Monthly Archives: August 2013

A Twist In The Tale

A TWIST IN THE TALE

“A few days later King Agrippa and his wife, Bernice, visited Caesarea to welcome Festus to his new post. After several days, Festus brought up Paul’s case to the king. ‘I have a man on my hands here, a prisoner left by Felix. When I was in Jerusalem, the high priests and Jewish leaders brought a bunch of accusations against him and wanted me to sentence him to death. I told them that wasn’t the way we Romans did things. Just because a man is accused, we don’t throw him out to the dogs. We make sure the accused has a chance to face his accusers and defend himself of the charges. So when they came down here I got right on the case. I took my place in the courtroom and put the man on the stand.

“‘The accusers came at him from all sides, but their accusations turned out to be nothing more than arguments about their religion and a dead man named Jesus, who the prisoner claimed to be alive. Since I’m a newcomer here and don’t understand everything involved in a case like this, I asked if he be willing to go to Jerusalem and be tried there. Paul refused and demanded a hearing before His Majesty in our highest court. So I ordered him returned to custody until I could send him to Caesar in Rome.'” Acts 25:13-21 (The Message).

Festus’ story sounds quite accurate except for one small twist. He gave his reason for wanting to send Paul back to Jerusalem for trial as ignorance concerning the ins and outs of a case like this. Luke said it was because he wanted to curry favour with the Jews. Which version was correct? When the Jews asked him to send Paul back to Jerusalem for trial, he had refused, citing Caesarea as the place of his jurisdiction over Paul. Why the sudden change of mind?

When the Jews came to Caesarea to put their case before Festus, the sight of Paul coming into the courtroom sent them into a frenzy of accusations. Paul’s defence did nothing to calm them down and Festus must have realised that he was a hot potato. Regardless of the legitimacy of their case, he had a howling mob on his hands whom he had better appease as best he could if he did not want a riot and a bloodbath in Judea.

He had quickly changed his tune, magnanimously offering Paul the option of returning to Jerusalem to answer their charges. Perhaps he knew that he would choose the only other option open to him – trial before Caesar – in which case Paul’s decision was irrevocable – and Festus would neatly have got rid of him without dirtying his hands.

He put his problem to King Agrippa in a plausible way to cover up the real motive for his unexpected move. The issue was not whether Paul was guilty of a crime punishable by death or not — he was certainly not stupid enough to be taken in by the Jews’ emotional frenzy — but how to get rid of Paul without being unjust and at the same time calming the Jews enough to stop the inevitable riot that Paul’s release would spark.

Perhaps the king would come up with a satisfactory solution that would take the responsibility off Festus’ hands. The king’s visit could not have come at a better time -except for one small glitch. Paul’s appeal to Caesar could not be changed.

Festus had another problem. He knew that the case against Paul was all about an internal religious quarrel – he made that clear to Agrippa. What sort of governor would he look like, sending Paul to Caesar with a petty charge like that, as though he were incapable of dealing with it? He needed Agippa’s rubber stamp on the case to make it look more serious and needing Caesar’s intervention.

While all this was going on, Paul was still firmly in the hands of a God who always works everything according to the purpose of His will. Whatever negotiations were going on in the earthly scene, God was inexorably moving His son into position to get him to Rome — at Rome’s expense, mind you — to take His message to the heart and hub of the Roman Empire. Festus had inadvertently played right into the hands of a sovereign God and all of heaven relaxed! God had done it again!

No Way, Festus!

NO WAY, FESTUS!

“About eight or ten days later, Festus returned to Caesarea. The next morning he took his place in the courtroom and had Paul brought in. The minute he walked in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem were all over him, hurling the most extreme accusations, none of which they could prove.

“Then Paul took the stand and said simply, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong against the Jewish religion, or the Temple, or Caesar. Period.’

“Festus, though, wanted to get on the good side of the Jews and so said, ‘How would you like to go up to Jerusalem, and let me conduct your trial there?'” Acts 25:6-9 (The Message).

