In chapter 24 we read how the Jewish high priest, some elders and a lawyer named Tertullus went down to Caesera from Jerusalem to meet with the Roman governor, Felix, and to set before him the charges they had against Paul. Paul responded to their charged and tried to persaude the governor that all of their allegations were false: He had done nothing wrong; he wasn’t a trouble-maker; and he didn’t do anything to desecrate the temple in Jerusalem. And then he argued that the real reason the Jewish leaders were accusing him was because he preached the message of Jesus Christ who died but rose again.
Instead of reaching a decision and ruling one way or the other, Felix merely ordered that Paul should be kept under guard until the Roman commander in Rome arrived. But as it turned out, two years passed and Paul remained in prison. And after those two years had passed, Felix was replaced by a new governor, whose name was Festus. And that’s how chapter 24 ended. Paul was in prison. And there was a new governor in charge.
In chapter 25 Luke records for us Paul’s trial before Festus. So, he tells us that three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesera to Jerusalem. And the chief priests and the Jewish leaders appeared before him. For what purpose? Look at verse 2: To present their charges against Paul. Two years had passed — and they’re still at it. They still haven’t forgotten Paul. They still want rid of him even though he’s been in a prison for two years. And they still have murder in mind. Do you see that in verse 3? They wanted Festus to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem because they were hoping to ambush him and to kill him on the way. Well, Festus was unwilling to do that, but he was prepared to hear their case against Paul if they come down to Caesera.
According to verse 6, Festus spent another 8 or 10 days in Jerusalem and then headed back to his palace in Caesera. And the very next day — there’s no waiting around — he convenes the court. And Paul was brought in. And look at verse 7: The Jews from Jerusalem made many serious charges against him. Many serious charges — but not one of them could be proven. And then in verse 8 we have a summary of Paul’s defence. He’s done nothing against the Jewish law. He’s done nothing against the temple. He’s done nothing against the Caesar.
At this point, Festus suggested that Paul might go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before there; presumably he means stand trial before the Sanhedrin. But Paul refuses. And it’s clear from what follows that Paul thinks he’s not going to get treated fairly by Festus, because he appealed to Caesar. Now any Roman citizen who felt he was not getting justice could do this. By appealing to Caesar, Paul was asking for his case to be taken out of the hands of Festus and handed over to the Emperor in the hope that the Caesar would give him a fair hearing. And since he appealed to Caesar, there was really nothing more that Festus could do. To Caesar he had to go.
In verses 13 to 22, we read how King Agrippa arrived. Now, this is Agrippa II. His great-grandfather was Herod the Great who tried to kill the infant Jesus. And his father was Herod Agrippa or Agrippa I. We read about him in Acts 12 and how he persecuted the church. And do you remember? He was the man who gave a speech. And the audience shouted:
This is the voice of a god, and not a man.
And because Herod Agrippa didn’t give praise to God, he was struck down dead by the angel of the Lord. Well, that was Herod Agrippa I. Now, we’re reading about his son, Agrippa II. And he ruled over the land of Judea as a kind of vice-regent on behalf of the Roman Emperor. And since a new Roman governor had recently been appointed, Agrippa and his wife, Bernice, went to Caesera to greet him. And Luke tells us that Festus began to discuss Paul’s case with Agrippa. And Agrippa was intrigued by what he heard and asked if he could hear Paul for himself. And so, in verses 23 to 27, we read how Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room in the palace along with the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city. And Festus ordered Paul to appear before them. And chapter 26 begins with Festus inviting Paul to address this audience of dignitaries. And we’ll have to wait until next time to hear what Paul said. For now, I want us to notice three things.
The Hatred of the Jews
First of all, there’s the hatred of the Jews. It’s hard to believe that their hatred for Paul has lasted so long. Two years Paul has been in prison. And we say, don’t we?: ‘Out of sight, therefore out of mind.’ Well, that wasn’t the case here. Though Paul had been out of sight, nevertheless he wasn’t out of their thoughts. And it seems they were just biding their time, waiting for Felix to be replaced so that they could bring their case to the new governor. And look at what Luke tells us: The governor had only just arrived in the province. And on his very first trip to Jerusalem, only days after starting this new post, the Jews are wanting to see him in order to bring up Paul’s case with him. Instead of letting Festus get settled, instead of giving him time to get used to his new role, they’re at his door, demanding his attention, demanding that they do something about Paul. So, we see the extent of their hatred for Paul in that it lasted so long.
And then we see the extent of their hatred in what they were planning. They wanted Festus to transfer Paul to Jerusalem. But not so that he could stand trial. They wanted to get him out of the prison so they could ambush him and kill him. Having Paul in prison wasn’t enough for them. Having him kept under guard didn’t satisfy them. They wanted him to be killed. That’s the extent of their hatred for him.
And then, of course, we see the extent of their hatred in the way they brought not a few, not several, but many serious charges against him. And all of them were untrue. In other words, they were prepared to lie about Paul again and again and again. Again and again and again, they broke the Lord’s ninth commandment because of their hatred for Paul.
And so, we see in various ways the extent of their hatred against Paul. But, of course, as we were hearing on Sunday morning, the reason they hated Paul wasn’t really anything to do with Paul. The reason they hated Paul was because they hated the Lord Jesus Christ. So, look at what Festus said to Agrippa about Paul in verse 19: Festus clearly didn’t understand all the background; but he’s gathered this much at least: the Jews were disputing with Paul about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus whom Paul claimed was alive. Why did they hate Paul? Because he preached about Jesus Christ who died but who rose again.
You see, if Paul had said nothing about the Lord Jesus, they wouldn’t have done anything to Paul. But because Paul preached Christ crucified and risen they hated him and wanted rid of him. And their hatred for the Lord Jesus and their hatred for Paul his Apostle remained in their hearts the whole time Paul remained in prison.
So, once again, we shouldn’t be surprised if people hate the church today. We shouldn’t be surprised as if something strange was happening to us. It’s always been this way: because of the deep-seated, deep down, implacable resistance of the human heart to the Lord Jesus Christ, the world will hate the church. But still, Paul did not give up. And he took every opportunity that came his way to make Christ known because God is able to change the hardest heart.
And that leads me to the second thing to note which is Paul’s fearlessness and his faithfulness. We see his fearlessness in the way he stood up to his accusers in verse 8 and in the way he stood up to Festus in verse 10. Festus wanted to hand over the case to the Sanhedrin. But Paul would not stand for it. He said to the governor: ‘I’m standing before Caesar’s court. That’s good enough for me. You’re the one with the authority to judge me.’ And then — and we’ll have to wait until the next time to find out more about this — but when he was brought before Agrippa and Bernice and the high ranking officers and other dignitaries, he was not afraid, but he boldly confessed the faith and urged them to believe in the Lord Jesus too. He was not ashamed of the gospel, but fearlessly made the good news known to all.
So, there’s his fearlessness. There’s also his faithfulness. Even though he’d been in prison for two years, he was not about to give up the faith for an easy life. He could so easily have said: ‘This is too hard. This is too much. I can’t face this any more.’ But no, he wanted to finish the race. He wanted to keep going. He wasn’t about to give up his faith now. He was prepared to fight the good fight of the faith to the end.
There’s the story of Polycarp, one of the early Christian martyrs who was killed in around 150 AD when he was an old man. He had been arrested by the Romans and was brought into the arena where many Christians had already been taken to face the lions. Well, when the Roman governor saw this elderly man, he tried to persuade him to give up the faith and spare his life. He said to him that the arena was no place for an old man; so, just say that you renounce the Christian faith, and you’ll be spared. Go on. It’s a simple thing to do. But Polycarp answered:
Eighty-six years have I have served him [the Lord Jesus Christ] and he has done me no wrong. How can I deny the King who saved me.
Paul was not about to deny the King who saved him. Even though the world hated him, he remained faithful to the end. And this, of course, is the power of God in us, who gives us the strength to remain faithful to him no matter what the world may do to us.
And then the final thing to notice is the providence of God. One of the commentators makes the point that this chapter of the book of Acts is a little like the book of Esther. You see, God is not mentioned at all in the book of Esther. He’s not mentioned at all. But he’s everywhere present, working, behind the scenes, directing and controlling all that was happening at that time in order to deliver his people from their enemies in the days of Queen Esther. And God was present throughout what was happening to Paul in this part of the book of Acts. He was working in the background, directing and controlling all things, in order to ensure that the Apostle Paul reached Rome.
Do you remember what we read, back in verse 11 of chapter 23? The Lord Jesus appeared to Paul when he was being held in prison in Jerusalem; and the Lord said to Paul:
Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.
And so, the Lord was bringing Paul to Rome in order to preach the good news of the gospel right in the heart of the Roman Empire.
We too may go through troubles and trials; we may face persecution and hatred. But we can rely on the Lord to work out his purposes and to continue to control and direct our lives. And so, we ought remember that our times are in his hands. And we ought to pray for his help to submit ourselves to his will and to trust that — though his ways may seem strange to us — he always knows what he is doing. And what we pray for ourselves, we ought to pray for others. This evening, we’ll hear about people in our church who are in need. We’ll remember missionaries who are working overseas, and ministers working in other congregations. Perhaps some of them are going through a hard time. So, let’s pray that they will remember that the Lord is in control of all that happens to them. Let’s pray that they will submit to his will. And let’s pray that the Lord will continue to work out his purposes and build his church here on earth.