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In These Terms


“In These Terms”

Text: Acts 23:25-35

In our last look at Acts, we learned about the Great Curse, – the awful, deadly oath that the jews of Jerusalem had made, – a satanic pledge, that they would murder Paul, and how they plotted with the Jewish leaders to carry the deadly act out, and we compared that with our own self inflicted curse, – the curse that hangs over the head of the whole of humanity, the sin-curse, which dwells within our nature from birth, and which condemns us under the Law of God.  It was really bad news!  The wages of sin is death, and the result of the curse is eternal damnation.  But then we discovered the very best news of all – we found that Jesus bore that terrible curse for us.  We then found another gem in the text, for God ordains every situation to bring about his purpose!  He rescued Paul from the hands of the plotters, through the intervention of a young relative – a nephew.  

So, with all that excitement over, Paul is still incarcerated in the Antonia palace, the Roman garrison barracks situated on the corner of the Temple court.  But Lysias, the Roman commander of the garrison, now is convinced that Paul can’t stay there.  It’s too dangerous.  He decides to hand him over to the Roman civic authorities, and so Paul must be sent to Caesarea, the Roman capital of Judaea, to appear before the governor, one Felix.  And in case he is ambushed along the way, a convoy of troops, both on horse and on foot with accompany him, and he will not walk, but ride upon  a horse, with back up horses available, for when the first one tires!   And that brings us to Acts 23:25-35, and it’s neatly divided into two parts, the letter and the physical placing of Paul into formal, civic Roman custody.

1. The Letter.

Let’s see:-

  • The letter.  This was an official document, between two officials in the Roman Empire, carried by a high ranking soldier and Luke would have had no first hand access to it.  Because of this he tells us, “He wrote a letter ‘TO THIS EFFECT’ or AV, And he wrote a letter after this manner.
  • The Sender. v26. Claudius Lysias.  For the first time in the narrative we now discover who this Roman commander was.  His name is Claudius Lysias.  Lysias is a Greek name.  The Roman Emperor Claudias had offered Greeks the opportunity to become Roman citizens, if they paid for it!  So, Lysias, upon learning that Paul was a Roman citizen had been surprised.  Acts 22:25-28 He’d probably assumed the name ‘Claudias’ as a mark of respect to the emperor, when he was granted his citizenship.  
  • The Addressee. Let’s get some background on Felix. 26 unto the most excellent governor Felix. Only the Roman knights were addressed as ‘Your excellency.’  Felix was anything but excellent, and certainly not a member of the equestrian class!  He was the ultimate social climber, a man who had begun life as a slave, but who had an influential brother, a man called Pallas, who had become a good friend to Nero, and though nepotism Felix had risen to be governor of Judaea.  He married well too – wooing and marrying aristocratic women – three times!  He even hired professional thugs to murder some of his closest friends!  That’s the man Paul will stand before, and give an account of his faith. Self-serving, uncaring, uncouth, ruthless, a man who would have your throat  slit, and think nothing of it.  
  • The Account.  Let’s look briefly at Lysias’s letter:-
    • The dissembling! V27  Now this is Lysias simply being disingenuous! He’s pretending that he rescued Paul from the howling mob of Jews in the Temple Court because he knew that Paul was a Roman.  He did nothing of the kind.  He rescued Paul because he wanted to quell a riot.  He also leaves out the ‘minor’ detail about how he was about to have an unconvicted citizen of Rome beaten with great force, before he discovered Paul’s Roman citizenship and had to draw back. It demonstrates a typical authenticity…. It’s just real life happening right here on the Biblical page, and another example of Luke’s historical accuracy. 
    • The declaration of innocence under Roman Law.  V28-29  The Roman Empire was a police state.  Peace among its citizens was maintained by heavy handed policing.  If you step out of line, or cause a breach of the peace, then you will be punished. Paul, under the Law of Rome had done nothing wrong.  Nothing worthy of death, just arrested for disorderly behaviour. 
    • The decision.  V30  But you don’t send a man to the High Court to answer a minor charge like Disorderly Behaviour so Lysias has to explain why this man is being sent to stand trial before Felix.  Another potential breach of the peace.   
Lysias’s Letter to Felix

The letter is ready, the prisoner secured to his horse, the convoy of troops are ready to move out.  Paul is one step closer to Rome.

2. The Journey and Reception.

The huge contingent of troops didn’t go all the way to Caesarea.  The journey was around 75 miles, and around the half way point lay the town of Antipatris, and there the mounted troops turned back.  The journey between Jerusalem and Antipatris was mostly inhabited by Jews, and was hilly, the ideal location for a hostile ambush.  But on arrival at Antipatris these soldiers were no longer needed, so after an overnight camp, they returned to Jerusalem.  The rest of the journey was flat and open, and mostly Gentiles lived there.  The infantry would no longer be needed and the cavalry could now ride at a much greater speed. So Luke records this, Acts 23:31-32 

On arrival at Caesarea, Paul was brought before Felix, and the letter was read out, (which is probably how Luke got the gist of it… Paul would have related it to him later).  It seems Felix really only wanted to know one thing at this point.  “Where are you from?”  V33-35   So Paul is to wait in house arrest in the ‘praetorium’ – the palace built in Caesarea by Herod the Great, until the Jews also arrive, so that Felix can hear both sides of the story. 

3. Application.

So, what can we learn from this passage?  Something, I think, that is a theme running not only through this whole chapter, but through the entire book.  Let’s get a hint…

  1. Paul’s calling is being confirmed and accomplished.  READ Acts 9:13-16. Paul is a chosen vessel.  He will testify (‘bear my name’) before the Gentiles, and before kings, and he will suffer greatly.  Paul has already testified before the Gentiles, and in doing so has already suffered greatly.  But now the second part of the commission will be fulfilled.  He will testify before kings, before rulers…. 
    1. Felix in Acts 24:24  
    2. Festus in Acts 25:4-6  
    3. King Agrippa in Acts 26:1  
    4. Caesar himself. Acts 24:12  

Now, here’s the underlying truth, the application for us…

  1. God is in control, whatever the circumstances.  Paul is under arrest, and is in a perilous and dangerous place, a place of deep loneliness and despair.  Events are well outside his control.  But the One in control is not Agrippa or Festus or Felix or even Caesar.  It is the Lord God, the king of the universe.  His perfect plan is now being enacted in Paul’s life.

So what about us?  What is God doing in YOUR circumstances?  If you are discouraged or worried, or undergoing dark times, the message of this chapter is to trust the Lord. The Lord stands with Paul in his loneliness.  He ordains a boy to come to his aid, he brings him to relative safety away from the Jews, and most of all, he provides opportunities for Paul to fulfil his divine calling and to witness before Christ.  The God who ordained all Paul’s ways has also ordered all YOUR days too.  Trust him, and be faithful, and the Lord will bring you through.  His will IS being done.

© Bob McEvoy October 2021

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