Paul is accused to Festus, the Governor. After some Time he is brought forth to trial. He appeals to Caesar. Festus and Agrippa confer on the Subject.
Now when Festus was come into the province, after three days he ascended from Caesarea to Jerusalem. (2) Then the high priest and the chief of the Jews informed him against Paul, and besought him, (3) And desired favor against him, that he would send for him to Jerusalem, laying wait in the way to kill him. (4) But Festus answered, that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself would depart shortly thither. (5) Let them therefore, said he, which among you are able, go down with me, and accuse this man, if there be any wickedness in him.
I beg the Reader at the opening of this Chapter to remark, that notwithstanding the awful state those perjured persons had fallen into, by having sworn not to eat or drink till they had killed Paul, (see Acts 23:12 etc.) yet still the high priest, and the leading body of the Jews thirsted for his blood. No time could wear away this enmity. No alteration can ever take place in this deep-rooted hatred against Christ and his people. Reader! depend upon it, the same exists in the present hour. A zeal like that of Paul's, for the glory of Christ, unalloyed with a mixture of pharisaical righteousness, the preachers of such a doctrine must ever be the objects of general hatred and displeasure. No foes of Christ equaled the self-righteous Pharisee, while the Son of God was upon earth! And no enemy now is greater against the pure truths of the Gospel, than characters of the same description.
And when he had tarried among them more than ten days, he went down unto Caesarea; and the next day sitting on the judgment seat commanded Paul to be brought. (7) And when he was come, the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood round about, and laid many and grievous complaints against Paul, which they could not prove. (8) While he answered for himself, Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended anything at all. (9) But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure, answered Paul, and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judge d of these things before me? (10) Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar's judgment seat, where I ought to be judge d: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest. (11) For if I be an offender, or have committed anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar. (12) Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? unto Caesar shalt thou go.
What an awful view we have here again of a corrupt judge. Festus, as well as Felix, plainly saw, that there was nothing in which those unprincipled men could criminate Paul. He knew also, that he had been unjustly detained in prison for more than two years by Felix. And in the face of these palpable cruelties, to propose another hearing at a distant day, and to be carried to Jerusalem for that purpose, was the grossest act of oppression and cruelty imaginable. Oh! Festus! how hast thou long since gone up to the Jerusalem, the Zion of God, which is above, and there been judge d before Paul's Lord, for thy cruelties to his dear servant? Thy conscience then was hardened past all feeling and thy pleasing the Jews at the expense of God's truth, amused thy unfeeling soul. But thy sins were only accumulating, like the gathering of gun-powder in the barrel, treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. And how long since, hath that fire seized upon thy full-bosomed soul of guilt, and sunk thee into that place of endless torment, which, kindled in God's anger, burneth forever to the lowest hell, Deuteronomy 32:22.
This appeal of Paul, no doubt, was made from the encouragement he had derived from the Lord's vision to him; in which Jesus had told him, that he must bear witness for him at Rome, Acts 23:11. And very sweet, and seasonable, was that gracious visit of the Lord, to his poor prisoner. In the confidence of which, he demands a hearing before the then Emperor of Rome, who was Festus's lord. And, by this means, he not only pleaded his right, as a Roman, so to be tried; but he perfectly for the time, got free from his enemies at Jerusalem. Reader!! do not overlook the love of Jesus, on this occasion, to Paul. And, when you have thanked the Lord Jesus, for this grace to the Apostle then; connect with it the assurance, that the same grace Jesus sheweth to all his people now. Oh! how sweet are all the love-visits of Jesus!
Reader! even at this distance of time, I feel my poor heart disposed to bless God, for his timely instruction given to Paul, to make this appeal. Methinks I see the Governor, looking most pitiful indeed! He is obliged to take counsel with those around him, how to act. And he that just before had said: wilt thou go up to Jerusalem and there be judge d before me? is now compelled to conduct himself towards his poor prisoner, as if Paul had said in answer: be judge d before thee? No! To your sovereign and master, I appeal for judgment. By Caesar only will I be judge d! And here the Court broke up. The Jews sent home disappointed. The Governor humbled, Paul triumphant. And how often doth the Lord thus baffle the designs of bad men, and deliver his people?
And after certain days king Agrippa and Bernice came unto Caesarea to salute Festus. (14) And when they had been there many days, Festus declared Paul's cause unto the king, saying, There is a certain man left in bonds by Felix: (15) About whom, when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, desiring to have judgment against him. (16) To whom I answered, It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have license to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him. (17) Therefore, when they were come hither, without any delay on the morrow I sat on the judgment seat, and commanded the man to be brought forth. (18) Against whom when the accusers stood up, they brought none accusation of such things as I supposed: (19) But had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. (20) And because I doubted of such manner of questions, I asked him whether he would go to Jerusalem, and there be judge d of these matters. (21) But when Paul had appealed to be reserved unto the hearing of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I might send him to Caesar. (22) Then Agrippa said unto Festus, I would also hear the man myself. Tomorrow, said he, thou shalt hear him.
I pass by all that is said here, of the pomp and grandeur of the persons in the intimacy of Festus, things but of a moment, to attend to what is more important; the concerns of the Church at this time. One circumstance is very striking, as related in this paragraph. Festus here talks of the manner of the Romans, in their delivery of criminals, to death. And, as Paul was brought before Festus by the Jews, in hopes that he would have condemned him to death, though a Jew; nothing can be more plain, than that the Jews had now totally lost the power in themselves to judge, and condemn any; for it was solely exercised by the Roman power. But, if the Reader will compare what is here said, with what took place at the death of Stephen; (see Acts 7:57-58, and Commentary there) he will discover, that a great change had taken place since that time. The Sanhedrim, in Stephen's case, did actually try, condemn, and execute, this martyr to the Godhead of Christ, without applying to the Roman power. Whereas now, they no longer possessed it, as is evident in Paul's trial, both before Felix, and Festus; and his appeal to Caesar. And here opens, and confirms, a blessed proof of Jacob's prophecy, Genesis 49:10. The Gentiles were now gathering to Christ. The sceptre of Judah was totally departed, and the Shiloh come. How blessed is it to trace the sweet evidences of our holy faith, thus by scriptural testimonies!
I must detain the Reader with an observation more, on what is said in this paragraph, of the Apostle's assertion, respecting the resurrection of Christ. Festus was astonished, he told Agrippa, that when he expected Paul's accusers to have brought forth a charge against him of some high crimes and misdemeanors; it was nothing but of certain questions, and superstitions: and particularly, said he, of one Jesus which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. Reader! do mark the contempt with which this heathen spake of that glorious event, which is to you, and to me, our chief happiness, and greatest joy!
But, while this wretched man, considered this momentous truth as a trifle of no value to regard; let you and I rather advert to the conduct of Paul, and enquire how, or from what cause it was, the Apostle became so confident. Certain it is, that Paul had never seen Christ in the flesh, during our Lord's ministry; for he saith himself, that he was as one born out of due time, 1 Corinthians 15:8. And that he was, many years after Christ's return to glory, a bitter enemy to the cause of Christ, is also equally certain. As, therefore, he was not one of those witnesses Peter speaks of, who were chosen before of God for this purpose to be his witnesses, who did eat and drink with Jesus after he arose from the dead; it becomes a subject of no small interest to enquire, how Paul got his assurance of Christ's resurrection, and what it was, which made him so confident, that Jesus which was dead, he affirmed to be alive?
And here opens to us, a subject of peculiar sweetness and delight. For nothing can be more evident, than that Paul's positiveness in affirming, that this One glorious Jesus which had been dead, was alive, arose, from his own personal knowledge. Jesus himself had spoken to Paul from heaven, at his conversion, Acts 9:4-5. And Jesus had again made a second manifestation of himself to Paul, as it is written: Acts 22:17-21, and 1 Corinthians 15:8. And what confirmed yet more the whole in the Apostle's mind, of the resurrection of Jesus, were the blessed effects which followed, in his own heart. The resurrection of Jesus became a palpable truth with Paul, from his own. Well might the Apostle affirm, that this One Lord Jesus which was dead, was alive; because, Christ's resurrection and return to glory, had been confirmed to Paul's heart by the blessed effects of it, in his resurrection by grace. And the same evidence rests now in the heart of every regenerated believer. Reader! you and I, and every child of God, in whose Spirit the Holy Ghost witnesseth, that we are the children of God, possess the same witness in ourselves. By the descent of the Holy Ghost upon our hearts, we prove the ascension, and consequently the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, having returned to glory, and sent him down. And, from this best of all assurances, like Paul, we may speak of Jesus as once dead, but now affirm, that he is alive. This is the sweetest and most precious of all evidences!
And on the morrow, when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp, and was entered into the place of hearing, with the chief captains, and principal men of the city, at Festus' commandment Paul was brought forth. (24) And Festus said, King Agrippa, and all men which are here present with us, ye see this man, about whom all the multitude of the Jews have dealt with me, both at Jerusalem, and also here, crying that he ought not to live any longer. (25) But when I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death, and that he himself hath appealed to Augustus, I have determined to send him. (26) Of whom I have no certain thing to write unto my lord. Wherefore I have brought him forth before you, and especially before thee, O king Agrippa, that, after examination had, I might have somewhat to write. (27) For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him.
Notwithstanding all this parade of Festus and his Court, I should not have thought it worth detaining the Reader to have made any observations upon it, had it not been to have called his attention to those blessed testimonies, which arise out of it, respecting the Lord and his people, The Lord Jesus had told his disciples, that they should be brought before Governors and Kings for his sake, for a testimony against them, Matthew 10:18. And Jesus had said the same to Paul, Acts 9:15-16, And, here we see it fulfilled. And Paul alludes to the same, when he saith we are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men! 1 Corinthians 4:9. And, what a spectacle indeed, of derision, did the Apostle appear, amidst such an host of infidels! But, what an object of honor, to the view of angels, and the world of the spirits of just men made perfect, looking on, and beholding the faithful Apostle! Hail! thou highly favored servant of thy Lord!
READER! learn from Paul's history, in the unceasing pursuits of those men for his blood, the bitterness of heart in a state of nature, against the doctrine of grace; and be convinced, that in every individual of the fallen sons of Adam, the case is the same. The carnal mind is enmity against God. Oh! the blessedness, when brought out of this Adam-nature, by sovereign mercy; and brought into an heartfelt acquaintance, with the Lord Jesus Christ. None but they who know the truth, from a personal experience of its Almighty power, as Paul did, having part in the first resurrection, can, like him, enjoy it. But, where a saving work of God the Holy Ghost, hath taken place in the soul, by regeneration; that person will have the same confidence as the Apostle had, and with the same holy joy, be always speaking, as he did, of One Jesus, who was dead, whom the heart affirms to be alive.
Blessed Lord Jesus! be thou everlastingly loved and adored, for thy grace, and wisdom, imparted to thy servant Paul, when thus ready to be swallowed up by his enemies. Surely, Lord, it was thy strength; made manifest in creature weakness. It was Jesus who taught him, in such a moment, to make an appeal to Caesar: though Caesar no more than Festus was a friend to Paul, or his Lord. Here, Lord, thy promise was fulfilled in giving him a word and wisdom, which all the adversaries of thy poor prisoner, could neither gainsay nor resist! And thus, in a moment, their whole policy fell to the ground! And, thus the Lord is continually doing now, amidst the exercises of his people, by which they are more than conquerors, through Him that loveth them.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Acts 25". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Easter