The soul is thrilled to read the accounts of the conversion of multitudes, or even of one man or woman. Yet, how strange it seems that others hearing the same good news and standing in the same need of it turn away from the truth and sometimes become its bitter opponents. The condition of the believer and the unbeliever is summarized in the following passages:
“Wherefore also it is contained in scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believes on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient where unto also they were appointed” (1 Pet. 2:6-8).
“But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumbling stone and rock of offense: and whosoever believes on him shall not be ashamed” (Rom. 9:31-33).
“But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:23).
So, then, Christ was precious to some who heard, but to others he was a rock of offense. Some obeyed the gospel and some rejected it. Some built upon that rock, while others stumbled over it. Rejection of Christ is rejection of salvation. Peter said, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Those who rejected Christ and refused to turn to him condemned themselves. God offered no alternate plan of redemption.
While much is to be gained by an examination of Bible cases of conversion, even so, there are sobering lessons to be learned from those cases in the book of Acts where certain ones refused to turn to the Lord and thus judged themselves unworthy of eternal life.
The Jewish Rulers in Jerusalem
(Envy, Pride and Tradition)
The knowledge of what happened on the day of Pentecost soon filled Jerusalem. The signs wrought by the apostles, the constant swelling of the number of disciples, the favor in which the church was first held among the people, plus the fact that Solomon’s porch of the temple was a frequent gathering place for the disciples, quite naturally brought the cause of Christ to the attention of the rulers of the Jews. Their attention was especially aroused after Peter and John healed the man at the gate of the temple. A crowd rushed together “greatly wondering.” Peter used the occasion to preach another sermon on the Deity of Jesus, charged them with killing the Prince of life, whom he identified with the messianic prophecies as well as the Abrahamic promises, and then called upon them to “repent and be converted” that their sins might be “blotted out” (Acts 3:1-26).
Acts 4 relates the effect this had upon the priests, captain of the temple, and the Sadducees. They were “grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection of the dead” (v. 2). They apprehended Peter and John and the next day called them before the Jewish council. The man whom they had healed was also present and they could not deny the miracle (v. 14). While the miracle arrested the attention of many so that they gave heed unto their preaching, believed it and were saved (verse 4), and yet they determined to put a stop to the preaching “that it spread no further among the people” (verse 17). They threatened them and charged them not to preach any more in the name of Christ (verse 21).
When the preaching continued, the high priest and other Sadducees with him registered indignation and laid hold on the apostles and put them in prison (Acts 5:17-13). Another miracle followed by which the apostles were released from prison while leaving all the doors fastened. When the high priest called the council and the senate of Israel together to bring the prisoners for charges, they were informed that they were not there, but instead were in the temple preaching. Now they feared that all Jerusalem would be swayed by this movement and had them brought in as delicately as possible. Peter spoke and set forth the same claims for Christ which had been convincing to others. Acts 5:33 affords an interesting contrast to Acts 2:37. In both cases the hearers were cut to the heart. But in Acts 2:37 they asked “What shall we do?” They were told, and obeyed Peter’s instruction. But here the same word was preached, they too were cut to the heart, but “took counsel to slay them.”
Why did they reject the truth and ignore the miracles which confirmed the truth? Perhaps they remembered the words of Christ which indicted them so severely. Their hatred for Jesus knew no bounds. They thought they were rid of him only to see Jerusalem filled with his doctrine and the claims of his resurrection, and accompanied by undeniable miracles. Who can fathom the obstinacy of the human heart which is set on evil? Envy over the rising popularity of the church and the decreasing number of their own followers, the pride of 1500 years of accumulated traditions so blinded them that they rejected their only hope of salvation and determined to destroy those who preached it. The compromising advice of Gamaliel is all that restrained them at the moment.
Their intense anger subsided for a time only to revive with greater intensity when Stephen was brought before them charged with speaking blasphemous words and stirring up the people (Acts 6:10~15). The application of Stephen’s sermon which plainly pointed out their sins moved them to cast him out of the city and stone him to death. They were “cut to the heart” (Acts 7:54), but killed the preacher. What a sad case of non-conversion.
Acts 17:16-34 tells of the preaching of Paul in Athens. His preaching in the synagogue and in the marketplace attracted the notice of certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who were curious to hear what this “babbler” would say. When Paul completed his address by affirming the resurrection of Christ, some mocked while others said they would hear him again. They were the kind who was ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. They had envisioned every kind of god except the only true and living God. Their philosophical minds could not embrace the simplicity of the gospel. Such a system was offensive to their superior intelligence, as they viewed the matter. So the pride of human wisdom made the truth appear as foolishness to the Greeks. Such a spirit has hindered a great many from obeying the truth from that day until now.
The Ephesian Tradesmen
During the preaching of Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19), all Asia heard the word of God. While some gladly received the word others sadly rejected it. The silversmiths of Ephesus made considerable gain by making and selling silver shrines related to the worship of the goddess Diana. Paul preached that there are no gods made with hands, and many believed him. All who believed him ceased to be prospective customers of the craftsmen. Demetrius made no attempt to show the fallacy of the doctrine. He came right to the point which bothered him and other silversmiths — money! Then he aroused further prejudice by praising Diana. The city was thrown into tumult. An unlawful assembly formed and for two hours cried “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” The silversmiths of Ephesus stand at the front of a long line from that day forward, who are more concerned with material gain than they are with the truth.
During Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea he came in judgment before the governor Felix. Paul was allowed to speak “concerning the Faith in Christ.” As he “reasoned of righteousness, temperance and the judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go your way for this time: when I have a convenient season, I will call for you” (Acts 24:24-25). There is no question but that the preaching of Paul shook Felix. If any man ever needed a lesson on righteousness and temperance, he did. The warning of a coming judgment made its impression on his heart. However, it was a fleeting impression. His life was steeped in sin, and he would not exert the self-control necessary to please God. Further, he “hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him often and communed with him” (verse 26). The tribe of Felix is not all dead. There are those who will consort with gospel preachers, feign an interest, and thus build up false hopes in those who long for the salvation of men, but all with an eye on what they might be able to get out of it for their own gain. The cause of Christ has become a business expedient for many a son of old Felix down to the present.
(sensuality and worldly power)
King Agrippa and those with him listened to an account by Paul of his conversion and all appeal for them to accept the fulfillment of the prophecies with which Paul said he knew Agrippa to be familiar. “These things were not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). Agrippa had defended the rights of Jews earlier before Claudius. He had access to their prophecies and ruled over a territory where the rise and growth of the church could not have been kept from his notice.
There is some question as to whether Agrippa was sincere or sarcastic when he said “Almost you persuade me to be a Christian.” Sincere or not, it was surely Paul’s desire to see Agrippa and all others fully persuaded to be Christians. Yet, Agrippa was not persuaded. He attended to a political courtesy in hearing Paul so that he might advise Festus as to how to word his remarks to Rome when Paul was sent to Augustus (Acts 26:26). He had given his life over to such sensuality that he consorted with his own sister. How often the rich and influential think they are free before God to live as they please and yet make their appearance of respectability in public. Agrippa and Bernice came with “great pomp” and sat among the chief captains and principal men of the city to hear Paul. In him is demonstrated the statement of Paul, “You see your calling brethren, how that not many mighty, not many noble are called” (1 Cor. 1:26).
Conclusion: Thus these cases of non-conversion in the book of Acts reveal why man stumbled at Christ, and why some make the same mistake today. Envy, misguided spiritual power and pride, tradition, human wisdom with its intellectual arrogance, and inordinate desire to preserve the sources of material gain at the expense of truth, opportunism sensuality and worldly power, all these, lay at the bottom of their rejection of Christ.
What about you? Is he precious unto you as you seek his righteousness by faith, or, like these portraits in tragedy, is he a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense?