On Trial | The Honorable Judge Festus Presiding
Pastor Miles DeBenedictis
The Honorable Judge Festus Presiding
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“But after two years Porcius Festus succeeded Felix; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, he left Paul bound there in prison in Caesarea.
“Now when Festus had come to the province, after three days he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem. And then the high priest and the chief men of the Jews informed him against Paul; and they petitioned him, asking a favor against Paul, that Festus would summon him to Jerusalem – while they lay in ambush to kill him on the road. But Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was going there shortly. ‘Therefore,’ he said, ‘let those of you who have authority among you go down with me and accuse this man, to see if there is any fault in him.’
“And when he had remained among them more than ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day, sitting on the judgment seat, he commanded Paul to be brought. And when he had come, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood about and they laid many serious complaints against Paul, which they could not prove, and while Paul answered for himself, ‘Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all.’”
Father, we pray that You would teach us this morning. We believe, as we stand here, that Your Word is living, that it is powerful, that it’s sharper than any two-edged sword, and that, God, You have given it to teach us. Lord, we know that Your Word is useful for doctrine, for reproof sometimes, correction, for instruction in righteousness, that we would be equipped and ready for the good works that You have prepared for this next week, for Monday and Tuesday of this next week. So, God, we pray, as we’re here today, You would use this passage of Scripture to speak to us, God, that You would make us ready, as Your ambassadors in this world, and, Lord, You’d transform our lives, that we would shine more brightly for You in this world. We ask this in Jesus’ name. And all God’s people agreed, saying, “Amen.”
You can be seated.
This last week we experienced a series of events here in San Diego County which, while not completely unique to this area, they are in a sense unique to this area. Having lived here for most of my life, for 34 years here in North County, there is a heightened sense of awareness, and perhaps you can relate with this, when you wake up in the morning, and you look outside, and it’s a bright sunny day, which is not abnormal here, but it’s winds out of the east, and it’s dry and hot. Now, when I see that, I know at least two things are likely within the next several hours: Number one, I’ll probably get a bloody nose. [laughter] It’s a part of my genetic make-up, my dad handed it down to me. Thank you very much for that. And my poor son Ethan has it; my grandfather had it. So, just about any time there’s some dry weather like that, I know that within 24 hours I’m going to have a pretty bad bloody nose.
One of the other things that you begin to start to look for, though, is that you will likely see some dark smoke on the skyline, rising up into the sky. When the Santa Anas start here, the conditions are just right; the brush around here is thick, and it burns quickly. And so when it’s dry and windy and hot, it’s almost as if the firebugs just wake up, right, and they go out, and all of a sudden you’ve got fires spreading throughout the county. And this week was abnormal for it, being that it’s this time of year. Normally this happens in October. You know, we had big fires in 2003, and then again in 2007, both of those were in October. But this is May, and so, you know, I have a lot of friends in the fire department, as a chaplain with the fire department, and they’re looking forward to the Summer, going, “Man, this is not going to be a good summer for fire here in San Diego.” So, just so you know, be prepared, be ready, have things ready, just as a practical note, if you’re called upon to leave. In fact, anybody evacuated this last week? Who was evacuated, lift up your hands? All right, so be ready for that.
But, we know that we live in a place that, it’s like a tinderbox. When you look at the hills all around us, you see that it’s just ready, and when the conditions are just right, when the winds are as they were this last week, when the humidity has dropped really low, especially a couple of days into that, all you need is a small spark, and the next thing you know you have this huge blaze that is enflamed.
You know, in the year 60 AD, when Festus became the governor of the region of Judea, there was a tinderbox there in that region, as well. Similar conditions politically, similar conditions spiritually, as he came into that position there in that place. There was the perfect storm just ready to go as he moves into that post as procurator of Judea. And as he moves into that post, he came in when the people of that region there, the Jewish individuals of the region of Judea were more pushing back against Roman rule than any other time in their history. They had been dominated by the Romans for many, many years, but in the last several years leading up to the time that Festus became the governor, they started to push down more their power, the Romans did, in that area. For a long time they had given a lot of, you know, sort of leeway to the Jews to rule themselves, to lead themselves, to even use their own money in their capital in Jerusalem, which was totally out of order normally within a Roman province. But, here in that place, they were allowing it. And now they’re starting to push, the Romans were, their rule in that place. And it was really in response to the fact that the Jews were pushing back and trying to start a rebellion and a revolt against them.
