SERMON DELIVERED ON 12-28-19    

       We ended last time with Paul under house arrest in Caesarea and appearing in a trial before the Roman Governor Felix.  The high priest and other leadership of the Jews had come down from Jerusalem to Caesarea to present their case against Paul. As you may remember, Paul, while in Jerusalem, had been accused by some Jews from Asia of teaching against Jewish customs, the Mosaic Law and the temple and having brought Greeks into the temple area.  The Jews sized him and when Paul tried to defend himself before the Jews, a riot broke out and the Roman authorities came to Paul’s rescue and took him to Caesarea, a trip of 40 some miles from Jerusalem. 

       Now in Caesarea, a lawyer named Tertullus represented the Jewish leadership in presenting to Governor Felix the Jews case against Paul.  Tertullus informs Felix that they have found Paul to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world and that he is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple and that is why they seized him.  We discussed in some detail last time the issue of Paul being referred to as the ringleader of the Nazarene sect.

       After the Jews laid out their case against Paul, Felix motioned to Paul to speak and here is his response.

       Acts 24:12b-15:  "I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense.  You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship.  My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city.  And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me.  However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets,  So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man, and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 

       Paul begins by showing respect to Governor Felix by noting his years of service to the Jewish nation.  He proceeds to counter his accusers by denying their accusations that he was stirring up the crowd at the temple or anywhere else in the city.

       He acknowledges being a worshiper of the same God they worship but also readily admits to being a follower of the Way which was to say he believed Jesus to be the Christ, the promised Messiah to Israel.  He follows his statement about belief in Christ by saying he believes everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets.  This may have been Paul telling his accusers that he believed Jesus to be the promised Messiah because Jesus perfectly fit what had been said about the promised Messiah in the Law and the prophets.

       Paul goes on to say he had the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.  This last statement of Paul’s is rather interesting. You may recall that when we covered Paul’s trial before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 23, we saw how Paul  pitted the Sadducees against the Pharisees by saying he was a Pharisee and suggesting he was on trial because of his hope in the resurrection of the dead.  Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection from the dead whereas Pharisees did.

       When Paul said what he said about resurrection in front of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, it caused such a violent dispute between the Sadducees and Pharisees that Roman soldiers were called in by the Roman commander because he feared Paul would be torn to pieces. Paul was taken into Roman custody and this led to Paul being sent to stand trial before Governor Felix in Caesarea

       Now we see Paul again speaking of his belief in the resurrection and further saying this was the same hope that those he was addressing had. Was Paul again trying to divide Sadducees and Pharisees?  We saw in Acts 24:1 that it was the high priest Ananias with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus that went down to Caesarea to bring charges against Paul before Governor Felix.  Ananias would have been a Sadducee as it was the party of the Sadducees that the high priests belonged.  Others had come down to Caesarea with Ananias, some of whom may have been Pharisees.  Whether Paul was again trying to gain the advantage by pitting Sadducee against Pharisee we can’t be sure.  Paul then goes on to say the following:

       "After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin-- unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: `It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.'"

       Paul continues to defend himself by revealing he had come to Jerusalem to bring gifts for the poor and to worship at the temple. He explains his presence in the temple courts was in harmony with the requirements of the Law.  You will remember Paul had joined several other Jews in participating in a Mosaic regulation involving the taking of a vow.  He reiterates that he was not involved in any disturbance.

       He goes on to show it was some Jews from the province of Asia that had brought charges against him and they are the ones who should be here at his trial so he could appropriately defend himself. We had covered this event in our review of Acts 21. Paul then challenges those present to provide evidence of the things they are charging him with.  He asks if it was his shouting about the resurrection of the dead was the reason he was on trial.  Remember it was the proclamations of his belief in the resurrection that prompted the disturbance before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. 

       Paul very likely said more but this is what is recorded of his defense before Governor Felix. It is then stated that upon hearing out Paul, Felix adjourned the proceedings and advised Paul that when Lysias the commander come he would decide Paul’s case. Lysias was the Roman commander who had rescued Paul from the Jewish mob in Jerusalem.  Felix, being the judge that he was, wanted to hear the Roman side of the accusations against Paul before deciding his case.

       It is also recorded that Governor Felix was well acquainted with the Way.  We discussed the use of the moniker “the Way” in a previous sermon in this series.  Calling the developing Christian community the Way apparently was a common way of identifying the Christian movement at the time.

       The fact Felix is said to have been well acquainted with the Way shows that by this time in the development of the Christian community, there was wide spread knowledge about the Christian movement. It could also be that Felix had done some personal investigation into the Way.  This is indicated by the fact that several days after the trial, Felix sent for Paul to meet with he and his wife Drusilla to learn more about what Paul was teaching. It’s recorded that Drusilla was a Jewess.  Here’s what happened next;

       Acts 24:25-26: As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, "That's enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you." At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.

       So here we have a Roman Governor married to a Jewish woman which means he probably had at least some knowledge of the Mosaic Law including its moral requirements. When Paul speaks of righteousness, self control and judgement to come, this became a little too much for Felix.  Here is probably why.

       According to Roman historians of the time, Felix was formerly a slave but was promoted by Claudius Caesar to the office of governor. His full name was Marcus Antonius Felix. He was appointed as governor of Judea about A.D. 52. Felix and his brother Pallas were freed slaves of Claudius’ mother Antonia. The Roman historian Tacitus described Felix as “cruel, licentious, and base.”  When he met Drusilla she was married to a man named Azizus, a Syrian king.  She was the daughter of King Agrippa I and was alleged to be very beautiful. Apparently Felix persuaded her to leave Azizus and marry him.  Felix also married the granddaughter of Anthony and Cleopatra and had a third wife as well. Here is what he looked like.

       As can be seen, Felix wasn’t exactly a model of righteousness. When Paul spoke to him about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, it is recorded he was afraid. I can see where he might become afraid as he inwardly reflected upon his lack of righteousness, self-control and the judgment he might face because of it.  On the other hand he apparently wasn’t too afraid as he was hoping Paul would offer him a bribe to be released.  One has to wander if he and Drusilla invited Paul for a private meeting to really learn more about what Paul was teaching or was it all about an attempt to entice Paul into offering a bribe. 

       Acts 24 ends with Paul spending the next two years as a prisoner. Felix ordered that Paul be kept under guard but also ordered that he be given some freedom and be permitted to have his friends to take care of his needs.  At first look it appears Felix kept Paul under guard to prevent the Jews from abducting him.  If this was the case, the retaining of Paul in prison would be an example of the modern day practice of keeping someone in protective custody.  On the other hand it appears Felix retained Paul not so much to protect him but simply as a matter of politics.

       Acts 24:27: When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.”

       Historical sources of the time report that Felix was not a capable administrator and had made a mess of things in governing Judea. He was recalled and replaced by Festus. Not much is known about Festus prior to his appointment as governor of Judea. Josephus wrote favorably about him saying he was fair and a much better administrator than was Felix.

       Apparently Felix had no good legal reason to keep Paul in prison but to keep peace with the Jews; he left Paul in prison, an apparent political decision. How often to this very day we see government officials making decisions based on politics rather then on what is the right moral thing to do.

       Beginning in Acts 25, we see that Festus, three days after arriving in Caesarea to become the new Governor, he travels to Jerusalem to meet with the chief and Jewish leadership. The Jewish leadership wasted no time in bringing to the attention of Festus the Paul problem.

       Acts 25 3-5: They urgently requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way. Festus answered, "Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. Let some of your leaders come with me and press charges against the man there, if he has done anything wrong."

       Remember now, two years had gone by since Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea. During these two years Paul was unable to travel and continue his ministry. Presumably he had no contact with the Jerusalem Jewish leadership. Yet one of the first things they confronted Festus with was the Paul problem.  They requested of Festus that Paul be transferred to Jerusalem, not so that they could put him on trial but so they could have him killed. They had already passed judgement on Paul. He was worthy of death.  It is apparent the Jewish leadership had a deep seated hatred of Paul.

       As discussed in the past, Paul had been a high ranking Pharisee. As we see from the Gospels, the Pharisees were the chief antagonists of Jesus during His ministry and played a pivotal role in bringing about His death. When the Christian movement began to take shape, the Pharisee Paul took it upon himself to wipe it out. He was probably seen as a rock star within the Parasitic community. Here was a man who was leading the pack against the developing Christian movement.

       Then Paul does a total 360. He embraces the very movement he was seeking to destroy. This did not sit well with the party of the Pharisees. Just as they sought and were successful in bringing about the death of Jesus, they were now intent on bringing about the death of Paul.   

       Reading on in Acts 25, we see that Festus returned to Caesarea and the day after his arrival he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him.  When Paul appeared, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many serious charges against him, which they could not prove. Then Paul made his defense.  He said, "I have done nothing wrong against the law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar."

       It is then recorded that Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, asked Paul if he was willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before him there. Apparently Festus was willing to conduct the trail of Paul in Jerusalem. Like his predecessor Felix, he was doing a little politicking in that he was trying to appease the Jews. Here is Paul’s response.

       Acts 25:10-11: Paul answered: "I am now standing before Caesar's court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!"

       Paul knew that Festus knew that Paul hadn’t done anything wrong and was suggesting he be returned to Jerusalem to stand trial as an appeasement to the Jews. After all Festus, being their new Roman governor, wanted to generate good will between himself and those he was sent to govern.  Paul knew that returning to Jerusalem would be a death sentence. The Jews would find a way to kill him.  Paul being a Roman citizen knew he had the right to be tried in a Roman court and to appeal to Caesar and that is what he did. 

       It is recorded that after Festus conferred with his council, he approved Paul’s request to appeal to Caesar.  Some days later King Agrippa II and his sister Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus.  King Agrippa was Herod Agrippa II, part of the Herod Family dynasty that ruled in Judea for many years.

