Caesarea: Facing Secular People

Explore the Bible Series

August 24, 2008

 

Background Passage: Acts 23:23-26:32

Lesson Passage:Acts 24:22-26; 26:22-31

 

Introduction:

For the last twenty years, I have worked in a secular, academic environment.Every day I encounter highly intelligent academics, most of whom have serious doubts about the validity of the Christian faith.Frankly, I like these people.I find their intellectual curiosity and honesty refreshing, and, contrary to some popular impressions, the vast majority of them have a keen sense of ethics and decency.They struggle with the same problems I have, and they impress me with their compassion and goodwill.Many of them graciously engage with me in respectful conversations about the gospel.I have learned a great deal from my interactions with secular people, lessons I see reflected in the ministry of the Apostle Paul.

 

  1. Secular people have the same problems and heartaches that Christians experience.At one point in my life, I secretly entertained an internal sense of superiority to non-Christians (I write this to my great shame).My bogus superiority manifested itself in harsh judgments of others, misuse of theological and political principles, and narrow boundaries of fellowship.Life-experiences have helped me see the world (and myself) differently.Many churches do a dismal job, in my judgment, of reaching secular people, content to swap members with other congregations and baptize their own children.This unfortunate situation, I fear, grows from the perception of secular people that church folks donít really love the lost.Instead, if we are not careful, Christians may view secular people as the ďenemyĒ and as objects for conversion.I am no different than those I encounter every day.During Paulís defense, the apostle carefully, honestly identified with his ďenemies.ĒHe realized that he was no different from his accusers, a valuable lesson for anyone who wants to reach secular folk.
  2. Secular people need a simple, straightforward presentation of the gospel.Itís very easy for Christians to give the impression that the gospel is about secondary issues.Again and again, Paul brought his hearers to the reality of Jesusí resurrection from the dead.This, for Paul, was the essential element of the Good News, and he would not allow any distractions to draw attention away from the Lord Jesus.Paulís accusers wanted to talk about the Law and the Temple, but Paul insisted that the gospel centered on Jesus
  3. Christians encounter secular people everywhere.Paul transformed every situation into an opportunity to bear witness to the resurrected Christ.Certainly he would have preferred to travel and preach freely, but he did not allow his incarceration to stifle his evangelistic impulse; instead, he used this imprisonment as a doorway to preach to two Roman procurators and a Judean king.

 

Some years ago I pastored a woman who expressed to me great frustration with her work environment.She complained that few believers worked with her, and she chafed at the presence of so many secular people at her job.I listened to her concern; then, I asked her about Godís design in her situation.Frankly, her complaint floored me!God had placed her in environment where she could bear witness to people who needed the hope of Christ; however, her attitude blinded her to her wonderful opportunity.No doubt, many of you find yourselves in the company of many secular people.Love these folks.They are, at the core, no different than you.They have the same heartaches and anxieties you have, and, like you, they need the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus.

 

 

Lesson Outline:

 

I.                   Paulís Transference to Caesarea (23:23-35)

A.    Roman preparations for the journey to Caesarea (vv. 23-24): Jerusalem proved too dangerous for Paul; so, the Roman tribune, Claudius Lysias, made elaborate preparations to transfer the prisoner to a hearing before Procurator Felix. Antonius Felix became procurator of Judea in 51 A.D. and remained in power for about nine years.He was, by all accounts, an unsavory character, and the text reveals that his third wife, Drusilla (daughter of Herod Agrippa) accompanied her husband in this trial of the Apostle Paul.Claudius Lysias did not want to take any chances with Paulís safety; therefore, a large contingent of Roman soldiers accompanied the accused man to Caesarea.

B.     The tribuneís letter to Festus (vv. 25-30): Roman law required that subordinate officials provide a written account of charges against citizens of the empire.

C.     Paulís arrival in Caesarea (vv. 31-35): The large military escort accompanied Paul as far as Antipatris (about thirty-five miles from Jerusalem); and, when the soldiers determined their prisoner was relatively safe, the infantrymen returned to Jerusalem.Cavalrymen continued on the trip to Caesarea (approximately sixty miles from Jerusalem), and, in time, the entourage arrived at their destination.Herodís Praetorium served as both a military base and palace for the Judean rulers.It was built by Herod the Great

 

II.                Paulís Trial Before Antonius Felix (24:1-27)

A.    Charges against Paul (vv. 1-9): Five days after Paulís arrival, the apostleís accusers came to Caesarea: Ananias the High Priest, Tertullus an orator and legal expert, and certain other Jewish leaders. Tertullus acted as chief spokesman for the accusers, and, amid shameless flattery for Felix, made a series of false charges against Paul.

