Three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem where the chief priests and the leaders of the Jews gave him a report against Paul. They appealed to him and requested, as a favor to them against Paul, to have him transferred to Jerusalem. They were, in fact, planning an ambush to kill him along the way. Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea, and that he himself intended to go there shortly. “So,” he said, “let those of you who have the authority come down with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them accuse him.” After he had stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea; the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. When he arrived, the Jews who had gone down from Jerusalem surrounded him, bringing many serious charges against him, which they could not prove. Paul said in his defense, “I have in no way committed an offense against the law of the Jews, or against the temple, or against the emperor.” But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, asked Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and be tried there before me on these charges?” Paul said, “I am appealing to the emperor’s tribunal; this is where I should be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you very well know. Now if I am in the wrong and have committed something for which I deserve to die, I am not trying to escape death; but if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can turn me over to them. I appeal to the emperor.” Then Festus, after he had conferred with his council, replied, “You have appealed to the emperor; to the emperor you will go.”
So . . . . after two years in prison (though with a good bit of freedom) a new governor. Will Festus be more just? The Jews have another go at Paul! The plot to kill him reappears. The Jews want Paul brought to their seat of power, Jerusalem, rather than the Roman HQ, Caesarea. At least there, they will have ‘home advantage’, even if the plot fails again.
Amazingly, the governor gives Paul the choice of where he wishes to be tried. And Paul isn’t daft! He has spent all this time in prison at the hands of a governor who is no better than he ought to be. He still protests his innocence. Despite all that has happened to him, Paul still knows that Roman justice is best.
Paul’s adventures are not yet over, as we shall see in the final chapters of Acts. He will tell his story before this Roman governor, and his puppet king, Agrippa. I wonder if Paul has another motive in appealing to the Emperor. He knows that this is the way he can get his message onto the world stage.
God, all the universe is yours. Help us to be like Paul – looking to share the message of your love as widely as we possibly can – even to the ends of the earth. Amen
The Rev’d Peter Rand is a retired minister and member of Trinity Church, Bedlington.