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.