“I APPEAL TO CAESAR!”
Acts 25:1-27 (K. V. 25:11)
“‘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!’”
The book of Acts is now heading toward the end. We know Paul would end up in Rome as the Lord envisioned it. But, in this chapter, Paul decisively initiated/made possible the process of going to Rome by appealing to Caesar. How could Paul find such an unthinkable way in the midst of the murkiest situation? It was because Paul depended on God’s wisdom and strength. May God grant us his wisdom and strength as well so that we may overcome many obstacles and find a way to fulfill his vision for us!
1. Paul’s Trial Before Festus (25:1-12)
Last week, through Dr. Jason’s message, we saw how Paul’s legal drama (sort of) was unfolded in front of Felix with his accusers. The “trial” before Felix clearly showed that there was no case against Paul (there were no point-to-point corresponding evidences and that there were no material witnesses). So Paul should have been immediately released by Felix. But because of his indecisiveness (as his name, Felix, fittingly means, “lucky”), Paul had to remain in a prison for two full years. It seems like his life was lost in that prison cell. However, all those seemingly lost years were not lost. God was diligently working behind the scene and Paul made the most of it by helping Luke to preliminarily write the draft of the book of Acts (it was said that Luke also meticulously collected all the gospel accounts around Caesarea area).
Finally, another opportunity was opened to Paul after such a long waiting period. As you can see, Governor Felix was succeeded by Governor Festus (his name means “happy” like at a festival). What did the Jewish leaders do when this happened? They did not waste any minute to swoop down on this newly appointed, inexperienced leader in their region. Look at verses 1–3. As Festus arrived in the province that he would reign, he proactively initiated to display his leadership among his people. Instead of staying put in his headquarters, Caesarea, he first went to Jerusalem to meet the Jewish religious leaders. After all, he needed their support to peacefully rule the unruly Jews. At his coming, the first thing the Jewish religious leaders requested to him was transferring Paul to Jerusalem for a new trial. Didn’t they have more urgent matters than pressing the charges against Paul (like a better taxation, or security or political stability)? It shows how much they hated Paul and whatever it would take they wanted to take his life (also it seems that they assumed that Felix was too busy to talk to Festus about Paul before he left and their assassination plot would still work).
This type of incident happens all the time (like lower-ranking people tricking their inexperienced superior for their benefit). Back in Texas, my former PhD advisor had a similar incident. As a new faculty to University of Texas at Arlington, he was very passionate and made his lectures very intriguing and challenging. So, many students initially registered to listen to his class but soon majority of them dropped the course after the first exam (it was very difficult). Some of those who dropped the course, however, did not go away quietly. They realized that the professor was inexperienced and did not know how to deal with dropping students. So, they duped him to give them the grade “B” instead of giving them “I.”
Was Festus tricked just like my former advisor was? No. God’s hand was also on Festus, preventing him from being tricked and giving Paul into their hands. Look at verses 4,5. Festus wisely gave them a good reason why Paul wouldn’t be tried at Jerusalem but at Caesarea.
As we read verses 6 and 7, we can see Festus was a man of his word and a man of action. As soon as he went down to Caesarea, the very next day, he opened the case for Paul and his accusers. He ordered that Paul be brought in to stand for a trial. Then, like the last time, the Jews came down from Jerusalem and brought many serious charges against Paul but they could not prove them.
Now it was Paul’s time to defend himself. In fact, Paul made five different defenses in the course of time and this was one of them. In his previous defenses, he included his life testimony to best defend himself and share the gospel account with the accusers. Now what is so special about this defense? Seemingly, this defense is the shortest and most unceremonious. However, in this defense, there were a series of events that took place to enable Paul to go to Rome. Most of all, it involved Paul’s decisive decision that came from God’s wisdom and strength.
In verse 8, Paul made a triple defense. He said of his innocence against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar. He was a model citizen rather than a criminal in every way. He obeys the law, is good to the Jewish community, particularly to the temple, and sets a good example for other Roman citizens. What else can anyone ask from him? But Festus didn’t seem to be that much interested in Paul’s defense. Instead, his interest was how to please other people. Note that Festus gave Paul an option to go up to Jerusalem for another trial. Here, we can see that Festus was not properly reported about the possible assassination attempt of Paul two years ago. More importantly, we can see that Festus was a good politician. While he was doing a favor to Paul, he also wanted to do the Jews a favor. He wanted to compromise. In his goodwill to all the parties, there was a risk that Paul might be carried away and become a victim of assassination.
What did Paul do at that moment? He first reminded Festus of where he stood: Caesar’s court, where a Roman citizen ought to be tried. He clearly spoke up about his right as a Roman citizen: a fair trial in the Roman legal system. At the same time, he unequivocally pointed out what he was willing to do as a Jew. Look at verse 11a. “‘If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die.’” He was not afraid of death. He was more than ready to die for the sake of the gospel. Yet at the same time, he knew that it was not the time yet for him to die (in Jerusalem). That is why he decisively claimed, “’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!’”
“I appeal to Caesar!” That one appeal was one of the most daring decisions and the most extreme measures that Paul ever took in his life of mission. In fact, because of this appeal, Paul could go to Rome in the safest possible way. Here, Paul was exercising his right as a Roman citizen to be tried before Caesar in Rome (truly an extreme measure because it was rarely exercised). It was like appealing to the Supreme Court for your case to be heard (NFL QB Tom Brady almost brought his case to the Supreme Court but decided not to do it at the last minute). And remember at that time Caesar was Nero. Who was Nero? He was the Emperor who burnt down Rome and blamed the Great Fire of Rome on Christians so that a cruel persecution against them would start. Even though at that time Nero was relatively doing well due to the influence of his tutor, the Stoic philosopher, Seneca, he might be unpredictable.
Paul was not depended on this unpredictable Nero. Rather, he depended on God’s wisdom and strength. With that, he was given an insight that was the best way to fulfill his vision. Paul realized that no matter how hard he would try, his accusers would not change and would always find a sneaky way to harm him. And the politicians would always try to compromise, not following the truthful way. In a rare case, he would be transferred to Jerusalem without his knowledge by another newly appointed governor. Then, he would be killed without fulfilling his vision. In that murky situation, though it seemed an extreme measure, appealing to Caesar would protect him and help him to fulfill God’s vision for him to go to Rome. It is like in the movie The Shawshank Redemption when a normal channel of dialog was closed, the protagonist used his tunnel he dug for 19 years to escape the prison.
In 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried to avoid war with Germany by appeasing Hitler’s demands for Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. The reason behind this measure was that the European people had a great trauma of war due to the recent memory of World War I. In that war, so many lives were lost and thus they tried to compromise as much as possible before starting a war. However, Chamberlain’s compromised agreement only emboldened Hitler who soon took over all of Czechoslovakia and then invaded Poland the following year, starting World War II. Winston Churchill, Chamberlain’s successor, was quite different. When Hitler’s armies conquered all surrounding countries, like Norway, Denmark, Netherland, Belgium and France, he and his Britain chose to do an extreme measure: stand alone and fight against all of the might of the combined German and Italian military. He knew that it was the only way to deal with Hitler. Churchill maintained his extreme measure for two years until the United States entered the war after Pearl Harbor. In the process, many historians say Churchill saved the Western world from tyranny.
Look at verse 12. “After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!” Even a seasoned politician Festus granted Paul’s appeal.
What we can learn from Paul’s appeal is that in the midst of all complicated issues, based on God’s wisdom and strength, we can make a right decision, even if it means an extreme measure. In my experience, I had to change my PhD advisor about five times and even changed the University, which was an extreme measure but it worked out well in God’s help. May God give us His strength and wisdom to make a right decision to fulfill His vision for us.
2. Paul Before Agrippa (25:13-27)
Look at verse 13. Somehow, King Agrippa and Bernice happened to arrive at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus while Paul was there. This was Herod Agrippa II, son of Agrippa I and great-grandson of Herod the Great. He was well acquainted with all the Jewish customs (Ac 26:3). So, Festus discussed Paul’s case with King Agrippa with the expectation of his help. Verses 14 through 21 are about Festus’ explaining his issue with Paul to him. As Festus said in verse 16, it was not the Roman custom to convict anyone of any crime before he/she has opportunity to face his/her accusers and defend himself/herself against the charges. When Festus presided over Paul’s case, the focal point was not about the typical problems of the Roman law. Rather, it was about Jesus and his resurrection. So while on trial, Paul seemed to share the gospel message with those involved.
Festus further mentioned that because of Paul’s appeal to the Emperor, he ordered that Paul held until he could send him to Caesar. At that point, Agrippa was very much intrigued and curious about Paul. So, he asked Festus to hear Paul himself and Festus agreed. It is sort of parallel that our Lord Jesus had encountered King Herod when Pilate sent our Lord over to him. But it was more like fulfilling God’s vision for Paul that He would send him to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel (Ac 9:15).
Look at verse 23. The next day, Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the arranged room for meeting with Paul. In verse 24, Festus introduced Paul to Agrippa with the description of how much the Jewish religious leaders wanted him back to Jerusalem and how badly they wanted to get rid of him. But the verses 25, 26a are the direct dilemma Festus wanted to address to Agrippa. “I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him.”
Festus had to send Paul to Rome but he had no specific charges to write about him. In that sense, Festus was a reasonable official in his normal dealings. Why was it important that Paul go to Rome?
In conclusion, we learned Paul’s depending on God’s wisdom and strength to make a right decision for fulfilling His vision for him even if it meant an extreme measure, like appealing to Caesar. In fulfilling God’s vision for us, sometimes, we may not be able to see the way clearly. That is the time we remember Paul and seek God’s wisdom to find an unthinkable and unconventional way. May God bless ISBC and strengthen us to find many creative ways to see His Kingdom vision.