Insanity

Last week, in what feels like a never ending run of trials for Paul, he stood before Festus in hopes of achieving justice.  This was after he sat in jail for two years awaiting a verdict under Felix.  From there the story seemed to repeat itself as there was another plot to ask that Paul be moved and to kill him while he was being transferred.

While the plot is not uncovered like it was previously, Paul is reasonable enough to understand that no good would come from him being transferred back to Jerusalem.  When Festus wishes to do the Jews a favor by carrying this out, he asserts his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar.  This immediately ends the trial and guarantees that Paul will get to personally present his case to the most powerful man in the world at the time.

What we have in the rest of Acts 25 and 26 is a strange interim period where Paul is still under arrest and is awaiting an appeal but has not yet been transferred for his appeal.  The two likeliest reasons for the time in between is that a) just like getting a trial before the Supreme Court today, it takes time and probably has to be scheduled months in advance.  And b) Paul couldn’t just jump on a plane and be in Rome in four hours.  Traveling by land would be slow and potentially dangerous.  If Paul traveled by ship, it would be much faster but there were times when it was impossible to travel by ship which we’ll see in a week or two.

As Paul awaits his appeal before Caesar, Festus speaks to King Agrippa and asks for his input on the issue.  It’s quite possible that Paul is just being treated like a sideshow – come listen to this raving lunatic talk about people coming back from the dead.  But it’s also possible that there is a genuine interest in what Paul has to say.  Not that Festus or Agrippa are interested in Christianity but if Paul has spread his message about the Roman world, it’s likely that the two men will encounter it again and may need to develop some sort of strategy on how to deal with the issue in the future.

This passage is another narrative where there isn’t a lot of action and not a lot that we haven’t heard before recently.  I will be spending most of my time on one specific part of this passage this morning as it is the key to the entire story.

Acts 25:13-22

13 A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. 14 Since they were spending many days there, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. He said: “There is a man here whom Felix left as a prisoner. 15 When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.

16 “I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over anyone before they have faced their accusers and have had an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges. 17 When they came here with me, I did not delay the case, but convened the court the next day and ordered the man to be brought in. 18 When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. 19 Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. 20 I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges. 21 But when Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.”

22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear this man myself.”

He replied, “Tomorrow you will hear him.”

This is basically a recap of the story from last week.  We’ve seen before how these leaders are prone to exaggeration and outright lies.  However, as Festus relays this story to King Agrippa, it does sound like genuine interest in making a right judgment.  We know that he offered to transfer Paul as a favor to the Jews but here he acknowledges to Agrippa that he really doesn’t know how to judge the issue because it’s a matter of religion that he was unfamiliar with.

Acts 25:23-27

23 The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 Festus said: “King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25 I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. 26 But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. 27 For I think it is unreasonable to send a prisoner on to Rome without specifying the charges against him.”

There are two things that stand out in this passage.  The first is that Festus acknowledges that Paul is innocent, or at least not worthy of death like the Jews requested.  If he had pronounced a verdict instead of offering to transfer Paul back to Jerusalem, Paul would be a free man.

This is similar but different from Pontius Pilate and Jesus.  Pilate proclaimed Jesus to be innocent as well, but he still condemned him to die at the request of the crowds.  Paul is innocent but he ultimately takes the issue out of the hands of Festus as he appeals to Caesar.  It seems doubtful that Festus would have reached the proper decision, or at least declared it publicly, but Paul takes advantage of to opportunity to take the decision out of Festus’ hands.

The other issue is an interesting one.  Paul has been accused of a crime and has sat in jail for more than two years while he awaited a verdict.  The charges against Paul relate to matters of Jewish law.  But how does Festus explain all of this to Caesar?  If Caesar is not familiar with the claims of Christianity and Paul is sent to him for claiming to worship a man who rose from the dead, it seems at least possible that Caesar would accuse Festus of wasting his time by sending him someone who was crazy rather dismissing the claims of a crazy person outright.

So Festus seeks King Agrippa’s advice on the matter.

Paul goes on to give his testimony once more in Acts 26.  I won’t spend a lot of time on this because we’ve heard much of this before.  However, I will point out a few new bits of information that appear this time that we haven’t heard before.

Acts 26:1-8

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”

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.

“The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee. And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?

King Agrippa is a good person to seek advice from on this matter because he’s familiar with Jewish customs as well as their controversies as Paul points out.  This is a simple enough matter; Festus is new on the job.  Unless you’ve lived among the Jews and became familiar with their laws and customs, it is a difficult thing to judge according to their laws.  Festus may be an excellent judge in accordance with Roman laws but he hasn’t been asked to settle an issue regarding Roman law.

