Almost Persuaded
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Jer 16:14 "Therefore behold, the days are coming," says the LORD, "that it shall no more be said, 'The LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,'
 15 "but, 'The LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north and from all the lands where He had driven them.' For I will bring them back into their land which I gave to their fathers.
 16 "Behold, I will send for many fishermen," says the LORD, "and they shall fish them; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks.
 17 "For My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from My face, nor is their iniquity hidden from My eyes.
 18 "And first I will repay double for their iniquity and their sin, because they have defiled My land; they have filled My inheritance with the carcasses of their detestable and abominable idols."
 19 O LORD, my strength and my fortress, My refuge in the day of affliction, The Gentiles shall come to You From the ends of the earth and say, "Surely our fathers have inherited lies, Worthlessness and unprofitable things."
 20 Will a man make gods for himself, Which are not gods?
 21 "Therefore behold, I will this once cause them to know, I will cause them to know My hand and My might; And they shall know that My name is the LORD.

 Ac 26:1 Then Agrippa said to Paul, "You are permitted to speak for yourself." So Paul stretched out his hand and answered for himself:
 2 "I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused by the Jews,
 3 "especially because you are expert in all customs and questions which have to do with the Jews. Therefore I beg you to hear me patiently.
 4 "My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know.
 5 "They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
 6 "And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers.
 7 "To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope's sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews.
 8 "Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?
 9 "Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
 10 "This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.
 11 "And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
 12 "While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,

 13 "at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me.
 14 "And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'
 15 "So I said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
 16 'But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.
 17 'I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, (Just as Jeremiah had prophesied)
 18 'to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.'

 Mt 16:13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?"
 14 So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
 15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
 16 Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
 17 Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
 18 "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
 19 "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
 20 Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.

There was a time, when God was only known as the God who delivered the Jews from the powerful Egyptians. That was his reputation among men. In fact, if God would’ve asked the two spies that Joshua sent to Jericho the same question that Jesus asked His disciples in our gospel lesson, the conversation might have gone something like this:

“Who do men say that I am?” They would’ve relayed Rahab’s response:

 Jos 2:10 "For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.
 11 "And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.
 We read of this “reputation” of the God of the Israelites throughout the Old Testament, but Jeremiah says here in v15, that a time is coming when God will be known for much more than delivering the Israelites from Egypt in a miraculous way.

He will be known also as the God who gathered up His backslidden people and delivered them from their 70 year captivity at the hands of the Babylonians and the Persians. They had been scattered to the four winds, but He brought a remnant back to the Promised Land.

And so in these two verses from Jeremiah, we have a picture of a God who is able to deliver us from our original sin....symbolized by the 400 year enslavement to the Egyptians, where the Jews were born into slavery, they had no choice in the matter, just as we are conceived in sin, and a God who is able to call the backslidden back from the effects of a lifetime (70 years) of enslavement to sin!

Not only would He do it for His “chosen people,” but in so doing, He would give His chosen people a prophetic look at His plan to call back all the nations into a personal relationship with Him.

Just as God delivered the Jews from captivity to original sin in Egypt, and personal rebellion and disbelief in Babylon, He would call all the nations who rebelled against Him at the Tower of Babel (the Gentiles) back into His saving grace.

And in an incredible prophecy delivered 600 years before Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Paul into the ministry of deliverance and reconciliation, He says through Jeremiah:

 Jer 16:16 "Behold, I will send for many fishermen," says the LORD, "and they shall fish them; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks.

What did Jesus say when He invited the fishermen, Peter and Andrew and John and James to “follow Him?” He said in Mark 1:17, “Come after Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”  (NKJV)

Oh, what a trustworthy Book, we have in the Bible!

After the initial wave of fishermen, God raised up all manner of hunters to bring the Gospel to the dispersed Gentile world. These are the missionaries of the church who have been with us since the Apostle Paul, going wherever and whenever to bring the Gospel to those who have been lost since the rebellion at Babel.

They literally have gone to every mountain, every hill, every hole in every known rock of this planet to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ. At this point in history, (2006)  the hunters have either finished the job or are very close to it, the gospel has been proclaimed worldwide, and we should all have a certain sense of urgency about this hunt because as Jesus said:
 Mt 24:14 "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.
 (NKJV), .

The end truly is near. Are you ready should the Lord return today?

Sometimes people are upset with God’s prerogative to pass judgement onto entire people groups because of their rebellion at Babel. They need to read this portion of Jeremiah. God has not visited their iniquity upon them without cause.

 Jer 16:17 "For My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from My face, nor is their iniquity hidden from My eyes.
 18 "And first I will repay double for their iniquity and their sin, because they have defiled My land; they have filled My inheritance with the carcasses of their detestable and abominable idols."

He has seen their idolatry that began shortly after the flood and continues to this day, and He has been merely giving them what they deserve, BUT Jeremiah gets the picture here and rejoices as He sees the day that God will draw the Gentiles back into the fold again. Raising up fishermen and hunters that will be supernaturally equipped to get the job done!

