Acts 25

Acts chapters 24-26 tell the story of a legal battle that consumed Paul’s life for over two years. In fact, it reads like the script of a courtroom drama. In chapter 24 Paul defended himself before Governor Felix of Caesarea, who detained him for two years without rendering a decision about his case.

In chapter 25 we find that a man by the name of Porcius Festus had replaced Felix as governor. Festus inherited Paul as a prisoner waiting for justice, and he also inherited Jewish leadership with an agenda. The Jews asked for Paul’s extradition to Jerusalem — they wanted him back because they still had murder on their minds — but Festus set another trial date there in Caesarea. The lawyers from Jerusalem came and made the same accusations as two years before, and Paul entered the same plea again: not guilty. He testified, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense” (v.8).

Festus advised, “If you are not guilty, don’t you want to go stand trial in Jerusalem and clear your name?” But Paul knew what would happen if he went back to Jerusalem — he would be assassinated. And Paul knew that Jesus had told him that he would end up in Rome (Acts 23:11, “As you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.”) So Paul said (v.11), “I appeal to Caesar.”

​Roman law allowed a citizen of the Empire like Paul the right to appeal directly to the Emperor. Festus therefore had to either pronounce Paul innocent and release him, or send him on to Rome to plead his case before Caesar himself. It was more politically expedient for him to honor Paul’s request, but he had a dilemma: what would he tell Caesar about the Paul’s case and why he wasn’t able to settle it himself? Fortunately for Festus, help arrived in the form of Jewish royalty: a King Agrippa.

​Agrippa was in the Jewish royal family. He was the ruler of the province that included Jerusalem, and he had close ties to Rome and Caesar. If Festus could get Agrippa’s endorsement on his report to Caesar, it would be a lot more credible. Bernice, Herod’s sister, was with him, and she was very well-connected, too. At the appointed time, Agrippa and Bernice entered the audience hall with great pomp. The hearing was to be a public event, and the hall was filled with the prominent citizens of Caesarea and the military brass of the province. Paul was brought in and his case was introduced by Festus.

Think about this scene: Paul, the great apostle, stands in a Gentile court, surrounded by fools. The man of God was bound with chains, a political pawn in a game of thrones. He was a prisoner because he had simply tried to obey the command of Jesus to preach the gospel. Why would God allow one of His greatest servants to suffer imprisonment and humiliation like that? Is this the way God rewards His children for their devotion to Him?

I am convinced that Paul was not asking questions like that. I think he knew that God had sovereignly arranged the circumstances to get His man before a large audience of powerful people so that they could hear the gospel. In fact, I think Paul was excited about the opportunity!

Could it be that the unpleasant situation in which you find yourself is actually a God-ordained opportunity to be a witness? Think about it. Are you being faithful?

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Acts 24

At the conclusion of Paul’s third missionary journey, he went to Jerusalem to give a report to the original church. While he was there he went to the Jewish Temple to give an offering for the poor, and he was spotted by the leaders of the Jews who hated Jesus and consequently, hated Paul. They dragged him out of the Temple and almost killed him, but the Roman military stepped in and took him into custody. The commander sent Paul to the governor of that region of the Roman Empire, a man by the name of Felix. Felix had the reputation of being a cruel man. He had a record of violence, oppression, and injustice.

​On the day of Paul’s hearing, the Jews showed up with a professional orator named Tertullus (v.1). They had hired the proverbial high-priced attorney to bring their charges against Paul. That is how badly they wanted Paul convicted and sentenced to death. This hearing was something like a grand jury that hears testimony to determine if there is enough evidence to hand down an indictment.

Verses 5-6 record the two charges against Paul. The first was inciting riots among the Jews of the world. This was a serious charge, because a governor like Felix was supposed to keep the peace by eliminating trouble-makers. They called him a “plague” and a “ringleader of a sect”. If Paul was a plague, he was a plague on Satan’s kingdom, and if a ringleader, he was a ringleader of soul-winners! ​The other charge was defiling the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The Jews were trying to establish jurisdiction, making a case that Paul should be tried by Jews in Jerusalem.

​Then Felix nodded to Paul to present his defense (v.10-21). After hearing Paul, Felix adjourned the proceedings. It was clear to him that the accusations were bogus, but he needed a “win” with the Jewish leaders — and he couldn’t get that by releasing Paul. So he delayed judgment for two solid years. Maybe he thought that if he delayed long enough the Jews would calm down and forget the case. He was wrong about that. But in the meantime he sent for Paul to share the gospel with him and his wife, Drusilla (v.24-25).

Felix heard Paul testify in regard to righteousness and self-control (which Felix had none of) and judgment. Judgment. Maybe Paul said the same thing he told the philosophers of Athens in Acts 17:31, “God has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained (Jesus).” Felix became afraid as Paul talked about judgment, and he dismissed him until a more convenient time.

Do you realize what happened there? As Paul spoke the truth and shared the gospel, God began to convict the heart of the governor. He was more aware than ever before of his sin and his lostness and his need for a Savior. He was more open than ever before to the Spirit of God…but he let the opportunity pass until later. Felix’s heart was convicted, his emotions were stirred, but he would not surrender to Jesus. As far as we know, he procrastinated himself into hell.

Acts 23

Imagine that you are a Roman soldier, and your assignment is to stand guard at the door of a cell in the basement of the governor’s mansion, known as Herod’s Praetorium, in ancient Caesarea (v.35). You ask another guard, “Who are we guarding tonight?” “His name is Paul,” he says and adds, “I haven’t seen him yet, but he must be powerful, important, and dangerous!” “Why do you say that?” you ask. Your fellow soldier says, “Here is the story I’ve been told — everywhere this man goes he starts a riot. The other day he caused such an uproar in Jerusalem that everyone wanted to kill him!” (Acts 21:30-35)

You say, “This Paul sounds like a really tough customer.” The other guard says, “That’s not all. I heard that they took him before the Jewish council, and those religious men completely lost it, throwing dirt into the air, shouting, and not acting very religious at all.” (Acts 22:22-24)

“Wow,” you say, “who is this guy?!” He replies, “Well listen to this — there is an active plot to murder him as we speak. Forty Jewish assassins have sworn an oath that they will kill him. They had already beaten him, and would have killed him if the commander of the Roman garrison hadn’t stepped in and taken him into protective custody. Now he has sent Paul here in the middle of the night, 60 miles away from Jerusalem (Acts 23:12-22). And listen to the commander’s orders for his transport: 200 foot soldiers, 70 mounted soldiers, and 200 spearmen – that’s 470 guards for one prisoner!” (Acts 23:23-24)

“No way!” you say. “Yes way!” says the other guard. You say, “I’ve got to get a look at this guy. Let’s peek in…”

Imagine that you crack open the cell door. The light from the corridor awakens the sleeping figure on the bed. He sits up, rubs his eyes, and slowly stands. What do you see looking back at you? One ancient description of him (from a document called “The Acts of Paul and Thecla,” which may or may not be true) says: “Paul is a man small in size, bald-headed, bow-legged, well-built, with eyebrows meeting, rather long-nosed, full of grace. For sometimes he seemed like a man, and sometimes he had the countenance of an angel.”

If I had to offer an opinion, I’d guess that description is probably accurate because if someone was going to fabricate a physical description, wouldn’t they make Paul sound a little more attractive? I wonder, do you think Paul would have caught the eye of a pastor search committee? I can just hear the committee discussing their candidates and someone says, “Oh, was he the short, bow-legged, bald guy with the big nose and the unibrow?”

You say to your fellow guard, “Why did they need 470 guards to protect him? He’s just a short, bow-legged, bald guy with a big nose and a unibrow. And look at him – did you ever see such a disgusting body? He’s absolutely covered with old scars and fresh bruises.”

Paul may not have been much to look at; he may not have been very big; he may not have been a striking figure who made a good first impression – but Paul had something special that enabled him to be a powerful force for Christ, a world-changer who shook two continents for God. What was that something special? It was an unwavering commitment to the will of the Lord, to the gospel of Christ, and to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. And Paul had Jesus standing by him, encouraging him to testify about the gospel (v.11).

God can use you to do great things, too. Just trust Him and keep telling the good news.

Acts 22

Paul, the great apostle, is bound with chains and under arrest in Jerusalem. He stands on the steps of the Temple and begins to speak to the angry, shouting mob. Motioning with his hand, he quiets the crowd. What he shares (in the Hebrew language) is his personal testimony — the purest sermon a preacher can preach. As has often been noted, Paul shared his story in three parts…

Paul’s life before he met Jesus
Paul’s credentials as a Jewish rabbi were impeccable. He was taught by Rabbi Gamaliel, one of the greatest teachers of the Law in the history of Judaism, and groomed to become a Pharisee (v.3). He was a zealous protector of the Law, which is why he hated Christianity so vehemently — he considered Jesus and the followers of His “Way” to be heretics and blasphemers. In his zeal to rid the world of Christians, Paul arrested them, beat them, and put them to death. He even supervised (and enjoyed) the stoning of Stephen. Paul was an intelligent, religious, important man, but so blind and misguided.

