“I Appeal To Caesar!”
Key Verse: 25:11
“If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”
Luke recorded these words which Jesus had said to his disciples: “They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them.” (Luke 21:12-13) Luke then had recorded what the Lord Jesus had said would happen to Paul himself: “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15-16) So nothing that was happening to Paul was surprising either to the Christians of the time or to Paul himself. Chapter by chapter we are now witnessing Paul’s trials before these governors and kings the Lord spoke of. In the last chapter, we saw Paul stand in the court room of the devious Governor Felix who had allowed the corrupt Jewish high priest Ananias and the Jewish elders (who had travelled all the way from Jerusalem) to press charges against Paul. A clever lawyer Tertullus made his case that Paul was nothing less than a dangerous cult leader who deserved the death penalty for crimes the Jews couldn’t validate with evidence. It wasn’t the first time they were breaking God’s sacred command in order to serve their own evil purposes. (Exodus 23:1) At this, Paul simply testified to the truth, that we all have a God to answer to in the end and for that reason we should all strive to keep a clear conscience as we live before God and people. Paul meant that he was telling the truth. And he also meant that his personal hope in the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked is a testimony to that truth as these men would testify is also their faith. The day will come when everything will be judged by God. When Paul mentioned his hope of the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked, he implied that only fools continue in their wicked ways giving little thought to that day; And Paul’s no fool. The trial before Felix and the Jewish religious council ended then after which Paul was sent to his prison quarters and given some privileges by the governor permitting him the visitation of friends to tend to his needs.
As the last chapter ends, other court sessions were held in which Paul was summoned to testify, but mostly in privacy between Felix and Paul (26). One interesting session which Luke records for us— and which ends the chapter and with it Felix’s governorship as well— is where Paul is asked to share his faith in Christ with Felix and his Jewish wife Drusilla. Paul wastes no time discoursing with this couple about righteousness, self control and the judgment to come. Here’s what the Bible says: “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the hart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him whom we must give an account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13) What deep darkness lurked in the heart of Felix; what sins did he commit now exposed by the light of God’s word shining through; what guilt what shame bubbled over to the surface to make his hands sweat; But his heart was now beating with fear. It was the fear of God’s judgment, an innate fear that comes on those whose conscience convicts them of wrongdoing and the consequent demands of justice. “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 1730-31) Paul had given this Bible study before to the Greeks in Athens; who knows that he gave it again to Felix and his wife. What else can set a man like Felix to such terror, for he “trembled” (KJV). But instead of repenting, Felix did what he had habitually done all his life. “That’s enough for now” he said. “When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” (25) What did he do? He procrastinated. He put it off. Listen to me, when God puts a conviction on your hearts, never put it off. Always take it to heart and act upon it right there and then. Don’t be a Felix.
Let’s look at chapter 25:1-3. Two years later, the Roman Governor Festus replaced his predecessor Governor Felix and headed straight to Jerusalem, perhaps to meet up with the Jewish leadership, make their acquaintances and to exchange diplomatic pleasantries. It really doesn’t surprise us at all what the first request of the Jewish religious leaders was of this new Roman governor. They were eager to present charges against Paul. For two years these old enemies of the gospel of God’s grace had been seething in their assemblies, impatient to lay their hands on Paul. They had probably given up on the old corrupt governor Felix. Felix knew that Paul was innocent, but because he was so indecisive, he couldn’t set Paul free either. It was that same old habit of putting things off that kept him from deciding to repent whenever fear struck his heart at Paul’s preaching. When we think about Paul’s situation, it seems as if he suffered in prison for two long years because of someone’s cowardly habit of hesitating at critical times. And maybe he did! But to the spiritual eyes of a man like Paul, who trusted God in all circumstances— no matter how grave these circumstances may have been, he really believed that no circumstances can escape the sovereign will of God. He was confident— as every Christian should be— that “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) It didn’t matter then that Paul was innocent. It didn’t matter that Felix didn’t set him free because of some flaw of his own. What really mattered is that God’s will was being carried out according to his sovereign plan. Paul was happy if only he was used as an instrument in God’s sovereign plan.
The Jewish religious leaders didn’t waste time in making an urgent request of the new Governor Festus that Paul be transferred from Caesarea to Jerusalem. In verse 3, Luke adds the words “As a favor to them”. It wasn’t easy to govern the Jewish province, as Festus must have studied before taking the post of governor. So doing them a favor would go a long way in securing a long and peaceful relation with the Jewish leadership. Festus must have heard either about his prisoner Paul from the predecessor Felix or read the reports about him, and about the reason he was brought to Caesarea from Jerusalem in the first place. Still, if he wanted to, he could have obliged the Jews and did them a favor for the sake of gaining their trust and of better relations. If he agreed to their request to transfer Paul, he would not be aware of the plot to ambush and kill him along the way. However, it seems as if Festus was already prepared for them to make the request of Paul’s transfer and he responded by saying: “Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. Let some of your leaders come with me and press charges against the man there, if he has done anything wrong.” (4-5)
Look at verses 6-7. Festus spent a few more days in Jerusalem ironing out governmental details and then returned to Caesarea where the very next day it appears that he was eager to get Paul’s issue done with as quickly as possible. He then convened court and called for Paul to appear along with the Jewish leaders who had also come with the governor from Jerusalem. And so they began to bring their serious charges against Paul once again. Luke yet again makes the comment (7) that they could not prove those serious charges they were bringing against Paul. In other words, they were simply driven by their evil desire to destroy him by any means. They had done this before in other places, giving false testimony about him; pinning serious charges on him that were false and without basis; accusing him of things he’d done which he hadn’t done; making him out to be who he clearly isn’t. How is it that religious leaders who are supposed to be the conscience of the nation and the moral compass of the people— how it is that they had become the very embodiment of evil and the voice of the devil himself? I think the best way to understand how they became what they are now is to listen to what Jesus had once said to these very people who eventually killed him and now were on the warpath with Paul. Listen to what Jesus said to them:
“If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!” (John 8:42-45) They weren’t always like this. Once they had a desire for the truth. They were eager to hear God’s voice. But then they began to love themselves more than God and his voice in the Bible. They became self seeking and self glory seeking, and they began to love the honor and glory and wealth of their positions. The devil had tempted them to stop listening to the voice of truth and to start listening to voice reason; to listen to the voice of reality around them. When Jesus came speaking with God’s voice of truth, they couldn’t hear him; they wouldn’t hear of it; worse yet, they had one desire on their hearts; to silence the voice that revealed their sins to the world; so they killed him. They honored their father’s will who’s been a murdered and a liar from the beginning. Now they were after Paul because he spoke the same language as Jesus did.
It’s intriguing how over the generations, some of the most evil voices and worst murderers have been religious people who’ve risen in power and authority. Their aim had been to silence the voice of Truth. In our time, this kind of persecution will most probably also come from powerful religious institutions and, men and women with religious power and authority to silence the voice of the Bible and deem it a heresy and a danger to the human race. It’s already happening! Even within the churches some are being persecuted by their own leaders for upholding Biblical standards of marriage and morality. How can a person fall so low? When he or she falls into the tempter’s snare. His trap offering power, authority, wealth, glory, pleasure, success, heart’s desire, etc, all in exchange for worship has always been there for whoever would take the bait!
And these religious leaders had taken the devil’s bait a long time ago, and now they were eager to silence Paul in obedience to the devil’s desire. They wanted to squash any effort in spreading the gospel truth. Why? Why is the gospel truth such a threat to the devil and his minions? Because it is the key to real freedom and to life eternal. People may choose to ignore Jesus’ words, but that does not change the truth of what he said. And it’s Him who said: “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” And “A slave has no permanent place in the family.” Whereas “A son belongs to it forever.” Those who are slaves to their sins cannot be part of God’s family. They belong to another family. Jesus came to liberate them from their slavery to the devil’s family and to bring them into the family of his Father God. He does so by the truth of the gospel, so he said: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-36) The gospel truth is the only way out of this slavery to sin. That’s why the gospel truth is a threat that the devil and his people try hard to quash. He even used the religious leaders to silence the champion of the gospel message of the time, Paul.
Now these people stood in Festus’ court with serious false accusations against Paul. Even though Festus didn’t allow the transfer of Paul to Jerusalem, still it was obvious that he was already siding with the Jews for letting the bring all kinds of accusations against him without proof. Still Paul was ready for this. He had been given the blessing from the King of Heaven to testify. And so he did. “I have done nothing wrong against the law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar” Paul said. In any court, the burden of proof lies with the accuser to produce evidence to the contrary. And since they had none, it was evident that Paul was innocent. This then should have been the end of his trial, where he should be set free. But the trial didn’t end. Look at verse 9. Festus may have once been a fair man, a decent governor who may have served the cause of justice. But at this particular moment when he needed to make a decision to do the right thing; that is— to declare Paul innocent— to set him free, he didn’t! What did he do instead? He gave in to compromise, as another governor of the same province [namely Pilate] once did when he was under pressure to save his political career. Compromise— the death of many people; Sometimes the death of many a good people! Look again at what Festus said in verse 9. “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?”
