Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THAT SOMETIMES THE BLACKEST DEEDS LIE AT THE DOOR OF THE ENLIGHTENED. Who more enlightened than these Jews, so far as outward privileges were concerned? They had the fullest opportunity of knowing the truth and of acting uprightly. They "had the mind" of God; revelation had shone on their path with full, strong light. Yet we find them (vers. 2, 3) endeavoring to get Paul into their power, that they might deliberately assassinate him. And we again find them fiercely preferring charges against him which they could not prove (ver. 7). And again we find them demanding judgment against him when no crime had been established (ver. 15). In how dark a light does their action appear! The men that would have shuddered at a small and venial impropriety or omission do not scruple to do rank injustice, to commit murder! They were neither the first nor the last to make this fatal mistake (Luke 11:42; Matthew 7:21-23). There have been, and are, many souls who have accounted themselves, and have been reckoned by others, peculiarly holy, at whose door lie the most serious sins, who are living lives utterly evil in God's sight, and who will awake to condemnation and retribution at the last (Psalm 139:23, 24).
II. THAT SOMETIMES THE UNENLIGHTENED EXHIBIT ADMIRABLE VIRTUES. The Roman had been far less favored than the Jew in the great matter of religious privilege. Not unto him had been "committed the oracles of God;" not to him had psalmists sung and prophets prophesied. Yet we find the Roman sometimes exhibiting virtue of an excellent order. We find this here. Festus, indeed, desired to "do the Jews a pleasure" (ver. 9). What governor would not? But he did not commit any act of illegality or injustice in order to do this, and we find him on two occasions resolutely declining to yield to pressure when he could not do so without departing from fairness (vers. 4, 5, 15, 16). This worthiness of behavior may have been due to respect for law rather than regard for individual right; but it was honorable and excellent, as far as it went. The self-control it indicates contrasts strongly with the abandonment to passionate hatred which disgraced the Jews. Virtue is sometimes found unassociated with religion.
(1) It may be the indirect and unconscious result of religious influence;
(2) or it may be the outgrowth of nobility of nature originally bestowed by the Creator;
(3) or it may be the lingering consequence of early habits in which the life was trained. In any case, not rooted in religion it is
(a) unsatisfactory to God in its nature, and it is
(b) uncertain in its duration. All moral excellency should be built on spiritual convictions. Then, and then only, is it pleasing to God and certain to endure.
III. THAT DIVINE PROVIDENCE IS PRESIDING OVER ALL EVENTS. Had Festus, "willing to do the Jews a pleasure," consented to Paul's being brought to Jerusalem (ver. 3), he would have fallen a victim to their murderous machinations. Then the Church of Christ would never have had some of those Epistles which now enrich our sacred literature, and which we could ill spare from the sacred volume. But "his hour was not yet come" - his hour of martyrdom, his hour of holy triumph, his hour of deliverance and redemption. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints," and vainly is the persecutor's arm uplifted if God does not mean that the blow shall fail. So with all events. The Divine Overruler is "shaping the ends" of all things, directing the course and tracing the bound of our activities, compelling even the wrath of man to praise him, conducting all things to a rightful and blessed issue. - C.
I. CONSTANCY IN THE DEFENSE OF RIGHT. Let us view this in contrast:
1. To the audacity of the hypocrite. They brought many and heavy charges against Paul, which they were unable to prove. Again, "the servant is as his Lord." The substance of the charges, too, ever the same: transgression of the Law, desecration of the temple, revolt against the emperor. Simple and sincere, is the defense, in both cases (comp. ver. 8 with John 18:20, 21).
2. To the insolence of the knave. Paul refuses no legal investigation. He stands firmly on the constitution of the state, before the tribunal of Caesar. The "powers that be" he taught were divinely ordained for the repression of evil-doers and the defense of the righteous.
3. To the obstinacy of the contentious man. He willingly subjects himself to any fair investigation and just decision of his case.
II. THE APPEAL TO THE EMPEROR. Some general allegorical lessons may be derived from this. The Christian may and should appeal:
1. From the sentence of the unjust man to the judgment of the just.
2. From the passions of the moment to the calm verdict of posterity.
3. From the opinions of the external world to the testimony of the inner world of conscience.
4. From the human tribunal to the eternal throne. And as to the decision: "To Caesar thou shalt go!" It was partly Festus's, partly Paul's, and above all, that of Providence. So in our own life-crises. There is a coincidence of our own wishes with the external decision of another. Below or above both is the divinity that shapes our ends, the hand of him who causes all things to work together for good. - J.
