by Roger McCay
3 January 2021
Sermon Passage: Acts 25:13-26:32
Link to Audio Version
The title of the sermon today, “Crazy Like Paul,” is, admittedly, a bit politically incorrect. However, using the word “insane” in the title, in the place of “crazy,” doesn’t really capture the flavor for which I was going. “Insane like Paul?”—Nah.
Concerning the word “insane,” the Oxford Dictionary defines “insane” as an adjective 1) “in or relating to an unsound state of mind; seriously mentally ill” or 2) “extremely foolish; and irrational.”
In our passage today Festus, in his disbelief, called Paul “out of his mind” (“insane”) when he heard his testimony concerning the gospel. And to Festus, who was blind and in darkness under the power of Satan (exactly like how the Lord himself had described the Gentiles who were not saved, in Paul’s testimony in 26:18) … to Festus, very much a Roman Gentile, Paul was indeed crazy. For Paul testified to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is about Jesus: a man born of a virgin; a God-man who was perfect, sinless; yet was crucified, executed on a cross as a criminal. It’s about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and his exaltation to the right hand of God the Father, as Lord over all. In order to be saved from our sins and damnation in hell, which we deserve due to our sins; to have fellowship with God Almighty, in repentance, we must trust in Jesus to save us. As disciples of Christ, we follow him as Lord, each of us gladly carrying our own cross in denial of self, even if this means suffering to the point of death, even if it means being despised by the world. Yet it also means rejoicing, despite such things, due to our hope in Christ.
From the world’s point of view the gospel is crazy – insane! And the world resists it. It’s a battle of kingdoms: The Kingdom of God vs. the Kingdom of this world. Both have their own ideas of reality. Both have their take on what is wisdom and what is power. One testifies to truth. One is deceived by a lie.
In our passage today we see these two kingdoms clash. We see Paul, the delegate from the Kingdom of God, stand before the representatives of the kingdom of the world (Festus, the governor of Judea, and King Agrippa II), and testify to the glorious truth of King Jesus. And it’s quite an affair.
Notice how, in Acts 25:23, Luke throws the word “pomp” into the description of King Agrippa and Bernice’s arrival and audience with Paul. Pomp is an interesting word to describe such an audience with a King. The word “pomp” is translated from the word φαντασία, the word from which we get our English word fantasy.
Imagine what this looked like: King Agrippa and Bernice (Agrippa’s sister with whom he supposedly had an incestuous relationship) … this pair with all their retinue including servants, military leaders, government officials, and such. Imagine all the colors (purple for the royalty and other colors throughout the scene); the ceremony; perhaps even music; also the displayed riches that go with worldly power; even the sense of importance, pride, and arrogance that would have permeated the room. And then picture the apostle Paul, in chains and humble clothing, having just been brought from his place of confinement.
From the worlds point of view the King and his dignitaries were the ones with the glory. But the reality was, as Kent Hughes has said, “the Apostle Paul, mighty in the Lord, towered above the king and governor and their petty dignitaries.” For in the humble apostle lay the Truth and the light. And the fantasy of the world has no substance whatsoever in its separation from that Truth—the Truth that is Jesus Christ. And the light of Christ reveals the fantasy.
Festus really didn’t know what to do with Paul. It was generally agreed that Paul had done nothing wrong (unless you were a Jew who wanted to kill Paul for his missionary work and testimony of Christ). Yet Paul had appealed to Caesar. So, in order to send him up to Caesar some reason must be given. Therefore Agrippa agreed to assist Festus, while he was in Caesarea visiting the new governor, and so hear Paul’s testimony.
Part of Paul’s testimony was Jesus’ commission upon Paul’s conversion. Ch. 26:15-18:
15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
Thus, Paul, this Jewish Pharisee, testified that the crucified man (Jesus Christ) had arisen from the dead and appeared to him, commissioning him to go to the Gentiles and testify to the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that they might be saved.
And what was the substance of this gospel to which Paul testified? Look at vv. 22-23.
22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
Paul testified to the suffering Christ—Christ crucified, yet risen, his being the light to the Jews and the Gentiles who are trapped in the darkness of the Kingdom of the world.
At this point Festus, the Roman governor, couldn’t stand it anymore. He cried out, “You are out of your mind, Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane.” Festus was a practical Roman, and in his world, there was no place for such foolish nonsense like a crucified criminal who was resurrected, appearing to a man and commissioning him to spread what was described as “light” to the world because the world was supposedly in “darkness.” So, trapped in the pride of his own intelligence and worldview, he claimed Paul was crazy. Festus’ mind could only understand such crazy talk as being due to Paul’s great learning. Doing so, Festus demonstrated his own blindness in need of the light, his clouded perception in need of that very light to which Paul testified, proving Paul’s point.
Yet Paul was testifying to Agrippa, thus he first addressed Festus’ accusation and then turned to Agrippa putting the king on the spot, in support of his own defense. Verses 25-27:
25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. 26 For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.”
Agrippa was of the Herod line, a Jew, and supposedly was very knowledgeable of the Jewish religion and Scriptures. He was a huge supporter of the Jews politically, and publicly he would have had the image of believing the prophets. He also would have known about the Christians in the Empire, and their Lord Jesus.
Paul called Agrippa on his knowledge and supposed beliefs. Paul brought him to task, so to speak. Yet Agrippa, trapped in his pomp and fantasy, trapped in his pride of position, could not bring himself to engage Paul and the truth to which Paul testified. And so, to Agrippa’s eternal loss, he avoided the question by asking a question (v. 28):“In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”
Indeed, that was exactly what Paul wanted. Paul answered him saying,“Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” True to his commission and his love for others, true to who he was in Jesus Christ, Paul desired Agrippa and Festus and all who were present to hear his testimony and believe, and so be saved. Saved, becoming crazy like Paul, crazy according to the foolish wisdom of the world.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the book Jesus Freaks. There is a short story in it consisting of a parry of words. It goes…
A Communist officer told a Christian he was beating, “I am almighty, as you suppose your God to be. I can kill you.” The Christian answered, “The power is all on my side. I can love you while you torture me to death.”
Crazy like Paul.
Jesus told us in Matt. 10:28, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell!” Christians, in the fear of the Lord, which, in our faith, includes love and obedience, we love those around us who are entrapped by Satan. And in our love, we hope for their salvation.
We were once in such a trap. In love, Jesus would not let that stand, so he took action. Out of love, while we were in complete rebellion against him, he came. He lived among us. He died on the cross. He rose again. He rules as King now. All creation is his. He is preeminent. He is the center of all reality. And any who would count their own power or glory as being of any true substance outside of Christ, well, they are living a fantasy – φαντασία – pomp – fleeting – foolish – gone.
In contrast, the Christian stands and rests in Christ—in his wisdom and power—eternal. The Spirit of God indwells each of us who believe. We are in Christ. He is our center, and our substance is in him. No matter what our circumstance in life, our existence in Christ is like a solid rock that cannot be moved. Yet we who are the Lord’s do not boast in ourselves. Our status and being in Christ is not of us, but of him and him alone.
Also, like the apostle Paul, we, the Lord’s people, tell people about Jesus. Time-after-time throughout history men and women of the living and true God have testified before worldly authorities to the Lord’s truth. The Lord said it would be so (Matthew 10:16-25), and he didn’t say it’s going to easy. Rather, he said it would be in the midst of suffering at the hands of the authorities, like Paul had experienced many times, indeed, like the Lord himself was forced to endure.
For most of us, living in our small town in the Bible belt, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever have to endure such trials, called on the carpet (so to speak) like Paul. Some of us, through God’s providence, may, but most won’t. However, every single day we Christians stand before the world and testify to the truth of Christ. Perhaps we face the harder challenge: testimony in both deed and word day-in and day-out; consistency in life and in testimony; actions and words proclaiming the same message through all of our life. Everywhere we go (work, the gym, the Post Office, Wal-Mart, what have you) and in our daily dealings with people, we are a witness for Christ, seen in how we treat people, and what we talk about.
Some of the people we see every day put on a good respectable show, but they don’t really believe in Jesus. They live comfortably in a mostly Christianized culture (here in the Bible belt), but they are caught up in the world, deceived by its lies, living in darkness. Yet death is an imminent thing. So, it’s urgently important that we put the Word of God to the deed and our lifestyle, as Christ followers. It’s important that our conversations and interactions challenge the message and assumptions of the world. And this is not all that hard. You have the truth, and, if you live and speak the truth, you can’t help but expose the lie—light in the darkness.
Yet, such interactions involve putting yourself out there, maybe getting a bit uncomfortable. In your faithfulness to Jesus, when you are overtly testifying to the truth of Christ, you will find those who resist the gospel message, even here in Monroeville. Perhaps you’ve experienced this firsthand. Yet, in these folks’ resistance, they affirm our call to share Christ. They are proof in the flesh that there are unbelievers all around us who desperately need Jesus. And, we must remember that those who resist the gospel message are blind (2 Cor. 4:4), and in your words, you describe the colors of the sunset. So, to them you may come across as quaint, maybe a little crazy. But that’s a badge of honor. It’s a good crazy, a faithful crazy, a God-honoring crazy, following after Jesus, just like Paul.
Thus in our daily prayers we pray for our community. We pray for those who are blind to the love and salvation of Christ, lost in sin, divorced from true and lasting joy, without any real hope. We pray that the Lord will open their eyes so they might see, and find eternal joy and life in Christ. We pray that they might be freed from their fantasy (from the trap of Satan the deceiver), be enveloped in the Truth that is Jesus Christ, and enter his Kingdom with all its blessings. And we pray that the Lord provide for us, his people, all we need, so we might be his instruments in bringing the light of Christ to those lost in darkness. We pray that they might become crazy like Paul, and, with us, that they might believe in and follow a man, a man who is God, who was executed on a cross, but was resurrected, and rules right now as Lord, the Messiah, King over all.
My friends, let us confess Christ before the watching world. Let us be bold in our testimony. Let us love those who do not know Jesus with truth, expressed in both our words and deeds. Because the world is caught up in a fantasy, Christians must proclaim the reality of Christ.
 R. Kent Hughes, Acts: The Church Afire, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1996), 326.
 DC Talk and The Voice of the Martyrs, Jesus Freaks (Tulsa, OK: Albury Publishing, 1999), 185.