Paul before His Judges
But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix’s room; and Felix, willing to show the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound — Act_24:27
Paul’s Two Years in Prison
After being five days at Caesarea, Paul was formally indicted by the Jewish party. The case against him was conducted by Tertullus who was as unscrupulous as he was eloquent. Felix was no stranger to the matters in debate; he had lived long enough among the Jews to grow conversant with them. He therefore refused to decide the matter offhand; he would wait till his captain from Jerusalem came down. Now, whether the captain was unwilling to come or whether he got a broad hint not to hurry, is a question we need not trouble to decide. The fact remains that we have no trace of his visit during Paul’s two years of confinement at Caesarea. What was the apostle doing all that time? We cannot be certain that he wrote any epistles. Do you think he was fretting? Or worrying over his churches as he paced his prison battlements by the blue sea? We may be absolutely certain he was doing nothing like that— he was growing and ripening in his own inward life. For twenty years he had been fighting for Christ amid the excitement and stress of a glorious campaign. New views of Christ had been borne upon his heart; new aspects of the Gospel had arrested him. It wanted leisure now to focus everything, and God bestowed that leisure at Caesarea. Compare the letters that were written after these years with the letters which we know were written before them. Note the richness and depth and glory of the later ones— their exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ; their fresh insistence upon spiritual union; their recognition of the possibilities of sainthood; their method of bringing the most majestic doctrines to bear on the common duties of every day— and you will see what these two years did for Paul. I dare say the soldiers thought him very idle. Had you asked them, they would have said he was doing nothing Yet all Christendom is deeply in God’s debt for making Paul come apart and rest awhile.
Paul before Felix and Drusilla
Only one incident has been enshrined for us out of these two years at Caesarea. It is the scene with which our passage opens when Paul was brought before Felix and Drusilla. Drusilla was the youngest daughter of King Herod Agrippa I. She was a beautiful young Jewess of some eighteen years of age. But there were dark shadows lying across her path that would have marred the fairest womanhood. It was not God who had made her Felix’s wife. She had a home already when Felix cast his bad eyes on her. And it may be that a guilty conscience and a torn heart and a mind that could not forget urged her to hear the Gospel of this prisoner. Do you observe what Paul was asked to speak about? He was asked to speak “concerning the faith in Christ.” And do you note what Paul did speak about? He reasoned of righteousness and self-control and judgment. Righteousness— and Felix was a promise-breaker and had procured the murder of the High Priest Jonathan. Self-control— and there at his side, eagerly listening, sat beautiful Drusilla. Judgment— that was the very thought that haunted Felix, only it was the judgment of his emperor, not of his God. No wonder Felix trembled. He had the soul of a slave, says Tacitus, and the power of a sovereign. He would hear no more; Paul was dismissed; “when I have a convenient (not more convenient) season, I will call for thee.”
Paul before Festus
About the year 60, Felix was recalled and was succeeded in the governorship by Porcius Festus. Festus seems to have been a better ruler, and probably he was a better man than Felix, but, like a Roman, he cared little for religion and could not understand religious earnestness. He was perplexed about this Jewish prisoner; it occurred to him that he might try the case at Jerusalem; and it was then that Paul, apprehending the danger he was in, took the great step of appealing to Caesar. That is not in the passage to be read, but it must be touched on to illuminate the passage. For it was not till Paul had appealed to Caesar that Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea. Might not they be able to unravel Festus’ difficulties? They were Jews and understood the points at issue. Festus arranged that a court should be convened at which Agrippa and Bernice might be present. It was then that Paul made that most noble defense which is recorded in the twenty-sixth chapter. He told the story of his conversion again, for his greatest defense of all just lay in that. And our passages take up the narrative at the point where Paul has touched on resurrection and has been rudely silenced by Festus crying out in a loud voice, “Paul, thou art mad!” Paul instantly, and without losing self-command, repels the charge. He appeals to Agrippa on the grounds of Jewish prophecy. And Agrippa replies in these memorable words, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” Do we know what Agrippa really meant? He did not mean “I am almost persuaded.” The Greek words that have been translated so are not capable of bearing such a sense. What Agrippa meant was “Paul, do you think that with a little persuasion you are going to persuade me to be a Christian? It is a far harder task than you imagine.”
Three Simple Lessons
Now let us note three simple lessons, and first the peril of tomorrow. Someone has said that today has two great enemies— the one is yesterday, the other is tomorrow. Are we not reminded of that whenever we think of Felix whose evil past was such a burden on him and who talked of a convenient time— which never came. Next mark how history reverses human judgments. Peter and the other disciples were despised, because they were ignorant and unlettered men. Paul was put to scorn by Festus for just the opposite reason— he had learned too much. Men thought the prophets of Israel raved. They said of Jesus that He was beside Himself. Is there any one now who would harbor such a thought? Lastly, see the perfect courtesy of the apostle— “I would you were altogether as I am except these bonds.” “Courtesy,” says St. Francis of Assisi, “is the sister of charity, which quencheth hate and keepeth love alive.” Never forget that God’s mighty missionary was one of the truest gentlemen who ever breathed.