Acts 24-26
(To Caesar You Will Go)
November 22nd

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

Then Festus, after conferring with his council, replied, “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go.”

- Acts 25:12 (NAB)

Summary of Chapters

In previous chapters in the book of Acts we learned that Saul of Tarsus had been a persecutor of Christians until God called him and put him on the right path to spread the truth of Christianity. Saul's, whose name was changed to Paul, travelled around the Roman Empire speaking forcefully and eloquently to convert many Jews and Christians to this New Way. He became known as the Apostle Paul and in some traditions is referred to as Saint Paul.

Although many had been converted there were groups in each city who objected violently to Paul's mission and sought to imprison, beat, and/or kill him. In each case Paul escaped through intervention by men or God. After many journeys Paul received the calling from the Holy Spirit to return to Jerusalem, knowing that he would be arrested. Indeed, as we read over the last couple of days, this is what happened. After his arrest and interrogation by various officials, a Roman commander transferred Paul to Caesarea for his safety, as he had learned of a plot by the local Jewish leaders to kill Paul. Paul would have an opportunity to appear before the governor in Caesarea.

Paul’s odyssey continues in today's chapters as he appears before several different officials and spends several years in prison in between meetings. In chapter 24, Paul appears before the regional Governor, Felix and the Chief Priest, who traveled from Jerusalem to Caesarea in an attempt to prosecute his case against Paul. The Chief Priest had brought his entourage and a toady, deceitful lawyer who presented an opening statement full of hyperbole:

    Within five days, the Chief Priest Ananias arrived with a contingent of leaders, along with Tertullus, a trial lawyer. They presented the governor with their case against Paul. When Paul was called before the court, Tertullus spoke for the prosecution: “Most Honorable Felix, we are most grateful in all times and places for your wise and gentle rule. We are much aware that it is because of you and you alone that we enjoy all this peace and gain daily profit from your reforms. I’m not going to tire you out with a long speech. I beg your kind indulgence in listening to me. I’ll be quite brief.

    “We’ve found this man time and again disturbing the peace, stirring up riots against Jews all over the world, the ringleader of a seditious sect called Nazarenes. He’s a real bad apple, I must say. We caught him trying to defile our holy Temple and arrested him. You’ll be able to verify all these accusations when you examine him yourself.”

    - Acts 24:1-8 (MSG)

For his part, Paul defends himself with the simple truth. Felix could not or would not decide if Paul was guilty or innocent, even after a follow up discussion with Paul in more private circumstances. He had hoped to get a bribe from Paul, but never received one, so Paul languished in prison for two years until Felix was replaced by Festus.

In chapter 25, the religious leaders once again tried to press their case with the new governor. Festus did not want to upset the Jewish leaders so he asked Paul if he would like to go to Jerusalem to defend himself, but Paul requested an audience with Caesar, in accordance with the rights of a citizen who believes he has been unfairly charged.

Festus could not turn down this request, but consulted with King Agrippa regarding how to move forward with it, so Agrippa agreed to meet with Paul.

In chapter 26, Paul gave his testimony to Agrippa, just as he had to the crowd in Jerusalem and on other occasions. Festus’s response was to declare Paul insane.

    "First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

    At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

    - Acts 26:20-24 (NIV)

Agrippa was more understanding, but not 100% convinced. He did say that Paul had done nothing wrong, and that he could have gone free if he did not request to appear before Caesar.

Paul said that he hoped all who listened would become like him - almost: “ Paul, still in chains, said, 'That’s what I’m praying for, whether now or later, and not only you but everyone listening today, to become like me—except, of course, for this prison jewelry!'(Acts 26:29 - NIV)”

Reflection and Application

Jesus had prepared his disciples for the scenario of unjust accusations during his leadership training, as recorded in the Gospels. Paul was not among that group but the principles apply to all of the followers of Jesus, including those present at that time and those who would come in the future. The list of martyrs since the Gospel era is a long one. It includes Paul in the 1st century A.D., Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the 20th century, 21st century Christians in North Korea, and many others in between.

    Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

    But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues;

    And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles.

    But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.

    For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.

    - Matthew 10:16-20 (KJV)

Paul had been unfairly accused but he benefited from the just system of law observed by the Romans. It is ironic that the nation of Israel was supposed to be the shining light of justice and mercy. The Lord had clearly defined how they were to treat each other fairly and without prejudice, as defined in the 10 Commandments and other proclamations. Paul explained how these laws and the words from the prophets provided a seamless path of instruction that led to the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Nevertheless, the leaders of that day and many before them ignored all these divine commands.

By contrast, the Gentile Romans, who did not claim to be obedient to God, upheld a legal system that was consistent with the law. Because of this system and the vastness of the empire, Paul was able to travel around the region and eventually to Rome spreading the Gospel everywhere he went. This was not the first time in the Bible that God used foreign leaders to achieve his objective. He allows free will and temporary victories for corrupt and evil leaders but is ultimately in control of all events. He used Cyrus of Persia to enable the Jews to return to Judea, as described in Nehemiah and other books, and he used the Roman Empire to help propagate his message of mercy. The despots in North Korea, Syria, and other part of the world have a temporary grip on the people of their land, but they will soon fade away and become dust in the wind like all other mortals.

Those of us who have been blessed with the freedom to move around our region or country and who have the right to speak freely can also bring the Gospel with us wherever we go, living our days according to God’s laws and always be prepared to hear his word and deliver it to those who want to hear.

The other irony of this part of the story is that Paul is the person in chains but he seems to be pulling all the strings in this story. A parade of officials came to see him to determine what to do and the highest official of the land encouraged him to go back to Jerusalem, but Paul insisted on going to Rome – as the Lord had commanded. When we know the Lord is on our side we don’t have to be anybody’s puppet but can take control of situations. At a minimum, with the Lord’s help, we can take control of ourselves.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What are the rights in your country that you most appreciate?
    2. How can we, as individuals fulfill the role of a shining light of mercy and justice?
    3. What are you prepared to say if someone accuses you of rebelling against our world and choosing to follow Christ?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know that you are in control at all times. Help us to believe.

    Prayer Concern

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Acts 27-28 (You Will Be Saved)

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