       It all started with Herod the Great who ruled at the time Christ was born and tried to have the Christ child killed. Herod the Great was an Edomite which means he was a descendant of Esau who was a Son of Isaac who was a son of Abraham. So while Herod was a descendant of Abraham through Isaac he was not an ethnic Jew as the Jews were descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob Isaac’s other son.  As you will remember, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel and his twelve sons became known as the twelve tribes of Israel.  So even though Herod wasn’t an ethnic Jew he was brought up in southern Judea and was basically raised as a Jew. 

       Herod the great was followed by his son Herod Antipas who had John the Baptist executed and sat in judgment at one of Jesus’ trials.  Then followed Herod Agrippa I who ruled over Judea and Samaria from 41-44 AD. This is the Herod who is seen as killing Apostle James and imprisoning Peter as we covered in Acts chapter 12.  Finally, we have the son of Agrippa I, Julius Marcus Agrippa AKA Agrippa II. He had two sisters, Bernice and Drusilla. This is the same Drusilla who we discussed earlier who became the wife of Governor Felix. While Agrippa II never married, it is reported he had an incestuous relationship with his sister Bernice.

       Bernice is a rather interesting historical figure.  She was the great granddaughter of Herod the Great.  She married three times.  At about 13 years of age she married Marcus, the nephew of philosopher Philo a well known intellectual of the period. Marcus soon died.  At age 16 she married an uncle who was King of Chalcis at the time which means she now was a queen. Well, it wasn’t long before this king died and at age 22 she married king Polemo of Cilicia.  This marriage didn’t work out too well and she left Polemo and became involved with her brother Agrippa.

       Sometime later she met the Roman general Titus, son of the emperor Vespasian, and began an intense love affair with him.  After the Roman/Jewish war of 66-73 AD she went to Rome with Titus. She was not well accepted in Rome and left the city only to return when Titus became the Emperor hoping to marry him. This didn’t happen however and we don’t know much about Bernice after this.  Here is what she looked like.

       When Agrippa and his sister arrived for their visit with Festus, Festus told Agrippa about Paul's case. He explained how the Jews brought charges against Paul but nothing of the kind that would warrant the kind of punishment the Jews wanted to inflict on Paul. Festus explained that the Jews had a dispute with Paul about points of their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. Festus then tells Agrippa that he was at a loss as to how to investigate these matters so he asked Paul if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there whereupon Paul made his appeal to Caesar.  

       Agrippa, after hearing what Festus had to say about this matter told Festus he would like to hear from Paul himself.  So Festus arranged for this to happen. It is recorded that the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp into the room where the meeting was to take place.  There were also present other high ranking officers and the leading men of the city. Then Paul was brought in.  Festus is seen as starting the meeting by explaining that the whole Jewish community has petitioned him both in Jerusalem and in Caesarea to condemn Paul and that this man ought not to live any longer.

       Chapter 25 ends with Festus explaining that he had found nothing in Paul deserving of death but because he made his appeal to Caesar he had decided to send him to Rome. Festus further explains that he had nothing definite to write to the Caesar about Paul and because of this he had brought Paul before King Agrippa and the others present in the hope that they may detect something that he could rightly accuse Paul of and write to Caesar accordingly.  He concludes his remarks by saying, “For I think it is unreasonable to send on a prisoner without specifying the charges against him."

       Acts 26 begins with Paul being given permission to speak before the gathering. He begins his defense by making the some introductory remarks.

       Acts 26:2-3: King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.

       Paul felt himself fortunate to make his defense before King Agrippa because Agrippa is seen as being well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. So it is evident Paul felt comfortable appearing before Agrippa.  Paul goes on to testify to his being a dedicated Pharisee and says that it is because of his hope in what God has promised the fathers that he is on trial today. He goes on to identify that hope as resurrection of the dead.

       He relates how he was convinced that he ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth and how he went about persecuting those who believed in the Christ event.  He then tells of his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. He goes on to say how he was obedient to the vision began to preach Christ; first in Damascus, then Jerusalem and all Judea and then to the Gentiles as well.  He tells Agrippa that he preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. 

       He then tells Agrippa that this is why the Jews seized him in the temple courts and tried to kill him.  He concludes by saying he was saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen--that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles."

       At this point Festus interrupted Paul and said, "You are out of your mind, Paul!" he shouted. "Your great learning is driving you insane" to which Paul responded that he was not insane and that he was saying is true and reasonable. He further states that the king is familiar with these things and asks King Agrippa, if he believed the prophets and said, “I know you do."

       Agrippa replies to Paul by saying, "Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" Paul replies, "Short time or long--I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains."

       Chapter 26 ends with the king, governor and Bernice leaving the room, and talking to each other.  They concluded that Paul wasn’t saying or doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.  Agrippa says to Festus, "This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar."