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Paul’s Trial Before Governor Festus
(Acts 25:6b, NIV)
“The next day he convened the court and ordered
that Paul be brought before him.”
During our previous lesson from the Book of Acts we left Paul in prison in Caesarea. He probably had difficulty understanding why he was experiencing a lengthy delay at Caesarea on his journey to Rome. You see, he knew he was headed for Rome because Jesus had appeared to him in Jerusalem and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11b, NIV).
Paul’s two year layover in Caesarea on the way to Rome is about to come to an abrupt end. God intervened with a change in the governorship of Caesarea in order to restart Paul’s journey to Jerusalem. Luke wrote, “When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison” (Acts 24:27, NIV).
From this episode in Paul’s life it becomes apparent that God is in complete control of human government. When it suited His eternal purposes, He vacated the office of governor of Caesarea and then filled it with a man more suited to His purposes. That’s why Luke wrote, “Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus” (Acts 24:27b, NIV).
Paul also clearly taught that human government is entirely under the control of God. He wrote, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted” (Romans 13:1-2a, NIV). God personally decides what types of government come into power and who the people are who lead those governments.
This is especially good information for us to consider during a presidential election year—like this one. We should go to the polls and vote, but we should do so with the understanding that the outcome of the election is totally in the hands of God! As Paul put it—“There is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1b, NIV).
II. God’s Purpose for Festus
God’s purpose for Festus in his tenure as governor of Caesarea was to provide for Paul’s safe and timely transport to Rome. The Father knew that Festus would follow Roman law to the letter while at the same time attempting to appease the Jews…and that is exactly what he did. Luke wrote, “Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, where the chief priests and the Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. They requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way. Festus answered, ‘Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. Let some of your leaders come with me, and if the man has done anything wrong, they can press charges against him there’” (Acts 25:1-5, NIV).
When the Jews requested that Festus have Paul transferred to Jerusalem for trial, his response was in strict adherence to Roman law. A Roman citizen, like Paul, had the legal right to be tried in a Roman court…and the Roman court that had jurisdiction over Paul’s case was located in Caesarea. So Festus replied, “Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. Let some of your leaders come with me, and if the man has done anything wrong, they can press charges against him there” (Acts 25:4-5, NIV).
Because Paul was a Roman citizen, the only legal way his trial could be moved from Caesarea to Jerusalem was if he consented to the move. So in an attempt to appease the Jews, Festus asked for his consent. Luke wrote, “After spending eight or ten days with them, Festus went down to Caesarea. The next day he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him. When Paul came in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him. They brought many serious charges against him, but they could not prove them. Then Paul made his defense: ‘I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.’ Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, ‘Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?’” (Acts 25:6-9, NIV).
Because Paul suspected that Festus’ loyalty to Roman law might be overpowered by his desire to appease the Jews, he not only refused to have his trial moved to Jerusalem. He went one step further and appealed his case to Caesar, which legally took control of his trial completely out of Festus’ hands. Luke wrote, “Paul answered: ‘I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!’” (Acts 25:10-11, NIV).
Being an expert in Roman law, Festus knew that as a result of Paul’s appeal of his case to Caesar, he had no further legal control over the matter. So he simply took a hands-off approach. Luke wrote, “After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: ‘You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!’” (Acts 25:12, NIV).
When Paul uttered the statement, "I appeal to Caesar" (Acts 25:12b, NIV), Festus had no choice other than to send him to Rome. So Paul, by means of a very different set of circumstances than those which he probably imagined, had just taken his first step on the road that would ultimately lead to Rome. That’s what Festus implied when he said, “To Caesar you will go!” (Acts 25:12c, NIV).
Have you ever noticed that most of the time God doesn’t do things the way we think He will? Maybe that’s why He said in the Old Testament, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8, NIV). I’m quite certain that Paul didn’t think he would go to Rome as a prisoner, escorted by Roman soldiers—but that’s exactly how God arranged for him to get there. It was safe. It was cost effective. And it got him there at the precise time when God wanted him there!
It isn’t necessary for us to understand how God will do what He says He will do. It is only necessary for us to believe that He will do what He says He will do! That’s what King Solomon was implying when he wrote, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV).
God always does what He says He will do! Nothing can prevent Him from accomplishing what He sets out to accomplish. He said to Paul, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11, NIV). Then one day more than two years later, Paul arrived at Rome and spent two years testifying there. Luke concluded the Book of Acts with the statement, “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28:30-31, NIV).
Let me conclude by saying, nothing can frustrate the plans of God—nothing! That’s why King David wrote, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7, NKJV). That means when the Lord says He will do something, He will do it! He may not do it the way we think He will, but He will do it!
Sunday Service Times
Morning Worship: 10:00 a.m.
M*PACT Kidz: 10:00 a.m.
Helping Hands: 6:00 p.m.
ONE WAY Youth: 6:00 p.m.