Two Cases in Contrast|
Let us consider two occasions when the gospel of Christ was preached. One is recorded in Acts 8:26-39, and the other is recorded in Acts 26. In each case, the same basic message was presented with the same basic evidence, but the receptions of that message were much different.
In the first case, Philip the evangelist was sent by the Lord to meet an Ethiopian eunuch who was returning from Jerusalem where he worshipped. As Philip found him, he was reading aloud from the prophet Isaiah, specifically Isaiah 53:7-8. Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The man replied, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?”
After being invited into the chariot, the Bible says, “And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.” It is evident from the Ethiopian’s reaction that Philip included the necessity of baptism in the name of Jesus, for upon seeing water the Ethiopian said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” Philip replied, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” Upon Philip’s word, the Ethiopian boldly confessed, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Following this, Philip baptized him.
In the second case, the apostle Paul received a hearing before King Agrippa at Caesarea to present an explanation for his imprisonment and his appeal to Caesar. Festus, the Judean governor, was also present for the hearing, for he had granted Paul’s appeal. Paul acknowledged that Agrippa was “an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews,” so Agrippa had some understanding of the things that Paul would say.
Although the setting was quite different, the essential message that Paul preached before Agrippa and Festus was the same as the one preached by Philip to the Ethiopian. Paul said, “I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; 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 to the Gentiles.”
However, the reactions of Agrippa and Festus were vastly different than that of the Ethiopian. First of all, Festus cried out, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.” The idea of a crucified Savior being raised from the dead was insanity in the mind of Festus. Yet Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth.” Then, Paul turned his attention to Agrippa, who was more knowledgeable about these things than Festus. Paul said, “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.” At last, Paul addressed Agrippa directly, asking, “King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.” To this, Agrippa replied, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.”
In both cases, the word of God written in the Old Testament and the events involved in the death and resurrection of Jesus were the basis of the message that was preached. Philip began with Isaiah and possibly cited other Scriptures to preach Jesus to the Ethiopian. Paul referred to the Prophets and Moses to declare the resurrection of Christ. Both cases were strong, irrefutable presentations of the gospel of Christ.
Yet the receptions of this message were completely different. The Ethiopian believed with all of his heart and obeyed the gospel at his first opportunity. Conversely, Festus strongly rejected the notion of a risen Savior and declared that Paul was mad. Somewhere between these two reactions, Agrippa offered a lukewarm, non-committing affirmation of the message Paul had preached.
In these three men – the Ethiopian, Festus, and Agrippa – we see three basic, common receptions of the gospel of Christ. Some believe the gospel and obey it like the Ethiopian. To them, it is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16; 1Cor. 1:18). Others are like Festus, who utterly reject the gospel and ridicule it. To them, it is foolishness, and they perish (1Cor. 1:18). Still others are like Agrippa, who do not reject the gospel, but they do not accept it either. They remain suspended between their love of the world and their knowledge of the truth, almost persuaded to become Christians. Until they become fully persuaded, they remain lost in their sins.
Dear reader, the same message of Christ’s gospel is before you today. How will you receive it? Will you believe it? Will you explicitly reject it? Will you do nothing at all? The choice is yours!
Stacey E. Durham
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