An Appeal to Caesar

ot28cHow do we as Christians relate to the government? How different is that relationship in North America from some other countries? That issue is not a new one, as you see in Acts 2510-12.

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.

What Paul did has implications for you. Seek what is right and just. Paul is showing that that the gospel has nothing to fear from justice, if it is truly justice that is being administered. Neither Paul nor we are above the law. The powers that be are ordained by God, and for the Lord’s sake God’s people are to render obedience and respect (and even taxes). The exception is if Caesar requires disobedience. Paul is not unwilling to face judgment if he is guilty (Acts 25:11). DeGraaf: “The gospel put even a Roman’s sense of justice to shame.” As a Christian work for political process that reflects God’s justice, but remember where your hope is. “Paul’s hope for vindication lay not in Caesar’s judgment seat but in the prospect that ‘we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ’ (2 Cor. 5:10). (Judgment seat is the same Greek word as in [Acts] 25:6, 10, rendered tribunal.) There, life’s injustices, which frustrate and hurt us now, will be set right, and we will rejoice in Christ’s righteousness, given by grace to all who believe (2 Cor. 5:21).” (Dennis E. Johnson, Let’s Study Acts, p. 303).

Behind Paul’s search for justice lies a more basic principle. Submit to the kingship of Jesus Christ. Even the kingdoms of this world are touched by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is on its way to Caesar’s court. God’s promise that Paul would testify about him in Rome (Acts 23:11) will be fulfilled. Paul does not change the church into a political action committee, but the nations cannot ignore the gospel. The commission of Acts 1:8 is being carried out.

Christ’s rule extends over the entire world. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, as Jesus told Pilate in John 18:36-37. He entered the world to be King, and that is what he has become by his death, resurrection, and ascension, Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:15-19. That kingship is there even when the rulers shake their fists at him. Be careful not to identify the kingdom of God with the USA or any other nation. “Paul showed, by appealing to the emperor, that the gospel did not fear justice in the world. . . . The gospel and justice in the world are not in contrast to each other. The government too has the power to administer justice while remaining subject to Jesus Christ, the King of kings. Each government has the duty to protect the confession of God’s name and the church of the Lord. No longer might government act as though the gospel of Jesus Christ was none of its concern. The entire world, state and government included, would become involved with the Christ. That is why God has directed events in such a way that Paul had to go to Rome.” (S. G. DeGraaf, Promise and Deliverance, Vol. 4, p. 234).

Our culture is moving increasingly in the direction of idolatrous worship of self. The moral decay is not the heart of the problem, it is a consequence and symptom, Romans 1. Give thanks for the impact the gospel has had, but keep the kingship of Christ central.

There is no escaping the kingship of Christ. The day will come when every knee bows to him. Bow willingly, while there is still time to turn to him as, not only your Savior, but also your Lord and King.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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