GETTING THE MESSAGE/Paul is on trial
In Acts 25:1-12 Paul is on trial before the new governor of Judea, Porcius Festus, who replaced Felix. When Festus took office, the case with Paul was high on his agenda. Festus traveled to Jerusalem to meet with the Jewish leaders, who requested that he send Paul to Jerusalem to stand trial, but secretly they planned to ambush and kill Paul. Festus denied the request and instructed the Jewish authorities to come to Caesarea to press charges (verses 1-5).
The Jews bring serious charges against Paul, things that would receive the death penalty. But they could not prove these accusations (verse 7). The law Moses gave required that anyone who brought charges against a man must be able to prove those charges.
If the one who made the charges could not prove them, he was subject to the penalty of the charges he made. The Jewish leaders knew the Law of Moses, yet they broke it blatantly in charging Paul. Ironically, their boast was in their law-keeping. As we have seen before in Acts, self-righteousness blinds the mind. It makes one ignorant of God’s righteousness.
Paul wrote this about the Jews who rejected Christ in Romans 10: “For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God.” In other words they are left unjustified before God, though they believed they were accepted by God. Their blindness is a warning to us.
We should remember that God magnifies his grace in the gospel of Christ Jesus. Salvation is of God’s free grace from first believing in Christ to being glorified in heaven with Christ. We are debtors to mercy alone, and all praise is unto God’s grace. No works or actions of men in this world were an inducement to incline God to give Christ as a Savior to the world. It is of his love and grace. Men were by sin enemies of God. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
Those who believe in Christ are justified freely by his blood. “Freely” means without any contribution of righteousness on our part. Works before conversion or after conversion are not the righteousness or part of the righteousness by which sin is taken away or the wrath of God appeased. We are reconciled to God and justified only by Christ’s merits: his death, his righteousness, the ransom he paid for sin. There couldn’t be better news for a sinner subject to God’s judgment, which we all are.
As believers, we give ourselves up to the service of Christ now that we have been justified through faith in him, not in order that we might be justified. We are dependent upon Christ for all. And all we do is in view of the mercies of God, in the name of the Lord Jesus who loved us and gave himself for us. Those who would seek to establish their own righteousness have no part in Christ.
This is a vital truth given the fact that Christ will be the one who judges all men. In Acts 25:6 we read that Festus “took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought” (to stand trial). The “tribunal” is the same word Paul uses in 2nd Corinthians 5 to refer to the judgment seat of Christ.
Festus failed to make a just ruling in Paul’s case, so Paul appealed to a higher authority, Caesar (verse 11). The Lord Jesus Christ will make no unjust rulings, and his judgment cannot be appealed to a higher authority. He is the Most High Judge. He has the authority to render judgment. He has infinite wisdom and knowledge. He knows all things that are, have been, and shall be. He is perfectly just, showing no favoritism, and is perfectly righteous and good in all he does.
It is a terrible thing to appear before him unjustified and accountable for your sin. Unlike the Jews, Christ will be able to prove the charges he makes. So when we are exposed to the light of his grace, we must leave the darkness and cling to Christ lest we be found lovers of the darkness.
But consider the other side. Consider the excellency of Christ and the wonders of his salvation. If he is yours, and he is the goal of your journey, there is no fear of judgment; you go to a friend, and a joyful, sweet welcome home, by the one who loved you and gave himself for you.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.