Acts 26:24-32 – The Gospel is Folly?
The title is drawn from the response of Festus to Paul’s claim that Jesus rose from the dead.
1) ACTS 26 SUMMARY
Due to the weather, it has been a couple of weeks since we have met, so a short review is appropriate.
- Prior to chapter 26, Festus was unsure what to write in his letter that was to accompany Paul to Rome.
- So he makes arrangements for Paul to state his case before King Agrippa II.
- Festus’ intention was to get input on the letter from Agrippa.
Chapter 26 starts with the Agrippa giving Paul permission to speak, whereby Paul proceeds to make his 5th defense.
- He was once a persecutor of Christians and a fanatical Pharisee.
- He was on trial for believing what the “fathers” taught about Jesus.
- The fathers taught about the promise.
- The fathers taught about the resurrection.
- He was converted on the road to Damascus by a risen Jesus – witnesses were present.
- Since that day, his life was lived in obedience to Jesus’ call to preach the Gospel.
- He again refers back to the “fathers”:
- Acts 26:21–23 (ESV) — 21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 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.”
Our previous 2 lessons examined Paul’s claims that the “fathers” spoke of Jesus both in terms of the promise and the resurrection.
- We saw how right Paul was, but paradoxically, we saw also why the Jews had difficulty with Jesus.
- What were some of the difficulties, e.g., specifically with His death and resurrection?
Finally, I didn’t use the following in the previous two lessons, but they capture well Paul’s claims about the OT:
- Psalm 49:7–9 (ESV) — 7 Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, 8 for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, 9 that he should live on forever and never see the pit.
- Psalm 49:14–15 (ESV) — 14 Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. 15 But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Selah
And now we have arrived at our text for today’s lesson.
And here I want to unpack the world’s perception of the message Paul was preaching.
Festus expressed the world’s view clearly.
2) JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD – YOU ARE CRAZY!
Acts 26:24 (ESV) — 24 And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.”
- Make no mistake, Festus was saying that Paul was crazy.
- The Greek word literally means “to be mad, to rave. One who so speaks that he seems not to be in his right mind.” – Strongs.
- In fact the Greek word here is where we get the English word for maniac.
Jesus Himself faced the same sentiment:
• John 10:19–21 (ESV) — 19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
The accusations still fly:
- “Who will say with confidence that sexual abuse is more permanently damaging to children than threatening them with the eternal and unquenchable fires of hell?” – Richard Dawkins
- “I doubt that religion can survive deep understanding. The shallows are its natural habitat.” – Richard Dawkins
- “It is child abuse to teach children there is a creator.” – Peter Atkins (paraphrase from Stephen Meyers debate)
- “Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration–courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and, above all, love of the truth.” – H.L. Mencken
- “The Bible may, indeed does, contain a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre, but we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human mammals.” – Christopher Hitchens
- “So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence.” – Bertrand Russell
- “We know enough at this moment to say that the God of Abraham is not only unworthy of the immensity of creation; he is unworthy even of man.” – Sam Harris
It needs to be said that Paul never attempted to hide, mitigate or soften the outrageousness of the Gospel’s claims.
- Despite the insults and imprisonment, Paul’s message never wavered.
- He never was distracted, it seems to me, with defending his intelligence directly.
- 2 Corinthians 5:13 (ESV) — 13 For if we are beside ourselves [crazy], it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.
- This leads me to two questions; 1) How did he explain the responses? 2) How did he respond?
Explaining the “your are crazy” responses:
In what I believe was an act of encouragement, God gave Paul insight as to why people respond the way they do.
- 1 Corinthians 1:18 (ESV) — 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
- 1 Corinthians 1:23 (ESV) — 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,
- 1 Corinthians 2:13-14 (ESV) — 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
- 2 Corinthians 4:4 (ESV) — 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
- 2 Corinthians 2:14–17 (ESV) — 14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.
What is Paul telling us about the Gospel message?
- It is folly to the unsaved.
- It is not accepted by the “natural” person.
- The Gospel stinks; it smells one way to the lost and another to the saved.
What is Paul telling us about the hearers of the Gospel message?
- The “natural” person can’t understand the things of God.
- Satan is actively at work blinding their minds to the Gospel.
What is “a fragrance of death” and why is it a characteristic of a sincere Gospel?
- What are ways we try to mask the odor of the Gospel?
- Should we attempt to mask the fragrance of the Gospel for the unsaved?
- Doing so, I think, is ripe with problems such as false conversions and heresy.
Knowing these things should serve to prepare us.
- It should come as no surprise that the Gospel and Jesus’ name is a lightning rod of controversy.
- We can empathize with the individuals who make the “you are crazy” responses because we know the theological problems they face.
- We can be emboldened because it ultimately is not a personal attack on us, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So we have understood how Paul explained and understood the responses to the Gospel he was teaching.
Now on to the second question; How did he respond to the doubt and insults?
How Paul Responded:
Acts 26:25–26 (ESV) — 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.”
With regards to Paul’s sanity:
He stated he was in fact not out of his mind, because:
1) King Agrippa “knows about these things” and “…believe the prophets? I know that you believe.”
- As a Jew, the King knows about “the promise” and “the resurrection” discussed by Paul and taught in the OT.
- And Agrippa knew that God as revealed in the OT, was active in world in 5 distinct ways all of which were manifested in Jesus (N.T. Wright):
- Word of God
- Wisdom of God
- Glory of God
- Law of God
- Spirit of Go
2) And “none of these things has escaped his notice”.
- The implication here is that, because he is based in Jerusalem, the King knows about Jesus, the disciples, the empty grave, the resurrection, miracles, etc.
With regards to the merits of the promise and resurrection of Jesus:
“true and rational [sober, reasonable] words”
- True here means “Truth as evidenced in relation to facts, therefore, it denotes the reality clearly lying before our eyes as opposed to a mere appearance, without reality” – Zodhiates.
- In other words, “Paul answers the charge of μανία by arguing that he speaks “true and rational words” which can be understood and tested” – TDNT.
- Side note on implication of “true words”:
- Titus 1:9 (ESV) — 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
“this has not been done in a corner”
- As we have discussed before, the Gospel was God verifiably intervening in History.
- We addressed this in a past lesson by noticing how interwoven Acts is with Roman history.
- Both in identifying Roman leaders and seats of government to the working out of Roman jurisprudence, the book of Acts did not take place in a corner
So here, Paul is claiming that the resurrection of Jesus Christ did not happen in a corner (out of sight).
- It can be, as stated earlier, understood and tested.
- Gary Habermas’ Historical Minimal Facts approach makes use of some of Paul’s arguments for what is meant by the resurrection did not happen “in a corner”.
- The first 4 historical events below (some of which are used by Paul) are considered historical facts by even the most critical of scholars (Habermas).
- The fifth event is not as widely accepted, but the majority of scholars do accept it as fact.
1) Jesus died on the cross at the hands of professional Roman executioners.
2) Disciples believed and taught risen Jesus.
- 1 Corinthians 15:3–8 (ESV) — 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
3) James, the skeptic brother of Jesus, was converted.
- Mark 3:21 (ESV) — 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”
- Mark 6:3–4 (ESV) — 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”
- John 7:5 (ESV) — 5 For not even his brothers believed in him.
4) Paul, the enemy of Christ, was converted.
- In fact, Acts teaches Paul’s conversion 3 times.
5) The tomb was empty
The above 5 historical facts must be explained.
Paul argues time and time again that the explanation is that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
In Gary Habermas’ book, he explores in detail the above 5 facts and the various explanations (great read).
So what can we take away from how Paul responded?
- We can take heart that it is not for a lack of evidence that people don’t believe, but it is a heart problem.
- And though clearly we are saved by faith, we also have permission to believe in and have confidence in Jesus based on evidence.
What is the opposite of faith?(not knowledge)
The Bible makes clear elsewhere that we can believe based on the knowledge of the evidence.
- John 10:38 (ESV) — 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
- John 17:22–23 (ESV) — 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
- John 19:34–37 (ESV) — 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”
- These verses capture the essence of Paul’s appeal to King Agrippa II!
- 1 John 5:13 (ESV) — 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.