Have you ever been in the grip of real hatred? I don’t mean dislike or anger or even rage. No, I’m referring to the type of hatred that’s cold and calculating and is willing to wait as long as it takes. I’m talking about Khan in Star Trek II waiting for sixteen years to get his revenge on Kirk. When one of Khan's underlings points out that they have a starship and weaponry and really don’t have to risk going after his old adversary, his reply still sends chills up my spine:
That’s the type of hate Paul’s enemies had for him. Paul had been languishing under house arrest for two years. He'd never been credibly accused of any crime, much less found guilty of anything. But because the last governor to handle his case (Felix) wanted to be on good terms with the Jews, he refused to release Paul.
By the way, it didn’t work. The Jews managed to appeal to Rome about his conduct in other areas, and he was recalled in disgrace. His replacement was Festus. We actually don’t have a lot of information about him, but what we do know seems to indicate that he was slightly better and more fair-minded than his predecessor.
So the new governor came to power, and the Jews are waiting for him in order to make an accusation against Paul and demand that he be remanded into their custody. These guys had been waiting for two years. As soon as the new official steps in, Paul’s case is apparently the first thing they bring up. Now that’s hatred.
They urge him to allow Paul to be tried in Jerusalem, but of course this was only a ruse to get him where they could assassinate him.
Festus knew quite well why his predecessor had been replaced, so with the same motivation as Felix (wanting to get on the Jews’ good side), he seemed inclined to grant their request.
Paul wasn’t a fool, so he knew what awaited him in Jerusalem: An assassin’s knife in his gut. He knew he would never get real justice in Caesarea, so he took the only course which looked best suited to keep him alive. He was a Roman citizen, so he officially appealed to Caesar, as was his right. And of course Festus had no choice but to grant his request and send him on to Rome. And thus was taken the first step in keeping God’s promise to Paul. The Lord had promised him that he would testify in Rome, and Heaven and Earth will rip apart at the seams before a promise of God fails.
I’d like to take just a moment to focus today to focus on Paul’s defense before Festus in vs. 8: "I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar." This goes along nicely with his testimony before Felix: “I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” This was his defense. His enemies brought lots of charges and accusations and insinuations and allegations but no evidence. They knew they had no case, Festus knew they had no case, and Paul knew they had no case. The only reason Paul wasn’t a free man was because of gutless Roman governors who were sucking up to Jewish religious leaders who had it in for him.
Now, obviously this doesn’t mean that Paul was sinless. He knew he wasn’t. But he knew that as far as the legal accusations went, he was innocent. He wasn’t instigating sedition against Rome. He wasn’t blaspheming the Temple or turning people away from the Law or the Prophets. He was a godly man who was trying to do what God told him to do.
Now here’s a piercing question for you and me. If someone tried to build a case against me like they did against Paul, could they do it? Would they have to make stuff up? Could they find someone with a legitimate gripe against me? Could I honestly say “I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man”? Really?
Lord Jesus, I know I have a long way to go before I can make the claim in 24:16. Please forgive me where I fall short and change me into the likeness of you my Savior.
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