How Paul met Jesus
As he was traveling to Damascus to hunt Christians, Paul met Jesus. It was a dramatic, life-changing encounter that he always looked back on as his salvation experience. Flat on his back and blinded by Christ’s glory, his only option was to listen to the Lord and obey His voice.

How Jesus changed Paul’s life
A man named Ananias, Paul’s first Christian friend, came and baptized him and delivered the orders that would determine the course of his life: tell everyone everywhere everything you have seen and heard about Jesus (v.15). Later the Lord gave him more specific instructions, sending him “far away to the Gentiles” (v.21). Obedience to that calling had brought Paul back to Jerusalem where he was arrested and had to appeal to his Roman citizenship to keep from being flogged (v.22-29).

Every Christian testimony is basically the same as Paul’s; only the details are different: “One day I was going somewhere and I met Someone. His name is Jesus. He changed my life, and He can change yours, too!”

Paul’s salvation story was a powerful thing — and so is yours. When you share it, God takes the words of your story and sets them on fire from heaven. Your testimony can change someone else’s life, but only if you share it.

Will you join me in doing something? I am about to stop and pray that God will give me an opportunity today to tell someone my salvation story. Then I am going to trust Him to give me exactly the words to say (and the courage to say them) when the time comes. Following the great tradition of Paul, let’s light up the darkness today with our stories of when we saw the light!

Acts 21

When Paul’s mission team set sail from Ephesus (v.1), he knew they were sailing into trouble. He had said as much in the previous chapter: “The Holy Spirit is sending me to Jerusalem, and I know that prison and pain are waiting for me there” (Acts 20:22-23).

This fact was confirmed in an unusual way at one of the stops on their voyage. When Paul and his friends disembarked at Caesarea, they stayed with Philip, one of the original Seven (see Acts 6:5). During their stay they received a visit from a man named Agabus, a prophet. The only other mention of Agabus in Scripture is when God used him to predict and warn the church about a famine (see Acts 11:28). This time the prophet’s warning was for Paul alone, and it came through an object lesson: Agabus approached him, and reaching out, snatched Paul’s belt from around his waist! To the amazement of everyone in the room, the prophet used the belt to hog-tie himself and then interpreted this strange behavior: “The Jerusalem Jews will bind the owner of this belt and hand him over to the Gentiles.” That prophecy came true a few days later (v.27-36).

When Paul’s Christian friends (including his mission team) heard the prophecy, they began to cry and beg him not to go. Paul’s response to their tears and their response to Paul’s determination are some of the most inspiring words in the Bible (v.13-14). Why was Paul so determined to go to Jerusalem? Why would he ignore the tears and the pleading of his friends? Why would he ignore the graphic, foreboding prophecy of Agabus? Simply because he believed the Lord had told him to go there.

Two reasons from Scripture: first, Paul felt that he needed to give a report of his missionary efforts to the original church in Jerusalem about all the people who had been saved and all the churches that had been started since the decision back in chapter 15 that they would not make it difficult for the Gentiles to be saved. But the other reason is that Paul loved his people and he wanted to see them saved. I think this was one last-ditch effort to reach out to his fellow Jews and to gain an audience with their leaders so that that they might hear the gospel and be saved.

Paul was not ignoring the danger, and he was not suicidal. He reasoned that the potential progress for the gospel outweighed the potential danger to him personally. It was Paul’s commitment to “the will of the Lord” that simplified and focused his life and enabled him to say with confidence, “I am ready to suffer, and I am ready to die for Jesus” (v.13-14).

That same commitment will simplify and focus your life, too. Surrendering to the will of the Lord does not mean that you can’t have input anymore, or that you can’t have an original idea, or that you become a robotic slave with no identity. It just means that you have voluntarily placed your life and your future in the hands of a sovereign, powerful, compassionate God who loves you.

Somewhere along the way we stop praying with Jesus, “Not my will but Yours be done,” and we start praying, “Bless me, Lord. Be good to me, Lord. Treat me right, Lord. Grant my wishes, Lord.” And self-will gradually replaces God’s will. No wonder we lose excitement for the things of God — our plans are boring compared to the adventure of God’s will! And no wonder our walk with God becomes drudgery — He is supposed to lead, not tag along.

I am going to surrender to His will and follow Him today. Are you with me?

Acts 18

My opinion (I think I can defend it from Scripture) is that when Paul made it to Corinth, he was tired. At this point his mission trip had been going on for a year. I think Paul was lonely – he had been alone since he was in Berea; he was alone in Athens ministering for some time; he was alone on his 50-mile journey to Corinth. I think Paul was discouraged, knowing that the pattern of his ministry would likely be repeated again in Corinth: preaching the gospel to the Jews, rejected by the Jews, arrested or mobbed, maybe beaten or imprisoned, and forced to sneak out of another town in the dark of night.

I believe that for two Scriptural reasons. First, some time later Paul wrote two letters to the believers of Corinth, and when he reflected on his state of mind when he first arrived there, he wrote, “I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3). Maybe Paul was even thinking about moving on, quitting. Then in Acts 18:9-10, Jesus (in His infinite wisdom) appeared to Paul in the night and said some things that we can only assume Paul desperately needed to hear.

Jesus encouraged Paul about the city of Corinth (v.10). Outside of Rome, Corinth was the most important city in the Roman Empire. With two major ports, Corinth was perfectly situated to serve as the hub for a church planting movement that would make a difference in that part of the world!

Jesus also encouraged Paul by bringing some partners into his life. Aquila and Priscilla (v.2) came along and shared their lives with Paul. They were good partners, and God brought them into Paul’s life at just the right time. Silas and Timothy re-joined him in Corinth — the mission team was together again, and none too soon (v.5). After a very dramatic break from the Corinthian Jewish community (v.6), a man named Justus opened his home for Paul to use as a place for ministry. (Thank God for people who open their homes and their schedules for the Lord to use for Bible studies, Sunday School fellowships, and people who need ministry.) And besides Justus, Priscilla and Aquila, Silas and Timothy, verse 8 says there were many Corinthians hearing the gospel, believing, and being baptized. God was forming a community of believers (a church), and that was a great encouragement to Paul.

Furthermore, Jesus gave Paul those amazing promises in verses 9-10. Jesus promised His presence: “Do not be afraid, I am with you.” Jesus promised His protection: “No one will attack you to harm you.” And Jesus promised His people: “I have many in this city who are My people” – people who had believed (or would believe) and were going to stand with Paul in the work of the gospel. That encouraged Paul to stay on for 18 months! Luke only gives us one example of God’s protection in Corinth, but it was a major one (v.12-17). If God used the calloused judgment of a Roman judge to protect Paul, just think of all the ways He can protect and provide for you! Trust Him!

Acts 17

It seems that everywhere Paul went he incited either a riot or a revival — or both. After preaching the Word for three weeks in the Thessalonian synagogue some of the Jews were “persuaded” to believe the gospel, but some were infuriated by it (v.4-5). The place where Paul was staying was broken into by an angry mob of hired thugs. In Berea (v.10-13) the mob from Thessalonica tracked Paul down, and he had to be smuggled out of the city to make his way to hiding in Athens.

All alone in Athens, Paul continued to share the gospel while he waited for his companions. Athens was known as the intellectual center of the world. The Athenians had a lot of knowledge but they didn’t know how or what to worship. For fear of neglecting some god or goddess, they worshiped the images of many deities. Idols lined every street, stood at the door of each building, and filled the beautiful temples. One historian of that era, Petronius, said, “In Athens it was easier to find a god than a man.” Athens was smothering in idolatry, and all that lostness, spiritual blindness, and false hope grieved Paul deeply (v.16).

Paul began to witness to anybody who would stand still long enough: Jews in the synagogue, Gentile worshipers there, and anyone he found hanging around the marketplace. God arranged for Paul to be heard in the marketplace by representatives of the two great schools of philosophy in Athens, the Epicureans and the Stoics. These men took Paul by force to the Areopagus (the court of the intellectuals) for a kind of informal hearing. (God was sovereignly getting Paul into position to make the maximum impact with a gospel witness to some of the greatest minds of his day.)

Standing before these great thinkers, Paul found people who were very smart, but who admitted their own ignorance about the truth. They had an altar dedicated “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD” (v.23). Paul used that as his starting point to share the grand story of the gospel, from creation (v.24) to judgment (v.31). Paul presented his message in an intellectually appealing way, but he did not back down from the truth. He shared about the death and resurrection of Jesus and he told them that God commanded them to repent of their sins (v.30). The response was varied: some mocked Paul, some were curious and asked to hear more, and some received the gospel and became believers.

Be ready today for God to give you an opportunity to make the unknown known to someone who is lost and seeking the truth (v.23). Just share what Jesus has done for you and leave the results to Him. Like Paul, let the will of God lead you — and give ’em Jesus!