The Trials of the Apostle Paul - Part 3

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

One of the greatest fears of humanity is death; however, it cannot harm the child of God. When his wife died to cancer, Donald Grey Barnhouse (one of America’s leading Bible teachers in the first half of the 20th century) had to explain the death to his three young children.

Seeking to comfort his children who were mourning the loss of their mother, Barnhouse saw a large truck on the highway, and an analogy was brought to mind. Barnhouse asked his children, “Would you rather be run over by that truck or its shadow?” His oldest daughter replied, “By the shadow, I guess. It cannot hurt you.” Barnhouse told his children, “Your mother has not been overridden by death, but by the shadow of death. That is nothing to fear.”

On 16 October 1555, Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, two outstanding leaders of the church, were martyred for their allegiance to the Holy Bible and the glory of Christ. When they were bound to the stake, and as the flames crackled beneath them, Latimer called, “Be of good comfort, brother Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” Seeing the leaping flames, Ridley cried with a loud voice, “Lord, into Thy hands I commend my spirit. Lord, receive my spirit!” Three years later, when Elizabeth I ascended the throne, Latimer and Ridley’s candle burst into a torch. Latimer and Ridley could face death with courage, because they experienced it without the sting (cf. 1 Cor 15:55-57).

Throughout the majority of his ministry, particularly during his third missionary journey and the various trials that arose, Paul demonstrated tremendous courage and no fear whatsoever at the prospect of death. As the chief priests and leading men of the Jews threatened death (and were certainly able to make that occur if Paul were taken to Jerusalem), Paul appealed without hesitation to Caesar, the “supreme court” of Rome. Acts 25:11 records Paul’s words: “If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die…”

Paul was previously exonerated by Roman judges, and may have thought his life was more secure in Rome. Whatever his intentions for appealing to Caesar, Paul was able to serve God effectively because he was fearless. What eternal weight of glory could be produced if you were not paralyzed by fear, and therefore, were able to experience the freedom that arises from living a life of radical obedience for the Lord God?

Do not think solely of the physical life. How would your actions and motivations be different if you were entirely abandoned to God, whatever the outcome? Certainly, none desires martyrdom or to experience adverse circumstances, when one has a position of effectiveness or influence that can be removed quickly. God expects His people to be sensible, yet also to acknowledge that their lives and times are entirely dependent upon the Lord’s sovereignty. God has wonderful purposes for His people, yet godliness and selflessness is essential to live out those purposes.

(Acts 25:1-35) Almost immediately upon the arrival of the new Roman governor, Festus, the Jewish leadership “brought charges against Paul” (vv. 1-2). They wanted Festus to do what Felix would not: send Paul to Jerusalem, so they could kill him in an ambush (v. 3). Festus replied that Paul would remain in Caesarea, yet extended an invitation for “influential men” to go there and bring charges against him—which they did with “many and serious charges against him which they could not prove,” and which Paul answered directly (vv. 4-8).

When people have egregious and wicked intents, and detest someone enough, they may persist tenaciously in their objective. Personal jealousy and hatred, combined with religious bigotry, will always be volatile. Use extreme caution with someone who persists in seeking to do you harm (until repentance is evident).

Festus wanted to use Paul as a political pawn in order to curry favor with the Jews (vv. 3, 9). If he were successful, Paul would certainly have been killed in Jerusalem. Paul understood what the Jews were seeking, and acted wisely in asserting his rights as a Roman citizen by appealing to Caesar (vv. 10-12). Sadly, the apathy of many people toward politics means they do not know their particular rights. Government is an institution ordained by God, and believers may appeal to the law for protection of self and their ministry. Interestingly and noteworthy is that Paul believed the death penalty was appropriate if he were guilty of a capital crime.

The appeal to Caesar resulted in a dilemma for Festus, because the charges against Paul could not be proved (vv. 13-22). Although innocent, sometimes God’s people may be treated like the guilty, as in the cases of Joseph, David, Daniel, Jeremiah, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Prior to Festus sending Paul to Caesar, King Agrippa arrived to pay respects to Festus. Festus explained Paul’s case to Agrippa, which led to the king expressing interest in hearing Paul (v. 22).

With much pomp and circumstance, Paul appeared before Agrippa (v. 23). There are obvious parallels between Paul appearing before Agrippa and Jesus standing before Antipas (Luke 23:6-12). In each situation, the accused was first arraigned before a Roman governor, and thereafter appeared before the Jewish king. The word “pomp” is the translation of Luke’s use of the Greek word phantasia, to depict the mood of the event. Paul’s innocence had been affirmed by several Roman authorities, and now would be confirmed by a Judean king (vv. 24-27).

When the will of God is evident in your life, it is incumbent upon you to make relentless progress toward that goal. All that was occurring in Paul’s life would fulfill God’s capitol commissioning (9:15), in addition to the Lord’s promise to Paul that he “must witness at Rome also” (23:11). Being imprisoned and enduring unrelenting trials was not pleasant for Paul, yet he prudently took advantage of the opportunities before him. Truly, as the Lord said, everything was leading “to an opportunity for [his] testimony” (Luke 21:13).

(Acts 26:1-27) As opposed to merely defending himself, Paul regarded Agrippa’s permission to speak (v. 1) as an opportune time to share the gospel message with the king and others with him (cf. 1 Pet 3:13-17). Agrippa knew most of what occurred in Palestine; because he was acquainted “in all customs and questions among the Jews,” Paul was “fortunate” to speak before him (vv. 2-3). Paul not only recounted the facts of his conversion (particularly emphasizing the vehement manner in which he persecuted the church) and everything that occurred to that moment (vv. 2-18), but also sought to persuade Agrippa to become a Christian (vv. 19-23, 25-27, 29).

A life transformation occurred when the risen Lord Jesus commissioned Paul. He learned that his zeal for God was opposed to the Lord, and that the risen Jesus was appointing him as “a minister and a witness” to the things he had seen, and also to things that God would reveal to him (Acts 26:14-18). Paul’s great learning and zeal was now devoted to proclaiming the good news of God’s grace—received through faith alone in Jesus Christ—among the Gentiles, “so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith” in the Lord (vv. 17-18).

Festus interrupted Paul as he spoke, accusing him of being “mad” (v. 24 KJV). Paul responded by telling him and the king that he uttered “words of sober truth,” of things not hidden (vv. 25-26). Unlike the mystery religions and the incipient Gnosticism that was becoming ever more pervasive in the first century, Christianity is not based upon the esoteric or mysterious; it is a historical faith of events by which eyewitnesses bore testimony (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-8). The risen Lord appeared to the disciples “over a period of forty days” (Acts 1:3). “He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time” (1 Cor 15:6); additionally, He spoke to individual apostles, disciples, and women (Matt 28:9; Luke 24:13-16; John 20:14-16, 26-28; 1 Cor 15:5-8). Jesus revealed Himself to Paul, who then became a witness to the risen Lord (Acts 26:14-18). Paul appealed to Agrippa’s belief in the Old Testament prophets, to convince him to believe their message concerning the Messiah as being fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Acts 26:27-29). Paul was certainly not guilty as accused (vv. 30-32).

From those words, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Acts 26:28 KJV), Philip Bliss (1838-76) wrote the hymn “Almost Persuaded,” which has been sung countless times as an invitation hymn at the end of an evangelistic message. The hymnwriter was correct when he wrote, “Seems now some soul to say, go, Spirit, go thy way; some more convenient day, on Thee I’ll call.” We have just such an example with Felix, who told Paul, “‘Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you’” (Acts 24:25). Charles Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers,” once remarked: “Almost persuaded to be a Christian is like the man who was almost pardoned, but he was hanged; like the man who was almost rescued, but he was burnt in the house. . . . ‘A door that is almost shut is open; a man that is almost honest is a thief; a man that is almost saved is damned.’ O take heed of that, ye halters between two opinions! ye awakened but not decided! ye aroused but not converted!”

Festus attempted to discredit the gospel message by accusing Paul of being mad, and Agrippa sought to minimize his own conviction by responding in a nonchalant manner. Sadly, both men rejected the light of biblical truth. Nevertheless, all was proceeding according to God’s providence. You may be certain that the events in your life are not random, because the Lord is always working in ways that further His purposes.

Midnight Call - 03/2019

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