Paul’s defense is nothing new but it also appeals to common sense to anyone familiar with the Old Testament.  Paul continues to testify about his faith in Jesus and explains the hope that he has because of the resurrection of Jesus.  As Paul attempts to explain this hope, the argument essentially amounts to – look at the Old Testament and all of the incredible things that have happened in Jewish history.  Everything beginning with Abraham being blessed with a son in his old age to Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, to the miracles of Elijah and Elisha.  If you believe God could do those miraculous things, why is it so farfetched to believe that He could raise someone from the dead?

Acts 26:9-14

“I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.

12 “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions.14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

This is the first time that we heard the last line of Paul’s story.  Odds are good that you don’t use the word goads in every day conversation so the expression “kick against the goads” is a very awkward one to your ears.

A goad was usually a metal end on a stick that would be used to keep  a plow animal going in the right direction.  If it veered off course it would get pricked and this would normally cause it to correct its course.  However, a stubborn ox would continue to go its own way and cause injury to itself.  In fact, the more it worked against going the way its master wanted it to go, the more it would injure itself.

In layman’s terms, Paul is told that he’s as stubborn as an ox and he’s only hurting himself by insisting on going his own way.  Without need for further commentary, I think we all know people who are like this whether it is in regard to sin issues or personal issues.  They continue to go their own way and just hurt themselves more.

Acts 26:15-23

15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’

“ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 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.’

19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. 21 That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22 But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

Because Agrippa is familiar with Judaism, this is the most detailed defense that we hear from Paul.  The resurrection of Jesus is an important part of Paul’s preaching but ultimately Paul has caused an uproar because he has preached repentance.  And the reason that Paul calls for repentance is that the Messiah that the Jews had been waiting for for so long has arrived.  And Jesus is that Messiah.

Acts 26:24-27

24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 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. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

Festus reacts strongly to Paul’s testimony by stating that he has gone insane.  This is the central theme of the message this morning.  When you look at what the Bible says is wisdom, it goes against what the world calls wisdom basically every time.

If you look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the things that He calls blessed are all things that we wouldn’t hold in high esteem.  Blessed are the meek, the humble, those who mourn.  These are not things that we naturally strive for.  You are not taught in school that you should be meek.  Everyone’s self esteem is constantly built up with participation trophies, so it’s awfully hard to be humble if no one is better or worse than anyone else but instead we must treat everyone as though they’re the best at everything.  Nobody should spend their time mourning because we all apparently have a constitutional right to be happy at all times.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:27

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

What God considers great is not what the world considers great.  What God considers wise is not what the world considers wise.  So it’s no surprise that when Paul gives his testimony, it sounds like insanity to Festus.

And nothing has changed.  Christianity sounds like craziness to the rest of the world and they will react accordingly.  The idea of miracles is preposterous to many people because by definition miracles would defy the laws of nature and science.  Of course to me it makes perfect sense because I believe in a God who sets those laws in motion to begin with and He can choose to suspend them at any time that He chooses.

The wisdom of man says that the universe is 14.4 billion years old and that man evolved from a single celled organism over a process of billions of years.  Honestly, this sounds like the most idiotic thing imaginable to me but even worse is the reason that people believe it.  They believe it because they read it in a book that was written by a guy who claimed to understand what he was talking about.  And yet these same people mock Christians for their beliefs which are based upon a book written by men who claim to know what they are talking about.

The difference between the two?  The science that I’m supposed to believe is based upon a whole lot of complex equations that no common person can ever hope to understand so they must take it on faith that somebody did the math right.  And the part that I believe in which is considered foolish and blind faith, I can certify I believe because I have witnessed changed lives based on the book that I follow.  As far as I know, the idea that I came from a monkey hasn’t changed anybody’s life aside from dehumanizing us all because we’re just a product of stupid chance rather than created out of love and with a purpose.

If the Bible’s teachings are madness, I’ll gladly adhere to madness than to embrace the alternative of what the world says is right.  I think we have ample evidence of what kind of world we get when people will stop at nothing for fame and power and wealth.  I think that if people would think about it, they might consider that the opposite might lead to a better world than the one that we are in now.

Acts 26:28-32

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

30 The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them.31 After they left the room, they began saying to one another, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”

32 Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

It’s interesting that Agrippa recognizes Paul’s attempt to persuade him to be a Christian.  I would say that is the Holy Spirit’s conviction working upon him.  Unfortunately it seems to be resisted at the time but Paul doesn’t give up hope.

