Acts 26:28–29 (NASB95)
28 Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” 29 And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.”
The passage that I have quoted today contains Paul’s witness to a Jewish king named Agrippa. Two years prior to this exchange, Paul had been unjustly imprisoned and had remained in Roman custody that entire time, awaiting a trial, awaiting his freedom. At the end of those two years, however, the Roman Governor Festus was prepared to deliver Paul into the hands of his enemies; consequently, Paul used his right as a Roman citizen to appeal for justice to Caesar in Rome; his appeal was granted.
Shortly after he made his appeal, King Agrippa arrived and Festus decided to use Agrippa to help him explain to Caesar why Paul was being sent to Rome. Festus permitted Paul to explain why he was in prison; Paul, as was his custom, used the opportunity to preach about Christ. He wanted to persuade Agrippa to become a Christian. So Paul highlighted the way Jesus had fulfilled all the promises that God had made throughout the Jewish Scriptures – “that the Christ [God’s chosen Ruler of the world] would suffer [and die], that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (26:23). Jesus is proof of God’s intention to reconcile human beings with Himself.
This may seem an unusual passage for a memorial service. But it is fitting for this reason: even as Paul had suffered in prison for about two years, our beloved brother Tom suffered in a prison of sickness these past two years. Tom would not have chosen that trial for himself any more than Paul would have chosen to be imprisoned. Far better to be free, far better to be well, and able to do what he was accustomed to doing.
But Tom knew, even as Paul did, that his Heavenly Father had some purpose for his suffering. Consequently, Tom used his suffering to speak to others about Christ. Tom’s faith was always strong – as the testimonies we have heard illustrate. But these last couple years Tom’s faith was even deeper; his perception of eternal realities clearer; and his understanding of the fragility of life keener. Though Tom suffered much in his sickness, he suffered in faith. When I would meet with Tom to encourage him, I would regularly go away encouraged. For he would remind me of God’s promises, remind me of God’s purposes, and remind me of God’s lovingkindness. Perhaps Tom did the same with you?
I was reminded of Agrippa’s encounter with Paul as I spoke with Connie and the children this week. They told me of a conversation that Tom had with an unbelieving friend in which he spoke of Christ and repeated Paul’s words in our text: I would wish to God…[that you] might become such as I am, except for this cancer. Tom would want all to know the hope of being reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ and having hope even in the face of suffering and death.
So I am here to repeat Tom’s urgent appeal; I am here to remind you of the fragility of life; I am here to tell you that you will die and face your Creator and your Judge; and the only way to look forward to that moment in hope, as Tom did, is if you have been reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. Your sins – your failure to worship your Creator as you ought, your acts of selfishness and spite, your mistreatment of your spouse, your unjust divorce, your anger and bitterness, your lust for money, for sex, for control, for youth – your sins have separated you from God; if you should die and stand before your Creator with those sins between you and Him, you will perish eternally.
But hear the Good News: God has been gracious to you – He has offered clear and irrefutable evidence of His existence and of His determination to reconcile you to Himself. Jesus’ death and resurrection are that proof – proof that God has provided a sacrifice to forgive your sins and reconcile you to Himself and proof that death is no longer a cause of hopelessness for those who believe in Jesus. So I am here to plead with you: be reconciled to God before it is too late. Turn from your sin and turn in faith to Jesus Christ. Listen to the words of Sacred Scripture:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)
These words remind us that our condition as sinful human beings is so dire that there is no way to deal with our sin and be reconciled to God other than through Jesus; He is the only sacrifice for sins. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). These are the only two options. Believe in Jesus or face the judgment of God.
Despite God’s gracious proof of His existence and His purpose to reconcile us to Himself, many continue to resist Him and refuse to believe in Jesus. The Scriptures say again:
This is the [sober truth], that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God… (John 3:19-21)
So what of you? Are you willing to humble yourself before your Creator? Are you willing to come to the light and have your deeds exposed now? Or will you try to hide and hope that the day of death will not overtake you? Tom’s death illustrates that that hope is vain. It is appointed unto all men to die once and after this to face the judgment. So hear Paul’s wish once again: “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.” Let us pray.