Tue, Dec 17, 2013
136 - God's Protection [b]
Acts 24:10-25:12 by Robert Dean
Sounding more like a shadowy movie plot than actual events, the Apostle Paul arrives under heavily armed guards to Caesarea where his life converges with three kings. Listen to this lesson to learn that soon after his conversion, God promised Paul that he would give the good news of the Gospel to Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. Learn about the evil machinations of Felix and Festus, the dark history of their lives, and the political climate at the time Paul was being held. Marvel at his skillful defense of what he believes and understand that, like the Apostle, we can learn to trust that God is always behind the scenes working out His promises to us.
Series: Acts (2010)

God's Protection
Acts 24:10-25:12

When we run into these portions of Scripture that are straight narratives we must ask ourselves what the Holy Spirit is illustrating. In Acts 9:15 and 23:11 God made specific promises to Paul. God has made general promises to us. We don't have specific revelation about things that are happening to us in our lives but we have general promises and principles that we can trust the Lord for. But here are two promises that God made to Paul. Acts 9:15 took place right after Paul's conversion. The Lord said to Ananias: "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel." When he went through his first, second and third missionary journeys I can't think of any time when he took the gospel to royalty. But here, once he gets to Caesarea, he is going to be in jail but God brings the rulers to him. Eventually in Acts 23:11 God promised that as Paul had testified about Jesus in Jerusalem, so he would also bear witness at Rome. Paul is going to take the gospel into the very seat of power in the Roman empire.

We don't know what happens after he gets to Rome. Luke draws the curtain. We know that he has appealed to Caesar and he is going to be tried by the highest court in the land. He was found not guilty and released. There were two imprisonments. Not much is said. There are a few hints in the epistles that Paul went to Spain, that he went to the area we now know as Yugoslavia and some other areas. Tradition says he may have even made it to Britain, although we don't know if we can rely upon that, but he definitely had a two or three-year ministry before he was brought back to Rome as a prisoner and then executed.  

Remember the key verse, Acts 1:8, that lays out the framework for the book of Acts: "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." Luke is writing in order to make a point about God's sovereign work in history, that the church isn't some accidental religious movement like some other religious movements, and that this is divinely empowered and God the Holy Spirit is working through the apostles to spread the gospel throughout the world. The primary witness that we see coming out of this is the apostle Paul. Peter in the first part (approximately the first eleven chapters) and then the rest of Acts is about Paul. 

When we study church history we study the things we learn from traditions in the church we learn that the other apostles spread out. The went into North Africa, into Turkey, some into areas north of the Black Sea, areas of what is modern Ukraine. Peter went to Babylon; Thomas took the gospel to India. We don't know other places where the apostles took the gospel. The Scriptures don't tell us about that. The Scriptures focus on the gospel path into the heart of the Roman empire, which was the heart of Europe at that time. And the expansion of the gospel in the first six centuries of the church is really through the Roman empire in North Africa and into Europe, and primarily into Europe going up through France and into what is now Great Britain and into Ireland. Some took the gospel into Scandinavia and into Germany. Through all of this the gospel spread.

We could scratch our head and ask why the Holy Spirit didn't talk to us about what was going on in North Africa and what was going on in other areas of the Near East, and even about the gospel going east and into India and maybe as far as China. There is a simple answer to that. If we go back and read the prophecy of Noah over his three sons we see that Japheth is the one who receives the primary blessing. Shem is blessed by virtue of being protected by Japheth. That works itself out eventually in how the Jewish people find their greatest expression and freedom—even though there is a lot of horrible anti-Semitism—by the 19th and 20th century under Gentile Japhetic descendants. But is the gospel that goes and gives the strength to the Japhetic people, and ultimately by the time we get to the 16th to the 19th century the gospel begins to go to South and North America, to India, Japan and China, all by virtue of the missionary efforts that come out of Europe. So that is an outworking of that ancient prophecy that Noah had over his three sons. One is ignored, and that is Ham. Ham is just not mentioned. He is neither blessed nor cursed but one of his descendants, Canaan, is cursed because he is the father of the Canaanites. It was because of the gross immorality of the Canaanites. Eventually they became so perverse and so corrupt that God sent His people into the land to destroy them—not in an act of holy war like there is in Islam, which is how they spread Islam—in a surgical strike to remove this horrible cancer of the Canaanites from the body of the human race.

