Wednesday, March 13

All Roads Lead to Rome

24:1 Five days later Ananias the high priest came down with some elders and a lawyer named Tertullus. These men presented their case against Paul to the governor. When Paul was called in, Tertullus began to accuse him and said: “We enjoy great peace because of you, and reforms are taking place for the benefit of this nation because of your foresight. We acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with utmost gratitude. But, so that I will not burden you any further, I request that you would be kind enough to give us a brief hearing. For we have found this man to be a plague, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the Roman world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to desecrate the temple, and so we apprehended him. By examining him yourself you will be able to discern the truth about these charges we are bringing against him.” The Jews also joined in the attack, alleging that these things were true.

10 When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: “Because I know you have been a judge of this nation for many years, I am glad to offer my defense in what concerns me. 11 You can verify for yourself that it is no more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem. 12 They didn’t find me arguing with anyone or causing a disturbance among the crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or anywhere in the city. 13 Neither can they prove the charges they are now making against me. 14 But I admit this to you: I worship the God of my ancestors according to the Way, which they call a sect, believing everything that is in accordance with the law and written in the prophets. 15 I have a hope in God, which these men themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection, both of the righteous and the unrighteous. 16 I always strive to have a clear conscience toward God and men. 17 After many years, I came to bring charitable gifts and offerings to my people. 18 While I was doing this, some Jews from Asia found me ritually purified in the temple, without a crowd and without any uproar. 19 It is they who ought to be here before you to bring charges, if they have anything against me. 20 Or let these men here state what wrongdoing they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin, 21 other than this one statement I shouted while standing among them, ‘Today I am on trial before you concerning the resurrection of the dead.’”

22 Since Felix was well informed about the Way, he adjourned the hearing, saying, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 He ordered that the centurion keep Paul under guard, though he could have some freedom, and that he should not prevent any of his friends from meeting his needs.

24 Several days later, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and listened to him on the subject of faith in Christ Jesus. 25 Now as he spoke about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix became afraid and replied, “Leave for now, but when I have an opportunity I’ll call for you.” 26 At the same time he was also hoping that Paul would offer him money. So he sent for him quite often and conversed with him.

27 After two years had passed, Porcius Festus succeeded Felix, and because Felix wanted to do the Jews a favor, he left Paul in prison.

25 Three days after Festus arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. The chief priests and the leaders of the Jews presented their case against Paul to him; and they appealed, asking for a favor against Paul, that Festus summon him to Jerusalem. They were, in fact, preparing an ambush along the road to kill him. Festus, however, answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was about to go there shortly. “Therefore,” he said, “let those of you who have authority go down with me and accuse him, if he has done anything wrong.”

When he had spent not more than eight or ten days among them, he went down to Caesarea. The next day, seated at the tribunal, he commanded Paul to be brought in. When he arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him and brought many serious charges that they were not able to prove. Then Paul made his defense: “Neither against the Jewish law, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I sinned in any way.”

But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor, replied to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem to be tried before me there on these charges?”

10 Paul replied: “I am standing at Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as even you yourself know very well. 11 If then I did anything wrong and am deserving of death, I am not trying to escape death; but if there is nothing to what these men accuse me of, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar!”

12 Then after Festus conferred with his council, he replied, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you will go.”

13 Several days later, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea and paid a courtesy call on Festus. 14 Since they were staying there several days, Festus presented Paul’s case to the king, saying, “There’s a man who was left as a prisoner by Felix. 15 When I was in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews presented their case and asked that he be condemned. 16 I answered them that it is not the Roman custom to give someone up before the accused faces the accusers and has an opportunity for a defense against the charges. 17 So when they had assembled here, I did not delay. The next day I took my seat at the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought in. 18 The accusers stood up but brought no charge against him of the evils I was expecting. 19 Instead they had some disagreements with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, a dead man Paul claimed to be alive. 20 Since I was at a loss in a dispute over such things, I asked him if he wanted to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding these matters. 21 But when Paul appealed to be held for trial by the Emperor, I ordered him to be kept in custody until I could send him to Caesar.”

22 Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear the man myself.”

“Tomorrow you will hear him,” he replied.

23 So the next day, Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the auditorium with the military commanders and prominent men of the city. When Festus gave the command, Paul was brought in. 24 Then Festus said: “King Agrippa and all men present with us, you see this man. The whole Jewish community has appealed to me concerning him, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he should not live any longer. 25 I found that he had not done anything deserving of death, but when he himself appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him. 26 I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore, I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after this examination is over, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems unreasonable to me to send a prisoner without indicating the charges against him.”

26 Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”

. . . . . . . . .

24 As he was saying these things in his defense, Festus exclaimed in a loud voice, “You’re out of your mind, Paul! Too much study is driving you mad.”

25 But Paul replied, “I’m not out of my mind, most excellent Festus. On the contrary, I’m speaking words of truth and good judgment. 26 For the king knows about these matters, and I can speak boldly to him. For I am convinced that none of these things has escaped his notice, since this was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you believe.”

28 Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you going to persuade me to become a Christian so easily?” 

29 “I wish before God,” replied Paul, “that whether easily or with difficulty, not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am—except for these chains.”

30 The king, the governor, Bernice, and those sitting with them got up, 31 and when they had left they talked with each other and said, “This man is not doing anything to deserve death or imprisonment.”

32 Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

Act 24 (CSB)

Yesterday we looked at how Paul’s personality played a part in how often he ended up in prison, even though he never did anything really illegal. Once arrested, though, the corrupt and convoluted political system of the Roman Empire, especially in Jerusalem, complicated Paul’s civil problems. The last eight chapters of Acts span several years, and Paul spends them all as a prisoner. After his arrest in Jerusalem, he was passed from one authority to the next, from one city to the next, as everyone tried to figure out what to do with this guy who hadn’t done anything identifiably wrong, but who did cause an awful lot of trouble and had a lot of people trying to kill him.

The Roman commander in Jerusalem arrested Paul because of the near-riot he caused, but before he could really sort out the details he transferred Paul because of a Jewish assassination plot that targeted Paul. Under Governor Felix, Paul’s continued imprisonment has almost nothing to do with the actual charges but rather Felix’s predilections: he liked conversing with Paul and he wanted Paul to offer him a bribe, but then—after two years—he left Paul in prison to please the Jews.

Years later under a new governor, Festus was willing to settle the issue by sending Paul back to Jerusalem, but the Jews still wanted to kill him so Paul once again utilized his rights under the Roman political system and appealed to Caesar. This seemed like the wise move, until King Agrippa lamented at the end of today’s reading that Paul ‘could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.’  

Was it wrong of Paul to appeal to Caesar? Did he, once again, complicate things for himself?

Once again, no.

When Paul was initially arrested in Jerusalem, the Lord had appeared to him and said, “Have courage! For as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so it is necessary for you to testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11). Paul always knew that he was supposed to preach in Rome. He just didn’t realize that he would go there as a prisoner. Paul’s arrest, imprisonment, assassination plot, transfer, years in prison, appeal to Ceasar were not mistakes or even delays in Paul’s work. Rather, they were all roads leading to Rome.


Reflection

Have you ever had a clear idea of what God was calling you to do, but circumstances seemed to delay or prevent it from happening? Did you doubt God’s calling or think you’d made a mistake? God might be leading you elsewhere, but remember that, as with Paul, “all roads lead to Rome.” How might God be using current circumstances to prepare you, use you, and ultimately lead you where you thought He was calling you all along?

Prayer

Heavenly Father, I confess that often I can only see one way to where You are calling me, only one solution to the problem I see. You are sovereign, though, and see things from a perspective I cannot. Give me courage to trust You, no matter what road You lead me down. Amen.

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Megan NessonComment