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A Proper Christian Attitude

 

Peter wrote in his first letter,

1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. [1]

The Apostle’s conclusion is in the 13th verse where he said,

1 Peter 1:13   Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Literally, the original Greek says, “Gird up the loins of your minds...”[2] The words are reminiscent of the directions for celebrating the Passover.[3]  The reference is to the binding up of the loose-flowing robes worn by the Oriental that hamper freedom of movement. Yet here, it is to the loins of the mind that the Apostle refers. It is a call to adopt the pilgrim’s attitude. He would summon them to strenuous thinking so that they might understand the things he is writing to them, and be able to exercise an intelligent faith. His meaning is: prepare yourself for urgent and serious work. Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for what you must face.[4] [5]

 

 

Because of the great work of God in Christ for you, because of the present reality, and because of the salvation God has provided – you should,

 “Gird your minds for action...” (1:13).

The Jewish historian, Alfred Edersheim, told the following about the temple guard, 

At night guards were placed in twenty-four stations about the gates and courts of the temple. Of these gates twenty-one were occupied by Levites alone; the other innermost three jointly by priests and Levites. Each guard consisted of ten men; so that, in all, two hundred and forty Levites and thirty priests were on duty every night. The Temple Guards were relieved by day, but not during the night, which the Romans divided into four, but the Jews, properly, into three watches, the fourth really being the morning watch.[6]    

Professor P. Henderson Aitken wrote:

“The duty of the captain of the mount of the Temple was to keep order in the Temple, visit the stations of the guard during the night, and see that the sentries were duly posted and alert.”  The guards were not even allowed to sit down, but were expected to be at their posts and vigilant.

The Mishnah says the following about the temple guard,

 “The officer of the temple mount used to go round to every watch with lighted torches before him, and if any watch did not stand up and say, ‘O officer of the Temple Mount, peace be to thee!’ and it was manifest that he was asleep, he would beat him with his staff, and he had the right to burn his raiment.

And they would say, ‘What is the noise in the Temple Court?’  ‘The noise of some Levite that is being beaten and having his raiment burnt because he went to sleep during his watch.’

Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob said, “They once found my mother’s brother asleep and burnt his raiment.” [7]

  • Hence the admonition is to us who, as it were, are here on duty as temple guards (in a spiritual sense),

It is as the Lord said, 

Rev. 16:15 “Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his garments, lest he walk about naked and men see his shame.” 

Moral: Do not be slothful in your service to the Lord. He is going to return and render to every man according to his deeds. Rom. 2:6.

 

2. “...keep sober in spirit ...” (1:13)

There is the story of  James Aliff, a thirty-­nine-year-old unemployed construction worker, who on the afternoon of August 2, 1997, woke up and found himself lying face down between the rails of a railroad track.

According to the Chicago Tribune news service, "Police believe Aliff might have been drinking and passed out on the track. Aliff said he slipped on a rock while walking his dog and was knocked out." Whatever the cause, when Aliff woke up, he quickly real­ized he was not alone because passing over him was a 109-car freight train. "I got a headache, let me tell you," he later said from his Oak Hill, Florida, hospital bed. "About every three or four seconds an axle would come along and crack me upside the head. It's a good thing I wasn't on my back, or that train would have torn my face off." [8]

 The moral of the story is: be sober. If you are asleep in a dangerous place, you never know what can come upon you. Stay alert, and stay out of danger. The word translated “sober” [9] in the above passage means “sober in spirit.” Imagine the spiritual equivalent of drunkenness; stupor, and avoid it.

As a stranger and’ a pilgrim (sojourner) in a land that is at least unwelcoming and sometimes hostile we must be ever vigilant. Never should we lapse into the spiritual stupor into which the world has been lulled.

 As the Apostle Paul wrote,

Ephesians 4:17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

Be serious and alert in thought and conduct. We should exercise self-control, and live a balanced, steadfast life.

3. “...fix your hope completely on the grace...” (1:13)

James B. Stockdale was one of the first American pilots to be shot down during the Vietnam War. The Vietcong took him prisoner and he spent seven years as a prisoner of war. During that time the Vietcong frequently tortured him as they tried to break him and to get him to denounce the U. S. involvment in the war. They chained him for days with this hands above his head so that he could not even swat the mosquitoes that bit him. Years after his release he still could not bend his left knee and he walked with a severe limp from having his leg broken by his captors, which they refused to reset. One of the worst things they did to him was to keep him in isolation. His captors kept him away from his fellow prisoners and allowed him to see only his guards and interrogators.

