"Almost" is the galvanizing moment in a compelling story as the words of Paul the apostle cut straight to the heart.
The one who listens is Marcus Julius Agrippa Herodes II. The Bible simply refers to him as King Agrippa, the last of the Jewish Herods. The first generation tried to kill the infant Jesus; the second murdered John the Baptist. His own father put the Apostle James to death and imprisoned Peter. Now, in the fourth and final generation, the truth hits home. Another apostle stands in shackles as yet another Herod is confronted with the life-changing power of the gospel.
The Herod family tree is replete with contradictions—a litter box full of assassinations, marital infidelity and political favors. Agrippa himself is living in incest with his own sister, Berenice, who's there in the hall, too, listening. Later she'll leave him for a scandalous liaison with the emperor Titus—the same Titus who eventually leads Roman troops in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple.
But that's still more than a decade off. Agrippa is oblivious to his uncertain future. At this moment he ponders the words of Paul. Regardless of whether his response is serious or sarcastic, his reply rings down through the ages to us: "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" (Acts 26:28).
The word "almost" has haunted us ever since. The song, "Almost Persuaded," backed by the ubiquitous Hammond organ tremolo, has colored many an altar call. It harkens to the rich young ruler, who was convicted, but went away sorrowful. Another "almost."
Think of good things made meaningless by the simple word "almost":
We almost stop at the traffic light.
We almost put on our clothes.
We almost volunteer at the community service center.
We almost spend quality time with our children.
We almost help a worthy student.
We almost are faithful to our spouse.
We almost tell the truth.
"Almost" is a politically correct word for "not." Almost giving is the same as not giving. Almost persuaded is the same as refusal. Judas almost repented when Jesus washed his feet. Lot's wife almost didn't look back. "Almost" didn't work out so well for either of them.
In nearly every case, conviction, when left to simmer, is just another item chalked up to almost—just another thermostat that stops at lukewarm.
I wonder what sort of story the author of Acts could have written if Agrippa had instead said "amen."
I wonder how our lives, how our church, would change if we refused to stop at "almost."
Judas almost repented when Jesus washed his feet. Lot's wife almost didn't look back. 'Almost' didn't work out so well for either of them.