The Crucial Issue
The Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, voiced strong opposition to Trump’s policies during the campaign, but in January when President Trump was sworn in, Trudeau was the third world leader to make a personal visit in February to Washington. Why? Because only China imports more goods into the U.S. and billions and billions of dollars are in play when it comes to Canadian—U.S. relations. So Trump and Trudeau met face to face.
This is true in 2018, and it was true in AD 59 when Festus, the new Roman governor of Judea, arrived in Caesarea. It didn’t take long for Agrippa, the last Jewish king from the line of Herod, and his sister Berenice to show up in Caesarea. They needed to make the right connections with the new governor.
When a Roman governor meets privately with a Jewish king who supports Roman rule, what do they talk about? Festus had a problem on his hands—a held over prisoner from the previous administration –and King Agrippa was just the man to help him with his difficult case. In this private conversation, how did Festus present the essence of the charges against a certain follower of Jesus named Paul still an inmate in his prison?
“Now when some days had passed since Paul appealed to Caesar in Festus’ court, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea welcoming Festus (the new Roman governor). And since they stayed many days there, Festus laid out the case against Paul before the king. ‘There is a man here left by Felix as a prisoner. When I was present in Jerusalem, the chief priests and Jewish elders brought charges and asked for a guilty verdict against him. I responded to them, ‘It is not the custom of Romans to give up anyone before the man accused can be face to face in the presence of his accusers and have opportunity to make his defense to counter the charges. Therefore as soon as they came together here in Caesarea the next day without delay, I took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought before the court.
When his accusers stood up in the hearing, they did not bring a charge of the crimes that I suspected they had against him—only controversial questions about their own religious beliefs and about a certain one, Jesus, who is dead whom Paul claimed was alive. Being at a loss as to how to investigate these issues, I asked him if he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there to be judged about these things. But then Paul requested to be held in custody for the decision of His Majesty the Emperor, and I had no choice but to command him to he held until I could send him to Caesar.’ Agrippa said to Festus that he would like to hear the man himself. ‘Tomorrow,’ Festus said, ‘You will hear him.’” Acts 25:13-21
Notice, in this conversation with Agrippa, Festus doesn’t label Paul as an insurrectionist, a member of the Jewish zealot party who in less than ten years would start a revolt against the Romans, nor did he say that Paul was initiating a new religion different than Judaism. From his point of view it was all an internal conflict between Jews and the biggest issue that divided them was the fact that Paul claimed that a certain Jew named Jesus who everyone knew had died, was definitely not dead anymore. Festus got the point. It’s all about whether or not we believe that Jesus rose again.
I’m deeply concerned in our present culture that the resurrection is not what political leaders on either the right or the left would think when discussing prominent Christian leaders. I need to follow Paul’s example and make Jesus’ resurrection the crucial issue.
LORD, you said we would stand before synagogues, kings and governors and that you would tell us what to say (Lk. 21:12-15). Help me to remember that Paul has already made it clear what we need to talk about and it’s not our political position. It’s about the resurrection.
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