PAUL, A PRISON ATTRACTION: IX
Paul was a fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to Peter:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:18-19).
In person, Peter became the content and the message into the kingdom of heaven. Peter’s example, more so than his words, attracted followers. Paul was even more demonstrative in his imitation of Christ. Paul boldly asserted before king Agrippa, the queen Bernice, and the governor Festus:
And as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are mad; your great learning is turning you mad.” But Paul said, “I am not mad, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking the sober truth. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time you think to make me a Christian!” 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.”
Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them; and when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he hand not appealed to Caesar” (Acts 26:24-32).
Paul became a new and a different kind of messenger and an apostle. He stressed the idea that living the “Gospel” was more powerful than preaching the “Gospel.” To the Corinthians Paul wrote, “I urge you, then, be imitators of me” (I Corinthians 4:16), to the Philippians, “Brethren, join in imitating me, and mark those who live as you have an example in us” (Philippians 3:17). To the Thessalonians, he said, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the world in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit; so that you became an example to all; believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (I Thessalonians 1:6-7). And to the Ephesians, Paul said, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’ (Ephesians 5:11-2).
The idea that a person’s life is more powerful than a person’s tongue. Jesus credited Isaiah 29:13, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matthew 15:7-9). In His ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ Jesus declared, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). That is why Jesus told his followers, who wanted to see the Father, to look at Him and see what He had done (John 14:8-14). The simplest and most convincing witness one can be is when one can say, like Jesus did to two of his disciples, “COME AND SEE” (John 1:39)! Can we invite people to spend some time with us?
Paul became an open book. His presence was not overpowering, but Paul’s life was. He admitted that physically he did not impress the people, but spiritually or morally he was super. No man, in his day, presented Christ as savior and judge and the resurrection from the dead more accurately and convincingly as Paul did. Paul, himself, was not easily understood in his day, or any day after even into our time. It is simply amazing how Luke, a Gentile, was able to follow and describe the first and greatest defender of Christianity. Paul, in his defense, slew giants with words like David of old Goliath with a sling. For two years, the Roman officials and the Jewish leaders kept him under guard in Caesarea. And they tried to trip him up, but they failed. At the end, they had to obey Paul’s wishes and take him to Rome. Just imagine what it cost the Romans to save one very important Christian Jew? Indeed, God’s ways and leadings are marvelous.
For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” Let such people understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present. Not that we venture to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves by one another, and compare with one another, they are without understanding (II Corinthians 10:10-12).
In Acts 24, 25, and 26, Luke continued describing how Paul kept on winning his case for Christ before two governors, a king, and a queen. Governor Felix arranged the meeting with the Jews and he brought Paul before them and let him defend himself.
And when the governor had motioned him to speak, Paul replied: “Realizing that for many years you have been judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense. As you may ascertain, it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship at Jerusalem; and they did not find me disputing with any one or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues, or in the city. Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the law or written in the prophets, having a hope in God which they themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward God and toward men. Now after some years I came to bring to my nation alms and offerings. As I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult. But some Jews from Asia—they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, if they have anything against me. Or else let these men themselves say what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council, except this one thing which I cried out while standing among them, ‘With respect to the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you this day’” (Acts 24:10-21).
Felix did not hand Paul over to the Jews. For two years, Felix held Paul in custody expecting his prisoner to be ransomed. Felix played with Paul’s life, and he lost at the end. When Felix’s expectation was not met, and not to offend the Jews, he left Paul for the next governor to work out an arrangement with the Jewish leaders, who wasted no time to press Festus, the new governor to act.
But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way (christian belief), put them off, saying, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.” Then he gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but should have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs.
After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess; and he sent for Paul and heard him speak upon faith in Christ Jesus. And as he argued about justice and self-control and future judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity I will summon you.” At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him. But when two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison (Acts 24:22-27).
Now when Festus had come into his province, after three days he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews informed him against Paul; and they urged him, asking as a favor to have the man sent to Jerusalem, 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 accuse him” (Acts 25-1:5).
