A Dead Man Named Jesus

At this point two other people enter our story—a man by the name of King Agrippa and his sister Bernice. We know him as Herod Agrippa the Second. He was the last of the line of the Herods. His great-grandfather was Herod the Great, the man who tried to kill the baby Jesus and had the infant boys of Bethlehem slaughtered. His granduncle was Herod Antipas before whom Jesus was tried on that fateful night in Jerusalem. His father was Herod Agrippa the First who murdered the Apostle James and put Peter in jail.

And now Herod Agrippa the Second is king of a tiny territory northeast of the Sea of Galilee. He is a relatively young man, well-versed in the Jewish religion and a loyal friend of Rome. He and his sister have come to Caesarea to pay their respects to the new governor.

While they are there, Festus decides to ask for Agrippa's help. He doesn't have to. This isn't Agrippa's territory. He is more or less a friendly consultant in the matter.

Now listen to how this new governor states the case against Paul. It's been 2,000 years but the struggle still comes through. In these words you get an insight into how the secular mind deals with Easter.

There is a certain man here whom Felix left as a prisoner. When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned. I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over any man before he has faced his accusers and has had an opportunity to defend himself against their charges. When they next 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. When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. 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. I was at a loss how to investigate such matters. (Acts 25:14-20)

Did you get that? "A dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive." And the clincher: "I was at a loss how to investigate such matters." You see, Roman law didn't cover resurrections. Insurrections, yes. Resurrections, no.

To Festus, it's all incomprehensible. He's never heard anything like this before. He doesn't know what to say or even where to begin. Paul isn't guilty of anything. He's not a murderer or a thief. He's not a criminal. A little kooky maybe with this resurrection thing. But that's it.

Festus represents all the broad-minded people of the world. He himself doesn't believe in the Resurrection but it's okay with him if someone else does. And when the man of the world comes face to face with a true believer, he doesn't know what to say. He doesn't even know where to begin. He doesn't believe it but he doesn't know what to do with it either.

And for 2,000 years the men of the world have looked at Easter and shaken their heads. They hear the words, they know what we believe, but they don't know what to do with it all. It's just too much to comprehend. The words of Festus ring across the centuries—"I was at a loss how to investigate such matters." Of course he was. And every modern-day Festus stumbles over Easter and walks away scratching his head. 

You're Out Of Your Mind

Agrippa is a different sort of fellow. He understands the Jewish law and he also knows quite a bit about the story of Jesus. In fact, he was born about the time Jesus began his public ministry. So he says, "I would like to hear this man myself." And Festus says, "Tomorrow you will." (25:22)

Tomorrow comes and it turns out to be a great occasion. The Romans were always good at pomp and ceremony and they did it up right this time. The hearing was held in the splendid Hall of Audience in Caesarea. In come Agrippa and Bernice dressed in their royal purple robes. In comes Festus in the scarlet dress of the Roman governor. In come the Roman Legionnaires, in come the lictors, in come the civic officials, in come the interested onlookers. It is a vast and impressive sight.