Acts25v1to22: PAUL'S TRIAL BEFORE FESTUS
(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)
Paul was held in custody by Felix for two years without being found guilty or not guilty. Festus, a very different man to Felix, probably thought this was something of a scandal and intended to settle the matter promptly. He experienced the same pressure from the Jewish leaders as Felix to condemn Paul but he was actually not nearly as well qualified to pass judgment as the previous governor. Felix knew about Judaism and Christianity but Festus had no religious background. He knew how to administer a Roman province but Theology was not his strong suit. It almost seems that Paul loses patience with proceedings and makes his appeal to Caesar. He was going to get to Rome one way or another!
The reappearance of Paul's Jewish enemies.
The reappearance of Paul's opponents after a period of two years reveals something about their character. They were:
Within three days of arriving in Judea the chief priests and elders requested a favour of Festus the new governor. They urgently requested Festus, as a favour to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem. v3. They seized their chance to wring a concession from the new man. Yet another attempt was made to deal with Paul.
There are always dangers ahead when there is a change of leadership. I experienced that as a schoolteacher. My head teacher, Miss Applegate, bribed me to leave my purpose built Geography room by offering me a newly built laboratory. It was not long before the Science department intrigued to get me out of the laboratory. However, so long as Miss Applegate was headmistress I was safe. Within a month of a new head taking control of the school I had orders to move. There were no negotiations - just an ultimatum!
When the leadership of the church changes the members of the fellowship need to be on their guard. Satan will use the period of adjustment to cause trouble if he can. There were some nasty shocks in store for me when our pastor left 11 years ago. Problems crawled out of the woodwork.
In this respect the Jewish politicians were no better than Herodius. Herodius had been married to Philip, Herod's brother. She divorced Philip to marry Herod. John the Baptist condemned the marriage of Herod and Herodius. He told the king: "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." So Herodius nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. Mk6v18. She wasn't able to get her wicked way because Herod respected John the Baptist as a holy and righteous man. Herodius bided her time and when Herod was foolish enough to promise Salome her daughter anything she wanted she took her opportunity to pay John back. Salome went to her stepfather at her mother's request and demanded John the Baptist's head on platter.
Thomas More lost his head not so much because of his Roman Catholicism but because he refused to attend Henry VIII's wedding.
Some men will never forgive an insult. They will never forget being made to look foolish. They will resent forever being publicly rebuked. Such men will wait for an opportunity to get even. My brother Philip and I have a friend who is much more affable, likeable, successful and popular than either of us. My brother and I are not jealous because he is our friend. However, he is much more dangerous than either of us because he, too, by his own admission will harbour a grudge until pay back time.
No follower of Jesus Christ should be revengeful. It is wrong to have a long memory, to nurse a grudge and long for the opportunity to get even. Jesus says: "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?" Mt5v44to46.
Why were the leaders of Judaism so determined to shut Paul up for good? It was because Judaism could accommodate a dead Jesus. The leaders were prepared to accept Jesus as an unorthodox rabbi who had some interesting things to say but went too far in claiming to be King of the Jews and ended up being crucified by the Romans for treason. They were prepared to tolerate a Jewish sect that admired his teaching. After all there had been many influential rabbis throughout history.
Paul fell foul of the Jewish authorities because he preached a risen Jesus. If God raised Jesus from the dead then all his claims were vindicated. He was without doubt the Messiah and as such had greater authority than Moses. The writer to the Hebrews made this very plain: Jesus has been found worthy of greater honour than Moses.
Paul also preached Christ crucified. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for sin. There was no further need of sin offerings in the temple. The sacrificial system was at an end. It had been fulfilled in Jesus. The priests who administered the sacrificial system were redundant. Christianity requires no priests. The Sadducees must have realised what the implications of Paul's preaching were.
Paul preached justification by faith. Even Abraham was justified by faith rather than by circumcision. If men and women are adopted into God's family by believing in Jesus then much of the law including circumcision was irrelevant.
