Wednesday, 12 Feb 2020
The Season of Epiphany
+ In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Opening: (A Collect for Epiphany)
O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Reading: Acts 24-25 (NLT)
Paul Appears before Felix
Five days later Ananias, the high priest, arrived with some of the Jewish elders and the lawyer Tertullus, to present their case against Paul to the governor. When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented the charges against Paul in the following address to the governor:
“You have provided a long period of peace for us Jews and with foresight have enacted reforms for us. For all of this, Your Excellency, we are very grateful to you. But I don’t want to bore you, so please give me your attention for only a moment. We have found this man to be a troublemaker who is constantly stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the cult known as the Nazarenes. Furthermore, he was trying to desecrate the Temple when we arrested him. You can find out the truth of our accusations by examining him yourself.” Then the other Jews chimed in, declaring that everything Tertullus said was true.
The governor then motioned for Paul to speak. Paul said, “I know, sir, that you have been a judge of Jewish affairs for many years, so I gladly present my defense before you. You can quickly discover that I arrived in Jerusalem no more than twelve days ago to worship at the Temple. My accusers never found me arguing with anyone in the Temple, nor stirring up a riot in any synagogue or on the streets of the city. These men cannot prove the things they accuse me of doing.
“But I admit that I follow the Way, which they call a cult. I worship the God of our ancestors, and I firmly believe the Jewish law and everything written in the prophets. I have the same hope in God that these men have, that he will raise both the righteous and the unrighteous. Because of this, I always try to maintain a clear conscience before God and all people.
“After several years away, I returned to Jerusalem with money to aid my people and to offer sacrifices to God. My accusers saw me in the Temple as I was completing a purification ceremony. There was no crowd around me and no rioting. But some Jews from the province of Asia were there—and they ought to be here to bring charges if they have anything against me! Ask these men here what crime the Jewish high council found me guilty of, except for the one time I shouted out, ‘I am on trial before you today because I believe in the resurrection of the dead!’” At that point Felix, who was quite familiar with the Way, adjourned the hearing and said, “Wait until Lysias, the garrison commander, arrives. Then I will decide the case.” He ordered an officer to keep Paul in custody but to give him some freedom and allow his friends to visit him and take care of his needs.
A few days later Felix came back with his wife, Drusilla, who was Jewish. Sending for Paul, they listened as he told them about faith in Christ Jesus. As he reasoned with them about righteousness and self-control and the coming day of judgment, Felix became frightened. “Go away for now,” he replied. “When it is more convenient, I’ll call for you again.” He also hoped that Paul would bribe him, so he sent for him quite often and talked with him.
After two years went by in this way, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And because Felix wanted to gain favor with the Jewish people, he left Paul in prison.
Paul Appears before Festus
Three days after Festus arrived in Caesarea to take over his new responsibilities, he left for Jerusalem, where the leading priests and other Jewish leaders met with him and made their accusations against Paul. They asked Festus as a favor to transfer Paul to Jerusalem (planning to ambush and kill him on the way). But Festus replied that Paul was at Caesarea and he himself would be returning there soon. So he said, “Those of you in authority can return with me. If Paul has done anything wrong, you can make your accusations.”
About eight or ten days later Festus returned to Caesarea, and on the following day he took his seat in court and ordered that Paul be brought in. When Paul arrived, the Jewish leaders from Jerusalem gathered around and made many serious accusations they couldn’t prove.
Paul denied the charges. “I am not guilty of any crime against the Jewish laws or the Temple or the Roman government,” he said.
Then Festus, wanting to please the Jews, asked him, “Are you willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there?”
But Paul replied, “No! This is the official Roman court, so I ought to be tried right here. You know very well I am not guilty of harming the Jews. If I have done something worthy of death, I don’t refuse to die. But if I am innocent, no one has a right to turn me over to these men to kill me. I appeal to Caesar!”
Festus conferred with his advisers and then replied, “Very well! You have appealed to Caesar, and to Caesar you will go!”
A few days later King Agrippa arrived with his sister, Bernice, to pay their respects to Festus. During their stay of several days, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. “There is a prisoner here,” he told him, “whose case was left for me by Felix. When I was in Jerusalem, the leading priests and Jewish elders pressed charges against him and asked me to condemn him. I pointed out to them that Roman law does not convict people without a trial. They must be given an opportunity to confront their accusers and defend themselves.
“When his accusers came here for the trial, I didn’t delay. I called the case the very next day and ordered Paul brought in. But the accusations made against him weren’t any of the crimes I expected. Instead, it was something about their religion and a dead man named Jesus, who Paul insists is alive. I was at a loss to know how to investigate these things, so I asked him whether he would be willing to stand trial on these charges in Jerusalem. But Paul appealed to have his case decided by the emperor. So I ordered that he be held in custody until I could arrange to send him to Caesar.”
“I’d like to hear the man myself,” Agrippa said.
And Festus replied, “You will—tomorrow!”
Paul Speaks to Agrippa
So the next day Agrippa and Bernice arrived at the auditorium with great pomp, accompanied by military officers and prominent men of the city. Festus ordered that Paul be brought in. Then Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are here, this is the man whose death is demanded by all the Jews, both here and in Jerusalem. But in my opinion he has done nothing deserving death. However, since he appealed his case to the emperor, I have decided to send him to Rome.
“But what shall I write the emperor? For there is no clear charge against him. So I have brought him before all of you, and especially you, King Agrippa, so that after we examine him, I might have something to write. For it makes no sense to send a prisoner to the emperor without specifying the charges against him!”
false charges and politics
Roman law does not convict people without a trial.
They must be given an opportunity to confront their accusers and defend themselves.
– Acts 25:16 –
As our reading of the Book of Acts nears its end, we find Paul imprisoned for two years in Caesarea contending with the false accusations of Jewish leaders, while the Roman authorities decide what to do with him. During this time Paul enjoyed considerable personal freedom as well as Roman protection from his Jewish enemies. He was also able to witness to the Good News of God’s grace in Jesus Christ to two provincial governors and a king.
Paul believed God would resurrect him from the dead, and therefore sought to maintain a clear conscience as he lived. In this regard, Paul’s witness to Felix and his wife Drusilla stand out.
Paul emphasized those things Jesus himself had promised – that the Holy Spirit would convict people of sin, righteousness, and judgment to bring them to faith. That’s when Felix and Drusilla became uneasy. He apparently was willing to discuss theology but not personal morality and responsibility. These subjects terrified him.
Questions for consideration:
- What was the determining factor in your making a decision to follow Jesus? Please explain.
- Before becoming a believer, did you postpone making your decision? Why? Please explain.
- Do you think it’s easier for younger, or older, people to decide to follow Jesus? Why? Please explain.
- Do you know people willing to discuss theology but not personal morality and responsibility? Please explain.
- The Holy Spirit convicts people of sin, righteousness, and judgment. How do you think that affects a person’s decision to follow Jesus? Please explain.
Prayer: For the Discouraged and Downcast
O God, almighty and merciful, you heal the broken-hearted, and turn the sadness of the sorrowful to joy, Let your fatherly goodness be upon all whom you have made. Remember in pity all those who are this day destitute, homeless, elderly, infirm, or forgotten. Bless the multitude of your poor. Lift up those who are cast down. Mightily befriend innocent sufferers, and sanctify to them the endurance of their wrongs. Cheer with hope all who are discouraged and downcast, and by your heavenly grace preserve from falling those whose poverty tempts them to sin. Though they be troubled on every side, suffer them not to be distressed; though they are perplexed, save them from despair. Grant this, O Lord, for the love of him who for our sakes became poor, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Sing It From The Shackles” – Rend Collective
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever He may send you. May He guide you through the wilderness, and protect you through the storm. May He bring you home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown you. May He bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors.
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen