PREACHING CHRIST TO THE RULERS
--ACTS 25:6; 26:32.--OCTOBER 24.--
Golden Text:--"I know whom I have believed and am
persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have
committed unto him against that day."--2 Tim. 1:12.
THE Roman governor, Felix, of Judea, was succeeded by Festus, and, willing to curry favor with the Jews, he left Paul a prisoner, although confessedly he had found him not guilty of any infraction of the Roman law and was persuaded that his enemies were frantically jealous of him. The two years of St. Paul's imprisonment doubtless afforded excellent opportunities for his mature study of the Divine Plan set forth in the Scriptures.
Festus, the new governor, went at once to Jerusalem, the center of his province, there to become acquainted with the chief men of the people, amongst whom he must preside as governor and judge. St. Paul's enemies were on the alert to accomplish against him through the new governor what they failed to do with Felix. However, after setting forth the arguments of Tertullus to prejudice his mind, they feared to have a trial before him, because of the weakness of their cause. Hence they proposed to Festus that after all the dispute with St. Paul was more along religious than civil lines, and that therefore the desirable thing would be that he should be delivered to the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem for trial, according to the Jewish law, and drop the charges against him before the Roman Court. Meantime the plans had been matured whereby in the name of God and religion and the "good of the cause" the Apostle was to be assassinated on the journey. Alas that such criminal injustice cannot be charged against the Jews of that age alone, but that in every age and in almost every religious system the mental unbalance is such that in the heat of the moment atrocious crimes have been advocated and perpetrated in the name of God and holiness! What lessons we may learn from these excerpts of history! When will mankind learn that as justice is the foundation of the Divine Government, everything contrary thereto must be displeasing to God? Recently the civilized world celebrated the birth of that great and good man, John Calvin; yet all were shocked afresh as we remembered that his hand signed the death-warrant which led Servetus, a fellow-Christian, to the stake. When will we learn that the results of injustice will be more injurious to the doer than to the done? "Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne."--Psa. 89:14.
ST. PAUL, FESTUS AND AGRIPPA
The governor placed the proposition of the Jews before St. Paul, asking him (because he was a Roman citizen) whether he were willing to accept a discharge as respected the Roman Court and to stand trial before his own countrymen. The Apostle, realizing the situation, promptly declined the offer and instead appealed his case to Rome, his privilege as a Roman citizen, which could not be denied him. But as the governor in sending a prisoner to Rome was expected to prefer charges, Festus was puzzled to know what charges, if any, he could formulate against the Apostle.
Shortly the ceremonies of Festus' inauguration took place [R4501 : page 318] in Caesarea, and King Agrippa of Galilee did his respects by attending, his wife Bernice accompanying him. As Agrippa and his wife professed the Hebrew faith, Festus, who had no knowledge thereof, embraced the opportunity to have their assistance in formulating charges against St. Paul, whose crime, if any, could be understood from the Jewish standpoint. Hence before these and the chief captains of the military forces and the prominent citizens, the Apostle was called to give his version of the enmity of his people against him.
Thus a fresh opportunity for the preaching of the Gospel before people of prominence was afforded the Apostle. And his appeal to Caesar's Court would mean an introduction of himself and of the religion which he represented before the highest authority in the world. Thus does the Lord mysteriously work the counsel of his own will and cause the wrath of men to praise him. And thus does he put before his faithful servants fresh opportunities to serve his cause. How much every faithful follower of Jesus should be encouraged by this to faithfulness, to singleness of heart, to the improvement of every opportunity, realizing the Lord's supervision of the work and of his service.
As a true gentleman, St. Paul opened his speech before these earthly dignitaries by complimenting King Agrippa as much as he truthfully could--on the fact that he would be heard by one who was expert in all Jewish matters. He pointed to the fact that his course of life from youth was well known in Jerusalem and throughout the Jewish nation. Many of them could witness if they would to his strictness as a religionist. "And now," he declared, "I am standing on trial for my hope in the promise which God made unto our fathers --a promise which all Jews are hoping will have fulfilment. Nevertheless it is for this hope's sake that I am accused by the Jews." The hope of Israel centered in God's oath-bound Covenant to Abraham, "In thy Seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." St. Paul was preaching that this promise was in process of fulfilment; that Jesus, as the Son of God, by obedience to the Law and by his sacrifice of his earthly rights, had become the Head of this promised Seed of Abraham by his resurrection to the plane of spirit glory, honor and immortality. He was teaching that since Pentecost the Lord was selecting both from Jews and Gentiles a "little flock," to be Messiah's bride and joint-heir, members of the Spiritual Seed of Abraham; and that when this selection shall have been accomplished, the great Messiah, Head and members, in glory will set up the long-promised Kingdom of God. Its blessing will come first to natural Israel for their restitutional uplifting, and subsequently will extend through Israel to "all the families of the earth."
Surely St. Paul pointed to the prophecies which tell of the sufferings of Messiah and of the glories that will follow. The Jews all knew of the sufferings of Jesus and the sufferings of his followers, but they disputed his resurrection to glory and that his followers would by and by share his resurrection change. The whole dispute between himself and the Jews was in respect to whether or not Jesus arose from the dead. If he did not arise the Jews were right. No valid hopes could be built upon a dead man, however good he might have been. If he arose, St. Paul and the followers of Jesus were right, because his resurrection to glory should be considered a demonstration of Divine approval and of the Messiahship which he claimed and of his Kingdom to come in due time.
He explained how once he also had opposed Jesus and persecuted his followers, shutting them up in prison and giving his vote with others for their death. He had compelled them to blaspheme Jesus to escape sufferings and in his madness had extended his energies from Jerusalem to outside cities. He explained the Revelation of the Lord, given him near Damascus--the light above the brightness of the sun, and the voice saying, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." He explained the commission he then received, that he was to preach to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews, the resurrection of Jesus, the gathering of his elect members and in due time the establishment of his Kingdom; and that all should repent and turn to God. It was for these things that he was in bondage and his life in jeopardy, until he was obliged to appeal to Caesar's tribunal. He pointed out that the sufferings of Christ had been foretold by the prophets and that Jesus acknowledged persecutions of his followers as being of himself--his members.
"THOU ART BESIDE THYSELF"
The governor heard with amazement the recital and, interrupting, then said, "Thou art beside thyself. Much learning doth make thee mad." But St. Paul replied, "I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness: King Agrippa knoweth of these things." Thus it is still. From the worldly standpoint the true follower of Jesus is branded a fanatic, a fool, unbalanced. But from the Christian's standpoint the view is reversed--the worldly are [R4501 : page 319] unwise and money-mad. The worldly see merely the earthly things, the transitory. The Christian sees with the eye of faith glory, honor and immortality and a share with the Redeemer in the privileges of the Millennial Kingdom, which is shortly to bless the world with a reign of righteousness, in fulfilment of the Lord's prayer, "Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven."
St. Paul appealed to Agrippa: Did he not believe the prophecies cited? The reply of the king is a matter of dispute --whether he said, "With a little more time and eloquence you might persuade me to be a Christian," or whether he said, "Do you think that in so brief an argument you could make of me a Christian, with all that that word means of discredit?" St. Paul's reply favors the former interpretation: "I would to God that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds."
A nobler sentiment, a broader spirit of charity, in a prison, falsely accused and unjustly restrained, cannot be imagined. Only those who have been with Jesus and learned of him could thus exemplify the sympathy and moderation which he taught. Oh, that all of Christ's disciples might learn also to be meek and lowly of heart and find rest to their souls, for who can doubt that St. Paul, the prisoner, with his glorious hopes, was happier every way than any of those who heard him?