An Appeal to Caesar

How do you, as a Christian, relate to the government? How do you conduct yourself, whether you live in a country that values freedom of religion or in one that opposes Christianity? That issue is not a new one, as you see in Acts 25:10–12.

Seek justice. In appealing to Caesar, Paul sought justice. After being rescued from a mob in Jerusalem by the Roman commander, Paul had been spirited away to Governor Felix in Caesarea. Although Felix found no violation of Roman law in the accusations made against Paul, he held him in prison for two years, hoping for a bribe. The next governor, Festus, conducted another hearing. Once again, clearly Paul had done nothing worthy of punishment. But unwilling to antagonize the influential religious leaders of his subjects, Festus talked about having Paul travel to Jerusalem for a hearing there. Against that background of exposure to another assassination attempt, Paul, who had appealed to his Roman citizenship on earlier occasions, exercised his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to the emperor. A favorable decision before the emperor could have a positive impact, not just for Paul, but for the Christian church generally. Throughout Acts, its author emphasizes that, when due consideration was given, the gospel Paul preached was not seen as subversive of the proper administration of Roman law.

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Because of Their Work

The general attitude of independence in our culture rubs off on the church, sometimes in its relationship with those whom God has called to office in the church. But the problem is not new, as Paul tells you in 1 Thessalonians 5:12–22.

Respect those who are over you. Respect them because of their hard work. “Work” here means toil that tires, labor that exhausts. While there are those who may seek office for the wrong reasons, and may not really work in it, those are not true leaders. Appreciate how hard they may be working in caring for the flock. The work is important.

“This work is the edification of the Church, the eternal salvation of souls, the restoration of the world, and in short the kingdom of God and Christ. The excellence and splendor of this work are beyond value.”

(John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians

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An Uncomfortable Gospel

Isn’t going to church supposed to make you feel good? Paul’s message to the Roman governor, Felix and his Jewish wife, Drusilla, made them so uncomfortable that Felix dismissed Paul, Acts. 24:24–25. Claudius Lysias, the Roman commander in Jerusalem, had spirited Paul out of the city to save him from an assassination plot and had sent him to the governor, Felix, in Caesarea. Felix was familiar, not only with Judaism, but also with the Way, but was a notoriously evil and cruel ruler. Drusilla, his wife was Jewish, a daughter of Herod Agrippa I, who had executed Peter. Paul gave an eloquent defense, but Felix kept Paul imprisoned. Now Felix and Drusilla take advantage of the presence of a leader of the Christian Way, and summon Paul to explain his teaching.

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The Hope of the Resurrection

Paul’s life was at stake. He had survived being beaten almost to death by a mob the previous day only by the timely arrival of the Roman commander and his soldiers. Now the Sanhedrin is trying him, but the command of the high priest shows what the outcome will be. In Acts 23:6–11 Paul proclaims his belief in the resurrection, not just as a defense tactic, but as part of a summary of the good news he proclaimed.

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Called To Be a Witness

You knew it! If Paul made it to Jerusalem, he would be in trouble. Paul also knew it, but for the sake of his Lord he went. He understood that union with Christ involves union with him in suffering. Just as in his Gospel, Luke slowed down the narrative to give details of the betrayal, suffering, and death of Christ, so now he slows the pace of Acts as he describes Paul’s suffering and arrest. Acts 22:14–16 is part of a larger narrative, a repetition of the account of Paul’s conversion—this time from his own lips. The repetition underscores the importance of the narrative. It helps unpack, not only Paul’s calling as an apostle, but also the work of the church in his day and today.

Rejoice in the Father’s choice. Your salvation rests in the choice made by God. After being seized in the temple and being beaten by a mob, Paul was rescued and arrested by the Roman tribune in charge of the garrison in Jerusalem. As he is brought into the fortress in chains, Paul asks for permission to address the crowd. He wants the opportunity to point his fellow countrymen to Christ. As he tells his story, Paul is quoting Ananias, a godly Jew in Damascus, whom Jesus sent to instruct and baptize the humbled, blinded, Saul of Tarsus. Ananias’ title for God makes clear that Christianity is not some new cult, but is what the promises to the patriarchs looked forward. Paul’s salvation—and your—grows out of God’s gracious choice.

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