Monday, September 14, 2020

Jerusalem or Rome?

"After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared, “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!” (Acts 25:12)

As we look at Luke 22:66–23:16, we see Luke describe the following events: Jesus is put on trial before the Jews, who condemn Him and bring charges against Him before the Roman governor Pilate. Pilate finds no basis of a charge against Jesus and sends Him to Herod. Herod also can find nothing to charge Him with and sends Him back to Pilate. Pilate declares that he and Herod agree that Jesus should be released.

As Luke records, God took Paul through a similar series of trials. If you remember, Paul was arrested and given a chaotic trial by the Jews, who brought charges against him before the Roman governor Felix. Felix heard the charges but could not figure out what to do with Paul, so he left Paul in prison for two years. When Felix left Palestine, he was succeeded by Porcius Festus.

In Acts 25:1–12, Festus hears Paul’s defense, and then in Acts 25:13–26:32, Paul speaks before both Festus and Herod Agrippa II. Both agreed that Paul had done nothing wrong and should be set free. Since Paul had already appealed to Caesar, he was sent on to Rome for a final hearing.

Paul’s vindication before Festus is noteworthy, because being new to the governorship of Palestine, Festus wanted very much to curry favor with the Jews. The Jews were one of the most difficult people the Romans had to govern, as Festus well knew. If the Jewish leaders wanted the head of this man Paul, Festus wanted to oblige them (Acts 25:9). Yet, when he asked the Jews for their charges, he found that “they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion” (Acts 25:18–19).

Seeking to please the Jews, Festus suggested to Paul that he go to Jerusalem for another hearing. Paul refused and, instead, pointedly appealed to Rome (Acts 25:9–12). We can see in this the apostle of Jesus Christ rejecting Jerusalem as a seat of earthly government and affirming Rome. This is consistent with the theology of Acts, which displays the apostasy of the once holy city and shows that the Gentiles were far more open to the Gospel.

Why do you suppose God took Paul through the same steps as Jesus? What does this say about what the church can expect if she faithfully follows her Master? Jesus refused to defend Himself, but Paul defended himself because he was defending Christ. When you are wrongly accused, who are you most zealous to defend?