He knew well enough that Paul couldn’t get a fair trial in Jerusalem. He knew well that Paul wouldn’t stand a chance to get justice among the Jews who hated him for no reason. So why compromise when the truth was staring him in the eye? Because to embrace the truth would be too hard, and as usual, compromise would be the easy way out of this and many a difficult situation! Compromise has destroyed many people, good people, even godly people. Judas played at compromise. His life may have turned differently if he hadn’t played at compromise. But as usual the devil makes even smart people think they are even smarter if they compromise a little. When Judas began to follow Jesus, he respected him and his teaching very much. He really thought Jesus’ teaching was fresh and genuine and full of potential to grow into a movement that could sweep the nation and uproot everything that Judas himself hated in the old system, the hypocrisy, the insincerity and pretence he saw in the Jewish religious leadership of the time. But Judas was smart, too smart for his own good. And Satan tricked him to follow Jesus with caution. Satan whispered in his ear not to go in the whole way, not to commit himself completely to Christ and to his cause; to put one foot in, but to also leave one foot out— just in case. Just in case what? Just in case things don’t work out for you here. Just in case you change your mind later. Just in case you find something better in life. Judas appeared to be a disciple in every sense of the word, doing everything with the others. But in his heart, he was not fully committed to Christ and to his cause. He always had a foot outside; he had always kept a door open— just in case. It was the devil’s trick. This just in case mentality was the way of compromise. The day came when Peter denied Jesus and Judas betrayed Jesus. There’s not much difference in the utter failing of the two disciples. But one was able to recover and other wasn’t. Peter recovered and became one of the greatest men who ever lived. Judas hanged himself; he died miserably forever a traitor. Why? Because Peter was utterly committed to Christ and Judas decided to compromise just in case! We must always remember that compromise isn’t as smart as it’s cut out to be. It’s only the evil one’s trick to destroy us. You are God’s children. You should never play at compromise.
Now that Governor Festus was ready to compromise and to hand Paul over to the Jews for political bonus points, how did Paul respond to Festus’ question? Look at verses 10-11. “Paul answered, ‘I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!’” Paul was surrounded by enemies, even now the governor was no longer to be trusted to maintain Roman Law. How difficult it is to be able to think properly at a time like this. Ordinarily, emotions would overwhelm a person not knowing how to answer or what to do. It amazes us that Paul was able to stand tall. And his appeal to Caesar was not his own idea either. It was the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In fact his appeal to Caesar was Paul’s commitment to obey what God had put upon his heart to do in the first place, which is to testify about him in Rome (Romans 23:11) Enemies surrounded him. There seemed to be no way out of this situation. But when he held on to God’s vision in his heart, his mission to bring the gospel to Rome seemed critical. And so the Lord who stood beside him in that lonely prison cell sometime ago to encourage him, once again must have given him the inspiration to rebuke Festus: “No one has the right to hand me over to them” as well as to make that irrevocable appeal that neither Festus nor anyone else can revoke: “I appeal to Caser!” Festus then confers with his council and says: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go.” (12)
It’s imperative that we examine our hearts from time to time to determine if compromise has set in anywhere voluntarily or involuntarily. Then we must weed it out through repentance and by applying the word of God in faith and obedience. Often we fall into difficulties and times of training and hardship. Not all are such times are the Lord’s testings and trainings in endurance and patience. Some are disciplines because of areas of compromise that require cleansing and purification in our hearts and lives, because of God’s great love. The cause of some hardship maybe a sin problem that has not been repented of where we have compromised something sacred to the Lord such as worship or time of prayer or time of reflection, or we have developed a habit of putting our job ahead of important spiritual things that should have been our priority. Some difficulties in our lives may also be the Lord’s discipline because of pride or a sudden interest in material possessions. Whatever it is, it is some compromise that would eventually bear heavy on our soul and cost us too much, much more than what the devil promises at the beginning. Our Father loves us and gives us hardship and difficulties that we might learn patience and faith, but also that we might often examine our lives as well and see what has found its way in that needs be cast out. Compromise is what made the religious leaders what they had become at the end, tools of the evil one. We must fight it and remain as the pure children of our Father God who are washed in the blood of Christ the Lord and always ready to serve God’s purpose with the same spirit Paul said: “I must visit Rome.” (Acts 19:21) It is that spirit that enabled him to confidently say: “I appeal to Caesar!”
Look at verse 13-22. A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay respects to the new governor, Festus. King Agrippa was familiar with the Jewish customs and laws. Festus hoped that Agrippa could help him out. Actually, Festus had a big problem. He had to send Paul to Rome to appear before Caesar’s court, but there was no charge against him. The only charge that Festus could find is stated in verses 19-20a. “Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. I was at a loss how to investigate such matters….” In fact, Paul was on trial because he believed in the resurrection of Christ. That was not a crime. To send him to Caesar in this way was political suicide for the new governor Festus.