How could a man endure seven years of such brutal treatment? Stockdale said that it was his hope that kept him alive. It was the hope of one day going home, that each day could be the day of his release. He knew that without hope he would die as others had done amid the brutality of their captivity, privation and torture.

Such is the power of hope that it can preserve life when nothing else can.[10]

Christians have promises of salvation and a better country in which to live, a country of their own. It is on this that they should place their hope. Concentrating upon the gift that awaits them will help them to bear up under the present distresses.

The Hebrews writer expressed the idea when he spoke of the Old Testament faithfuls who fixed their hope on what they expected God to provide for them. He wrote,

Hebrews 11:13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. [11]

The same writer said of Abraham,

Hebrews 11:9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; 10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

4.  The gift of salvation

There is the story of a poor woman in West Africa who had always longed to do something for Jesus. People were bringing gifts such as a bowl of corn to an evangelistic crusade, but this woman was so poor that she had nothing to offer. Yet later in the week she went forward and placed a silver coin upon the altar. Although it was worth only a dollar, at that time it represented to her a large sum. Thinking she might have gotten it dishonestly, the missionary hesitated to receive it. But he didn't want to make a scene, so he said nothing. Following the service, he found the woman and questioned her about the money. She said that because the Lord Jesus had freed her from the bondage of her sins and had given her eternal life, she wanted to serve Him and help make Him known to others. So she had gone to a nearby plantation and had sold herself as a slave for life for $1. That was the gift she laid on the altar that night.[12]  

This poor woman was thinking about the priceless gift to be brought to her on the day of the Lord’s return. That gift is of unspeakable value. It is worth more than everything we have.

Paul wrote to the Philippians,

Philippians 3:7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.

The reward that Christ brings is of immeasurable value. Because of this gift we should order our steps accordingly, living with an attitude of heart and mind that reveals our awareness of the significance of the gift.

 

[1] Scripture References are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 update (1995). The Lockman Foundation.

[2] Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). In Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 332). United Bible Societies. 27.55 ναζώννυμαι τς σφύας τς διανοίας: (an idiom, literally ‘to bind up the loins of the mind’) to prepare oneself for learning and thinking—‘to get one’s mind ready for action, to be ready to learn and to think, to be alert.’ δι ναζωσάμενοι τς σφύας τς διανοίας μν ‘so then, have your minds ready for action’ 1 Peter 1:13.  Ref. Exodus 12:11.

[3] W. Robertson Nicoll, M.A., LLD Ed,, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Vol. Five.The First Epistle Genral of Peter, J.H.A. Hart, M.A., p. 48.

[4] Strong, J. (1995). In Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

[5] Prof. F. Davidson, M.A., D.D., The New Bible Commentary, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1963, p. 1132.

[6] Edersheim, A. (1959). The Temple, its ministry and services as they were at the time of Jesus Christ. (pp. 147–148). James Clarke & Co.

[7] Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, p. 223 – 224.

[8] Craig Bryan Larson, Choice Contemporary Stories and Illustrations, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1998, p. 246.

[9] νήφοντες - means being sober; abstain from wine; but here it is “sober in spirit.” Imagine the spiritual equivalent of drunkenness; stupor, and avoid it.       keep sober – νήφοντες: be self-controlled. Be in control of one’s thoughts.

[10] Michael P. Green, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1990, p. 195,

[11] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update (Heb 11:13–16). (1995). The Lockman Foundation.

[12] Our Daily Bread, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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Does God Know You?

 

 

 

By D. L Stephens

Imposters unveiled

The story is told about a man who thought he knew how to get a great parking space at a New York Yankees baseball game. According to an article that appeared in the Fresno, California Bee, the man pulled his car into the VIP parking lot and casually told the attendant that he was a friend of George Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner was the owner of the Yankees at the time. Unfortunately for the imposter, the person attending the parking lot that day was George Steinbrenner, himself, doing some personal investigation of traffic problems at the stadium.

The surprised imposter looked at Steinbrenner and said, “I Guess I’ve got the wrong parking lot.”

The imposter received an important lesson: the owner knows his friends. And the owner determines who gets into the VIP parking lot.

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that God also knows who His friends are and who the imposters are.[1]

Matthew in his gospel wrote that Jesus said,

Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you;[2] DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ [3]

God’s friends

The word Matthew used in verse 23 was the past tense of “to know,” i.e., to learn to know a person through direct personal experience, implying a continuity of relationship—‘to become acquainted with a person.’[4]

James wrote that Abraham was called the “friend of God.”[5] Abraham’s association with God was close and lengthy. When Abraham was 75 years old God called him while he was living in Ur of Chaldea and told him to leave the land of his father and mother and to enter a land the Lord would show him.[6] God guided Abraham throughout his life until he died at the age of 175.

God spoke with Abraham directly, calling to him by name while Abraham answered, “Here I am.” It was as James wrote,

James 2:23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God.

So, God knew Abraham and Abraham was his friend, but does God know you?

Would God call you His friend?

God knows those who love Him

While people may pretend to know God He is surely aware of their pretenses. They might fool their associates, but they cannot fool God.

There is the story of the crusty, ill-tempered old man who worked in a British publishing firm who finally decided to retire at the age of 70. The firm gave him the usual commemorative dinner. His associates, joyous at the prospect of his leaving, competed with one another in heaping praise upon him. When the time came to respond, the old gentleman got up and said, “I had no idea I was held in such esteem. I shall stay on.”[7]

A person might fool the manager of the company where they work, but they cannot deceive God. He knows. Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

1 Corinthians 8:2 If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; 3 but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.

John the Apostle wrote,

1 John 2:3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

When Lord Peterborough stayed for a season with Fenelon, Archbishop of Cambray, he was so delighted with his piety and virtue, that he exclaimed at parting, “If I stay here any longer, I shall become a Christian in spite of myself.”[8]

Lord Peterborough’s preference was to keep his worldly habits, and so he rejected a more disciplined life—in the moral sense. Piety and virtue were apparently traits he admired from afar, but were not qualities he wanted to adopt for himself. His reaction to seeing piety and virtue in the archbishop raises a question about people who outwardly profess admiration for people of good moral character, but inwardly embrace vice. Would such a person be considered a friend of God? Moreover, if someone has not associated with God in this life why would he expect to associate with Him in the next?

Those who refuse to know the Lord

After Moses fled Egypt and went into the land of Midian to escape the wrath of Pharaoh he came one day to the mountain and he saw a bush burning but was not consumed by the flames. It was the day that God revealed Himself to Moses and sent him back to Egypt to announce God’s deliverance to the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Eventually, Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and demanded that he allow the Israelites to go into the wilderness to worship Jehovah. The book of Exodus describes it this way,

Exodus 5:1 And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.’ ” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go.”

The Pharaoh knew a lot of Egyptian gods, but did not know the Hebrew Lord; that is, he did not know Jehovah. It required a series of convincing miracles to persuade Pharaoh that Jehovah was indeed God, and that the Lord intended that the Israelites be released from bondage.

Pharaoh was stubborn and deceitful, but he paid for his perfidies in the waters of the Red Sea as God destroyed both him and his army.

The character of those who do not know the Lord.

There are others in the annals of the Old Testament who did not know the Lord. The sons of Eli are examples.

In the Old Testament book of 1st Samuel the Bible says,

1 Samuel 2:12 Now the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know the LORD 13 and the custom of the priests with the people. When any man was offering a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand. 14 Then he would thrust it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; all that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. Thus they did in Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. 15 Also, before they burned the fat, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give the priest meat for roasting, as he will not take boiled meat from you, only raw.” 16 If the man said to him, “They must surely burn the fat first, and then take as much as you desire,” then he would say, “No, but you shall give it to me now; and if not, I will take it by force.” 17 Thus the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD, for the men despised the offering of the LORD.

The sons of Eli were supposed to be priests of God, but they were called, literally, “sons of Belial.” Their characters were such that they resembled Satan. Surely, they knew the name of the God they were supposed to serve. Yet, their behavior vividly showed that they cared little for God and his ways. They were wicked men who “did not know the Lord.”

K. A. Matthews wrote,

Hophni and Phinehas [the sons of Eli] ordered the ark brought into the battlefield because they believed it would give them victory. The Lord rejected their superstitious actions, and they died in the battle. When Eli heard the news of the captured ark, he fell over backward and died. The deaths of his family brought the end to Eli’s priesthood.[9]

Brooks, commenting on the outcomes of the lives of these priests, wrote,

One may go forth with a Bible under the arm and a shout upon the lips and yet not have God Himself. Many, who have estranged themselves from the vitals of religion putting their confidence in the rituals of religion, find themselves with only a form of godliness without the power thereof.[10]

Jesus said,

John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

Nominal friendship with God

Several years ago Count Fernand De Rouvroy and Baron Etienne de la Sereville published a book they entitled, The Dincionnaire De La Noblesse Francaise. The authors had spent 15 years researching and 14 months writing the 1214-page book. In the book they listed all the families who were genuine French nobles. The authors’ research showed about 28,000 families in France with noble titles; however, of these there were only 4,057 true noble families with blue blood decreed by the French crown in recognition of their lands or services under the pre-revolution.

