Non-Conversions in the Book of Acts
Acts 26:27-29 “‘King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.‘And Agrippa said to Paul, ‘In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?’ And Paul said, ‘Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.'”
The book of Acts has been called a lot of things. It has been given a lot of themes, such as: “the acts of the apostles,” “the growth and conversions of the first century church,” and “the recording of the Holy Spirit’s work in the first century.” All of these themes are worthy and true. However, the book of Acts also emphasizes the negativity that the church experienced through persecution, mockery, and, more specifically, rejection. This rejection is what topic we will focus on. We will discuss the non-conversion stories with the experiences of Stephen, Felix, and the people of Athens.
Stephen was one of the deacons who were chosen in Acts 6 to be a minister to the widows. He was full of zeal, good works, and the Spirit. Members of the synagogues were not fond of him. They tried to argue with him, but they could not win because he was full of wisdom from the Spirit. They eventually became frustrated and had men accuse him of blasphemy against Moses and God. They brought him to the Sanhedrin (a supreme council of the Jew’s religious rulers) saying that he hates the Lord’s law and the temple. When asked if these things were true, he told them their history from the promise of Abraham, to Moses and his revelation of a prophet greater than he, to the fact of God declaring that earth is His footstool and Heaven is His home. He then makes what seems to be a reference to Deuteronomy 31:27, calling them stiff-necked, and reminding them that they persecute all the prophets that come to help them. They killed Jesus, the Christ. They were angered when Stephen said that he saw Jesus at the right hand of God. They stoned him, and as they did, he, like Jesus, asked the Lord to forgive them and to receive his spirit. They were unwilling to convert because they were prideful and would not listen. Their schemes were too corrupt.
In Acts 24, there had been a plot to kill Paul. They had to bring him before various rulers because he was a Roman citizen and was given the privilege of a fair trial. The high priest, the Sanhedrin, and others brought him before Felix, the governor of Caesarea. He allowed them to speak their accusations to him and then he allowed Paul to reply. Paul denies their charges and claims that they cannot prove such accusations. He goes on to say that he is, however, from the group that they call a “sect” from Nazareth. Felix knew already about this sect, and declared that Paul was free to dwell in the city until further notice. Then he will make a decision about his case. Felix’s wife was a Jew, so Paul was allowed to speak his beliefs before them. Felix became afraid, and let Paul dwell in the city once more. Two years passed and Felix was no longer in office, but kept Paul in prison because he didn’t want to anger the Jews. Felix did not allow himself to be converted because he only listened to Paul for the sake of a bribe and because his wife was a Jew.
At the end of Acts 17, Paul is walking in Athens, noticing all of their alters and idols. So when the philosophers overheard Paul speaking in the synagogues and the market places about Jesus, they asked him to reveal to them his message. He talks about their alter to the unknown god. He said that he knew this unknown god, and that this god is the one that he preaches of. He tells them that the one and true God of heaven and earth is not and idol, but a spiritual and supreme being. He is a God that seeks to have a relationship with his offspring. Paul tells them that even their own poets talk about this God. When Paul mentions the resurrection, some listen, some want to know more, and some mock. The ones who mocked did not convert because they were controlled by the ideas of their culture. However, the ones who truly sought after God, received him, and were converted to him. The choice is ours! – Jesse