Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
The Escape Button
It?s been my experience in the 30+ years I?ve been a follower of Jesus Christ, that there are two major stages in the maturity of a Christian, and within those major stages are two parts.
What Can I Get
For me from the Lord (it?s about me finding blessings for my life)
In me from the Lord (it?s about me growing God?s character in my life)
What Can I Give
To the Lord (it?s not about me anymore but giving glory to God)
For the Lord (it?s about allowing God to use my life, no matter what happens to me)
I myself am somewhere on that continuum, and just because we are maturing doesn?t mean we no longer want and need God?s blessing or His character or desire to worship Him. But I see in the life of the Apostle Paul, as he sets his eyes towards Rome?that he is willing to do whatever it takes, no matter the personal risk or consequences, to see God?s love communicated to the world around him.
A little earlier, Paul said to the Ephesian elders:
And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that? imprisonment and? afflictions await me. 24 But? I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only? I may finish my course and? the ministry? that I received from the Lord Jesus,? to testify to? the gospel of? the grace of God. (Acts 20:22-25)
Later on, Paul wrote to Timothy:
6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
So as we look at this section, keep in mind that Paul is not being reckless, he is being selfless, and it shows us the way as we desire to mature in our faith in following the Master.
25:1 ? 5
Festus didn?t even have time to unpack his bags before going up to the trouble spot in his province: Jerusalem. We know very little about Felix, except that he died in A.D. 62, only a couple of years after coming into office. Felix lost his job because he managed relations with the troublesome Jews poorly. Festus inherited these problems, which culminated in the huge uprisings of 66-70. No doubt he was going to try a different tack?working with the Jews instead of against them. Often a new manager wants to find ways to fix perceived problems he finds.
The fact that the issue with Paul, years now after his arrest, was still at the top of their agenda, shows just how much rancor had developed between the Jewish religion and this new Way.
Festus may not have wanted to get into the details as this first visit was a good will gesture and that he didn?t want to get into adjudicating cases just yet.
Ishmael was now the high priest, but Ananias still exerted a lot of influence and was probably a huge reason why the Paul issue was still on the front burner. Ananias, by the way, died in A.D. 66 at the hands of Jewish nationalists. I think Paul being a Pharisee, a learned man, and a Christian was a huge threat because he had such huge credibility that the people might listen to him and turn from Judaism.
6 ? 12
Practically the moment Fetus returns to Caesarea, he orders Paul to be brought before him. Most likely this was the first case of this new Roman provincial governor.
Festus would have known nothing about the prior plot to kill Paul and probably saw nothing wrong with giving into the Jews, part of the new conciliatory approach. Maybe it would win him political points. Paul defended himself in verse 8 for the same three charges: against the rioting, the temple, and sedition against Rome.
Paul knew that to be returned to Jerusalem meant more possible plots against him, which were in fact in place, and that he could be found guilty of the single charge of profaning the temple, for which the Sanhedrin could impose the death penalty. Paul already knew the ?guilty before being found innocent? attitude of the ruling council, and not knowing how Festus would rule, he pulls out his trump card?appealing to Caesar.
Roman law allowed citizens to appeal to the emperor only when the case when beyond the normal jurisdiction of the provincial governor, especially where the threat of violent coercion or capital punishment was present. The emperor at the time was Nero (A.D. 54-68). Why would Paul want to go before this persecutor of Christians? That hadn?t happened yet. In fact, at this time, Nero, under the influence of Stoic philosopher Seneca, was a good leader. The time was considered a Golden Age. Nothing at that time warned of what Nero would become in his final five years of life.
Notice also that Paul is not afraid of the death sentence, if deserved. Yes, Paul was not against capital punishment (also see Romans 13:4).
13 ? 22
Paul stood charged of sedition, punishable by death under Roman law, and profaning the temple, punishable by death by Jewish law. No new governor would just turn Paul loose, so he is in a bit of a bind. So he grants the appeal to Caesar and brings in the leader of a neighboring province to help him out. Notice in verse 19, despite the veneer of legitimacy, the real nut of the matter was about Jesus, as it always is. People will bring up all kinds of excuses and counter charges but in reality it is simply: is Jesus alive? If so, you have to deal with all He said.
Agrippa the second was son of Herod Agrippa I. He was brought up in Rome and was a favorite of the emperor. He was given a small kingdom to rule, and later the area to the north including the Galilean region. Bernice was his sister, formerly married to Uncle Herod. Incest? Yes. ?Nuf said?
23 ? 27
The pomp and circumstance were probably meant to intimidate everyone, but Paul knows who the real authority is and is actually very calm and articulate in his third defense.
26:1 ? 3
Paul?s been waiting two years for this opportunity to speak before someone who knew about the Jewish religion, and the happenings in the region. So he shows his appreciation. This doesn?t sound like brown-nosing.
4 ? 11
Paul was not invisible as a Jewish Pharisee. The people should have respected him and listened to him as he discovered the real truth behind the Jews? desire to seek God. They didn?t because it didn?t fit their ideas and ran against the self. So now he relates for the third time his conversion.
12 ? 18
This is really what?s it?s all about. This really sums up the book of Acts, in fact. Paul?s mission was to communicate the gospel to the world ?so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.?
19 ? 29
Apparently this was not what Festus was expecting, as is often the case when people really start listening to the gospel. It?s not politics or philosophy or anything else. It is about an encounter with a risen Savior and accountability for our actions before God. Festus says Paul is crazy (which is another defense against the gospel). But I love what Paul says, that the gospel is ?true and rational.? If you really stop to consider it carefully, the gospel makes sense.
?So Paul appeals to Agrippa who could not be seen as agreeing with Paul in this public setting, so does not answer the question. Paul?s answer is wonderful and even ends with a little humor ?except for these chains.?
So the meeting is over and Agrippa is heard to say Paul could have been set free (not really once an appeal to Caesar is made, but that he has not committed any crime).
30 ? 32
As a younger Christian, when I read these verses I thought, ?Oh Paul, you could have gotten off if you had just kept your mouth shut a little while longer!? This was Paul?s escape button?the way out of his current jam. But the more I grew to know the Lord and His ways, the more I realized that Paul didn?t want to hit the escape button and God didn?t want him to either. It was God?s plan for Paul to go through all the way to Rome and end up dying for his faith?and the amazing thing was Paul was okay with it.
What then does that say to us when we face difficulties? Our first and natural response is to find a way out as quickly and painlessly as possible. So is it possible that in some instances God actually desires for us to experience pain and trial so that 1) His purposes are furthered and that 2) we become more like Him in the process?
Now I?m not saying that we should look for ways to hurt ourselves, like some masochistic attempt to either punish ourselves or cleanse ourselves through pain. Certainly not like the guy who nails himself to a cross to share the gospel.
But as you face problems?a lost job, sickness, death, money issues, relationship problems, persecution?don?t just automatically try to avert the problem. Instead, spend some time asking God if he has a reason for you going through this and how He wants you to handle it.
?A couple of notes on that: if your situation is the result of your own sin, then that?s another issue and you need to deal with that with the Lord as a disciplinary problem. You may have to face discipline as the Lord seeks to purify you. Not all situations require you to ?stick it out.? Notice that Paul steadfastly refused to be taken back to Jerusalem because he knew there was a good likelihood his ability to keep telling God?s story would end.
We are not supposed to go through all painful situations. I?m just suggesting that you be open to allowing pain into your life if God wants to use it so you too can be a powerful storyteller of the love of God. Don?t be afraid to go to the next level, God is there too.