Three days after his arrival in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem,
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. THE ANTECEDENT CIRCUMSTANCES. Notice —
Now when Festus was come into the province.
I. LOOKS BACK ON DEPARTED GOVERNORS.
1. Without harsh judgment, for he knows that they stand, or will stand, before the highest Judge.
2. Without immoderate praise, for he sees that all the glory of the world is vanity.
II. LOOKS TOWARD THE NEW GOVERNMENT.
1. Without extravagant hope, for he knows that there is nothing new under the sun.
2. Without anxious fear, for he knows that Christ reigns.
1. The arrival of Festus (ver. 1). After arriving (about A.D. 60) in Caesarea, the seat of the civil government, and continuing there "three days," he goes up to Jerusalem, the metropolis of the Jewish people, not only from curiosity, but to study the spirit, institutions, and manners of a people with whose interests he would have, henceforth, much to do.
2. The appeal of the Jews concerning Paul. From vers. 2 and 3 two things are manifest:(1) The national importance which the Sanhedrin attached to Paul. More than two years had passed away since they raised the mob against him. One might have thought that the changes which two years made in thought and feeling had almost effaced his very name from their memory. Had it been merely personal enmity it would undoubtedly have been so. But it was the religious influence of this man, working mightily before their eyes, and sapping the very foundation of their religious system, prestige, and power.(2) The servility and hypocrisy of religious bigotry. The arguments they employed are not given. No doubt they bowed before Festus as cringing sycophants, urging every consideration that bigotry could suggest. They pleaded for justice, but meant murder.
3. The reply of Festus (vers. 4, 5). Perhaps he had one of those presentiments which is often the offspring and the organ of God in the soul. But though he does not give the reason of his refusal, he promises an early trial, and requests them to go down with him and bring their accusation.
II. THE ATTENDANT CIRCUMSTANCES (ver. 6). Festus shows himself to be a man of his word, and a man prompt in action. Note —
1. The charges of Paul's enemies, and his denial of them (ver. 7).(1) Judging from Paul's answer they were the old ones. But whatever they were they could "not prove" them.(2) His manner of treating them was perhaps substantially the same as in Acts 24:10, 21; hence the historian does not record his defence.
2. The request of Festus to Paul, and his refusal.(1) The request of Festus (ver. 9). So far we have discovered nothing censurable in his conduct, but here evil shows itself. Popularity was dearer to him than justice. He had seen enough to feel that Paul was innocent and ought to be acquitted, but, for the sake of getting a good name with the Jews, he proposes to Paul another trial at Jerusalem. Accursed love of popularity! Pilate condemned Christ "to do the Jews a pleasure." Felix kept Paul bound two years for the same reason. All that can be said in palliation is that Festus merely submitted it to the choice of Paul.(2) The refusal of Paul (vers. 10, 11). Notice —(a) His demand for political justice. He had committed no crime cognisable by the Jews, and could hope for no justice from them. As a Roman citizen, he demanded Roman justice.(b) His consciousness of moral rectitude. Festus, no doubt, knew that Felix had found no fault with him; as a shrewd man he must have seen that his accusers were capable of fabricating the most groundless charges, and from the spirit of the apostle, that he was an innocent man.(c) His sublime heroism.(i) He dared death. To a truly great man truth and honour are far more precious than life. Men's dread of death is always in proportion to their disregard of moral principles.(ii) He dared his judge too. "No man may deliver me unto them." The right to appeal to Caesar belonged to him as a Roman citizen, and it was strictly forbidden to put any obstruction in the way of a Roman citizen when he had appealed. Paul knew this, and he dared his judge by appealing to Caesar.
III. THE RESULTANT CIRCUMSTANCES (ver 12). In this "Unto Caesar shalt thou go," we may see —
1. The triumph of justice over policy. Festus, in desiring him to go to Jerusalem, thought it a stroke of policy, but Paul's appeal to Caesar forced him to abandon the purpose.
2. The triumph of generosity over selfishness. A generosity inspired by the gospel of Christ had awakened in Paul a strong desire to go to Rome (Acts 19:21; Romans 1:11; Romans 15:23, 24). This was strengthened by years. But how had selfishness, working in the Jews, wrought to thwart it! Here, however, in the fiat, "Unto Caesar shalt thou go," the door of Rome is thrown open to him: his way is made safe and sure and cheap.
3. The triumph of the Divine over the human. God had purposed that Paul should go to Rome (Acts 23:11). The purpose of the Jews was to kill him at Jerusalem. The Lord reigns, and so controls the opposing and conflicting passions of the world as ultimately to realise His own decree. As we believe, amid the darkness and desolations of the severest winter, that summer is on its march, and will cover the world with life and beauty, so let us believe, amongst all the workings of human depravity, that God's great purpose to redeem the world to holiness and bliss is marching on in stately certainty.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)I. FESTUS REPRESENTS A CERTAIN CLASS OF MIND.
1. In reference to his general character. When Felix had been removed Festus was appointed to succeed him, because he was more just and incorruptible, and more likely to be popular among the Jews. His general character was evinced in these transactions.(1) He was firm in his purpose not to consent to the removal of Paul to Jerusalem. It was a simple request on the part of the Jews, and it seemed to involve nothing wrong. But his answer was every way becoming one who represented the majesty of the Roman law (ver. 4).(2) He was prompt in bringing Paul to trial. Felix had kept him in prison for two years with the hope of a bribe; Festus took his case in hand the very day after his return.(3) He readily conceded the right of Paul to carry the case before the Roman emperor.(4) He gave utterance to a noble sentiment in stating a great principle of the Roman law (ver. 16). The trials in the Inquisition and in the Star chamber derived their enormity mainly from a violation of this principle; and the chief progress which society has made in the administration of justice has consisted in little more than in securing, by proper sanctions and provisions, the law here enunciated by Festus.
2. In reference to the sentiments which he entertained on the subject of religion (vers. 18, 19). Festus regarded the "questions" in the ease —(1) As pertaining to the Jews, and of no matter to him. The word "superstition" was commonly employed by a Greek to describe religion. Festus therefore meant no disrespect of the faith of the people he had just come to govern. It was merely a matter to be settled by themselves, one with which he had no concern either as a man or as a magistrate, any more than he was concerned with the religion of the Greeks or the Egyptians. In this respect Festus is a representative of a very large and respectable class. They are men who would not revile religion, nor disturb others in the quiet enjoyment of it. Their own purpose is to lead a moral life; to settle questions which do pertain to themselves as magistrates, business men, politicians, and philanthropists. Our difficulty with such is in persuading them to regard religion as having any personal claim on them.(2) As one of little importance, "of one Jesus," implying that He was an obscure person, and perhaps also that it was of little consequence whether he was alive or dead. Festus could see no great results to be attached to the inquiry. Does not this represent the views of a very large class in regard to this and, indeed, to all religious questions? If a man pays his debts, is kind to the poor, and just to all, it is, in their opinion, of little consequence what he believes; nor can his conviction respecting the resurrection of Christ, or any doctrine, materially affect his character or his destiny. Our work with such men is to convince them that the most important questions are those which pertain to religion.(3) Festus took no pains to inquire into or to settle these points. He was intent on other objects. They did come before the mind of Felix, for he trembled. They did come before the mind of Agrippa, for he was "almost persuaded." But they took no such hold on the mind of Festus. In this respect, also, he was the representative of a large class. They are engaged in other inquiries; they investigate points of jurisprudence, history, science, art; but they have no interest in ascertaining whether Christ rose from the dead. Our difficulty with these men is to get the question before their minds at all. We place the Bible in their hands — they will not read it. We set before them works on the evidences of religion, but for them they have no attractions.
II. IS THIS THE PROPER MANNER IN WHICH TO TREAT THE SUBJECT OF RELIGION? Let such as Festus note —
1. That every man has in fact an interest in the great questions which belong to religion. Man is made to be a religious being; and he never approaches the perfection of his nature, or meets the design of his existence, until the religious principle is developed. Man is distinguished by this from every other inhabitant of our world. To deprive him of this capability would as essentially alter his nature as to deprive him of reason. In the question whether there is a God, and what He is, one man is as much concerned as any other man can be. Whether man is a fallen being — whether an atonement has been made for sin — whether the Bible was given by inspiration of God, etc. — are things pertaining to all men in common.
2. Every man is bound to perform the duties which religion requires, and none more than Festus himself. There is a very common, and not wholly an unnatural, mistake on this point. Many seem to feel that the obligations of religion are the result of a voluntary covenant; that there is nothing lying back of a profession of religion to oblige anyone to attend to its duties, any more than there is to bind a man to enlist as a soldier, or to enter into a contract for building a bridge. When a profession of religion has been made they admit it to be binding. Now, Christians do not object to being held to the performance of the duties of religion, growing out of their involuntary covenant with God. But the profession of religion does not create the obligation, it only recognises it.
3. Every man needs the provisions which the gospel has made for salvation. If Festus had inquired into the "superstition," a few questions would have opened such visions of glory, honour, and immortality as had never dawned on the mind of a Roman. The natural mistake which men make on this point is, that while one class may need the provisions made in the gospel, there are others for which these are unnecessary. It is like the feeling which we have about medicines: they are useful and desirable for the sick, but not needful for those who are in health. So if men feel that they are sinners, it is proper for them to make application to the system which proclaims and promises peace. But where this necessity is not felt, men do not think that the gospel pertains to them. Yet the gospel assumes that every one of the race is in circumstances which make the plan of redemption necessary for him; that there is no such virtue in man as to meet the demands of the law; and that no one enters heaven who is not interested in the Saviour's death.
4. It is as certain of one man as it is of another, that unless he is interested in religion he will be lost. If one can be saved without religion, another can in the same way; and consequently religion is unnecessary for any.Conclusion:
1. Men are not merely lookers-on in the world. Each man that passed by the Cross had the deepest personal interest, if he had known it, in the great transaction. So Festus, if he had known it, had the deepest personal interest in the question whether the unknown man who was affirmed to be dead was really alive. And so with everyone that hears the gospel.
2. The interest which a man has in these things is not one from which he can escape. It attends him everywhere, and at all times.
3. No man should desire to drive the subject from his mind. Why should he? Why should he not feel that he has a God and a Saviour? Why should he not have a hope of future happiness?
(A. Barnes, D. D.)
I. THE CHILDREN OF THE WORLD.
1. Paul's accusers. They have learnt nothing, and forgotten nothing: they bring forward the old lies, and employ the same artifices as they had devised before in the case of Paul and Christ.
2. Paul's judges. Instead of a licentious Felix, a proud Festus, who at first showed a noble bearing (vers. 4, 5), but soon, like his predecessor, surrendered righteousness to please men (ver. 9) — in short, under another name, the same man of the world.
II. THE CHILDREN OF GOD. Paul is the same in —
1. Undaunted courage. The two years' imprisonment had neither broken his courage nor paralysed his presence of mind: his defence is as clear and firm as ever.
2. In his meekness and patience. No desire of revenge against his wicked enemies, no conspiracy against his unrighteous judges, no impatience at so long a trial; but calm submission to Roman law, and confident trust in the Divine protection.