Using the information supplied by the book and estimating about 24 persons per family in France, one could calculate a total of 564,632 French citizens who claimed titles of nobility but whose claims were false. Left out are 23,943 families who have tacked titles onto their names for mere recognition.[11] They are nobles in name only.

There are people who want the title of Christian but are unwilling to accept the inward change or to undergo the strictness of Christian service so as to be recognized as such. These are similar to the people who wanted to enjoy the recognition that comes from a title of French nobility, but who were in reality unqualified.

Similarly, there are people who attend church who are only nominal Christians; that is, they are Christians in name only. Christ has little or no influence on the course of their lives. They do not know the Lord.

Paul wrote,

Galatians 4:7 Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. 8 However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?

God knew the Galatians before they knew Him, and His knowing them was the cause of their knowing Him (Eadie). For this knowledge, which holds within it the secret of life eternal, “…how is it that you turn back?” he says to them, as of a process still going on, to weak and worthless things? Weak because they are powerless to redeem, worthless because they can bring no increase in spiritual wealth to those who are heirs of God. You observe the rituals as a means of salvation, but you have neglected the weightier things.[12]

Paul, in Galatians, refers primarily to Christians who formerly practiced the forms and rigors of Judaism, who were converted to Christ, but were attempting to return to the outward observance of Jewish rituals and ordinances as a means of salvation. But the idea may be applied also to nominal Christians who see their part in Christianity as only the observance of the outward forms.

A nominal Christian might scrupulously observe attendance at services, and perform the outward acts of worship, demonstrating an outward compliance with the requirements of devotion, but inwardly have not the true knowledge and experience of Christ as Savior.

Paul described the proper attitude when he wrote,

Philippians 3:7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Knowing Christ leads to true value, which is attainment unto the resurrection from the dead. The Apostle John wrote,

John 17:3 “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

John also wrote in his gospel that the Jewish leaders who confronted the man who had been born blind said of Jesus,

John 9:29   “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.”

They did not know Jesus. Jesus healed on the Sabbath so to them He was a sinner. But in reality He was their Creator and Lawgiver. Yet, He did not conform to their expectations of a Messiah, so they rejected Him. It is difficult to conceive of a more thorough rejection than crucifixion. Not only did the Jewish rulers refuse to acknowledge Jesus—they denied His miracles, rejected His teaching, and were willfully ignorant of His Person. At the last they nailed Him to a cross at a place outside the city where He died in disgrace.

John wrote,

John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.

Jesus once told a parable about a Landowner,

Matthew 21:33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT AND DUG A WINE PRESS IN IT, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey.  34 “When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce.  35 “The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third.  36 “Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them.  37 “But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’  38 “But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’  39 “They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.  40 “Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?”  41 They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.”  42 Jesus *said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures,

    ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED,

    THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone;

    THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD,

    AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’?

 43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.  44 “And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”  45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them.

The Old Testament had admonished the Israelites to know the Lord. Hosea said it best,

    Hosea 6:1  “Come, let us return to the LORD.

         For He has torn us, but He will heal us;

         He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.

               2  “He will revive us after two days;

         He will raise us up on the third day,

         That we may live before Him.

               3  “So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD.

         His going forth is as certain as the dawn;

         And He will come to us like the rain,

         Like the spring rain watering the earth.”

It is as the writer of Hebrews who said of the day of the Messiah,

Hebrews 8:11 “And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, And everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ For all will know Me, From the least to the greatest of them.

The chief priests and Pharisees relied upon their traditions to guide their religious lives. And so it happened that when the Messiah came they did not know Him.

John also wrote concerning Jesus, the Word,

John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Do you know the Lord?

Does the Lord know you?

 

[1] Craig Brian Larson, Choice Contemporary Stories and Illustrations, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1998, p. 142.

[2] Emphasis mine, Author.

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update (Mt 7:21–23). (1995). The Lockman Foundation.

[4] Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). In Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. Vol. 1, p. 327). United Bible Societies. γινώσκωc.

[5] James 2:23 Abraham was called the friend of God.

[6] Genesis 12:5.

[7] Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (p. 937). Bible Communications, Inc.

