Devotional # 68. 1/6/14. Paul’s Defense to Porcius Festus.
This week’s Reading: Acts 25:1-27.
Introduction. Last week we saw Paul’s trial and defense in front of Felix. This week we’ll see Paul use his options wisely without pledging allegiance to anyone or anything but God and His ways.
vv. 1-7. Here we see that Felix’s time as procuratorofJudea is up and Porcius Festus (24:27) takes over. Festus took the office around 59AD although he didn’t know much about the laws and customs of the people he ruled (Source 1). Festus traveled to Jerusalem and the first thing the Jews in leadership brought up was…Paul. It’s been two years that he’s sat in prison but he’s a loose end. They thought killing Jesus would rid them of the problem of Jesus and his followers but one of their own defected and they have no problem breaking the sixth commandment (masquerading as “capital punishment”). Interestingly keeping God’s law of not murdering (purposefully shedding innocent blood) is respectful of God Himself since man is made in God’s image. But God protects Paul and although Festus wants to politically keep the Jews appeased he bides his time and tells them to go back to Caesarea with him. They all travel back and Festus hears Paul.
vv. 8-11. Paul is confident of his innocence but also aware of the religious leaders cunning. They have already attempted to assassinate him once (Acts 23:16-35, Devotional 63) so although Paul may not have known of their specific plans this time he was discerning enough to request to be moved to Rome. Festus wasn’t making a decision but Paul made one for him which robbed the Jews of their assassination attempt. When Paul appealed to Caesar it was in reference to the Emperor Nero (Source 2). Peter was killed during what is commonly called the “First Persecution” under Nero. Christians were used by Nero as torches to light the roads and he dressed them in animal skins to be mauled by dogs in arenas. Ultimately Paul died under his rule also (Source 3). So why would Paul appeal to this evil man? Well, as a Roman citizen he had the right to stand official trial, he was innocent, he would get to share the gospel with more people and he wasn’t going down without a fight!
vv. 12-22. So Festus agrees to send Paul to Nero but in the meantime King Agrippa came to town and Festus explained to him what was going on. There were several Agrippa’s (most recently we talked about the one in Acts 12 (Devotional 52). The Agrippa here is “Herod Agrippa II, son of the Herod who killed James and imprisoned Peter…his great-uncle, Herod Antipas , was the Herod of the gospels, while his great-grandfather, Herod the Great, ruled at the time Jesus was born” (Source 2). Festus recounts the trial of Paul and that it was about religion (which the Roman courts didn’t deal with) to Agrippa II. Agrippa tells Festus that he is interested in Paul, the man that says Jesus is still alive. It is interesting that the higher caste of Roman rulers knew who Jesus was, about his death, the dispute over his resurrection and Paul, His apostle. As I have said before, the seeming contradiction of the resurrection is the one thin thread that Christianity hangs by.
vv. 23-27. As is common with prideful people there was a big ceremony when Agrippa came out with many important people in the auditorium. It seems that bringing Paul out was just to be entertainment for everyone but it is interesting that they made such a big deal of a common man like Paul. They were priding themselves on a lot of showiness but what does it say about the prisoner was actually going to be heard? Who was Paul? Just a man used by God. But as we’ll see in the next chapter (Acts 26:3) Agrippa knew a lot about the Israeli religion and laws. Also the fact that Bernice was Agrippa’s sister but was having a public, incestuous affair with him (which was the talk of Rome, Source 4) says something of Agrippa’s morals.
So Festus explains that he can’t find Paul guilty of anything (yet has kept him locked up) and that he will send him to see the Emperor (again, although he can’t find a charge against him) but needs help from Agrippa in order to write up charges against Paul.
Conclusion: Sadly when some people are confronted with truth they prefer a lie. When men like Felix, Festus and Agrippa are told that not only did the Messiah rise from the dead but that fact is also an offer that they too can rise from the dead, they ignore it. Remember the resurrection is the one thread Christianity hangs on, if a person can disprove it then all of Christianity crumbles. I personally would stop being a Christian if I found a compelling argument against Jesus’ resurrection…what’s the good in believing in something that isn’t true? But just like Mary who saw Jesus right after He resurrected, all 12 disciples, Paul and so many millions since then, I am convinced. But being convinced and acknowledging Jesus as Lord are two different things. Even if people are convinced Jesus rose from the dead they still must place their faith in Him, that He is the only way to heaven and that they must give their life over to Him. If we have made a confession of faith then we should always be ready to give a defense for the faith (2 Timothy 4:2) whether our life is on the line, as Paul’s was here, or we’re at work or hanging out with friends.
Source 2: John MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible, pp. 1681-82.
Source 3: A. Kenneth Curtis, J. Stephen Lang & Randy Peterson, The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History, Christian History Institute, Fleming H. Revell (a division of Baker Book House Company, 1991, 1998, p. 14).