Many times in the New Testament, people described Christ and nearly all of the apostles as being mad, crazy or extreme. In Mark 3:21 the Scripture says, “But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind.'” Acts 26:24 says, “Now as he [Paul] thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!'”
In every age, Christian leaders have been not only grossly misunderstood and misjudged, but considered mad. When we come across behavior we cannot understand, or when someone’s conduct seems to be wildly extravagant or utterly absurd, it is easy to say, “That fellow is crazy! To behave like that is sheer madness!”
This is an easy indictment to hurl at other people. It relieves us of the responsibility of trying to understand, and it relieves us of the responsibility of facing the realities of life. It gives us a smug satisfaction. It keeps us from having to examine and express our own moral principles.
People could not understand Jesus, so they said He was beside Himself. On the first recorded occasion it was His own friends who expressed this view (Mark 3:21).
Perplexing and alarming reports had reached them. In an effort to save Him from the dangerous consequences of His rashness, they journeyed from Nazareth to Capernaum to take Him quietly back home. He had flouted religious convention. He had shocked the straitlaced about the Sabbath. He had indicated the incompatibility of His actions, views and teachings with those generally accepted.
For His friends to claim that He was beside Himself may have been an excuse or a defense, suggesting that He was harmless and had done nothing to provoke a revolution or an outburst of national fanaticism.
However, the enemies of Jesus could not fail to see His growing popularity and be upset by it. They could not deny the evidence of a power in Him that was beyond their comprehension. So they said, “He has a demon and is mad” (John 10:20). They tried to explain away His power by insinuating that it was due to demon possession.
There are other examples in the New Testament. Paul appeared at Caesarea before Festus, the new Roman governor, and Herod Agrippa. Paul set forth the salient facts of his career, his conversion and his conviction of the truth of the Gospel. He probably got excited, enthusiastic and even emotional.
Festus interrupted him with a loud voice, saying in effect, “Paul, you’re crazy! Your religion has turned your head. You’re mad. You’re an extremist!” Festus did not want to face the realities of life. Paul’s arguments were beyond him. He could not accept such a faith. So in scorn and contempt he said, “Paul is mad!”
Following a telecast after one of our Crusades, a New York columnist wrote: “Billy Graham is beside himself.” In other words, he was accusing me of being wild or crazy or an extremist, because I was stating that the only hope for our generation is in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is strange that the world accepts enthusiasm in every realm except the spiritual. The world appreciates and understands emotion and enthusiasm, unless it is a religious fervor—then immediately it is suspect.
You can be as crazy as you like about the World Series. You can go to a major league baseball stadium, shout yourself hoarse, and everyone thinks this is normal. You can be as crazy as you like about money, pleasure or even drink. You can be wild about some musical group. And in each case you are thought to be sane and normal.
But bring the same enthusiasm into your moral convictions, and you are told that you are beside yourself. When you bring a grand and glorious abandon to your dedication to the Lord Jesus Christ, you are thought by many of your neighbors to be mad, to have “gone too far” in religion.
One of the great needs in the church today is for every Christian to become enthusiastic about his or her faith in Jesus Christ. This is the very essence of vital spiritual experience. The apostles had been with Christ, and they could not help but testify to what they had seen and heard (Acts 4:20).
Every Christian should become an ambassador of Christ with splendid wildness and happy abandon. Christians should be so intoxicated with Christ and so filled with holy fervor that nothing could ever quench their ardor.
However, let me warn you that when you take this position with Christ, you will be called crazy, you might be persecuted—you might even be crucified. You will be accused of being beside yourself, you will be called a religious fanatic, and some will label you an extremist.
Think of the glorious daring of Christ’s men and women! Paul was satisfied with nothing less than taking the Gospel to Rome, to Spain, to any place the Lord sent him. John Wesley set out to preach Christ to the whole world.
These men had a magnificent obsession. They carried the flaming truths of the Gospel far and wide, thinking nothing of peril, persecution and reproach. They surmounted obstacles, overcame difficulties and endured persecution. That was their craziness, the madness of doing great things for God.
It is this very commitment we lack in our churches today. Our vision is too limited, and our objectives are too small. We are suffering because we lack this fervor, enthusiasm and “madness.”
We have become too sophisticated and respectable to be called crazy in our generation. Christianity has become so respectable and so conventional that it is now insipid. The salt has lost its savor.
The Communists had that obsession to win the world to their views. And they almost did it. The enthusiasm that Communists showed for their beliefs put our half-hearted efforts to shame. The world had to take Communism seriously because of the abandon of its followers and their willingness to sacrifice and to suffer.
Would to God that the world found us Christians dangerous enough to call us mad in these days when materialism, evil and secularism are sweeping over the world!
Would that we, too, could be considered to be beside ourselves, so that we might at least command the world’s attention and that we might be as enthusiastic for Christ as the Communists were for Communism.
The philosophy of men and women of the world is, “What can I get out of this? How can I benefit myself?” We witness a scramble for place and a grasping for the prizes which the world offers. However, the Bible warns that the world and the lust thereof will soon pass away (1 John 2:17).
The things that materialism offers cannot satisfy the innermost longings of the human heart, nor can materialism save us when the showdown comes, as surely it must.
Thank God, there are still those who are willing to stand up and be counted! We still have people who possess moral courage, who are willing to get involved in the great moral issues of our day.
Thank God, there are those who sacrifice time, talents, social position and lucrative posts, and who fling aside every advantage in order to serve the Kingdom of God! In the world’s estimation, these people are surely beside themselves.
The whole history of missionary enterprise is filled with names of men and women like William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Mary Slessor, John Paton, David Livingstone and others who were thought by their generations to be crazy. Their dedication was beyond the understanding of those who loved the smugness and the ease of contemporary life.
We Americans are comfortable, sitting in front of our television sets with our stomachs full and our incomes high. Godless materialism is penetrating every corner of the world. The storm clouds are getting blacker. But we remain complacent, drugged and dull. The Scripture warns us to wake up before it is too late.
And yet, in the last analysis, who are the crazy ones? Are they not the complacent, self-centered and smug, who are so selfish that they tire of their own smugness, tire of their pleasures, and even tire of themselves? They’re filled, satiated and banal. Jesus said those who would save their life would lose it (Matthew 16:25).
The really sane people are often those whom the world laughs at and despises. As we look back on Christ, we can see that it was He who was sane, and His critics who were foolish. As we consider Paul, we must admit that it was he who was sane, and Festus who was beside himself.
To neglect the cross of Christ, to ignore the eternity toward which we are all moving—this is the height of madness. And to disregard salvation through Jesus Christ is the most foolish of all foolishness.
May Christians turn their backs on compromise, easy-going tolerance and reluctance to be forthright. May we make it clear by word and by action that we really believe that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
The Gospel that Paul preached seemed madness to the world of his day. The apostle wrote that the Gospel was “to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
In its reaction to the Gospel, the world of our day has changed little from the world of Paul’s day. A true Christian will always be considered strange, unique, crazy and at times even insane.
Let us have this madness! Let us capture some of the magnificent obsession that these early Christians had! Let us go forth as men and women filled with the Spirit of God!
It is my prayer that you will accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. I believe that God is moving in a very wonderful way across North America. Thousands of men and women whose hearts God has prepared are accepting Christ as Savior.
This is harvest time in North America. We do not know how long these doors are going to be open, but now God is speaking. Will you respond? Will you accept Jesus Christ as Savior? Do it today. Now!
All Scripture quotations are taken by permission from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.