And so now Festus moves in, and he comes on the heels of Felix, who had been ruling for about eight years. And Felix was not a good guy. The way that he kept the peace there was he just gave bribes, he kind of just, “Whoever could pay me off, that’s what we’ll do.” And now he’s removed, and Festus comes in, and he’s got to take that place.
And in the midst of all this, the Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us that there was a group – and we’ve talked about them before in the last few months – there was a group there in Jerusalem, of religious zealots called the Sicarii, which meant dagger men. And they were assassins who were trying to enflame violence against Rome, to enflame an uprising against them.
And when Festus came in and he evaluated all this, we know that he only ruled for about two years. Perhaps the stress of everything, to try and keep the peace, which was an impossible task, maybe it was the stress that got to him, because two years into his rule, he died. He only ruled from AD 60 to AD 62. And he sought to pursue vigorously the Sacarii. He tried to get rid of these guys because he’s trying to protect the interests of Rome. He’s there as the governor of a Roman province, trying to protect the interests of Rome, but at the same time, he’s trying to keep the peace with the people that live there. So he’s trying to appease the religious leaders, and all kinds of stuff that was going on. And these were the kinds of things that he’s got to deal with when he comes in. And this is exactly where this passage of Scripture, Acts 25, is nestled. Because two years prior to him becoming the governor of that place, in about 58 AD, Paul was taken as a captive in Jerusalem, and brought down to Caesarea. And he appeared before the previous governor, Felix, as we looked at a couple of weeks ago, and then again considered last week. He was brought before Felix, and Felix didn’t know what to do. He feels like he’s in a tough situation because the Jewish religious leaders want this guy Paul dead, but he knows that Paul’s done nothing. And then you add to it, compound it by the fact that Paul was a Roman citizen. And so he’s stuck in this place, so he just figured, “Well, you know, I’ll just do what I can. Let’s just leave this guy in limbo, and we’ll just keep him here, and maybe I’ll get a bribe, maybe I’ll get paid off, and I’ll find some way to wiggle out of this whole problem that’s happening here.” But nothing came up.
And then, after a couple of years, Felix was called back to Rome. He was going to be standing trial himself because of the terrible way that he ruled the people in that area. But he leaves Paul bound; the last verse of the last chapter, Chapter 24, Verse 27 said that Felix left Paul bound there to do the Jews a favor. He just left him there to try and appease them, make them happy.
And then 25, “Festus, when he had come to the province, after three days he went up to Caesarea.” This newly-appointed governor, he comes into his capital of that Judean province, which was this beautiful Roman city on the Mediterranean Sea there, in the city of Caesarea, he comes there, and he does like any guy in a new post would do, he evaluates what’s going on. He probably talks to each of his commanders, he talks to all the ranking officials. “Give me an idea of what’s been going on here in this city of Caesarea for this time?” And he evaluates, “What sort of mess did the last administration leave for me?” And one of the things that was left on the books, if you will, was this guy named Paul that’s stuck in this Caesarean jail, if you will, in this Roman holding place there in the city that he’s got to deal with.
And so he’s there in Caesarea for a few days, and he’s evaluating the thing, and then he realizes, “Well, you know, I’m going to have to go up to Jerusalem,” because, although Caesarea was the political capital of Judea for the Roman Empire, Jerusalem was the religious capital of the Jews. And since the Jews were the populace of that place, Judea, he’s got to go up and deal with them, he’s got to go and meet with the chief priest, he’s got to meet with the Sanhedrin, the ruling people there of Judaism. And so he goes up, and you’ve got to sense that his desire is, “I’ve got to find a bargaining chip. I’ve got to find a way, something where we’ve got some common ground, some unity, where we can say, ‘Hey, let’s, you know, we know we don’t agree on all these other things, but we agree on this, and let’s maybe find some common ground, and we might need to compromise a little bit, but maybe we can cooperate with one another.’” So, he goes up to Jerusalem with that in mind.
Verse 2, Acts 25, it says, “Then the high priest and the chief men of the Jews, they informed Festus against Paul; and they petitioned him, asking a favor.”
They say, “Listen, Festus, we understand that you, you want to find some common ground. We understand that you want to compromise, and you want to see how can we work together for peace and deal with this whole thing. We know you’ve got kind of a mess. But, you know, if you want to show your willingness, if you want to show us that you’re really interested in helping us out, we’ve got this one little small thing. It’s an easy win for you. You don’t hardly have to do anything, Festus. Easy win, there’s this guy named Paul, he’s down in Caesarea, he broke our law, we don’t like him, he’s a pestilent fellow,” as they had said before, “and we would just like to try him according to our law, because he broke our law, he didn’t break your law. But would you just move him from Caesarea up to here? Do us a favor. Make this easy.” They asked him a favor, Verse 3, “that he would summon Paul to Jerusalem.” And then Luke gives us some insight that’s kind of behind the scenes. “…that they lay in ambush along the road to kill him.”
Now, the amazing thing is – two years has passed from the last chapter to this chapter. And we know that prior to this, two years before, when Paul had been in Jerusalem, they had already had this plan. They wanted to move Paul from the Roman garrison’s pretorium there in Jerusalem to their courthouse, and they had a plan to ambush and kill him. You remember that Paul’s nephew found out about this, and he brought it to the attention of the Roman commander. Now, two years later, they’re still so mad, so indignant towards Paul that they’re still trying to figure out, “How can we kill him?”
Now remember, the guys that said they wanted to kill him, you remember they had taken an oath that they would not eat. I imagine they probably broke that. [laughter] I’m thinking that they haven’t been fasting that whole time. But they still want him dead, maybe a little bit thinner than they were before. They want him gone. And so they say, “Listen, this is an easy thing for you. He broke our law, so you want some common ground, you want some compromise, show us that you’re really willing to work with us, and you’re not just here to dominate us. Show us that you recognize that we still have some authority and some leadership and some rule in here. He broke our law, send him up here.”
Well, point Number 1 on your outline, in your sermon guide, if you have it handy:
Christ And His Followers Are At The Center Of World Conflict
Christ and His followers are at the center of world conflict. Whether it was nearly 2,000 years ago in the year AD 60 there in that region, the Middle East, or now in the year 2014. Even though this animosity, it really makes no sense as you look at it, you wonder why is it that they seem to be in the midst of this world conflict so often? Why would followers of Christ cause such a stir, cause such anger and hatred? You know, this is the same group of people, followers of Jesus, who are told by Jesus that we should strive for peace, that when someone strikes us on the right cheek, we should turn to them the other also, that if someone bids us to go with them one mile, that we would go carrying their stuff two miles, if someone sues us at the law, that we would give them our cloak also. You know, this is the teaching the Jesus tells us, and yet we find ourselves oftentimes in the middle of conflict. Not just the teaching of Jesus, but in the last letter that Paul wrote before these events took place, the Book of Romans, in Romans Chapter 12 Paul says, “As much as is possible, as it relies upon you, live at peace with all people.”
So how is it, if we are actually fulfilling the words of Jesus and the teaching of Paul, to live at peace with other people, how is it that we are so often in the midst of conflict? Not just to the Romans, but to the church in Thessalonica, 1 Thessalonians Chapter 4, Verse 11, Paul says there that we should aspire, “Christians should aspire to live quiet lives, working with our hands to take care of ourselves.” And so we have the teaching of Jesus, we have the teaching of Paul, that we should seek for peace, that we should try to live at peace with people, and yet so many times Christians find themselves in the midst of conflict as Paul does here.