I. A WAY WHICH HAD TO BE CUT THROUGH JEWISH CRAFT AND MALICE on the one hand, and ROMAN INDIFFERENCE AND AVARICE on the other. Festers: a true heathen, ignorant, worldly, ready to use power for self-aggrandizement, hating the provincial strifes. The Jews: inveterate haters, keeping up their spite for two years; subtle-minded plotters, using Festus's visit to Jerusalem to get Paul into their power; absolutely unprincipled and false, ready to perjure themselves; and shameless in their fanaticism.
II. PROVIDENTIAL INTERPOSITION TO REMOVE OBSTACLES. Festus desired to remain but a short time in Jerusalem. Felix had probably left information which induced him to be cautious in dealing with Paul. Roman pride was roused by the transparent hypocrisy of the Jews. A rebuff of the Jewish leaders at the onset might be of service in ruling the province.
III. THE APPEARANCE OF PAUL IN COURT won upon the ruler's mind, and helped him to listen respectfully to his assertion of innocence. But the critical point was the reference of the case to Roman justice as such. Festus was forgetting himself; Paul brought him hack to his duty, "I stand at Caesar's judgment-seat." One stroke of honest truth smites down a host of lies (cf. Luther at Worms). The assessors were at hand. Festus might have done wrong had he been by himself, but with his council to bear witness, his own life was at stake. "Appeal unto Caesar" was the gate at last opened, and no man could shut it. There was a voice speaking to Paul which he knew could command Rome itself to obey. - R.
I. THEIR UNREASONABLE PREJUDICES AGAINST HIM. They were thoroughly "prejudiced," and religious prejudices are the most blinding and most mischievous that men can take up. No kind of argument, no statements of fact, ever suffice to correct such prejudices, as may be illustrated from both religious and political spheres in our own day. Things corrected or denied a hundred times over, prejudice will persist in believing. When prejudice says, "It must be," all the world may stand in vain and plead, "But it is not." The prejudice of these men declared that Paul had defiled the temple, but he had not; it said that he insulted the honored system of Moses, but he did not. Their eyes were blinded, their hearts were hardened, and all argument was lost upon them.
II. PERSONAL FEELING INTENSIFIED RELIGIOUS PREJUDICE. Recall the scene in the court of the high priest, when the person occupying that office temporarily was reproved by the apostle. Nothing increases the hate in an evil-disposed man like his being publicly reproved or humbled. The Sadducees, who were the party to which the high priest belonged, would consider themselves insulted in the insult offered to him. And the Pharisee party were, no doubt, intensely annoyed by being drawn, on the same occasion, into a mere theological wrangle, which showed themselves up, and led to their losing their opportunity of killing Paul. So often personal feeling, injured pride, is at the root of religious prejudice and persecution. The fancied loyalty to God of the religious persecutor is really an extravagant anxiety about self.
III. FAILURE OF SOME SCHEMES AGGRAVATED THE EVIL PURPOSE. The scheme to kill Paul had been thwarted through Paul's nephew and the Roman officer; but the annoyance of failure prevented their seeing in the failure a rebuke. What the malicious cannot accomplish by open methods they will seek by secret ones, lowering themselves to any depths of meanness to accomplish their ends, even fawning upon new governors and begging personal favors. Beware of the debasing influence of cherished prejudices. - R.T.
On the second occasion, when Paul was tried before Festus, the Jews had no orator to plead for them, so the trial degenerated into a scene of passionate clamor, in which St. Paul simply met the many accusations against him by calm denials." The Jews seem to have brought no witnesses, and the apostle knew well enough that no Roman judge would listen to mere accusations unsupported by testimony. On the one side was accusation without witness; it was enough if, on the other side, there was the plea of "not guilty," and the solemn protestation of innocence. The charges so clamorously made were:
1. Of Paul's heresy. He was declared to be a renegade Jew, whose teachings were proving most mischievous, and striking at the very foundations of the Mosaic religious system. St. Paul answered with an emphatic denial. He was but proclaiming those very truths for the sake of which the Mosaic system had been given, and of which it had testified, and for which it had been the preparation.
2. Of Paul's sacrilege. This was, in the view of formal religionists, the height of all crime. Their charge rested on a statement of fact: this Paul had brought Trophimus, an Ephesian, into the temple, in order to pollute their temple and offer them an open insult. This Paul simply denied. There was no such fact. He had not brought Trophimus into the temple; and, if the Roman governor took any notice at all of this charge, he would certainly have demanded witnesses to prove the fact, and have thrown the burden of finding the necessary witnesses on the accusers, and not on the prisoner. 3. Of Paul's treason. This the Jews could only insinuate, but this point they hoped would especially influence Festus. Such a man must be dangerous to the state; popular tumults have attended his presence in every city where he has gone. He ought not to be set at liberty. Festus was not in the least likely to be frightened into doing an injustice, and could read the character of his prisoner too well to pay any heed to their clamor and their insinuations. "If there was a single grain of filth in the Jewish accusations, Paul had not been guilty of anything approaching to a capital crime." It may be impressed that
(1) there are times in a man's life when he is called upon to make a full defense of himself against any charges that may be brought against him. This is especially necessary when the charges take definite shape. and seem to have sanction and support. But
(2) there are times in life when a man should attempt no defense, but stand firmly on his plea of innocence, and wait his time for his righteousness to become clear as the noonday, This is best when the charges are vague, and evidently the results of misrepresentation and slander. It is hopeless to attempt the correction of such evils; we can only live them down. Our conduct must depend on the nature of the attack that is made on us. Even if specific charges are made, we may find it wisest to do as the apostle did, and throw the burden of proof altogether upon our accusers. - R.T.
is "standing" (see Revised Version) already at the bar of Caesar. There he elects still to stand. And his formal appeal to Caesar is but the public and legal registration of his deliberate and decisive choice to that effect. There were, no doubt, two sides to the question that had been before Paul, though it savored ever so little of the nature of a question with him. The two sides were these - that justice was nearer him when he was before Caesar than when he might be before them of "Jerusalem;" and that nevertheless to consent to go, and to choose to go, to Caesar, to Rome, and to the likeliest prospect of justice, begged, in Paul's special case and character, very real courage - the courage to live. Notice, then, that the decision recorded in these verses was the decision of -
I. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF INNOCENCE. It is not infrequently the case, in instances that do not touch the question of life, but do touch those of principle and duty, that even conscious innocence prefers the easier path of non-resistance and non-defense, when resistence and self-defense would be the right course. Nature, beyond a doubt, should often be mortified. But there is a nature also which should be observed and followed and obeyed. To stand up for one's own innocence is sometimes to stand up for all innocence.
II. CHRISTIAN PATIENCE. The Christian soldier, racer, workman, must fight to the end, must run to the goal, must labor till the nightfall. And this requires sometimes great patience. With Paul and others of the early Christians, whose names are now nowhere else but in that best place - " the book of life," this was true to such an extent, that a Divine maxim became formulated in Scripture for the behoove of it, and so it was written, "For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise" (Hebrews 10:36). Paul must have often felt, what he once said, "To depart and be with Christ were far better." Many a craven spirit faints. Many fail long before they have "resisted unto blood."
III. CHRISTIAN WISDOM. The true apostle, of whatever day, will consider many a question, not in its reference to his own individuality, but in its bearing upon the cause he has at heart. Many herein may err, therefore, "lacking wisdom." Paul saw that it was wisdom's dictate not to allow himself and his cause to be baffled. Let alone other aspects of the case, it was policy, and a right and holy policy to appeal to Caesar.
IV. CHRISTIAN DUTY. There yet awaited Paul some of the grandest opportunities of usefulness, all along the way to Rome and in Rome. His bonds were to be manifest "in the palace and in all other places" (Philippians 1:13). He was to gain many converts even "of Caesar's household." A "great door and effectual" was yet to be opened before him and the gospel he preached and loved so well, so faithfully. So it was duty to stand to his colors, though men might possibly taunt him that he was rather standing for his life.
V. THE SPIRIT'S OWN GUIDANCE. Already we have once heard that Paul was assured by the angel of the Lord, who stood by him at night, that "at Rome also" he should bear testimony to Jesus, as he had at Jerusalem. It is an infinite satisfaction to the heart's uncertainty, to the occasional distrust that a conscience feels with regard to its own verdicts, when Heaven's guidance is borne in upon one. This satisfaction Paul had. And though the vista which his own choice revealed to him terminated in a very arena of conflict most visible, but its severity, its amount, its terrors unseen, and not to be estimated, yet nor tongue nor heart falters. He appeals to Caesar, and "if he perish, he will perish" there. - B.
I. ST. PAUL'S SAFETY AS A ROMAN. Explain the privileges of Roman citizenship. No governor could give him up to the Jews apart from his own consent (ver. 16). Recall the circumstances under which Paul's citizenship had proved his defense.
II. ST. PAUL'S RIGHT AS A ROMAN PRISONER. A right of appeal from any inferior to the supreme court at Rome over which the emperor presided. Theoretically, this was a safeguard to justice, but in practice it proved rather a furtherance of injustice. The apostle was not likely to know all that was involved in his appeal. "There is obviously something like a sneer in the procurator's acceptance of St. Paul's decision. He knew, it may be, better than the apostle to what kind of judge the latter was appealing, what long delays there would be before the cause was heard, how little chance there was of a righteous judgment at last." The appeal must have been a surprise to all who heard it.
(1) To Paul's friends, who lost the last hope of having him released to them.
(2) To Paul's enemies, who knew that he was now altogether beyond their reach. And
(3) to Festus, who felt that the prisoner recognized his inability to follow out what he knew to be the right, and who could not help being ashamed of his suggested weak compromise. Still, in this we may feel that the apostle was divinely directed, according to the promise, It shall be given you in that hour what ye shall speak." Through this appeal Providence opened the way for what seemed to be an unlikely, and indeed almost an impossible, thing, that St. Paul should see Rome, and even dwell there as a Christian teacher. We are often showing that circumstances work out Divine providences; we need also to see that the free actions of men, freely taken, work out the Divine providences quite as certainly. - R.T.
I. ITS SHORT-SIGHTEDNESS. It sees no further than the principles of civil right (vers. 13-18). Herod Agrippa.
II. had come to pay his greeting to the new procurator (see Josephus, 'Life,' § 11; and 'Bell. Jud.,' 2:1). It was only after Agrippa had arrived some days, that Festus seized the opportunity of bringing the matter before him, probably hoping, from his acquaintance with Jewish affairs, that he would help him to a decision concerning Paul. Festus states the rule of equity, the Roman custom of impartiality (ver. 16). He makes a parade of justice, but his secret feelings are hardly in harmony with his profession. He wanted to be popular with the Jews (ver. 9), and was only withheld by Paul's appeal to Caesar from sending him to Jerusalem. Festus would trim his sails to the wind. He is worldly in purpose, but would act on plausible grounds and render the show of the forms of justice.
III. ITS CONTEMPTUOUS ATTITUDE TOWARDS RELIGION. (Vers. 19-21.) The word used by him is literally, "fear of divinity," not necessarily conveying the contemptuous sense of "superstition." But his whole tone is that of contempt: "Concerning one Jesus, who had died, whom Paul said was living." He looks upon the turning-point of Paul's preaching and of his contest with the Jews as a trifling matter, unworthy the serious consideration of educated men. And yet - apart from mere personal opinion - how much in the history of the world has turned upon this question! Agrippa's family had had much to do with "this Jesus," and the mention of his Name is like a renewed solicitation to the heart of the king. Festus's bearing is that of a man who rather prides himself upon superiority to all religious and ecclesiastical matters; and perhaps no wonder, considering the mixture of religions in the Roman world of the time.
III. ITS IDLE CURIOSITY. This is represented by the bearing of Agrippa (ver. 22). He would like to listen to this remarkable prisoner, and his story and confession of faith. And, perhaps, there was something more than curiosity - a gleam of higher interest, a presentiment of the truth. The next day Agrippa and his sister enter the audience-chamber of Festus with great pomp, which is soon to pale before the simple majesty of the Divine Word and its messenger.
IV. ITS WANT OF INTELLIGENCE OF THE SPIRITUAL CHARACTER. "Behold the man!" (ver. 24; comp. John 19:5). Brought before Agrippa, as Pilate had sent Jesus to Herod (Luke 23:7). It justly seems to the statesman unreasonable to send a prisoner without stating the charges against him (ver. 27). But statesmanship got the better of fairness in the case of Pilate (Matthew 23:3). Unless rulers take care to make themselves fully acquainted with the facts, the show of fairness goes for nothing. How can a man without sympathy for conscientious convictions in religion, judge justly of a man who professes them? Here, then, worldly judgment is called to pronounce on facts which resist the judgment of the world. The hall at Caesarea is the scene of pompous worldly display, soon to be converted into the place of bearing of holy doctrine, and a judgment-scat of the Divine majesty. - J.
I. A GREAT OPPORTUNITY for the Christian CHARACTER to be shown forth, as unabashed in the presence of worldly splendors, as simple-minded and modest, as untempted by that fear of man which bringeth a snare.
II. As OCCASION eagerly seized by the apostle FOR TEACHING both the heathen and the Jew, that the gospel was not a mere idle question, or fanatical dream, or delusion, but a great reality, for which its preacher was ready to die if need be.
III. A STRIKING CONTRAST between the spiritually minded Jew, and the apostate and mere worldling, such as Agrippa.
IV. A PROVIDENTIAL PREPARATION for the future. The examination would both remove prejudice against Paul and put the whole matter more favorably before the emperor, where mere Jewish bigotry and intolerance would have little weight. - R.
I. THAT HIS OWN POSITION AS PROCURATOR OF JUDEA WAS A MATTER OF THE LEAST IMPORTANCE. Doubtless to him that seemed the one substantial fact in comparison with which "certain questions of the superstition" (religion) of the Jews and of "one Jesus" were small indeed. Now, we are only interested in Festus because of his accidental association with these questions. But for this connection not one in a thousand who now know something about him would have even heard of his name. How important to each one of us seem his own personal affairs - his income, his position, his reputation, his property! In how brief a time will these things be as nothing - his possessions scattered, his name forgotten, his office handed over to another! It would do us all good to be occasionally asking of ourselves - What will be the value of the things we prize so highly "when a few years are come"?
II. THAT MATTERS PERTAINING TO THE HEBREW FAITH ARE OF NO SLIGHT IMPORTANCE. "Certain questions of the religion" of the Jews would seem very trivial to a Roman ruler. But we know that they are worthy of the attention of mankind. Not only the great question of the Jewish Messiahship, but other and inferior matters respecting sacrifices and ordinances, have a place in our record which has outlived and will outlive proudest dynasties and mightiest empires. Students will read and investigate Leviticus and Deuteronomy when the annals of the empire are disregarded. Everything which bears on our relation to God, and everything which is even remotely related to that "one Jesus," has an interest which will not die.
III. THAT THE "ONE JESUS," TO WHOM FESTUS SO SLIGHTINGLY ALLUDED, WAS THE DESTINED SOVEREIGN OF THE RACE. Nothing could exceed the contemptuous indifference with which Festus speaks of the Savior (ver. 19). Nothing was further from his thought than that this One would live forever in the honor and love of the world. But the Stone which the Jewish builders refused has become the Headstone of the corner, and the Prisoner whom the Roman soldiers crowned and clothed in cruel mockery now reigns in such majesty and wields such power as golden wreath and imperial purple will not symbolize at all. He who was dead, and whom Paul, the prisoner, so innocently and unaccountably "affirmed to be alive," is now worshipped as the risen, the reigning, the living Lord and Sovereign of mankind. How have Procurator and Malefactor changed places! How has the first become the last, and the last become the first! Let us
(1) rejoice in the exaltation of our once crucified Lord;
(2) bless God for the exaltation of many of his servants, once held in disregard or derision and afterwards honored;
(3) hope and strive for our own exaltation; for to the humblest servant of the Savior there is the prospect of a throne of honor, a crown of glory, a sphere of blessedness and usefulness (2 Timothy 2:12; 2 Timothy 4:8; Revelation 3:21). - C.
truth. It becomes evident that the point of difficulty was our Lord's resurrection, upon which St. Paul always so firmly insisted. That fact is the central fact of Christianity; and upon it the whole scheme of Christian doctrine rests. Note -
I. WHEREIN PAUL'S ACCUSERS FAILED. They could not prove any crime that was cognizable by the Roman authorities. They were in danger of being themselves charged with violence done to a Roman citizen.
II. WHEREIN PAUL'S ACCUSERS WERE WEAK. They brought before a civil judge only matters of opinion. On these freedom was allowed, so long as that freedom did not lead to acts of rebellion or disorder. They did not even bring matters of opinion that were of public concern, but only such as were made subjects of party contention. Their little isms they thought of more importance than the government of the empire. Festus haughtily says that the questions concerned their own superstition.
III. WHEREIN PAUL'S ACCUSERS CONFIRMED HIS TEACHING. They set out prominently Paul's great truth, that Jesus was alive, and had present power to save. From his enemies we learn what Paul preached - Christ risen; Christ living; Christ saving now. Christ, as "alive from the dead," is declared
(4) related to us as Mediator.
We know clearly what made the Jewish party so mad against the apostle. No other apostle or disciple had shown, as he had done, what was involved in our Lord's resurrection. Still if our preaching is to be a saving power on men, we must declare Christ risen from the dead, and "able to save unto the uttermost all who come unto God by him." - R.T.
superstition in this verse of our English Version, cannot be accepted as conveying the meaning of Festus. He would not have spoken of that which was, at all events nominally, the religion of Agrippa, as a superstition." We may safely adopt the ordinary word "religion " - a word, even from the Jews' point of view, little enough appreciated by a Roman official - as found in the Revised Version. Great as was the practical injustice in some directions of Festus, for instance, in keeping Paul in prison; yet we cannot fail to note a certain truthfulness of his lip. He has already spoken sufficiently the acquittal of his prisoner. This he does again, privately, in conversation with Agrippa; and yet again tomorrow, without disguise, in the publicity of the open court. To that same lip it was also given to utter, at all events, the central truth about Jesus in his relation to men, however little he believed or understood it. We may notice here -
I. THE WIDE DISTANCE THAT SEPARATES THE MAN WHO HAS NO KNOWLEDGE OF REVELATION FROM HIM WHO HAS SOME SUCH KNOWLEDGE. Presumably, Festus had not the slightest inclination to speak slightingly to Agrippa of the religion of the Jews of Jerusalem. But nevertheless his tone is that of a man who speaks of what is utterly unintelligible to him. A Roman's worship was a strange thing; his religion a strange product under any circumstances - perhaps in nothing so strange as in this disabling quality of them. But the phenomenon, after all, is most typical. It is typical of all those in their measure, i.e. the measure of their time and place in the whole world's history, who are without true revelation. It shows these in the twofold aspect, and apparently contradictory aspects, of believing tar too much and far too little.
1. They believe far too much; for they are sure to construct their own superhuman and supernatural. They will have their own pantheon in some sort.
2. And they believe far too little; for the verities of the true revelation of the superhuman and supernatural they are most averse to receive. Be the account of this what it may, it is but the expression of the thing of perpetual recurrence. The domain so wide, so dreary, of superstition lies where ignorance of true revelation is the appointed signal for men to make the materials of revelation unreal and incongruous for themselves. "Professing themselves to be wise, they become fools," not less in what they accept than in what they reject. What a world of thought and feeling, of meaning and of truth, was shut off from Festus, as his present language betrays him! And what a world of thought and feeling, of meaning and of truth, is shut off from any man and every man who is destitute of true revelation! If it have not yet traveled to him, it is at present his mysterious lot. If it have, and he reject it, it is his undeniable folly and guilt. Religion and superstition are not differenced by one not introducing the supernatural, while the other does introduce it. They both introduce it, and they both earnestly believe in it. They are differenced in that the one acquaints with what things are real and which it concerns us to know, beyond the ken of mortal eye or reason; but the other offers us imaginations, perhaps in every grotesquest form, for truth and stones for bread.
II. BRIEFLY EXPRESSED, THE VITAL FACT OF ALL CHRISTIAN TRUTH, OF ALL CHRISTIAN FAITH, OF ALL CHRISTIAN IMPULSE. "One Jesus, who was dead and whom," now no longer Paul alone, but a vast portion of the world, "affirms to be alive." It were past all his merit that it should be given to the lip of Festus to utter these words, the charter of our faith and hope and religion, that day, and to have them recorded as his. Yet there they were spoken by him, and here for ever they will lie. The dead and anon living One is the center of Christian faith, hope, love. It is the description he gives of himself: "I am he that liveth, and was dead, and, behold, I am alive for evermore" (Revelation 1:18). Three perennial springs - springs of heavenly truth and influence, issue out of these simplest and coldest words as uttered by Festus.
1. The death of Christ has
(1) a meaning all its own;
(2) a boundless fullness of meaning;
(3) an endless continuance of meaning.
2. The life of Christ, after his death, has a very luster of light for us, if we think of it simply for what it teaches us about himself. It proclaims him, when all is considered, different from any other, unique among men, Prince of life, Victor over death. These are his own dignities. He shines wonderful in the midst of them, did we all but worship far away in wonder and admiration but mystery lost.
3. That risen life, and what followed it - the ascended life, have floods of joyful meaning for us, when we remember all that is distinctly revealed as involved in it for mankind and ourselves.
(1) He is every way to be trusted, since he has proved himself true herein.
(2) He gives us the life he has for himself.
(3) He is the very Specimen, the Earnest, the manifest First fruits of the life that shall be, for all them that sleep in him.
(4) He is even now, though invisible, somewhere surely, and mindful of his people, and watchful over them, their one ever-living sympathizing Mediator and High Priest.
(5) He lives above, waiting to receive, to judge, and then to bless his own people forever and ever. Yes, the vital germs of all the highest Christian hope and faith lie in the words of Festus. - B.
in loc.). It invites our attention to three subjects. We have -
I. THE REPRESENTATIVE OF WORLDLY POWER. "At Festus's commandment" (ver. 23). The Roman procurator may not have been present with "great pomp," but he could afford to dispense with glitter and show; for he had authority in his hand - he represented the power of the world. He was a citizen of the kingdom which had "in it of the strength of iron" (Daniel 2:41). He was a successor of another Roman who had lately said, confidently enough, "Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?" (John 19:10). As a Roman ruler, he felt that he held a sway over those around him, to which they could lay no claim and which they were unable to disturb. Human power is:
1. Coveted by many thousands.
2. Within the reach of very few; it is therefore continually sought and missed, and the failure to attain it is a source of a large amount of human disappointment and unhappiness.
3. Much less enjoyed, when realized, than its possessor anticipated; for it proves to be limited and checked by many things invisible from without, but painful and irritating when discovered and endured.
4. Soon laid down again. The breath which makes can unmake; men are often giddy on the height and they stagger and fall; years of busy activity quickly pass, and then comes sovereign death which strikes down power beneath its feet.
II. THE REPRESENTATIVE OF SPIRITUAL DEGENERACY. (Ver. 23.) Both brother and sister, Agrippa and Bernice, were instances of this. They "saw the better thing and approved; they followed the worse." They "believed the prophets" (Acts 26:27); they knew the holy Law of God, but, instead of keeping it, instead of living before God and before the world in piety, in purity, in heavenly wisdom, they sacrificed everything to worldly advancement, to earthly honors, and even to unholy pleasure. How pitiable they seem to us now! That" great pomp" of theirs does but serve to make their moral littleness the more conspicuous. To rise in outward rank or wealth at the expense of character and by forfeiture of principle is:
1. Grievous in the sight of God.
2. Painful to all those whose judgment is worth regarding.
3. A most wretched mistake, as well as a sin.
4. An act, or series of acts, on which the agents will one day look back with deep and terrible remorse.
III. THE REPRESENTATIVE OF CHRISTIAN CONSECRATION. "Paul was brought forth" (ver. 23), he "had committed nothing worthy of death"(ver. 25), but yet "all multitude of the Jews "(ver. 24) were "crying out that he ought not to live any longer?' By his attachment to the truth and his devotion to the cause of Jesus Christ, he had placed himself there in captivity, charged with a capital offence, the object of the most bitter resentment of his countrymen. He had done nothing to deserve this; he had only taught what he honestly and rightly believed to be the very truth of God. He accepted his position, as a persecuted witness for Christ, with perfect resignation; he would not, on any consideration, have changed places with that Roman judge or those Jewish magnates. Christian consecration is:
1. An admirable thing, on which the minds of the worthiest will ever delight to dwell, lifting its subject far above the level of earthly power or worldly dignity.
2. Acceptable service in the estimation of Christ; to it the fullest Divine approval and the largest share of heavenly reward are attached. - C.
I. IT WAS A DRAWING-ROOM OF WORLDLY GLORY, by reason of the splendor of the assembled nobility.
II. IT WAS A LECTURE-ROOM OF HOLY DOCTRINE, by reason of the testimony made by the apostle.
III. IT WAS A JUDGMENT-HALL OF DIVINE MAJESTY, by reason of the impression produced by the apostolic discourse. The speech and its effects will be dealt with in the succeeding chapter. - R.T.