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Bible read me 1The 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 26:30-32

30 Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. 31 And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed (E)to Caesar.”

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Last week’s entry was about Paul’s earnest attempt to convert Herod Agrippa II, the last of the Herods.

The Roman governor Festus and Agrippa did not give Paul any more time to speak. Agrippa rose, then Festus, then Agrippa’s sister Bernice, then the other dignitaries gathered there (verse 30). Matthew Henry posits that Agrippa was close to conversion but, like Festus’s predecessor Felix, backed off. As with Felix, that was the last of the matter. Felix had visibly trembled. We don’t know what happened with Agrippa. He probably did not want to wrestle with a guilty conscience, either. More’s the pity.

Festus and Agrippa remarked on Paul’s innocence (verse 31).

Agrippa said that if Paul had not appealed to Rome for trial he would have been set free (verse 32).

However, one must ask whether Nero — ‘Caesar’ — even knew about Paul, his imprisonment or his innocence.

John MacArthur says that he probably did not know (emphases mine):

They could have let him go. There wasn’t any reason to appeal to Caesar now. There wasn’t any case. Caesar hadn’t heard a word about it. There hadn’t even been a letter written, but they hide behind the appeal of Paul. Oh, too bad. Boy, we could have let him go if he hadn’t appealed to Rome. Opportunistic fool, coward! How stupid. You see how a man – even though he has the gospel directed right at him – unless he activates his will, is lost? You say, “What – what hindered, what hindered Agrippa? What hindered Festus?” I mean he was innocent. Why would they – why would they push this case hiding behind this phony deal about he appealed to Rome.

Personally, I do not think either man cared about Paul. According to their reasoning, if he wanted to plead his case as a Roman citizen in Rome, that was his right. They probably thought he had been prisoner in Judea long enough and they wanted rid of him. In addition, the Jews had wanted to kill Paul for two years. He was likely seen as being too much trouble.

MacArthur thinks it was a question of the two rulers’ egos:

Because the most important thing to them was popularity, right? I’ll tell you what hindered them. One, popular, big egos. Two, immorality hindered Agrippa. He was a – he was absolutely vile, self-centeredness, unbelief, pride, ignorance, indifference, all the same old things that hinder other people.

He says that Paul was not bothered:

But you know something. It didn’t discourage Paul. He had some people who believed and some people who cursed him, but he didn’t change did he? When he got to Rome, remember what he did the first thing he got there? He started preaching Jesus again.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that, at this point in history, the Romans had not yet begun putting Christians to death, therefore, Paul was innocent of any crime:

After this, Nero made a law for the putting of those to death who professed the Christian religion, but as yet there was no law of that kind among the Romans, and therefore no transgression; and this judgment of theirs is a testimony against that wicked law which Nero made not long after this, that Paul, the most active zealous Christian that ever was, was adjudged, even by those that were no friends to his way, to have done nothing worthy of death, or of bonds.

Contrary to MacArthur, Henry states that some historians believe that as soon as a prisoner appealed to Rome, he had to be sent there for trial, yet, Henry did not think this was relevant in Paul’s situation. Yet, he says that Agrippa and Festus likely used it as an excuse:

Some think that by the Roman law this was true, that, when a prisoner had appealed to the supreme court, the inferior courts could no more discharge him than they could condemn him; and we suppose the law was so, if the prosecutors joined issue upon the appeal, and consented to it. But it does not appear that in Paul’s case the prosecutors did so; he was forced to do it, to screen himself from their fury, when he saw the governor did not take the care he ought to have done for his protection. And therefore others think that Agrippa and Festus, being unwilling to disoblige the Jews by setting him at liberty, made this serve for an excuse of their continuing him in custody, when they themselves knew they might have justified the discharging of him.

Henry was clearly troubled by Paul’s request to be tried in Rome, wondering if it was a case of acting in haste and repenting at leisure. He offers this analysis:

And now I cannot tell, (1.) Whether Paul repented of his having appealed to Cæsar, and wished he had not done it, blaming himself for it as a rash thing, now he saw that was the only thing that hindered his discharge. He had reason perhaps to reflect upon it with regret, and to charge himself with imprudence and impatience in it, and some distrust of the divine protection. He had better have appealed to God than to Cæsar. It confirms what Solomon says (Ecclesiastes 6:12), Who knows what is good for man in this life? What we think is for our welfare often proves to be a trap; such short-sighted creatures are we, and so ill-advised in leaning, as we do, to our own understanding. Or, (2.) Whether, notwithstanding this, he was satisfied in what he had done, and was easy in his reflections upon it. His appealing to Cæsar was lawful, and what became a Roman citizen, and would help to make his cause considerable; and forasmuch as when he did it it appeared to him, as the case then stood, to be for the best, though afterwards it appeared otherwise, he did not vex himself with any self-reproach in the matter, but believed there was a providence in it, and it would issue well at last. And besides, he was told in a vision that he must bear witness to Christ at Rome, Acts 23:11. And it is all one to him whether he goes thither a prisoner or at his liberty; he knows the counsel of the Lord shall stand, and says, Let it stand. The will of the Lord be done.

Luke, the author of Acts, sailed with Paul to Rome. Acts 27 is all about that dramatic journey.

Next time — Acts 27:1-8

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Bible read me 2The 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 26:24-29

24 And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” 25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. 26 For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” 28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”[a] 29 And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”

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My last post, just before Easter, discussed Paul’s account of his conversion. He ended by saying that Christ was the first to rise from the dead.

That statement caused Festus, the Roman governor, to accuse the Apostle of having lost his senses through too much education (verse 24). Festus was a pagan and knew nothing of ancient Scripture, which mentions life after death in several places.

John MacArthur explains:

Festus couldn’t handle that resurrection idea. He – he thought there’s only one kind of person who would babble on about visions and about revelations and about voices out of heaven and about resurrections, and that’s a mad man. Paul, you’ve learned too much.

But, then, Jesus was also derided in a similar fashion. So were the prophets of the Old Testament (emphases mine):

Jesus spoke what He spoke in John 8 and they said, “You’ve got a demon”In chapter 10, verse 20 and 21 of John’s gospel they said, “You’re mad. You’re out of your mind talking like that.” Yes, and that’s what Paul said. In I Corinthians 1, he said, “The preaching of the gospel is to them that perish foolishness, foolishness, because the natural man understandeth not the things of God.” It isn’t even anything new. In Hosea 9:7 they said the prophets were mad.

Matthew Henry’s commentary takes Festus’s remark further, as an excuse not to condemn Paul. The reason Festus has Agrippa in attendance is so that Agrippa can work out a criminal charge that Festus can put on his report accompanying Paul to Rome, where he requested trial. Henry says:

he thinks he has found out an expedient to excuse himself both from condemning Paul as a prisoner and from believing him as a preacher; for, if he be not compos mentis–in his senses, he is not to be either condemned or credited.

Paul responded by saying he was speaking ‘true and rational words’ (verse 25). He responded to the charge with courtesy, by referring to the governor as ‘most excellent Festus’.

Paul then narrowed his focus to Agrippa, his primary goal all along. He told Festus that Agrippa knew about these events in the life of Christ, because news of them had spread everywhere; they did not happen in a vacuum (verse 26).

MacArthur provides this analysis:

Oh, the Jews had bought off the Roman soldiers and told them to tell everybody that the disciples stole the body. But still it was common knowledge that the Christians had gone everywhere preaching Jesus was alive. Here we are 25 years later and Agrippa is no dumbbell. He knows what the Christians taught. Common knowledge. “You know the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were common knowledge, you know that, Agrippa, don’t you? You know that what I’m saying is not the babbling on of a madman. You know there are people who believe there’s evidence for this.”

Beloved, you know how Paul – he is so brilliant. He has presented to Agrippa the whole gospel and now he just nails him against the wall and forces him to a conclusion that he probably wouldn’t have made on his own. And he forces Agrippa to be a silent witness to Festus. Agrippa hasn’t said a word, and yet Agrippa is standing there with his mouth shut attesting to what Paul has said as being true. You know this, don’t you, Agrippa? By the very fact that Agrippa didn’t say anything he acquiesced. The case is clear. The king knows it.

Anybody who believes the prophets, anybody who believes Moses, and anybody who believes historical fact must conclude that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. “And you know it Agrippa, you know it.” Ooh, that is – I mean going after it. That’s attack folks. He really tackled Agrippa head on.

Then Paul confronted Agrippa directly, first by asking him if he believed in the prophets then by stating he believed in them (verse 27). Recall that in addition to Festus and Agrippa, also listening were Agrippa’s incestuous sister Bernice and a roomful of local dignitaries. Everyone knew Agrippa and Bernice were adherents of the Jewish faith. Paul took clear advantage of that fact.

MacArthur explains:

He wants to do for Agrippa what he wants him to do for himself. Make the only logical conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah. Well Agrippa’s stuck. If Agrippa says, “Yes, I do believe the prophets,” then he has admitted that he believes Jesus is the Messiah and he’s in real trouble with his whole nation. If he says, “No, I don’t believe the prophets,” then he’s still in trouble with his nation. So he can’t say yes or no. “You believe, don’t you Agrippa?” Argh.

Agrippa knew where Paul was going with his rhetoric, so he asked Paul if he expected conversion in such a short time (verse 28). Agrippa’s question can be interpreted in a number of ways ranging from tongue-in-cheek to a serious response. Henry’s commentary posits that Agrippa was close to conversion, as Festus’s predecessor Felix was until he sent Paul away because the Apostle had disturbed his conscience:

Some understand this as spoken ironically, and read it thus, Wouldst thou in so little a time persuade me to be a Christian? But, taking it so, it is an acknowledgement that Paul spoke very much to the purpose, and that, whatever others thought of it, to his mind there came a convincing power along with what he said: “Paul, thou art too hasty, thou canst not think to make a convert of me all of a sudden.” Others take it as spoken seriously, and as a confession that he was in a manner, or within a little, convinced that Christ was the Messiah; for he could not but own, and had many a time thought so within himself, that the prophecies of the Old Testament had had their accomplishment in him; and now that it is urged thus solemnly upon him he is ready to yield to the conviction, he begins to sound a parley, and to think of rendering. He is as near being persuaded to believe in Christ as Felix, when he trembled, was to leave his sins: he sees a great deal of reason for Christianity; the proofs of it, he owns, are strong, and such as he cannot answer; the objections against it trifling, and such as he cannot for shame insist upon; so that if it were not for his obligations to the ceremonial law, and his respect to the religion of his fathers and of his country, or his regard to his dignity as a king and to his secular interests, he would turn Christian immediately. Note, Many are almost persuaded to be religious who are not quite persuaded; they are under strong convictions of their duty, and of the excellency of the ways of God, but yet are overruled by some external inducements, and do not pursue their convictions.

Paul answered Agrippa by saying that he did not mind a short or lengthy conversion. He would pray that Agrippa — and everyone else present — could enjoy the same experience in Christ, minus the persecution — ‘chains’ (verse 29).

MacArthur says:

You know, he wasn’t bitter. He didn’t say, “Ah, you ought to have these chains and I ought to be sitting up on that throne.” There wasn’t any of that brash talk. He just says, “I wish you had, I wish you had what I have. I want to give you my soul liberty. Oh I don’t mean I want to give you my physical chains. I just – I want to give you the freedom of soul that I know. There’s Agrippa in purple, Bernice decked out in all of her jewels. Festus is there in his Roman scarlet. All the dignitaries are there, and Paul looks at all this fancy group and he says, “I wish you were all like I am.” They’re looking at each other and he says, “Except for these chains. I’m talking spiritually.”

They had everything in the world but they had nothing, right? “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and loses his own soul.” What will a man give in exchange for his own soul? Jesus said. I will die to save Agrippa but I wouldn’t wish my chains on him. Yeah, because you know he could have died on the spot for what he said. He would die to save Agrippa. He was expendable. It didn’t bother him. But he wouldn’t wish his chains on Agrippa. That’s the heart of the Christian. That’s sincere evangelism. That’s evangelism with love.

How true.

Some might say this was another ‘loss’ for Paul, but MacArthur views the matter differently:

People say to me, “You know, I – I’ve tried to share Christ here, there, and everywhere and there doesn’t seem to be any response.” That’s all right. God didn’t call you to save people. He called you to preach Christ. He’ll do the saving. All He asks out of you is that you be faithful. You could not sublimate Paul’s passion. You could not catch his dominant spirit and squelch it. He just continued to be faithful. Why? … Because his orientation to service was toward God not based on the response of men.

Spread the Gospel and be faithful to the Lord. That is all He asks of us.

Next time — Acts 26:30-32

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe 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 26:19-23

19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. 21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s defence before King Herod Agrippa II, the Roman governor Festus, Agrippa’s incestuous sister Bernice and a group of dignitaries. Paul spoke of his Damascene conversion.

Festus asked Agrippa to hear Paul speak so that he, Festus, would have a criminal charge to put on Paul’s report which he needed in order to be tried by Nero. Paul believed that he had a fairer chance with Nero than he would in Jerusalem, where he had spent his younger years as a Pharisee under Gamaliel’s tutelage then as a persecutor of Christians. Now the Jews wanted to kill him because he had converted to Christianity himself.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us that this scene took place two decades after Paul’s conversion (emphases mine):

It was now above twenty years since Paul was converted

Furthermore, Paul knew that it was God who helped him survive in his ministry (verse 22):

and all that time he had been very busy preaching the gospel in the midst of hazards; and what was it that bore him up? Not any strength of his own resolutions, but having obtained help of God; for therefore, because the work was so great and he had so much opposition, he could not otherwise have gone on in it, but by help obtained of God.

In verse 19, Paul says that he did not disobey our Lord’s instructions during that dramatic conversion, which left him blind for three days. That blindness and shock forced him to think about his role as persecutor. He was going from Jerusalem to Damascus to persecute Christians there. He had to rethink his hate, repent and turn his energies towards preaching God’s grace and Christ Jesus with the same strength of conviction. And, with much prayer then and afterwards, so he did.

Paul told Agrippa where his ministry led him, first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles, giving all the same message: repent — (re)turn to God — with commensurate behaviour (verse 20).

Henry explains:

… they ought, (1.) To repent of their sins, to be sorry for them and to confess them, and enter into covenant against them; they ought to bethink themselves, so the word metanoein properly signifies; they ought to change their mind and change their way, and undo what they had done amiss. (2.) To turn to God. They must not only conceive an antipathy to sin, but they must come into a conformity to God–must not only turn from that which is evil, but turn to that which is good; they must turn to God, in love and affection, and return to God in duty and obedience, and turn and return from the world and the flesh; this is that which is required from the whole revolted degenerate race of mankind, both Jews and Gentiles; epistrephein epi ton Theon–to turn back to God, even to him: to turn to him as our chief good and highest end, as our ruler and portion, turn our eye to him, turn our heart to him, and turn our feet unto his testimonies. (3.) To do works meet for repentance. This was what John preached, who was the first gospel preacher, Matthew 3:8. Those that profess repentance must practise it, must live a life of repentance, must in every thing carry it as becomes penitents. It is not enough to speak penitent words, but we must do works agreeable to those words.

Yet, Paul said, the Jews in Jerusalem objected, seizing him in the temple, where he was completing his Nazirite vow, and attempting to kill him (verse 21). Henry points out the irony of the situation, coming from self-proclaimed holy men:

As true faith, so true repentance, will work. Now what fault could be found with such preaching as this? Had it not a direct tendency to reform the world, and to redress its grievances, and to revive natural religion?

Of course, they were enraged because Paul preached that the same promise that was given to Jews was also given to the Gentiles. John MacArthur says:

That was the problem. Verse 21, “For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple and went about to kill me.” You know why they wanted him dead? Because he was offering equal salvation to whom? Gentiles. The Jews could not tolerate equality with Gentiles. And so Paul says, “They wanted me dead because I offered an equal salvation to Gentiles.” They wanted to kill me in the temple. And you remember they tried to kill him, didn’t they, in the temple. That’s how this whole thing started. That’s how he became a prisoner to begin with.

Paul proclaimed that only God could have allowed him to survive his many travails. MacArthur elaborates:

He says, in 22, “Having therefore obtained help from God,” I love that. He always was getting that. I mean when he – when he was in Lystra they killed him outside the city. The Lord raised him from the dead. When he got to Philippi and they put him in jail, the Lord brought along an earthquake and let him out. It’s amazing the man had help from God all the time. And again, here you have the – the tremendous dichotomy of human effort and divine sovereignty. We struggle and work and give and sweat, and discipline ourselves to work as hard as we can to produce as much as we can for the glory of the Lord. And at the same time it’s all His undergirding strength, isn’t it? This is what Paul is acknowledging.

Paul then said that nothing he preached ever went against Scripture, from Moses through to the prophets (verse 22). Christ — the Messiah — would come to mankind, redeem their sins through suffering and rise from the dead, at which point God’s promise of salvation was equally open to the Gentiles (verse 23).

Henry explains that all of this was in Scripture, therefore, it was strange that could the Jews would object:

Three things they prophesied, and Paul preached:– (1.) That Christ should suffer, that the Messiah should be a sufferer–pathetos; not only a man, and capable of suffering, but that, as Messiah, he should be appointed to sufferings; that his ignominious death should be not only consistent with, but pursuant of, his undertaking. The cross of Christ was a stumbling-block to the Jews, and Paul’s preaching it was the great thing that exasperated them; but Paul stands to it that, in preaching that, he preached the fulfilling of the Old-Testament predictions, and therefore they ought not only not to be offended at what he preached, but to embrace it, and subscribe to it. (2.) That he should be the first that should rise from the dead; not the first in time, but the first in influence–that he should be the chief of the resurrection, the head, or principal one, protos ex anastaseos, in the same sense that he is called the first-begotten from the dead (Revelation 1:5), and the first-born from the dead, Colossians 1:18. He opened the womb of the grave, as the first-born are said to do, and made way for our resurrection; and he is said to be the first-fruits of those that slept (1 Corinthians 15:20), for he sanctified the harvest. He was the first that rose from the dead to die no more; and, to show that the resurrection of all believers is in virtue of his, just when he arose many dead bodies of saints arose, and went into the holy city, Matthew 27:52,53. (3.) That he should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles, to the people of the Jews in the first place, for he was to be the glory of his people Israel. To them he showed light by himself, and then to the Gentiles by the ministry of his apostles, for he was to be a light to enlighten those who sat in darkness. In this Paul refers to his commission (Acts 26:18), To turn them from darkness to light. He rose from the dead on purpose that he might show light to the people, that he might give a convincing proof of the truth of his doctrine, and might send it with so much the greater power, both among Jews and Gentiles. This also was foretold by the Old-Testament prophets, that the Gentiles should be brought to the knowledge of God by the Messiah; and what was there in all this that the Jews could justly be displeased at?

MacArthur reminds us of the symbolism in the Old Testament, which is particularly apposite as we approach Easter:

Have you read Psalm 22? Have you read Isaiah 53? It’s there. What about all the pictures of all the lambs in the Old Testament? What about the Passover Lamb? It’s all there. “And then that He should rise from the dead.” That’s there too in the Psalms. “Thou shalt not suffer Thine holy one to see corruption.” It’s all there. I’m just preaching what the Old Testament teaches.

Paul was not telling his story to Agrippa just as a self-defence, but also as a means of converting him. More on that after Easter.

Next time — Acts 26:24-29

Bible and crossThe 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 26:12-18

Paul Tells of His Conversion

12 “In this connection I journeyed 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, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language,[a] ‘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 rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your 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 power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

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Last week’s entry discussed the first part of Paul’s witness — and self-defence — to King Herod Agrippa II, the last of the Herods, who heard him in a grand assembly with his incestuous sister Bernice, the Roman governor Festus and local dignitaries decked out in their best finery.

Festus had to place a criminal charge on his report that would accompany Paul to Rome, to be heard, at the Apostle’s request, by the emperor — Nero, at that time. Therefore, Festus asked for Herod Agrippa II to hear what Paul had to say. Agrippa II, a Jew by practice but not by tribe, would know more about Jewish law than the recent newcomer from Rome.

Think of it. Paul believed he stood a better chance of justice in Rome, by a pagan court under a mad emperor, than in Jerusalem, where he was educated as a young Pharisee.

Paul explains his Damascene conversion, which really gives witness to the supernatural. Paul continued his defence by saying that he was going the Syrian city as as the chief persecutor of Christians. Not being content, he journeyed with all the authority provided by the Jewish hierarchy in Jerusalem (verse 12).

He then went on to say that at midday, a light immeasurably brighter than the noonday sun struck him and those travelling with him (verse 13). What else could it mean than a divine act, especially when that indescribable light caused them to be struck to the ground (verse 14)? As Matthew Henry’s commentary says, if only Paul had been struck to the ground by its brilliance, one might hold his testimony suspect. Yet, all his companions were similarly blinded and lost their balance, too (emphases mine):

… it shone round about those that journeyed with him: they were all sensible of their being surrounded with this inundation of light, which made the sun itself to be in their eyes a less light. The force and power of this light appeared in the effects of it; they all fell to the earth upon the sight of it, such a mighty consternation did it put them into; this light was lightning for its force, yet did not pass away as lightning, but continued to shine round about them.

Paul recounted that he heard a voice — Christ’s — speaking in Hebrew asking him why he was persecuting Him, noting that Paul was having a tough time kicking against the goads (verse 14). Goads are used to tame animals. They are strong restraints which they learn to accept. Restraint — as well as repentance and conversion — was what the future Apostle was about to experience in the three days to come, blinded and duly restrained from his zealous urge to persecute the faithful.

Paul said that he stopped kicking at the goads at that point, addressing Christ as Lord — unthinkable for such a puritanical Pharisee as he. Yet, there he was, blind, helpless — and, most importantly, powerless.

These three posts describe, scripturally and with theological sources, what Paul experienced, as recounted in Acts 9:

Part 1 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion

Part 2 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion (includes interesting info from John MacArthur on his own conversion)

Acts 9:10-19 — when scales fell from the eyes of Saul of Tarsus (final part of St Paul’s conversion story)

Paul then sped up the story for Agrippa II by giving him his ministry: to witness for Christ in having seen Him via that brilliant light, delivering him from the spiritually blind Jews of his day into giving him the power to witness to the Gentiles (verses 16, 17).

The message to Paul from Christ Jesus was that he would send him to open the eyes of both to turn from Satan — from ‘darkness to light’ — so that they might receive forgiveness of sins and sanctification by faith through belief in Him (verse 18).

Even reading this passage now, Paul’s fifth defence, it is equally as powerful when told it before and Luke, the author of Acts, recounted as the Apostle experienced it early on.

Paul was trying not only to defend himself and his scriptural beliefs. He was also trying to urge Agrippa — and, possibly indirectly, his incestuous sister Bernice (known throughout the ancient world as such) — to repent of his sins and embrace the risen Christ as Lord and Saviour. MacArthur posits this about Agrippa II and Paul’s discourse:

He doesn’t need more of God. He doesn’t need more information. He needs a total rebirth. And then, in addition he [Paul] says, “My message was this. To tell that they may receive forgiveness of sins.” Boy, I imagine old Bernice was wiggling around at that point. I imagine Agrippa was going, “Mph,” like this. Paul was a penetrating personBut when he said that they may receive forgiveness of sins, I can see a long stare and a long pause. Because Agrippa and Bernice knew enough to know that what they did was sin. They knew it not only because they knew the Scriptures, but – the Old Testament, but they knew it because they knew their conscience.

In a sense Paul was saying, “Forgiveness is available, Agrippa. Whatever you and Bernice have done, whatever you are, that’s our message.” I’m telling you that’s an exciting message to be able to give the world, isn’t it? To be able to say to somebody who is a Christian, “My little children, He has forgiven you all your trespasses for His name’s sake.” Oh what a blessed thought. That’s what Paul meant when he said, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impugn iniquity. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord charges no sin.”

Some might object to that, however, MacArthur rightly points out that we do not know who God’s elect are. And, as Sunday’s Gospel reading, that of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, teaches: those who repent at the eleventh hour are part of that elect. MacArthur tells us:

You say, “But surely even if you’re a Christian, God will lay some sin at your feet.” Not at all. “Who shall lay any charge to God’s elect? It is God that justifies. Shall Christ? Nay.” Shall Christ accuse the one He died to save? No. Shall Christ accuse you of the sin He died and bore? No. There’s no accusation against you. Forgiveness is full and free and complete. In addition to the moment transformation from darkness to light, power to Satan to God, forgiveness of sin, there’s the future. He gives you an inheritance among them who are sanctified. The word sanctified means holy. You know another marvelous thing about becoming a Christian is the future promise of an inheritance undefiled and reserved for us. Isn’t that marvelous? An inheritance with God.

And then he gives the way you can attain it. Look at the end of verse 18. It’s all yours Agrippa, by” – What? – “faith that is in Me.” Jesus said to Paul that day, Paul you go and you preach “to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to the power of God, that they may receive forgiveness of sin and inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith that is in Me.” You tell them that if they believe in Me it is all theirs. And so Paul quotes to Agrippa the words of Jesus, the words of our Lord as they were given to him in Damascus.

There’s only one way to know those things and that’s by faith. The simple gospel of Jesus Christ that we’re called on to preach is the gospel of Ephesians 2:8 and 9, “For by grace are you saved through faith, that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” So he says, “Agrippa, look what happened to me. I was a Jew of all the Jews. I was zealous not only for Judaism, but I was killing Christians and trying to get them to blaspheme

Paul’s testimony continues next week.

Next time — Acts 26:19-23

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe 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 26:1-11

Paul’s Defense Before Agrippa

26 So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense:

“I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.

4 “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

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Last week’s entry discussed the pompous appearance of the Roman governor Festus, Herod Agrippa II, Bernice and the great and the good to hear Paul speak. It was an occasion to satisfy their curiosity and perhaps to spark amusement.

Festus needed Agrippa II to hear Paul so that he could write a credible accusation on the criminal report he had to send with Paul to Rome. Paul, having had no satisfaction in Caesarea, appealed to Caesar — the emperor Nero — via Festus.

Agrippa II understood the Jewish law, even if he, as an adopted Jew, did not follow much of it himself.

Agrippa granted Paul permission to speak, and the Apostle began his defence (verse 1).

Paul was gracious in acknowledging Agrippa’s permission and announced that he would defend himself against all Jewish accusations. He also mentioned that Agrippa understood Jewish ‘customs and controversies’, imploring the last of the Herods to hear him ‘patiently’ (verses 2, 3).

Paul then explained his early life, saying that the Sanhedrin knew his origins (Tarsus in Cilicia) and his education in Jerusalem (under Gamaliel). Members of the Sanhedrin — his accusers — would have known him from his years in Jerusalem (verse 4).

The Jewish hierarchy knew that he was a Pharisee. Pharisees were the strictest observers of the laws of Moses (verse 5).

He then alluded to the Jewish belief in the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead, lamenting that the Jews were accusing him believing those tenets of faith (verse 7). He pressed on by asking why they objected to his belief in the resurrection of the dead (verse 8), which is a belief rooted in the Old Testament. Only the Sadducees, who did not believe in the supernatural, disregarded it.

Students of Acts know that later in the chapter, it becomes apparent that Paul really wanted to convert Agrippa II. John MacArthur tells us (emphases mine):

And he’s saying, “Agrippa, I want you to know what this Jesus did.”

Now, Agrippa didn’t need to hear the facts of Jesus dying and so forth. He knew all that. He needed to hear what Christ had done in his resurrection power. And so that’s what Paul wants to tell him and everybody else who hears. So he begins with his conduct. Look at verses 4 and 5. He describes his early life. “My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews who knew me from the beginning, if they would testify that after the strict sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.”

Now, he says, “You know from the earliest years of my life I was educated at Jerusalem. And all the Jews know this. And if they had the courage to testify they would have to admit that I belonged to the strictest sect of our religion. I lived a Pharisee.” Now, Pharisee was the strict legalist and he was even at the strict end of the strict legalists. He was a right-wing, right-wing Pharisee. So he says, “My manner of life from my youth I was trained in Orthodox Judaism right here in Jerusalem and all the Jews know this. They know I sat at the feet of Gamaliel.

“They know that after the strictest sect,” – and Paul does something here in using the word “strictest” that Greek writers are allowed to, that you’re never allowed to do in English comp. He uses a double superlative. And a double superlative really lays heavy emphasis in the Greek. What he says is “I belonged to the most-strictest sect.” He is laying tremendous weight on this emphasis. He stresses that, “If anybody ever lived who was convinced that Judaism was the final word of God, it was me. I belonged to the farthest, farthest, farthest extreme legal view and everybody knows I did.”

And you see what he was doing? He’s setting them up for the transformation. He’s showing them how zealous he was as a Jew in order that they might understand the tremendous cataclysmic effect of the transformation that occurred at Damascus. And so Paul stresses, “I believed in the strictest way in all the facets of Judaism. I was a Pharisee.” Having talked about the conduct of his past life he now goes into his condemnation, verses 6 to 8. “And now I stand and am condemned or judged. I’m condemned for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers.” He says, “I was raised a Jew. I was a Pharisee and now I am being condemned. And you know why I am being condemned? I am being condemned for believing the promises that God made to the Jewish fathers.”

You say, “Well is this hope?” Look at it in verse 6. “For the hope of the promise.” Listen what was the Jewish hope? The Jewish hope is this, and this is the context here. The Jewish hope was the coming of Messiah. The hope of every Jew was Messiah would come and deliver Israel. Why Israel had been struggling against bondage from Egypt right up until this time. They were still under Rome.

Matthew Henry points out that a number of Gentiles were in the audience who no doubt struggled with the notion of the resurrection of the dead. They might have found it confusing — or amusing:

Now many of his hearers were Gentiles, most of them perhaps, Festus particularly, and we may suppose, when they heard him speak so much of Christ’s resurrection, and of the resurrection from the dead, which the twelve tribes hoped for, that they mocked, as the Athenians did, began to smile at it, and whispered to one another what an absurd thing it was, which occasioned Paul thus to reason with them.

He then went on to describe his adult life as a Pharisee persecuting Christians (verses 9, 10): namely Stephen the first martyr, but also many others. Stephen was put to death, others were scourged and imprisoned.

He described how he tried to make Christians blaspheme — still an instrument of spiritual and psychological torture used by totalitarian governments today. He concluded by saying that Jerusalem not was not enough to satisfy his violent zealotry, so he went to other cities to persecute Christians there (verse 11).

Henry describes the unimaginable hatred that raged through Paul’s body and mind during that self-righteous period immediately before his conversion:

His rage swelled so against Christians and Christianity that Jerusalem itself was too narrow a stage for it to act upon, but, being exceedingly mad against them, he persecuted them even to strange cities. He was mad at them, to see how much they had to say for themselves, notwithstanding all he did against them, mad to see them multiply the more for their being afflicted. He was exceedingly mad; the stream of his fury would admit no banks, no bounds, but he was as much a terror to himself as he was to them, so great was his vexation within himself that he could not prevail, as well as his indignation against them. Persecutors are mad men, and some of them exceedingly mad. Paul was mad to see that those in other cities were not so outrageous against the Christians, and therefore made himself busy where he had no business, and persecuted the Christians even in strange cities. There is not a more restless principle than malice, especially that which pretends conscience.

MacArthur reminds us of the pact that the Jews had with the Roman soldiers: deny the Resurrection. This is how Jesus became as hated as He is loved. MacArthur says that Paul knew the Jews’ anger revolved around Jesus as Messiah:

He knew that the Jews did believe in the resurrection but that they wouldn’t accept the resurrection of Jesus. And one of the most startling acts of willful rejection anywhere in Scripture, you have Matthew 28:11This is after the resurrection, “And when they were going behold some of the watch, some of the Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb, came to the city, showed the chief priests all that was done.” The Romans came in and said, “I hate to tell you this, but there was a resurrection.

And the chief priests got assembled with the elders and took much counsel and gave much money to the soldiers.” Now, if you know anything about how the Jews hated the Romans you know they wouldn’t want to give them any money. They would have despised the fact of giving them money. You say, “Why did they do it? What do you think it was?” Bribery! They said, “Say this. ‘His disciples came by night and stole him while we slept.’” Now that’s a real bright statement. If they were asleep, how could they possibly testify that while they were asleep the disciples came and stole the body? They bought them off. And if you get in trouble with the Roman governor for sleeping, we’ll take care of that. “So they took the money and did as they were taught and this is the saying commonly reported among the Jews until this day.”

