Then when Festus had conferred with his council, he answered, "You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go."Acts 25:12(NASB)
Paul was called to be an apostle to the Jews as well as the Gentiles, but was taken into protective custody by the Roman authorities when he shared the gospel of Christ to men of Israel in Jerusalem. Because he was being accused of blasphemy, he recounted his conversion on the Road to Damascus. He declared his personal testimony to them and proclaimed the gospel of Christ. However, his Jewish audience were infuriated - causing an uproar in the city which had to be quelled by Roman soldiers.
When Paul revealed that he was a Roman citizen, the centurion in charge, arranged for him to be taken secretly to Caesarea to protect him from the fury of the Jews, for they had hatched an evil plot to assassinate him. It was because of his Roman citizenship that Paul was provided with protection from his assailants, under Roman law.
The same accusations and vitriolic hatred Israel's leaders had towards the Lord Jesus was reflected in their loathing of Paul. Their hostility toward this apostle of Christ was so impassioned that they covertly conspired to kill him and even bound themselves together under a terrible curse. Determined to stamp Christianity out, they agreed that they would eat nothing until Paul had been slain.
Over the next two years, a series of Roman trials were held in which Paul was called upon to defend his Christian faith from his Jewish accusers - during which time the plot to kill him continued, unabated. His first trial was before Felix, the Roman procurator in the province of Judea who felt ill-equipped to deal with Paul's Jewish accusers. Their aggression continued to rage against Paul, and they demanded that he be executed.
However, it was during his second trial before Festus, the Roman governor who succeeded Felix, that Paul made his impassioned plea to be tried by Ceasar in order to escape the ongoing, Jewish conspiracy. Paul could see that Festus was considering handing him back to the Jews for trial in Jerusalem and so he declared boldly, "If I be an offender, or have committed anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them (the Jews). I appeal unto Caesar. Then, when Festus had conferred with his council, he answered, 'You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go.'"
The fast-moving account of Paul's imprisonment and defence reads like a fast-moving thriller with plots, counter-plots, conspiracies, and intrigue as this chosen apostle of Christ presents his defence before governors and royalty - surviving many harrowing times including a violent storm, a disastrous shipwreck, a poisonous snake-bite, and times of great loneliness!
The last years of Paul's ministry were spent as a prisoner of Rome where he was often bound in chains and could neither visit the churches he had planted in Asia nor fellowship with the Christians he loved there. To the casual observer, it would appear that the final years of Paul's life and ministry were an utter failure... but God's ways are not our ways and His thoughts are so much higher and better than our thoughts.
It is as we reflect on those final years of Paul's life and the many epistles he penned to individual people and church communities alike, that we discover the wisdom of God's plans and purposes for Paul's life, as this prisoner of Rome was a captive of Christ who wrote some of our most loved Scripture from behind prison bars.
The Lord had a long-term purpose in view when He permitted Paul to go through his many trials and tribulations. Paul may not have fully understood the reason for the difficulties he had to endure, and I am sure that many Christians in the early Church were grieved and bewildered as to why Paul was incarcerated in a Roman jail when he was God's chosen apostle.
But we, who have been permitted to look down the telescope of time, are able to witness God's wisdom working all things together for good for those that love the Lord - for those that are fitting into His plans. Despite the twists and turns, difficulties, and dangers Paul faced, we recognise God's hand guiding His servant along the path that He had planned for him - to proclaim the gospel in the place the Lord had determined.
I wonder what passed through Paul's mind when, having conferred with his council, Festus answered, "You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go." It had been the desire of Paul's heart to visit the Church at Rome for many years, and God answered his prayer - but in a very unexpected way. Paul probably planned to travel to Rome as a free man with other evangelists. Instead, he was to be transported there as a prisoner.
Paul had traveled to Jerusalem despite being warned by Agabus that the Jews would hand him over to the Romans... and from that point on he regarded himself as the prisoner of Christ. Paul knew that it was God's will that he would go to Rome to declare the gospel of Christ before Ceasar and we discover that many souls in Ceasar's own household were saved, by God's grace, through his ministry in Rome.
Just like Paul, we need to trust God's guiding hand and determine to do His will, even when life's circumstances seem to be going in the opposite direction from our expectations. God has the perfect plan for each of us... may we submit to His voice and do only those things that He determines for us, in His power, and for His greater glory.
Heavenly Father, what a fascinating section of Scripture in these chapters, where Paul is accused, put on various trials, sent to various High Priests, a King, and finally Caesar himself. During this time, he is left in chains in prison for years, survives a shipwreck and a snake bite. But Lord, You were always in control, and Your plans and purposes were being worked out in the life of this faithful servant, for the furtherance of the gospel and for Your praise and glory. When my life seems to always be going in the wrong direction, help me to faithfully trust in You, as Paul did, and I pray You would use me in the furtherance of the gospel for Your praise and glory. In Jesus' name, AMEN.
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