Friday, August 17, 2012

SO NEAR YET SO FAR

Acts 25,26

SUMMARY OF THE PASSAGE

Festus succeeded Felix and after three days he went to Jerusalem – the leading city of the region. In Jerusalem he met with theSanhedrin and they immediately grabbed the opportunity to press charges against Paul who was illegally in custody in Caesarea. They requested for Paul to be brought and be tried in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, they had planned an ambush to kill him. Imagine two years later they were still burning with rage against Paul! Festus was anastute governor and so in order to preserve his prerogatives, he refused to bring him to Jerusalem and instead asked them to choose their representatives to Caesarea and then he would listen to them.
The representatives went with Festus and the following day, he took his seat to judge at the tribunal. The Jews brought the same very serious charges (sedition, sacrilege and sedition) against Paul but Luke observes that they were charges without prove. Paul in His defense denied them all saying that he had neither acted contrary to the Law of the Jews nor against the temple nor against Caesar. Festus could see that there was no evidence.Festus, trying to be generous to the Jews to gain his own political mileage, unaware of the murder plans of the Jews, asked Paul if he was willing to be tried in Jerusalem. God gave Paul wisdom so that he immediately reminded the governor that he ought to be tried to in a Roman court since he had already passed from the lower religious courts to stand before the governor himself. Defending his right, he appealed to Caesar since he had the privilege as a Roman citizen.
King Agrippa and his wife Bernice arrive in Caesarea in a courtesy call to welcome the new governor. Festus being perplexed by the intrigues of the Jews immediately related to the king the tricky case that had come to his attention, because he was supposed to write a report to Caesar to explain why it was necessary to send Paulto him. Agrippa also would have liked to hear Paul and his wish was granted the following day. With great pomp Agrippa, Bernice, military officers, prominent leading men of the city gather to hear Paul in the governor's audience hall. Festus introduced him and then explained the circumstances surrounding him. All along, he was gathering information to write to the Caesar in Rome.
Then Paul spoke addressing Agrippa, how he counted himself fortunate to make a defense of himself before Agrippa who was particularly conversant with the customs and intrigues of the Jews. He identified himself as a Jew who came to Jerusalem, who lived as a Pharisee and who was accused of being a believer in the hope of resurrection.He related how he himself opposed the name of Jesus, by oppressing the saints, how he went to many synagogues obtaining authority to have them punished by imprisonment, and even approved their deathsboth in and out of Jerusalem (just like his accusers).
Then he recounted his conversion on the road to Damascus on one of his Christian persecution missions. How the Lord appeared to him in a blinding light and appointed him as His servant and messenger to open the eyes of the gentiles so that they may turn from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Christ. He described how he acted in obedience to this commission and proclaimed the message of salvation to those in Damascus the Jerusalem and throughout Judea and to the nations. The message was that of repentance and turning to God and living godly lives. He then was explained how he was arrested by the Jews, who tried to kill him but God was his help and this was the reason of his continuing to preach the gospel to all – the gospel:“That the Christ must suffer and that by being the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light both to our people and to Gentiles.”
Governor Festus interrupted him accusing him of being mad, something Paul denied and asked the king to affirm the truths of what he had said. Agrippa refused and adjourned the meeting fearing Paul wouldpersuade him to be a Christian in a short time.

SPECIFIC EXAMPLES OF PEOPLE SO NEAR YET SO FAR
·        The high priest and the elders were the audiences and witnesses of the gospel and the outworking of the Lord but they continued in their obstinacy and forfeited the wonderful privilege of salvation. They loved sin more than the Saviour and so they were left in unbelief.
·        The Jews and their murdering schemes were almost about to murder Paul but God intervened so that 200-foot soldiers, 70 horsemen, and 200 spearmen transferred him to Caesarea! Then when there was a new governor, they thought that they would secure their plans again but they flopped again when Paul appealed to Caesar.
·        Paul before conversion appeared to be making good progress in the persecution and extermination of the Christian community. He could secure authority from every synagogue so that he could persecute them in Jerusalem and Judea and every place. It is clear that if he had gotten to Damascus he could have captured many and thrown them into prison or killed them. But the Lord came because He knows how to rescue His people (both in Damascus and Paul) brought them all to His rule.
·        Paul was almost being released but he had already appealed to Caesar and justice demanded that he had to go to Caesar. (Remember that even if he could have been released, he could have been killed so it was for the purpose of God that he lost the chance).
·        Governor Felix who is described as having ‘a rather accurate knowledge of the Way’ was so close to salvation.Paul reasoned with him about faith in Christ Jesus and about righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment… yes! He heard the gospel, which is God’s power for the salvation,for those who believe.He was convinced and was alarmed and trembled! Almost persuaded, almost convinced, he had tasted God’s power for the salvation to those who believe.Almost there, yet so far because he exchanged eternity with a bribe that he could not get. He kept on ever postponing saying that I will hear you another time that never came so that eternity was gone forever for him.
·        Governor Festus had the same privilege of hearing and acquitting Paul of the criminal charges. Moreover, he had the wonderful opportunity of hearing the gospel which could have made him wise for salvation but he dismissed the messenger of the good news as raving crazy and out of his mind… that way Festus was so near yet so far.
·        King Agrippa who was so familiar with ALL the customs and controversies of the Jews but refused to acknowledge publically he knew the Prophetic Scriptures. He refused to be persuaded of the truths of the Scriptures.He refused to be persuaded to become a Christian.
·        The military tribunes, and the prominent men of the city as well heard the gospel. But not a single one is recorded to have believed in Christ. Not one was recorded to have repented of his sins to come to the knowledge of the living God.
v  This rejection marks a corporate rejection of Christ and of the Gospel by the Jews represented by King Agrippa. These were people persuaded that they would not believe Christ… although so near having heard the truths of the Word of God, yet they were unchanged by the gospel.