1.      ďa creator of dissensionĒ

2.      ďa leader of the sect of the NazarenesĒ: Itís difficult to discern if Felix understood this accusation.Since Jesus hailed from Nazareth, his followers apparently were known, in some quarters, as Nazarenes.These Jewish accusers clearly regarded Christianity as a heretical, troubling sect of Judaism.

3.      ďhe tried to profane the TempleĒ: This charge relates to the charge that Paul brought Trophimus into the Temple (See Acts 21:29). In addition to his charges against Paul, the Jewish leaders accused Claudius Lysias of excessive and unnecessary violence.

B.     Paulís defense before Felix (vv. 10-21): In a simple, straightforward manner, Paul refuted the spurious charges of the Jewish leaders.In particular, the apostle highlighted the real issue at hand, his belief in the resurrection.

C.     Felixís response to Paulís defense (vv. 22-27): It seems reasonable to conclude that Luke provided only a brief summary of Paulís words to Felix.Verse twenty-two indicates that Felix left this audience with a more accurate understanding of The Way; indeed, he evidenced some curiosity about the Christian faith.Though the procurator showed considerable kindness to Paul (allowed the prisoner some important liberties), this Roman official proved indecisive and greedy (See v. 26).††

 

III.             Paulís Defense before Porcius Festus (25:1-27)

A.    Neroís appointment of a new procurator (v. 1): Felix fell into disfavor with the emperor, and Porcius Festus was appointed as the new procurator of Judea, in 60 A.D.

B.     Festusí journey to Jerusalem (vv. 2-6): Soon after arriving in Judea, Festus made a goodwill journey to Jerusalem.While in the city, Festus met with the Jewish leaders, and they made a point of accusing Paul before the new procurator.The apostleís accusers asked Festus to return Paul to Jerusalem, but they secretly hoped to assassinate Paul on the return journey (I marvel that these men, so zealous for the Law of Moses, had such low regard about committing murder). Festus refused their request and invited the Jewish leaders to accompany him back to Caesarea where the procurator would hear the case.

C.     Paulís trial before Festus (vv. 7-12): As before, the Jews brought serious, specious charges against Paul.After hearing Paulís defense against the false accusations, Festus asked Paul to return to Jerusalem to face another trial before the Sanhedrin, but Paul, asserting his rights as a Roman citizen, appealed his case to Rome.

D.    The arrival of Herod Agrippa and Bernice (vv. 13-27): Agrippa II was son of Agrippa I and brother to Bernice. Raised in Rome, Agrippa enjoyed considerable favor in the emperorís court, and, in time, became the tetrarch of the region around Jerusalem.Bernice had previously been married twice, and, upon the death of her second husband (her uncle), she came to live her brother.For years she battled the scandal of an incestuous relationship with Agrippa and later she became mistress to Vespasian and Titus.This unseemly pair came to Caesarea to greet the new procurator, and, upon their arrival, heard of the Jewsí charge against Paul.It seems that Agrippaís concern about Paul grew from curiosity rather than any legal or religious interest.

 

IV.             Paulís Hearing before Herod Agrippa (26:1-32)

A.    Paulís defense follows a familiar pattern of the apostleís testimony.

1.      Paulís preconversion zeal for the Law (vv. 1-11): Paul recounted his previous training and practice as a Pharisee and his violent persecution of the church.

2.      Paulís conversion in Damascus (vv. 12-18): The apostle provided an excellent, eloquent summary of his encounter with Jesus.He recalled the Lordís appearance on the Road to Damascus and the subsequent ministry and message of Ananias (unmentioned in this account).

3.      Paulís appeal to Agrippa (vv. 19-27)

a.       a clear concise summary of the gospel (v.v. 22-23): Paul made an appeal to the Old Testament and clearly described the centrality of the Lordís death and resurrection.

b.      a patient response (vv. 24-25): Festus interrupted Paul and accused the apostle of madness.Easily, Paul might have responded impatiently, but he assured the procurator that insanity had not produced these convictions.

c.       an attempt to find common ground (vv. 26-27): Paul knew that Agrippa had some understanding of the Old Testament, and the wise apostle appealed to the tetrarchís knowledge of the importance of the Messiah.Since Herod had to appease the Jews, he could not publicly deny the Jewish Scriptures.

B.     Agrippaís response to Paulís witness (vv. 28-32): Itís difficult to assess Agrippaís statement that he was almost persuaded to become a Christian.Some commentators believe Agrippa responded with sarcasm.Others think this statement reflects Agrippaís sincere appreciation of Paulís message.Whatever the case, Paul urged the tetrarch to embrace the gospel.Apparently, Paulís plea did not persuade Agrippa, but the tetrarch did conclude that, if Paul had not made appeal to Nero, the apostle could have been released.