Acts: For the Cause of Christ #33
Title: Paul’s Royal Hearing
Last time in Acts we saw Paul’s trial before Felix. We saw how the Jewish leadership had a seared conscience, how Paul kept his conscience clear, and Felix ignoring his guilty conscience as he rejected the gospel. Felix delayed his judgement and kept Paul in custody for two years. Two years Paul was not in Rome.
This week Paul stands before a new governor and a king, presenting the same defense he was been since chapter 22. Paul is two years closer to Rome.
Today we are going through two chapters, chapters 25 and 26, it may seem like a lot to cover, but these chapters play right into one another so first thing we are going to do is walk through the passage to overview what we have before us and then we’ll pull a few things out and discuss them.
Festus meeting with Sanhedrin. Case of Paul. Plot to kill Paul.
Paul’s trial is a repeat of 24:1-21 in verses 6-8. Luke is giving us a condensed soup version of events in these verses, which is a repeat of the previous trial. Festus, having heard both sides asks Paul if he would consent to having the trial again before Festus in Jerusalem, instead of giving a judgement now. Paul, realizing Festus was starting to give in to the Jewish Council, must have thought that he wouldn’t receive the trial he deserved, appeals to Caesar in response. Festus confers with his advisors, and then announces, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you will go.” I can’t help but picture in my mind that when Festus makes that statement, he washes his hands in a manner similar to Pilate.
Days later Agrippa II and Bernice arrive to greet and welcome the new governor to the Region. Agrippa was possibly the same rank as Festus, just in another region, or he was immediately below him in rank. Agrippa was given jurisdiction over the temple in Jerusalem, he also held the ceremonial dress for the High Priest for the Great Day of Atonement. Agrippa is the son of Herod Agrippa I who we saw in chapter 12 of Acts and the grandson of Herod the Great. Bernice is his sister who had her own checkered past and there were rumors of an inappropriate relationship between these siblings. After they get there, Festus tells Agrippa about Paul’s case. Now verse 15-21 Festus recounts the events that we just discussed. He has piqued Agrippa’s interest as he has a better understanding of the Jewish religion, Festus is asking for guidance and assistance in what to say in the report to Caesar. The next day Agrippa and Bernice enter the court with a great pomp. Festus gives a general statement about what is going on, why Paul is there, and why Festus is allowing this hearing. Festus needs help understanding what the problem is so he can give some sort of credible report to Caesar.
This brings us to chapter 26. This is not an official trial, once Paul appealed to Caesar all trials stopped until he was before Caesar. This was an informal hearing, where Paul could defend his position more thoroughly. We can break chapter 26 up into a few sections, verses 4-11 Paul recounts his upbringing and the strict religious life he led before he came to Christ. In verses 12-23 Paul discussed his conversion to Christianity and commission from Christ, and verses 24-32 we have dialogue and Paul’s intent that all should come to Christ, and the end of the hearing.
Festus – Priority of Peace
Have a priority of peace isn’t necessarily bad, but when someone is willing to bend over backwards and do what it takes to keep or maintain peace for their own gain or the sake of peace, that person’s priorities are probably off, and we see some of that with Festus.
Festus first demonstrates his priority of peace in verse 1 of chapter 25. Festus didn’t waste any time getting to Jerusalem to try and smooth things over and hopefully find ways to work with the Sanhedrin to keep peace in the province. The Jews tried to get Festus to do what they wanted by bringing up Paul’s case and asking that he be brought to Jerusalem. Festus didn’t give in here, but told them that Paul had to be tried in open court before him since Paul was a Roman citizen.
Next we see Festus is still trying to prioritize peace with the Jews during the hearing in verses 6-9 [read]. Verse 9 is key here. Festus is trying to keep the Jews somewhat happy. If the Jewish Council at least is happy or content, then Festus would have peace during his tenure as governor. And we talked about this earlier, I think Pau realized what Festus was doing, that Festus wasn’t able to grasp the issues of Paul’s case and was starting to give in to the Jews’ wish for the sake of peace.
Next we see Festus wanted peace with Caesar. In 25:26-27 we see Festus’ issue with Paul’s case. He is new to the province and doesn’t know the religion or the politics of the Jews, but he has to send Paul and a report explaining the issues to Caesar. If the report is unclear, or incoherent Festus could be in trouble. He is responsible for the prisoner and the report representing the case up to the call for appeal when it goes before Caesar. To keep himself out of trouble or at peace with Caesar, Festus needed a better grasp of the issues, so he asked Agrippa for help. This peace is more self-preservation.
Now I am not calling peace a bad thing, but Festus’ desire for peace at any cost is wrong. Of course Festus being an unbelievers, ultimately his priority was his self-serving and not God honoring. Festus was making peace his god. Exodus 20:3, the first of the ten commandments reads, “Do not have other gods besides me.”
There are examples of others not putting God first, not making God the priority. Such as Solomon in 1 Kings 11:4, “When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away to follow other gods. He was not wholeheartedly devoted to the LORD his God, as his `father David had been.” And Abijam in 1 Kings 15:3, “Abijam walked in all the sins his father before him had committed, and he was not wholeheartedly devoted to the LORD his God as his ancestor David had been.” There are other examples, such as Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, Herod Agrippa I in Acts 12, and Paul gives warning to the Romans in Romans 16:17-18, “Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create divisions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned, Avoid them because such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites. They deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting with smooth talk and flattering words.”
Paul – Priority of God
Now that we’ve looked at Festus’ priority, let’s look at Paul’s. Paul’s priority was God. We see this in chapter 26, where we see three examples of Paul’s priority.
First we see his priority for God before his conversion in verses 4-12. What do I mean that his priority was God before he was saved? Paul grew up in a strict Jewish home, received a strict and prestigious Jewish education, became a Pharisee and living as a “godly” Jew he opposed the Church, and persecuted Christ’s disciples. Paul’s unconverted mind, sold-out to the religious Judaism that he lived and breathed his whole life, was a misguided priority of God. Everything he did before he was saved was, in his mind, for God, he was doing what he thought he was supposed to do. Paul writes in Galatians 1:13-14, “For you have heard about my former way of life in Judaism: I intensely persecuted God’s church and tried to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many contemporaries among my people, because I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.” He makes a similar statement in Phillippians 3.
Second we see his priority of God after he received his commission from Christ in verses 19-23. In verses 13-18, Pauls discusses his conversion on the road to Damascus, here he tailors the account for his captive audience and we get more information of the event. Now Paul’s priority changes though it is still on God and doing His will. Before, Paul thought he knew what the will of God was, now God the Son has directly told him what he must do. No longer seeking to punish the disciples of Christ, but go and preach repentance and make disciples of Christ. Paul was now sold out for the Cause of Christ.
Thirdly we see how he fulfills his commission, we see this in verses 20-23 also, but even in verse 29 where Paul makes his final statement in our passage [read 29]. Every opportunity he gets, before the common man or rulers he is keeping his priority on God by proclaiming the Gospel that all might come to repentance and know Christ as Savior.
Paul’s priority was for God, and His will. Paul knew what he had to do. By fulfilling his commission, by proclaiming the gospel, by planting churches his focus was on God’s glory and God’s plan. Paul is the opposite of those verses about Solomon and Abijam, Paul is wholeheartedly devoted to the LORD his God.
Where’s your priority? I know I have to course correct, when my priorities are wrong. But if we are living a life devoted to God, if we are living a life of worship to God, God is our priority. We wouldn’t hesitate to what was needed for the Cause of Christ.