There is no doubt that Paul's teaching demanded an end to Judaism as it was in the first century after Christ's death. Most Jews did not trust Paul and were not prepared to change. It did not matter how reasonable Paul was they would not change. The old covenant was good enough for them. They hated Paul because they considered that he was an enemy of the old faith. He is hated today, where Jesus is not, because that is how many modern orthodox Jews still view him.
Christians ought to have a lot of sympathy with the elders and chief priests. In my experience mature Christians rarely change long held beliefs. Sometimes I deal with a controversial subject and will draw very different conclusions to those held by my hearers. I don't think I ever persuade my hearers to change their position. I might be reasonable and scriptural but if what I say conflicts with a long held view there is no shift of opinion. Christians do change their minds but not usually because a teacher has been reasonable and scriptural. They change their position because they love someone - a son who goes into the Anglican Church, a personable son-in-law with charismatic leanings or a charming, gifted pastor who can do no wrong. There are just a few Christians who, if a Bible teacher gives them a new insight, will make the necessary adjustments.
(C) The record of Governor Festus.
There are four points I want to make about Festus:
(1) He was conciliatory.
Our politicians take lots of dubious decisions to court public popularity. It was absolutely unfair to ban licensed gun clubs because a solitary member of one such club went berserk in Scotland and killed several children. Hundreds of innocent sportsmen were punished for a crime they did not commit because the Conservative Government thought this would be a popular measure.
It is sad when churches court popularity. When I was on holiday in Blandford Forum recently I walked around the town and looked at church notice boards to find out the times of the Sunday services. The Evangelical church had cancelled its evening service so that everybody could join together in the afternoon to watch the Wimbledon tennis final on their big screen. Now I love sport more than most. I have been an almost fanatical cricketer. But I think it is wrong to cancel a Sunday worship service to watch a secular sporting event. It may be popular but it is wrong. I attended instead the 90 minutes worship service at the Anglican Church - and it proved rabidly evangelical!
(2) He had professional integrity.
Festus was saved from actually doing what was wrong because he held certain principles. They informed his behaviour. Such is still the case with professional men like lawyers, doctors and even teachers. All through my career as a teacher I operated on the basis that I was 'in loco parentis' - in the place of a child's parents. I tried to behave towards my pupils as I might towards my own children - if I had any. Just a few principles like these are crucially important for the well being of those who depend upon professional assistance. A man accused of a crime needs to know that his barrister is going to present his case in the best possible light.
If Christians took seriously the Beatitudes of Jesus it would make a huge difference to the way they lived and interacted with others. If we just adopted the first: Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt5v3); it would have a profound effect upon our relationships and effectiveness. See exposition on Mt5v3.
(3) He took a pride in his work.
We owe a great deal to those who work to a high standard - like the Victorian civil engineer whose London sewers were built to last. God expects us to build carefully. Paul writes to the Corinthians: By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 1Cor3v10. Paul goes on to say that our work will be tested by fire in the Day of Christ's appearing. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. v13. When my father baptised me in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit he gave me a text: Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth. 2Tim2v15.AV I hope I have fulfilled my father's hopes.
(4) He had a fatal deficiency.
Festus was at a loss how to investigate matters of Religion. He did not feel qualified to venture into this field. It is to the credit of Festus that he acknowledged his ignorance of Theology. There are many Christians today who are not qualified to pronounce on Science but that does not stop them. I heard a preacher say recently, "Scientists claim that the universe was made by a big bang." He held up his gold watch. "It is like saying that this watch was made by a big bang." I hate such foolish talk. Sadly there are scientists who are not qualified to pronounce on Religion. Dr Crick who worked out the structure of DNA was one such. He said, for example, that a man's spirit was nothing more than millions of nerve endings in the brain and when those nerve endings died that was the end of the spirit. This, too, is nonsense. A persons beliefs, knowledge and memories are not the same thing as nerve endings any more than a love letter is the same thing as the keys of a typewriter. It is also quite possible for the great mind of God to take into itself our minds for safe keeping just like my web site along with millions more can be stored in a powerful remote computer.