And we’ve talked about this a number of times over the last several weeks, because it’s coming out of the text, and yet I think it’s important for us to consider the words of Jesus there in the Gospel of John, John Chapter 15, Verse 18, where He said, “If the world hates you, know that it hated Me first.” “If the world hates you, know that it hated Me before it hated you.” Again, it’s a point that we’ve hit on a number of times as we’ve been going through this passage of Scripture where we’re watching Paul being on trial, not for anything bad that he had done, but for the fact that he was a witness for Jesus Christ. And so, we see here the world, because of its opposition to Jesus Christ and His kingdom, will oppose you as an ambassador of His rule. You see, you may not have realized this when you said, “Yes, I want to put my faith in Jesus, I want to receive His free gift of grace and salvation,” you may not have realized it, the Bible says that in that moment that you were born again by the Spirit of God, you became an ambassador of His kingdom. II Corinthians Chapter 5 says we are ambassadors of God, representatives of His kingdom. Paul says, in Philippians Chapter 3, that we are citizens of heaven, and so wherever we go, we represent our King, the King of kings, Jesus, and His rule. And since the world hates Him, they’re going to hate us, they’re going to turn their hatred towards us as His representatives. So the Christian is in the middle of conflict in the world constantly, not because of anything they have specifically done, but who they represent. And there’s not ifs, ands, or buts about it, there’s no way that we can get out of this. If you’re a Christians, that’s what you’ve signed up for, there will be conflict. And if you’re going to be a Christian who’s living like Christ in the world, you’re going to experience it all the more. And we’re seeing that take place more and more in our nation. Why? Well, because our nation is having a cultural shift. There was a time where people would default answer, “Yeah, I’m a Christian,” if you asked them about their spiritual heritage or who they were religiously. They would say, “Yeah, I’m a Christian, I’m this, I’m that, I believe in those sort of things.” But less and less that’s the reality, and more and more it becomes clear who we are. Jesus told Nicodemus, in John Chapter 3, “Men love darkness rather than light.” But we have, as Jesus said in Matthew Chapter 5, the light of Christ in us. So, where we go, if they hate the light, they’re not going to like us, and we’ll see ourselves in the midst of that kind of conflict.
And so Paul was experiencing that. And as long as a Christ-follower is in the world, they will experience conflict. If you were looking for a life without conflict, this was not it, the way of Jesus is not it. But, as much as possible, we should seek to live at peace with all people. As much as it relies upon us, we should try to turn the other cheek when they address their hatred towards us. We should seek to display the mercy and grace of Christ Jesus, which is completely antithetical to the way of this world. And yet, this is what God has called us to.
And so Paul is embroiled in the midst of this conflict. Verse 4, Acts Chapter 25, it says, “But Festus answered that Paul should be kept in Caesarea.” So, here they said, “Hey, listen, Festus, we want you to bring Paul up here, and we’ve got a plan secretly that we’re going to kill him. But bring him up here, summon him.”
And Festus says, “No, no, no, no, I’m not going to do that.” It said, “He should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was going there shortly.”
“I’m going to be going back down there in a week or so, after I evaluate what’s happening. That’s where my capital is, that’s where my office is, that’s where my home is. Therefore,” he said, “let those who have authority among you, who can make decisions on this case, go down with me and accuse this man, to see if there is any fault in him.”
For one reason or another, Festus was not going to agree to this request. Certainly there may have been other things on the table that he’s trying to bargain for peace with them. So interesting that 2,000 years ago there was, you know, people trying to have peace accords in the Middle East. It still hasn’t changed much in 2,000 years, and I suggest to you that it will not change until the Prince of Peace returns.
Perhaps Festus already knew that this plan or plot had been in place before. Maybe it was in the file, the brief that he had received on the Apostle Paul. “Hey, the Jews in Jerusalem want to kill this guy, and they’ve bound themselves in a pact to do that.” We don’t really know what it was. Maybe he didn’t want the hassle of having to extradite him back to Jerusalem after he’s down in Caesarea, and he’s going to go down there anyway. And so he just says, “No, no, no, no, no, we’re not going to do this.”
