Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 25:1-5

Paul Appeals to Caesar

25 Now three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews laid out their case against Paul, and they urged him, asking as a favor against Paul[a] that he summon him to Jerusalem—because they were planning an ambush to kill him on the way. Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea and that he himself intended to go there shortly. “So,” said he, “let the men of authority among you go down with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them bring charges against him.”

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Last week’s post concluded Acts 24 and recounted what happened to Felix at the instigation of the Jews.

Now Porcius Festus is in place in Judea. This is two years after Paul was imprisoned under Felix in a pleasant apartment at the Roman governor’s praetorium, formerly Herod’s palace.

Three days after his arrival, Festus travelled from Caesarea up to Jerusalem (verse 1). He was entering a hate-filled atmosphere, which Felix had exacerbated. Festus wanted to meet the Jews and see if he could calm down the situation he had inherited. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

Now, we have to feel a little badly for Festus because his predecessor’s incompetency left him a legacy of profound hate, and he had to suffer from the tremendous hatred that the Romans felt coming from the Jews. They hated any of their oppressors, and so the Romans got it. And then the incompetency of all the governors didn’t help it at all. So, Festus was definitely in a hot spot. Show you how he responds to his situation; begin in verse 1. “Now when Festus was come into the province” – that is, Judea was considered a Roman province – “after three days he ascended from Caesarea to Jerusalem.”

Now, Festus arrives on the scene in Caesarea, which of course was the Roman headquarters. They had taken over the palace of Herod and turned it into the Roman praetori[um], where the governor lived, and from where he ruled and operated. He spends three days there getting everything organized, and whatever he had to do – pushing the parchments around his desk and finding out who was doing what, whatever orientation he needed. But after a brief three days in Caesarea, he recognizes the need to go to Jerusalem.

So, he ascends – and that’s, as I say, always you’re going up to Jerusalem, since it’s elevation was so great. He ascends from Caesarea to Jerusalem, and he does this because he recognizes that the first thing he has to do in office is to conciliate the Jewish population. The animosity toward Felix, the animosity toward the Romans, was extensive, it was great, it was hot; there was hostility. He recognizes that he must go to Jerusalem, the national center of Israel. He must acquaint himself with the high priest, with the Jewish council, the Sanhedrin.

He must become well aware of the customs and the politics as it exists in the situation in which he has been thrust. He knows these contacts are important. He must establish a warm working relationship between the high priest and the Sanhedrin. Now, you see, the Romans were a little bit afraid of the Jews. You know, the previous Roman governors had been really cornered by the Jews. They were masters at blackmail; they had blackmailed Pilate into crucifying Jesus Christ.

The Sanhedrin laid out their case against Paul to Festus (verse 2). The favour they asked against Paul was to ask Festus to send him to Jerusalem so that they could ambush him and kill him along the way (verse 3). That is why I highlighted the words ‘two years’ above, to emphasise how hate festers. This is why the Bible tells us not to hate. It ends up like a festering wound to the soul.

Both John MacArthur and Matthew Henry point out the danger of religious hate, probably the worst type of hate mankind has ever known throughout history.

Henry’s commentary gives us the short version:

These inhuman hellish methods, which all the world profess at least to abhor, have these persecutors recourse to, to gratify their malice against the gospel of Christ, and this too under colour of zeal for Moses. Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum–Such was their dire religious zeal.

MacArthur has a lot more. Suffice it to say that religious conflicts, including this one, are the work of Satan. Atheists say religious conflicts have to do with religion, therefore, abolish religion. No, it is Satan inserting himself into men’s minds, filling them with malevolence and evil:

And here, folks, is the principle that I told you we’d arrive at: the hatred of religious people. Isn’t it amazing? They claimed to love God, and God is love, and they have murder on their minds. Oh, it’s amazing how ethical religion is until it comes into conflict with another system: the truth. Isn’t it amazing that the real struggle isn’t between all the false systems; have you ever noticed how wonderfully they get along? But it’s always that the false systems are fighting the truth. And so, here they come, and their only desire is a favor, not justice.

They wanted that new governor’s inexperience and desire to gain their favor to play to their benefit in the execution of Paul. Now, friends, any time you see hatred like this, it smacks of Satanic origin. The reason religious people hate the truth is because religious people are in Satan’s system, and Satan’s system is against Christ’s system. And they despised Paul, not because Paul was that kind of a person; no, he’d lived his whole life as a Jew before his conversion, and they had loved him, right?

In fact, he was chosen for their court. In fact, he was the leader of all the persecution. He was a friend of everybody, a student of Gamaliel; he was one of their top boys. But immediately when he became identified with Jesus Christ, they immediately hated him; not for his sake, but for Christ’s sake – The hatred of religionists toward the truth. That’s right. You read in the New Testament, and you’re going to find out that the greatest persecution that comes toward the truth comes from false doctrine, false teachers, who slander us so that the truth is evil spoken of, right? Paul said it to Timothy.

Satan’s hate goes on. Let me take you to a passage to illustrate it – John 15, our Lord speaking to his disciples. I want to show you several verses, so turn to it – John 15. Now, if you were to give me – and I’m not going to ask you to do it out loud. But if you were to give me a definition of the world – when I say the term world, which is the Greek word kosmos in the Bible, what do you think of? You think immediately, don’t you, of Satan’s evil system? But then I add this, folks – I hasten to add it.

When you think of the world as Satan’s evil system, don’t just think of bars, and crime, and prostitution, and immorality, and whatever else you think of – war, and anything else. When you think of the world, think primarily of religion. Because that is the pinnacle of the development of Satan’s system, for he is an angel of light, and his ministers are angels of light, 2 Corinthians tells us. So, when you think of the world, don’t necessarily think only of the immoral system, but of the “ethical religionists’” system.

Now you notice verse 18. “If the world” – or the system – “hates you, you know that it hated Me.” Listen, most of the hatred toward Jesus Christ did not come from atheism, it came from Judaism, right? Yes. “If the world hates you, you know it hated me.” What part of the world hated Him? Was it the prostitutes that hated Jesus? Was it the criminals that hated Jesus? You don’t read any of that; it was the religionists that hated Him, because Satan is behind all false systems. “If the world hate you, you know it hated Me. If you were of the world, the world would love its own.”

Festus told the Sanhedrin that Paul was in Caesarea and that he would go there shortly (verse 4). He was pouring cold water on their plot. Now, whether he said that because Paul was a Roman citizen or there was paperwork saying he was innocent of crimes against Rome, we do not know. In any event, Festus had an objective view of Paul’s case, and the Sanhedrin were not going to change his mind.

Both Henry and MacArthur say that God continued to work through the Romans to preserve Paul’s life.

Henry says:

whatever was his reason for refusing it, God made use of it as a means of preserving Paul out of the hands of his enemies … God does not, as then, bring it to light, yet he finds another way, as effectual, to bring it to nought, by inclining the heart of the governor, for some other reasons, not to remove Paul to Jerusalem. God is not tied to one method, in working out salvation for his people. He can suffer the designs against them to be concealed, and yet not suffer them to be accomplished; and can make even the carnal policies of great men to serve his gracious purposes.

MacArthur tells us:

Who is running the show? Festus? God. Now, I’m going to tell you something exciting. Did you know that God ordains the attitudes and actions of men to bring about His own ends?

Festus concluded his meeting with the Sanhedrin by inviting ‘the men of authority’ to go down from Jerusalem with him and to levy charges against Paul, should that be warranted (verse 5).

Interestingly, the King James Version words verse 5 as follows:

Let them therefore, said he, which among you are able, go down with me, and accuse this man, if there be any wickedness in him.

Our commentators provide two nuanced interpretations.

Henry says:

“Let those among you who are able, able in body and purse for such a journey, or able in mind and tongue to manage the prosecution–let those among you who are fit to be managers, go down with me, and accuse this man; or, those who are competent witnesses, who are able to prove any thing criminal upon him, let them go and give in their evidence, if there be any such wickedness in him as you charge upon him.”

MacArthur has this:

“Let them, therefore, who are among you who are able” – notice the phrase who are able, you who are able. That has reference to those who are powerful; the word is dunatoi. It means you who are powerful ones, or influential ones,” or position. “Now, Youwho are the chief ones, you come on down with me to Caesarea and accuse him there, if there be any wickedness in him.”

The story continues next week, with Paul going on trial yet once more.

The question arises why the Holy Spirit would have inspired St Luke to write about these ordeals, one after another. First, Paul was unable to evangelise on a broad scale, so this is what he logically would have documented. Secondly, these latter chapters of Acts show Paul’s consistency in defending the faith. He came up with the same truthful answer time and time again. Thirdly, perhaps most importantly, Paul did not grow impatient with the Lord or his circumstances. He faced his imprisonment rationally, yet prayerfully, always considering himself a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ.

His fortitude really does bring home the truth of his words to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:7-8):

7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

These are verses worth contemplating with regard to our own Christian journeys.

Next time — Acts 25:6-12

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