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Bible treehuggercomThe 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 25:6-12

After he stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. When he had arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him that they could not prove. Paul argued in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.” But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?” 10 But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. 11 If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” 12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.”

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Last week’s post was about Festus’s arrival in Judea and how he went up to Jerusalem to meet the Sanhedrin, in order to try and patch up bad feelings that Felix, his predecessor, had engendered. Two years after Paul was first imprisoned in Caesarea, the Jewish hierarchy were so consumed by hate that they still wanted to murder him!

I said last week that hate was like a cancer. People who hate a person or a situation often say they feel a certain gnawing in their gut — something is eating away at them. Very bad news!

Of course, hate and anger are two grievous — not to mention longlasting — sins. Sin is slavery. This is why we should be grateful that Jesus died to save us from sin. John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

our Lord says that sin is bondage, sin is slavery. In Titus 3, sinners are called doulos, bondslaves to lust; in Romans 6:19, a bondslave to uncleanness. Sin is slavery; sin captures a man. A man is not a free man, he is a slave. The only release from the slavery is death, and isn’t it marvelous to realize that it was only as you were crucified with Jesus Christ, only, as Romans 6 says, that you died in Him, that were freed from death? You woke up in the resurrection, and became a doulos to a new master; not sin, but Jesus Himself.

You’re still a bondslave, but you’re a bondslave to Jesus Christ. And I’ll tell you something: being a bondslave to Christ is better than being free to sin. And so, you see the binding character of sin. How sad it is that these men would allow two years to go by, and still be totally destroyed on the inside by this hatred for Paul. Paul, who loved them, and was an innocent man.

Porcius Festus stayed several days in Jerusalem, then returned to Caesarea, where he was based (verse 6). The next day, he had Paul brought before him for trial.

The members of the Sanhedrin whom Festus had invited during his stay in Jerusalem appeared for the trial, bringing vicious charges against Paul, none of which they could substantiate (verse 7). They stood around Paul, possibly to intimidate him: many against one.

Matthew Henry says that the charges were many and heinous:

They charged him with high crimes and misdemeanors. The articles of impeachment were many, and contained things of a very heinous nature. They represented him to the court as black and odious as their wit and malice could contrive; but when they had opened the cause as they thought fit, and came to the evidence, there they failed: they could not prove what they alleged against him, for it was all false, and the complaints were groundless and unjust. Either the fact was not as they opened it, or there was no fault in it; they laid to his charge things that he knew not, nor they neither.

MacArthur tells us:

The end of verse 7, all these grievous complaints against Paul were laid, “which they could not prove.” They couldn’t prove any of them. No witnesses, no support, no evidence, no case. Now, you say, “Well, maybe they hadn’t really worked on it.” Don’t you believe that. You know, in chapter 23, they tried to get a case against Paul, and there weren’t any witnesses there. They tried again in chapter 24, and there weren’t any witnesses.

Now, I think one of the notes – this is just a little thought I have; it may be true, may not be – but I think the possibility of verse 6 saying that “he had tarried in Jerusalem for eight or ten days” – some of your Bibles only say ten days, the original manuscripts say eight or ten days. That the reason the Holy Spirit puts that there is because that gives the Jews plenty of time to get their case together.

And you better believe that, since they had been shot out of the saddle twice already because of a lack of evidence, and a lack of witnesses, that they used those eight or ten days, at least a good portion of them, to scurry around and try to find some witnesses, or bribe some witnesses, and God never let it happen. There were no witnesses. Paul had done nothing. There was nobody who witnessed what he did, because he didn’t do anything. And apparently, God didn’t even allow them to bribe some witnesses.

And so, they show up without any witnesses.

Once again, Paul argued his own case, rightly maintaining his innocence; he had committed no crime against either the Jews or the Romans (verse 8).

