The Biblical Illustrator
Now when Festus was come into the province.
The Christian in reference to changes of government
Kings may die and governors be changed, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Christian knows this, and--
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. (K. Gerok.)
Paul before Festus
I. The antecedent circumstances. Notice--
1. The arrival of Festus (Acts 25:1). 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 Acts 25:2; Acts 3:1-26 two things are manifest:
3. The reply of Festus (Acts 25:4-5). 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 (Acts 25:6). 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 (Acts 25:7).
2. The request of Festus to Paul, and his refusal.
(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 (verse12). 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.)
Paul before Festus
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.
2. In reference to the sentiments which he entertained on the subject of religion (Acts 24:18-19). Festus regarded the “questions” in the ease--
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.
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.)
Paul before Festus
An instructive example how both the children of the world and the children of light remain the same.
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 (Acts 24:4-5), but soon, like his predecessor, surrendered righteousness to please men (Acts 24:9)--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. (K. Gerok.)
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. (Scientific Illustrations.)
We are now in the midst of great historical scenes. The painter cannot let them alone. There are some things which men willingly let die, but there are other things which will not die.
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.)
The Jews laid many and grievous complaints against Paul.
The noble firmness of the Christian in the maintenance of his rights
It is different--
I. From the effrontery of the hypocrite; for the Christian only makes use of a defence founded on fact (Acts 25:8).
II. From the defiance of the wicked; for the Christian refuses no judicial examination (Acts 25:9-10).
III. From the obstinacy of the litigious; for the Christian submits to every just decision. (Robe.)
The Christian and the world
I. The world has many grievous complaints against the Christian. The Jews, who were the spirit of the world incarnate, had many indeed against Paul which were perfectly true. He was a constant source of irritation because he was a standing menace to their moral corruptions, their superstitious traditions, the policy and ambition of their priests, and their wholesale apostasy from God. So is the Christian an uncompromising enemy to the world’s darling sins, its base pleasures, its unworthy methods, and its low aims. Hence there can be no peace between the two.
II. These are not the complaints that are preferred. The Jews knew better than to air their real grievances, so they accused Paul of offences against their best institutions--the law and the temple, and of treason against the state. So the world masks its real grievances, and charges the Christian with enmity against man’s best interests.
1. Happiness. How often has Christianity been charged with moroseness? Not only does it deprive men of the means of enjoyment, but inculcates practices calculated to produce positive pain.
2. Progress. How its precepts would impede the course of commerce, arms, personal and national aggrandisement, thought, etc.
3. Political order. How can a man who lives for another world take an absorbing and influential interest in this?
III. For the overt complaints of the world the Christian should have a prompt answer. Paul’s answer was a model of promptness: and it was true. He had put the law in its proper place and had everywhere vindicated its true functions. As for the temple, he had honoured it, and by that very act had imperilled his life. As for Caesar, the emperor had no more loyal subject, and none more solicitous of promoting loyalty throughout the empire. And against the world’s accusation the Christian can say--
1. That Christianity alone can and does promote the true happiness of man.
2. That Christianity has been and is the truest friend of the world’s progress.
3. That the Christian by the doctrine of a future life is bound to maintain the best interests of this.
IV. The Christian should refuse to be arraigned before this world’s tribunals and should make his appeal to the highest. Paul knew that justice at the hands of his accusers was out of the question, and therefore appealed to the only bar at which it was likely to be obtained. So the Christian, if he be wise, will decline the world’s arbitrament. By it he is condemned already. What use therefore of appealing to it? But there is One who judges with righteous and infallible judgment, and he may appeal with confidence to Him. Let men frown as they may, clamour as they may--the Christian need not be frightened and should not give way for an instant. His court of appeal is the judgment seat of Christ. (J. W. Burn.)
But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure.--
I. The motive by which it is actuated. Festus was willing to do the Jews a pleasure that he might stand the higher in their esteem. This was necessary to his personal comfort, for he knew the race that he had to govern. This was desirable for the ultimate ends he had in view--successful administration; royal favour. It is remarkable that with the examples of Pilate and Festus before him he should hope to succeed.
1. This motive is a base one. Ambition to please the good and to improve the bad is laudable; but ambition to please the basest is self-degradation.
