Get a Grip Festus (part two)

Plan and scheme all you want, in the end God’s plans will not be thwarted.

No, not that Festus!

Nature abhors a vacuum and when God is missing from a heart, anger, stress and even hatred will move in at the first opening. We sure see that happening here in Acts 25 as the religious and powerful all conspire and scheme to destroy one man.

No matter how many rules and verses may be in the mouth, or the head, if Jesus is not in the heart and the Holy Spirit allowed his place as counselor and guide in your life, the corrupt flesh will have you doing things you never dreamed you would be capable of.

I imagine these highfaluting men in their expensive robes and even priestly garments, laying in the ditch along a road with knives clutched in their squishy businessmen’s hands, waiting for this one itinerant evangelist to come by so they can jump on him and stab him to death in a bloody fury of blows.

Then what? Are they going to kill or outrun the Roman guards that are escorting him? Their hatred has blinded them and driven them mad. But they don’t care, They have lost control and they will do anything to get it back. They are frustrated beyond rational thought. They pretend it’s for God but surely they could care less anymore. This is all about their pride and power.

What a sad place for them to be in. All they would have to do is open their eyes and allow the Lord to reveal the truth that is right before their eyes in the very scriptures they profess to defend, and listen to the man, one of their brethren and peers, who once was more hate filled then all of them—until Jesus showed up and knocked him on his butt.

Then picking him up and setting him on a new path. One with no hatred, malice or anxiety, only assurances of a reward at the end and a life of meaning and purpose in the meantime. The reward being eternal life and the purpose being sharing that with the world—that’s all.

Paul knows this and it is why he is fearless and largely unflappable.

Unlike his antagonists who are being used like cannon fodder against him by the enemy of their souls. But God has a plan for Paul and these Bozos are not going to stop him, in fact, they will advance the plan, giving Paul reason to appeal to Rome. Where Jesus has told him he would witness for him.

The Scripture

“But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged before me concerning these things?”

So Paul said, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know. For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Acts 25:9-12

 Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, “You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!”

There’s my out! thinks Festus. But Festus has a problem, he needs to have a crime to charge Paul with, and a coherent case to present to Caesar. He can’t just charge and condemn a man because he is unpopular. Much to the chagrin of the mob.

“King Agrippa!”

Verse 22

“Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.”

“Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.”

 So the next day, when Agrippa and Bernice had come with great pomp, and had entered the auditorium with the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at Festus’ command Paul was brought in.  And Festus said: “King Agrippa and all the men who are here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole assembly of the Jews petitioned me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying out that he was not fit to live any longer.  But when I found that he had committed nothing deserving of death, and that he himself had appealed to Augustus, I decided to send him.  I have nothing certain to write to my lord concerning him. Therefore I have brought him out before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the examination has taken place I may have something to write. For it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner and not to specify the charges against him.” Acts 25:22-27

The Sideshow

As much trouble as he was, Paul is becoming somewhat of a sideshow in the minds of the Romans by now. An entertaining if not brilliant oddity that provoked thought and debate, something the open-minded Hellenistic Romans thrived on. It made them feel smart and sophisticated.

But the best part about Paul was that he drove the pesky Jews crazy. These close-minded arrogant priests, Pharisees and rabbis, whatever they all chose to label themselves, had no tolerance for new ideas and had no respect whatsoever for other gods or those who worshipped them.

Then along comes this Paul proclaiming simply that a Son of their God had walked among them, had been killed at their insistence, and then—here’s the crazy part—came back to life.

Now that part, as thot provoking and entertaining as the notion is, is embarrassing to the Romans because it was under their watch that the Nazarene’s corpse had disappeared, giving them leeway to spread this wild story.

To the Jews, Paul is a major obstacle to their tenuous hold on the nation of Israel. ‘If we don’t have the full devotion of the people to the temple worship and sacrificial system then Israel is no longer separate and, holy and blessed.’ And their power and source of wealth is gone, as is the nation, in their eyes.

“We have already lost the throne and our sovereignty, we can’t lose our religion too. We have to hold out until God sends the Messiah to rescue us from our enemies and restore the kingdom to the greatness of David and Solomon!”

“This Jesus was not it, he didn’t save us from anyone or retore anything! Oh how wrong they are, but their arrogance the  unwillingness to admit they may have missed it has driven them mad with hatred and rage—they have totally lost it.

King Agrippa and the lovely Bernice think they are pretty big stuff, all pomp and circumstance, but this Paul and Festus come along and makes them feel foolish and empty with false flattery implying that they should know and understand all this Messiah and resurrection stuff because they are the King and Queen of the Jews.

Therefore I have brought him out before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the examination has taken place I may have something to write. Acts 25

Fakers

Everyone in this story is a faker, except for Paul. And they know it. Which is why Paul drives them mad.

In their hearts, Agrippa and Bernice know that they are but puppets of the Romans and have no true power, that they have little real knowledge of the law or the prophets of God because they just never cared all that much.

And now Festus is expecting some great legal insight that he can use to present his case to Rome against this rogue Pharisee who claims to talk to a dead carpenter. A dead carpenter who claims to be the true king of Israel.

This is all just a little too much for Agrippa, and he can hardly keep his composure or contain his distain, yet he feels like a fool and a faker at the same time, I think I need a drink! Let’s get this charade over so we can get to the feasting part.’

The high priest and the Jewish religious thugs have lost it and are looking to Felix. Felix has lost it and is looking to Agrippa. Agrippa never had it and is just trying to find it, Bernice is just along for the ride hoping she can keep living in luxury, and they are all just trying to save their behinds and cover their own ineptness so they can keep the fragile status quo.

The only one in this story who hasn’t lost it nor is he anywhere losing it, losing his grip on sanity, reality and peace. The only one who is not in turmoil over what to do and how to facilitate their agenda is the one who seems to have no control, who seems to be the madman and would appear to be totally at the mercy of others— and that is the accused prisoner, Saul of Tarsus, now known as Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ. He is the only one who still has a grip—who has a handle on reality.

Why? Why is the one being persecuted, ridiculed, accused and abused the one who seems to have it all together, who seems to be the adult in this story and is unflappable? Because he does not have to wonder what truth really is, he does not have to worry that someone else’s truth will supersede or displace his, and his truth has a name and lives in his heart. Jesus Christ.

His fate and his mission are totally in his Lord’s hands and he is totally sold out and trusting in his Savior. Thus he has no fear whatsoever.

And he can reflect back at the end of each day and marvel at how God orchestrated yet another attempt by the enemy to destroy him into another opportunity to proclaim the gospel.

Now Paul is not a passivist nor a drone here just going along for the ride. Paul has a passion, he feels the fire in his belly and he desires nothing more than to be out there sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, defending the church against false teachers and warning them of hard days to come.

He is not afraid to call evil to its face and challenge those who would come against him and the gospel. But his passion is far different from the pride driven frenzy of his detractors.

Paul knows that he is on the right side, that he is where he is supposed to be and that his words are not his alone, he speaks for Jesus and his Spirit is ever faithful.

He is in God’s hands, and that is a fine place to be. He doesn’t need to worry about hanging on, God is hanging on to him.  


          Paul has found his happy place. It is in his heart, it is wherever he is—with Jesus.

Curses, Foiled Again!

And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. Now there were more than forty who had formed this conspiracy. Acts 23:12—13

Thus the *band of brothers, (band of boneheads more like) the most foolish, and soon to be the hungriest, band of brothers in Jerusalem was formed. I have always wondered what became of them, if they eventually broke their oaths and snuck off to eat some crow, or if they just starved to death. Because, spoiler alert, these idiots who no doubt thought they would be eating again in time for the brunch buffet at the Royal Fork, never did kill Paul. Curses! Foiled again!

Intrigue

The 23rd chapter of Acts https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+23&version=NKJV reads like the outline of a good suspense novel. The diabolical plots, violence, political intrigue, conspiracies, disputes among religious power players, supernatural visitations, rescues in the night, armies on the move, secret spies and clandestine messengers—I mean, you couldn’t make up a better story. And that’s all in just one chapter here.

So what does it all mean? What does it all point to? All this plotting, scheming, drama and intrigue involving the most educated and politically connected people in the middle east at the time? All of it centered around one man, a disgraced Pharisee and teacher of some new sect of Judaism that primarily the downtrodden and ignorant were drawn to?

It means that the powerful and connected can scheme and plan all they want, the Lord still determines the outcome, he is still in control. And in this case he uses the schemes of evil men to destroy his Apostle to the gentiles, to accomplish his and Paul’s goal of preaching Jesus as Lord in the capital city itself—Rome.

And as Snidely Whiplash (From the old Bullwinkle cartoons) used to say whenever Dudley Do-Right would save Nell from his evil scheming, you can almost hear the enemy  proclaiming over and over in this story—“Curses, foiled again!”

          Ol’ Snidely  was pretty hapless in his irrationally evil need to always being tying helpless women to railroad tracks, but then, after reading through this chapter, I hope you get a chance, it would seem the devil is pretty hapless also, at least when he comes up against the Lord and those who are following his plan.

