When the governor motioned to him to speak, Paul replied: “I cheerfully make my defense, knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation. As you can find out, it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem. They did not find me disputing with anyone in the temple or stirring up a crowd either in the synagogues or throughout the city. Neither can they prove to you the charge that they now bring against me. But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors, believing everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets. I have a hope in God–a hope that they themselves also accept–that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. Therefore I do my best always to have a clear conscience toward God and all people. Now after some years I came to bring alms to my nation and to offer sacrifices. While I was doing this, they found me in the temple, completing the rite of purification, without any crowd or disturbance. But there were some Jews from Asia–they ought to be here before you to make an accusation, if they have anything against me. Or let these men here tell what crime they had found when I stood before the council, unless it was this one sentence that I called out while standing before them, ‘It is about the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.'”
So what is the ‘beef’ the Jews have with Paul? It seems it’s personal. In this last part of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, although the author often uses ‘we’, he is really telling Paul’s story.
Paul insists to Festus that he has done nothing wrong, either towards his Jewish heritage or towards Rome. He has simply, and peacefully, gone about his (Jewish) religious duties. He wonders himself, in this odd sentence, whether it is because he shouted out ‘It is about the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’ When was this? Who did he shout it to? We don’t know. It’s not clear. Is this the author putting his own ideas in? Scholars may guess.
For myself, I wonder if it is because Paul is enthusiastic about telling people about Jesus. Paul is fearlessly joyful about insisting that Jesus is alive. Maybe this is not just about the general theory of resurrection, which lots of Jews believe anyway. Maybe it is the particular resurrection of one man – Jesus – that people are upset about. That and Paul’s enthusiasm about it.
God of Joy, when we are in danger of reducing our faith to a mere set of beliefs, reinvigorate us with the Joy of New Life that Jesus brings. Amen
The Rev’d Peter Rand is a retired minister and member of Trinity Church, Bedlington.