As I noted yesterday, Jesus had told Paul that he would go on to testify for him in Rome. Paul wouldn’t stay there in Jerusalem. His story wouldn’t end there, but instead he would continue on and take the story of Jesus into the heart of the Gentile world of that time.
The commander Claudius had sent a detachment of two separate centurions down to Caesarea where Felix was the governor so that Paul’s case could be heard there. This is where Paul’s trial would begin, a trial that would take him, through the Roman governmental system, straight to Rome.
Paul was being accused by the high priest and the elders of stirring up the Jews and causing riots among the Jews. As Paul clearly points out, there certainly were riots, but it wasn’t because of his actions or because of what he had taught or done. No, the riots were the direct action of the Jews themselves. Because of their unhinged reaction to him, even while he was clearly and calmly following Jewish law and customs, Paul found himself now in chains, arrested because of what they had done.
Reading this story in Acts 24 this morning, I was reminded of what Jesus had told his disciples in Matthew 10. In fact, it seems to me that it is a direct fulfillment of what Jesus had warned his disciples. He had told them that they would be like sheep among wolves, that they would be beaten in the synagogues, they would be betrayed, they would be persecuted. And they would be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles (Matthew 10:18). Yet, despite all of this, Jesus said that he would be with them, and he would give them the words to say and would instruct them how to say it.
And that is exactly what has happened here in Acts 24. Jesus is directing Paul’s steps, leading him toward Rome by way of Caesarea into the Roman system, carrying out his plan. It isn’t necessarily Paul’s plan. Paul is being used by Jesus to carry out God’s plan to carry the message of Christ further and further into the heart of the Gentile world, just as Jesus said would happen. Jesus’s disciples would be brought before the governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. That is exactly what is happening!
Jesus is giving Paul the words that he must say and the way that he must say them. And in this case, we see that Paul does not try to fight the Jews. Nor does he change the story at all. Instead, he simply recounts what he had done and allowed his innocence to speak for itself.
But I noticed something very interesting in the way that Paul says what he says in his defense, and I couldn’t help but think that this may precisely be Jesus giving Paul the words, and more specifically the way that he should say them. Paul says:
I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.
Instead of fighting against his accusers, Paul identifies himself with them. He says, in fact, that he believes everything that they believe!
Now it is getting confusing. How would that be possible that Paul believes everything that they believe and yet the leaders of the Jewish people are here accusing Paul of crimes?
It is possible because Paul divides with them on the fact that he knows that the same Law and Prophets that they believe has been fulfilled in Christ. Jesus fulfilled the Law in what he had done and the way that he lived. He did not sin. And he fulfilled the Prophets because he is the Messiah that the Prophets spoke about as the One who would come.
But instead of going into all of these details in the midst of a court where he wouldn’t be understood or heard, Paul simply says that he believes just like them, his accusers – both in the Law and the Prophets – and what is more, that he believes in the resurrection of the dead. And why does he believe in the resurrection of the dead? Because he has seen Jesus. Jesus has shown himself to him. He doesn’t believe it theoretically. He believes it experientially. And so it is to this that Paul testifies. He is speaking of Jesus to the kings and governors in his defense because Jesus himself is leading him through the process where he wants Paul to go.
Now, as I’ve noted a few times before, it is important to realize that Jesus says that he will give us the words that we are to speak as we stand before the kings and governors, but he never said that he would protect us, at least not physically. In fact, he says that we will be beaten. And that happened to Paul. He said that we would be persecuted. And that happened to Paul. He said that we could be killed, and while the scriptures don’t specifically tell us that, we believe that Paul was probably killed in Rome. But Jesus also said that we shouldn’t fear those that can harm the body and nothing more, but instead we should fear the One who can determine what will happen with our soul in eternity. And that is what we see also happen with Paul. He clearly wants to serve God and is less concerned about his own welfare.
Paul could have left prison. He could have offered Felix a bribe. Surely he knew that. But Jesus’s plan was that Paul was to be in prison because that would lead him before more and more of the kings and governors. Paul would eventually appeal to Caesar, and that would take him to Rome. He would go there to testify about Jesus, just as he had been told.
Now, I am not saying that we should try to be placed in prison. However, I do ask who I – who we all – fear. The one who can harm the body and no more? Or the One who can determine the final fate of our souls in eternity. These are important questions that we need to consider because it determines the direction of our lives and what we are willing to do. Are we willing to give our lives for God’s glory? Or do we keep our lives for our own?