The Resurrection and the Secular Mind
- Wednesday, April 06, 2011
I'm going to tell you an Easter story this morning about a man you probably don't know much about. When I tell you his name, you're going to think of something else, and some of you are going to think I'm just making it up.
But I'm not. This man is in the New Testament. And what he said and did has everything to do with Easter Sunday.
The man's name is... well, I'll wait a second on that. Let's put some other pieces of the puzzle together first. The year is A.D. 60. The place is Caesarea on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. This man has come to Caesarea to take over for his mostly-inept predecessor as the governor of the Roman province of Judea. The situation is tense and unsettled, for the Jews were a fractious bunch not noted for the art of gentle submission. As this man sets up shop in Caesarea he has one basic goal: Keep the peace, keep the lid on, don't let things boil over. It's not easy because already powerful winds of revolution are blowing across the land.
The man hardly steps off the boat from Italy when he runs into his first problem. There's a fellow in prison in Caesarea. Seems he did something to upset the Jewish leaders. Well, upset is hardly the right word. They want this fellow dead. It's all vague and confusing. And so three days—just three days—after he takes office he makes the 60 mile trip to Jerusalem to pay his respects to the Sanhedrin and also to find out why they are so hot after this fellow in jail. The man in jail was named Paul. He had been there for two years. And lucky to be alive, frankly.
The other man—the new governor—will shortly hear from this fellow Paul. The governor's name? Festus. I told you it would make you think of something else. But it's all there in Acts 25-26. More about that in a few minutes.
According to Acts 25, when Festus went down to Jerusalem the Jews made all kinds of charges against Paul. And they asked Festus to transfer the case from Caesarea to Jerusalem. Now it was all pretty transparent. They wanted to set up an ambush and kill Paul en route. Failing that, they would at least get home field advantage to press their charges.
It didn't work out for various reasons so several of the influential Jewish leaders went with Festus back to Caesarea. Paul was brought in for a confrontation with the Jews. Acts 25:7 explains what happened then. "The Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him which they could not prove." They couldn't prove them because they weren't true.
So Paul simply says to Festus, "I'm not guilty of anything. I committed no offense against the law of the Jews or against the Temple or against Caesar." But Festus wanted to do the Jews a favor so he asks Paul if he is willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there.
Now please understand. Festus is not a bad man. He's basically a new man. He doesn't know Paul, he doesn't know the Jewish law, he a Roman governor. This whole case is mysterious to him. Transferring the trial to Jerusalem is a kind of compromise. But Paul is about as willing to go back to Jerusalem for a trial as he is to let a blind man do brain surgery on him. The prospects were not very encouraging.
So he says, "I'm a Roman citizen and I ought to be tried right here. If I'm guilty, punish me. If I'm innocent, I shouldn't be handed over to these men." And then he says something that will change the course of his life forever. He says the words, "I appeal to Caesar." (25:11)
In the days of the Roman Empire, every Roman citizen had the right to make that appeal. If a Roman citizen felt he wasn't getting a fair hearing, he could appeal to Caesar and skip all the lower courts. Such a person would be sent directly to Rome along with a statement of the facts in the case. It was like appealing to the Supreme Court. There was only one catch. Once you made such an appeal, you couldn't change your mind later.
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