Henry explains:

(1.) He had not violated the law of the Jews, nor taught any doctrine destructive of it. Did he make void the law by faith? No, he established the law. Preaching Christ, the end of the law, was no offence against the law. (2.) He had not profaned the temple, nor put any contempt at all upon the temple-service; his helping to set up the gospel temple did not at all offend against that temple which was a type of it. (3.) He had not offended against Cæsar, nor his government. By this it appears that now his cause being brought before the government, to curry favour with the governor and that they might seem friends to Cæsar, they had charged him with some instances of disaffection to the present higher powers, which obliged him to purge himself as to that matter, and to protest that he was no enemy to Cæsar, not so much as those were who charged him with being so.

Festus, in order to ingratiate himself with the Sanhedrin, asked Paul if he would like to go up to Jerusalem and be tried there (verse 9). MacArthur says that Festus implied that he would judge the case:

Now, he knew that if he just dumped Paul, he’d really be in bad, bad trouble, because the Jews from the very beginning would be against him, because they wanted this man dead. And he was scared to release Paul, though he knew he was innocent. He wanted to be in with the Jews, he wanted to do what was expedient, so he comes up with a compromise. Verse 9: “But Festus, willing to do the Jews a favor” – now, where is justice, friends? What is this favor routine? – “answers Paul, and said, ‘Will you go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me?’”

“I’ve got an idea, Paul. We’ll compromise. You will go to Jerusalem, but I’ll be the judge.” That sounds like a compromise. They wanted to have Paul go to Jerusalem, and they, as the Sanhedrin, would judge him. “No, we’ll go to Jerusalem because they want that, but I’ll compromise; I’ll be the judge.” Well, the issue was not even an issue; there was no trial because there was no case, and they had just proven that again, for about the fourth time.

Paul, a Roman citizen, responded by saying that he was in the right place for trial: Caesar’s tribunal (verse 10). He said that he had done nothing against the Jews and added pointedly to Festus:

as you yourself know very well.

Paul went on to say that if he did something that deserved the death penalty, then he would accept that, however, he rightly maintained his innocence, even more so because the Jews could produce no evidence and no witnesses to the contrary (verse 11).

Paul concluded by saying he would appeal to Caesar. His is interesting, because it would have consequences. Paul no longer meant ‘Caesar’s tribunal in Caesarea’, but the emperor himself. The emperor at that time was the infamous Nero.

MacArthur explains the implications:

Now, when he said that, that was not just an offhand comment; that was an official appeal … A lower court judgment could be appealed to Caesar. In fact, the appeal could be given before or after the verdict of the lower court. All the apostle Paul had to do, if he was Latin, was say, “Ad Caesarem provoco,” or “Caesarem appello,” and that amounted to “Í appeal to Caesar,” and the case ended on the spot and was transferred to Rome. This was one of the rights of a Roman citizen, and that’s what Paul does.

He says, “I’m taking this thing to Rome.” Now, he knew he was getting nowhere in Caesarea. He was mired down in the stupidity of this little political battle that was going on, and he was the victim of the whole thing. He says, “I appeal to Rome,” and the very moment that he said that, the thing shifted out of the hands of Festus, into the hands of Caesar in Rome. Now, I can imagine that, in a sense, that Paul got kind of excited on the inside when he said that, ’cause he knew that, back in 23:11, when he was sleeping that night in the cell, the Lord came to him and said, “Hey, don’t be too discouraged.

“You’ve been faithful preaching the Word here. The next stop is Rome.” So, he knew God was getting him there, and when he was able to say, “I appeal to Caesar,” he must have been somewhat exhilarated, realizing that was the ticket to Rome. Well, you know what, there’s another thought here that I had, and that is that appealing to Caesar wasn’t just really that great, when you consider who Caesar was. You know, if he probably would have, in a sense, thought about it long enough, he would’ve said, “I’m probably better off with an expedient character like Festus, than I am with a complete maniac like Nero.”

Festus then went off to confer with his council, possibly to confirm that Paul was a Roman citizen. Upon his return he affirmed Paul’s request (verse 12).

The wheels were now set in motion.

Henry notes the bitter irony that going to Rome to appeal to Nero seemed safer than going up to Jerusalem:

it is a hard case that a son of Abraham must be forced to appeal to a Philistine, to a Nero, from those who call themselves the seed of Abraham, and shall be safer in Gath or Rome than in Jerusalem. How is the faithful city become a harlot!

Paul’s story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 25:13-22

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