This episode at the end of Acts is going to take Paul into the heart of the Roman empire and it is from the Roman empire that the gospel is eventually going to spread throughout Europe in fulfillment of prophecy.

What we learn personally from this is that God has a plan. He may not have revealed His specific plan to you or to me, as He did with the apostle Paul, but He does have a plan. This is not just talking about the blueprint for the spiritual life, but that God is going to use us in tremendous ways in our spiritual life if we will let Him. God is going to protect us. He is going to take us into situations and circumstances where we have to deal with people and go places that we might not like. If we are willing to open ourselves up to being used by God He will use us.  

That is what we see in this whole episode with Paul. He has a promise from God and he is willing to obey the Lord one hundred per cent. And there must have been some dark days there. In Acts 23:19 after Paul had been arrested there were times that he feared for his life. He had a sin nature just like you and I and there were times when he wasn't really sure about things. He went through a lot more intense suffering and opposition than any of us do. And so we have to learn to trust Him because we can't see around the corner and see what is going to happen the next day, the next week. But the Lord can use us in an incredible way if we will just say we'll go there.

In Acts 24 Paul has been brought to Caesarea and there he is going to defend himself before Felix. As he presents his defense he makes the point that he was only in Jerusalem twelve days. In three of those days he was in jail. Nine days wasn't nearly enough to create this crazy Christian conspiracy that he was accused of. Second, he denied being in the temple inciting the crowd, or in the synagogues or in Jerusalem as he had been charged. Third, these Jewish leaders presented no evidence whatsoever. They just presented a list of charges, and they had no witnesses. The fourth thing he points out is that he has indeed become a follower of the Way and he affirms that this is the correct outgrowth of the Torah. He hasn't thrown out Old Testament teaching, he has respect for the Torah but it is not the way to salvation. He has a correct view of the Old Testament and it all pointed to Jesus.

Here and in the next defense he ultimately builds to a statement related to hope and that the real issue was resurrection. In verse 15 he says, "I have hope in God." Hope in the Bible is confident expectation, so he puts his confidence in God that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. And there is the implication of a future accountability at a future judgment. He also affirmed (v. 17) that he didn't come to stir up trouble. He had been collecting financial aid for the Jews in Jerusalem. Then at the end he went on the offence and challenged his accusers, v. 20: "Or else let these men themselves tell what misdeed they found when I stood before the Council, [21] other than for this one statement which I shouted out while standing among them, 'For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today.'" He brings the point right there. He doesn't get his eye off the focal point, which has to be the cross. It has to be the message of the gospel in one way or another.

Now we see that Felix starts to procrastinate. He is stalling for time. He really doesn't want to let Paul go because he is a politician and if he lets Paul go he is going to anger the Jewish leadership and that could cost him his job. So he is trying to figure out a way to balance in this precarious situation to keep the Jews happy and his Roman bosses happy.

Acts 24:22 NASB "But Felix, having a more exact knowledge about the Way, put them off, saying, 'When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.'"

Felix knows that the argument that the Jews are bringing is just a theological issue between them and it doesn't have anything to do with Roman law but he knows that if he lets Paul go he is in trouble, so he knows he has to figure out a way to keep him there. He comes up with this fabrication of an excuse. Lysias has already sent a letter (23:26-30) and Felix doesn't need him to come and give personal testimony. And to show how fallacious that argument was they never did call for Lysias to give testimony. It wasn't necessary. It was just an excuse to postpone making a decision in the case with the apostle Paul.

Acts 24:23 NASB "Then he gave orders to the centurion for him to be kept in custody and {yet} have {some} freedom, and not to prevent any of his friends from ministering to him."

It was a nice house arrest. His friends could come and visit and it was an opportunity for Felix and his wife Drusilla (his third wife) to visit and talk to Paul.

Acts 24:24 NASB "But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him {speak} about faith in Christ Jesus. [25] But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, "Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you."