[8] Elon Foster, 6000 Sermon Illustrations, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids Michigan, 1996., p. 32.

[9] Mathews, K. A. (1998). The Historical Books. In D. S. Dockery (Ed.), Holman concise Bible commentary (p. 111). Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[10] Brooks, K. (2009). Summarized Bible: Complete Summary of the Old Testament (pp. 57–58). Logos Bible Software.

[11] Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (p. 319). Bible Communications, Inc.

[12] Prof. F. Davidson, The New Bible Commentary, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, March 1963. p. 1009.

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Paul before Agrippa and Festus

To please the Jewish authorities, the Roman procurator, Antonius Felix, imprisoned the Apostle Paul at Caesarea for two years. When Porcius Festus succeeded Felix as procurator of Judea in about 60 AD, Festus again heard the charges brought against Paul.

In those days Judea was in a great unrest. As Josephus puts it,

Now, when these were quieted, it happened, as it does in a diseased body, that another part was subject to an inflammation; for a company of deceivers and robbers got together, and persuaded the Jews to revolt, and exhorted them to assert their liberty, inflicting death on those that continued in obedience to the Roman government, and saying, that such as willingly chose slavery ought to be forced from such their desired inclinations; for they parted themselves into different bodies, and lay in wait up and down the country, and plundered the houses of the great men, and slew the men themselves, and set the villages on fire; and this till all Judea was filled with the effects of their madness. And thus the flame was every day more and more blown up, till it came to a direct war. [1]

The land was seething with robbers and deceivers. So the Romans had imprisoned many, and not a few had died. Paul was in no small company to be arrested and prosecuted by the authorities. To make matters worse, the Jews hounded him, coming down from Jerusalem,  bringing many and serious charges against him.”[2]

The Pulpit Commentary says concerning this incident,

Paul said in his own defense, “I have committed no offense either against the law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.”  Thus, the charges against him fell under these three heads: he was the ringleader of an unlawful sect; he had profaned the temple; and he had stirred up insurrection.[3]

Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me on these charges?”

Since Paul was a citizen of Rome he had the right to appeal to the highest tribunal, so he said,  “I appeal to Caesar.”

Festus conferred with his council and then said, “You have appealed to Caesar [Nero][4] to Caesar you shall go.”

Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Berenice arrived at Caesarea, and paid their respects to Festus. The king was King Herod Agrippa II, son of Herod Agrippa I, consequently he was the brother of Drusilla. His father died when he was seventeen, and so the Romans would not entrust all of his father’s dominion to him, but they gave him Chalcis.

Berenice was the sister of Agrippa II, but was thought to be living in an incestuous relation with him. Berenice had been the wife of her uncle, Herod, Prince of Chalcis, but on his death she came to live with her brother. Afterward, she became the wife of Polemo, King of Cicilia, but eventually she returned to Herod Agrippa. Later, she became the mistress of Vespasian and of Titus in succession.[5]

Caesarea was situated on the coast of Palestine about 70 miles from Jerusalem. It was built by Herod the Great, and became the official residence for Herodian kings and Judaean procurators like Festus. The name of the site “kaisariyeh” lingers even today.

While the royal persons were there Festus laid Paul's case before the king. Agrippa had said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.”

“Tomorrow,” Festus said, “you shall hear him.”

Herod Agrippa II was the son of Herod Agrippa I, who had James killed with the sword. He was grandson of Herod Antipas, who had John beheaded. Herod Arippa II was also great grandson of Herod the Great (who murdered the children in Bethlehem, and attempted to murder the Lord himself). He was as they say an expert in Jewish law, and had the right to appoint the Jewish high priest. He had custody of the ceremonial robes the High Priest wore on the Day of Atonement—a power that gave him no small leverage over the Jewish authorities. He helped Caesar destroy his own nation, and went to Rome with Berenice. He died in AD 100, the third year of the reign of Trajan.

The historian Emil Schurer characterizes Agrippa as “…indolent and feeble.” An incident happened that revealed something about his character: when he visited Jerusalem he was accustomed to occupy the house that had formerly been the palace of the Hasmoneans. This building was already large, but he added a tower, so that from the tower he might overlook the citadel and the temple. From there, in his idle hours, he would look down on the sacred proceedings within the temple. The Jews found this obnoxious and they built a higher wall to shut off his view. Agrippa appealed to Festus, but the Jews appealed to Poppea the wife of Nero. The Jews kept their privacy.