The best thing about the gospel is that it is not a onetime offer.  It is always available until a person draws their final breath.  It can be discouraging when we try to present the gospel and we get a cold reception.  Or even when we invite a friend to church and they show no interest in doing so.  But God can still work in their life and soften their heart.  That was Paul’s hope even as Agrippa resisted the message at the time.

Ultimately, Agrippa agreed with Festus that Paul was innocent and could have been set free.  But because Paul had appealed to Caesar, it didn’t matter what they thought any longer.  Paul would be heading to Rome.  This appeal probably seemed like madness from their human perspective because Paul could have been free, but God was at work and He had a purpose for Paul in Rome.

To Rome!

For the last several weeks in the book of Acts, Paul has been in the midst of trials and examinations as he stands accused by the Jews of various things which have broken their laws.  He has stood before the Sanhedrin and caused a riot when he discussed the wedge issue of the resurrection which the Sadducees and Pharisees disagreed on.

After this, there was a plot to kill Paul which was discovered so he was moved out of town to Caesarea.  There he was given a trial before Felix.  Felix stated that he would issue a verdict soon but instead he left Paul sit in prison for two years as a favor to the Jews.

After two years, Porcius Festus took Felix’s place.  This is where we pick up the story this morning.  As this story is a lot of the same type of stuff that we’ve looked at the last several weeks, I plan on approaching the message a bit differently this morning.

Acts 25:1-5

25 Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, where the chief priests and the Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. They requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way. Festus answered, “Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. Let some of your leaders come with me, and if the man has done anything wrong, they can press charges against him there.”

Despite the fact that Paul has been out of the way and awaiting a verdict on his trial for two years, he has not been forgotten about by the Jews.  It only takes Festus three days on the job before the Jews see their opportunity once again to get rid of Paul.  They are not interested in having another trial and have him legally locked away or even executed.  They know that they don’t stand a chance of winning a trial because they are unable to prove their charges.

So instead, they scheme once again to have Paul transferred and to ambush and kill him along the way.  Festus doesn’t know about the ambush but he is probably smart enough to know that there is a reason why Paul was taken to Caesarea in the first place.  It’s possible that he has read the file on Paul or he just doesn’t want to start moving people around without first getting all of the facts that he can.  So instead he essentially offers to hold another trial of Paul since the previous never ended with a verdict.

Acts 25:6-8

After spending eight or ten days with them, Festus went down to Caesarea. The next day he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him. When Paul came in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him. They brought many serious charges against him, but they could not prove them.

Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.”

I don’t know if the issue of Paul was on the top of Festus’ agenda when he took office or if the Jews made it his top priority but whatever the case, he convenes court the first day that he arrives in Caesarea.  The narrative is the same before – Paul is accused of wrongdoing, he proclaims his innocence.

One of the problems that we have in our world today – and of course there are many – is how our media covers our justice system.  For the last week we have seen what amounts to race riots.  The only facts that we know for certain is that a white police officer shot and killed a black man who happened to be unarmed.  And because of this, many people have protested racial inequality.

I’m not saying that there’s not a difference in the way that whites and minorities are treated by police, but I’m not saying that there is either.  Statistics that get thrown around in times like this are always pulled out of context to make whatever argument the speaker wants.  It’s a fact that minorities are disproportionately arrested compared to whites.  This fact doesn’t prove racism however.  Percentage wise there are more crimes in urban areas and urban areas have a higher percentage of minorities.  It could be something about cities that leads to higher crime rates and thus a disproportionate number of minorities who are arrested, and nothing inherently racist about the arrests themselves.  Or it is quite possible that a higher percentage of minorities commit crimes because they are more likely to be living in poverty and grow up in one parent homes.  The fact of the matter is that one statistic taken out of context doesn’t prove anything.

Back to the current situation that we see played out in the media, charges are being made that at this point cannot be proven.  There could be more information than is publicly available that could shed light on who is innocent or guilty but at this time people are reaching potentially dangerous conclusions based on pieces of information that do not represent the whole truth.  Most media outlets publish these pieces of information as they come available, even updating things by the hour, but some organizations seem to selectively emphasize or leave out details based upon the narrative that they want to create.

