Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. – Acts 25:19 ESV
Isn't that what it's always about? Disputes about religion and debates over the resurrection. From an outsider's perspective that's what it all boiled down to for Festus. This was nothing more than a disagreement over religion and a ridiculous debate about whether a dead man was still dead or had come to life. To him it all appeared ridiculous and probably not worth his time. Whatever charges the Jews had brought against Paul were spurious at best. So much so, that Festus couldn't even figure out what charges to include in his letter to the Emperor Nero when he tried to explain why he was sending this matter and the prisoner to his attention.
But the real issue is summed up quite nicely in verse 19. This really was about religion and the resurrection. And it still is today. On the one hand, the world has tried for centuries to make Christianity all about religion. They want to simplify this all down to just another attempt by men to explain the universe and give meaning to life. Check out just one of the many definitions of religion:
a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
Religion is something man creates. It is a list of rules and rituals. It is a set of beliefs and practices. It is man trying to explain the un-explainable and put it in terms he can control. Basically, religion is an attempt to box in God and make Him manageable, knowable, and please-able. But Christianity was never intended to be just another religion. It was a radical new way of life. It wasn't about rules, but relationship. It wasn't about rituals, but about a way to have a right relationship with God. But men couldn't understand that. Especially men who had spent their lives pursuing religion. For them, Jesus and His followers were simply burrs under their proverbial saddle. They were boat rockers, trouble makers, bent on upsetting the status quo. And they had to be done away with. Which is exactly what the Jews were attempting to do with Paul. And what they thought they had done with Jesus.
But the other issue is the resurrection. It is the real sticking point for most people. Few people still argue about the validity of Jesus as a real human being. Most acknowledge His existence. They just reject His resurrection. They'll admit that He came, lived, taught, and died. But when it comes to the resurrection, that's where they part ways. That's too much for them. It was too much for the Jews of Paul's day. It was too much for Festus. It was too much for Agrippa. Most men have no problem accepting the teachings of Jesus, accepting them as just one more set of philosophical and moralistic perspectives on life. But mention Jesus rising from the dead and the offer of eternal life through faith in Him, and that's when you get push back. That's when the eyes roll, the heads shake, and the real debate begins.
All throughout this chapter, Paul's innocents is declared. Festus declared, "I found he had committed nothing worthy of death" (Vs 25). The Jews could prove none of their charges against Paul. So why was he on trial? Because he believed the truth. He asserted Jesus to be alive. He was guilty of believing the truth about Jesus. A fact the Jews just could not accept. They wanted this to be nothing more than a debate about religion. They wanted Jesus to be a non-factor. They wanted His resurrection to be a non-issue. And that's what men want today. Men don't fear religion, but they are petrified of the resurrection. They despise it because the enemy does. Satan hates the idea of a resurrected Christ, because it reminds him that he lost the battle at Calvary. Now men don't have to remain slaves to sin. They can be set free from sin and death by the sacrifice of the cross and the miracle of the empty tomb. Jesus is alive. That is what we still declare today. We assert it, believe it, declare it, live it, put our hope in it and depend upon it. But amazingly, men still reject it. But may we continue to tell what we know to be the truth? Not about religion, but about how to have a right relationship with the living God through the sacrificial death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Father, thank you for the reality of the resurrection. It is the answer. It is our hope. It is what sets Christianity apart and keeps it from being just another religion. The resurrected Lord is what gives us hope and a future. Let me never forget that. Don't let me argue religion, but declare the reality of the life, death, burial and resurrection of My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Because He changed my life forever. Amen