy man’s earnest spiritual longings, and to crown the work and warfare of life with infinite reward. Paul had looked for a Messiah to deliver the Jewish nation from the bondage of foreign kings, but he found that Christ came as a Saviour from the bondage of sin. As a Jewish Pharisee, his life had been to him a blind and baffling conflict, an unequal battle with a fever of unsatisfied desires. So it is with many people today. When he met Christ on the Damascus road his longings were satisfied, his fears were banished, and his burdens were lightened. He had found Him of whom Moses and the prophets had written. And he said to King Agrippa, “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead” (verse 8)?
Not only has God proved that He could raise the dead, but there is the promise in Scripture that if you follow Jesus, even if you should die, at the last day you will be raised up. Paul then gave the most lengthy and detailed description of his conversion. This is one of the most exciting stories in the Bible. He said, “While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’ Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come—that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (verses 12–23).
As he spoke, Festus, who was not versed in the prophecies of the Old Testament or the Jewish religion, had no concept of what Paul said and consequently thought Paul was insane. “Now as he … made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!’ But Paul said, ‘I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner’ ” (verses 24–26).
Paul then turned directly to Agrippa and asked if he believed the prophets (verse 27). For a moment the king lost his self-composure and almost involuntarily spoke the longing of his heart. He had listened to the truth and was convinced that it was so. “Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You almost persuade me to become a Christian’ ” (verse 28). Many wealthy, powerful people have been in this same position and made a similar reply.
It is a scary thing to be almost persuaded. The evidence Paul presented was so powerful and overwhelming that King Agrippa could not contradict the truth. But he also knew that to become a Christian would require him to confess and repent of all of his sins and make things right with his fellow men. Like so many today, he thought that would be too humiliating. How many millions of people will be lost in the final Day of Judgment who have known the truth but turned away from it.
Felix said he would wait for a more convenient time. Agrippa was almost persuaded to become a Christian. But consider this: if you are almost persuaded, in the end you will be totally lost.
So many on the Day of Judgment will be almost saved. They almost decided to become a Christian and a disciple of Jesus Christ but not quite, because it requires confession and repentance of sins that they find too humiliating to admit.
In heaven there will be people who are guilty of murder and all manner of terrible sins, but will be saved because they were willing to repent and confess their sins and to the greatest extent possible, make things right. The Bible says, “… when I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has stolen, and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of his sins which he has committed shall be remembered against him; he has done what is lawful and right; he shall surely live” (Ezekiel 33:14–16).
How it is with you? The question is not what you have done wrong in the past but are you willing to repent? Repentance means heart felt sorrow for sins you have committed. Confession means you are sorry enough that you confess those sins and make right every transgression that you can. That may mean restore what you have stolen, whether you risk going to jail or whatever the consequence may be, so that you can have eternal life. Agrippa was convicted and was almost, but sadly, not quite willing to take the next step.
Paul said, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:29). Paul was not almost, but altogether a Christian. He had made his decision to follow the Lord all the way. The decision you make determines your destiny.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
“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.”
“Almost persuaded,” come, come today;
“Almost persuaded,” turn not away;
Jesus invites you here,
Angels are ling’ring near,
Prayers rise from hearts so dear;
O wand’rer, come!
“Almost persuaded,” harvest is past!
“Almost persuaded,” doom comes at last!
“Almost” cannot avail;
“Almost” is but to fail!
Sad, sad, that bitter wail—
“Almost”— but lost!
Philip P. Bliss, 1871.
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.