2. This motive seldom succeeds. Witness Pilate and Festus.
II. The sacrifices it entails. Festus proposed to undertake the toilsome journey to Jerusalem. But to what inconveniences is a popularity hunter obliged to subject himself. He must go where those whom he desires please, and do what they would have him do. Hence the toilsome days and sleepless nights of the popular preacher or politician. He who would really serve his race is not exempt from sacrifice; but he has compensations which the mere popularity seeker wets not of.
III. The degradation to which it stoops. Here is a Roman judge armed with all the authority that Caesar could confer, willing to surrender that authority and to bow to that which was already discredited. And the man who would be popular has often to descend from the highest ground to the lowest, from a sense of justice, honour, and the fitness of things to pander to the base inclinations or passions of the mob.
IV. The accidents to which it is liable. Suppose Paul had been tried at Jerusalem. Had the case gone against him he would certainly have appealed, and Festus would have had to endorse the appeal. In that event his popularity would have indeed been brief. And what a little thing has often sufficed to dash a popular idol to the ground! Both preachers and statesmen know this.
V. The frustration to which it is doomed. Suppose Festus had succeeded, how long would he have enjoyed his popularity? In two short years he was where the objects of the idolatry and the execration of the mob alike lie together. Sic transit gloria mundi. Conclusion: The best course is to do the right and thus seek God’s pleasure, whether man is pleased or not. (J. W. Burn.)
I appeal unto Caesar.
The appeal to Caesar
This is a proof--
1. Of conscience void of offence before God and man.
2. Of a humble submission to Divinely ordained authority.
3. Of an evangelical and sober avoidance of an unnecessary martyrdom.
4. Of an unwearied zeal for the extension of the kingdom of God. (K. Gerok.)
The appeal to Caesar
Where may a Christian seek his denied rights? He may appeal--
1. From the sentence of the wicked to the judgment of the righteous.
2. From the passions of the moment to the justice of the future.
3. From the opinions of the world to the testimony of his own conscience.
4. From the tribunal of man to the judgment seat of God. (K. Gerok.)
Unto Caesar thou shalt go.--
I. Whence this decisive sentence proceeded.
1. From Festus as the speaker.
2. From Paul as the wisher of it.
3. From the Lord as the designer and confirmer of it.
II. To whom it related.
1. To Paul as its subject.
2. To the Romans, who should soon be affected by it--many were converted by Paul.
3. To the world in general.
III. The results which followed it.
1. The plan of the Jews for Paul’s murder was frustrated.
2. Paul’s wish to go to Rome was fulfilled. (J. H. Tasson.)
And after certain days King Agrippa and Bernice came unto Caesarea.
Agrippa and Bernice
Each of the characters thus brought on the scene has a somewhat memorable history.
1. The former closes the line of the Herodian house. He was the son of the Agrippa whose tragic end is related in Acts 12:20-23, and was but seventeen years of age at the time of his father’s death, in A.D. 44. He did Hot succeed to the kingdom of Judaea, which was placed under the government of a procurator; but on the death of his uncle Herod, the king of Chalets, in A.D. 48, received the sovereignty of that region from Claudius, and with it the superintendence of the temple and the nomination of the high priests. Four years later he received the tetrarchies that had been governed by his great-uncles Philip and Lysanias (Luke 3:1), with the title of king. In A.D. 55 Nero increased his kingdom by adding some of the cities of Galilee (Jos. “Ant.” 19, 9, § 1; 20:1, § 3; 8, § 4). He lived to see the destruction of Jerusalem, and died under Trajan (A.D. 100) at the age of seventy-three.
2. The history of Bernice, or Berenice (the name seems to have been a Macedonian form of Pherenice), reads like a horrible romance, or a page from the chronicles of the Borgias. She was the eldest daughter of Herod Agrippa I, and was married at an early age to her uncle the king of Chalets. Alliances of this nature were common in the Herodian house, and the Herodias of the Gospels passed from an incestuous marriage to an incestuous adultery (See Matthew 14:1). On his death Berenice remained for some years a widow, but dark rumours began to spread that her brother Agrippa, who had succeeded to the principality of Chalcis, and who gave her, as in the instance before us, something like queenly honours, was living with her in a yet darker form of incest, and was producing in Judaea the vices of which his father’s friend, Caligula, had set so terrible an example (Sueton. “Calig.” c. 24). With a view to screening herself against these suspicions, she persuaded Polemon, king of Cilicia, to take her as his queen, and to profess himself a convert to Judaism, as Azizus had done for her sister Drusilla, and accept circumcision. The ill-omened marriage did not prosper. The queen’s unbridled passions once more gained the mastery. She left her husband, and he got rid at once of her and her religion. Her powers of fascination, however, were still great, and she knew how to profit by them in the hour of her country’s ruin. Vespasian was attracted by her queenly dignity, and yet more by the magnificence of her queenly gifts. His son Titus took his place in her long list of lovers. She came as his mistress to Rome, and it was said that he had promised her marriage. This, however, was more than even the senate of the empire could tolerate, and Titus was compelled by the pressure of public opinion to dismiss her, but his grief in doing so was matter of notoriety. “Dimisit invitus invitam” (Sueton. “Titus,” c. 7; Tacit, “Hist.” 2.81; Jos. “Ant.” 20.7, § 3). The whole story furnished Juvenal with a picture of depravity which stands almost as a pendent to that of Messalina (“Sat.” 6.155-9). (Dean Plumptre.)
Paul’s introduction to Agrippa
Here we have--
I. Bitter antagonism. This is revealed in the Jews. They hated “the one Jesus whom Paul preached as having died and risen again.” There are men now who hate Christianity--its principles, author, advocates, and disciples. The opposition, however, is as futile as it is wicked.
II. Idle curiosity. This is revealed in Agrippa. “I will also hear the man myself.” Being a Jew, he could not have been ignorant of Paul, and now an opportunity occurred for him to see the man and hear his tale. His wish was not a wish for spiritual instruction. Multitudes now go to hear preachers from the same motive.
III. Proud indifference. This is revealed in Festus. He cared nothing about “this one Jesus who was dead, and whom Paul affirmed to be alive.” Religious indifferentism is the prevalent sin of Christendom. This is worse, for many reasons, than theoretic infidelity.
IV. Vital faith. This is revealed in Paul.
1. Paul had a faith.
2. His faith was in Christ.
3. His faith was his very life.
To it he lived, and for it he was prepared to suffer and to die. “For me to live,” he said, “is Christ, and to die is gain.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Paul before princes and rulers
A noble picture, from which we recognise--
I. The glory of God, who sets open doors before His servants even in bonds, and knocks with His Word at palaces as well as huts.
II. The fidelity of His servant who bears testimony to the Lord everywhere undazzled by the splendour of human greatness, and unclogged by the fetters of his own trouble. (K. Gerok.)
The principles of a sound administration
I. It should do everything which belongs to its office.
1. In respect of accusers: to receive and listen to them patiently (verses 15-18).
2. In respect of the accused: to hear their defence impartially, and to protect their persons against the craft and violence of their enemies (verses 16, 18, 21).
II. It should omit everything which does not belong to its office.
1. It should assume no judgment in matters of faith.
2. It should not arbitrarily anticipate the higher judge (verse 25), but conscientiously prepare the way. (K. Gerok.)
The judgment of worldly men concerning matters of faith
1. Their highest standpoint is that of civil law, as here with Festus.
2. Their judgment is depreciatory: they reckon them as belonging to the domain of superstition, and pride themselves on not understanding such questions (verses 19-21).
3. Their sympathy is, as with Agrippa, an affair of curiosity and fashion (verse 22). (Lisco.)
The blindness of mere worldly education in matters of Christian truth
1. The precious articles of the Christian faith are to it the offspring of superstition, not worth the trouble of being accurately instructed therein (verses 19, 20).
2. The living Head of the Church is “one Jesus” who is dead, of whose power and presence there is no trace (verse 19).
3. The chosen servants of God are to it incomprehensible and whimsical men, of whom nothing can be made (verses 24-27). (K. Gerok.)
Face to face
When any member of Mr. Kilpin’s church at Exeter came with details of real or supposed injuries received from a fellow member, after listening to the reporter, Mr. Kilpin would inquire if they had mentioned these grievances to their offending brother or sister. If the reply was in the negative--and usually it was so--he would then calmly order a messenger to fetch the offender, remarking that it would be ungenerous to decide, and unscriptural to act, merely from hearing the statement of one party. This determination always produced alarm, and the request that nothing might be mentioned to the party implicated. Assertions and proofs are very different grounds for the exercise of judgment, and are more distinct than angry persons imagine.
One Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.
Christ alive, a subject of debate
I. Why was Christ, of all persons, the subject of so much observation and debate?
1. Because He claimed the very highest descent.
2. There were proofs embodied in His circumstances and character which none could or can deny, that were equal to His claims and secured unparalleled notableness to His name.
3. Because of the strange circumstances connected with His early history.
II. Why was there such emphasis laid upon the fact of His being alive? If alive--
1. The truthfulness of His character is confirmed.
3. The vital importance of His teaching is established.
3. The work He came to do was accomplished.
4. The success of His cause is assured. (D. Jones.)
The resurrection of Christ as viewed by the man of the world and by the earnest believer
One cannot fail to be struck with the contrast between the results produced by it in Festus and Paul. In the apostle belief in it had kindled a fire of all-sacrificing devotion, and braced him with a courage which no terrors could quell. But Festus received it with complete indifference. Had it been a question of politics or law, that keen judge would have brought all the power of his intellect to bear upon it; but because it referred to an unseen world he dismissed it without for a moment troubling himself to inquire whether it were false or true, and possibly wondered how a man gifted like Paul could waste his powers in proclaiming such an idle tale. Note, then, the aspect of Christ’s resurrection as viewed--
I. By the man of the world.
1. What is worldliness? The preference of the pleasurable to the right--the visible to the invisible--the transient to the everlasting. Hence the awful questions--What is God? What am I? What is beyond death? are passed by as dreamy and unprofitable questions. And that this was the temper of Festus we infer from the character of his age, and from his opinion of the insanity of Paul. The well-being of his province, the success of his policy, the vision of an old age crowned with wealth, and bright with the sunshine of the emperor’s favour--these were the great hopes of his soul.
2. To a man in that state the assertion of Paul would inevitably appear as an idle tale. From Paul’s statement he would learn that Christ was--
II. By the earnest Christian. Turn from Festus to Paul. To him Christ’s resurrection was--
1. A sign of the Divinity of His teaching. He had come revealing a new world of truth, and He appealed to His future resurrection as a proof of that truth. He died, but had He not risen, His whole doctrine would have become meaningless. But He rose, and Heaven’s seal rested on His teaching. If this were false, Paul was indeed a dreamer; but it was true; hence his mighty zeal.
2. A witness to the perfection of His atonement. The question of the ages is, Who shall deliver us from the curse and burden of evil? But One came manifestly bearing this burden, and the only confirmation of the truth of His atonement lay in being able to bear it unconquered. Had He passed away in silence forever, Death would have conquered Him. But He rose and presented the perfect atonement in His own Person in heaven.
3. A pledge of the immortality of man. Man needs a living witness to a life beyond death. He has it in Christ. Paul had it: hence his all-consuming zeal. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)
The death and life of Jesus
I. Jesus died. In this we have--
1. A proof of His humanity. He paid the debt of human nature. “Death passed upon all men,” Himself not excepted.
2. An exhibition of human sin. Beyond this sin could not go. Diabolism here reached its climax.
3. An example of supreme self-sacrifice. “Greater love hath no man than this,” etc. But Christ died for His enemies.
4. A demonstration of Divine love. “God commendeth,” etc.
5. An atonement for the world’s guilt. “He bore our sins in His own body on the tree.”
6. An anodyne for the world’s sorrow. Death is robbed of its terrors when we remember that Jesus died. To suffer in fellowship with Christ is to glory in tribulations.
II. Jesus is alive. In this fact we have--
1. A proof of His Divinity. He is declared to be the Son of God with power by His resurrection.
2. An exhibition of His power. He has vanquished him who had the power of death.
3. A guarantee of His presence. “Lo, I am with you alway.”
4. A call to His service. He is Lord of the dead and the living.
5. Eternal hope--“Because I live ye shall live also.” (J. W. Burn.)
Jesus a living Saviour now
Standing in the crypt of the cathedral of St. Paul’s in London your eye is attracted by a huge mass of porphyry, to gain which they searched the continent of Europe. They wanted something large, massive, grand. At length they came upon it in Cornwall, England. They cut it, shaped it, polished it, at last lifted it upon its plinth of Aberdeen granite, and dedicated it as the tomb of their grandest man. On one side you read, “Arthur, Duke of Wellington, born May 1, 1769; died September 14, 1852.” A great man was buried when they buried him. His hand had been for many a year on the helm of the British Empire. His influence remains, indeed, but his personality has departed. Pass beyond the Channel, and in Paris take your place beneath the golden dome of the Hotel des Invalides, and behold the most magnificent sepulchre in the world. You are gazing now at the burial place of Wellington’s chief antagonist. But Napoleon himself has gone. His influence remains, but he is not in the world. Him neither can France have in any way of personal presence. Go to Rome, stand for a moment under the encircling dome of the Pantheon. Raphael loved that majestic building, more majestic even than St. Peter’s. It was his wish that he might be buried there. Look! There on the wall it is written, “Here is the tomb of Raphael.” But Raphael is not there. You may gaze entranced upon his “Transfiguration” in the Vatican, you may be touched and softened as his wonderful Madonnas tell you the story of that virgin motherhood with its pains, its mysteries, its beatitudes. But Raphael was done with this world at thirty-seven. He puts colour no more to canvas. Everywhere in Rome you may see something that he has done; nowhere can you see anything that he is doing. His works last; he has gone forever. The great heroes, painters, poets, teachers--they have been; but, as to this world, they are no longer. They have gone elsewhere. They have carried their presence with them. They are memories, they are not presences. But Christ is a present, personal, living Saviour. (Christian Age.)
And because I doubted of such manner of questions, I asked him whether he would go to Jerusalem.
Politeness and piety
1. Festus was at his wits’ ends through Felix’s mismanagement of the case. Now anybody who ever saw the ludicrous awkwardness of a politician suddenly forced to answer a religious question can quite appreciate the embarrassment of Festus. The Jews charged Paul with heresy, treason, and sacrilege. Of treason he could form a judgment; but what did he know about heresy or sacrilege? And he was acute enough to see that the only treason of which Paul was guilty was in supporting a theological King. Manifestly the whole thing was altogether out of his range. But it was of some value that he should make friends with his subjects. And he was surprised to find that his first act of government should put him at such a pitiable disadvantage; so he proposed that Paul should go up to Jerusalem, and be regularly tried by the Sanhedrin. Then the apostle appealed to Caesar. Here fell a new embarrassment upon this unfortunate governor, who had, by law, to send with every prisoner the full report of his case to the emperor. And no one can tell what he would have done about Paul if there had not occurred at the moment an incident promising to be most hopeful.
2. Herod Agrippa, the nominal king of the Jews, suddenly avowed his intention of paying a visit to Festus. This pleased the governor exceedingly. Paul had his rights. Nay, more; he had had his wrongs. And Festus did not know how to defend the one or extenuate the other. But Agrippa, an educated Jew, would understand all the complications that so confused him. So he put the case to him.
3. Festus is the type of a large class of educated, polite persons who look upon religious questions as belonging solely to religious people. They “doubt of such manner of questions.” They will sometimes indulge in a patronising little discussion; but when invited personally to the tests of a religious experience, they admit they do not understand them, are not interested in them, and respectfully remand all consideration of them fully to such people as will give them intelligent appreciation, and to whose peculiar “superstition” they belong. Now we do not need to imply reproach upon the character of this class. There is chance here to put in an honest word even for Festus. History makes a very creditable record of his administration, as well as of his reputation generally for candour, courage, and gentlemanly demeanour to all, and this narrative shows him in an amiable light.
4. Now the modern Festus has not, like Festus in Judea, just arrived. His whole early life has been passed within the reach of gospel practices and customs. He has grown up under the force and fervency of religious appeal. What does he think of all these things? Much will depend upon how far they seem likely to go. Festus could get on very well with Agrippa, for the king was one of that cool sort of Pharisees who in all ages hold their piety quite quietly in hand. But when Paul began to preach, and great, honest words of argument and burning appeal began to fly around the audience chamber, he was forced out of his discreet reserve, and exclaimed, “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.” And this pretty well represents the feeling with which many men of the world regard the ordinary phenomena of a religious life. They are scrupulously polite towards Christians. Some of them are excellent neighbours and worthy citizens. Only let a man keep within bounds and avoid reckless excitement. There is such a thing as going too far, and so becoming obtrusive. And then they intimate with cool politeness that good breeding may be shown even in one’s style of piety; it is best always to be careful, or one may unconsciously become coarse.
5. It cannot have escaped the notice of anyone that there does not seem to have passed across the mind of Festus the thought of examining Christianity. For all his conduct betrays, you might as well think of him as of one raised above the awkward necessity of being saved. And this is the exact lack to be observed in many men of the world. They contemplate religion as simply a phase of human nature, with which they have nothing in common. One would think these calm philosophers had forgotten that they had any souls of their own.
6. It so happens that one of the principles of our religion requires us to arouse others upon this neglect. Here is seen another step of this polite forbearance. We summon men to think, to investigate, to decide. They reply, “There are ever so many sects and creeds in the Church; for one, I doubt of such manner of questions; they are out of my line of thinking: they belong to other people.” One feels tempted to reply, “Well, does your soul, also, your Maker, heaven’s glory, belong to other people; or earth’s work, or bell’s wailing and woe? How did you reach that serene height of undisturbed satisfaction, your past flawless, your present unreproached, your future secure, so that you can look down upon human passion and conflict and toil, and smile as you say, ‘These all seem to have some questions of their own superstition’”? It is the part of simple kindness to move on, even at the risk of being impolite. The danger is too urgent; the duty is too pressing; the sanctions are too heavy. Men err if they suppose that becoming a Christian can be contemplated as one criticises a new painting with an eye-glass or looking through his hand. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Then Agrippa said unto Festus, I would also hear the man for myself.
The voluptuary’s desire for a new sensation
The scene is highly characteristic. The round of festivities in honour of the illustrious visitors began to flag-some novel show would be desirable. A Jewish heretic would interest Agrippa, who was himself a Jew. Berenice was clever and cultivated, and all women loved eloquence and genius, and Paul had both; and Berenice also loved novel and strange excitements. The upper classes then, as now, sated with luxury End refinement, found a certain fascination about prison life--out-of-the-way scent connected with police courts--human crime and misery. They liked a criminal cause celebre then just as they do now. An afternoon with Paul was the very thing to suit Agrippa and Berenice. (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)
Motives for hearing
Agrippa’s desire may be understood variously--
I. As the wish of a supercilious curiosity, which seeks nothing more than a passing entertainment.
II. As the expression of a worldly desire for knowledge, which is only concerned about interesting information.
III. As the earnest desire of the seeker for salvation, who feels the need of spiritual instruction. Application to Church going, hearing sermons, reading books, etc. (K. Gerok.)
And on the morrow, when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp, and was entered into the place of hearing.--
The vanity of regal pomp
It is at this moment more than ever we are justified in saying with the wise man, “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” Where is now the splendour of the consulate? Where their brilliancy of lamps and torches; the feast of joyous assemblies? Where are the crowns and magnificent ornaments? Where the flattering reports of the city--the acclamations of the circus--the adulations of thousands of spectators? All have passed away! The wind by one blast has swept the leaves, and now they show us a dead tree torn up by the roots, so violent has been the tempest. It lies a broken ruin. Where are the pretended friends--the swarm of parasites--the tables charged with luxury--the wine circulating during entire days; where the various refinements of feasting--the supple language of slaves? What has become of them all? A dream of the night which vanishes with the day! A flower of spring, which fades in the summer--a shade which passes! a vapour which scatters! a bubble of water which bursts! a spider’s web which is torn down--“Vanity of all vanities; all is vanity.” Inscribe these words on your walls, on your vestments, your palaces, your streets, your windows, your doors; inscribe them on your conscience, in order that they may represent it incessantly to your thoughts. Repeat them every morning, repeat them in the evening, and in the assemblies of fashion, let each repeat to his neighbour, “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” (Chrysostom.)
The worth of worldly glory
As the naturalist observes of the glory of the rainbow, that it is wrought in the eye, and not in the cloud, and that there is no such pleasing variety of colours there as we see; so the pomp, and riches, and glory of this world are of themselves nothing, but are the work of our opinion and the creations of our fancy, and have no worth or price but what our lusts and desires set upon them. (A. Farindon.)
The audience chamber of Caesarea
I. A drawing room of worldly glory, by the splendour of the assembled nobility (Acts 25:23).
II. A lecture room of holy doctrine, by the testimony of the apostle (Acts 26:1-23).
III. A judgment hall of Divine majesty, by the impression of the apostolic discourse which discloses the secret of the heart (Acts 26:24-32). (K. Gerok.)
How the Christian is regarded by the world
There are subjects about which the world has but one opinion, and towards which it maintains a tolerably consistent attitude, but Christianity is not one of them. Ask men of the world their opinions respecting profit, pleasure, health, death, etc., and you will get but one pronouncement; ask them about the religion of Christ and the answers will be almost as various as the men who give them. But practically they may be reduced to four when severely analysed, although intermingled, and are often found in combination. The Christian and his religion are regarded with--
I. Hatred. The Jews (Acts 25:24) so regarded Paul. To everything that corrupt Judaism held dear the apostle was an uncompromising antagonist. And so they cried “that he ought to live no longer”--a cry often heard since, and heard now. The money grubber, the pleasure seeker, the vicious hate the Christian and his faith. The attitude of Christianity towards the mere accumulation of wealth, towards sensuality, oppression, etc., necessarily arouses the bitterest hostility. There can be no truce between them. Victory in the one case means extermination in the other.
II. Perplexity. Festus (Acts 25:26-27) was nearly worried out of his life with the problem. Paul was a standing menace to the peace of his province, and yet he was guilty of nothing, as far as he could see, which could bring him under the ban of Roman law. Hence his desire to have the case heard by such experts in religious matters as the Sanhedrin and Agrippa. And Paul having appealed to Caesar on grounds of which he was deplorably ignorant, Festus was painfully embarrassed as to what to say about him to his imperial master. Festus is not a solitary instance of perplexity about Christians and their faith, Many now can make nothing of either; but often enough are ready to consult authorities like the Sanhedrin or Agrippa, who can give no satisfactory solution of the problem. Why did not Festus give himself the same trouble as Felix did, and commune with Paul? And so the obvious question in relation to the perplexed today is, Why do they not consult Christians or their Scriptures? The unreasonableness of the position is obvious. What would be thought of a man, troubled with scientific, political, or historical questions, who never consulted the proper authorities!
III. Curiosity. Agrippa probably laughed in his sleeve at both the animosity of the Jews and the perplexity of Festus. Yet, “desiring to hear Paul for himself,” he displayed a somewhat more reasonable temper. This is all that Christianity asks, and the Christian thinks himself happy when he has the chance of answering for himself before an “expert” (chap. 26:2, 3), whatever may be the result. The result, however, is often only that reached by experts in science, etc. The Christian has to be accounted for, and when an hypothesis is framed which satisfies curiosity he is labelled, like a geological specimen, and forgotten. So he is studied by the historian, the politician, the comparative religionist, etc. That he or his principles have any interest beyond this is not admitted for a moment.
IV. Indifference and contempt. What Berenice thought is not stated, for obvious reasons. She neither hated, nor was perplexed, nor curious about Paul. The trial was a new sensation, and that over perhaps both the occasion and the apostle were dismissed from her thoughts. What cared she for theological questions or for the fate of an enthusiast. And so there are many for whom a religious ceremony may have a passing interest, but who neither know nor care about the questions involved. The sordid man of business, or a voluptuous pleasure seeker, may attend a religious pageant in aid of a religious charity, but what care they for the object promoted.
1. Contact with Christianity becomes a test of character.
2. Contact with it even for once may decide a destiny. The Jews, Festus, Agrippa, Berenice--what occurred to them afterwards? What are they now? (J. W. Burn.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Acts 25". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25