Judaism was to Agrippa not a matter of conviction, but only of interest in so far as it provided external ceremony. Schurer says he was interested only in the trifling and the insignificant points of the religion. [6]

Once, when the foundations of the temple began to sink, Agrippa had timbers of great size brought from Lebanon. The plan was to raise the foundation by 20 cubits (about 30 feet). But they never used the wood to improve the temple; rather, the Romans used it for engines of war.

Agrippa allowed the Levites who sang psalms in worship services to wear the linen of the priests—it was their distinctive badge, and it was a great offense against the law.

These were the Berenice and Agrippa II who sat at the trial of the Apostle Paul.

Acts 25:23 So, on the next day when Agrippa came together with Bernice amid great pomp, and entered the auditorium accompanied by the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in.

25:24  And Festus said, “King Agrippa, and all you gentlemen here present with us, you behold this man about whom all the people of the Jews appealed to me, both at Jerusalem and here, loudly declaring that he ought not to live any longer ...”

26:1 and Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.”

Surely Paul knew of the usavory and disreputable lives of the people who sat to hear his defense. Could he not have known about the conflicts Agrippa had with the Jewish priests, or the incestuous relationship Agrippa had with Berenice? If he did, the knowledge did not affect his bearing. He presented himself before the court with dignity and courtesy. He was the true Christian gentleman.

Then Paul proceeded to make his defense,

26:2 ”In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today; 3 especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.

26:4 ”So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; 5 since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.

Paul had been conscientious from the first, a friend of virtue, and a servant of the law. He had not sacrificed his youth to vice. Our impression of him is that Paul was a man of principle.

Paul said to his accusers and judges,

26:6 ”And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; 7 the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. 8 Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?”

Festus had said to Herod that,

“... They simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and a certain dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive.”[7] 

We could ask the same question today of the infidels that occupy not just the offices of power but of the heathen who teach in our schools. “Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?” Why can’t you believe that He creates life?  That He Provides laws?  That He rewards and punishes?

This is the appeal to faith. Alas, a faith that the world does not have, a faith that eluded the tribunal before whom Paul spoke.

You believe so much; why not this?  The Jewish scriptures contained the doctrine of the resurrection.  Job said, “Even after my skin is flayed, yet without my flesh I shall see God.”  Job 19:26;  the Psalmist wrote, “God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave,” Psa. 49:15; Daniel mentions it also.

Do not even the heathen long for the perfection of humanity?  Don’t they feel the moral helplessness of mankind?

Here is the challenge of Christianity to personal acceptance. The credible ought to be accepted, if it comes with the evidence of fact. The real root of unbelief is personal and moral. It is an act of the will.  Paul refers to himself—in a manner of speaking—as, “I was once as you are; but the facts were too much for me.”

The resurrection is not a mere speculative doctrine or unpractical mystery, but is the root of the whole system of Christianity; it stands at the entrance of the new way, into which we are all invited; both as sealing the testimony of Christ, and as opening the new world to our faith and setting our affection on things above.

In spite of the anti-Christian passion that had worked in him in those days when he remained unconverted (which he does not attempt to conceal), he had retained the Pharisaic hope of the resurrection of the dead. The zeal of the Jews, however, against the gospel, tended to cut them off from living connection with the religion of their fathers, and from the blessings of the better covenant that superseded the old. And this zeal of unbelief was blind. What was there incredible in the idea of the resurrection of the dead?  The question may be put to the unbeliever this way: fundamentally, what is there so incredible in any of the beliefs and teachings of Christianity?  What is there so incredible in its objects?

Next, Paul appeals to the facts. He points to the incontrovertible evidence: “Once I was a persecutor; now I am a disciple.”

Paul continued, saying,

26:9  “So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10  “And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. 11  “And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.  12  “While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, 13  at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me.

26:14  “And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’  15  “And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.

He had resisted conviction, so now he can speak with feeling to the skeptics and doubters because he had felt that same stubborn doubt and resistance himself. He had been under an illusion. He had thought it his duty to oppose Jesus.

The Pulpit Commentary says of Paul's conversion on the Damascus Road,

The splendour of that light from heaven shining on his path of blind fury can never be forgotten. And the first beam which breaks through the night of our sin and stubbornness is worthy of eternal recollection and meditation (2 Cor. 4:6). The glory of the once humiliated but now enthroned Saviour surpasses all. With the light comes the voice, which humiliates and raises, rebukes and cheers. The voice echoes the secret voice of his conscience, hitherto, in the intoxication of his passion, half heard or not heard at all. But it is also a voice that is loftier than that of the self-condemning conscience--divine, pardoning, and cheering. 'Stand up!'  God slays and makes alive.[8]

His was the proclamation of a divine mission. Showing that there was reason in his firmness and confidence; he was divinely sent and would be divinely cared for.

