I was reading in the book of Acts this morning and something caught my attention that I think is worth noting. In chapter twenty-five the apostle Paul has been in chains and under arrest and he appeals to Caesar. It was Paul’s right to be heard in a Roman court of law because of his status as a citizen of Rome. Festus has arrived in Caesarea to begin his role as governor of the area replacing Felix who had first heard Paul’s case thus he inherited the case. Paul was shifted back and forth from Roman to Roman and because Paul was not paying a bribe as the Roman leaders had hoped his case was not dismissed. So after some time Paul appealed to Caesar as a Roman citizen. You can read the record of these events in Acts chapters 23-27. In Chapter 25 Paul is summoned to give an account of his case before Festus and the King of the Jews Agrippa and his wife Bernice.
Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and greeted Festus. And as they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man left prisoner by Felix, and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews laid out their case against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up anyone before the accused met the accusers face to face and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him. So when they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought. When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed. Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. Being at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wanted to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding them. But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.” Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” said he, “you will hear him,” Acts 25:13-22, (English Standard Version or ESV).
As I read this account this morning it struck me as never before that the description Festus gives to Agrippa of Paul’s arrest really is the world’s view of Jesus Christ. The world has no true understanding of who Jesus is or why He came to earth or why He died or why He rose from the dead. To the world Jesus is an interesting story and that is all. I felt for the first time the loss of understanding that Festus must have felt. Surely Paul was not to be condemned to death for believing differently about Jesus than his Jewish countrymen! How strange Festus must have thought this case to be. But King Agrippa aww, well that is a different matter as he was Jewish and so was his wife Bernice, they had a better understanding of the religion and the culture. Naturally Festus must have thought Agrippa would have the answers. So Paul is summoned again.
So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him. But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him,” Acts 25: 23-27, (ESV).
Don’t you just love it! The Romans knew how to do an entrance for their guests, what a great reception they extended to Agrippa and Bernice. The highlight of the show was when Paul was brought into the chamber hall, a prisoner in chains but not a victim. No Paul was prepared to give an intelligent account of his case and he knew just how to reach his audience. I have no doubt that Paul had spent time in prayer to prepare for this moment. He was standing before the elite of his world and he gave a sermon like none other! Why was Paul so confident? Why wasn’t he afraid? I believe it is because such situations had been predicted by Jesus to the disciples and Paul must have heard first hand from the disciples of the prediction and the promise Jesus gave them.
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you,” Matthew 10:16-20, (ESV).
“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say,” Luke 12:8-12, (ESV).
Paul knew the Holy Spirit would direct his words to be heard. Paul had every confidence in this because he had a strong faith in Jesus Christ and a strong relationship with Jesus Christ as well. You can read what Paul says in Acts 26 as it is eloquent but I want to look at the perspective of the world. How did the non-believers, even the Jewish non-believers react to Paul’s case? Were their ears opened and their hearts ready to accept what they heard?
Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar,” Acts 26:30-32, (ESV).
It is sad that Paul’s case was treated by the world leaders of his time with nothing more than a passing interest. But that is the way of the world isn’t it? The world takes nothing away from an encounter with Jesus other than an afternoon of something interesting to hear, a moment of pleasure as they listened to a fantastic story, but to the world it was nothing more than a story. I believe that world thinking is only tolerant of Christians as long as we don’t press the light into their darkness. Many in the world will not listen to the Gospel or as these leaders did, they listened but did not do anything about what they heard. Still, though, Paul fulfilled his part and did his duty because he went before them and gave a great sermon, not a hell fire and brimstone judgement is coming sermon but simply told them his testimony. Paul knew that each human being will make up their own mind whether to accept or reject Jesus Christ but each Christian has the duty and responsibility to go and tell, not convert, but tell the world through their own testimony and life of the greatness of Jesus.
I hope today that you are not just listening to the Gospel. I hope that you are not just enjoying the nice Bible story. I hope that you are walking out your faith and living your faith and sharing why you have such faith in Jesus Christ by speaking and living. Many will dismiss you as Festus and Agrippa and Bernice dismissed Paul, but some will want to hear more because they are ready to hear your story of God’s mercy and grace. How will you know who is hungering after the things of God if you don’t speak truth to them?