Although Festus was honest to admit that questions of Religion were beyond him his education should have equipped him to investigate such matters especially as the governor of Judea. He could hardly understand the Jews if he had no knowledge of their religion. Today increasing numbers of young people in Britain lack any background in Christianity. They have never attended Sunday school or church and the teaching they get in day school is skimpy to say the least. It is very sad that fewer and few folk are able to discuss Religious issues intelligently.
(D) Paul's response.
(1) Denied the accusations.
Paul also denied doing anything wrong "against the temple." He would agree with the writer to the Hebrews that the priests serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. Heb8v5. However Christians have a high priest who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man. Heb8v1and2. Paul would not denigrate what prefigured the priestly ministry of Jesus but he would argue, along with the writer to the Hebrews, that the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. Heb8v6.
Paul was certainly justified in denying doing any wrong against Caesar. He had never instigated a riot for political ends. It was others who chose to riot against him and the followers of Jesus.
(2) Attempted to address the main issue.
Paul could honestly deny doing any wrong against the law or the temple but he certainly did not believe the same things about the law or the temple as the Jewish high priests and elders. I think it was quite hard for them to grasp that he wasn't against the law and the temple!
What really divided Paul and the Jewish leaders was what they believed about Jesus. Paul believed that there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men. 1Tim2v5and6. The advocates of Judaism did not, and do not, believe this.
Christians are united by their belief in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Recently I attended a reunion of staff who taught at the old boys grammar school in Bury St Edmunds. We had a buffet lunch on what used to be the headmaster's lawn. During the course of the lunch I chatted to Charles Taylor who is, I suppose, an Anglican with liberal leanings. As we discussed church affairs he asked, "Don't you ever have any doubts?" I replied, "Yes, I have doubts sometimes about the providence of God and the work of the Holy Spirit but I have no doubts about Jesus." In spite of our differences over many things we both agreed that we had no doubts about Jesus.
(3) Appealed to Roman justice.
We, as followers of Jesus, have been warned against having a plank in the eye. I am afraid that the judgment of Christians is often highly suspect. They are not immune from prejudice, bias, self-love and envy.
(b) Paul appealed to Caesar because he could not trust God's own people. He actually relied on the state to rescue him from the Jewish leaders with whom he had so much in common.
Increasingly people look to the state rather than the church. One of the reasons for the decline in the influence of the church is that the state has taken over responsibility for the poor, the handicapped, the sick and the education of children. One of my saddest memories is that my father, the minister of a Grace Baptist church, was never better off than when the state paid him invalidity benefit.
Christians are supposed to settle their disputes according to the teaching of Jesus. The final court of appeal is the church. Many Christians do not take much notice of Jesus. If they are in dispute with a brother or sister in Christ they will go to a solicitor.
We must remember that notwithstanding the power of Caesar - the state cannot save us. Ultimately Caesar did not save Paul. There is only one that saves. There is just one appeal that is bound to succeed - "Jesus, save me."
(E) God's Providence.
Festus probably thought Paul's appeal to Caesar was bad tactics. He said ironically, "You have appealed unto Caesar to Caesar you will go!" v12. Festus knew that Paul faced a long delay before his case was heard. He was also aware that there was nothing predictable about Nero except his unpredictability. Festus probably thought Paul had more chance of being acquitted if he left his case with him.
However, Paul knew that it was in God's will for him to preach Christ in Rome. This was one sure way of moving on from Caesarea, where he had been for two years, to Rome. We know that God's plan worked. Paul spent at least 2 years witnessing in Rome to the palace guard and the members of Caesar's household in particular. See Philippians1v12to26. He had further epistles to write including the incomparable letter to the Philippians and his pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus. God used Paul's appeal to Caesar to assure the continued usefulness of his beloved servant and to bring many influential people to Christ.