Tuesday, September 14, 2010

using politics to advantage

But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, "Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?"
Acts 25:9

Paul was in a real bind. He is finally having a chance to have his case heard after two years of stalling by the previous governor, Felix. Festus has heard his case and is willing to bring him to trial. But there is a deadly catch: Festus wants to move the trial to Jerusalem, as a favor to the Jews.

Paul is well aware of the dangers of going back there. In the hotbed of religious fervor, Festus' ability to protect him against the physical threat on his life was much less certain. The text has already alluded in background to the fact that the plot against Paul has not diminished during his imprisonment. Probably the same conspiracy awaits him that had tried to kill him before. An ambush is being planned (Acts 25:3).

Paul's answer shows his knowledge of legal custom and his rights as a Roman citizen. To go back to Jerusalem under any circumstances was not wise. To do so in the face of an ambush was suicidal. Paul appeals to his final defense option under Roman law. Paul appeals to Caesar in order that his case might be settled by the highest Roman authority, the emperor himself (Acts 25:10-12). Paul was taking advantage of his position as a prisoner of the Roman state. He appealed to Caesar in order to keep his fate settled in the Roman courts. This made it impossibly hard for his Jewish enemies to mount a case against him since their dispute was primarily religious in the eyes of Rome.

Paul again was not afraid to use the opportunity afforded him in the political system of his day. It was complicated, but it kept him able to preach the gospel, even under Roman confinement. From here on out, the Roman army would ensure his safe arrival to the heart of the emperor to stand before the most powerful man in the empire and there to have his fate decided. Paul's enemies would have very little sway in this matter from this point forward. What would happen in the next few days (Acts 25:13-27 & Acts 26) with a hearing before Festus and King Agrippa (the officials Rome had appointed to provide the background and recommendations and opinions on charges) would set the tone for how Paul's case would progress.

The reality is that the gospel always must be proclaimed in whatever cultural and political matrix a society has made for itself. Paul was able to utilize the system he was in to leverage that to the advantage of the gospel. There is nothing wrong with it. He broke no laws... just appealed to his rights. And that system would safely lead him to keep ministering. During that time we got valuable information from Paul in terms of the prison and pastoral epistles. He also got to lead many to faith in Christ, even within his own Praetorian guard (read 1 and 2 Timothy). Although Paul's life would now be primarily defined by Roman confinement for as long as it would last from this point, he was willing to take that gift and use it to his advantage. And Christians ought to know similar ways to navigate today's culture for the purpose of advancing the gospel.

- Posted with my iPad. The Apple Kool-Aide tastes fine.

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