Acts 25

Acts 25 Devotional
By Pastor Lawrence

When Jesus first sent the twelve disciples out to proclaim the coming of the kingdom, he explicitly told them not to go to the Gentiles but only among the lost sheep of Israel. But eventually, he said, they would all be dragged before governors and kings persecuted for his sake in order to bear witness before them and before the Gentiles. Here, in this chapter alone, the apostle Paul is dragged before two Roman governors and a king, and is eventually forced to plead his case before Caesar himself.

Many times, the first governor Felix had dragged Paul before him, giving him an audience, but only because he was hoping that Paul would somehow offer him a bribe for his release. Of course, Paul did no such thing but was very patient waiting upon the Lord to deliver him from this unjust treatment. And it seemed that there was some light at the end of the tunnel when Felix was deposed, but he left Paul in prison as a favor to the Jews.

When Porcius Festus came on the scene as the new governor of Judea, it appears that he was a more noble official than Felix. As soon as he arrived on the scene in Caesarea, he didn’t take much time before going out and visiting the local leadership in Jerusalem. And when he arrived in the holy city of Jerusalem, those not-so-holy priests and elders were at it again seeking to put the apostle Paul to death. It wasn’t enough that Paul had been languishing away in the castle dungeon in Caesarea for two years waiting for some imaginary court date. They wanted him dead. In fact, their anger and their hatred towards Paul proved just how effective his ministry was amongst them, for they feared him and his gospel.

Now, surely they had other matters to bring up with the newly appointed governor that Luke does not tell us about, but among their top priorities was to ask a favor of Festus that he might be willing to allow this man Paul to be transferred to Jerusalem to be tried and condemned in their presence, before the Sanhedrin. Now there was nothing abnormal about the change of venue; the Roman governor could hold court in either place. It had been done many times before. But of course, these blood-thirsty Jews had no intention of ever holding a trial. They already had plans in place from years before of ambushing the guards who were escorting Paul in order to kill him.

Of course, you would think that the previous governor Felix would have left records of some sort explaining the situation for any transition in leadership, but remember he lost his position suddenly and unexpectedly. But at least Claudius Lysias the commander who saved Paul’s life three times would have been aware of the situation and could have intervened. But it’s quite possible that he was transferred somewhere else or had finished his tour of duty and went home. So this new governor was presumably at the mercy of the Jewish leadership.

And yet he was his own man, having a strong sense of duty and justice. Although he didn’t want to sour his relationship with the Jews, he also didn’t want to be a pushover. So he told them that it was not the Roman custom to hand over any man before he had faced his accusers and had the opportunity to defend himself against their charges. Then he informed them that since Paul was being held at Caesarea, they could go along with his entourage and press charges against Paul there. And notice that the governor stresses, ‘if he has done anything wrong.” Here even Festus is presuming Paul’s innocence until proven guilty. And we know that was not the norm in ancient times.

And so almost two weeks later, Festus arrives back in Caesarea after having visited his subjects and the very next day he convenes court and orders Paul to be brought before his accusers. And once again, the Jewish leaders accuse him of the serious charges of heresy and sacrilege against their faith and sedition against the Roman government. Of course, all their arguments were full of lies and none of them could be proven. Having a trial two years after the fact, surely didn’t help the prosecutors either since the witnesses would have been long gone and likely wouldn’t remember all the facts anyway. The key here is that there were no eyewitnesses just like before. When Paul rises to give his defense, he simply states as he had many times before that he had done nothing wrong against the law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar, and that no one could prove otherwise.

This is the first time Caesar is mentioned in the book of Acts. The kingdom of God has been advancing at such a rapid pace that soon Caesar himself would be confronted by it and have to contend with it. In fact, when Paul finally arrives in Rome and is under house arrest, he writes his epistle to the Philippians and ends it by saying to them, “all the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.” Apparently, some of the emperor’s own family members were coming to faith in Christ as a result of Paul’s ministry. But that is still in the future. Right now, Paul is standing before Caesar’s court, a lower court that is in Caesarea and is once again defending himself from the accusations of the Jews.

And once again, he does a pretty good job of defending himself without counsel, except from the Holy Spirit of course, so much that the governor Festus doesn’t know what to do. Clearly, there was no evidence to condemn Paul, but instead of acquitting him, he decided to do the Jews a favor. And he asked Paul if he was willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before him there instead. Clearly this governor had no idea of the history of this case, but neither did he seem to care. If Paul would go before the Sanhedrin, they would condemn him and Festus could then easily wash his hands of the matter, turning him over to the Jews. But Paul knew it wouldn’t even come to that, he would be dead upon arrival. So he answered, saying, “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”

Surely, Festus was not expecting this turn of events. The case didn’t seem scandalous enough to go before the emperor himself. And yet, any Roman citizen that was not getting justice in a provincial court might appeal directly to the emperor. Actually, it wasn’t really an appeal in the normal sense of the word, for a man didn’t have to wait for the lower court to make its decision. He could immediately stop the trial and demand a direct ruling by the emperor. That is exactly what Paul is doing here.

As a result, governor Festus was in a bind. He couldn’t go ahead and convict Paul of anything for fear of undermining Roman Justice. On the other hand, he didn’t want to let Paul go free for that would surely damage his relationship with the Jews at the very beginning of his tenure. And now, unlike Felix, he couldn’t just leave Paul in a holding cell in the castle, for Paul had appealed to Caesar, so to Caesar he shall go. At this point, Paul would need to remember the words of Jesus to his disciples: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” But Paul was more than willing, for he firmly believed that Jesus is the Christ, the king of kings, and Lord of lord. And if the Lord God is on his side, what could mere man do to him?