Scientific Illustrations.Unfortunately there is a good deal of sneakism to be found in society; but as it is not polite to give any example painted from life, we may have a very coherent notion of the spirit of the offence if we notice that embodiment of it which is to be seen in the lion worm. The lion worm is a curious and voracious little creature, having a tapering form, the head being more pointed than the tail. Like the ant lion, that formidable insect, it makes a species of cavity in the loose earth, and there waits in ambuscade for its prey. A portion of its body lies concealed under the sand, the rest stretches across the bottom of the den, and appears so stiff and motionless that at first sight it might be taken for a bit of straw, half an inch in length. If, however, any insect in search of food should happen to walk into the cave of the lion worm, the little morsel of stubble in an instant becomes all animation, falls like a serpent on its prey, and winding its body in coils around its victim, compresses it to death, and sucks out the juices by means of a couple of hooks fixed to its head. No one can observe these actions without coming to the conclusion that sneakism in men or worms is just the same thing, with merely a change of method and appliances suitable to the place and occasion.
I. WHAT A LONG LIFE HATRED HAS! Two years had elapsed, but the fury of the Jews had not cooled. We leave some things to time, calling it "all-healing Time." Time cannot put hell out! Well might the apostle warn the Churches against "bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour"; he had felt the hatred which he deprecated. Religious hatred is the worst. The Church has herself to blame for the little progress Christianity has made in the world. Religious hatred thought less of murder than of ceremonial pollution. The Jews desired that Paul should come to Jerusalem; and they would take care to have assassins on the road. Yet these men would not eat until they had washed their hands! The more you attend to mere ceremony the more you fritter away the substance of your character.
II. HOW WONDROUSLY OPPORTUNITIES ARE CREATED BY HUMAN MISTAKES! The Christian elders thought that Paul had better make a compromise in order to do away with suspicion. If they had been out doing Paul's kind of work, they would have left compromise millions of miles behind them; but they had been in the metropolis studying — always a very perilous and risky business. So all this trouble came upon Paul through their weak-minded and mistaken advice. But the Lord turned the human mistake into a Divine opportunity. It gave Paul his highest audiences. He was talking to rabbles before — just an open-air preacher, a man taking opportunities as they occurred — but now he was a preacher to procurators and kings. We know not what we do. Could we stand back in the eternity of God and watch men, we should not be troubled by their doings. When they are making weapons against us, we should say, "No weapon that is formed against me shall prosper." "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?" There is only one man can do you any injury of a permanent kind, and that man is yourself. If you are right, you cannot be injured; your enemies will only be creating opportunities for you. The Lord maketh the wrath of man to praise Him; the remainder of that wrath He doth restrain.
III. LONG-CONTINUED HARDSHIP HAD NOT SOURED THE MIND OF PAUL. That is the test of his quality. When he appears before Festus we mark in him the same quietness, the same dignity, the same defence — that is Christianity. If it were a fight in words the battle might go wrong for our cause sometimes, because there are men against us, skilled in sentences and arguments; but it is an affair of the sweetness of the soul. Long-suffering is eloquence. This is a Christian miracle. There are three remarkable things about Paul in this connection. Here presents —
1. Spiritual influence. He cannot be let alone. Chained at Caesarea, he is still an active presence in Jerusalem. You cannot get rid of some men. If you kill them, they will haunt you as Herod was haunted by the new man whom he suspected to be the beheaded John. Paul represented the kind of influence which follows society, colouring its questions, lifting up its wonder, troubling its conscience.
2. Spiritual confidence. He would rather be fighting, but the Lord had appointed him to waiting. "The battle is not mine, but God's. It is better that I should be shut up in Caesarea, that I may see how God can do without me." Presently he will see the meaning of it all, and write to his friends, "The things which have happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel."
3. The highest aspect of spiritual culture. He is being trained, mellowed. All the land is better for the rain which softens it — aye, for the frost which reduces it to powder. From the human side, Paul was being punished; from the Divine side, he was being rested and trained. There are two sides in all human events. If we take the lower aspect of our life we shall groan, fret, and chafe; but if we take the upper view — that is to say, look down upon it from God's point — we shall see all things work together for good.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
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