Oh no! Not another crowd-pleaser! Paul might have had high hopes that Festus would give him justice, but he was turning out no better than Felix.

What was it with these Roman governors? Was it their fear of the volatile Jews who could stir up a riot in a flash that kept them from doing the right thing? Was there anything in it for them other than their maintaining their position by keeping the peace in Israel? They all seem to have been tarred with the same brush.

Festus was giving him the option of being tried in Jerusalem instead of in Caesarea when, a few days before he had insisted that Paul remain in Caesarea where he, Festus had jurisdiction over Paul. Jerusalem was the turf of the Jewish hierarchy where they had power and influence. Paul knew that at all costs he must stay away from Jerusalem.

He had been whisked out of Jerusalem in the dead of night because his life was in danger there, and now Festus wanted to send him back into enemy territory? Paul was well aware of Festus’ strategy. Sacrifice Paul for peace so that Festus could look like a good governor in the eyes of Rome. As long as there was no trouble in this little colony, internal issues did not matter, especially petty religious ones!

“Paul answered, ‘I’m standing at this moment before Caesar’s bar of justice, where I have a perfect right to stand. And I’m going to keep standing here. I’ve done nothing wrong to the Jews, and you know it as well as I do. If I’ve committed a crime and deserve death, name the day. I can face it. But if there’s nothing to their accusations — and you know there isn’t — nobody can force me to go along with their nonsense. We’ve fooled around long enough. I appeal to Caesar.’

“Festus huddled with his advisors briefly and then gave his verdict: ‘You’ve appealed to Caesar; you’ll go to Caesar!” Acts 25:10-12 (The Message).

Paul held the trump card. As a Roman citizen he had the right to a fair trial before Caesar. If Festus did not have the guts to do the right thing, he was certainly not going to subject himself to any more abuse from the Jews. It was with an air of contempt that he made his decision. Festus was too lily-livered to stand up to the Jews. He, Paul, was not going to be a pawn to be pushed around on their little chessboard. Caesar was his only option to get out of checkmate.

That pulled the rug from under Festus’ feet! He was obligated to grant Paul his request. This was a legally binding appeal and once granted, like the law of the Medes and Persians, it could not be changed. Paul was actively co-operating with God’s plan to move him to Rome. Did the penny drop for him at that moment? Did he have a flash of understanding, remembering the assurance from the Lord Himself that he was on his way to Rome in spite of all the carry-on in Jerusalem?

Slowly but surely God’s plan was coming together. Throughout all the seemingly impossible circumstances, and the long drawn-out process, Paul was exactly where and when God wanted him, putting all the structures in place to plant His son right in the palace of Caesar himself. There’s no getting away from it — God is smart!

God In The Shadows

GOD IN THE SHADOWS

“Three days after Festus arrived in Caesarea to take up his duties as governor, he went up to Jerusalem. The high priests and top leaders renewed their vendetta against Paul. They asked Festus if he wouldn’t please do them a favour by sending Paul to Jerusalem to respond to their charges. A lie, of course — they had revived their old plot to set an ambush and kill him along the way.

“Festus answered that Caesarea was the proper jurisdiction for Paul, and that he himself was going back there in a few days. ‘You’re perfectly welcome,’ he said, ‘to go back with me then and accuse him of whatever you think he’s done wrong.'” Acts 25:1-5 (The Message).

Like the proverbial elephant, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem had not forgotten about Paul. Felix’ indecision had not let him off the hook as far as they were concerned. He was still a thorn in their side and they were determined to annihilate him whatever it took. There was new blood in control and now was their opportunity to get around Festus before he could hear Paul’s side of the story.

Grabbing the chance to get him off guard, the religious leaders casually asked Festus to send Paul back to Jerusalem on the pretext that they would give him a hearing there, but they knew that, once Paul was dead, Festus could do nothing about it. It would not be their fault if he were murdered on the way to Jerusalem.

Fortunately for Paul, Festus didn’t buy that one! He was either too familiar with the rules of his job to agree to their request or he smelt a rat and chose to protect Paul and give him a fair hearing. Once again, there was a Higher Hand guiding Paul’s affairs so that he would not fall into the hands of his murderous opponents. Rome had no issue with him, so it was better for him to remain in Caesarea until someone had the courage to make a decision. God said he was going to Rome and that settled it!

When one takes a step back and on hindsight, one can see that, as long as Paul remained in the territory of Israel, he was not safe. Had he been acquitted and released, the Jews would have made sure their assassin was in place before he had a chance to get out of the country. God was surely watching over His son and, as unpleasant as it was for him to be imprisoned indefinitely, he was safe where he was until his passage to Rome under Roman guard, was assured.

Paul’s story should be of great encouragement to God’s children. King David assured us, and that after years of experiencing God’s protection through many dangerous situations, that all the days ordained for us were written in His book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:16 – NIV). Not only has He ordained the length of our days, but He has also planned each day in advance.

That does not mean that He treats us as puppets or as pawns on a chess board. He honours His gift of choice far too much to do that, but it does mean that every day He has given us is packed with the potential to live it with Him and for Him.

Paul had come to know, through the hazardous life he had lived as a missionary in a hostile world, that he was indestructible until his work was done. He did not waste time worrying about his safety. He lived to the full in the assurance that it was God’s responsibility to take care of him, and he could get on with the business of God’s kingdom without wasting energy on what he could not control.

We live in the shadow of the Almighty. We cannot see where He is going but we can see where He has been and what He has done. Is that not enough to convince us that “Our God reigns”?

So Near And Yet So Far!

SO NEAR AND YET SO FAR!

“Felix shilly-shallied. He knew far more about the Way than he let on, and could have settled the case then and there. But uncertain of his best move politically, he played for time. ‘When Captain Lysias comes down, I’ll decide your case.’ He gave orders to the centurion to keep Paul in custody, but to more or less give him the run of the place and not to prevent his friends from helping him.

“A few days later Felix and his wife, Drusilla, who was Jewish, sent for Paul and listened to him talk about a life of believing in Jesus Christ. As Paul continued to insist on right relations with God and His people, about a life of moral discipline and the coming judgement, Felix felt things getting a little too close for comfort and dismissed him. ‘That’s enough for today. I’ll call you back when it’s convenient.’ At the same time he secretly hoped that Paul would offer him a substantial bribe. These conversations were repeated frequently.

“After two years of this, Felix was replaced by Porcius Festus. Still playing up to the Jews and ignoring justice, Felix left Paul in prison.” Acts 24:23-27 (The Message).

Ugh! How Paul must have chafed at this situation! He knew that he was not guilty of the Jews’ ridiculous charges and so did Felix. He was given free run of Herod’s palace and yet he was still under house arrest. His friends could come and go but he was confined to the palace. He must have felt like he was in limbo, free but not free.

Did he ever question God or was he content to be where he was, secure in God’s plan and knowing that he would eventually get to Rome? One thing Paul continued to do and he could do it anywhere, that was to testify about Jesus. Felix and Drusilla got their fair share of Paul’s story. He made sure that his sword of truth was always polished and sharp.

One wonders why God allowed him to languish in prison for another two years before the governorship changed hands. Was He waiting for Festus to take over, being a more decisive man to take action, or was He perhaps giving Festus an opportunity to hear Paul and also make a choice regarding Jesus?

As far as Paul was concerned, he was a love-slave of Jesus and any circumstances that He ordained were good enough for him as long as he could continue to live his life as an obedient son carrying out his Master’s good pleasure. Every day he enjoyed His presence and fellowship and in that Paul was content.

Felix was playing with fire, literally. His motive for keeping Paul locked up was purely selfish and driven by greed. He kept Paul incarcerated because he was fascinated with the man yet unwilling to heed what he was being told. Imagine that! For two whole years he amused himself by having Paul talk to him about Jesus, yet he was never persuaded. How hardened his heart must have become for the love of money!

