What do you think is the most important topic of Christianity? Perhaps it would help to consider Christian symbols. The cross and the Bible are probably to two most prevalent. They are both very important, but are the most important? I think there is a topic that is more important.
If we dig deeper into the conversations that Paul has with the two Roman governors, Felix and Festus, and with King Agrippa (which we started studying in the first post in this five-part series here), he talks about that most important topic. If you want you can pause reading this post, open a Bible and scan Acts chapters 24-26 to see if you can determine what that topic might be. Then continue reading below.
There are potentially multiple candidates for “most important topic” in Acts 24-26, such as Paul’s life change, commonly referred to in Christian lingo as salvation, but the topic that the author of Acts features, and that I want us to examine more deeply because I would argue that it is the most important topic of Christianity, is resurrection. We Christians talk about it on Easter, of course, but how often do we talk about the resurrection throughout the rest of the year? How often should we talk about the resurrection? If Paul is any indication, and I think he is, we should talk about the resurrection often!
How many times is resurrection mentioned in these chapters? Let’s look at each specific reference.
First in chapter 24:15, Paul talks about his hope in God, that there will be a resurrection. Paul seems to be talking about a future resurrection more than about Jesus’ resurrection. But they are connected. In other places like 1st Corinthians chapter 15, Paul says that Jesus’ resurrection is a kind of first-fruits that points to the future resurrection of all those who are true followers of Jesus.
Next in Acts 24:21, Paul says that it was his comment about the resurrection that got him in trouble with the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. He knew some in the Sanhedrin disagreed with the concept of resurrection, but he challenged them to examine his life and produce any evidence that he had done anything wrong.
Jump ahead to chapter 25 verse 19, where Festus tells Agrippa that Paul claims Jesus has been risen from the dead. Paul has made the resurrection such a focal point of his teaching that other people are now talking about it! Probably not because they agree with it. But it is an example showing us that Paul’s focus on resurrection was noticed by his Roman audience too.
In 26:8, when Paul tells his story to the Roman rulers he says, “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” He goes on to ground his claim in the historical expectation of the Jews that God would send a savior, a Messiah to his nation Israel. For Paul, the Old Testament prophets talked about this coming Messiah in such a way that made it entirely reasonable to believe in resurrection. But how would these Roman leaders respond to Paul’s claims about resurrection?
What Paul goes on to say in 26:22-23 is crucial: “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 that statement, the Roman governor Festus interrupts Paul, accusing Paul of having gone insane from his great learning. Kind of a like a person who has earned advanced degrees but doesn’t have common sense. What is Festus getting at?
Try to put yourself in Festus’ shoes. Festus is thinking, “Resurrection is impossible. Things which are dead do not come to life.”
Keep Festus’ interruption in mind, and then let me ask you if you’ve ever heard something like this, “In the ancient world, people believed in miracles because they didn’t know any better. But we live in the modern world, with advanced science, and we know that miracles like resurrection are just not true. So therefore the Bible is an antiquated artifact that we need not rely on.”
Yet look what we just read. Festus, one of those people in that ancient world, did not believe in resurrection. He thinks Paul is insane. Last week we talked about how the two Jewish religious groups, the Sadducees and Pharisees had divergent viewpoints on resurrection. The Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection while the Pharisees did. So the resurrection was debated in the ancient world too. That tells me that people like Paul and the early Christians had just as much reason to disbelieve in the resurrection as we do, and yet they didn’t. Why? Because they met the risen Jesus! Why else would Paul do a 180 degree change in his life? Why else would he endure so much persecution around the Roman Empire? Why else would he present his case so strongly in these various trials before Jews and Romans alike? Because what Paul was saying about Jesus actually happened!
So of course, Paul responds in Acts 26:25, “What I am saying is true and reasonable.” Thus far, though, Paul has not convinced the Roman governor, Festus. What about King Agrippa? In the next post, we’ll learn if Paul can reach him.