Through the New Testament in a Year

Today's Reading – Acts 25:1-27 – The costs and rewards of faithfulness

Faithfulness to Christ can be costly, but it provides unparalleled opportunities for telling the good news about Jesus, the Saviour of the world.

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Despite all the warnings of his fellow Christians, Paul had travelled to Jerusalem. There, some of the Jews had stirred up the crowd against Paul and would have killed him. He was saved only by being taken into Roman custody to prevent a riot. A further plot to kill him led to Paul being transferred to Caesarea where he remained neglected for two years as a prisoner of the Roman governor, Felix. Acts 25 takes up the story when Felix is replaced by a new governor, Festus.

Festus, like his predecessor, wanted to appease the Jews to ensure that his task as Governor of Judea was made as easy as possible. So he tried to persuade Paul to go to Jerusalem, to be tried there before the Jewish authorities. But Paul will have none of it. He is a Roman citizen being held in Roman custody. If he has broken any laws he is willing to face the penalty, but he is not willing to be handed over to those intent upon his destruction. So Paul appeals to Caesar. He will soon be on his way to Rome. But before that, Festus wants Paul to state his defence before King Agrippa, a descendant of King Herod and one who is better placed to understand the accusations of the Jews against him.

It’s fascinating to hear how Festus describes the decisions that he has made. He recognises that Paul has done nothing worthy of condemnation and seems to suggest that he was almost on the point of letting Paul go when he appealed to Caesar. Regretfully, Festus now finds his hands tied. This is very different from the impression we get from the narrative. It seems that Festus was about to sacrifice Paul for the sake of peace, before Paul forced him to conduct his trial in accordance with Roman law.

Paul had been warned that going to Jerusalem would result in capture and imprisonment, but he had gone there, convinced that it formed an important part of his mission. He has now been imprisoned for more than two years in Caesarea: surely he could have been more profitably occupied in ministry among the churches? Yet this very imprisonment enabled him to preach the gospel to Roman Governors and will enable him to preach to a Jewish king. Eventually he will carry the message of Jesus Christ to Caesar’s household.

I am reminded of the story of Eric Liddell. After winning the gold medal for the 400 metres at the Paris Olympics of 1924 he worked as a missionary in China. In 1943, when the Japenese invaded China, he was interned in the Weihsien Internment Camp. There he continued to minister to other prisoners, busying himself by helping the elderly, teaching at the camp Bible classes, arranging games and by teaching science to the children, who referred to him as Uncle Eric. He would not let imprisonment prevent him serving Christ and ministering the gospel of grace.

Faithfulness to Christ can be costly, but it provides unparalleled opportunities for telling the good news about Jesus, the Saviour of the world. A faithful life is the foundation for a fruitful testimony.

Lord Jesus, give me the wisdom to know when to challenge the conduct of those around me and when to submit to their decisions even when they seem self-serving and unjust. Help me to serve you faithfully and cheerfully wherever your providence is pleased to place me. May I know that my life is in your hands and be intent on using every moment of it for your glory and for the blessing of others.

Peter Misselbrook