Unless you have recently immigrated to our country, you are aware that for the last five years parts of our government have become fixated on the term “bullying”. The term has been defined in the newly organized “stopbullying.gov” website, which states:
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance…In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include: an “Imbalance of Power” (Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others) [as well as]…”Repetition” (Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once). Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.
I cannot be the only American that wondered how the government got involved in the antics of school yard children, but – like it or not – the fact is that they have decided to make this a part of their governmental oversight. I also cannot actually grasp how they will monitor the child who feels excluded on purpose. I think I was that guy a few times – the last picked for the team – and then only because a teacher MADE them choose EVERYONE to play. I do recognize there are extreme examples, but I remember a number of bloody noses as a child fighting on the playground and I don’t recall any federal charges, but my memory isn’t what it used to be. Perhaps I am being too insensitive; I don’t mean to offend someone who has been through a difficult experience with your own child. Most of us recall some cruelty by others as we grew up – it seems a part of the condition of living with a fallen humanity.
My focus on bullying in this lesson is on an ancient case…As we follow the life of the Apostle Paul. We have observed some true bullying in recent lessons, though none in a school yard. Paul was beaten by a mob, swept away into a barracks and offered some chances to defend himself. We are following those defenses found in the first century record of the Book of Acts that detailed each defense he gave before a variety of proceedings. Most recently we have examined the first of three “Roman Provincial Defenses” recorded by Dr. Luke on Paul’s behalf. They are part of a string of seven defenses in which we learn an important truth, perfect for this generation of believers. The truth is…
Key Principle: God modeled the defense of the Gospel so that believers will know how to be clear, confident and concise about the message we were given by the Lord.
The three defenses we already noted in our study were:
• The first defense of Paul was before the Jewish crowd in the Temple, given in Hebrew, from the stairs of the Antonia Fortress (Acts 22).
• The second defense was before the Sanhedrin, under the guard of the Chiliarch (commander) in Jerusalem (Acts 23).
• The third defense was before Antonius Felix, the Roman Procurator (Governor) of the Province of Judea.
As we looked closely, we began with a focus on three elements of each recorded defense which were:
• First, the players – it is essential that we clarify the picture of the setting by sharpening our focus on Paul’s audience.
• Second, the content – we want to look closely at HOW Paul defended the faith, and what elements of the story he highlighted according to Luke’s brief overview.
• Third, the results – sometimes it is encouraging to see the responses to those who went before us so that we have some idea what to expect.
As with the defense before Felix, will use these three as our rough “outline” of each defense, and then take the time to apply the lessons we find in the record. Think back for a moment to our last lesson… We observed several important principles of defending our faith taking Paul’s circumstance as a model for the days ahead. We noted that:
• Paul didn’t need to be rude, presumptive or defensive in spirit to stand for Jesus –and we don’t either.
• Paul didn’t assume that his audience understood his faith (he didn’t “Christian-eaze” his way through his defense), nor did he attack his opponents to get his point across – and we don’t need to either.
• Paul didn’t wander between issues, but stayed focused on the essential point of making the heart of his faith clear to the hearer – and we must do so as well.
• Paul didn’t like disagreement, and didn’t want it in his life – but that didn’t make him so soft that he refused to stand his ground – and we cannot either. This is a time for believers to make it clear that the message of the Bible is non-negotiable. What the Bible calls on us to do, is what God expects us to do – and we intend to do it.
These are good principles, but the record is not complete – we have more in front of us. Keeping that in mind, let’s look at two more defenses, as Luke recorded them in Acts 25 and the beginning of Acts 26.
Paul’s Defense before Procurator Porcius Festus (Acts 25):
The Player: Porcius Festus
Porcius Festus took the post of Procurator of Judea after Antoninus Felix vacated it and likely held the office between the years 59-62 CE, though these dates are still disputed. The change in the provincial coinage evidences Nero’s fifth year points to A.D. 59. As inheritor of the raft of problems in part caused by his predecessor Felix, Festus faced a growing controversy between Agrippa II and the Jerusalem priests regarding a wall erected at the Temple to break the view of the new wing of Agrippa’s palace. Jewish hostilities grew and played an important part in the coming Jewish War of 66 CE.
Here is how the text of the Book of Acts introduced him:
Acts 25:1 Festus then, having arrived in the province, three days later went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. 2 And the chief priests and the leading men of the Jews brought charges against Paul, and they were urging him, 3 requesting a concession against Paul, that he might have him brought to Jerusalem ([at the same time], setting an ambush to kill him on the way). 4 Festus then answered that Paul was being kept in custody at Caesarea and that he himself was about to leave shortly. 5 “Therefore,” he said, “let the influential men among you go there with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them prosecute him.” 6 After he had spent not more than eight or ten days among them, he went down to Caesarea, and on the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought.
Festus looks in the passage to be a “means business” straight-shooter. He arrived by sea, and spent only three days before he went to Jerusalem to collect the list of troubles that would need to be faced. When the priests made Paul a big deal, he came back to Caesarea, took up his tribunal seat and got down to business. Luke recalled the man as being on the job and serious – just what seemed needed in Judea.
The Defense: Clear presentation of the issues.
Paul’s appearance is carefully presented by Luke, as a radio announcer in a ball park. He gives us the “blow by blow” description of the interaction. Luke wasn’t just reporting the scene – he was offering a pattern for us under the controlling breath of the Spirit of God. Look at how Paul handled the defense of his faith..
Once again, Paul got right to the heart of the accusation – he was DIRECT.
Acts 25:7 After Paul arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him which they could not prove, 8 while Paul said in his own defense, “I have committed no offense either against the Law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.”
In many cases in modern life, the audience rewards brevity. They need enough to understand, but in this world full of information overload – stick to the facts. When I deal with a naturalist, I simply posit that there are powerful, precise and unvaried formulas at work in operating the delicate balance of forces that make life in this universe possible. Since that is a fact that all can grasp, the question of how these forces came to be and how they continue to operate is a philosophical one – not a scientific one. Once the veneer of science is stripped away, it is possible to address presupposition and belief – and no system has more in its favor than the simplicity of an intelligent Designer. Driving the discussion to its clearest components will strip all the frills and distractions.
In Paul’s case, he lunged into the heart of the matter and simply said: “I have committed no offense worthy of my detention, period.” That about says it. Paul insisted they PROVE HIM GUILTY, not simply yell about how they felt.
Paul wouldn’t let someone move the proceedings in an inappropriate venue for trickery sake – he was INFORMED about his legal defense.
Acts 25:9 But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me on these [charges]?” 10 But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried.
Paul knew the possibility of a plot was great, and the embarrassment of the many who had taken a vow and then failed earlier. He wasn’t going to Jerusalem, because he could be sure he would not make it alive. He knew he could get a fairer chance at a hearing right where he was – and that was the appropriate venue.
Here is the point: The believer can and should be aware of legal maneuvers that will be used against him. I believe in law enforcement, and I support their attempts to do a difficult job, but I also am not unaware that many who work in that field are jaded, and their work is to catch people who are hiding the wrong doing in which they are involved. As a result, my interactions with law enforcement are carefully worded. Let me explain: If you walk into an interview with the police and anticipate they will understand your humor and innocent personality, you will almost certainly be spending some time in their guest facilities. I answer directly and respectfully, but I don’t look at them as friends, and I don’t answer them casually. I recognize the need to be careful about what I say and how I say it. The same thought process is what I use speaking to reporters today.
Paul was aware of the backroom dealing, and he made sure the authorities knew that he knew the proper venue for dispute. His example reminds us that believers who face the system ignorant of it will face heartbreak if they don’t learn quickly how things work. If persecution comes to our country in a real way – we will need to understand legal precedent for our positions and try to defend ourselves within those – and Paul’s template will be useful! Look at how he faced the charges as you continue reading in Acts 25:10…
Paul made clear that his hearer knew the truth about the charges, and put that on the record – he wasn’t SHEEPISH.
Acts 25:10b “…I have done no wrong to [the] Jews, as you also very well know.
Paul wanted it to be a matter of record that he was being set up by the offer of a change of venue for his hearing. He left a clear pattern – being polite doesn’t mean being a patsy. We can know our legal rights and we can press the point that wrong is wrong when it is obvious. Recently a public school system required middle school students to memorize portions from the Qur’an to help the student understand what it termed “the beauty of the faith of Islam”. A parent filed suit and made clear on the evening news that if the plain reading of John 3:16 couldn’t be recited in a classroom because of separation of church and state, “mosque and state” needed to be kept equally apart. The school board was flooded with phone calls and responses by people who did not share the faith of the parent –but they made their point. Because the believer used a point of law that the society could otherwise rally around – the believer affected change. Paul continued…
When he recognized there was no other choice, he made a direct appeal to head to Rome – he was CONFIDENT of God’s leading.
Acts 25:11 “If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is [true] of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar.”
Look at the courageous way Paul phrased his commitment. He told Festus that he wasn’t unwilling to die – but that he knew he wouldn’t get a fair trial if he was going to be forced to go to Jerusalem – and that is what it looked like would happen. Romans loved “wirtus” (a word that meant more “manliness”) and they routinely abhorred cowards. Paul was a Roman, and he wanted Festus to know that he shared the values of a Roman.
When modern believers defend our faith, it is not wrong to show that we value our country and what it has been. It is not wrong to express trust in her courts and systems – but we cannot be uninformed of which appeals can and must be made when things are not going well. Remember in his case, Paul’s confidence was in God’s revelation that he was Rome-ward bound – so Paul exercised the only option he could see that would get him that result. The alternative was to be ambushed on the road to Jerusalem or miraculously protected by God.
The Results: Held for structuring of case and subsequent transport to Caesar.
The end of the account in Acts 25:12 made clear that Festus couldn’t grease the wheels with the priests, so he was going to ship the problem to Nero. Luke recorded:
Acts 25:12 Then when Festus had conferred with his council, he answered, “You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go.”
Paul’s Defense before Herod Agrippa II and Berenice (Acts 25:13-26:32):
The Players: Herod Agrippa II and Queen Berenice
Before Paul could be sent to Rome, Festus needed to structure the charges and have a document accompany Paul – but that wasn’t easy. He hadn’t broken any laws! For help, Festus called on the King of the Jews – Herod Agrippa II as recorded in Acts 25:13-14.
Herod Agrippa II was born during the ministry of Jesus before the Cross (27-29 CE) the final king from the Herodian dynasty. His father was Herod Agrippa I who died “smitten of worms” in Acts 12, his aunt was Drusilla (second wife of the former Roman procurator Antonius Felix) and his sister and consort was Bernice (who is in the story of Paul’s defense with her brother). Agrippa was educated in the court of the Emperor Claudius, until his father’s untimely death (when Agrippa II was only seventeen years old). Claudius held the youth in Rome and sent a Procurator to Judaea, while Agrippa supported Jews at every opportunity before the Emperor. Eventually he was granted the Syrian territory of Chalcis (after the death of Herod of Chalcis in 48 CE) as well as the right of superintending the Temple in Jerusalem and appointing its high priest. Late in Claudius’ reign (53 CE), he was made ruler over the territories of Herod Philip. Josephus, the Jewish historian, repeats the gossip that Agrippa II lived in an incestuous relationship with his sister, Berenice. She acted as a “client queen”, and the relationship may have been as suspected. In 55 CE, Nero gave him administration of Tiberias and Taricheae in Galilee, Iulias and all of Peraea. Agrippa dramatically beautified Jerusalem but routinely appointed and deposed high priests – making him increasingly unpopular. Agrippa failed to stem off the Jewish rebellion in 66 CE against the Roman procurator Gessius Florus, and found himself expelled along with Berenice as the reviolt against Rome grew. He supported both Vespasian, and Titus – accompanying the latter on some campaigns, and was even wounded at the siege of Gamla. After the capture of Jerusalem, he went with his sister Berenice to Rome, where he was invested with the dignity of praetor and rewarded with additional territory. He died, childless, sometime late in the first century.
The Defense: Clear presentation of the issues.
It was customary for Roman officials to ask local monarchs for help in local adjudication matters – and this one was particularly difficult for Festus. He stood to lose favor of Jerusalem’s key players for not handing Paul over to a plot, but that would have put him in violation of Roman protection laws. He called in help…
Acts 25:13 Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and paid their respects to Festus. 14 While they were spending many days there, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king…”
Festus explained to Agrippa and Berenice how Felix stuck him with the problem of Paul in 25:14b-19. He made clear that he saw it as a debate about Jesus and resurrection – an internal theological debate of Jews. He admitted it was not in his purview and said:
Acts 25:20 “Being at a loss how to investigate such matters, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these matters. 21 “But when Paul appealed to be held in custody for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him to be kept in custody until I send him to Caesar.”
Agrippa was intrigued and asked to have an opportunity to examine him. An elaborate stage was set, and Dr. Luke says they wasted little time:
Acts 25: 23 So, on the next day when Agrippa came together with Bernice amid great pomp, and entered the auditorium accompanied by the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in.
Procurator Festus made a speech at the beginning of the proceeding, and offered some thoughts:
1. Jews appealed to me and pressed their case loudly to execute this man (25:24).
2. I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death (24:25).
3. He appealed to the Emperor, and I agreed to send him. but I have nothing to write to the Emperor concerning charges.
Agrippa began to address Paul in Acts 26:1 Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and [proceeded] to make his defense:
For the sake of time in our lesson, I want to focus on the meat of what Paul said – because it is powerful. He opened thanking Agrippa II for hearing the case and being a studious Jew (26:2-3). He made clear that his testimony is well known and easy to verify – a life as a Pharisee until he met Jesus while persecuting Christians at the behest of Temple authorities. He “dove in” to his testimony:
First, Jesus found me when I wasn’t looking for Him (26:12-15). Jesus interrupted my life and made clear I was heading the wrong way. He struck me down and spoke…
Acts 26:14 “And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 “And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
He made clear that Jesus was powerful, alive and acting on his life when Paul had no intention of believing, following or serving Jesus. The heart of the Gospel is that Jesus is not dead – He is alive, engaged and moving. Heaven is not far from us – for our Savior is near. He walks beside us each day. He hears what we hear. He sees what we see – but then so much more. A true gospel presentation MUST center on the living Christ. He is not an influence. He is not an inspiring leader Who lived and died long ago. He is a Living Savior – able to reach into lives and transform them today!
Second, Jesus took control of my life, my directions and my goals. I chose to follow His lead, and that is what I am doing!
Acts 26:16 But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; 17 rescuing you from the [Jewish] people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you…
Third, Jesus’ promise is to pull people out of the darkness of Satan’s realm and give them both forgiveness of sin and a new family – a new inheritance.
Acts 26:18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’
Fourth, Jesus’ message includes proclamation (we are called to preach the Gospel) and repentance (we are called to live distinctly).
Acts 26:19 “So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but [kept] declaring both to those of Damascus first, and [also] at Jerusalem and [then] throughout all the region of Judea, and [even] to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. 21 “For this reason [some] Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death.
Fifth, Jesus did what the Prophets foretold – suffered, died and rose again! He called me to preach to everyone I can that He is alive!
Acts 26:22 “So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; 23 that the Christ was to suffer, [and] that by reason of [His] resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the [Jewish] people and to the Gentiles.”
The Results: A near response, a clearing of charges, a trip to Rome.
• Festus told Paul he was a nutcase (26:24) – but Paul was confident in asserting that he spoke the honest truth (26:25).
• Agrippa II was pressed in his heart, and conviction began – but he quickly dismissed it (26:26-28).
• All three rulers recognized secretly that Paul was innocent – even though they wouldn’t say it to the crowd (Acts 16:19-32).
Paul didn’t lose if he faithfully fulfilled the role God commanded Him to play. Three powerful ruler left the room curious, empty of God and filled with turmoil. One man was being sent in a chain but he was free inside and full of peace.
I want you to stop now, as I close this lesson and think about something. If this life is all you have, then time is slowly chewing up your life. At the end, you will have nothing.. a hole…to dust you will return. Your friends will cry. Your family will miss you. In a few years they will laugh at the funny family stories and cherish your memory. Yet, time is chewing on them as well. As the years pass by, your grave stone will be left unread. Your memory will fade. Your great-grandchildren may not know your name, and they certainly will feel nothing staring at a stone with your name on it. If this is all you have – time wins and you lose. It is pointless to try to get more things – you are only increasing the estate sale. It is pointless to keep pictures of a thousand events – soon no one will know where you were or who you were with anyway. You are a speck of dust drifting through the solar system for a moment in time. What meaning can there be to your little insignificant existence?
Now stop. What if God DOES know you? What if He DID create with an intention as the Bible says? What if YOUR NAME is known in Heaven, and your life is part of God’s wondrous movie to show the cosmos Himself? What if your life matters to the Creator? What if the places you went, the scrapes and bruises you got there – all of it – is destined to become part of Heaven’s story in the ages after the ages, in time after time? The Bible says you CAN know God – because He made a way for you to have a relationship with Him through the sacrifice of Jesus. He is waiting for you to come to Him, believe what He said, and trust that He can begin a work in you that won’t end until you are home with Him… and then the celebration begins!
Think about the pattern of Paul’s witness and the truths you need to embrace:
Jesus wants to meet you, even if you weren’t scheduling a meeting with Him. He wants you to surrender control of your life to Him, and He wants to transform you to something very different than you are. He wants your life in darkness to end – and your allegiance to the rebel enemy to be put aside. He wants to create in your life new fruit that shows He is at work in you. He died for you, and now He lives with outstretched arms, waiting to draw you in to your new life! These are the truths Paul preached – because that is what God made clear to Him…