They still believe it. And it tells in the Bible how it all started. The soldiers were bribed. Willful rejection. So it might have been fine for Agrippa to say, “That’s great, Paul. I believe in the resurrection. That’s a Jewish hope. That’s great, but we just don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead.” And so that launches Paul, that – knowing that Agrippa’s thinking that. Paul was the master of analyzing the response and then reacting to it. Look at the book of Romans. He answers all the questions that you were thinking but never asked. The same thing happens here. He knows that Agrippa’s question is regarding Jesus, not the totality of the resurrection.

The story of Paul’s defence continues next week, with his dramatic Damascene conversion.

Next time — Acts 26:12-18

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe 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 25:23-27

23 So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25 But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him. 26 But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him.”

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In last week’s entry, Herod Agrippa II told the Roman governor Festus that he very much wanted to hear what Paul had to say.

Agrippa II said that out of curiosity more than anything. He had no wish to become a convert. Nor did his sister Bernice, his consort. Yes, she was well known in the ancient world for sleeping with her brother.

Festus immediately assented to Agrippa’s request, and the next day, a commingling of the notional great and the good men from the region, along with Bernice, converged on the governor’s hall, complete with military tribunes, at which point Paul, the prisoner, was brought into their midst (verse 23).

Those who know Acts are aware that no one came out of religious interest. This was a big occasion, where every man wore his finery. They were there to rub shoulders with each other and outdo each other in their appearance.

Matthew Henry’s commentary describes the scene (emphases mine):

Agrippa and Bernice took this opportunity to show themselves in state, and to make a figure, and perhaps for that end desired the occasion, that they might see and be seen; for they came with great pomp, richly dressed, with gold and pearls, and costly array; with a great retinue of footmen in rich liveries, which made a splendid show, and dazzled the eyes of the gazing crowd. They came meta polles phantasias–with great fancy, so the word is. Note, Great pomp is but great fancy. It neither adds any read excellency, nor gains any real respect, but feeds a vain humour, which wise men would rather mortify than gratify. It is but a show, a dream, a fantastical thing (so the word signifies), superficial, and it passeth away. And the pomp of this appearance would put one for ever out of conceit with pomp, when the pomp which Agrippa and Bernice appeared in was, [1.] Stained by their lewd characters, and all the beauty of it sullied, and all virtuous people that knew them could not but contemn them in the midst of all this pomp as vile persons, Psalms 15:4. [2.] Outshone by the real glory of the poor prisoner at the bar. What was the honour of their fine clothes, compared with that of his wisdom, and grace, and holiness, his courage and constancy in suffering for Christ! His bonds in so good a cause were more glorious than their chains of gold, and his guards than their equipage. Who would be fond of worldly pomp that here sees so bad a woman loaded with it and so good a man loaded with the reverse of it?

However, they could not see that Paul, as physically modest and poorly attired as he was, would forever be revered as a great Apostle, whereas they would largely fade into history. They would have scorned anyone who would have suggested it at the time. Oh, the irony.

John MacArthur has this:

Now, if we can believe tradition, Paul was not very imposing, physically. You see all of this glitter and glamour and fantasia going on, and all this stuff, and in walks a little bandy-legged, baldheaded Jewish guy, who maybe couldn’t see too well, and had a two year Tunic on, that had been a cell with him, or wherever he was kept; and he’s shackled by a chain, and he stands in the middle.

And you can imagine people saying, did we come to hear this guy? Hey, it’s a little overdone, isn’t it, for him? But you know what’s amazing about Paul, it didn’t matter what was going on around him, he always dominated the scene, didn’t he? He always dominated the scene. He was not, apparently, an imposing figure. But they may have said, this guy is a problem? You know, Luke has a great sense of values and he must have a great sense humor because the contrast here is just really interesting. And I imagine that all those people, with all their paraphernalia on, especially Agrippa, and Bernice – and probably Festus, too – would really have been super scandalized if they’d known that history recorded that they looked like a bunch of jerks, and Paul’s the one that stuck and looked liked somebody.

They never would’ve dreamed that. They never would dream that history would record that Paul was the dramatic hero, and they were stupid, foolish. Putting on a big show, like a bunch of kids playing house, in the backyard. All the VIPs and in walks Paul. Maybe the greatest of the VIPs, apart from Jesus Christ, that ever lived. A beautiful thing

Festus explained to those present the background of the Jews wanting to murder Paul (verse 24). He added that, to the contrary of what the Jews claimed, he could not find any offence that Paul had committed and that the Apostle had requested his case be tried by the emperor (verse 25).

Then Festus explained why he invited Agrippa, who knew the Jewish faith, to the hearing. In order to send Paul to Rome, Festus would have to write a criminal report. Yet, as it stood, he had nothing to write. Therefore, he hoped that Agrippa might advise on a criminal charge arising from the hearing (verse 26).

He concluded his introduction of the hearing by saying that it seemed unjust to send a prisoner to a higher court without a reasonable accusation (verse 27).

MacArthur explains that, legally, Paul probably did not need to even be present. This was a hearing, not a trial. Yet, Paul never missed an occasion to preach about Christ, the Cross and the Resurrection:

Legally speaking Paul didn’t even have to show up. Now, he would have had a hard time trying not to show up, because they would’ve dragged him in. But he maybe could have argued wisely, from the law standpoint, and said, you better not take me in there, I’ve had my trial. I’ve been judged innocent; I pleaded my case to Rome, I have no need to go to that thing. And he may have been able to get out of it, but not Paul. Why wouldn’t he wanna get out of it? Because it was another platform, to do what? Preach Christ. Everything that ever happened in the man’s life, he turned around to that.

So, we first of all see the consultation regarding his testimony, then the circumstances around his testimony. What a beautiful stage – all set, for him to preach. And whole place is jammed with pagans from wall to wall. People who didn’t know the Lord, and he just had of ’em as an audience. I mean he was in paradise. You know this is exciting because this is the objective of the church, to go into the world and preach the gospel. You know, you read the New Testament and you read about the church meeting, the church meets and prays and breaks bread, fellowships, studies of the word of God – the church never meets to evangelize, it always go out into the world to do that. And here he is. He’s out there confronting the world, nose to nose.

Acts 26, which we will begin next week, records Paul’s dramatic and bold testimony to this pompous group of unbelievers.

Next time — Acts 26:1-11

Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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 25:13-22

Paul Before Agrippa and Bernice

13 Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and greeted Festus. 14 And as they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man left prisoner by Felix, 15 and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews laid out their case against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. 16 I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up anyone before the accused met the accusers face to face and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him. 17 So when they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought. 18 When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed. 19 Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. 20 Being at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wanted to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding them. 21 But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.” 22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” said he, “you will hear him.”

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Last week’s entry was about Paul’s plea to be heard before ‘Caesar’ — meaning the emperor Nero — in Rome rather than by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin wanted to murder him for two years.

John MacArthur has an excellent summary of Paul’s story thus far (emphases mine):

… the only thing that stands out in the text is, that the man hasn’t done anything. He has not blasphemed God by desecrating the Temple, as he was accused. He has not defied Israel by disobeying the Mosaic Law. He has not defied Rome, by being an insurrectionist and creating riots against the government. He has not done any of those things, and all of those courts, both Jewish and Roman, have attested to the fact that he has not, done those things.

But, you see, he has been retained as a prisoner, because the Roman Governors don’t have the courage to release him because they know the Jews want him dead, and they’re afraid of the Jews, if they let him go. They’re afraid that they will pressured, that there will be riots by the Jews, and they will have a hard time coping with them, so acquiesced to the Jews’ wishes, by keeping Paul and prisoner, and they play footsie with the desire of the Jews to execute him. They know he’s innocent, but they don’t let him go because they’re afraid of the Jews – it’s, blackmail is what it is. That’s an old story, with Roman Governors. The Jews did it, to all of them.

And so, we see in the situation here, that Paul should have been should have released; he’s proven innocent on four occasions, but they still have him there, in prison, in Caesarea, because they know the Jews want him dead, and they think they might be pacified if the just keep him incarcerated. But Paul, you know, realizes this just can’t go on like this, and here realizes his life is in danger, so he knows he’s not gonna get any justice in Caesarea. And he’s never gonna get off the hook, in Caesarea, so he has the only the recourse possible left to him, and that is that, which any Roman citizen had, who was brought before a Court, anywhere in the world, he appealed to Caesar.

There is also a divine aspect to Paul’s desire in reaching Rome, because our Lord appeared to him in Jerusalem and told him that Rome was where he would go (Acts 23:11):

11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

There was one problem. Festus had to send a criminal report in order for Paul to be heard in Nero’s court. As none of the Sanhedrin’s false allegations could be substantiated, Festus had no content for such a report.

Meanwhile, as Festus was the new governor, Herod Agrippa II — the last of the Herods and the son of Herod Agrippa I, eaten alive by worms — came to visit with his consort Bernice (verse 13).

There have been many women named Bernice, but in reading this Bernice’s story, one wonders how the name became so popular. Bernice was Agrippa II’s sister — and his companion in every sense of the word.

Matthew Henry says that Agrippa II was the great-grandson of Herod the Great, who was in power when Jesus was born. Also, although he was Jewish by religion, he was not so via blood lines:

The Jewish writers speak of him, and (as Dr. Lightfoot tells us) among other things relate this story of him, “That reading the law publicly, in the latter end of the year of release, as was enjoined, the king, when he came to those words (Deuteronomy 17:15), Thou shalt not set a stranger king over thee, who is not of thy brethren, the tears ran down his cheeks, for he was not of the seed of Israel, which the congregation observing, cried out, Be of good comfort, king Agrippa, thou art our brother; for he was of their religion, though not of their blood.”

MacArthur explains that the Romans did not give Agrippa II much territory over which to rule. In fact, he was quite Roman, but, because he was king, had power over religious appointments and Jewish ceremonial worship:

Festus was, if anything the superior to Herod. Even though Herod was the King, he was only a vassal King. He was to the land, what Queen Elizabeth is to England; it’s sort of Pomp and Circumstances, and not a whole lot else. The Roman Government had subjugated all of Israel’s own authority, and this man was just a puppet thing. In fact, he was reared, for most of his life, in Rome. It wasn’t till the time that his father died and after, that he was given some territory to rule in Israel, that he left Rome. He spent the last days of life in Rome, and died there. So, he was really Roman oriented and Roman, in allegiance, though he was Jewish. And, of course, as a King, was in charge of the appointment of Priests and the operation of the ceremonies of Jewish worship. So, he was very, very familiar with this

He was reared in Rome, he lived in Rome, until his father died in 44 A.D. Claudius, the Emperor of Rome wanted to appoint him to the Kingdom that his father had, but everybody told him, he was too young – he was only 17. So, they waited another six years, till he was 23, and then they gave him only a part of the territory.

A little later, when he matured, and when was 27, they gave him a little more of the territory, and he really ruled a very small – relatively smaller. You have Northern Palestine and Galilee, just a little section, up there. And he strictly a vassal King – he was Jewish in nationality, he Roman in perspective. I think it very interesting that he established his Capital at Caesarea Philippi, which is a different Caesarea, than the one that is – this location, at this text. Caesarea Philippi was north, and he changed the name of it, to Neronius in order to fascinate Nero

As for Bernice, she was Drusilla’s — Felix’s wife’s — sister. Felix was Festus’s predecessor, who had been sent back to Rome in disgrace because the Jews in Jerusalem complained to the emperor about him.

When discussing Bernice, Henry warns us against saying that people were better in the old days. Bernice had been married to her own uncle, another Herod, and, after his death, went back to her brother Agrippa II. Then, she married the king of Cilicia, got divorced and returned once more to Agrippa II:

She was his own sister, now a widow, the widow of his uncle Herod, king of Chalcis, after whose death she lived with this brother of hers, who was suspected to be too familiar with her, and, after she was a second time married to Polemon king of Cilicia, she got to be divorced from him, and returned to her brother king Agrippa. Juvenal (Sat. 6) speaks of a diamond ring which Agrippa gave to Bernice, his incestuous sister:

Berenices
In digito factus pretiosior; hunc dedit olim
Barbarus incestæ, dedit hunc Agrippa sorori.

That far-famed gem which on the finger glow’d
Of Bernice (dearer thence), bestowed
By an incestuous brother.–GIFFORD.

And both Tacitus and Suetonius speak of a criminal intimacy afterwards between her and Titus Vespasian. Drusilla, the wife of Felix, was another sister. Such lewd people were the great people generally in those times! Say not that the former days were better.

MacArthur says that Bernice kept returning to her brother, because her reputation was so bad that no other man wanted her:

Historian Josephus, tells – and he is the major Historian of that era, and reliable – that they lived in incest. And it became very common knowledge, this debauched situation. Bernice got around, and every once in awhile she’d had an interlude with a lover, but would always come back, because the lover would always dump her, sooner or later because of this terrible incest that kept perpetuating. In fact, the son Vespasian, Titus – the one who really was so instrumental in part of the destruction of Jerusalem, took Bernice as his lover. But when he got her back to Rome, the talk around Rome was so bad, he dumped her, and she went right back into the incest with Agrippa. And they lived in it, until they died, and they lived to a very old [age], and lived in Rome.

We will see that St Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit to write Acts, never mentions Agrippa without adding ‘and Bernice’.

MacArthur cites Dr Harry Ironside, a famous Bible scholar of the 20th century, who had this to say about the infamous couple:

Doctor Ironside said, “If Agrippa dies unsaved, we may be that God links Bernice with him, still. And when Agrippa stands, eventually, at the Great White Throne, Bernice will be there, too.” In other words, Bernice represents sin, that sin, that evil thing in his life from which he never could be separated, in time or eternity, unless he would judge the sin and get right with God. Surely, there is something intensely solemn here. Oh, the awfulness of sin, how it clings. It’s a vivid illustration, isn’t it? – And, Bernice.

Agrippa and Bernice stayed at the Roman governor’s palace — incidentally, Agrippa I’s — for several days, during which time Festus brought Paul into the conversation. Festus explained that Paul was a holdover prisoner from Felix’s time (verse 14). He went on to describe his meeting with the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (verse 15).

Festus explained that he told the Jews they would have to bring charges about Paul and that the Apostle was allowed to defend himself against the accusations (verses 16, 17).

Festus intimated that he had imagined Paul had done something very wrong indeed until his accusers could not substantiate any of their accusations (verse 18).

Then, Festus brought Jesus into the conversation, as the main point of contention between Paul and the Jews (verse 19). To Festus, Jesus was some sort of religious figure, but he did not understand the implications of Paul saying that He rose from the dead and the Jews denying the Resurrection. Festus thought there was a dispute only about a man still being alive or dead.

Festus told Agrippa II that he gave Paul the opportunity to be tried in Jerusalem again (verse 20), but that Paul had appealed to Caesar instead (verse 21).

The passage ends with Agrippa telling Festus he would like to hear from Paul personally, and the Roman governor agreed to the request (verse 22).

MacArthur says that Agrippa worded his request in such a way that implied he knew something of Paul — and of Jesus:

… just a little footnote, “Agrippa, I would also hear the man myself,” is an imperfect, and it gives the idea of a continuous action. It may be, that he had continuously wished to hear this man, having heard about him. There’s no doubt in my mind, that he had heard about it, and that had been a constant wish to hear him. It was a curiosity with Agrippa.

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 25:23-27

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

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

Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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 24:22-27

Paul Kept in Custody

22 But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 Then he gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that (C)none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs.

24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” 26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him. 27 When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.

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Last week’s entry covered Paul’s defence in Caesarea before Felix the Roman governor and the Apostle’s Jewish accusers.

Paul clearly demonstrated that not only was he innocent of any crime against the Roman government, but also that the accusations against him were of a theological nature, something on which the Romans would not pass judgement.

Felix, having lived in Caesarea — home to Cornelius, the first Roman convert, and to Philip the Evangelist — knew the tenets of Christianity, ‘the Way’, well (verse 22). He placated everyone by saying that when Claudius Lysias, the Roman tribune of Jerusalem, next went to Caesarea, Felix would decide the case then.

John MacArthur says there is no historical evidence the Felix ever called for Claudius Lysias or that the tribune went of his own accord (emphases mine):

You know that there is no record, ever, that he ever called Claudius Lysias down there? And there’s no record that Claudius Lysias ever came. He just permanently postponed the thing. That’s a coward’s act. Now, he had a knowledge of Christianity. You say, “Where did he get it?” Well, he lived in Caesarea, and Philip lived there, and Philip was an evangelist.

And there were a lot of other Christians, and he was in Judea for nine years, eight or nine years, and so there were tens of thousands of Christians all over the place. He had been very, very familiar with Christianity. Some say he was a friend and an acquaintance of Simon Magus, Simon the Sorcerer, who had been exposed to Christianity, and that Simon Magus had first communicated to him. That’s somewhere in ancient history; we don’t know. But he knew enough, and he knew enough to make a right evaluation that this was not a criminal issue, but a theological one.

He knew enough about Christianity to be responsible; he was like Pilate. He was convinced of the testimony of the accused, but he was afraid of the Jews. So, he postponed the decision until Claudius Lysias could come and add information, and he never called Claudius Lysias. It was a convenient non-decision. It was a nothing. It was a postponement.

Felix wanted to placate the Jews:

He had a lot of Jews on his hands who were very angry, and when you have a lot of very angry Jews uptight, it caused revolutions. And when you were the governor and you had revolutions, you were in real trouble with Rome. Remember Pilate? The ultimate reason that Pilate finally allowed Jesus to be crucified was just because he wanted to pacify the Jews, because he was afraid he’d lose his job if he couldn’t rule well. And Felix is trapped in the same thing. On one hand, his relationship to Roman law and to Rome is at stake …

Luke is telling us that Felix knew what the right answer was; that Felix, having a more perfect knowledge of the Way, knew what he should have done.

Felix did not send Paul to the cells with common criminals but ordered his centurion to allow the Apostle some freedom while in custody (verse 23). No doubt, he returned Paul to the apartment in the palace where he was held before his trial.

Felix also allowed Paul’s friends to visit and attend to his needs. Among those friends were Luke, the author of Acts, and Philip the Evangelist.

Matthew Henry’s commentary points out:

a man’s prison is as it were his own house if he has but his friends about him.

MacArthur says that Paul had just lived through a judgement similar to that which Jesus experienced, albeit without the death penalty of crucifixion:

It’s the record of a man before a pagan judge, being accused by Jewish accusers, who comes off innocent. I mean, let’s face it, folks, it’s just like the case of Christ.

Now we get to Felix and Drusilla, a true human interest story.

Felix sent for Paul so that he and Drusilla, who was Jewish, could hear him speak about ‘faith in Christ Jesus’ (verse 24).

Drusilla was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I, the one who was eaten alive by worms — a divine judgement. She left her husband, the King of Emesa (Syria), for Felix. MacArthur tells us:

Felix saw her when she was married to the king of Emesa, a part of Syria, and he liked her. She was real young, 15 or so, and she was supposed to be this raving beauty, according to the historians. And Felix saw her, and said, you know, “That’s for me,” and seduced her, and stole her away. And so the whole thing was a rotten, immoral, disgusting thing from the beginning. So, there they come, the two of them.

Henry has more about the meeting — and Drusilla:

he desired to have an account of it from Paul, who was so celebrated a preacher of that faith, above the rest. Those that would enlarge their knowledge must discourse with men of their own profession, and those that would be acquainted with any profession should consult those that excel in the knowledge of it; and therefore Felix had a mind to talk with Paul more freely than he could in open court, where he observed Paul upon his guard, concerning the faith of Christ; and this only to satisfy his curiosity, or rather the curiosity of his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess, daughter of Herod Agrippa, that was eaten of worms. Being educated in the Jewish religion, she was more inquisitive concerning the Christian religion, which pretended to be the perfection of that, and desired to hear Paul discourse of it. But it was no great matter what religion she was of; for, whatever it was, she was a reproach and scandal to it-a Jewess, but an adulteress; she was another man’s wife when Felix took her to be his wife, and she lived with him in whoredom and was noted for an impudent woman, yet she desires to hear concerning the faith of Christ. Many are fond of new notions and speculations in religion, and can hear and speak of them with pleasure, who yet hate to come under the power and influence of religion, can be content to have their judgments informed but not their lives reformed.

Paul preached the Good News to the couple, including the Final Judgement, when Felix became alarmed and dismissed Paul, telling him he would send for him again another time (verse 25).

Henry posits that Felix expected to be intrigued, perhaps entertained, by Paul’s discourse, which the Apostle might have personalised for them:

What the account was which Paul gave him of the Christian religion; by the idea he had of it, he expected to be amused with a mystical divinity, but, as Paul represents it to him, he is alarmed with a practical divinity. Paul, being asked concerning the faith in Christ, reasoned (for Paul was always a rational preacher) concerning righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come. It is probable that he mentioned the peculiar doctrines of Christianity concerning the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and his being the Mediator between God and man; but he hastened to his application, in which he designed to come home to the consciences of his hearers

Paul reasoned of righteousness and temperance, to convince Felix of his unrighteousness and intemperance, of which he had been notoriously guilty, that, seeing the odiousness of them, and his obnoxiousness to the wrath of God for them (Ephesians 5:6), he might enquire concerning the faith of Christ, with a resolution to embrace it. [2.] That by the doctrine of Christ is discovered to us the judgment to come, by the sentence of which the everlasting state of all the children of men will be finally and irreversibly determined. Men have their day now, Felix hath his; but God’s day is coming, when everyone shall give account of himself to God, the Judge of all. Paul reasoned concerning this; that is, he showed what reason we have to believe that there is a judgment to come, and what reason we have, in consideration thereof, to be religious.

MacArthur thinks that Paul gave Felix and Drusilla the whole story of Christ’s life as well as the standards of living for believers:

He gave him all the gospel. He told him Jesus was God. He told him Jesus was born of a virgin. He told him Jesus lived a miraculous life. He told him Jesus died on the cross for the deliverance of sin. He told him Jesus rose the third day from the dead. He told him all the facts of the gospel. That’s the content, that’s the faith. That’s what Jude meant when he said, “Contend for the faith,” the embodiment of truth, the content of the gospel. So, Paul detailed the gospel.

Now, that’s exciting. Paul sat down, and Felix heard; Felix and Drusilla listened. And Paul talked about who Christ was, why He came, what He accomplished, the whole gospel. Then he also gave them the back side of it; look at verse 25. “And as he reasoned” – dialogued – he didn’t preach at him, he talked to him, he discussed with him – “of righteousness, self-control, and judgment to come, Felix” – what? – “trembled.” Now, part of the faith, part of the content of the faith, is righteousness, self-control, judgment to come.

Now watch: those three areas must be included in the presentation of the gospel. Righteousness is this: that’s God’s divine ideal, that’s God’s absolute standard. What does God demand? Absolute righteousness. Jesus says, “Be ye holy.” You say, “How holy?” “Even as your Father in Heaven is holy. Be perfect even as God is perfect.” God’s absolute demand is righteousness. The second word is self-control; that’s man’s required response. God has an absolute ideal; you better control yourself to come into conformity to that standard.

So, he told Felix, “Here’s God’s standard, and God demands that you conform to it.” And if you don’t, that’s the third word: judgment to come. That’s the gospel. God’s absolute ideal; you must conform to it or be judged. I’m telling you, this could get very personal to Felix. After Paul presented the ideal of righteousness, and then Paul started shooting down Felix, because Felix had no self-control at all. He was sitting there with a woman that he’d stolen and seduced. His life was a debauchery.

Henry has an excellent analysis of how Felix and Drusilla received Paul’s discourse, referring to the meaning of ‘Felix’ — ‘happy’:

That Paul was willing to take pains, and run hazards, in his work, even where there was little probability of doing good. Felix and Drusilla were such hardened sinners that it was not at all likely they should be brought to repentance by Paul’s preaching, especially under such disadvantages; and yet Paul deals with them as one that did not despair of them. Let the watchman give fair warning, and then they have delivered their own souls, though they should not prevail to deliver the souls they watch for.

3. What impressions Paul’s discourse made upon this great but wicked man: Felix trembled, emphobos genomenos–being put into a fright, or made a terror to himself, a magor-missabib, as Pashur, Jeremiah 20:3,4. Paul never trembled before him, but he was made to tremble before Paul. “If this be so, as Paul says, what will become of me in another world? If the unrighteous and intemperate will be condemned in the judgment to come, I am undone, for ever undone, unless I lead a new course of life.” We do not find that Drusilla trembled, though she was equally guilty, for she was a Jewess, and depended upon the ceremonial law, which she adhered to the observance of, to justify her; but Felix for the present could fasten upon nothing to pacify his conscience, and therefore trembled. See here, (1.) The power of the word of God, when it comes with commission; it is searching, it is startling, it can strike a terror into the heart of the most proud and daring sinner, by setting his sins in order before him, and showing him the terrors of the Lord. (2.) The workings of natural conscience; when it is startled and awakened, it fills the soul with horror and amazement at its own deformity and danger. Those that are themselves the terror of the mighty in the land of the living have hereby been made a terror to themselves. A prospect of the judgment to come is enough to make the stoutest heart to tremble, as when it comes indeed it will make the mighty men and the chief captains to call in vain to rocks and mountains to shelter them.

4. How Felix struggled to get clear of these impressions, and to shake off the terror of his convictions; he did by them as he did by Paul’s prosecutors (Acts 24:25), he deferred them; he said, Go thy way for this time, when I have a convenient season I will call for thee. (1.) He trembled and that was all. Paul’s trembling (Acts 9:6), and the jailer’s (Acts 16:29), ended in their conversion, but this of Felix did not. Many are startled by the word of God who are not effectually changed by it. Many are in fear of the consequences of sin, and yet continue in love and league with sin. (2.) He did not fight against his convictions, nor fly in the face of the word or of the preacher of it, to be revenged on them for making his conscience fly in his face; he did not say to Paul, as Amaziah to the prophet, Forbear, why shouldst thou be smitten? He did not threaten him with a closer confinement, or with death, for touching him (as John Baptist did Herod) in the sore place. But, (3.) He artfully shifted off his convictions by putting off the prosecution of them to another time. He has nothing to object against what Paul has said; it is weighty and worth considering. But, like a sorry debtor, he begs a day; Paul has spent himself, and has tired him and his lady, and therefore, “Go thy way for this time–break off here, business calls me away; but when I have a convenient season, and have nothing else to do, I will call for thee, and hear what thou hast further to say.” Note, [1.] Many lose all the benefit of their convictions for want of striking while the iron is hot. If Felix, now that he trembled, had but asked, as Paul and the jailer did when they trembled, What shall I do? he might have been brought to the faith of Christ, and have been a Felix indeed, happy for ever; but, by dropping his convictions now, he lost them for ever, and himself with them. [2.] In the affairs of our souls, delays are dangerous; nothing is of more fatal consequence than men’s putting off their conversion from time to time. They will repent, and turn to God, but not yet; the matter is adjourned to some more convenient season, when such a business or affair is compassed, when they are so much older; and then convictions cool and wear off, good purposes prove to no purpose, and they are more hardened than ever in their evil way. Felix put off this matter to a more convenient season, but we do not find that this more convenient season ever came; for the devil cozens us of all our time by cozening us of the present time. The present season is, without doubt, the most convenient season. Behold, now is the accepted time. To-day if you will hear his voice.

Note that Felix did not offer to have Paul released on bond. This is because he hoped that Paul would eventually offer him money for his release. Interestingly, Luke tells us that Felix sent for Paul often for private conversations (verse 26).

Felix knew that Paul had brought with him to Jerusalem a financial offering for the church there. He might have thought that Paul kept some aside for himself. Alternatively, perhaps he thought that Paul’s friends in Caesarea might appeal for his release by offering Felix money. Henry posits that this is why Felix sent for him time and time again. Luke does not say that Felix ever trembled again, so it seems that Felix was testing the waters about money.

Quite rightly, Henry takes issue with the Christians in Caesarea for not having purchased Paul’s freedom. They had two years in which to do so:

Though Paul is to be commended that he would not offer money to Felix, nor beg money of the churches (his great and generous soul disdained both), yet I know not whether his friends are to be commended, nay, whether they can be justified, in not doing it for him. They ought to have solicited the governor as pressingly for him as his enemies did against him: and if a gift was necessary to make room for them (as Solomon speaks) and to bring them before great men, they might lawfully have done it. I ought not to bribe a man to do an unjust thing, but, if he will not do me justice without a fee, it is but doing myself justice to give it to him; and, if they might do it, it was a shame they did not do it. I blush for them, that they would let such an eminent and useful man as Paul lie in the jail, when a little money would have fetched him out, and restored him to his usefulness again. The Christians here at Cæsarea, where he now was, had parted with their tears to prevent his going to the prison (Acts 21:13), and could they not find in their hearts to part with their money to help him out?

Then, Henry says that, perhaps it was divine providence that prevented them from doing so:

Yet there might be a providence of God in it; Paul’s bonds must be for the furtherance of the gospel of Christ, and therefore he must continue in bonds. However, this will not excuse Felix, who ought to have released an innocent man, without demanding or accepting any thing for it: the judge that will not do right without a bribe will no doubt do wrong for a bribe.

Perhaps Paul converted some Romans working for Felix during those two years. We do not know.

In any event, Luke tells us that Felix left Paul in prison, even when his successor Porcius Festus arrived (verse 27). This was likely because Felix wanted to placate the Jews.

However, history tells us that Felix’s plan did not prevent his ouster.

It is interesting that history gives us an insight into Felix’s downfall. Felix did not retire quietly to Rome. It was likely that the Jews had forced him out and complained to the Roman emperor, as Henry tells us:

The Jews … accused him to the emperor, and some historians say he was sent bound to Rome by Festus; and, if so, surely his remembering how light he had made of Paul’s bonds would help to make his own chain heavy.

We have seen that God was accomplishing His will through Romans — pagans — allowing Paul to escape a brutal death at the hands of angry Jews in Jerusalem. Many will wonder how He could allow Paul to remain a prisoner for two years in Caesarea, with no letters to write to the Christians in the churches he had established.

MacArthur offers this explanation:

The whole time he’s there, we don’t know of any sermon that he ever preached, or of anything that he ever wrote. Can you imagine the apostle Paul, two years and he doesn’t write something and he doesn’t preach? Now, there may have been times when he wrote something, there may have been times when he preached; we don’t have record of it. You say, “Well, what’s going on here?” Well, you know what I believe? And this is just me; this isn’t anything that’s obvious in the text. It’s just what I think may be a possibility.

I really think this may have been furlough. You know what I mean? He had been chased all over the world long enough. I mean, he needed a rest. Besides, he had so much to accomplish in his lifetime, and he worked so fast. he probably had a few years left over. So, the Lord just said, “Well, you might as well take a couple off.” He’d been all over the Roman world, and it all kind of climaxed in Jerusalem. He was nearly beaten to death, he was slugged in the face, he was clamored after and yanked apart, he was thrown into custody, he was hustled to Caesarea by 470 Roman soldiers, and he went through this trial.

I mean, I just think the guy comes to a place in the service of the Lord where he’s got to stop. And a little key thought just kind of bounces out in verse 23 that made me think this. “He commanded a centurion to keep Paul, let him have liberty, that he should forbid none of his acquaintances to” – what? – “to minister.” Now, the implication is there that they came to minister to him. Well, that’s a nice idea for a change, isn’t it? I’m sure that Luke and Aristarchus were with him, too, so he had some good fellowship, and Philip probably hung around a lot.

And there were probably a lot of believers in the local area of Caesarea who came down during the two years and spent some time with him, and I’m sure he was discipling some people. And I’m also sure that when I get to heaven, I’m going to meet some of Felix’s soldiers. And maybe that centurion’s there. But I’ll tell you, I think it’s a time when God just kind of let him rest. Well, resting from what he’d been through, and getting ready for the worst, which was to come, that finally ended in his execution. God knows.

Whatever the thing is, God knew that Paul needed two years there. And whatever God accomplished, He accomplished within His purpose, not outside of it.

Next time — Acts 25:1-5

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