Instead of allowing courts to determine guilt or innocence, people are tried by the court of public opinion long before they are able to defend themselves.  In a perfect world, people who are guilty of wrongdoing would always be caught and found guilty whether that is a young man who committed a crime or a person in authority who abused their power.  The reality is that we have usually made up our minds about someone’s guilt or innocence as soon as a story initially breaks and we’ll only accept evidence as real if it later confirms our previously formed opinions.  In this case, for most people it won’t matter if the suspect is found to have been on drugs or video is discovered of him assaulting the police officer.  Nor will it matter to many if the officer is discovered to have had a history of racial profiling.  Many people have made up their minds and evidence to the contrary is not considered after this.

I want to advise all of you to not be quick to reach hasty decisions about things that you hear on the news.  Remember that in a perfect world the news media would exist simply to inform the public for their own good and they would be neutral and independent in their portrayal of that.  However, the news media is a profitable industry and they will feed us what keeps people watching their shows, talking about their commentators, and sharing their articles on social media.

This advice does not just apply to the current racial tension that we have, it applies universally to politics, financial issues, foreign policy, and social issues.  You’re always going to have an opinion about what is going on and that is fine.  But try to be well educated about those issues.  And when evidence comes about that is contrary to what you currently believe, take it into consideration.  Believe it or not, you are allowed to change your opinion on things, particularly when you are presented with new evidence that better informs you on a topic.

How does all of this relate to Paul?  As I said, I was approaching things a bit differently this morning.  The Jews obviously had their minds made up long before any sort of trial.  They never had any proof about their accusations however.  And today it is the same in many cases that we make accusations and hurl about different ideas without any real proof.

Acts 25:9-12

Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?”

10 Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. 11 If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”

12 After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”

Festus wishes to transfer Paul to Jerusalem after they came to Caesarea to initiate a trial.  Even though he initially pushed against them, perhaps they have worn him down.  Maybe they have bribed him or they have threatened to voice their displeasure with him to his bosses.  Whatever the actual reason, Festus is trying to gain favor with the Jews as Felix had done before by leaving Paul in prison.  Only this time it is more dangerous because a transfer could lead to Paul’s murder.  Even though Festus doesn’t know it, Paul at least has to understand this as a possibility since it was what was attempted before he was transferred to Caesarea in the middle of the night.

This tells us something important about government that we shouldn’t forget.  Just like the news media is going to run stories that get the largest audience because they want more money, politicians are going to make political decisions that are in their best interest.

There is a strange catch 22 about democracy, particularly in our modern world.  We elect representatives to make our laws.  They are supposed to represent our interests whether that is on a local or national level.  This requires them to act as leaders because we can’t possibly understand all of the issues that we must deal with.  Take something that seems like a simple local issue such as widening a road and adding a lane.  There could be 100% support for such a project but an informed leader might decide that it is not in the best interests of their people because of issues they are not aware of.  Perhaps that new lane requires digging up pipes and cables that would be difficult to move.  Or maybe that new lane is perfectly viable except there is no money in the budget for it and while everyone wants a new road, nobody wants to have to pay for that road.

The other side of that coin is that while a representative is to lead on issues that we can’t be well informed about, because those leaders are elected they must keep their people happy.  This means that maybe they do what is popular rather than what is best for the people.  Or even worse, my they do what the biggest donors want them to do because elections cost a lot of money and if they don’t keep their biggest donors happy, they won’t get re-elected.  It’s not even about keeping a majority of their people happy but rather it’s about large donors happy.

Ultimately, Festus is a politician just like Felix was.  His job will be easier if his constituents are happy, even if he was not elected to office.  Rome likes peace and if word makes it back to Rome that his people are not happy and in danger of revolting, he’ll be out of a job or worse.  So Festus offers to transfer Paul.

Paul has been shuffled around enough.  He might expect the Jews to try to ambush him or maybe he suspects that he will just get shuffled around without ever being found guilty of anything.  As a Roman citizen he has certain rights and one of those rights is to appeal to Caesar himself.

Once Paul appeals to Caesar, the trial is over.  This is like what you see in cop shows where the police have a suspect in an interrogation room and they start asking him questions.  And finally he’ll get tired of the questions and ask for a lawyer.  Once that happens, he is not allowed to be questioned without his lawyer present.

Paul’s appeal to Caesar is irrevocable.  That means that once he makes his appeal, he can’t take it back and nothing can legally stop him until he gets to present his case before Caesar.  This is the long route to Paul ultimately making it to Rome as he desired.

When Paul made plans to go to Rome, I’m sure that he never envisioned going there as a prisoner.  We never know how God is going to use things in our life to bring about something else important.  A job loss could lead to a great career change.  A trip to the doctor for a head cold could unveil cancer in its earliest stage.

Close by discussing trials.