Sunday, March 04, 2012

[Matt's Messages] "Felix, Festus, Agrippa, and Paul"

“Felix, Festus, Agrippa, and Paul”
From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania: The Book of Acts
March 5, 2012
Acts 23:11-26:32

Our adventure that we’re calling “From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania” continues.

And in fact, the apostle Paul is back in Jerusalem again.

Last week, we read about his arrival, and then he almost got lynched!

A mob attacked him in the temple and tried to kill him.

The Jews did. Ironically, Paul’s own people tried to kill him, and it was the Gentiles, the Romans, in fact, that saved him from certain death.

But then the Romans arrested Paul and put him in jail. They didn’t flog him because it turns out that he was a Roman citizen himself. But he is stuck in jail.

The Roman commander tried to sort it out by having Paul talk to the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Religious Leaders Council, but that ended with even more violence.

So, Paul is in jail.

He has done nothing wrong, but he is in jail.

And today, we’re going to read about 3 major trials that Paul has before three major authorities of the day.

“Felix, Festus, Agrippa, and Paul.”

Which one of these is not like the others?

Even though their names sound very funny to our ears, these three first names were very powerful people in Israel at that time.

Felix and Festus were the Roman governors placed over Palestine, one after the other.

And Agrippa was Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great who tried to kill our Lord when he was a baby and nephew to Herod Antipas who succeeded in seeing our Lord die. Herod Agrippa, the second. The son of the man who died earlier in the book of Acts.

Felix, Festus, Agrippa, and Paul.

Now, I want to cover almost four chapters of God’s word this morning and that doesn’t leave me much time for explaining or applying it, especially since we have communion this morning.

So, I’m going to do something that I almost never do.

I’m going to give you the three points of application this morning FIRST.

Normally, I do it as we go or at the end, but in the interest of time, I’m going to tell you what I want you to see AS WE READ IT so that you catch it as we read it.


Here are the three points of application:

#3. BE BOLD.

And as we read it, I hope to point out to you why I think those are the applications for this passage for us today.

Let’s start again in verse 11 of chapter 23.

“The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’”

Now, I’m going to read quickly, but hopefully not too quickly.

One of you told me this week that sometimes I read faster than you can listen.

I’ll try to do better today.

Notice the promise of God in verse 11. The Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage [be encouraged]! As you have testified [that’s our word for “witnessing” martureo, the King James Version has “bear witness” as you have testified] about me (the Lord) in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.

Now, God has spoken. He has told Paul His plan and His promise.

And nothing can stop that.

So, whatever happens in the next several chapters, we know on the authority of God’s word that Paul is going to Rome.

‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’”

Nothing is going to stop him.  Include a conspiracy. Verse 12.

“The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot. They went to the chief priests and elders and said, ‘We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.’ But when the son of Paul's sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.”

Wait a second!

This is one of those times when the Bible drops something on you that you didn’t expect.

Who knew that Paul had a sister?

This it the first and only time that she is mentioned in the Bible.

And we really don’t learn anything about her except that she had a son.

(I have lots of questions about things in the Bible like this. We just don’t know more. This is what God wants us to know and not the other things.)

And Paul’s nephew just so happens to hear about the conspiracy. Right?  Well, nothing “just so happens.”

And nothing can stop the plans and promises of God. So, the nephew gets wind of the plot. Verse 17.

Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, ‘Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.’ So he took him to the commander. The centurion said, ‘Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.’ The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, ‘What is it you want to tell me?’ 

He said: ‘The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. Don't give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.’ The commander dismissed the young man and cautioned him, ‘Don't tell anyone that you have reported this to me.’ Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, ‘Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight.  Provide mounts for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.’

He wrote a letter as follows: Claudius Lysias, To His Excellency, Governor Felix: Greetings. This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. [Is that really how it went down?]  I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.

So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him.  The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, he said, ‘I will hear your case when your accusers get here.’ Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod's palace.”

Now, speaking of things that you always wonder about in the Bible.

I’ve always wondered whatever happened to those forty men who had made an oath not to eat or drink until Paul was killed!

Did they die of hunger or just break their vows?

Some day we’ll find out.

But their conspiracy won’t stop God’s plan to get Paul to Rome.

Notice that it takes 470 men to protect Paul!

You think that God wants Paul to be protected?

The governor’s name is Felix. He sits in court in Caesarea. Chapter 24, verse 1.

“Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus [a hired gun], and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor. When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix: ‘We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. [Are you buttered up yet? Felix was not a peaceful man but a cruel ruler.] But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.

‘We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect [not really one of us] and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.’ The Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.”

Will the Jews and their top gun lawyer succeed at stopping Paul from getting to Rome?

No.  V.10

“When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: ‘I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. [No real butter there.] You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me.

However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. [Truth is though] I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man. [Notice how he comes back again and again to the resurrection.]

‘After an absence of several years [about 5 in my reckoning], I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me.

[Where are my accusers?]

Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin–unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: 'It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.'’

Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. ‘When Lysias the commander comes,’ he said, ‘I will decide your case.’

Does it seem like things are getting a little too hot for Felix?

He knows what “the Way” is and so he stalls for time. V.23

“He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs. Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. [Paul is a broken record. Same message every day. “Faith in Christ Jesus, Faith in Christ Jeuss, Faith in Christ Jesus] As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, ‘That's enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.’ At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.”

How do you think Paul’s case is going?

Well, he’s not dead yet!

Felix is afraid of him.  Did you catch that?

Felix is the governor, but listening to Paul, he becomes afraid. Why?

What was Paul talking about? V.25 again

“As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid.”

History tells us that Drusilla was Felix’s third wife and he was her second husband. Felix had convinced Drusilla to abandon her first husband and come to him.

I don’t think he wanted to listen to a message on righteousness, self-control, and the judgement to come.  And he didn’t want to hear about faith in Christ Jesus.

See that “be faithful” up there?

That’s what Paul was doing. He’s in front of the governor, but his message doesn’t change due to whom he’s talking to.

Our message should stay the same no matter whom we talk to.

Now, the next verse is a shocker if you didn’t know it was coming. V.27

“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.”

Two years!

He waited hoping for a bribe from Paul for two years!

And then when his successor comes around, he still doesn’t release Paul?!

I almost called this message, “Truth and In-Justice for Paul.”

Two years!

And nobody has proven that Paul deserves to be custody!

Two years!

How do you think Paul felt?

We aren’t told, but we do know one thing. Paul was told that he must bear witness to Jesus in Rome. He’s going to Rome, no ifs, ands, or buts.

Two years. And now, Festus is governor. Chapter 25, verse 1.

“Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, where the chief priests and Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. 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. [Again! They have been waiting, as well.]

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.’ After spending eight or ten days with them, he went down to Caesarea, and the next day he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him.

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. [Nothing has changed, least of all, Paul.]

Then Paul made his defense: ‘I have done nothing wrong against the law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.’ 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?’

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!’

After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: ‘You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!’”

Let’s stop there for a second.

Paul appeals in verse 11 to Caesar.

This was his right as a Roman citizen, especially in a case which hasn’t been decided in two years.

He doesn’t trust a trial in Jerusalem, which is what Festus holds out to him.

So, he appeals to Caesar.

And what I think is particularly hilarious that not only is Paul now going to go to Rome, but Rome is going to foot the bill!

Paul is still on a mission to get to Rome, but now Festus has decided to send him to Rome at Rome’s expense!

“You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”

And God just chuckles.

Festus is relieved, I think. Paul is a problem on his hands that now is the Emporer’s problem.

But Festus does still have a little problem. What does he say to the Emperor about Paul in his cover letter to come with the prisoner?

And that’s where Agrippa comes in.  V.13

“A few days later King Agrippa and [his sister] Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. Since they were spending many days there, Festus discussed Paul's case with the king [Now, Agrippa is a king but over a much smaller kingdom than Herod had and he is under the Romans here just like Herod had been, but he’s still royalty.]

He said: ‘There is a man here whom Felix left as a prisoner. When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned. I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over any man before he has faced his accusers and has had an opportunity to defend himself against their charges. When they came here with me, I did not delay the case [Felix did, but I didn’t], but convened the court the next day and ordered the man to be brought in.

When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and [catch this] about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. [That’s what it’s all about.]

I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges. When Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor's decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.’

Then Agrippa said to Festus, ‘I would like to hear this man myself.’ He replied, ‘Tomorrow you will hear him.’

The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city. [Dant to Da!] At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. [Paul before Kings and Rulers.]

Festus said: ‘King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome.

But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. For I think it is unreasonable to send on a prisoner without specifying the charges against him.’”

Ya think?

The fact is that Festus knows what Paul is accused of but there is no evidence, and he is not man enough to set Paul free.

Chapter 26, verse 1.

“Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You have permission to speak for yourself.’ So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense:

What do you think he’s going to say?

He’s going to tell his story.

And it’s not going to be any different than what he says to poor ignorant folks in Lystra and Derbe or philosophers in Athens or loose living folks in Corinth.

It’s going to be the gospel. V.2

“‘King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.

‘The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today.

This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?

[That’s what it’s all about.]

I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.

‘On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' [Goads are like little spears for forcing livestock to where the people want them. It’s saying, “It’s hard to fight against God’s will. Cut it out.] 

‘Then I asked, 'Who are you, Lord?' ‘'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' the Lord replied. Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them [the Gentiles] to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'

‘So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.  That [THAT!] is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me.

But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen–  that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.’”

At this point Festus interrupted Paul's defense. ‘You are out of your mind, Paul!’ he shouted. ‘Your great learning is driving you insane.’

[I love this response.]

“‘I am not insane, most excellent Festus,’ Paul replied. ‘What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.

King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.’

Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’

Paul replied, ‘Short time or long–I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.’  The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. They left the room, and while talking with one another, they said, ‘This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.’ Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.’”

That’s our passage for today.

And I’ve already told you the application points.

Let’s go back over them.

#1. Be Encouraged.

The Lord said to Paul, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

And nothing on earth can stop the plans and promises of God.

Not conspiracies, not lies, not bribes, not injustice of any kind.

Not even two year seemingly endless delays.

Nothing on earth can stop the plans and promises of God.

Be encouraged.

My guess is that someone here needs to hear that.

God has promised many things to us in His word.

And nothing on earth can stop the plans and promises of God.

Be encouraged.

#2. Be faithful.  Our message should stay the same no matter whom we talk to.

Paul says v.22 of chapter 26, “I stand here to testify (bear witness, martureo) to small and great alike.”

Paul doesn’t change his message depending on whom he is talking to.

Felix and Drusilla?

He talks about faith in Christ Jesus and rigtheousness, self-control, and the judgment to come.

That wouldn’t be my first choice if I were asked to speak to great big leaders.

I’d look for another topic!

But not Paul.

Paul talks about Jesus, and he talks about His Resurrection.

Because that’s what it’s all about.

How many times does he bring up the resurrection?

He’s a one message man. A broken record for Christ.

Brothers and sisters, let’s be broken records for Christ!

Be faithful. Don’t be afraid of people.

#3. Be bold.

 Be confident. Tell your story.

This week at the Seniors Lenten Luncheon, I gave my testimony again.

And I encouraged everyone there to tell your story.

That’s our theme for 2012. Tell your story in 2012.

That’s what Paul does!

Paul gives his testimony.

That’s what Jesus told him to do. Chapter 26, verse 16.

“I [the Lord] have appeared to you [Paul] to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you.”

That’s what we do, too.

We tell people what Jesus has done for us.

Humbly but confidently.

I love how confident Paul is. Before Felix, before Festus, and before Agrippa.

With Festus he says, “I am not insane, most excellent Festus. What I am saying is true and reasonable.”

And with Agrippa, he goes on the attack.

Felix was afraid of him.

I think Agrippa was, too.

“King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

“Do you think that in such a short time, you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

“I’m trying. Short time or long–I pray God that you not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

Be bold. Go after people.

Don’t be a bore. But don’t be afraid to ask people to trust in Christ.

Don’t be afraid to tell people that you want them to become a Christian.

Be bold. You know that this is true and reasonable.

Because Jesus has come back from the dead.  Be encouraged, be faithful, and be bold. Like Paul was.

And I’m going to add one.

I’m going to do this with you.

Be A Christian.


If you haven’t already, if you are like Agrippa, that’s Paul is saying to you this morning.

I pray God that you become what I am, except for these chains.

And the chains don’t matter.

What matters is becoming a Christian.

The Christ suffered and then rose from the dead and proclaims light to you and me.

Be a Christian.

Messages So Far In this Series: