I can still recall when I first understood the truth that God loved me enough to send His Son to die for me. I remember lifting my hands to the Father, tears streaming down my face, as I choked out words of surrender.
I didn’t understand everything in that moment; in fact, it came after months of going to church, reading the Bible, and trying to wrap my head around what it truly means to follow Christ.
But I knew enough. I understood that the words of a prayer uttered months earlier had not come from a heart of sincerity–they were spoken in hopes of satisfying the desires of someone else.
I understood that those months of trying to do the right thing and making a mess of it were the result of a spoken confession without an inward conversion.
I also understood in that moment that the God I was trying to claim didn’t need my good works. He wanted my heart. And after months of sitting under godly discipleship, worship, and the Word, I surrendered to the God who had revealed Himself to me.
So, my heart breaks when I encounter those who have heard the truth, maybe even been in church for a while, but they have never really given their lives to the One who loved and gave Himself for them.
Not Persuaded: Lessons from Bernice
One woman of the Bible whose story is both brief and heart-breaking is Bernice. We don’t get many words in Scripture about her, but she too heard the truth, yet never surrendered her life.
Bernice was the sister of Herod Agrippa II, and she had the privilege of hearing the first-hand testimony of the Apostle Paul.
Paul had been arrested in Ephesus after a mob accused him of desecrating the temple. Paul testified before the crowd, was jailed for his own protection, and eventually sent to the Roman governor, Felix.
Paul testified that he had only gone to the temple to worship and present offerings, and that those who made the charges were not even present to accuse him. Felix had no reason to charge him, but left him under house arrest.
Two years went by, and eventually Festus succeeded Felix as governor. Because Paul as a Roman citizen had appealed to Caesar, Festus needed to send a letter explaining the charges against Paul, but he didn’t know how to charge him.
Do We Want Truth?
So, he brought in King Agrippa and his sister Bernice because they would understand Jewish customs. As the Roman-appointed “kings” over Judea, the Herodian dynasty was not truly Jewish. But they ruled over the Jews for Rome and were acquainted with their ways.
Now, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, Bernice had been married at 13 and then widowed with two sons. She was suspected of having an incestuous relationship with Agrippa, so she married again to the king of Cilicia to silence the rumors but eventually left him to return to her brother.
At some point, Bernice became involved in a relationship with emperor Vespasian’s son Titus, but was “later ignored by him” for political reasons.
She had a difficult life, to say the least. And now God had given her the opportunity to hear the gospel from the lips of Paul who had met Jesus on the road to Damascus.
“The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city.”Acts 25:1, NIV 84
Festus explained the situation and then gave Paul the opportunity to speak.
“So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: ‘King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.”Acts 26:1b-3
Paul went on to give his testimony from the time he was a child, raised as a Pharisee, and putting his faith in the God of the Jews. He told of how he persecuted the followers of Jesus, casting votes to put them to death.
He then shared about his conversion experience on the road to Damascus when he met the Lord Jesus. Paul shared that he had only sought to be obedient to what God had called him to do: preaching repentance of sins and salvation through Christ. He spoke of Christ’s very words to him:
“‘”I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”‘”Acts 26:17-18
When Paul testified that Christ had fulfilled the OT prophets as the One who would proclaim light to the Gentiles, Festus accused Him of being insane.
“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,’ Paul replied. ‘What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.'”Acts 26:25-27
At this point, I am on the edge of my seat. I’m sure Bernice was, too. After all, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus had not been done in a corner. They had heard about it. Now would they believe the testimony of one who had encountered the living Christ?
A God who could open eyes and turn darkness to light? The hope of being rescued from the power of Satan and receiving forgiveness of sins?
How Do We Respond to Truth?
Surely this was the good news Bernice needed in her life. But now if Agrippa says he believes in the prophets, he would have to admit that all this about Jesus made sense. If he said no, he would be in trouble with the Jews.
“Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’
Paul replied, ‘Short time or long–I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.’
The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. They left the room, and while talking with one another, they said, ‘This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.'”Acts 26:28-31
Not persuaded by truth. That’s the sad testimony of Bernice. We never hear of Bernice in Scripture again. In fact, she disappeared from the historical records as well, because the Roman emperors wanted to politically distance themselves from her.
Bernice is known historically as guilty, depraved, and shameless, but she had the opportunity to be known among such names as Lydia, Phoebe, and Priscilla. She was familiar with the ways of God, and she heard the truth of the gospel. But she walked away.
Bernice stands before us as an example of the hopelessness of life without Jesus. So many women all around us have heard the truth. They may even sit in the pews around you as I did for some time. Yet, they have never surrendered their lives to the Lord.
May we learn from Bernice’s story to not take Christ’s sacrifice for granted. May we share it boldly with those around us, praying that they may be persuaded to become a Christian, too.
And if you are like I was, and you have heard the truth but never understood the impact of Jesus’ sacrifice for you personally, it’s time to lift your hands in surrender to God.
Jesus has made a way for you to know Him. It’s time to give up and let Him have His way in you. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been. He will take your guilt and shame and give you a life worth living.