Now when Festus was come into the province, after three days he ascended from Caesarea to Jerusalem.
I. It was essentially the worldliness of Festus which made him regard the resurrection of Christ as an idle superstition. Let us begin by inquiring in what that worldliness consisted. Worldliness—i.e., the preference of the pleasurable to the right, the visible to the invisible, the transient to the everlasting. To feel Christ's resurrection as a power in life demands spiritual sympathy with Christ. Can the selfish see the beauty of unselfishness, or the sensual the beauty of purity? It needs the sense of sin, and of the necessity of a Divine and perfect sacrifice. Does the man of the world feel these? Are not thousands of men, like Festus, simply indifferent to the whole matter? To them the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is a mere story. It may be beautiful and awaken pity; it may at times become solemn and kindle fear; but it lies in their soul's chamber carelessly admitted as true, side by side with the most ancient and exploded errors.
II. Let us consider its aspect for the earnest believer. Turn from Festus to Paul. As we have seen, all his mighty energy of devotion sprang from his belief that Christ lived. There is abundant proof that this was the great theme of his preaching. He proclaimed not the dead, but the living Saviour. (1) The resurrection of Christ was a sign of the Divinity of His teaching. (2) It was a witness to the perfectness of His atonement. (3) It was a pledge of the immortality of man. Christ died our death. He passed into the death kingdom our brother. He came again, communed with men, and then rose, bearing our nature to the Father. There was the witness to the immortal in man. Hence Paul's all-consuming zeal. The radiance of eternal life streamed on his vision through the open tomb of one Jesus, who was dead, but who, he affirmed, was alive for evermore.
E. L. Hull, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 221.
Here Christianity is summarily disposed of by Festus as a superstition. This is a word we are quite familiar with, and we know, in a vague sort of way, what we mean when we speak of a practice or a belief as superstitious, and it somewhat startles us to see Christianity itself dismissed by the scornful Roman as a superstition.
I. The essence of superstition is the having low views of God when it is possible to have higher; in the presence of the higher to maintain the lower. It was, for example, superstition among the Jews in the form of idolatry that was forbidden in the Second Commandment. By that commandment the Jews were forbidden to make any graven image to represent God; and the reason was that the representation of God under human or animal forms was found to debase and degrade their conceptions of God. The Second Commandment is to us a spiritual command. We must study its spirit, not its letter; and its spirit is, Thou shalt not entertain low views of God. We break it when we attribute to God the limitations and imperfections of human nature, whether those limitations or imperfections be spiritual or bodily. It was superstition in the Pharisees when they thought that God connived at their evasion of actual duties because they kept the letter of some human ordinances, when they substituted ritual for deeds of purity and kindness, when they were unjust and cruel under the name of religion. This was superstition, because it meant that their views of God were still so low that they thought it pleased Him that they should worship Him in this way. They thought that God was even such a one as themselves.
II. The evil of a low conception of God is, perhaps, the most subtle and irreparable that can befall the human spirit. Our conception of God moulds our ideal of life. Such as we think God to be, such we tend to become. "They that make them are like unto them," was said of idols and idol makers, and it is true of all conceptions of God. It is a law of human nature. It was precisely because men thought that God took pleasure in torturing men for false beliefs after they were dead that they themselves took pleasure in torturing them while they were alive. That Calvin should have condemned Servetus to the stake, that Cranmer should have signed the death warrant of Frith, are but memorable examples of the evil of holding unworthy views of God. From the fact that higher and lower views of God subsist side by side in a society or country, it becomes a question of interest what is the right attitude in presence of what seems superstition in others. The golden rule, the one absolute, supreme rule, is of course charity—a tender, sympathetic, brotherly love—neither indifference, nor contempt; the desire to raise him, and yet the resolve that while the world yet standeth we will not make our brother to offend. With such charity and sympathy as our guide, we cannot go far wrong.
J. M. Wilson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxx., p. 263.
References: E. L. Hull, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 221; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 248.
Then the high priest and the chief of the Jews informed him against Paul, and besought him,
And desired favour against him, that he would send for him to Jerusalem, laying wait in the way to kill him.
But Festus answered, that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself would depart shortly thither.
Let them therefore, said he, which among you are able, go down with me, and accuse this man, if there be any wickedness in him.
And when he had tarried among them more than ten days, he went down unto Caesarea; and the next day sitting on the judgment seat commanded Paul to be brought.
And when he was come, the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood round about, and laid many and grievous complaints against Paul, which they could not prove.
While he answered for himself, Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended any thing at all.
But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure, answered Paul, and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me?
Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar's judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest.
For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar.
Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? unto Caesar shalt thou go.
And after certain days king Agrippa and Bernice came unto Caesarea to salute Festus.
And when they had been there many days, Festus declared Paul's cause unto the king, saying, There is a certain man left in bonds by Felix:
About whom, when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, desiring to have judgment against him.
To whom I answered, It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have licence to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him.
Therefore, when they were come hither, without any delay on the morrow I sat on the judgment seat, and commanded the man to be brought forth.
Against whom when the accusers stood up, they brought none accusation of such things as I supposed:
But had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.
And because I doubted of such manner of questions, I asked him whether he would go to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these matters.
But when Paul had appealed to be reserved unto the hearing of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I might send him to Caesar.
Then Agrippa said unto Festus, I would also hear the man myself. To morrow, said he, thou shalt hear him.
And on the morrow, when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp, and was entered into the place of hearing, with the chief captains, and principal men of the city, at Festus' commandment Paul was brought forth.
And Festus said, King Agrippa, and all men which are here present with us, ye see this man, about whom all the multitude of the Jews have dealt with me, both at Jerusalem, and also here, crying that he ought not to live any longer.
But when I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death, and that he himself hath appealed to Augustus, I have determined to send him.
Of whom I have no certain thing to write unto my lord. Wherefore I have brought him forth before you, and specially before thee, O king Agrippa, that, after examination had, I might have somewhat to write.
For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him.