In our second reading today from the book of Acts we see the fulfilment of still another prophecy. Shortly after the Apostle Paul was converted to Christianity through a personal encounter with the risen Christ on the way to Damascus, it was revealed to Paul that he would have opportunity to present the name of Jesus before “Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.”

 Ac 9:15 But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.

And so we find Paul in Acts 26 in a great auditorium before the Gentile governor Festus, along with “the commanders and prominent men of the city, and the Jewish King Agrippa, who was the great grandson of Herod the Great, and Paul was ready to give witness to the name of Jesus, just as Jesus said he would. Paul was ready to do a little hunting and a little fishing.

In verse 8, Paul throws out a question for the entire audience to consider. “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?”

It’s a question that bears repeating in our world today, because people live as if the resurrection of the dead is a fable. It’s “You only go around once so grab all the gusto you can.” I ask you, who is living their lives as if there is more after death? Not very many....not even in the church.

Oh, we give the resurrection of the dead lip service, but do we really live as if there will be a judgement day? Do we really live hungering to spend our lives in an eternal paradise? Do we take Paul’s testimony about the resurrection of the dead seriously?

He encountered the bodily resurrected Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, and bore witness to those in the gathered auditorium and to you who are gathered here today, and to those who would read this portion of the Bible for all times, that Jesus is alive!

Paul’s purpose was to “turn their eyes from the darkness of death with no hope, to the light of Jesus with an everlasting hope!  To turn people from the power of Satan (death) to the power of God (life) that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified (made holy) by faith in Jesus!

Was he successful? Yes, in that he bore a faithful witness, and that’s all we are required to do, but the results were up to the Holy Spirit. After he had completed his testimony, King Agrippa exclaimed, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”

Well, sorry Agrippa, but close and almost, don’t  count except in horseshoes, hand grenades, and atomic bombs, and Paul laments in verse 29, “I would to God that not only you (Agrippa) but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am.”  

Paul also knew the truth of our Gospel reading today, that faith in the resurrected Jesus Christ as the Son of the Living God only comes by supernatural revelation by God. Flesh and blood is incapable of believing such supernatural things.

Mere men see Jesus as a great teacher, or maybe a prophet, or a man of God, just ask them sometime and see who they think Jesus is, it will be a great opportunity to bear witness!

But those who have been gifted with faith by exposure to Jesus and His Word, and have allowed themselves to be overpowered by the Holy Spirit see Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.!

Blessed (oh how very happy) are all who have been given this revelation from the Father and hold to it! Because it is this revelation that keeps the gates of Hades, (the power of death) from overcoming us and gaining the victory.

It is this revelation, this faith in Jesus, that turns death into a gate with an inheritance on the other side, rather than a trapdoor into an eternal tormenting pit.

 1Co 15:55 "O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?"

Hades (death) does not prevail in those who receive and use the keys to the kingdom of heaven. These keys are given to those who have confessed Jesus as the Christ the Son of the Living God...namely the church.

They are nothing more than God’s means of grace. The Word and the Sacraments. These are the vehicles that God uses to bring saving faith to the world.. Our job is to dangle them before the world as a fisherman might dangle a worm, or a hunter may bait a trap. Because it is in the Word and the Sacraments that Christ is found.

Those who receive the keys by faith receive Him by faith and are heaven bound, and those who refuse Him are forever loosed from heaven and all it’s associated blessings. The time is short. The waters have all been fished, the remote mountains and civilizations have been trapped. Jesus could come back at anytime to see what’s in the net.

 Mt 13:47 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind,
 48 "which, when it was full, (when the gospel was fully preached to all the world) they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, (those who believe and are baptized) but threw the bad (the disbelievers, baptized or not) away.
 49 "So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just,
 50 "and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth."
 What have you done with the Good News? What have you done with the keys to the kingdom?
Have you grasped them, or a better question might be, Have you allowed them to grasp you? Have you allowed Christ, the Son of the Living God to capture your heart hook, line, and sinker?

The keys were brought to you by your parents when they brought you to the waters of baptism, and as they brought you to church and sought to instruct you in the faith so that you might remain in the kingdom.

But most of us,  like a fish, spend our lives trying to spit the hook back out.  Or we, like a trapped animal,  endure the pain of chewing off our own leg to free ourselves from His grasp, as we choose lives of sin and disbelief.

But here we are again today. Offering you Christ. Casting out the net of God’s grace. God in His great mercy has not given up on you and in His great mercy is offering you pardon for sins and an inheritance in heaven. Will you take it today? Or will you be like Agrippa and “almost” be persuaded to become a Christian. .

Hades presses in. We don’t know when death will come calling at our door. But when it comes, you can be sure that “almost” doesn’t cut it. “I almost caught that fish! I almost shot that deer” will not put food on your table.

And almost becoming a Christian will not put you on the right side of the pearly gates. “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” He is the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Him.

There is no “almost” in that confession. You either believe it and have the keys to heaven or you don’t believe it and are doomed to hell. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved! May God rekindle that baptismal faith in you today that produced the confession of Peter and the others.  “Jesus, You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

You either believe He is the Christ and have subsequent victory over death, or you don’t believe and are still in the clutches of Hades. Don’t let the gates of Hades prevail against you, come back to Jesus today.