Have you ever had the chance to talk with someone famous? Did you feel nervous? Star struck? Sweaty and anxious?
Christians reading this post, do you get excited when you hear that famous people become Christians? Or do you get excited when you hear that a president or star athlete or other celebrity is already a Christian? I have felt that sense of excitement within me many times in the past. Why? Because I have hopes that the famous person in question could help many other people become Christians too. It’s rather opportunistic, isn’t it? Of course, it is not wrong to want anyone to become a follower of Jesus, because we Christians believe that following Jesus is what Jesus called, “the way, the truth and the life.” We want everyone to experience that abundant life. But do we get starstruck by famous people? Do we have too much hope and expectation for their potential influence? What is the right perspective Christians should have about reaching famous people? In this next post in our five-part series on Acts 24-26, I believe Paul is a great example for how to approach famous and influential people.
As we saw in the previous post on Acts 24-26, Paul’s conversations with the two Roman governors and one King focused on the most important Christian topic, the resurrection of Jesus. In Acts 26, Paul told his story to Governor Festus and King Agrippa. When he mentioned the resurrection, Festus interrupted him, calling Paul insane. After assuring them of his sanity and reasonableness, Paul continues, now addressing Agrippa, “The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”
Paul’s comments to Agrippa are a bit vague. What is he talking about, that these things were not done in a corner? Remember that Festus is new to the nation of Israel. He had only just arrived to take over for the previous Roman governor, Felix, a few days before Paul’s speech in chapter 26. But King Agrippa has been around for a long time.
We know from historians that Agrippa was 17 years old when his father Herod Agrippa I died. We met the father, Herod Agrippa I, in Acts chapter 12 when God broke Peter out of prison. There we talked a bit about the many King Herods in the Bible. Agrippa I, the king who put Peter in prison, had an uncle who was the Herod that put Jesus on trial. Now Agrippa I’s son, Agrippa II, is here listening to Paul talk about Jesus. That means Agrippa II was very possibly alive when Jesus was alive. Paul would have known all those details about the kings and when they were alive, as that kind of thing is common knowledge, just as most of us can recite from memory who was president of our country, and what years they were in office, going back to the 1960s. Wait…can you?
So Paul is saying to Agrippa, “You are aware of this. This is not insane. This happened.” In other words, Paul is saying, “Okay, Festus, I get it that resurrection sounds insane, but Agrippa was here when it happened, and he can vouch for it.” In the book of Acts, the author, Luke, never tells us what Agrippa’s personal beliefs are regarding the resurrection of Jesus. But Paul seems to think that Agrippa might have good cause to admit that the resurrection of Jesus really happened. And if Agrippa can admit that, he is not far from the Kingdom.
In fact, Paul looks directly at Agrippa and says, “Do you believe in the prophets? I know you do.” Whew. That is a bold statement from Paul, in which Paul is basically trying to get Agrippa to believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets because Jesus rose from the dead.
At that moment, Agrippa has a choice. Whether or not he believes the resurrection of Jesus happened or not, he could have a discussion with Paul about the events. If I’m Paul right then, inwardly I think I would be brimming with nervous excitement. I would be thinking, “I might be able help a king become a Christian!” But should I be thinking like that?
Sadly, just like that, the moment passes, as Agrippa chooses not to engage Paul in a discussion. I wonder if Agrippa was feeling embarrassment, given that Festus, the new Roman governor, is right there too. Agrippa probably wants to impress Festus, so Agrippa doesn’t give Paul any ground. Remember, Festus has just called Paul insane. Imagine how emotionally and relationally difficult it would be for Agrippa to throw his lot in with Paul, just after this new powerful Roman governor, Festus, called Paul insane. The peer pressure on Agrippa was probably intense. So Agrippa plays it off. I can imagine him doing an eye roll to Festus, “Can you believe this Paul guy, thinking he is going to convert me? Yeah, right.” Yes, adults face loads of peer pressure too, and we often give in to it! Even powerful kings and leaders can succumb to peer pressure.
Paul seems unfazed by the peer pressure, though. Paul just keeps going, saying that he is praying that all those listening would become followers of Jesus like himself. He seems not to be in awe of the big name leaders in the room, like Agrippa seems to have been of Festus, even though Agrippa is also a big name leader!
Interestingly, twice Paul has mentioned something that shows he is aware that though he has an audience of elites, he is not star struck by them. First in Acts 26:22, he mentions his desire to testify to small and great alike. Here in verse 26:29, he says he is praying for not only the king, but for everyone listening to him. Of course we don’t know who in the audience that day. In addition to the elites, the governor, the king, and their wives, the audience likely included aides and assistants and soldiers, some of whom would not have been elite. Paul wants all to be saved, because people are people, whether big or small. He is trying to reach all, and it was the resurrection that was central to his mission and message.
In our final post on Acts 24-26, tomorrow, we’ll discuss the significance of the resurrection of Jesus in our day.