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The Jesus Dilemma

Acts 25:18-22
'When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus whom Paul claimed was alive. I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges. But when Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor's decision, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.' Then Agrippa said to Festus, 'I would like to hear this man myself.'He replied, 'Tomorrow you will hear him.' (NIVUK)

Paul was a problem for the new Roman Governor, Festus. What should he do with the Christian? Paul's accusers had produced no evidence to support any criminal charge. But the apostle was deeply hated by the religious establishment: releasing him would probably lose the cooperation of the national leaders. Also, Paul had appealed to be tried before Caesar, but how could he be sent without a criminal charge? So Festus discussed the case with Herod Agrippa II, the twenty-five-year-old hereditary king of northern Israel (Acts 25:13-15).

King Agrippa had his own problems: he had an incestuous relationship with his sister Bernice. Three generations of his family had persecuted Jesus and the church. His great grandfather, Herod the Great, murdered the young boys in Bethlehem while hoping to exterminate Jesus (Matthew 2:16). His great uncle, Herod Antipas, executed John the Baptist (Matthew 14:3-12) and tried Jesus along with Pilate (Luke 23:8-12). His father, Herod Agrippa I, executed the Apostle James and imprisoned Peter (Acts 12:1-4). Now Agrippa II said he wanted to meet Paul: the text implies that, for some time, he had wanted to understand more about Jesus.

Festus correctly summed up the case: Paul had not offended Roman law but had deeply offended the religious leaders in Israel by claiming that Jesus was alive. The Romans and Jews had conspired to execute Jesus, and neither wanted to admit that they had made the wrong decision or that God was against them. But the church was growing all over the Empire: Paul's preaching about Jesus was attracting a huge variety of people from different religions and cultures. Agrippa rightly thought that Jesus was remarkably special. So Festus invited Agrippa to hear Paul the next day.

Although many people refuse to honour Jesus, and even persecute His church, Jesus and His people never go away. However badly they are treated, nothing can make the church die and nobody can remove the potency of the gospel. The living Jesus is a dilemma for atheists and agnostics, for secularists and religionists. There is power in the gospel which cannot be put out by persecution. Christ's eternal life is a problem for sinful power-seekers until they submit to Him, but when they do they are forgiven and welcomed by a pure love which will never let them go. It is the dilemma for your non-Christian friends and colleagues, and yet they should be intrigued by your life. Tell them the same gospel; it has the same power today (www.crosscheck.org.uk).

Father God. Thank You that Jesus is alive today. Forgive me when I am frightened by the threats of those who hate King Jesus and His church; people who get into ever bigger problems because they resist His loving authority. Please help me to worship You by living a Christ-filled life, confidently explaining the gospel to those who are crushed by the weight of their own proud rebellion against Jesus. In His Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams