What would you think if I walked up to you and said, “I’m mad?” Would you automatically think that I was angry, or would you picture something else? Would your opinion change if I said, “I am really, really mad?” Would you ask yourself: “Oh, no, what have I done?” Since most of you have never seen me really angry, you just might think that I was a little “off.” Couldn’t that statement be a confession of insanity?
Here in Acts 26, the Apostle Paul had been arrested – just like many other servants of God before and since. The Jewish, but Hellenistic king, Agrippa, expressed a desire to meet and hear this famous follower of Jesus Christ. So Paul was brought into the governor’s conference room. Agrippa was there, along with his Jewish wife Bernice, and the Roman Governor Festus.
When given the opportunity to speak, Paul began to explain why he had been arrested. He went back to the beginning, explaining that he had been one of the most strict of all the orthodox Jews. He had spent time persecuting the cult of the Christians, hailing men and women to prison for nothing more than declaring that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. He apparently considered their faith to be insane. But then, while on an authorized trip to Damascus to raise more havoc among the heretics, he was driven to the ground under an intense light which was “above the brightness of the sun.” About that time he heard a voice which began with the declaration, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” Jesus then said He would be sending Paul to the Gentiles, “to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” – Christ Jesus. Paul then said, “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” He went on to explain that beginning at Damascus, then throughout Judea and finally into the non-Jewish Gentile world, he preached repentance urging people to put their faith and allegiance in Jesus Christ. His purpose was so that those people might receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance with God.
Paul said that it was because he ministered God’s word – and the Jewish Messiah – to the Gentiles that his former friends and colleagues turned against him. “For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me.” “They went after me as if I was a mad dog.” He said, all I have been trying to do is share with people – both inside and outside of Israel – those things which Moses and the Old Testament prophets taught. Specifically “that Christ should suffer (death), and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people (of Israel) and to the Gentiles.” It was at that point that the Roman Governor, Festus, probably jumping to his feet, shouted, “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.” The word which is translated “mad” is actually the Greek word “mania,” and ”thou art beside thyself” is the related word “maniac.” They mean that he was beside himself, off, somewhat insane.
It is that excited statement that I’d like you to consider this morning. Festus said, “That is insane. Paul you are insane; you are mad.” “Much learning doth make thee mad.” “You’ve spent so much time studying theology that you’ve lost your mind and the ability to think clearly. You are no long thinking rationally, responsibly, practically.” To that Paul calmly replied, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” “No, Mister Governor, I am not a maniac. I am merely sharing with people the Word of God.”
Why did Festus think that Paul was insane?
Let’s see if we can crawl into the mind of the Roman Governor. History doesn’t provide us with much background information about this man. We can determine from his name, “Porcius Festus,” that he was a Roman. We also know that he had been appointed governor, or procurator, of Judah only a short time earlier. Paul had been arrested under his predecessor’s governorship, and for two years Paul had been jailed at Caesarea. Almost as soon as Festus arrived in Isreal, the leadership of the Jews tried to use him to get rid of Paul. But as a wise politician, he could see what was happening, and he refused to make any snap decisions. Then “after certain days, King Agrippa and Bernice came unto Caesarea to salute Festus.” The governor, unfamiliar with the specifics of Judaism, took that opportunity to use the Jewish figurehead king to examine Paul’s case. That takes us into Acts 26 and what Paul said to Agrippa.
Again, why did Festus think that Paul was insane? His Roman religion, Gentile social background, and general human nature led him into that conclusion. He tried to have an open mind as listened to Paul talking about hating Jesus and His Christian followers. Rome had probably warned him about those followers of Jesus and their radical faith. So Festus probably agreed with Paul, thinking that a hard line against the Christians was a good idea. He most likely had a file which told him that the leadership of the Jews declared that Jesus Christ should be considered as a rival to Caesar. So what Paul said about punishing Christ’s disciples in every synagogue and persecuting them even unto strange cities probably appealed to him. But he still tried to maintain an open mind.
Then the prisoner began to describe how he had been converted to faith in Jesus Christ. A bright light, brighter than the noonday sun, and a voice out of heaven, were hard for a skeptic like Festus to believe. It’s a good thing Paul didn’t talk about being blinded by that light and then after three days being instantly cured. “Immediately there fell from my eyes, as it had been scales, and my sight forthwith was restored.” “Okay, okay,” Festus thought, “this guy is either a fool or he’s making up a big fat lying story. But why?” Festus undoubtedly knew that Jesus of Nazareth had died on a Roman cross under the order of his predecessor’s, predecessor, Governor Pilate.
Now Festus, with a smirk on his face, looked over at Agrippa and his wife, who seemed to be soaking up every word, as Paul went on to describe the commission that he received from the previously dead Jesus. “Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision. But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me.”
Again, why did the Jews want to kill Paul? For the same reason the forefathers of those Jews persecuted and killed so many of God’s earlier prophets: Those prophets demanded repentance and a return to the Lord, and they didn’t want to do that. But Paul preached a message which went a step beyond Jeremiah, Isaiah and the others. He was telling people that it was through the sacrifice which Christ Jesus made on the cross that Jehovah could, with satisfaction, forgive repenting sinners. The Jews knew that through the shedding of blood God accepted remission of sins, but Paul was saying that it was through Christ’s blood – the blood of the Son of God – that this was to be done. Again, Paul said, “that Christ should suffer (death), and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people (of Israel) and to the Gentiles.”
This was what lit Festus’ fire. That faith and that message have been igniting hatred against Christ and His servants for 2,000 years. First, there was the idea that people, both Jews and Gentiles, have a need to repent before God. What? Repent? Don’t be foolish. You must be insane to think that my few sins are worthy of mention and correction before God. I don’t need to repent. I don’t need a changed heart and mind about the way I live my life. My righteousness is sufficient to carry me past my immorality, for example, into any church, any synagogue, any religious facility on earth. And it is good enough for heaven as well. Don’t tell me that all have sinned and come short of the glory of any God, because I haven’t.
That thought and that implication would have turned up the heat under Festus’ heart. But it was the statement that dead Jesus arose alive from the grave which pushed him over the top. “That is insane. Paul you are filled with mania.” “Much learning doth make thee mad.” “All your reading, all your thinking, all your meditation on religion have pushed you over the edge into insanity.”
If that was so, then he was as insane as Christ Himself. Paul didn’t make up his message. It didn’t come out of his own deranged mind. Paul was preaching the message given to him by the maniac Jesus Christ. In Mark 21, some of Jesus’ family and friends, “went out to lay hold on him: for they said, he is beside himself.” It is not a bad thing to be considered unhinged, if you are talking about repentance and faith in Christ. Such accusations put us into the camp of the Lord Jesus.
Is there anyone here this morning like Festus? Is this where you are, my friend? As you listen to the gospel message, instead of hearing “good news,” do you hear only words of foolishness? Instead of hearing about the solution to your sin problem, do you deny that you have a sin problem, and you consider God’s prophet a fool for implying otherwise? Do you say, “it defies logic to think that the death of some Jew two thousand years ago, can somehow provide me with acceptance with God?” And then there is that foolishness about Jesus’ resurrection. Is this where you are? Are you like Festus?
Paul said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus.”
When I was in school, sixty years ago, students were graded against specific standards. Each area of instruction had its parameters and depending how well kids learned the lessons of that course they received a grade. They got an A, B, C, or D. And if they failed to learn the material they failed to move on. Similarly, it might be said that there are standards which experts use to determine if someone is insane. Here is the bar. If you really believe you are Napoleon Bonaparte or Genghis Khan, then you are insane. If you are hearing voices telling you to murder homosexuals or abortionists, then you are insane. But what if you hear a voice telling you to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature? “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.”
Paul’s message suggested that he wasn’t insane, because it flowed out of the eternal Word of God. If he went about saying that Jesus of Nazareth was the brother of Lucifer, he could have been charged with stupidity, foolishness, a vivid imagination or even insanity, because such an idea is preposterous. But when he said that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, he had scripture behind him. If he really believed that babies are delivered to their parents by storks, he could have been considered insane. If he said that he had confidence that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are real, and we should believe in them for eternal life, he should be incarcerated as a danger to himself and others. But when he declared that Jesus Christ arose from the grave after being entombed for three days, he had human witnesses and scriptural precedence on which to defend himself against any insanity charges.
Why did Christ Jesus go about healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and raising the dead? It was to silence people like Festus. Today, people hearing about Jesus’ miracles scoff, wondering whether or not the preacher is insane. But in Agrippa’s day, only months before Festus arrived in Judah, thousands of people had seen and experienced those miracles. And yet there were still many who refused to believe the testimonies and messages similar to Paul’s.
Jesus even had a disciple who was not too unlike Festus. When some of the lady disciples came back from Jesus’ tomb, declaring it was empty, John and Peter ran to investigate. They found the ladies’ declarations to be true. What happened to the body of Jesus? That same evening, after a day of turmoil, most of the disciples were gathered behind locked doors. All of sudden, Christ Jesus appeared in their midst and said, “Peace be unto you.” But Thomas, one of the twelve was not with them, and when he was told about it, he said, “That’s insane.” “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
For a week, Thomas, one of the people who had been closest to Christ during His earthly life, kept thinking, “That’s madness. My friends have gone insane.” But on the eighth day, Jesus again met His disciples, and this time the skeptic was there. He told Thomas to check out the wounds in his hands and to probe the gaping hole in his side. The repentant disciple took one look and pulled back, saying, “My Lord and my God.” The resurrection of Christ proved to this man that Jesus was Jehovah God. With that, John, who recorded that meeting, added, “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”
I’m sure Paul knew that the events surrounding his conversion were hard for a stranger, like Festus, to believe. Not even the nation of Israel, which had possessed the written word and all the prophecies of Christ, universally accepted the gospel. But as Paul said, “After I met the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, I have been busy sharing the words of truth.”
They were also words of “soberness” – Acts 26:25. That Greek word literally speaks of “soundness of mind.” It is the antithesis of insanity. He may have doubted it at the time, but Paul had never been more sane than on the day he first met his Lord and Saviour. And the truth of the matter is, it was before that day that was insane – insane with sin, unbelief and rebellion against the King of kings. Only a fool fights against omnipotence. Before he surrendered to Christ that day outside the city of Damascus, Paul had been beside himself precisely because of the learning he had received from his Jewish instructors.
When Paul was writing his first epistle to the church in Corinth, he brought up the subjects of foolishness and wisdom. He addressed, indirectly, the subject of spiritual insanity. He said, “For Christ sent me… to preach the gospel: not with WISDOM of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish FOOLISHNESS; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the WISDOM of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God MADE FOOLISH the WISDOM of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the FOOLISHNESS of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks FOOLISHNESS; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the WISDOM of God. Because the FOOLISHNESS of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the FOOLISH things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.”
There may be someone here today, who thinks that I am a fool for wasting my time preaching the Biblical gospel. “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” I am telling you the truth, the same truth spoken by Christ, and shared by Paul. If you die without the Saviour, you will die in your sins, and you will spend eternity under the judgment of God. But if you will repent and humble yourself before God, putting your faith in the death of Christ on the cross, the living Christ will save your sinful soul. “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.”
I beg of you to cast aside your charges of foolishness and insanity. You need the Saviour. You need to be delivered from the penalty your sins deserve. Put your faith on Christ. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” – delivered and forgiven.