Point Number 2 on your outline:
God Providentially Works His Plan In This World
God providentially works His plan in this world. I think this is an important reminder for us, because, although it’s quite popular for Christians to quote verses like Romans 8:28 – “And we know that all things work together for good to those that love God, and are called according to His purpose.” I mean, many believers have committed that verse to memory; they quote that verse. When they’re talking with someone who’s going through a trial, when they’re standing next to the woman who’s been in a car accident and in the hospital bed, and they’re talking with the husband, they say, “And we know that all things work together for good…” It’s really easy for us to say that verse when Rich Gary gets the call from his doctor, we say, “Hey, and we know that all things work together for good to those that love God, and are the called according to His purpose.” But although we can memorize verses, and quote verses, and put them on greeting cards like that verse that we find that so many people believe, there is the reality that in many of our lives, although we know how to quote that verse, we don’t actually live it. We don’t live like we actually, confidently believe it.
You know, there are a lot of Christians who essentially live like practical atheists. They live like practical atheists, in that we say with our lips, “I trust that God is in control,” but we say with our lives that everything depends upon us. And so we have people that have made up verses that they attribute to Scripture, and they say things like, “God helps those who…[help themselves].” Yeah, you know that one. [laughter] You know, that’s not in the Bible. But that’s the way that many Christians live. We say with our lips, “God’s in control, He’s going to take care of this. All things work together for good.” But we say with our lives, “God helps those who help themselves.” We say with our lives, “It really depends more upon me and what I do in this situation.”
The Apostle James, one of the first books of the New Testament that was written, we believe, was written by James – you can turn there, near the end of your Bible, it’s right after the big Book of Hebrews – James Chapter 4. The Apostle James had something to say that is along these lines in Verse 13, James 4:13. Speaking to Christians, James says this: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such-and-such a city and spend a year there, we’ll buy and sell, we’ll make a profit.’” To the planners in the room, James says, “Hey, listen up, you who say, ‘Tomorrow we’re going to go to this place, we’ll do this, we’ll do that for a year, buy, sell, make a profit;’ whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life?”
How many of you had plans this week that got disrupted on Wednesday, by black smoke in the sky? “You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. For what is your life? Is it not even a vapor that appears a little time and vanishes away? Instead you ought to say…” So here’s the teaching from this. We all know we live like the first two verses, here’s the teaching: “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’” “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”
Now, two things: Number 1 – I’m not saying this just to you. I’m speaking to myself here. Secondly, I’m also not proclaiming that we should not plan. The Book of Proverbs makes that very, very clear. “By wise counsel wage war.” We are given many exhortations to make plans in the Scriptures to count the cost, to make sure that “before you start building, you’re able to finish,” Jesus says. Who goes out to war with 10,000 without evaluating first that he can take care of the guy who’s got 20,000. And so there’s a measure of planning, but there’s also the recognition that we may plan a way, but God directs our steps. And He is sovereignly working behind the scenes. He’s doing something, oftentimes things we don’t recognize, we don’t see. God is providentially working His plan in the world.
Now, I wonder, and I probably don’t need to because Paul was human, like us. He was not some sort of superhuman, super-saint. There he is in Caesarea, this guy who, I mean, from all accounts, from what we can tell in the Scriptures, this guy type A. Right? He was driven. He had a plan. He had things he wanted to do. He was going to Jerusalem, he was going to stop there, drop off some money, and then he headed to Spain, he was going to stop off in Rome. This guy had, if anybody had the 5-year plan, Paul had the 5-year plan. And now, God said, “Nope. Two years sitting here in Caesarea.” Can you imagine Paul probably sitting there going… [looking at his watch, twiddling his thumbs] Just, there he is, just waiting, in limbo, Caesarean purgatory for two years. And I’m sure there was a part of him that’s going, “What’s going on, God, what are You doing? I’m not quite sure what’s happening.” No letters were written during this time by Paul that we have, we don’t think. We’re just wondering what’s going on in Paul’s mind in that period of time as he’s just waiting there?
