A Little History
Acts 25:13 And after some days king Agrippa and Bernice came unto Caesarea to greet Festus.
Bernice was the sister of King Agrippa (Herod Agrippa II), who was the son of Herod Agrippa I, and the great grandson of Herod the Great. Bernice had been married to Herod, king of Chalcis, her paternal uncle. After his death, she told Polemon, king of Pontus and Cilicia, that she would marry him if he would be circumcised. He complied, and she married him, but she did not stay with him long. When she left him, she moved in with her brother and lived incestuously with him, according to both Josephus and Juvenal. She later became mistress to Titus Vespasian, who grew deeply in love with her and wished to make her his empress, but the Roman citizens dissented, so the marriage was not pursued.
A Grand Appearance
Acts 25:23 And the next day, when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp, and was entered into the place of hearing, with the chief captains, and principal men of the city, at Festus’ commandment Paul was brought forth.
Bernice and Agrippa entered the room “with great pomp.” The Greek word behind pomp is fantasia, and it means, “a vain show; fantasy.” Although this is the only occurrence of this word in the Bible, it was used frequently in medical writings to refer to the outward appearance of diseases. This reminds me of Jesus’ teaching to the religious leaders of His day.
Matthew 23:27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like unto whitened sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
Bernice made a grand appearance beside her brother. She looked beautiful on the outside, but her heart was corrupt to the core. On the inside, she was like a tomb, full of death and decay and stench. This is an ugly picture, but you know something? God loved her. In all her licentiousness and immorality, God loved this woman incredibly much. How do I know? Well, right here in Acts 25 and 26, she is seated in the presence of the Apostle Paul, and she gets to hear firsthand how God redeemed his soul from death and turned his life around. Paul had once been as wicked as Bernice. He was not morally corrupt, but he was responsible for sentencing many a Christian to death for their faith. God loved him too, and reached out to him, and opened his eyes to the truth. Now Paul stands before his audience a changed man, and he tells them how they too can experience this transformation—not a whitewashing on the outside, but purification on the inside. Did they listen? Did Bernice accept the forgiveness and love God offered her? Let’s see….
Acts 26:27-32 [Paul speaking] “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Almost you persuade me to be a Christian.” And Paul said, “I would to God, that not only you, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.” And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them; and when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, “This man does nothing worthy of death or of bonds.” Then said Agrippa to Festus, “This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
This is the last mention of Bernice in the Bible, and the historians do not tell of any change in her character, so we may assume that she, like her brother, concluded, “Almost you persuade me to be a Christian.” Almost. But almost is not enough. When it comes to Christ, there are only two choices: accept Him, or reject Him.
A Great Mistake
Suppose you are stranded in the desert with no water. Your body is weak from dehydration, your skin is blistering and cracked from the heat of the sun, your mouth is as dry as the sand upon which you lie, and you are certain that if you don’t get water in the next few minutes, you will die. Just then someone comes along with a large canteen. You hear the sloshing inside the bottle as the man turns the cap off and tells you he has cool refreshing water for you. All you have to do is drink. It sounds good, it looks good, and the man appears so kind as he leans over you and shields your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays. You look at him and say, “Almost you persuade me to take a drink.” He holds the bottle to your pursed lips, but he cannot force you to partake of the life-giving water. A moment later, and you are gone.
How sad would it be to reject the one thing that could save your life in such a desperate situation. And yet people do this all the time with their eternal souls. They are too busy with this life to give consideration to the next. Perhaps they fear the next life, and so they turn their eyes away from it and pretend it does not exist. Perhaps they enjoy this life too much and fear that to become a Christian means to give up everything that is fun. (It isn’t true, by the way. You just learn a new definition of fun.) But perhaps the hardest concept to grasp is those folks who live in misery from day to day and still will not come to Jesus and let Him give them joy. They are dead men walking, but Jesus wants to give them abundant life. Jesus said,
John 10:10 “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
What about you? Do you have this abundant life? Or are you a white-washed sepulcher? For eleven years I white-washed my exterior, until God showed me why I still felt dead on the inside—because I was dead on the inside. He gave me a new heart, forgave all my sins, and wrote my name in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Now Jesus is preparing a place for me in heaven, where one day I will join Him, to worship and praise Him for all eternity, because I cannot thank Him enough for all He has done for me. Don’t be like Bernice. Don’t be almost persuaded. God loves you, and He extends His offer of salvation to you, just as He did to her.
Acts 2:21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Next week: Priscilla
Photo taken in Montgomery, Alabama, 2017