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The last time we were in Acts, Pastor Zane shared with us that Paul was defending himself to Felix, the Roman Governor of Judea. An attorney named Tertullus brought charges against Paul. Paul’s response was there was no evidence to support those charges. He admitted to serving the God his accusers served as well as the Law and the prophets. Felix hoped for a kick back, but when it didn’t come, Paul was kept in custody and was allowed to have his friends minister to him during his incarceration. Two years later, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus and Paul remained in custody. This morning, we find the Jews pressuring the new Governor in the case of Paul.
We’ll look at the whole chapter of Acts 25.
Festus is hardly even settled in Caesarea when he makes the journey to Jerusalem. This trip makes sense. Jerusalem is the religious center of the region. That’s where the ruling Jews would be located. You have to make peace with the ruling leaders in Jerusalem or ruling Judea would be politically impossible. Festus arrived in Jerusalem, “And the chief priests and the leading men of the Jews brought charges against Paul, and they were urging him, requesting a concession against Paul, that he might have him brought to Jerusalem.” It seems like the chief priests and the leading men were waiting for Festus. No sooner had Festus arrived that the leading men of the Jews approached him and brought charges against Paul. Remember, Paul is still in custody in Caesarea on the false charges brought by Tertullus two years earlier. The religious leaders renew their accusations and were hoping for, “a concession against Paul.” They wanted a favor. Bring Paul to Jerusalem. They had ulterior motives, “at the same time, setting an ambush to kill him on the way.” The zealots don’t want true justice, they wanted to exact their own version of justice and they wanted to do it themselves. They would only be satisfied with Paul’s death. Luke tells us, “Festus then said that Paul was being kept in custody at Caesarea and that he himself was about to leave shortly.” It seems likely that Festus was briefed about Paul during his turnover with Felix. At the very least, he knew of Paul and knew that he was in custody in Caesarea. Festus gives the non-committed response of, “Therefore, he said, “let the influential men among you go there with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them prosecute him.” In other words, if you big dogs want a piece of Paul, you’ll have to come down to Caesarea. Charges could be brought against him there. Festus became Paul’s protector preventing him from being killed by the Jews. The plot to kill Paul is foiled by God’s perfect timing. Festus spends the next, “eight or ten days among them.”
After those eight or ten days with the religious leaders in Jerusalem, Festus took his leave and, “he went down to Caesarea, and on the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. After Paul arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him which they could not prove.” Those that accused Paul in Jerusalem made the trip to Caesarea and are once again standing in front of Festus. They are persistent. There is no specific list of charges, but they are “many and serious.” In Paul’s defense, he says, “I have committed no offense either against the Law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.” Based on his response, the charges are the same ones that caused him to be locked up, but he flat out says he has done nothing wrong. Not one thing, but that doesn’t stop the Jews from pursuing him. Festus listens to both sides and draws the same conclusion that Felix did a couple of years earlier. Paul’s done nothing wrong. The case against him is weak at best and most likely manufactured to fit an agenda. Being the Roman Governor is a political position and Festus doesn’t want to make enemies against the religious crowd so in his thinking, he wants to gain favor with the Jews, so he says, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me on these charges?” Festus asks Paul if he’s willing to go to Jerusalem for a trial. It would still be a Roman trial because Paul would appear before Festus. Remember, the Jews want what they defined as justice for Paul’s alleged wrongdoing. By sending Paul to Jerusalem, Festus would be doing the Jews a favor. The tide has shifted.
