Summary: This continues my series through the book of Acts.
“Crazy Like a Christian”
August 10, 2008
It’s what Patsy Cline sang that that was what she was, for making the mistake of falling in love. It’s what Paul Simon sang that he still was, “after all these years”. Alanis Morrisette and Aerosmith have weighed in on the subject in song; Britney Spears said that we drove her there, and apparently now, Gnarls Barkley wonders the same thing, if he/they/we are…crazy. “Crazy” is the verdict that one man reached about the apostle Paul, and it’s our subject of study for the morning.
Prologue: A Crazy Scenario – Acts 25
Here’s chapter 25 in a nutshell, a chapter which serves to set up the events of chapter 26, a crazy scenario involving the continuing trial of a man who by all rights should be free: Paul. The arrival of Porcius Festus in Palestine was a welcome event, following as it did on the heels of the disastrous administration of the ruthless governor Felix. OK, let’s get this out of the way right at the beginning, because I know what most of you are thinking: Festus? The situation when Festus arrived in approximately A.D. 60 was one which required immediate action, as there were many opposing factions within the Jewish nation which threatened the Roman peace. Thus, he spent only three days getting settled into his quarters in Caesarea before heading to Jerusalem.
When he got there, the Jewish religion boys again attempted to cook Paul’s goose, by asking Festus to bring him to Jerusalem. After he’d been in prison for two years, their hatred for him still burned hot. Another attempt would be made at an ambush, to kill Paul; failing that, they reasoned, perhaps they could get him into a Jewish trial before the Sanhedrin on the single charge of profaning the temple, and they could convict him and execute him on that charge. They knew that these charges of rebellion and treason they’d made against Paul were a shot in the dark, since they really didn’t have any evidence to support them.
Festus instead invited the religion boys back to Caesarea to try him there, and similarly to what we saw in the last chapter, they ended up unable to prove their charges. But instead of releasing Paul, Festus gives him the option of going back to Jerusalem for trial there. Paul though, knowing that nothing good was likely to come of returning to Jerusalem, claims his ultimate right as a Roman citizen: he appeals to Caesar in Rome. And though Festus had it in his power to simply acquit Paul of the charges, it might have been political suicide, as the newly-appointed governor of the region, to tick off the leaders of the very people he was governing; to grant Paul’s wish of an appeal to Rome would get this fellow out of his hair once and for all!
We’re introduced in :13 to King Agrippa, who is the ruler of the kingdom that adjoined to the north that of Festus, and so he and his sister Bernice come to pay their respects to the new governor. Since Rome considered Agrippa an authority on the Jewish religion, Festus decided that maybe Agrippa could help figure out what to do with this sticky Paul fellow. After laying out the whole scenario to Agrippa, Agrippa decided he’d like to hear for himself what Paul had to say.
And so in come Agrippa and his sister, Bernice, with great pomp, arrayed in purple and with golden crowns on their heads. Festus, because of the occasion, would have donned the scarlet robe of the governorship. Paul, by contrast, had on the meager clothing of a prisoner, not to speak of chains. Question: who has the power in this scenario? Is it the king with all the trappings of royalty and splendor, or the governor in his territory, or is it the prisoner in chains? Agrippa had the title, Festus the position, but Paul had the message of the gospel, the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). The power of the state, in all its splendor, comes face to face with the power of God. Now, with that set-up, we look at the longest testimony Paul gives in the book of Acts. It starts with
I. A Crazy Opening - 26:1-3
What made this opening crazy? Consider the heritage of King Agrippa, as Paul stood before him. His great-grandfather, Herod the Great, had plotted to have the infant Jesus put to death. His grandfather, Herod Antipas, had beheaded John the Baptist. His father had put James, brother of John, to death with the sword. He was a vile man, living in an incestuous relationship with Bernice, his full-blood sister. And here he sits in royal pomp, listening to this physically-unimpressive prisoner give an oration, a prisoner who represents the very movement that his family has been instrumental in persecuting for generations. A lesser man would have been quite intimidated, but Paul was ready, armed to the teeth with the life-changing power of the gospel, and the indwelling Holy Spirit, armed and ready to confront the entire lot with the message of Christ, from the pompous king to the rest.