Puff Or Stuff
1. Today we read chapter twenty-five. The passage immediately before it says the following: "Well, after two years although Porcius Festus was installed as Felix's successor, in order to please the Jews, he kept Paul in confinement as he had already been." Despite the fact Paul clearly demonstrated his innocence before Felix, in the final analysis he was not acquitted or let go. So after the passing of two years, Felix lost his position and even when Porcius Festus took office as his successor Paul stayed confined just like he had been. Luke explained that this happened so that Felix would "please the Jews." The truth is this phrase "in order to please the Jews" is used also with his successor Festus. (Verse nine). It looks like Luke is placing a point of emphasis here. So this phrase causes us to remember one of the personalities from the past. Indeed, there was once one of the governor-generals who twisted a good trial so as to please the Jews; it was the Judean governor Pontius Pilate. In short, here Luke is plotting out this passage so as to cause us to remember the scene with the Lord Jesus and Pilate in the twenty-third chapter of the Gospel of Luke. I would like for us to think together about what all this means as we check Luke's gospel and today's passage against each other.
Paul And Festus
2. Please look from Acts 25:1 on. Three days after Festus arrived at his post as governor-general he went up to Jerusalem. Though he had become governor of Palestine, it seems he was completely inexperienced in Jewish affairs. To go further, it seems he hardly knew anything about the problems between the Christian church and the Jewish adherents which his predecessor knew from inside out. So immediately upon his inauguration first he thought he ought to make contact with the Jewish "diet" and interview the leadership. At this point the Jews took advantage of the inexperience of Festus and they brought back the problem with Paul. They asked that Paul be re-sent to Jerusalem. They tried to re-activate the assassination of Paul which they were planning to do once before. Festus considered it a problem left over for him by his predecessor and it was proper for him to hear this case in due time. But on the other side of things, the Jewish delegation went down to Caesarea with him and made recommendations for the prosecution. So, the investigation into Paul's case was re-opened.
3. Beginning with verse six the circumstances of the re-trial are recorded. Luke does not give the contents of the record in any more detail. It just says in verse seven that "Although they alleged a number of serious charges against him, they could not prove them." Since they could not substantiate the charges, what Paul had to do was only to deny the charges. Paul explained, "I have not committed any crime against Jewish law, nor against the temple, nor against the emperor [Caesar]." Paul's inculpability or innocence was obvious. The judicial decision should have turned out "not guilty."
4. But, Festus did not pronounce Paul not guilty nor did he acquit him; he asked Paul "Would you like to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me for these charges?" Luke explained this as "trying to please the Jews." This certainly was a plan of compromise. Paul was obviously not guilty in light of Roman law. But, if he released Paul here, he would needlessly cause opposition with the ruling class at Jerusalem. He, however, could not simply extradite Paul just the way he was to the Jews, because Paul was a Roman citizen and under Roman law he was not guilty. In the end, since the Jews were seeking to return Paul to Jeru- salem the governor tried to comply with that request. But, Festus was acting like he wanted to go on with that very trial; he was thinking he needed to act like that in case problems lingered. But Paul refused this recommendation. So, he appealed to the emperor. Festus was thankful for this. This troublesome problem would be taken away from him. With that Festus had a discussion with the people of the jury and delivered Paul a verdict. "Because you appealed to Caesar, so be it that you appear before Caesar."
5. Well, the figures of Festus and Paul which we see here overlap with the figures of Pilate and the Lord Jesus which we see in the gospel account. Please look at chapter twenty-three in the Gospel of Luke. Paul stood as a powerless prisoner in front of the governor-general Festus. Likewise, Pilate in the gospel account is sketched as a man with authority to release or crucify a person, and we see the figure of the Lord Jesus as a powerless criminal made to stand before that kind of judiciary authority. During the times of both Festus and Pilate the power to administer the death penalty on a person did not extend to Jews. The ones authorized with jurisdiction to such power were the Romans. But, as Pilate was raising the sword of this world over his head, at the same time he was much taken in by fear and trembling. He was afraid. He felt like he had no idea what would happen to him if he turned the Jews into his enemies. John's Gospel has clearly recorded in it the mental state of such a Pilate. "The Jews answered. 'We have a law. According to our law, this man is worthy of execution for his crimes because he named himself the son of God.' When Pilate heard these words he grew more and more afraid and went back into the governor's palace, and he said to Jesus, 'Where do you come from?' But, Jesus would not answer," (John 19:7-8). While holding Jesus on trial, the truth was that it was actually Pilate who was being made to stand on trial before God. While he was gripped by fear, it was Pilate himself who was in interrogation for the current state of affairs.
6. It's the same in today's passage. I am going back to the Book of Acts. The character who has power over life and death and seems to be in control by strength built up by himself was in reality being moved by fear. So, the character Festus was an actual person who everyone remembered. What he really was had been disguised by showing others only the man who appeared to be a powerful person. Although letting it look like he did everything according to his own will and although letting it look like his life turned as his heart desired, in reality, he was dominated by unrest and fear. I think that is probably a typical characteristic which many people more or less experience.
7. However, before Festus stands the character of one more person. It's Paul. The Bible clearly shows in this character one more aspect of humanity. He does not have a must see face or a flashy personality. He was one sight for sore eyes kind of prisoner. But, he was not controlled by fear because he always knew by whom he was controlled. He was controlled by the One who stood before Pilate once before. He likewise was without a face that one had to see and was a person who did not have an illustrious personality, yet he was a person who stood trusting the entire trial over to the heavenly Father who would eventually correctly bestow judgement on him. So, Paul knew him as the One who was hung cruelly on the cross under human judgment until death; yet, he was the One who did not end with only judgment, crucifixion, and death; Paul knew that the victor Jesus, who was resurrected from the dead, was indeed his Lord. This is the One indeed who held in his hand Paul's future. Because he knew that fact of reality, Paul appealed in court to Caesar. At that time Paul knew intuitively and firmly that he was being led to Rome and heading for historical fulfilment but in a way which had never crossed his mind. The risen Lord was certainly showing that he was with Paul when he stood before the governor and that he was leading him to Rome.
Paul And Agrippa
8. Well, several days later king Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to show respect to Festus. This Agrippa the second was the last king of the Herodian dynasty. Herod Agrippa the first, who is this man's father, appeared in chapter twelve. He persecuted the early church and he was the character who killed James the brother of John with a sword. The father of Herod Agrippa the first is Herod Antipas the grandfather of king Agrippa who appears here. He was the character who decapitated John the Baptizer. He appeared also in Luke chapter twenty-three which we read before. In short, here as well, there appears to be a parallel relationship with the gospel account.
9. Please listen once more to Luke chapter twenty-three. When the governor Pilate learned that Jesus was a Galileean, he sent the Lord to Herod. Herod was a territorial lord over Galilee, and at that time period he had been sojourning in Jerusalem. What has been written here? "When he saw Jesus, he was very happy. He was happy because he heard the rumours about Jesus and since then he has been wanting to meet him, because he was hoping to see Jesus perform some kind of sign. Whereupon, he questioned him on various things; but, Jesus would not answer him in anything." (Luke 23:8-9). In short, he had the Lord brought in before him half- interestedly and then questioned him. But, the Lord did not answer anything. Then the text says, in conclusion, that "Herod along with his soldiers insulted and laughed at Jesus, then sent him back to Pilate with fancy clothes put on him," (verse eleven).
10. In the place we read today governor Festus brought Paul's case to the king. When Paul appealed to the emperor, he had been troubled over just one thing. Although escorting Paul as a prisoner, there wasn't a criminal charge which he could send in a letter. So, he would seek assistance from Agrippa who was rich in experience as an insider in Jewish society. Agrippa answered, "I really would like to hear what that man says." In actual practice Agrippa felt the existence of Paul was merely a curiosity. So, the next day they went into the audience room along with the town's leading persons. There prisoner Paul was brought forth.
11. Well, I would like us to make an observation here in verse twenty-three. It says, "Agrippa and Bernice arrived in beautiful attire." Though their names are written in order as husband and wife, to tell the truth, they were not husband and wife. Bernice was Agrippa's true younger sister. However, at the same time she was known as Agrippa's lover. It was probably not an unusual thing back then for the ruling classes to have an illicit relationship of enslavement in lust. (We are reminded here as well of the relationship of Herod Antipas and Herodia which was reprimanded by John the Baptizer.) It says they arrived wearing "beautiful attire." This is a word that can be translated also as "ostentation, show, pomp, puff," and we notice how to understand the meaning by which Luke used this word because he probably had known their actual situation. Though he had the appearance of a king, in truth he was a slave to sin. Accompanied by servants and appearing magnificently as though he had everything done up with majestic dignity, the truth was he was nothing but a wretched sinner who couldn't even rule himself. These are the kinds of people who summoned Paul. In order that it looked like there was no relationship with Paul they summoned Paul before themselves with half an interest. But, we realize here the connection of the words which Christ once spoke about Paul. "That man is an instrument I have chosen to spread my name to Gentiles, kings, and also to the children of Israel," (Acts 9:15). Those words are being fulfilled here. In short, even though they might have intended to summon Paul before them, in truth they were being summoned before God. They were being summoned before God as wretched criminals or sinners removed apart from all the puff and pomp.
12. Truly it is the same thing that happens to us. We think of ourselves always as the central focus of what we do. Even though one may not act with insincere interest in something like lord Herod and Agrippa did, still we make ourselves the center point of our attention, and we attempt to summon God's business and Christ's gospel before our presence. "I might try to read the Bible." "I might try to go to church and listen to thestories there." "I might try to study something about Christianity." Such intentions in themselves are never bad. Rather, it is admirable to begin seeking for the truth with sincerity. However, please understand something. Actually, by doing those things we are being summoned to God. Whether we notice it or not, all our appearances stand stripped away in the presence of God where misrepresentations and deceit are ineffective. So, that's the place where the message is that we ought to hear. A person that has stood before God as a sinner by himself has a message that he must hear. That is the message of the gospel which Paul continued to tell, and even now it is the message of the gospel which is still being told through the church.
13. I would like to learn and understand again from the next time about the contents of the gospel spoken to king Agrippa, but today I would try to retain in our hearts at least this one point about the compassion of the Lord that lies behind this event. As I mentioned before, Agrippa was the last king of the Herodian dynasty. I touched upon his father and grandfather already, but the father of grandfather Herod Antipas was really the famous Herod the Great who made the decision to massacre the sons two years and under who were in the entire area in and around Bethlehem, and he was the character who attempted to obliterate the Christ child. (Matthew 2:16). In this way the dynasty of Herod is described in the Bible in a certain sense as a lineage that continued to oppose Christ. You might say the house of Herod rejected the grace of God and is a representation of the world that is antagonistic to Christ. But, here God summons a king before his presence and he tells the good news of the gospel. What is the basis for God to do such a thing? It is simply by his compassion. It is by God's compassion for those who even antagonize him. So, by the same compassion we also today in the same manner are in the presence of God.