Today’s reading is Acts 25.
When we left Paul yesterday, he was languishing in prison in Caesarea for two years (24:27). Caesarea is a nice place, right on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea but, if you’re in prison, that doesn’t matter. If I had to be in prison somewhere, I ‘d rather be locked up in Miami or Hawaii than in Alaska or Minneapolis, but I’m sure prisoners in Hawaii don’t feel like they’re in paradise, even though they technically are.
Anyway, Paul was in prison there in Caesarea for two years. He was left there by Felix, a Roman government official over Judea. Felix detained Paul for two years without a trial because he was looking for a bribe from Paul (24:26) and, since he didn’t get his bribe, decided to do a favor to Paul’s Jewish opponents (24:26-27). Leaving Paul in prison without a trial was unjust but Felix was a sinful man, so I doubt he felt any guilt in his conscience about it.
The Jewish leaders asked Felix’s successor, Festus (I always think of Uncle Fester when I read his name), to send Paul back to Jerusalem from Caesarea for trial (vv. 1-3a) because they planned to kill Paul en route (v. 3b). Paul argued against a transfer back to Jerusalem and, to ensure his safety, appealed to Caesar (vv. 4ish-11). This was Paul’s right as a Roman citizen (remember Acts 22:27). King Agrippa–Herod Agrippa–was a Jewish client king over the same area as Festus, and Agrippa came with is wife to Caesarea to congratulate Fester (er… Festus) on his sweet new job (v. 13). What do a Roman governor and a Jewish “king” have to talk about? Not much besides work, so that’s what Festus and Agrippa talked about–including Paul’s case (vv. 14-21). Agrippa was intrigued so Festus set up a meet-n-greet between Agrippa and Paul (v. 22). The end of our passage today (vv. 23-27) set the table for Paul’s speech to Agrippa which we’ll read tomorrow in Acts 24.
As I mentioned in my devotional on Tuesday from Acts 23, Paul used his valuable Roman citizenship to avoid a beating by a Roman solider and to protect his life from the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Here in Acts 25, Paul used his citizenship again. This time, he used it to get a free trip to Rome where he wanted to go next anyway (Rom 15:23-33). This was a wise move; Paul creatively used what he had at his disposal to move toward the goal he wanted to reach for the glory of God. But notice this one thing: in Acts 22:28 Paul said, “I was born a citizen” of Rome. This was highly unusual for a Jewish man or anyone else who lived in a territory Rome had conquered. For Paul to be born a Roman citizen, his father must have forked over a lot of money (see 22:27) or he did some heroic act for the Roman empire that got him honored with citizenship. Either way, Paul’s Roman citizenship came to him as a gift. He did nothing to earn it; it was conferred on him at birth. The fact that Paul was able to use it for the Lord’s work shows us the importance of God’s providence. The word “providence” speaks of God’s working his will in this world without using miracles. Often God’s providence is only visible to us when we look back at events in the past. When things are happening to us in the present, we don’t necessarily see God working out his will but, if we look back at our lives, we can often see how seemingly “random” things were actually given or arranged by God to accomplish his will in us. Maybe Paul’s dad was proud to be a Roman citizen or maybe he was embarrassed about it and lost some credibility with his Pharisaic friends. Maybe as Paul was growing up he thought his Roman citizenship had very little use to him but now he could see why God gave it to Paul. I’m certain he was grateful to have that benefit when Acts 25 was happening.
Think back over your life as a Christian for a little bit. Have there been any “chance” events in your life that protected you from harm or helped you serve God or walk with Him? Think back over what God has done in you and for you. Do you see anything that happened before you were born that made you the man or woman you are now? Make a list, then thank God for his providence and how it has worked out in your life. Then determine, as Paul did, to use whatever advantages you have–be they small or insignificant or great and valuable–to the glory of God by the expansion of the gospel.