Nov. 4, 2012
Background Scripture: Acts 25:23-26:32
Devotional Reading: Acts 23:1-11
To grasp what is happening in Acts 25:23 to 26:32, we need to understand what preceded this incident. In Acts 21 Paul returned to Jerusalem. One purpose of his visit to the Jerusalem Christian community was to meet with James, the brother of Jesus.
Paul reported the results of his missionary trips, advocating the inclusion of Gentiles who had turned to Christ. James agreed to their inclusion, providing some minimal provisions were followed. But Jews from Asia stirred up opposition in Jerusalem and falsely accused Paul, until he was arrested and bound in chains.
Paul defended his life as a Jew and a Pharisee. When his enemies plotted to kill him, the Centurion, not knowing how to charge him, sent him heavily guarded to Caesarea and Antonius Felix, the Roman governor. Five days later the high priest Anani arrived “with some Jerusalem elders and Tertullus,” an attorney with accusations against Paul (24:10-24).
Perplexed, Felix adjourned the hearing: “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case” (24:23). Some days later, Felix, with his Jewish wife, Drusilla, came to Paul and asked him to explain his faith. But, frightened of the conflict, Felix again refrained from making a judgment.
Two years passed and Felix was replaced by Porcius Festus. Secretly planning an ambush along the way, the chief priests appealed to Festus to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem. But Festus decided to keep Paul at Caesarea, inviting Paul’s accusers to come there to make their charges.
When Festus asked if he wanted to go to Jerusalem to defend himself, Paul played his trump card: “I am appealing to the emperor’s tribunal: this is where I should be tried.” As a Roman citizen it was his right: “You have appealed to the emperor; to the emperor you will go” (25:12).
‘Something to write’
King Herod Agrippa II, king of a small Palestine kingdom, came to Caesarea with his wife, Bernice, in order to greet Festus, his brother-in-law and new Procurator. During their visit, Festus asked Agrippa about Paul’s case.
The king responded by assembling another hearing, during which Festus explained he had not found that Paul had done anything deserving of death “and when he appealed to his imperial Majesty, I decided to send him … Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after we have examined him, I may have something to write – for it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner without indicating the charges against him.”
It is then Paul took the opportunity to make his both his legal appeal and his witness for Christ (26:1-29), telling of his heritage as a Pharisee, his persecution of Jesus’ followers, his experience of Christ on the Damascus road and the Lord’s commission to take the gospel to the Gentiles:
“King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout the countryside of Judea, and also the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and do the deeds consistent with repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me” (26:29-22).
Not only was Paul motivated by his experience on the Damascus road, but the gospel, he found, was based upon Moses and the prophets and the expectation of a suffering Messiah. Furthermore it was in his Jewish heritage that he found the good news was for both the Jews and the Gentiles.
Paul explained how he had begun as an apostle of the Sanhedrin and then became an apostle of Christ. This was not a gospel that Paul devised by himself, not a set of propositions that sent him forth, but an experience of the risen Christ. Paul had not known Jesus in the flesh, but he experienced the resurrected Christ.
You and I have not known Christ in the flesh but, like Paul, we have the opportunity to know him as the one who lives within us.
Apostle of what?
Perhaps it is because so many of us have not experienced the risen Christ, that we are not winning more people to Christ. Instead, we have our beliefs – but unless those beliefs make a striking difference in the way that we live in this world, no one is likely to encounter the resurrected Jesus who changes our lives in ways that the world cannot ignore.
Paul made a stirring presentation of the Jesus he experienced personally. We live in a different world than the one in which Paul appeared before the powerful elite. Although none of us are likely to be hauled into court to defend our faith, in a sense we are before the court of our peers and community and, like Paul, need to be able to testify to our own experience with the risen Lord.
And, if we have not experienced the living Christ in our lives, there is still time for us to do so. What identifies an apostle of Jesus is not the congregation or denomination with which we identify, not the creeds we recite, nor a lukewarm, watered-down Christianity that we practice so judicially, but the truth that is incarnate in the lives we live for him.
Barclay reminds us the Greek word for the power of God is “dunamis,” the word from which “dynamite” is derived. That’s the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Those with questions or comments for Rev. Althouse may write to him in care of this publication.