Again, the verse that played so prominently in last week’s message as we talked about standing against the evil schemes of those who would bring this country and the church down, comes to mind:

          No weapon formed against you shall prosper,
And every tongue which rises against you in judgment
You shall condemn.

Isaiah 54:17

 We could call this the Snidely Whiplash verse-Curses foiled again!

Scene one

Setting the stage;

Paul has been brought up before a council made up of the religious big shots, the dreaded Sanhedrin, as he has come to face his accusers after being accused of desecrating the temple and subverting the law of Moses.

 He has already gotten to preach Jesus to hundreds of Jews, thanks to an intervention by a detachment of Roman soldiers who rescued him from a murderous mob,

And now he gets to defend Jesus before Pharisees, Priests and Sadducees as the Romans, to whom Paul has appealed as a citizen of Rome, are trying to discover just what it is that has the Jews so riled up about this seemingly harmless Jew named Paul.

But Paul, he’s pretty feisty, he has a razor sharp wit and is not shy in any way shape or form.

 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?” Acts 23:2

I love this. Lest you think Paul a pushover, he gets smacked in the mouth by the bailiff and he calls the judge out for acting contrary to the law in ordering him struck just because he claimed to be guiltless before God. “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!

Again, Paul stands up for his rights as a Jew, just as he has as a Roman.

When he is told that the one who ordered him struck, Ananias, is the High Priest, he humbly apologizes for dishonoring the office against the commands of God.

It seems unlikely that Paul would not know who the High Priest is but when confronted with the fact he perhaps realizes he may have crossed a line here, or he realized that cursing the judge was not going to help his case—that’s generally never a good idea.

It may be that Paul was so caught off guard by such lawless and unseemly behavior from the chief justice of this Jewish Supreme court that he forgets for a moment where he is. It seems, as we have so painfully learned in our own nation, that no matter the laws and principles binding an institution, even one charged with preserving and interpreting those laws and principles, that the integrity of any body or office is only as strong as the character of the people holding the position.

So, after apologizing for cursing the High Priest, and now understanding the room, he cleverly turns the hearing into a brawl between the council members themselves by playing them against one another. He does this by subtly highlighting their theological differences, pitting the Pharisees against the Sadducees and leaving the priests frustrated at losing control of the proceedings’ focus on demonizing Paul.

Swaningson bible memes

This court has no integrity whatsoever and this becomes evident when suddenly their own pride and the need to be right was the most important thing, and Paul was just a pawn to be used or destroyed, whichever suited their purpose and fit their narrative.

The dispute becomes so violent, one side arguing that Paul is right, that there is a resurrection thus maybe he is sent by an angel or a spirit, while the other, believing in neither, that they began to literally have a tug of war with Paul. And the Romans, fearing that they may tear him apart, forcibly take him away from the esteemed and holy council.

No doubt they were still screaming at each other long after Paul was removed ‘wait, where did Paul go?’ Curses, foiled again! What a sad testimony for a court that is supposed to represent God and dispense justice to God’s people. But we should not be surprised, this is the same court that determined that Jesus was a danger to society and who needed to be dragged out of the city and crucified.

Of course that plan backfired horribly, as the schemes of evil men usually do, and that is why Paul is now standing before them. But, evil is stupid no matter the sophistication or the sharpness of the creases in their clothes. And they soon lose all control of this situation, handed to them on a silver platter, as well.

Now the band of boneheads takes over where the Sanhedrin failed in their attempts to destroy Paul, the very annoying man who insists on talking about Jesus everywhere he goes. Remember who’s really wanting Paul done and gone, Satan, the same one who tried to destroy Jesus by inciting Judas and the religious leaders and then the Romans against him.

He must be so frustrated here as Paul keeps slipping away and foiling his efforts, always just as it seems like a sure thing.

The sad heartrending pleas from his friends not to go to Jerusalem failed. The angry mob of mostly peaceful protestors failed to kill him, (Acts 21) the Roman riot police failed to finish him off, the high court failed to charge or convict him. ‘I know, let’s get a bunch of thugs full of righteous indignation to ambush him!

Well, the thing about schemes inspired by higher demonic powers? They draw the attention of, and are easily foiled by, the highest power, the one who foiled and overcame the greatest evil scheme of all, murdering the Son of God, the Lord himself.

And Jesus is all over this.

Knowing this, that there is a battle happening on a higher plain here, is what makes this so interesting and encouraging as we look to our own world and learn to recognize the hand of God as he makes the sophisticated and powerful of our own generation look like complete and total fools in their efforts to subvert his laws and his people.

The mockers are becoming a mockery of the wisdom they claimed to have cornered the market on.

