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?