By Mike Dawson
Interim Pastor, Santa Fe Baptist Church, Santa Fe
The Apostle Paul’s final days of ministry clearly fulfilled a promise God had given him. In Acts 23:11, Jesus had appeared to Paul in a night vision, telling him to ‘cheer up’ because he would “bear witness at Rome.” In the next three chapters of Acts, even before arriving as promised in Rome, Paul witnessed to Roman citizens, soldiers, and public officials. He spoke to three of Rome’s high-ranking officers in chapters 23-26: Felix, Festus, and Agrippa. I like to call those three ‘Felix the cat’ (because he walked the fence, putting Paul’s appeal off to a more convenient time), ‘Festering’ Festus (because of his angry outburst during Paul’s testimony), and “Agrip’pa,” (because he wouldn’t get “a grip” on the gospel). Today’s focal passage, Acts 26:19-29, portrays the encounter with Agrippa and Festus.
This encounter could be entitled “So Near, Yet So Far Away.”
So near historically (vv. 19-23). Paul reminded King Agrippa of events that had happened just a few years ago. In Paul’s messages he always (as C.H. Spurgeon often said) made “a bee-line to the Cross.” There was a real Jesus who died on a real cross and really rose from a real grave! That historic story was the very truth that Moses and the prophets had foretold.
So near geographically (vv. 24-26). Although “festering Festus” interrupted, yelling out that Paul was “crazy,” the Apostle graciously answered this critic’s angry outburst; he reminded Festus (and Agrippa) that the gospel had been played out just a few miles away. These things “were not done in a corner,” but just over in the well-known city of Jerusalem — not that far from Caesarea, where they were now standing.
So near personally (v. 27). Paul then turned back to Agrippa and personally challenged him about believing. Agrippa was no doubt just a few feet away as Paul spoke “freely” to him.
So near spiritually (v. 28). Agrippa was at that point just a few inches away from being a Christ-follower! Whether he said he was “almost persuaded,” or whether he asked if Paul thought he could “so easily” or “in such a short time” be persuaded, one thing is obvious: Agrippa believed the truth in his MIND, but had not received it in his SOUL. He had not had the “17-inch conversion” (from the head to the heart) that is necessary to be saved!
So near eternally (v. 29). It could be said that King Agrippa was just a few breaths away. As with every gospel presentation, eternity was in the balance. Knowing this, the Apostle Paul gave one more passionate invitation to Agrippa and all who were in earshot. As Paul raised his hand and the manacle around his wrist rattled the prisoner’s chain, here’s essentially what he said: “Except for being incarcerated for my faith and for telling the truth, I could wish all of you were in my condition regarding my standing before God, my total commitment to Christ who saved me by His grace!” King Agrippa suddenly stood up, and he and the entire royal party departed, discussing Paul and his case — strictly as a governmental and judicial matter (vv. 30-32). Agrippa had come to the door of heaven, and turned away toward hell. So near, yet so far away.