Today’s Reading: Acts 25
There are two ways to view yourself—from a photo or in a mirror. Photos are how we wished we looked. Mirrors are how we really look. One is fantasy, the other reality. We can fix our hair and our make-up for a photograph. But when we look into a mirror, that is the real us staring back. Until we see and acknowledge our real selves, we never understand our need for God. In other words, if our lives are constantly about over-inflating ourselves, we undervalue our need for a Savior.
In today’s reading, we find a very overrated moment. It’s men seeing their photo and not looking into the mirror.
Paul was on trial and about to go to Rome, but not without some overrated people showing up to see the “little man” who was changing the region with the message of Jesus. Look at this one verse in particular. The contrast of people is amazing: “On the next day when Agrippa came together with Bernice amid great pomp, and entered the auditorium accompanied by the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in” (Acts 25:23).
In this scene, we have the king of Judea, Agrippa, his wife, Bernice, and Festus, the procurator of Judea. There were the commanders and the prominent men of the city all in this one verse. But there was one other person there also.
In the midst of all this pomp, there was also one man in chains who was changing the world—the apostle Paul. All of those other people looked at their photos and decided how great they were. Paul looked into a mirror and realized what a great sinner he was. And the latter man changed a planet.
It says they came “amid great pomp.” An interesting tidbit: Pomp is the Greek word phantasia, from which we get fantasy. The photo was fantasy.
In the Daily Study Bible, William Barclay described the fantasy like this:
There is no more dramatic scene in all the New Testament. It was with splendour that Agrippa and Bernice had come. They would have worn their purple robes of royalty and the gold circlet of the crown on their brows. Doubtless Festus had donned the scarlet robe which a governor wore on state occasions. Close at hand there must have stood Agrippa’s court, and also in attendance were the most influential figures of the Jews. Close by Festus there would stand the captains in command of the five cohorts which were stationed at Caesarea; and in the background there would be a solid formation of the tall Roman legionaries on ceremonial guard. Into such a scene came Paul, the little Jewish tent-maker, with his hands in chains; and yet, from the moment he speaks, it is Paul who holds the stage.
Think of the contrast of having a tentmaker in chains and a king in purple, and people forgetting that the man in chains was really the man in authority in that room.
This story made me think about Mother Teresa’s speech at the Washington, D.C. prayer breakfast on February 3, 1994. Three thousand people attended the event, mostly DC officials. The president and first lady, Bill and Hillary Clinton, were there, along with the vice president and second lady, Al and Tipper Gore.
Mother Teresa stood to speak, and the room’s atmosphere became intensely uncomfortable when she started by saying, “I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because Jesus said, ‘If you receive a little child, you receive me.’ So every abortion is the denial of receiving Jesus, the neglect of receiving Jesus.”
Journalist Peggy Noonan recounted the scene:
Silence. Cool deep silence in the cool round cavern for just about 1.3 seconds. And then applause started on the right hand side of the room, and spread, and deepened, and now the room was swept with people applauding, and they would not stop for what I believe was for five or six minutes.
But not everyone applauded. The president and the first lady, seated within a few feet of Mother Teresa on the dais, were not applauding. Nor were the vice president and Mrs. Gore. They looked like seated statues at Madame Tussaud’s. They glistened in the lights and moved not a muscle, looking at the speaker in a determinedly semi-pleasant way.
Mother Teresa was not part of the Washington elite, but she had a message. She didn’t talk about airy, politically correct issues that everyone could get behind. Instead, she dug in and spoke of God-honoring ways to combat abortion. “It was all so unhappily unadorned, explicit, impolitic,” Noonan continues. “Mother Teresa seemed neither to notice nor to care. She finished her speech to a standing ovation and left as she had entered, silently, through a parted curtain, in a flash of blue and white. . . . She could do this, of course, because she had a natural and unknown authority.”
I love that story and the images it evokes. It looks like Acts 25 between three thousand Agrippas and a little apostle named Paul. Imagine it, a tiny slightly slumped-over woman standing on a box to allow her to be seen over the lectern and addressing some of the most powerful men and women in the world. And packed into that aging frame was enough authority to lay low anyone who dared raise a finger in opposition. You tell me who was the most powerful person in that banquet hall that day? And you tell me who was overrated?
Such is the power of truth when spoken with authority. It silences all the critics.