Thursday, November 27, 2014

Acts 27 - On The Way To Italy

Monday, November 24, 2014 - 'Rough Sailing'
1 When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, they proceeded to deliver Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan cohort named Julius. 2 And embarking in an Adramyttian ship, which was about to sail to the regions along the coast of Asia, we put out to sea accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica. 3 The next day we put in at Sidon; and Julius treated Paul with consideration and allowed him to go to his friends and receive care. 4 From there we put out to sea and sailed under the shelter of Cyprus because the winds were contrary. 5 When we had sailed through the sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. 6 There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy, and he put us aboard it. 7 When we had sailed slowly for a good many days, and with difficulty had arrived off Cnidus, since the wind did not permit us to go farther, we sailed under the shelter of Crete, off Salmone; 8 and with difficulty sailing past it we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.

Aristarchus had accompanied Paul on his third missionary tour. Paul called him both a fellow laborer and fellow prisoner (Col. 4:10; Phlm. 1:24). In other words, Aristarchus wasn't along for the ride. He was also a prisoner. Hanging out with Paul was dangerous. When Paul got into trouble, those with him were swept up in the trouble as well. Paul's decisions frequently jeopardized the lives of those who traveled with him. Yet, these men knew the risk when they decided to join his missionary team.
Earlier, Paul spoke about being in 'chains'. He was clearly a prisoner, yet the centurion - Julius - permitted Paul to visit his friends in Sidon to receive care. Many times as we read about the centurions in Bible times it seems that they were men who could always be counted on to obey any command given to them, yet they were also able to accomplish their task humanely.

There are different ways to obey the will of a superior. We can do it as a robot or as a human. The same is true among the 'soldiers' of Christ. Some value the commands of Christ apart from the compassion of Christ. Others value the commands of Christ and obey them in the spirit of Christ.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014 - 'Hope Abandoned'
9 When considerable time had passed and the voyage was now dangerous, since even the fast was already over, Paul began to admonish them, 10 and said to them, “Men, I perceive that the voyage will certainly be with damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion was more persuaded by the pilot and the captain of the ship than by what was being said by Paul. 12 Because the harbor was not suitable for wintering, the majority reached a decision to put out to sea from there, if somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there. 13 When a moderate south wind came up, supposing that they had attained their purpose, they weighed anchor and began sailing along Crete, close inshore. 14 But before very long there rushed down from the land a violent wind, called Euraquilo; 15 and when the ship was caught in it and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and let ourselves be driven along. 16 Running under the shelter of a small island called Clauda, we were scarcely able to get the ship’s boat under control. 17 After they had hoisted it up, they used supporting cables in undergirding the ship; and fearing that they might run aground on the shallows of Syrtis, they let down the sea anchor and in this way let themselves be driven along. 18 The next day as we were being violently storm-tossed, they began to jettison the cargo; 19 and on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 Since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing us, from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned.

Sometimes life throws so much at us that we give up all hope of survival. If our only hope is riveted in this life alone, we may perish without hope. Yet, if our hope exceeds anything that can be realized in this life, then no matter what we face 'here', we may remain a person of hope all the way until our last breath.

Traveling the seas in Paul's day was extremely risky behavior. It was not for the faint of heart. Storms could suddenly arise, which were sensed as far more malevolent when matched by long-held superstitions. When driven by fear, people often make mindless decisions that serve only to exacerbate their troubles.

I wonder what it was that Paul 'perceived' that led him to caution those in charge of the ship? Had he intuited the weather or had he been given a vision from God? Predictably, the centurion was more convinced by those who were experienced in ships than was Paul. Would God have given Paul a vision that would have been DOA? For what possible purpose would a divine insight into the future of a boat be if God already knew that no one would take the information to heart? Why didn't God just intervene and make the ship inoperable to begin with?

It seems that one of heaven's favorite methods for working in our world is to present an insight that few grasp at first, but later - 'when it comes to pass' - the earlier insight is remembered and there is an aha. In other words, it is not so much about 'telling' people what they must do right now, (especially since it heavenly insights are far beyond most folks ability to comprehend if they haven't already come to a faith in God and know/trust God's voice), rather it is about setting up a process in which an individual 'discovers' God's voice.

When we are fully depending upon our own wits and strengths we can't 'hear' the voice of God. We merely hear the voice of those 'telling' us what they have heard. We reject it as nonsense, yet their words lodge in our mind. At some point, when we have abandoned all hope, we are much more willing to 'recall' an alternative, however 'off-the-wall' it may have once seemed.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - 'Hope Inspired'
21 When they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst and said, “Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete and incurred this damage and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, 24 saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’ 25 Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on a certain island.”

'I told you so. Never-the-less, how about listening to me now.' When folks have lost all hope, just about anything that restores even a glimmer of hope is often quickly embraced. There was, though, going to be a loss because of the fact they had not listened to Paul in the beginning. The ship and everything in it would be lost, but all human life would be saved. It was, of course, a small price to pay for survival.

The upshot of all this was that Paul believed that God had called him to Rome and no kings, governors, enemy Jews, ship pilot, or violent storm was going to keep him from getting there. Though it may seem from Luke's account that 'it was all about Paul', there was much more to the story. Not only was God going to protect Paul so that he could end up in Rome, but along the way God was going to use every obstacle as a means to elicit faith in those that came in contact with Paul.

Why didn't God safely send Paul to Rome without all these other happenings? Recall that Paul had to endure all these sufferings because he hadn't listened to the Spirit warning him not to go to Jerusalem. Sure, God may have wanted Paul to go to Rome at some point and could still get him there despite Paul's stubborn penchant for Jerusalem, but all this could have been accomplished far more painlessly if Paul had listened. The same is true for us.

Do we confuse our will with God's will? Are the many things we suffer the result of our own choices. Do we blame God for allowing bad things to happen to us when, truth be told, the pain we experience is a direct result of our insistence to do things 'our own way'? God's ways are not our ways. When will we learn this and just listen and obey?

There is another lesson in all this. Though we often choose to do things our own way rather than God's way, God continues to work with us - as he did with Paul. Even if the hopelessness we feel is a consequence of our own choices, if we listen to God we will find a new hope. If we listen.... 

Thursday, November 27, 2014 - 'Trust In Self'
27 But when the fourteenth night came, as we were being driven about in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors began to surmise that they were approaching some land. 28 They took soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; and a little farther on they took another sounding and found it to be fifteen fathoms. 29 Fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak. 30 But as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship and had let down the ship’s boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, “Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it fall away.

God's promise seems to have been dependent upon the skills of the sailors. Paul presented this as a black and white choice. Either the sailors remain with us or we all die. If the sailors had abandoned the ship, those left behind would not have had the expertise to maneuver the ship in the right way, at the right time. The centurion immediately comprehended the situation and acted wisely. Paul had moved from being a prisoner to effectively being in charge, much as once happened with Joseph while in Pharaoh's prison.

Does the wisdom of God reveal itself in you? Despite your personal experiences and education, can God lead others through you, simply because you listen to his voice and share what you have heard Him say to you?

The sailors attempted to neglect Paul and to save themselves. They narrow-mindedly trusted in their own wits and abilities to escape death, irregardless of the fact that their actions would have cost the lives of many others. They were scared and selfish men. But God wanted them. God chose to 'need' them.

Surely God could have calmed that storm as He had done through Jesus several times. Yet, God chose, in this situation, to work 'with' men to save men. He chose to use the competencies of 'unsaved' men to save the lives of others, including Paul. How often do we wait for God to perform a miracle when He has made it obvious that He has chosen to work through the competencies of humans around us - whether or not they are believers? How might this notion change the way you 'see' God at work each day? 

Friday, November 28, 2014 - 'Of Faith and Food'
33 Until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been constantly watching and going without eating, having taken nothing. 34 Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation, for not a hair from the head of any of you will perish.” 35 Having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all, and he broke it and began to eat. 36 All of them were encouraged and they themselves also took food. 37 All of us in the ship were two hundred and seventy-six persons. 38 When they had eaten enough, they began to lighten the ship by throwing out the wheat into the sea.

Saturday, November 29, 2014 - 'Hope Fulfilled'
39 When day came, they could not recognize the land; but they did observe a bay with a beach, and they resolved to drive the ship onto it if they could. 40 And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea while at the same time they were loosening the ropes of the rudders; and hoisting the foresail to the wind, they were heading for the beach. 41 But striking a reef where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern began to be broken up by the force of the waves. 42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none of them would swim away and escape; 43 but the centurion, wanting to bring Paul safely through, kept them from their intention, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land, 44 and the rest should follow, some on planks, and others on various things from the ship. And so it happened that they all were brought safely to land.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Acts 26 - King Agrippa

Monday, November 17, 2014 - 'Appeal to Pride'
1 Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense: 2 “In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today; 3 especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently. 

Paul, noticing the pomp in which king Agrippa had entered the room, appealed to the man's obvious pride. In other words, he 'met the man where he discerned the man was'. He flattered the king by acknowledging in front of everyone present that the king was an expert in Jewish customs as well as knowledgeable in regard to the issues that were currently being debated among the Jews. Sometimes flattery encourages a person to live up to the praise.

On the other hand, this approach was double-edged. If the king later sided against Paul, Paul would have no choice but to accept the decision, having just proclaimed to all present that the king was indeed an expert in the things that had been presented before him. Paul, though, was confident in his own ability to persuade the king to see as Paul saw. Thus he invited the king to listen carefully to everything being said. Paul was, effectively, instructing the king on how to listen and what to listen to, if the king was genuinely interested in knowing the facts.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - 'Appeal to History'
4 “So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; 5 since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion. 6 And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; 7 the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. 8 Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead? 9 “So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities. 

One might assume that because of the vehemence of the Jewish attacks against Paul, every Jew must have heard about him. Yet, Paul believed that 'all Jews knew' about him because of his faithful life of service to his nation as a strict Pharisee. Did his assumption arise out of self-aggrandizing pride, or was it a rhetorical use of hyperbole, or was this an accurate reporting of the facts? Or, when he wrote, 'all Jews know', was he simply referring to 'all Jews who know me, know that...'?

Paul went on to specify that the 'hope of the Jews' (minus the Sadducees) was based upon the promise of God that there would be a reward for a life that was lived faithfully. That reward would be the resurrection to life eternal. So, if that was true, why was he being persecuted for preaching that God's promise had been confirmed through the death and resurrection of Jesus? Why would any evidence that supported this particular Jewish teaching be considered problematic?

Paul then admitted that he had himself once pursued the Christians with the same hostile, but ignorant vigor as some Jews were now pursuing him. He had himself, prior to his conversion, even agreed to the death penalty for those who believed in Christ. In many ways Paul had been 'satan' to the first generation of Christians. He had even stooped so low as to force Christians to blaspheme - though he left to our imagination what methods he may have utilized to obtain such renunciations. He had become 'furiously enraged', having descended into the darkness of a near crazy person, unable to control his anger. He agreed to be the 'evil tool' of the Jewish council as they attempted to protect what they believed to be God's righteousness. Paul had become blindly zealous for the 'religion' that he believed had been delivered to the Jews by God, but had missed the salient point of his religion.

And yet, God hadn't given up on Paul. God had a plan for Paul that had differed from Paul's plan for himself, and had differed from what the Jewish leadership believed as truth. Paul, along with most Jews, had become so focused on protecting his religion, that he had lost sight of the God of his religion. Religion without God almost always becomes a tool of the devil.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 - 'Appeal to Providence'
12 “While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, 13 at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; 17 rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.' 

It was important for Agrippa to know that when Paul started out on his journey to Damascus that there wasn't even a shred of hesitation about his purpose - as a defender of Judaism. Paul was 100 percent invested in destroying Christians, who he saw as destroyers of Judaism. He had not left Jerusalem with any sense of guilt or shame about his mission. He did not secretly hope that he could find the courage to become a Christian himself. He did not admire the Christians. In other words, nothing had primed him to be easily persuaded to betray his mission. There were no latent affections for Jesus.

It was essential to Paul's argument to have first established that he was 100 percent loyal to the council. He had not pursued the Christians halfheartedly. Thus, the only way that he could have possibly made such a sudden 180 degree turn in his thinking about Christians must have been because God himself had miraculously intervened. 

That is exactly what happened, according to Luke. Jesus spoke to Paul and demanded an answer, 'why are you fighting Me? You cannot win.' When Paul learned that it was Jesus speaking to him, he had no choice other than to concede that he had been wrong about the Christians and to accept as 'good' the very thing he had believed was 'evil'. Yet, God had more in mind than to merely convince Paul of the truth. God's purpose for Paul was to turn him into a mighty champion of the very truth he had once tried to destroy.

God had not taken 'no' for an answer from Paul. God was, it seems, somewhat in a rush. He had permitted Paul to interfere with heaven's plan long enough. He needed Paul up and running along the path that the Lord had chosen for him. The world needed to know the gospel. So, the Lord said to Paul, 'Get up and stand on your feet.'

Jesus also made it clear that He would rescue Paul from both the Jews and the Gentiles. Imagine telling King Agrippa that God promised to 'rescue Paul from the Jews'! What did that imply? Were they in as much 'darkness' as were the Gentiles? Were they under the dominion of Satan as were the Gentiles - at least according to this scriptural passage? Does that mean that anyone who is not a follower of Jesus abides in darkness and is under the dominion of Satan? What was going on in the kings mind as he heard Paul speak these words of indictment?  

Thursday, November 20, 2014 - 'Appeal to Integrity'
19 “So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. 21 For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death. 22 So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; 23 that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles." 

First, Paul confirmed his faithfulness to God. He had heard from God and had immediately obeyed God. That is spiritual integrity.

Second, it wasn't just the Gentiles that needed to hear his message, but primarily the Jews. The Jews were in darkness - a different darkness than what had blinded the Gentiles, yet darkness none-the-less. What did Paul's message require of the king? Repentance. If one knows the truth and acts on that truth, one is 'of' the truth. That is spiritual integrity.

Third, he confirmed that the Jews didn't want to hear what God had to say. They only wanted to hear that God confirmed them in their status quo. Rebelling against God, they did what the Jews had often done, they attempted to kill God's messenger.

Fourth, despite all that the Jews, and the Gentiles had done to harm Paul, God intervened to protect him from both God's people and those Paul had been sent to serve.

Fifth, Paul could see nothing wrong with his position. In fact, he believed that everything that had happened in the life and death of Jesus had been exactly what the Prophets and Moses had prophesied.

All this was a bitter pill to swallow for those who were listening to Paul. The question was not about Paul's sincerity of belief, but whether or not what he believed as truth was actually the truth, and if so, would they be willing to immediately act on their own convictions as Paul had?

Friday, November 21, 2014 - 'Appeal to Common Sense'
24 While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.” 25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. 26 For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner. 

One of the fascinating things about human nature, yet something we often forget, is that we don't all see the same thing in the same way. Any political or religious system that does not take into account that good people can sincerely see the same thing in different ways, will not be a system that works for long. When we can't grasp that another persons different way of seeing isn't necessarily rebellion, but just different, we will tend to harshly treat that person.

In this case, Festus viewed the world very differently than Paul. Paul's defense didn't make any sense to Festus. In response, Festus concluded that Paul had 'lost his mind'. Curiously, Festus indicated that he respected Paul as a well educated man, yet even that was not enough to keep him from judging Paul. Festus just didn't have within him the ability to see as Paul saw. He would have to, if so inclined, apprehend the 'truth' from his own perspective, not from Paul's. 

Paul's response indicated a similar narrowness of thinking about human nature. He believed that King Agrippa could see as he himself saw. In fact, Paul believed that the evidence was so obvious that the king must have seen it. The problem was that what is abundant and clear evidence for one person, may lacking clarity for another. This does not automatically mean that the another way of seeing represents an unwillingness to see, but an inability to see as another sees. Each person must 'see' as they see.

Saturday, November 22, 2014 - 'Appeal to Conscience'
27 King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.” 28 Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” 29 And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains." 30 The king stood up and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them, 31 and when they had gone aside, they began talking to one another, saying, “This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.

Having presented his defense to the group before him, Paul zeroed in on King Agrippa. He didn't permit the king to merely be a passive listener nor simply to be entertained by Paul's story-telling, but to make a personal decision based on what he had heard. More so, Paul invited the king to listen to his own conscience. 

Paul was, as usual, convinced that if the he was given the opportunity to present the reasons for his own faith that any candidly-minded person would come to the exact same conclusions. Yet, in this, Paul was mistaken. No two people can see all things in exactly the same way. The way each person 'sees' is based on a complex amalgamation of inherited temperament, natural intelligence, life-experiences, quality of education, peculiarities of culture, religious beliefs, etc. Groups of people may arrive at the same general conclusion about a particular issue, yet still disagree on many particulars.

Note that Paul wasn't merely under house arrest. Unless he was speaking metaphorically, he was wearing actual 'chains'. He had been in chains before (Acts 16:26) and the Spirit had warned him that chains again awaited him if he stubbornly persisted in going to Jerusalem (Acts 20:23). 

In the end, both the governor and the king concluded that Paul was innocent of any charges that warranted keeping him in chains. He could have been set free 'if' he had not appealed to Caesar. As a Roman citizen he had the right to make such an appeal. Yet, under Roman law the governor then had no choice but to follow through. Had Paul 'pulled a Peter'? Had he spoken without thinking?

Had either Festus or Agrippa given their hearts to Jesus?  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Acts 25 - Governor Festus

Monday, November 10, 2014 - 'Failed Leadership'
1 Festus then, having arrived in the province, three days later went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. 2 And the chief priests and the leading men of the Jews brought charges against Paul, and they were urging him, 3 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). 4 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.” 6 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.”

This is a sad commentary on the religious leadership in Jerusalem. While looking for favors from the new governor so that Paul could be condemned to death they also planned how to murder him if the governor could not be persuaded to condemn him. Of course we cannot imagine any religious council being this corrupt today, can we?

Though Festus desired to please the Jews, probably with the idea to bring calm to the region as well as to gain financially from them, he was not so dumb as to permit them to totally flaunt Roman law. They were told to travel to Caesarea and to present their case. With this plan Festus could clearly see just what type of people he would have to deal with. The Jews actually had no case. It became more obvious to Festus that the real criminals were the Jewish leaders, not Paul. Though the Jews were concerned that Paul broke 'their' religious Law, they themselves were willing to not only break Roman law, but even their own Law in order to rid themselves of Paul's influence - despite the fact that he had been in custody for several years.

What were the Jews hiding? What did they desperately not want Paul to reveal? What had he said that scared them so much that they preferred to act like demons rather than to permit him access to the people? What lengths would we be willing to go to in order to keep our own sins hidden?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - 'Leveraging One's Legal Rights'
9 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?” 10 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. 11 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.”

Paul was not going down without a fight. He was obviously not pursuing the Isaiah 53 way of Christ. He was 'not' silent before his accusers, quietly going to the cross. Why not? Why would this man of God, who claimed to follow the Son of God, not behave like the One he claimed to have faith in? Was Paul not a sincere or genuine believer? Was he only strong in faith when he was in control, yet revealed his true character when faced with death? Though he had written 'to die is gain', was Paul actually afraid to die?

I don't think so. Jesus was called to the cross. He had surrendered his will to the Father's will and silently went 'to the slaughter'. Paul, on the other hand, though willing to die for his faith, believed that he had been called to testify about his faith in the gospel of the kingdom both in Jerusalem and in Rome. He honestly believed that it was God's will for him to carry on, thus he would not permit any circumstances to become obstacles. He expected God to help him see and to move around, over, or through every hindrance placed before him. For Paul, his circumstances were a test of his faith in God. He had no intention to fail these tests. Thus he maintained an alert mind, listening for the guidance of the Spirit so that he could always discern the promised 'way of escape'.

There are several important points to grasp in all this. First, we need to believe and trust in a living God who is actively engaged in our world and especially active in the lives of those who love Him. Second, each of us need to know what God has called us to - His unique purpose for 'me'. Third, we need to know, listen for, and obey the voice of God when he is speaking to us. And fourth, we must never give up, whatever the circumstances.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - 'Dead or Alive?'
13 Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and paid their respects to Festus. 14 While they were spending many days there, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man who was left as a prisoner by Felix; 15 and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. 16 I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face and has an opportunity to make his defense against the charges. 17 So after they had assembled here, I did not delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought before me. 18 When the accusers stood up, they began bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting, 19 but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive.

Herein exists the crux of the issue then, and even now. 'Was Jesus resurrected.' 

Paul said 'Yes'. 

The Jews said 'No'. 

The Roman governor said, I don't know, nor really care'. 

Two thousand years later we all fall into one of these three categories. 

Remember, Paul was not merely proclaiming that Jesus had been resuscitated, but later died as all mortals must. Rather, his message was that Jesus had been resurrected and had been alive ever since and would never die again. It was not that these particular Jews did not believe in a resurrection, but that they did not believe that Jesus had been resurrected in the way that all mankind will eventually experience at the end of the ages. 

Paul's case must have been a vexing loose end for Festus, an unwanted holdover from the previous administration under Felix. But why might that have been so? Had the Jews persistently pestered him to bring closure to this case? Was Festus tempted to 'do a Pilate', to wash his hands of the whole thing? Was he irritated by the fact that Paul was innocent, yet the leaders of his largest constituency were evil? Was he feeling stuck between the proverbial hard place and a rock, knowing that if he released the innocent one, Paul, that the evil ones would quickly kill him? Did it bug Festus that in order to protect Paul, he had to keep him in custody and endure the never ending onslaught of Jewish protests against his decision? Was Festus frustrated that there wasn't any easy, clean, win-win solution to this case? Life really is messy most of the time.

Thursday, November 13, 2014 - 'The Appeal'
20 Being at a loss how to investigate such matters, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these matters. 21 But when Paul appealed to be held in custody for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him to be kept in custody until I send him to Caesar.”

Had Paul spoken rashly? Or, had he cleverly used this opportunity to get him to Rome where he believed God was sending him? Or, had he merely made the appeal to Caesar simply because he had no other choice at the time? 

Getting rid of Paul may have been a welcomed thought to Festus, at least at first. But, Paul's appeal to Caesar created another issue for the governor. Meanwhile, Paul would remain safe in custody.

Friday, November 14, 2014 - 'Show and Tell'
22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.” 23 So, on the next day when Agrippa came together with Bernice amid great pomp, and entered the auditorium accompanied by the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 Festus said, “King Agrippa, and all you gentlemen here present with us, you see this man about whom all the people of the Jews appealed to me, both at Jerusalem and here, loudly declaring that he ought not to live any longer. 25 But I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death; and since he himself appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him.

King Agrippa, or Herod Agrippa II, was the last of the Herodians. Together with his sister Bernice (or Berenice), they listened to Paul. Governor Festus laid out the charges against Paul, but admitted that Paul had not done anything that deserved the death sentence - at least according to Roman law. Unfortunately for Festus, Paul had appealed to Caesar, which presented Festus with a dilemma. He had to send Paul to Rome, yet he didn't have any charges to send along with him that would be acceptable to Rome. He had to send Paul, but he didn't want to appear like an incompetent governor. Thus, Festus was ever so willing to have Agrippa weigh in on the situation.

Saturday, November 15, 2014 - 'Save Me'
26 Yet I have nothing definite about him to write to my lord. Therefore I have brought him before you all and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the investigation has taken place, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems absurd to me in sending a prisoner, not to indicate also the charges against him.”

It really was absurd. But, let's rewind this story a bit. How did it devolve to this place? 

Did it all begin with Paul when he decided not to listen to the Spirit and went to Jerusalem? Was his predicament really his own fault?

Or, would none of this have transpired if the radical Jews had not been so intent on persecuting Paul, chasing him down all over the world to falsely accuse him?

Could either Felix or Festus have 'nipped this in the bud' if they had been less interested in pleasing the Jews out of fear, and more interested in following Roman law?

Could God have intervened at any point and have resolved all this through a 'divine fiat'?

Maybe the answer is 'yes' to all of the above. As it is almost always the case though, God does not get impatient with our human foolishness and quickly strong arm each unsavory situation. Rather, God seems to permit our choices to play out. He then leads us from that point. No one person is indispensable in God's ultimate objective, including Paul.