Acts 26:16 “But arise, and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; 17 delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in me.”

The state of the world without Christ is grim because it is dominated by Satan, the father of the lie. His world is one of darkness, intellectual and moral, with no exceptions. Satan turned the light of the Greek and Roman worlds by sin into grosser darkness and superstition. Satan’s world is pagan and heathen and in his kingdom of darkness mankind suffers under the rule of evil spirits who empower false teachers to deceive and to destroy. His is the dominion of the sensual, a reign of fear beneath the terror of pain, sickness and death.

But God has condemned sin in the flesh, and Jesus has come to overthrow the kingdom of Satan for it is impossible that such ignorance could remain. This Paul asserts because he had met and had been commissioned by the risen Christ.

Paul said,

Acts 26:19 Consequently, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and even throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. 21 “For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death.  22 And so, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying to both small and great, stating nothing but what the prophets and Moses said was going to take place; 3 that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and the Gentiles.”

It was an effective defense, more than adequate to exonerate him in the eyes of a reasonable man. But what was the effect upon the listeners?

Acts 26:24 And while Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind!  Your great learning is driving you mad!”

Festus represents the cynic, the supposedly superior, worldly view of religion. He is the typical unspiritual man. Luther said, “The world esteems others as prudent so long as they are mad, and as mad when they cease to be mad and become wise.”  The critics had said almost the same thing of the apostles on the Day of Pentecost, for they supposed the apostles to be drunk. And of Christ himself they had said, “He is mad, and has a devil.”[9]

Acts 26:25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. 26 ”For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner.[10]

Agrippa was the man who had desired to look into the inner precincts of the temple and see its services, and had been denied. God had prepared better for him. On this day Paul threw down the wall of secrecy and declared to the king the awful truth of the suffering Messiah and his resurrection.

Simon Greenleaf said about the death and resurrection of Christ, “It would be difficult to select any place or period in the history of nations for the time and scene of a fictitious history or an imposture which would combine so many difficulties for the fabricator to surmount, so many contemporary writers to confront him with, and so many facilities for the detection of falsehood ...”  than the time in which the gospel originated.[11]

Mark Hopkins wrote,

Few persons, perhaps, give due attention to the relative position of the Christian history, which stands upon the very point of the intersection where three distinct lines of history meet—namely, the Jewish, the Grecian, and the Roman. These three bodies of ancient literature, alone, have descended, by an uninterrupted channel of transmission, to modern times; and these three, by a most extraordinary combination of circumstances, were brought together to elucidate the origination of Christianity. If upon the broad field of history there rests the common light of day, upon that spot where a new religion was given to man there shines the intensity of a common brightness. The Jews had their own literature, they had been formerly conquered by the Greeks, and the Greek language was in common use; they were also a Roman province, and during more than a century, in the centre of which stands the ministry of Christ, the affairs of Syria attracted the peculiar attention of the Roman government. No other people of antiquity can be named, upon whose history and sentiments there falls this triple flood of historic light; and upon no other period in the history of this one people do these triple rays so precisely meet as upon the moment the voice of one was heard in the wilderness of Jordan, saying, 'Prepare ye the way of the Lord.'

“Well, then, might an apostle say, 'These things were not done in a corner.'  The time is not run back, like that of Indian legends, to obscure and fabulous ages; nor is it in what are called the dark ages of more modern times. It was a civilized and an enlightened age—a classic age—an age of poets, philosophers, and historians. Nor was it in Mecca—a city little known or visited by the civilized world, and where the people and language were homogenous—(it was not there) that Christ arose. It was in Jerusalem, in Western Asia—the theater of history from the first—and from the bosom of a people with all whose rites and usages we are perfectly acquainted. It was, perhaps, the only place on Earth in which a Roman governor could have called upon three languages to proclaim the accusation and the true character of Christ. For the scripture says,  'And Pilate wrote an inscription also, and put it on the cross. And it was written, “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews.”  Therefore, this inscription many of the Jews read, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek.'[12]

Here, then, was a mixed population, with different prejudices, different interests, speaking different languages, for that day a reading population, in a city to which not only the Jews dwelling in Palestine, but those from distant countries, and proselytes, came up yearly, as the center and seat of the only pure worship of God on earth. And was this the place to select for the production of forged writings?  Or for an imposture of any kind to gather a force that should carry it over the earth?

