Acts 25

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). Because he didn’t get his bribe, Felix decided, when he left office, to leave Paul in prison as 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). Appealing to Caesar 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 his 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 by the case, 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 Roman citizenship to his advantage 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 any other non-Italian in those days. The Romans conquered many nations but did not grant citizenship to these defeated foes. 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 his Roman citizenship 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 because of it. 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 him. 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.

1 Samuel 5–6, Romans 5, Jeremiah 43, Psalm 19

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Samuel 5–6, Romans 5, Jeremiah 43, Psalm 19. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read 1 Samuel 5-6.

The Philistines must have been delighted by their success in 1 Samuel 4. You may remember from reading that chapter yesterday that they were terrified to learn that Israel was bringing the Ark of the Lord into battle with them (4:7-9). Yet the Philistines won that battle and captured the ark. Here in 1 Samuel 5, they brought they ark into the temple of their god Dagon (vv. 1-2), but Dagon kept falling before the Ark of the Lord (vv. 3-4). Furthermore, the people of Ashdod, where Dagon’s temple was, were suffering while the ark was in their town (v. 6). The people readily identified that the Lord was the cause of their suffering (v. 7). It was obvious that Israel’s God was far superior to theirs and that God could defend himself. Though the Philistines won a great victory against Israel, it was not because of a deficiency in God; rather, it was God’s discipline on Israel for their sins and disobedience. But instead of falling before the Lord in faith, it was easier just to move the ark to another town (vv. 7-12). As chapter 6 opened, the Philistines prepared to return the ark to Israel (6:1-8). But despite all the things that had happened—Dagon falling before the ark twice, the afflictions in two different towns, the Philistines are still not convinced that God is at work behind all of this. In 6:9, the Philistines decided to test to see whether or not God was orchestrating these problems or if it was all happening “by chance” (v. 9). Their test was to see whether the oxen pulling the cart would find their way back to Israel alone or if they would just wander away somewhere. If the ark went straight back to Israel, which it did according to verse 12, then the Philistines would conclude that God was behind all of this. If the ark went anywhere else, they could safely conclude that all of these problems were “by chance.”

It is amazing, isn’t it, how must the human heart wants to deny the existence and power of the true God. The Philistines have seen all kinds of evidence that Israel’s God is real and powerful, yet they kept hoping that it wasn’t true. The same is true today. Naturalists around us see the order and beauty in our world and conclude that it must have taken a long time for chance to work out all the coincidences and random changes needed to produce all of this. The idea that there is a personal God who designed it all is too absurd for them to consider, not because it really is absurd but because it makes them all accountable before God.

Not every coincidence is an act of God or a revelation of his will. Sometimes the enemy will use coincidences and seemingly random occurrences to draw us into temptation. But the doctrine of the Providence of God teaches us that everything that happens is either directed by God or allowed by him. More than once my life has turned in a new, important direction based on something that happened “by chance.” As believers, we should see these non-miraculous events as opportunities to see God’s working in our lives. 

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.