In v. 3, Festus told those Jews if they wanted to bring charges against Paul, they needed to travel to Caesarea. Now, he’s wanting to send Paul back to Jerusalem. We get an understanding for what Paul is thinking. V. 10 says, “But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you also very well know.” Paul is pretty bold by telling Festus what he knows. Paul’s where he should be, jurisdictionally. Nothing has happened legally to this point because there has been no evidence presented to prove his guilt for the crimes he is being accused. Festus is being motivated by favoritism – he’s wanting to please the Jews. Paul’s conclusion to Festus is, “If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is true of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar.” If I’m guilty, I’m guilty and I’m ready to die Paul says so that tells us the severity of the crimes that Paul was charged with. But if I’m not guilty, it is wrong to hand me over to the Jews because they have no authority over me. The Jews have already convicted Paul of his crimes and his sentence was death. While not afraid to die, Paul sought justice and knew that would never happen in a Jewish trial. The only hope for justice on this earth was in a Roman court. There is much information available about the justice system 1st Century Judea. As proconsul of Judea, Festus had the right to rule even in death sentence cases. He was well within his authority to preside over Paul’s case, but he faced pressure from the Jews. What is interesting is that Paul appealed to Caesar. Normally, you appeal a decision after it’s made, not before, but Paul saw what was happening and exercised his right as a Roman citizen to make that appeal. It seems to me that Festus is looking for an out, looking for a way not to alienate the Jews and at the same time, ensure justice prevails in Paul’s case. “Then when Festus had conferred with his council, he answered, “You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go.” I think Festus breathed a sigh of relief that he didn’t have to deal with this. He saved political face with the Jews
The plot thickens. After concluding that Paul will be sent to Caesar, he goes back into custody. Caesar is a title in the same way that Pharaoh is a title. The Caesar that Paul appeals to during this period of time is named Nero. Nero, you may remember, was no friend of Christians. Legend has is that he started a fire in Rome and then blamed Christians all while he sat back and played the fiddle. But this is during the early years of Nero’s reign which was generally a stable time free of persecution. His evil side would come out later. Paul is going to Rome, a place he said he wanted to go to in Acts 19:21. In Acts 23:11, the Lord told him he would go to Rome when He said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must also witness at Rome also.” The Lord told him he would be a witness in Rome. Paul’s future is secure. So many times, I think we hear from the Lord, but then we doubt because it doesn’t happen the way or in the time frame we want. If God told you something, then trust He will bring it to fruition, but you have to be patient and allow Him to work. In order to get to Rome, Paul had to go in chains.
Two new characters enter the scene. “Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and paid their respects to Festus.” Remember Festus has recently relieved Felix as proconsul of Judea. King Agrippa and Bernice make the trip to Caesarea for what likely is an official type of visit to establish a relationship with Festus. It’s like President Trump making a trip to visit a new Prime Minister or president of another country. King Agrippa is the son of the Herod we saw in Acts 12 and is the great-grandson of Herod the Great. He reigned over parts of Judea and was considered king of the Jews although he was not really a king. Many believe it was a title he assumed because he was over the temple in Jerusalem and was responsible for appointing the high priest. Bernice was Agrippa’s sister and constant companion leading many to conclude they were involved in a relationship. Agrippa and Bernice arrive in Caesarea to visit with Festus. After a few days of visiting, Festus shares with his guests the case involving Paul.
Look at vs. 14-21. There is no new information here, but is simply Festus’ version of the story. There are some differences in his story. Festus depicts himself in a light that is simply not true. In v. 15, Festus told Agrippa that, “The Jews were seeking a sentence condemnation” for Paul. In reality, the Jews wanted Festus to do them the favor of returning Paul to Jerusalem for trial. Remember, they were setting an ambush along the way because they wanted him dead. In v. 16, Festus comes across as some fundamental supporter of justice. Relating the story, Festus told Agrippa, “I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face and has an opportunity to make his defense against the charges.” This indicates the Jews wanted Paul without a trial. The Jews wanted Paul in Jerusalem. In v. 9, Festus asked Paul if he’d be willing to go to Jerusalem, but Paul knew justice would not be served in a Jewish court and makes his appeal to Caesar. The rest of the story is pretty accurate. There are some interesting tidbits we need to look at. The charges brought against Paul were not what Festus was expecting. Festus concluded that there were what he called, “points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive.” Festus admitted his incompetence when he said, “I was at a loss how to investigate such matters.” That’s the real reason he was willing for Paul to go to Jerusalem. After this explanation, Festus looks pretty good. He seems to be a fair guy seeking only justice for the accused. Agrippa is intrigued and replies, “I also would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.”
Here’s what happens the next day. I want you to notice who is actually at this meeting. Check out v. 23. There is a dazzling display of all the big dogs. King Agrippa and Bernice. The commanders were there, probably five men that each commanded 1000 troops. All the prominent men of the Caesarea. This is all done amid great pomp. In this context, pomp means a vain and boastful display, a cheap display of high status. Finally, Paul is ushered in. Look at vs. 24-27. Festus relates the story once again. This is the third time we’ve heard a version of the story in this chapter. Let me summarize this for you. Festus has no idea what he’s doing. He’s bringing Paul in before Agrippa with the hope that some information may be uncovered that will help him draft a letter to the emperor – Nero – to justify sending Paul to Rome. Festus concluded that Paul didn’t do anything and so sending him to Rome with no charges wouldn’t be good.
Maybe due to his inexperience in the job, maybe because he wants to maintain good relation with the Jews, maybe due to his incompetence, Festus finds himself in a pickle. In the back of Paul’s mind, I can see him smiling at the providence of God. Circumstances are unfolding that will fulfill what God told him would happen. He was the first that concluded, “I love it when a plan comes together.” We’ll find out what happens in the meeting . . . next week.