We face a defeated foe, he’s just too dumb to know it. And we have the Lord standing with us, let’s not be too dumb to see it.

Be of good cheer, and keep fighting the good fight!

*No disrespect or dishonor intended in any way to the Band of Brothers of 101st Airborne fame. You are true heroes.

Labels

Only God knows your heart, the real you.

We all know of the blessed Apostle Paul, But how about the murderous and feared Pharisee Saul?

“Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. . . . 

And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. Acts 9: 13, 26

Paul had had a serious change of heart, but Ananias and later, the church in Jerusalem, were loath to trust this hot shot Pharisee. They thought they knew Saul. They knew what kind of a man he was, the hatred and evil he harbored. He had been certified dangerous and  labeled accordingly. And no one was too keen on welcoming him in to their confidence, let alone their presence.  

But Jesus had other ideas. He was changing the game, altering the narrative, and he knew exactly who was needed to accomplish this so that all might hear the gospel despite the seeming hopelessness of the cause.

He had used Saul’s bitterness to scatter the church, to begin the spreading of the word, and now he is going to wrestle him back from the enemy and use him to ultimately plant the gospel so deeply into the consciousness of the nations that it would never be removed—exactly the opposite of what Saul had in mind as his life was devoted to this point to eradicating all traces of the memory of this convicted blasphemer, Jesus of Nazareth, from the face of the earth.

But Saul had something in him God could use, something the rest of the church only saw as a bad thing. He had a zealousness for the things of God, a zealousness that had blinded him to truth, but one that the God he yearned for could turn in the right direction, once he let go of his bitterness.

And he had a vast knowledge of the Law and the prophets that God would use to help others see how Jesus had fulfilled the law and the prophets, and to set them free from the condemnation of the very law they used as a club to destroy those that God wanted to save.

No one else saw any of this, they only saw a religious fanatic who refused to listen to anything that might challenge his perfect and complete understanding of God’s word. He knew it all and you had better not question nor challenge him.  

Unless of course, you are the Son of God himself. The Lord had waylaid on the waylaid Saul as he was set out to destroy his church, appearing to him in blinding glory.

Acts 9

And he (Saul) said, “Who are You, Lord?”

Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”

Immediately, Saul shows that he had the right stuff inside. He didn’t argue like Moses at the burning bush, or try to convince Jesus that he had made a mistake in choosing him like Peter in the boat, he just asked for direction. “Lord, what do You want me to do?”

Right answer. Jesus had chosen the right man, despite the labels that had been slapped on him by others.

Labels

The world is very good at attaching labels to everyone. It seems to be a favorite tactic of the enemy these days especially as he uses politicians and the media to put everyone into neat little groups that are labeled in such a way as to be  unable to intermix or abide by those who wear another label. We are all set against one another based on political leanings, religion, income, color, sex, health—you name it, class warfare is at a fever pitch.

At least that’s what they want us to believe. I don’t see it in the real world as much as we would be led to believe by the media and policy makers, but it’s there and getting worse.

Sadly, it’s just basic human nature being played against us on a grand scale—and we fall for it. But when you take God out of the picture, that’s all that is left, basic human nature. We seem to have this need to categorize everything and everyone and don’t you dare leave your pigeonhole.

It starts early. As kids we are labeled by others with labels we might be wearing for our entire lives either in the minds of others or in our own minds. Some we can never overcome and some we grow weary of trying to live up to. But those labels are often far from accurate.

The heart and soul of a person is virtually indiscernible without spending a lot of time and energy to discover it. And few people in our lives do that, and we often don’t even know ourselves that well. Some vessels are stopped up tighter than others.

You just never know do you, what might be inside that vessel, the labels on the outside or the condition of the container can be very deceptive. What do you see when you look into the mirror? Do you see the labels slapped on you by others? The dirt and scratches you acquired on the journey? Or do you see what Jesus sees?  

We are really clueless it seems. Preconceptions cloud our vision also.

We all have a notion or an image in our minds of the kind of person God would call to represent him before many varied and powerful people, those he would entrust with great wisdom and insight to share in such a way that people receive it. And we all have a notion of who might not be qualified.

Many would even put themselves in that category of—Who me? A chosen vessel to bear his name before Gentiles, kings and Israelites? I seriously doubt it. Well, guess what, You do not get to decide if you are called or not, you only get to decide if you will answer the call. Only the Lord knows what your label truly reads, and not even you will know what that label says until the day you stand before him.

But in the meantime he will help you overcome the false labels the world, and yourself, have slapped on yourself.

To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” ’

Rev 2:17

Regardless of what the world may call you, the Father calls you child.