In chapter 21 of Acts, Luke describes how some Jews from Ephesus tried to kill Paul in the Temple. And in chapter 25, even after two years of imprisonment, the Jewish leaders are still hounding him and doing their utmost to get rid of him. These men have all been raised in the Jewish faith; they are earnest worshippers of God, and they know the Scriptures like the backs of their hands. And yet spiritually they are in darkness: they have tunnel vision and closed minds. They really, truly believe they are serving God; but in fact they are agents of Satan, trying to obstruct and destroy God’s work.
Now they are an extreme case – but it shows that you can know a lot about God without actually knowing God, and that being ‘religious’ is not the same as being a citizen of His Kingdom. And this kind of religion often evolves into something ugly and poisonous.
Paul had once been one of them – and he’s still ‘one of them’ in the sense that he still considers himself to be a Jew. As he said to Agrippa back in verse 6, “it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today.” He believes Christianity to be the fulfilment of the Jewish hope, not something totally alien. But the Jews are put off by the idea of a crucified Messiah. As Paul says (I Corinthians 1:21-25), they are offended by the apparent weakness of the cross.
Gentiles, on the other hand, are put off by the foolishness of the cross. To them, it doesn’t seem to make any sense! Festus’ reaction is a good example of this. Despite being a highly educated ‘man of the world’, he has heard nothing like this before. He’s a rationalist, and his worldview has no place for a physical resurrection: dead people just don’t come back to life! So he can only assume that Paul has gone completely mad. If Festus were to become a Christian, all his friends and family would think that he had gone mad!
Paul realises that he isn’t getting anywhere with Festus, so he makes a personal appeal to Agrippa. He does this respectfully, but at the same time he’s not afraid to lay down a challenge. Agrippa is the nearest thing to a Jewish king – but will he submit to the King of kings? Will he accept Christ’s authority over his private life (and his immoral behaviour)? The cost to him will be very high.
Agrippa is challenged – but not persuaded. He doesn’t want to give a direct answer in the public courtroom, so he responds evasively with a counter-question. Paul accepts this politely, but he still promotes the Gospel. He would like everyone there in the room with him to become a Christian. He wants everyone in the world to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord.