2nd Sunday of Easter – April 8, 2018
”So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. 21That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22But 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— 23that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”
24At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
25”I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”
28Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
29Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” (Acts 26:19-29)
Is there such a thing as a mad scientist? Are there people who are so intelligent that they become insane? If there was ever a person who fit that bill, it was Nikola Tesla. One hundred years ago, Tesla was considered the next great inventor and scientist. It seemed no could match his knowledge of electricity and magnetism. Edison may have perfected the lightbulb, Einstein may have been making amazing strides in mathematics, but many thought Nikola Tesla would surpass them all. And he just might have…if he only had stayed sane.
The more Tesla invented, the more aloof he became. He refused to shake hands with people. He drank only boiled water. When he ate at a restaurant he personally cleaned his dishes before he ate off of them. He walked between 8 and 10 miles per day. Every night he curled his toes one hundred times because he thought it stimulated his brain cells. He refused to sleep more than 4 hours a night.
The word “eccentric” doesn’t do Tesla justice. By the end of his life, most people simply called him “insane.” His great learning, his incredible brilliance, had also led him to losing his mind. Science calls people like Tesla “tortured geniuses.”
That dangerous connection between great learning and insanity must be a pretty old one, because we hear the same connection made this morning. Except in the pages of the book of Acts it isn’t a mad scientist whose mind is on trial. It is the Church’s greatest missionary, the Apostle Paul.
It all started with a trip to Jerusalem. This was the last time Paul would travel to the great Jewish city. Paul went to the temple to worship. That’s when everything went south. “Some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him.” These men had tried to stone Paul to death earlier in his ministry. Now was their chance to finish what they had started.
“The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut.” Jerusalem was in an uproar. When that happened people usually died. The Romans knew that as well as anyone. “While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd.”
Things were moving fast now. Jews were carrying Paul away to kill him on the temple grounds. Roman soldiers were rushing in to stop the madness. Blood was probably going to be shed. People were probably going to die. And there in the middle of the chaos was the Apostle Paul.
The sight of Roman soldiers didn’t stop the Jewish mob. The violence was so great Paul had to be carried into the Roman barracks by the soldiers. He was allowed to speak to the Roman officer, and then to the crowd. In the end he wasn’t killed that day. He was simply thrown in prison.
There sat the greatest missionary rotting in a jail cell for over two years. His trial would eventually take him before the Sanhedrin and two Roman governors. But this morning we see Paul take the stand in his own defense before King Agrippa and the Roman Governor, Festus. What Paul said at this point could either free him or get him killed.
What would you say? It’s hard to imagine. After all, we rarely find ourselves taking the stand for our faith in a life or death situation. We can thank the Lord for that. But even in every day opportunities to share the faith we have been confirmed in we slink away, fearing the worst reprisal. We often end up saying what others want to hear.
It would have been easy for Paul to say what the rulers wanted to hear. Freedom would be his if he simply hid away his faith. But as we have come to expect with Paul, he does just the opposite.
In his defense, Paul says, “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.”
This had always been Paul’s missionary message. But in the eyes of the Romans, Paul was approaching a dangerous threshold. He was crossing over from intelligence to insanity. “Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. ‘You are out of your mind, Paul!’ he shouted. ‘Your great learning is driving you insane.’”
Of course, there were no “insanity pleas” in Paul’s day. And for his great learning, for his faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ, Paul was thrown into prison. Sometimes that knowledge of the truth of Christ physically imprisons believers in this world.
It was no different when Jesus, the Truth himself, stood before the Roman Governor. Unlike Paul, Jesus didn’t deserve to be on trial. He had done nothing wrong. Ever. And yet even in his death Jesus showed his perfect love by willingly dying for the sins of the entire world. Then, on Easter Sunday, Jesus, the Truth, showed himself to also be the Resurrection and the Life.
To say that God became one of us and died sounds ludicrous. To say that he rose again sounds just as “insane” to the world around us. So how can a believer respond when the world calls us by those names?
Here’s what Paul said, “‘I am not insane, most excellent Festus…What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.’” Now comes the opportunity. Now Paul goes for it all. “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”
Indeed he did. But the King would not be swayed. “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Chained and on trial, Paul must have looked like a lunatic. He certainly sounded like one.
Is this what we want? chains and prison? To be called “insane” by the rest of the world? Actually, yes. This is what Paul wants for you. “I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am.” And what has God made you? He has made you a follower of your Savior, Jesus. He has made you talented and intelligent. You aren’t crazy. You aren’t insane. You are a child of God. You have the wisdom of salvation. Now share that wisdom boldly. Amen.