Paul was reasoning, presenting a logical, rational base for biblical Christianity. Christians are not anti-rational. The only thing we disagree with with the rationalists and empiricists is their starting point: that man can be the center of all things and come to absolute truth on his own without outside information being given to him by God. Paul reasons about three things: righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come. What did he say about righteousness? That none of us are righteous. None of us meet God's standard, we have all fallen short of the glory of God, and so there is a need to have righteousness. Self-control is a point of application that hit Felix between the eyes because Felix had none. He was a man who was controlled by his lusts. And the judgment to come. That made him squeamish. He did not want to be held accountable for his sins. His response was: Well Paul, go away now and at a convenient time I will call for you.

The next verse states his other motive. 

Acts 24:26 NASB "At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him. [27] But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned."

The word for bound can mean that he was in chains, but it doesn't look as if Paul has been in chains. He has been under house arrest. The word can also mean that he has just been left in prison in an incarcerated state. It doesn't mean that he is walking around with his hands and/or feet changed.

We don't know much about Festus. Felix was deposed by Nero. He had to resign in disfavor around AD 59 and Festus is put in charge, but he dies in 62 while still in office. Josephus is the only other source that we have, other than the Bible, for Festus and he wrote that he ruled wisely and justly in contrast to Felix.

Acts 25:1 NASB "Festus then, having arrived in the province, three days later went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea." Strictly speaking Judea wasn't a province, it was a department within the province of Syria which was under a legate from Rome. Festus comes into town and sets up, and in three days he went to Jerusalem. He is not waiting. He knows he has a very intense situation on his hands and so he goes to Jerusalem to try to find out what the problems were and settle things.

Acts 25:2 NASB "And the chief priests and the leading men of the Jews brought charges against Paul, and they were urging him …

That is the top issue on their priority list. You have to get rid of Paul, he is causing too many problems. This is part of the angelic conflict: get rid of Paul because Paul is too effective. One of the things Satan does is target the leadership of the church that is effective because he wants to block the expansion of the gospel. So there are two groups here. There is the high priest and then the chief priests. There were 24 chief priests heading up the 24 divisions of the tribe of Levi, and they are all Sadducees. Then there is another group called the principal men or the first men of the Jews, and that would be parallel to the mention later in verse 15 of the elders of the Jews. These were Pharisees who were members of the Sanhedrin as well.

Acts 25:3 NASB "requesting a concession against Paul, that he might have him brought to Jerusalem ({at the same time,} setting an ambush to kill him on the way).

But Festus is wise.

Acts 25:4 NASB "Festus then answered that Paul was being kept in custody at Caesarea and that he himself was about to leave shortly. [5] 'Therefore,' he said, 'let the influential men among you go there with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them prosecute him.'"

He is following the law.

Acts 25:6 NASB "After he had spent not more than eight or ten days among them, he went down to Caesarea, and on the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. [7] After Paul arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him which they could not prove, [8] while Paul said in his own defense, 'I have committed no offense either against the Law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.'"

Luke doesn't identify the complaints here but they are the same as earlier. Paul lays out his case. Paul answered for himself. Earlier in verse 4 when  Festus answers, that is the normal word for just answering a question. But the word that is used here in verse 8 is apologeomai, which means to present a logical, rational defense.

But Festus has the same problem that Felix had. He has to deal with this political hot potato with the Jews. There are no provable charges so he think maybe it would be a good idea for Paul to be taken to Jerusalem to be judged there.

Acts 25:9 NASB "But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, 'Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me on these {charges?}'"

Paul knows that if that happens his life is going to be put in serious danger and he won't get justice in Jerusalem. He has the promise of God, that God is going to take him to Rome. That doesn't mean that it has to be a normal procedure, that he is going to be free in getting to Rome. He sees his opportunity here and he is going to appeal his trial and to be moved from Caesarea, not to Jerusalem but as a Roman citizen he had the right to go to Caesar's judgment seat.

Acts 25:10 NASB "But Paul said, 'I am standing before Caesar's tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to {the} Jews, as you also very well know.'"

He doesn't back down. He is not being disrespectful or inflammatory but he firmly stands his ground.

Acts 25:11 NASB "If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is {true} of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar. [12] Then when Festus had conferred with his council, he answered, 'You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go.'"

Festus knew that he had no other option at that point.

Acts 25:13 NASB "Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and paid their respects to Festus."

Herod Agrippa became the ruler of Galilee when he was seventeen years old. This is one of the most significant sections in here because we are going to hear Paul give one of the most extended explanations of his salvation in chapter 26. We have a lead-up in chapter 25.