APPLICATORY REMARKS

1.      The extent of the stubbornness of human nature
Who said that human beings are not obstinate sinners? How stubborn are people in their sins? With all the conviction of the gospel, so many would rather remain with guilty and pricking conscience, plagued by their rejection of Christ. Many want to remain at enmity with God (some unconsciously) but yet that is what they are until when they come to Him in repentance.
It is until the Spirit of God moves into one’s heart and convicts someone of his sinfulness so that one sees the need for salvation.It is the work of the Spirit of regenerating sinners by removing the stony heart and replacing it with a pliable and fallow heart. The Spirit breaks the shackles of sin from a person to give him the freedom to come to Christ. The Spirit of God opens the eyes of sinners to cause them to behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Holy Spirit opens the heart to cause a sinner to pay attention to the word of God that is able to make them wise for salvation.
For those of us who are saved because their trust and confidence is in Christ, thank and praise the Lord forever for His mercies because we nowhave a new heart, we were blind but now we can see, we were dead but now alive in Christ! Hallelujah, what a Saviour!
2.      Head knowledge of Biblical facts is not salvation
We have had an account of many who were well versed with the truths of the Bible, but were not profited by it. We have many who profess to know the Word of God well,but remain in unbelief. They say that they have read the bible from Genesis to Revelation. They have been to church since they were children, they have all the privileges that Christians have and so they conclude that is enough. But may repeat that your theology has to go to the heart and actions for it to be effectively profitable.
What is needed is for you to see how sinful and obstinate you are. You have to see that you need your sins forgiven. You need to have faith in Christ. you need to repent your sins to Christ and to believe and trust in whom there is forgiveness of your sins. It is Christ who has died for your sins; he has paid all the penalty so that you need to pay nothing – because you can’t. You need to turn what you know into a reality by believing and trusting in Christ.
For those of us who have been converted, remember this, what you know is a measure of your judgment. Our knowledge of the Scripture is either an asset to lead us to godliness or a measure that God will use against. Those who have been given much, much will be required. This is what Paul wrote to Timothy about God’s elect who have knowledge of truth which accords to godliness (Tit 1:1). You will be held accountable by God with what He has entrusted on you. Our knowledge is an asset that we have to invest in others. It is not enough that you know – it has to come from your mind to your conscience to your will to your desires and to your actions. This is the reason why the truths of Scriptures have been written to us – so that we do not sin (1John 2:1).

3.      Christians should make use of civil authorities as well as human rights
Paul all along has continued to trust upon the Lord to help him out of the problem he was in. He took that his life background and education, as a Jew and a Pharisee were means God gave him to continue the cause of the gospel.
It appears Paul was prepared to use every civil right afforded to him by the laws of Rome – so he appealed to Caesar. In so doing Paul was within the Biblical parameters because he was challenging the civil authorities to be God’s servant to do good (Rom. 13:4). He used that very well to this end. Even the most interesting was that he used his civil right as a Roman citizen to be allowed to speak to the Jews in the temple in Acts 21. Again he very clearly stated that he was a Roman citizen to the Roman tribune in Acts 22 when they were flogging him for nothing. Again in this passage he used his civil right to appeal to Caesar. Christians are called upon to be wise as a serpent so that we may advance both in grace and knowledge and in being effective servants of God while in the stay here on earth. As we do this may the Lord help us to be wise, and discerning so that we do not bring the Name of the Lord to shame.

4.      You must not remain committed to being uncommitted to the gospel
It is so easy to join a group and remain uncommitted to it. We want to be part of this or the other without a consideration of the commitment that goes with it. If you want to be saved for a month or a year, please know that there is no such a thing. You are either converted for life or you are not. Your commitment to Christ and to His truths and to His church is very necessary. Christ requires absolute submission. You have to completely trust and submit to the Lordship and authority of Christ.
you need to ask yourself where has been your allegiance? Have you given Christ a partial submission? Know for sure that that is not submission at all. If you are a Christian then you are called to live like Christians. You should not be deceived if your faith is not evident to others in your service to Christ, then you should examine yourself in light of the many in Scripture whose commitments were elsewhere.
Therefore, like Paul, we must use the available time to persuade people to faith. When Agrippa asked Paul, in a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian? It shows a man who was very keen in making the best use of the time. Paul told the Colossians to walk in wisdom towards outside outsiders, making the best use of time (4:5).

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