I. The Story
A. Before the Sanhedrin ( 22:30-23:10)
- As Paul begins his defense, the high priest orders those standing next to Paul to strike him in the mouth because of what he said. At the command, Paul calls the high priest a “whitewashed wall.” This was just another way of calling the high priest a hypocrite because the outside of his life looked white and pure, but it was simply a façade covering up the evil inside. What Paul said was true for Ananias was a Roman vassal who was known for his greed and stealing the tithe from the poorest priests. However, upon learning that Ananias was the high priest, Paul essentially apologizes, not knowing that he was a ruler.
- When Paul realized that one part of the assembly were Pharisees and the other Sadducees, Paul takes the opportunity to cause confusion. Paul declares that he is a Pharisee who was on trial for believing in the hope of the resurrection of the dead. This causes a violent dispute to break out (since the Pharisees and Sadducees were notorious for their disagreements over the resurrection). When the dispute became too violent, the Roman commander again must intervene and orders Paul to be taken to the barracks.
B. Death plot ( 23:11-35)
- The following night the Lord came to Paul and told him to have courage for he will give his testimony of the Lord in Rome. The next day a conspiracy was formed that the Jews would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. The plot was to bring Paul back before the Sanhedrin. On the way to the trial, the Jews would have him killed. But Paul’s nephew finds out about the conspiracy and reports this information to a Roman centurion, who reports this to the commander.
- Because of this death plot, the commander orders two centurions to get 200 soldiers, 70 cavalry, and 200 spearmen ready to go to Caesarea. In Caesarea is Felix, the governor of the region. Historians Tacitus and Josephus declare that Felix was totally corrupt and accuse him of bloody massacres and repression. The commander, whose name is now revealed as Claudius Lysias, sends a letter with Paul and the Roman escorts. In the middle of the night Paul is brought to Caesarea.
C. Before Felix (24:1-27)
- Five days pass and Ananias the high priest come to Caesarea along with other Jewish elders and the lawyer named Tertullus, who will try the case against Paul. In the first nine verses of chapter 24 we read Tertullus’ prosecution of Paul. Here are the charges laid against Paul: (1) an agitator among the Jews throughout the Roman world, (2) a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes, and (3) tried to desecrate the temple.
- Paul’s defense of these charges is rather simple: (1) I have not caused any disturbances, (2) the Jews can proved no evidence to support their charges, and (3) I believe all things written in the Law and the Prophets. Overall, Paul says that the only reason he is in Caesarea is that he is being judged concerning the resurrection of the dead.
- After hearing the case, Felix takes time in making a decision. In fact, Felix sees an opportunity to make money. Verse 26 tells us that Felix was hoping that Paul would give him money for his release. But the previous verse also tells us that Felix was frightened by Paul’s words about righteousness and self-control since he was deserving of judgment concerning these areas. Two years pass as Paul remains in Caesarea until Festus is appointed as Felix’ successor.
D. Before Festus (25:1-12)
- According to Josephus, Festus was a much more favorable ruler and did not suffer from the corruption that Felix did. Festus makes a journey to Jerusalem where the chief priests and Jewish leaders present their case against Paul. They asked Festus to send Paul to Jerusalem, since they were still preparing an ambush to kill him as he would travel to the city. Festus declares that the trial will be held in Caesarea and that the Jewish leaders should come there and present their charges.
- About a week and a half later another trial is given to Paul. The Jewish leaders again brought many serious charges against Paul but none of these charges could be proven. Paul continued to make his defense that he had done nothing against Jewish law, against the temple, nor against Caesar. Festus, in a desire to do the Jews a favor and unaware of the conspiracy to kill him (as far as we know), asked Paul if he would go to Jerusalem and stand trial for the charges against him. Seeing that his death would certainly come if he went back to Jerusalem and receiving God’s message that he must go to Rome, Paul appeals to Caesar. Only Roman citizens had this right and Paul exercises his right to go to Rome.
E. Before Agrippa (25:13-26:32)
- It just so happens that a few days later that King Agrippa arrived in Caesarea. Agrippa ruled a small part of Palestine and worked with the Roman administration. He is historical recorded as being an advocate for his people but also loyal to Rome. Festus speaks to Agrippa about Paul’s case because he really does not know what to do with him. The problem for Festus is that Paul has been imprisoned for two years and now Paul has appealed to be heard by Caesar. However, Festus does not have any charges to write against Paul. It is in this area that Festus asks Agrippa for help. What charges should we write against Paul to present before Caesar?
- Therefore, Paul is brought before Festus and Agrippa. Paul begins his defense in chapter 26. During Paul’s explanation, Festus cried out, “You’re out of your mind, Paul! Too much study is driving you mad!” (vs. 24). To the Roman mind, all that Paul was speaking about sounded ludicrous. Paul even calls upon Agrippa who seems to be convinced of the story Paul is proclaiming. However, Agrippa bristles at Paul’s implications saying, “Are you going to persuade me to become a Christian so easily?” (vs. 28).
- After Paul concludes his defense, Agrippa and Festus confer and conclude that Paul has not done anything deserving of death. However, in verse 32 Agrippa states, “This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.” This phrase has been often misunderstood. Agrippa is not saying that Paul could not be released because he had made this appeal. Many prisoners were released after making a similar appeal. This was not the issue at all. They are declaring what they are going to tell the emperor as to why he is coming to Rome. There are no charges to present. Festus and Agrippa are saying that they would have let him go, but he wanted to stand before you, O Emperor.
A. God works through the small things and small circumstances.
- In this story of Paul’s life we given another instance where God uses small things to accomplish his purposes. There are times where we see God using great things to accomplish his will. But too often we overlook the way God works through the smaller things of life to bring about his plan.
- We should be aware of this truth because it is how the story of the scriptures. Man was created out of dust, showing that God has the power to use the small things, even the seemingly worthless things, to accomplish his purpose. God could have used a much grander substance, since all of the creation had been completed up to that point except the creation of animals and humans. But God chose dust, stating later: “Dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19).
- How many times God has accomplished great things out of small circumstances!!! David was a nobody whose father even overlooked when it was time to anoint a new king. But God would use David to become the greatest king of Israel ever. Moses was a certain nobody. Fleeing the status of Egypt, Moses is a shepherd for 40 years until God calls him to lead his people through the great exodus. The virgin birth of Jesus took place with a woman named Mary, an unknown, in a nowhere city of Bethlehem, and grew up in a ridiculed place of Nazareth. God delights in using the little things.
- This is especially true when it comes to the trials of life. God uses us during our darkest hours and difficult times to accomplish his purposes. Do not believe it? Joseph’s seemingly insignificant circumstances and painful ordeals would bring about God’s purpose of deliverance. Who would know at the time? Joseph had to continue to have faith in God. In our dark times, we do not know what God’s purpose is for us. Perhaps the purpose is nothing more than growing and testing our faith, which is very important. But perhaps God is working something greater. We cannot ignore the repeated history of how God works through the small things.
B. What will you do with Jesus?
- The responses of these important rulers are fascinating to consider. Festus simply dismisses Paul’s explanation outright. He does not want to listen and does not really care. We have dealt with this attitude in previous lessons. But what about Agrippa’s response?
- Paul seems to gather intuitively that Agrippa is believing what Paul is saying. But Agrippa dodges the possibility by stating, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Agrippa’s response is the same response men and women have been given for a couple thousand years and still give today. The Savior is proclaimed and the call to turn from sins is declared. While believing the message proclaimed, they allow something within themselves to ignore the conviction they have. They begin to talk themselves out of what they need to do. Or they allow doubt to swirl in their minds until they discount that they had any belief at all.
- Did you see Paul’s response to Agrippa? Whether it is easy or whether it is difficult for you to make this decision, you need to make this decision. This choice to submit to God is too important. Why continue to ignore God when the evidence is all around us? The universe declares there is a God. The scriptures declare there is a God. History declares there is a God. The empty tomb of Jesus declares there is a God. Our consciences declare there is a God. But we suppress the things that we know and continue to believe a lie. “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). What is the point to living the way you are for these few years only to serve eternity in torment? Save your soul today through the blood of Jesus Christ.