Festus was a man of action and he was determined to hand Paul over to the Jews with trickery. Paul refused to play Festus’ game. He spoiled Festus’ plan by demanding that Caesar try him.
When he had 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 brought. And when he had come, the Jews who had gone down from Jerusalem stood about him, bringing against him many serious charges which they could not prove. Paul said in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended at all.” 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?” But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried on the Jews I have done no wrong as you know very well. 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 in their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you shall go” (Acts 25:6-12).
Festus had created a problem for himself. He had to send Paul to Caesar, without a reason why Caesar should have to bother with an innocent citizen who was obedient to the Roman law. King Agrippa and Bernice had come to welcome Festus at a very convenient time. Festus was able to share his dilemma with the king’s couple and the three decided to listen to Paul and come up with some reason why they could not settle Paul’s case in Judea. Paul was privileged to defend himself and testify before the highest officials and prominent men of the city.
Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived in Caesarea to welcome Festus. And as they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man left prisoner by Felix; and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews gave information about him, asking for sentence against him. I answered them that it was not custom of the Romans to give up any one before the accused met the accusers face to face, and has opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge against him. When therefore 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 bought in. When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed; but they had certain points of dispute with him about their own superstition and about one Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. Being at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wished to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding them. But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I commanded him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “I should like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” said he, “you shall hear him.”
So on the morrow 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 by command of Festus Paul was brought in. 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 at Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. But I found that he had done nothing deserving death; and as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to send him. But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you, and, especially before you, King Agrippa, that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him” (Acts 25:13-27).
Paul was a master in making speeches to get attention and getting results. He, himself, confessed: “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (I Corinthians 9:22). Paul addressed dignitaries as being informed and above his social standing. He identified with his opposition, when he was one of them doing the opposing to Jesus as the Christ. It was Christ, who met Paul on the road to Damascus as a persecutor. And it was Christ, who turned Paul into an ambassador of good will for man. In Christ, people again can begin leading new lives. Therefore, they no longer need to be afraid of facing God on Judgment Day. That approach was evidenced before king Agrippa and before the dignitaries in Caesarea.
Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” The Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense: “I think myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, because you are especially familiar with all customs and controversies of the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and at 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 for hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, 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?
“I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem; I not only shut up many of the saints in prison, by authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 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.
“Thus I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining round me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles—to whom I send you to open their eyes, 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.’
“Wherefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those at Damascus, then at Jerusalem and throughout all the country of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and perform deeds worthy of their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 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: that the Christ must suffer, and that by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles.”
And as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are mad; your great learning is turning you mad.” But Paul said, “I am not mad, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking the sober truth. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner. King Agrippa do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul “In a short time you think to make me a Christian!” 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” (Acts 26:1-29).
At this time, Paul knew that he would never be set free from “these chains” or from his prison clothes. Man was not holding Paul with restraining weapons or literal chains. It was ironic because Paul was in protective custody from his own people, the Jews. He had the run of Herod’s palace. Friends were allowed to visit Paul and take his instructions in word and in writing to his congregations. It was in protective custody that Paul was privileged to preach to the largest and to the most prominent audience. That relationship did change over night, for the privileged status the Jews had with Rome was at an end. The emperor Claudius had evicted all the Jews from Rome. And Titus, his successor, did terminate Judea shortly after Paul laid down his life, more likely as a Jew rather than as a Christian. Until Nero, Christians were being persecuted by the Jews and not by the Gentiles. Paul had become keenly aware that “the day of the Lord” had come for him and that he was ready to face his “Maker.” It was not the return of Christ, but Paul’s own departure from this life, and not just his own life, but also the lives of many of his converts. Thus to his very end, Paul challenged and encouraged the believers in Christ to remain faithful in the face of death.
Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured as a libation upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me (Philippians 2:14-18).
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.
For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. 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 (II Timothy 4:1-8).
At my first defense no one took my part; all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the word fully, that all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen (II Timothy 4:16-18).