And then, all of a sudden, boom, things start moving again. But God was providentially working behind the scenes, He’s doing something even though Paul may not have seen it.
Verse 6, Acts 25: “When he had remained among the people there in Jerusalem for ten days,” Festus was there for a little more than ten days, so now he’s two weeks into his time – three days in Caesarea, a little more than ten days up there – he comes “down to Caesarea. The next day, sitting on the judgment seat,” the Bema seat, the authority, the power of the Roman province of Judea is there, “and he commanded Paul to be brought.”
There’s Paul, [twiddling his thumbs], guy comes in and says, “Hey, Paul, um, the new governor’s here, he’s summoned you to come and see him.”
Point Number 3 on your outline:
God’s Timing Is Always Different Than Ours
God’s timing is always different than ours. How many of you would admit today that this point bothers you? There’s a part of it that just drives us crazy. God’s timing is always different than ours. And sometimes when we read the Bible, we forget that moving from one chapter to the next, we’ve just advanced a large chunk of time. Two years has passed from Acts 24 to Acts 25, and Paul’s just been sitting there in that Caesarean purgatory. And some of you sitting here today, you feel like you’re in the same place. You feel like you’re in your own personal Groundhog Day. It’s just, everyday, the same thing, the same song wakes you up, the same thing every single day. You have the same cup of coffee in the same cup, and you drive the same route to the same office, and you sit in the same seat, and you deal with the same e-mail that seems to be coming back every single day, and you think, “I thought I dealt with this, I thought I dealt with this.” Anybody there? And you’re questioning whether or not, “God, are You doing anything? Where are You in this whole situation?”
“God, are You doing anything?” The answer to the question is: Yes. Yes, He is doing something, but His time is different than ours. And the reality is sometimes a day with the Lord seems like 1,000 years. You’ve been there. You’ve experienced that. And I believe that God has a special exhortation or encouragement for us today if you’re in that place. Galatians Chapter 6, Verse 9 says, “And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season you shall reap if you faint not.” Let us not get tired of doing the right thing, for in due season you’re going to reap a harvest if you don’t faint.
Any gardeners, farmers in the room? You’ve got a garden at home, lift up your hand high so I can see you. Just a few of you. We don’t exactly live in that culture necessarily anymore. You’ve got Jimbo’s down the road, why do you need to do that? Right? So, when I was 14 years old, I decided to get a job, and down the street from my house was a farm stand. So, I went down the street from my parents’ house to the farm stand, and I asked them if they’d give me a job. And they said, “Yeah, we’ll give you a job.” And they took me out to this field, several acres behind the farm stand. And they said, “Here’s your job, you’re going to farm this.”
I got, “I don’t know anything about farming.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll show you.” They plowed the field, they gave me this little tool to cut furrows down the field. And then they showed me what to plant, how to plant it, how to irrigate it, all the different things to do, how to set up the lines for the tomato plants and the bean plants and all those different things, and okra – the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted in my life. I know some of you like it. My wife loves it. It tastes like snot. Anyway… I just offended some southern folk, didn’t I? I know I did. So, you know, all these different things. So I planted this thing. You put these seeds in there, and you water it, and I go down there every morning and evening and water it, and weed it, and make sure everything was going on. And you know what, as a 14 year old that like, wants it like now!! It’s like [head down, sulking]. Plunk, “Oh!!” And it takes time. Jesus said, “Don’t say yet four months and then comes the harvest, for the harvest is white.” But the reality is there’s time between when you plant and when you harvest. And sometimes it can get – it can try your patience. And there are so many things in our lives that put us in that situation, where it’s trying our patience. And we’re asking in the middle of it, “Really, God, is this really what You’re doing?”
And now, in a moment, Paul gets the knock on the door. “Paul, Festus will see you now. The chief priest is here, the Sanhedrin, they are here. It’s time to go in.”
And then you can almost, I can see it in my mind, “The court is now in session, the Honorable Judge Festus presiding. Will the defendant, Saul of Tarsus, aka Paul the Apostle, please rise.” And there he is.
And now the prosecution appears to state their case, Verse 7: “When he had come, the Jews had come down from Jerusalem stood about and laid many serious claims.” Now, remember, the last time there were just three. They’ve had a couple of years to trump up the charges a little bit. Last time it was just, “He’s a pestilent fellow. We don’t like him. He’s the leader of a sect called the Nazarenes, we’re not cool with them. And he tried to defile the temple, we don’t like him.” Now, they come with many serious claims. They probably had all kinds of witnesses they’ve been pulling from everywhere – from back in Paul’s past. “Oh yeah, I remember this one time when he did this thing.” And, “Oh, yeah, let’s write that down.” “Okay.”
“Next.” They’ve been deposing people in Jerusalem for two years, building their case, and now the day has come. And they just unload the case there.
And there’s Paul, standing before them. And I love this, “They laid many serious complaints against Paul,” underline this in your Bibles, “which they could not prove.” “They could not prove.”
Point for us, Point 4:
Be Guilty Only Of Righteousness
Be guilty only of righteousness. As they laid these many serious complaints against Paul, they could prove none of them. And then they give Paul an opportunity to answer, Verse 8, “And Paul answered for himself, ‘Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all.’”
I love this defense. They’re standing there, who knows how long this preceding went on – hours they’re laying many serious charges. And there’s Paul, and they go, “All right, the prosecution rests.” Paul.
“Um, I’ve not broken any of the law of Moses. I have not broken any of the customs of the temple. I’ve not broken any of the laws of Caesar and Rome. Defense rests.” What an awesome statement. Two years prior to this, Paul, when he was at a trial in Jerusalem, he said, in Acts 23, Verse 1, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.”
Then, a short time after that, when he appeared before Judge Felix, in Caesarea, he testified, Acts 24, Verse 16, “I myself strive…” The Greek word means to exercise myself, I labor, “I strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.”
And now he stands before Festus two years later, and says, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything.” As Christians, followers of Jesus, we need to strive, exercise ourselves to live righteously. It doesn’t just happen. We’ve been made righteous by God, imputed righteousness from Jesus, God sees us as blameless, the Book of Ephesians says. Paul will write that just a short time after this. God sees us as blameless. But the reality is we know we’re not. And so, the Christian, by the power of God, needs to exercise themselves toward righteousness. Be guilty only of righteousness, that when someone looks at my life, they look at your life, they say, “There’s no charge that we can bring against them, because we know that person lives righteously, they live with honesty, integrity, self-control. The fruit of the Spirit, all those things are evident in their life.” So we Christians need to work at actually being righteous, to do the right thing, that’s what it means to be righteous.
In a later letter that Paul would write, in 1 Timothy Chapter 4, he says to Timothy, “Bodily exercise profits little.” How many of you go, “Yeah, I know that’s right?” “Bodily exercise profits little, but godliness” – implication: exercising godliness – “is profitable unto all things, both in this life and the life which is to come.” So his exhortation: “Beat your body,” 1 Corinthians Chapter 9, “to bring it under your control, to bring it under your subjection, that you are defining what it does, and it’s not dictating to you how you live.” And so we need to strive to live righteously, we need to work rigorously to do what is righteous, all the while recognizing that God is also working. So, God works and we work. Great proof text for this, in fact I would say it’s probably my favorite verse in the Bible, two verses – Philippians Chapter 2. Would you turn there just briefly – Philippians 2, Verse 12: “Therefore, my beloved,” Verse 12, Philippians 2, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed,” done the right thing, “not as in my presence only, not when I was watching over your shoulder, but also much more in my absence.” So, you’ve done the right thing both when I’m watching and when I’m not watching, “work out your own salvation,” exercise your salvation, “with fear and trembling.” Do the right thing in reverence towards God.
Now, if the verse stopped there, we would all be left in fear and trembling. But it doesn’t stop there. Verse 13: “…for it is God who works in you to will and to do His good pleasure.” New International Version says, “It is God who works in you to desire and do what pleases Him.” He gives us desires, and the ability to do what honors and pleases Him when you are born again. A baby, when it’s born, Victor and Gaby, they just had little baby Kevin this morning, that baby, when it came out, instantly when it came into this world, it had new desires – a desire to breathe, a-a-h-h; it wasn’t there before. Instantly it had a new desire to suck, to eat. Those desires will never go away in this life. When you became a born-again Christian, instantly you had new desires. One of them was to follow and obey God. And He gives you the power – God works and I work, but I have to work. There are some people in the world that say, “I have to do everything; it depends on me.” They’re wrong. There are some people who say, “I have to do nothing; God does everything.” They’re wrong. God works and I work; that’s what the Scriptures show. You can be a Calvinist, you can be an Arminiest, the fact is God works and I work. You have a responsibility, and He is sovereign. We stand in the middle and we say, “God, help me to do what is right and honorable before You.”
And Paul says, “I have lived in all good conscience before God and men unto this day.” God help me to be able to say the same thing.
Well, Verse 9: “But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor.” He’s a politician; he’s got to rule these people. Paul is a Roman citizen, he knows he’s done nothing wrong, he has to say, “If it doesn’t fit, you have to acquit.” He’s got to say, “Not guilty.” But, you know, this is problem, I’m the new guy here, I’ve got to try and make peace with these people, I’ve got to find a bargaining chip, and this is it, this is all I’ve got, this is all they give me. Paul.”
Okay. Wanting to do the Jews a favor, he answered Paul, “Hey, Paul, are you willing to go up to Jerusalem there to be judged before me concerning these things?” “I’ll be the judge. We’ll go up to Jerusalem, and I’m basically, we’re going to stand up in Jerusalem, and you’re going to stand up, and all I’m going to say is, ‘Not guilty!’ Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem to do that?”
“And so Paul said,” Verse 10, “’I stand at Caesar’s bema, judgment seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I’ve done no wrong, as you very well know. For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying.’” Awesome! “’But if there’s nothing in these things which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar,’” as his Roman right to do so. “I appeal to Caesar. I appeal to the supreme court. I’m at the appellate court, I want to go to the supreme court.”
“And then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, ‘You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!’”
Point Number 5, last point:
Always Be Ready To Give A Defense
Always be ready to give a defense, and if you’re only guilty of righteousness, this is not hard to always be ready to give a defense, to be able to stand before whoever God calls you to stand before, who will cast judgment upon you, be ready to give an answer, to give a defense. We already know, going into this life as Christians that we will be at the center of conflict because we represent the King and His kingdom. We know that God is providentially working behind the scenes, He’s doing a work in the world, and He’s using us. His timing is oftentimes not our timing, but He has a plan that He’s working. And so, as He’s working behind the scenes, we need to be working in the realm of humanity doing what it is right and honorable before God, because there’s going to come a day where He’s going to call upon you, out of the monotony of everything that you experience day in and day out, there’s going to come a moment where He calls upon you to give a defense for the hope that is within you with meekness and fear. Are you ready? Are you ready?
Well, Paul certainly was, and this text is instructing to us to be also ready as he was. Amen?
Okay, let’s stand together, and we’ll close in prayer.
God, it is clear that there are some standing here in this place right at this moment that are in the midst of conflict for Your namesake. Not because of anything that they did, but because of their representation of who You are. And Lord, we pray that when someone comes against us, that they will be ashamed because we have lived in a way that is in all good conscience before You and before humanity. Lord, I pray for my brothers and sisters who might be here in this place today who are waiting on You, and they feel like You are not doing Your part, You’re not keeping up Your end of the bargain. Lord, would You help them to not grow weary in doing what is right, and to trust that at the right time, You’re going to bring a harvest. Lord, help us to trust that it is true that You do work all things together for good, and to walk in that, without anxiety, casting our cares upon You, knowing that You care for us. And Lord, when the day comes, when the knock at the door comes, when we’re called to account, Lord, help us to make a defense with meekness and fear for Your glory, for we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.
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