Indeed, Christianity did not begin “in a corner,” but in the center of its avowed and inveterate enemies, beneath the sovereign power of Imperial Rome, and at the open door of an empty tomb, which the world through all its trickery and cunning has not been able to conceal. Upon the weight of that evidence, that none of them could deny, Paul makes a personal appeal both to the Jews and to the Gentiles.

Paul then turns his attention to Agrippa. “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets?  I know that you do.”  And Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.”

And Paul said, “I would to God, that whether in a short or a long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.”

And what was the difference in the effect on the listeners? I have often wondered what was Agrippa's tone when he replied. Had Paul recognized in him the first stirrings of faith? Does Agrippa show us the example of the awakened conscience? We shall never know this side of eternity. But, in any case, what Agrippa feels he will not avow. He would lead a double life—representing one thing to the world, thinking another of himself. He is the type of a numerous class who would gladly be blessed were it not for the strait gate and the narrow way that they will not tread.

“How near we may be to bliss,” says the Pulpit, “Yet how far from it!  The heart may be touched, the intellect illuminated, the will aroused, the hour acceptable, and yet—some deep stream of passion runs at our feet, which we will not ford; some 'cunning bosom sin' keeps out the good message of repentance and faith that would enter. The reply of Paul to Agrippa's light words again brings out a sharp contrast. Better be the “prisoner of Jesus Christ” than the prisoner of passion (or anything else). Better the regal freedom of the redeemed man's soul, in poverty and in chains, than the splendor of the potentate enslaved by lust and by the fear of men! 

In the audience-chamber we had thus the most diverse attitudes of mind towards Christianity represented. Paul, in the full inspiration of faith and life in the Son of God; Agrippa, convinced but not converted; Berenice, probably obstinate, thinking on her incestuous relationship with Agrippa; Festus, hardened in cynicism. Some wanting little, others much, to make them Christians.

But there is one question that has to be asked, one question that has to be considered and answered: what is the practical difference between being almost saved and being quite condemned?  What is it?  Can you tell me?  No? 

Then, I'll tell you. None. None! There is no practical difference.

Acts 26:30 The king stood up and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them…

And so, the sermon ended, the audience dispersed. Everyone went to his own place; and everyone remembered that the Savior has died, but he remembered his excuses as well.

Righteousness, self-control, judgment to come. These are the issues that faced the ones who heard Paul’s sermon.

Josephus records some of the deeds of Porcius Festus.[13] He also tells of the death of Festus. He wrote the following,

“And Caesar [Nero], upon hearing of the death of Festus, sent Albinus to Judea as procurator ...”

Festus lived about 2 years after coming to Palestine. How long he lived after he heard Paul’s sermon is hard to say. It is not likely that he was ever converted by what he heard.

Sometimes a person needs to think about a lesson before he is converted by it. In an address delivered at a church in Pittsburgh in 1884, the speaker told of a man named Luke Short, who died in New England at the age of 116. When he was over a century old, Luke Short was converted by a sermon he had heard a hundred years before in England. The text -- “If any one does not love the Lord, let him be accursed.”[14] --and he remembered it.

There is always hope.

As we hear today the voice that spoke 2000 years ago, let us hope and pray that the message he brings to us shall not be without profit, and not be without inspiration, and not be without good result.

Jesus Christ was born of a virgin. He lived without sin under the Law of Moses. He was crucified for claiming to be the Son of God, the Messiah. He arose from the dead. And so, being highly exalted, he offers pardon to each and every one who would reach out and take it.

Don't give the excuse of Agrippa.

 

 

 

[1] Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1987). The works of Josephus: Complete and unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson.

[2] Acts 25:7.

[3] H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Excell, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 18 Acts and Romans vol. 2, p. 251, vs.8.

[4] Nero was Caesar from AD 54-68.

[5] Ibid., The Pulpit Commentary, p. 251.

[6] E. Schurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, 1st Div. , Vol. II, p. 98.

[7] Acts 25:19.

 

[8] A. C. Hervey (Ed. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Excell), The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 18, Acts and Romans, p. 275.

[9] John  10:20.

[10] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (Ac 26:25–26). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[11] I. H. Linton, A Lawyer Examines the Bible, p. 56.

[12]  John 19:19-20.

 

[13] Antiquities of the Jews, Book xx, Chap. 8, sect. 9 & 10.

[14] 1 Cor. 16:22.

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