Did Paul ever give up hoping, and praying, that Felix’ heart would be softened and that he would also bow to Jesus? Every time he was summoned to the governor, did he hope that that would be the day that Felix would respond? It never happened and, after two years, Felix and his family went off to wherever they were sent without ever getting the pay-out he was hoping for and leaving Paul to wonder what would happen to him.

I am sure that Paul also made use of this time to sharpen his understanding of the Word of God. His books no doubt accompanied him and he had time on his hands for study and prayer, knowing that he was on his way to the capital city of the empire. He needed to be fully equipped and ready because he had no idea what lay ahead for him.

It is during times like these that the true character of the believer is revealed. Is this the time for whining about circumstances or is it the time to prepare and be ready for the next phase of the journey? Let’s ask Paul. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…” Philippians 4:11b (NIV). How did he learn? By learning!

The Simple Truth

THE SIMPLE TRUTH

“‘Believe me, I do my level best to keep a clear conscience before God and my neighbours in everything I do. I’ve been out of the country for a number of years and now I’m back. I took up a collection for the poor and brought that with me, along with offerings for the Temple. It was while making those offerings that they found me quietly at my prayers in the Temple. There was no crowd; there was no disturbance. It was some Jews from around Ephesus who started all this trouble. And you’ll notice they’re not here today. They’re cowards, too cowardly to accuse me in front of you.

“‘So ask these others what crime they’ve caught me in. Don’t let them hide behind this smooth-talking Tertullius. The only thing they have on me is that one sentence I shouted out in the council: “‘It’s because I believe in the resurrection that I’ve been hauled into this court!'” Does that sound to you like grounds for a criminal case?'” Acts 24:16-21 (The Message).

Paul was accused of being a rabble-rouser by teaching Jews to disregard Moses and the Law of God, by stirring up riots against Jews all over the world and by defiling the Temple. Tertullius made these accusations with no explanation, evidence or witnesses. He expected the governor to take his word for it without producing a single person to corroborate his story.

Paul knew exactly why he was on trial. The real reason was disguised by an accusation designed to get the attention of the Roman authorities. Rome had no interest in religious squabbles between rival factions. That was not their problem unless it sparked trouble and disturbed the peace. The Jews were well-known for being volatile over their religion. Any sign of trouble had to be nipped in the bud.

Tertullius and his clients had no interest in the real cause of the rioting, as long as it was about their arch-enemy, Paul. This was a golden opportunity to get rid of him once and for all. Get the governor on their side and his doom was sealed.

It was now up to Paul to show the governor how ridiculous and untrue their case against him was. His defence was clear and unembellished. He simply told the truth. This is what happened and this is how it happened. He was fully aware of the underlying cause of their hatred and antagonism — his belief in the resurrection which connected him to the Man who prophesied His own death and resurrection and fulfilled His prophecy to the letter!

Slowly but surely Paul built up his defence with far greater skill than the Jews’ lawyer had used to lay his case before the court. He had to because it was up to him to show Felix the real reason for these accusations against him. The Jews were hiding behind a smoke-screen of lies because their issue with Paul would never hold up in a court of law.

Paul began by defending his character; he could say with absolute honesty that his conscience was clear regarding their accusations because he lived by a good conscience, always. He explained the reason for his return to Jerusalem and his presence in the Temple, all verifiable facts if anyone cared to check them out.

Then, in one sentence he ripped open their hidden agenda — and he had the reaction of the high priest to prove it. Firstly, when he was on trial before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, he was slapped in the face for bearing witness to a good conscience. Secondly, it was his declaration concerning the resurrection that sparked the furore between Pharisees and Sadducees and the outburst from some of the religious boffins: ‘He is not guilty!’ So really, this trial was a farce and the quicker Felix recognised that, the better.

It was now up to the governor to decide whether he was going to follow his conscience or what was to his advantage. That’s always the choice, isn’t it?