Finally, lastly, in comes the Apostle Paul, a slight, stooped, unimpressive man wearing a threadbare tunic. Chains dangle from his gnarled hands. But his look is magnetic, his eyes flash with power. From the moment he speaks, it is Paul who holds the stage.

What follows is the greatest defense of the Christian message in the New Testament. It is in many ways the climax of the book of Acts. The record of what Paul said to Agrippa is found in Acts 26.

And as the hearing proceeds, an amazing fact becomes apparent: It is not Paul who is on trial, but Festus and Agrippa. Paul retells the story of his conversion and proclaims the power of the Resurrection. These are his words in verse 7: "Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?" That is the question of the ages. Is it incredible to think that God would raise the dead?

Then he adds these words in verse 22: "But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles."

At this point Festus has heard enough. He interrupts Paul and shouts, "You're out of your mind, Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane." (26:24)

You see, Festus reacts the way all secular men react. First, it's visions and revelations, then prophets, and finally a resurrection. It's just too much to take. No sane man can talk that way. It is the final verdict of the secular mind. Festus simply has no other category. Truth or the possibility of truth doesn't enter in because everyone knows that dead men stay dead. No, there simply was no category for this strange doctrine. And Festus, the Roman governor, reluctantly concludes that Paul, who is obviously a well-educated, brilliant man, has quite simply gone nuts. Crazy as a loon. Two bricks short of a full load. His study of the prophets has driven him bonkers. There is no other charitable explanation.

The Horns Of A Dilemma

Please understand. Festus doesn't really think Paul is literally insane. You don't shout at someone you think is crazy. You speak softly and pat them on the head. Maybe you turn to the King and wink. And you would never send a lunatic to the Emperor's court in Rome. That's a bad career move. No, Festus doesn't literally mean it. But he can't think of anything else.

For Festus, only two alternatives are possible. Unless he is ready to become a Christian, he must say Paul is nuts. If Paul is right, Festus is wrong. He would not, could not, dare not admit that. Festus rightly senses that madness is in the air. But if it's not Paul, it must be him. But it can't be him so it must be Paul. That's all there is to it. Paul is crazy.

Thus the secular mind confronts the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In the greatest question of life, the question of Jesus Christ and my relation to him, there are only two possible answers. Either I believe him for who he is. Or I reject him and his claims. Yes or no. Life or death. And a man, depending on his answer, is either wise or a fool.

Acts 25:1

He takes the question Jesus asked, "Who do men say that I am?" and comments:

This is the most resonant question in the New Testament. It is the question, it seems, of a man who wishes to understand but who is also himself disturbed, of a man who finds himself in deeper waters than anticipated, of a man at once baffled and intrigued by a destiny that he may have begun to glimpse but of which he is not fully sure. (p.37)

It may be that Jesus went to his death not knowing quite who he was, regardless of what other men thought. He certainly went to his death with public opinion sharply divided and with his own disciples profoundly confused. There is obviously no consensus—even today—even among Christians—as to what the real message of Jesus was and how it should apply to our lives, if at all... Despite the creedal affirmations of the mainline churches, there is no consensus—not if one looks at what real people actually believe—as to the identity of Jesus. (p.38)