Key Verse: 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!”
In the last passage we learned Paul’s hope in the resurrection of the dead. Because of his hope in the resurrection, he was able to overcome his adverse human condition and render glory to God. With resurrection hope, Paul was free to shepherd Governor Felix with God’s word. Today, we see Paul’s trial before Governor Festus. In this passage we find three different people-Festus, Paul, and king Agrippa. Two people, Governor Festus and king Agrippa, looked indecisive because they loved themselves while Paul was decisive because he loved Jesus. Paul appealed to Caesar before Festus. Why? Paul wanted to go to Rome, the capital of the Gentile world, in order to obey Jesus’ world mission command. He was faithful to his mission with the spirit of martyrdom. Let’s learn Paul’s passion for the world mission and his love for Jesus, his King and Savior. I pray that we all may follow missionary Paul’s example to become fruitful, powerful, and faithful servants of God. May God bless us to become faithful witnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection to many college students with faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
PART I. APPEAL TO CAESAR (1-12)
In the New Testament times the Jews hated the Roman occupation of their holy land. Judea was the hotbed of successive rebellions and insurrections. The Jews were notorious for their independence and their hostility toward the occupying Roman army. Festus, as much as Felix, was conscious of tension in dealing with this turbulent people. They were anxious to avoid any unnecessary confrontation with the Jewish leaders. They wanted to show the Jews a favor in all situations. Pilate in Jesus’ trial knew that Jesus was innocent, but he crucified Jesus to appease the Jews. Felix knew that Paul was innocent, but he did not release him from prison. He was afraid of the pressure of the Jewish leaders. Because Felix was indecisive, Paul remained in prison for two years without any charge. Acts 24:27 says, “When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.” There was no justice to Paul. Festus was the same guy though he tried to serve the Roman justice for Paul. Why? They used Paul as their political pawn to advance their personal ambition. From human point of view, Paul became a victim of their political circumstance. But God was using them as his instrument to fulfill his world salvation plan. God was behind the scene. God was going to send his chosen servant to Rome through this event.
Look at verse 1. “Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem.” Festus was a smart politician. He knew his priority very well. Festus lost no time in making contact with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. He wanted to make friends with the Jewish leaders so that he could be a good governor and gain favor from Caesar. The Jewish leaders saw an opportunity to take action against Paul. Look at verse 3. “They urgently requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way.” This verse tells us that the Jewish religious leaders had become completely evil. Though they were the servants of God, they were not doing the work of God. They were doing the work of the devil. They sold their consciences to the devil in order to protect their position of authority and to feed their stomachs. They wanted to kill God’s servant Paul by an ambush. Accusing missionary Paul falsely, and plotting to kill him were not the work of God at all. They abused God’s name for their own personal gain. They lost their spiritual sense between good and evil. They abandoned their mission to lead God’s flocks due to their spiritual blindness and seared consciences. Look at verse 7. “When Paul appeared, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many serious charges against him, which they could not prove.” They intimidated missionary Paul with their physical presence and many serious charges. What was Festus’ response toward their request?
Look at verses 4-5. “Festus answered, ‘Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. Let some of your leaders come with me and press charges against the man there, if he has done anything wrong.’” For some reason the governor declined their request to transfer Paul to Jerusalem. In effect, he said, “You come down to Caesarea to press charges against him. I will not transfer Paul to Jerusalem.” Maybe Felix briefed him about the Jewish plot to kill Paul. In any case he ordered the accusers to attend a hearing at Caesarea. It was ironical that the Jews tried to kill Paul while the Gentile governor tried to protect Paul from the savage wolves. But in all this the hand of God was working powerfully behind the scenes to protect missionary Paul from the murderous intentions of the Jewish religious leaders. God fired Felix and sent Festus in time to protect his servant Paul from the death squad. As you know, God is in control in major human events.
Then Paul made his defense, “I have done nothing wrong against the law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar” (8). Paul’s defense was categorical. He denied having committed any offense. His conscience was clear before God and man. He stood firm in his defense. There was nothing to hide before them. It is important for the servant of God not to have any valid charges the worldly people may accuse him of. We need to have a clean life in order to stand before God and man. How did Festus respond? Look at verse 9. “Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, ‘Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?” Overall, Festus was the same political animal such as Pilate and Felix. When his job security was on the line, he wavered in his decision not to send Paul to Jerusalem. He might have known that Paul could not get a fair trial in Jerusalem. But he was no longer concerned with justice. He wanted to please the Jews. Festus seems a little better than Felix. He seems to be a hard worker and willing to make a decision. But he became a man of compromise who was ready to send an innocent man to death. Festus succumbed to the political pressure from the Jewish leaders in the end. Now no one seemed to defend Paul’s case. There was no help in sight. Paul was encircled by his ferocious and relentless accusers. Paul’s defense was ignored by Festus. Festus had sided with the Jews. The situation seemed impossible. What did Paul do?
Look at verses 10-11. “Paul answered, ‘I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. 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!’” Caesar Augustus, the first emperor, established a good judicial system to rule the vast empire. One merit of the Roman law was the appeal process. All Roman citizens were entitled to appeal to Caesar’s court when they disagreed with the local court. I am glad they had this appeal process to bring justice for all. UMCP students can appeal to the parking board when they get the parking tickets. In some cases the parking fee is waived or reduced. In other cases their appeal is denied. Martha Stewart received 5-months prison sentence due to her improper stock trade. But she did not appeal because there was no assurance that she would get a lighter sentence. Four years ago George Bush appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court when the presidential election result was delayed. Appealing was good to him but it was bad to Al Gore. In Paul’s case three choices were available to him-go to Jerusalem for another trial, or stay in Caesarea until freedom, or appeal to Caesar and go to Rome. The second seems reasonable. But Apostle Paul chose the third option and he appealed to Caesar in spite of a higher risk. Why did missionary Paul appeal to Caesar? If you were Paul, what would you do in this case? Here we learn several things from Paul.
First, Paul was obedient to Jesus’ command. Acts 9:15b says, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” Acts 23:11b says, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” Though Paul was persecuted by the Jews and the death threat remained active, he did not forget Jesus’ command, “You must carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings. You must also testify in Rome.” His eyes were firmly fixed on Rome. He wanted to obey Jesus’ command by any means. Prison, hardship, and persecutions did not deter his commitment to obey Jesus. During his two years in imprisonment Paul might have given up his prayer to testify in Rome. But he did not give up his prayer to go Rome. He was faithful to Jesus, his commanding officer. Obedience to Jesus’ command was more important than his very own life to Paul. He said in Acts 20:24, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to me-the task of testifying the gospel of God’s grace.” He considered the task of testifying the grace of God’s grace more important than his very own life. Rev. 2:10b says, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Paul was faithful to Jesus even to the point of death. No matter what happens to his life, Paul wanted to obey Jesus’ world mission command. That’s the reason why he appealed to Caesar.
The Roman Emperor at this time was Nero, who later became infamous for his manner of persecuting the Christians. Nero ruled the world from A.D. 54-68. He was good during the first five years of his reign because he had excellent advisors like stoic philosopher Seneca and Burrus, general in the imperial palace guard. But later he fired his good advisors and killed his mother and wife and became a violent and mad emperor who indulged excessive drinking and unlimited pleasures. He intentionally burned the slum sections of Rome and blamed Christians for the fire and started state-sponsored persecutions against Christians. Therefore, Paul’s appeal to Caesar involved a greater risk. It was uncertain for his future. He appealed to Caesar anyhow to obey Jesus’ world mission command. Eventually, Paul and Peter became martyrs by infamous Nero. King Agrippa said to Festus in Acts 26:32, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” If Paul waited a little longer, maybe he would have been set free from the Roman prison. So the best option was to stay in Caesarea until he was set free. But he took the risk in order to obey Jesus’ command to preach the gospel in Rome. He wanted to please Jesus. He was willing to give his life for the world mission. He was willing to pay the cost of following Jesus because he had the hope of the resurrection. There was no fear in his life because he had hope in Jesus. Of course, Paul could have enjoyed his life with his law degree as second generation Roman citizen. But he was willing to risk his life to obey Jesus’ world mission command. It is easy to talk about the world mission. But it is not easy to obey Jesus’ world mission command because it is very costly. M. S.L. from Shippensburg could have enjoyed a secure job in America as a second generation MK. But she went to China to obey Jesus’ world mission command risking her life. P.B. from Atlanta could have pursued his American dream eating hamburgers daily. But he went to China to obey Jesus’ world mission command taking the risk of jail and persecutions. Now many Chinese students follow him wherever he goes because he is a good shepherd to them. When A.L. graduated from the law school two years, I expected him to become a powerful lawyer. But he went to China to obey Jesus’ world mission command. Often he fell in serious illness due to freezing weather conditions for several months. Humanly speaking, I was disappointed when he decided to stay two more years in China. In my deep heart I did not want to pay the cost of obeying Jesus’ world mission command. If I do not want to take the risk, who else will take the risk? I repented of my human thinking and praised God for using A.L. for his world mission purpose. God blessed him to become the first second-generation missionary to China. Obeying Jesus’ world mission command requires a higher risk and a heavy cost. Paul took that risk and God used his obedience to evangelize the Roman Empire. He said in Acts 26:19, “I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.” Obedience is a key in our mission life. World mission is not an idea but it requires our act of obedience. When God raised up many Indian shepherds in India, they received persecutions from the government. Missionary Jimmy Lee received a letter from a government office. It said that Korean missionaries who evangelize non-Christian Indian people must be expelled from the country. Missionary Jimmy Lee and our coworkers obeyed Jesus’ world command and did not lose their hearts. Through the persecutions many Indian shepherds were raised up as national leaders. Shepherd Abraham Nial from India is our first convert from Hinduism and he delivered a powerful message for our MSU conference.
Second, Paul kept his faith. Paul confessed in 2 Tim 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul appealed to Caesar to keep his faith. It is easy to keep faith when things are going in our way. It is very difficult when things do not go our way. Paul said in Acts 19:21, “After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. ‘After I have been there,’ he said, ‘I must visit Rome also.’” Paul had a solid mission plan to visit Rome. But he was stuck in the Roman prison. There was no hope of getting out from the dark prison. His world mission plan did not go as he planned. His plan to visit was challenged and tested severely due to his two years of imprisonment. He might have lost his faith for visiting Rome. But he kept his faith in Jesus. He accepted God’s provision in his life. So he appealed to Caesar. He wanted to go Rome as a free man. Now he had to go to Rome as a prisoner of Caesar escorted by the Roman soldiers. All expenses were covered by Caesar and it was the safest way to go Rome because the Jews would have ambushed him if he went as a free man. Paul kept his faith to visit Rome in spite of impossible human situation. His burning desire to share the gospel with Christians in Rome did not die down in the midst of his imprisonment. When he kept faith in Jesus, the impossible task became possible. When we review our mission life, it did not go as we expected. Our sheep does not grow as expected. There are many ups and downs in our mission life. Some women missionaries came to America as a sewing machine operator. Some men missionaries came to America with their wives’ visa. In any case they came to America in God’s way. M. Luke Lim said in our Washington history report interview, “The spirit of missionaries did not die down in the mission field and it was alive.” It is vital to keep faith in Jesus to serve God’s mission. Sometimes we struggle to serve God’s will or our desire in the midst of our sufferings. I expected a great spiritual revival after God enabled us to build this beautiful center. But there was a spiritual drought for last ten years. God’s work did not go as I expected. God trained me to be a humble servant of God for 10 years. God’s way of working was different than my way of working. After 10 years of struggle God blessed our ministry to bounce back through the birth of Young Disciples of Jesus. YDJ sponsored the table ministry last week. God blessed them to have so many sheep. Tommy showed up everyday and had an interview with channel 13 T.V. station. Common life house sisters are growing as future mothers of prayer. Though M. Alison is busy with her PhD. Study, God granted her to have more than 50 potential sheep. During Friday welcome service ten new students attended and Paul Lim’s message was excellent. Our praise team music rocked our center and lifted our spirit high to praise God. Overall, God taught me to follow his way through many hardships as God wanted Paul to go Rome as a prisoner of Caesar. We learn that everything is possible as long as we keep our faith.
Third, Paul wanted to use his Roman citizenship for the world mission. Paul saw his present circumstances as an opportunity to gain the emperor’s recognition that the whole Christian movement was not subversive to the Roman Empire. So he decided to use his Roman citizenship to appeal to Caesar. When Paul remembered God’s purpose for world mission and for his own life, he knew he must go to Rome. Paul was not a victim in an evil scheme. He saw God’s good purpose beyond all the evil of the world. He knew that God was in control of his life and future. Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” When Paul decided to obey God’s will, God gave him sparkling wisdom. He remembered his Roman citizenship. He remembered Roman law. Every Roman citizen had the right to appeal to Caesar from anywhere in the Roman Empire. Based on this appeal, the Roman citizen would be brought to Rome for trial. Paul saw God’s opportunity in this situation to go to Rome. Paul must have said to himself, “Yes! That’s it!” Then he pronounced clearly, “I appeal to Caesar!” In doing so he committed his life and future into the hand of God. Look at verse 12. “After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: ‘You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!’” From Paul we learn that the time of adversity is the time to deepen our commitment to God. God honored his decision to appeal to Caesar. When Paul went to Rome, he would welcome his one to one sheep in his own rented house in Rome under the protection of Roman soldiers according to Acts 28. He had many sheep among the Roman Palace guards and they accepted the gospel of Jesus from him. When they were transferred to another military station, they carried the gospel of Jesus with them. In this way God provided Paul the way to go Rome.
God blessed our mission life abundantly. Many missionaries got the U.S. citizenship and bought houses and have good jobs. How can we use our citizenship? Should we use it just to enjoy material blessings or advance the gospel as the citizens of the kingdom of God? Where is your heart? Of course, God can use U.S. Citizenship to serve the world mission purpose. Late M. Elijah Ku had a plan to go Africa after he got the citizenship. He said, “I must go to Africa after I pioneer Maryland.” We have to use U.S. citizenship to advance the gospel of Jesus to the end of the earth. M. Peter Kim from Indonesia asked me to send English teachers. There are many Muslim students in his chapter and they are eager to study English. We can send many English-speaking missionaries to Latin America and China like Paul. M. Moses Chang is studying Spanish to pioneer one of 34 Latin America countries. It is not good to God if we use it only to seek comfortable life. I pray that God may use our citizenship to send out 100000 missionaries to 250 nations by year 2042.
PART II. FESTUS AND AGRIPPA DISCUSS PAUL’S CASE (13-27).
A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay respects to the new governor, Festus. King Agrippa was familiar with the Jewish customs and laws. Festus hoped that Agrippa could help him out. Actually, Festus had a big problem. He had to send Paul to Rome to appear before Caesar’s court, but there was no charge against him. The only charge that Festus could find is stated in verses 19-20a. They say, “Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. I was at a loss how to investigate such matters....” In fact, Paul was on trial because he believed in the resurrection of Christ. That was not a crime. To send him to Caesar in this way was political suicide for the new governor Festus. It was comical that the governor was sending his prisoner without any charges. Look at verse 27. We see his deep agony. He tried to manufacture charges against Paul with the help of king Agrippa. Author Luke recorded the conversation between Festus and Agrippa in great detail to show that God was working in their fabricated charges. God used Festus to send Paul to Rome safely. God’s sovereign will was behind this event. Why was it so important that Paul go to Rome? Rome was the capital of the Gentile world, the most important city of the world. Rome was vital in the mission strategy to spread the gospel message to the end of the earth. Rome must be pioneered to pioneer the Gentile world. Paul was an excellent Bible scholar with missionary vision. Rome needed him to lay deeper gospel foundation in Rome. Now he was willing to go there as the ambassador of Christ in chains. 300 years later Rome became the world mission center and played an important role to carry the gospel to the West and later to America. Where is modern Rome today? We live in modern Rome. The gospel must be preached here and must go out to the end of the earth.
In this passage we learn Paul’s faith and wisdom in the time of trial. Although enemies wanted to destroy him, he saw God’s good purpose. He boldly committed himself to God’s mission, saying, “I appeal to Caesar!” May God help us to do the same. Then God will give us great victory to carry out his mission successfully for his glory.