Sunday 4th July 2021
Prayer: We bow before you, O God, and we confess that we have let you down. We have turned away from you and gone our own way. We have allowed material things to dominate our lives, and to occupy our minds. We are sorry, and we lay everything at your feet. We are also sorry that we overcomplicate everything. Therefore please help us to learn how to be still and know that you are God. Help us to seek simplicity, to slow down, not to hurry and to require nothing more than what you give, knowing that you will supply all our needs. Amen
This week there is another plot afoot to kill Paul, so read on to find out what happens.
The next morning some Jews met together and made a plan. They took a vow that they would not eat or drink anything until they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who planned this together. Then they went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have taken a solemn vow together not to eat a thing until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Council send word to the Roman commander to bring Paul down to you, pretending that you want to get more accurate information about him. But we will be ready to kill him before he ever gets here.”
But the son of Paul’s sister heard about the plot; so he went to the fort and told Paul. Then Paul called one of the officers and said to him, “Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.” The officer took him, led him to the commander, and said, “The prisoner Paul called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, because he has something to say to you.” The commander took him by the hand, led him off by himself, and asked him, “What have you got to tell me?” He said, “The Jewish authorities have agreed to ask you tomorrow to take Paul down to the Council, pretending that the Council wants to get more accurate information about him. But don’t listen to them, because there are more than forty men who will be hiding and waiting for him. They have taken a vow not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are now ready to do it and are waiting for your decision.” The commander said, “Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.” and he sent the young man away. Then the commander called two of his officers and said, “Get two hundred soldiers ready to go to Caesarea, together with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen, and be ready to leave by nine o’clock tonight. Provide some horses for Paul to ride and get him safely through to the governor Felix.” Then the commander wrote a letter that went like this:
Claudius Lysias to His Excellency, the governor Felix: Greetings. The Jews seized this man and were about to kill him. I learnt that he was a Roman citizen, so I went with my soldiers and rescued him. I wanted to know what they were accusing him of, so I took him down to their Council. I found out that he had not done anything for which he deserved to die or be put in prison; the accusation against him had to do with questions about their own law. And when I was informed that there was a plot against him, at once I decided to send him to you. I have told his accusers to make their charges against him before you.”
The soldiers carried out their orders. They got Paul and took him that night as far as Antipatris. The next day the foot-soldiers returned to the fort and left the horsemen to go on with him. They took him to Caesarea, delivered the letter to the governor, and handed Paul over to him. The governor read the letter and asked Paul what province he was from. When he found out that he was from Cilicia, he said, “I will hear you when your accusers arrive.” Then he gave orders for Paul to be kept under guard in the governor’s headquarters.
When the Roman commander Claudius Lysias arrested Paul I’m sure he never imagined the issues this man would cause him. However last week we discovered that all Claudius Lysias wanted was to quell any uprising amongst the Jewish population and also to understand the issue they had with this man Paul but it wasn’t proving to be an easy task. He’s tried letting Paul speak when he first arrested him and then again when he summoned the Jewish Council and religious leaders to a meeting with Paul. Each time the crowd had become worked up and he’d had to make quick decisions to avoid upheaval or rioting. Now he had put Paul back in prison in the fort for Paul’s own safety and I suspect Claudius Lysias didn’t get a good night’s sleep as he mulled over the issue in his mind. Paul though, has been personally supported by the Lord and told not to be afraid.
However all is not good and there is a plot afoot, the bones of which I suspect were hatched overnight by some sleepless Jews who were after Paul’s blood. The next day they meet together to make a foolproof plan (so they think) to get rid of Paul once and for all. A question arose in my mind here and it is about the sixth commandment which says “Do not commit murder”, because isn’t this just what these men are planning and not only that but they are enlisting the help of the chief priest and elders of the Jewish faith who should know this commandment better than anyone, as this is what they should be preaching and teaching.
Another question is about this vow – I want to know how that works? Well it seems that these forty plus men were bound together by this vow and it was common for the Jews to do this type of thing. However as they didn’t achieve what they started out to do I wondered what happened to them, did they eventually die from lack of food and drink? The theologian Tom Wright asks a similar question saying:
What we all want to know at this point is, of course, what did they all do next, once the plan was thwarted? ……..I imagine that a few of them, if any, starved. I imagine the high priest found a legal loophole to absolve them from their silly vow. Or maybe, since they were legal experts, they invented one themselves. It wouldn’t be the first or the last time.
Anyway the plot is hatched, the chief priests and elders are on board however they haven’t taken into account what God wants and as John Stott wrote ‘even the most careful and cunning of human plans cannot succeed if God opposes them.’ It seems God has everything in hand; Paul’s nephew gets to hear of the plan to kill him. He manages to get into the fort to see Paul and tell him about it and then the officer of the guard bothers to take Paul’s nephew to the commander, who listens, believes him and then acts to prevent the plan from being fulfilled using many of the forts resources and manpower.
So 2 officers, 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen and 200 spearmen, which seems a considerable amount for just one prisoner, are despatched with Paul to Caesarea and to top it all, the commander, Claudius Lysias writes a letter to the governor there explaining the situation. Although he does tend to doctor the facts (not admitting that he planned to have Paul whipped) and changes the order of when they occurred to look more favourable for him. Still his plan works and Paul is safely transported and now comes under the jurisdiction of Felix the Roman governor. Felix after hearing Paul comes from Cilicia (his area so he can’t pass this on to anyone else) agrees to hear the accounts of both Paul and the Jewish Council. So we leave Paul for this week once again in prison but this time in Caesarea in the governor’s headquarters. His freedom is still lost but his life is safe for the time being.
Have you had the experience of God taking you through a plan when everything seems to work out even though the odds are against it? I know I have and did you think it was just co-incidence or as I have come to believe a God co-incidence?
Prayer: Creator God, we thank you that you make plans that cannot be undone by human plotting. Thank you that your faithfulness and support is found in our everyday lives just as it was for Paul. Amen
God bless. Rev Sue
Sunday 11th July 2021
With hearts full of hope, minds open to receive and ears tuned to hear, we draw near, Lord God, to learn and to share your all-powerful, guiding truth. Amen (ROTW)
So we continue finding out what’s happening to Paul.
Five days later the High Priest Ananias went to Caesarea with some elders and a lawyer named Tertullus. They appeared before Felix and made their charges against Paul. Then Paul was called in, and Tertullus began to make his accusation, as follows: “Your Excellency! Your wise leadership has brought us a long period of peace, and many necessary reforms are being made for the good of our country. We welcome this everywhere and at all times, and we are deeply grateful to you. I do not want to take up too much of your time, however, so I beg you to be kind and listen to our brief account. We found this man to be a dangerous nuisance; he starts riots among the Jews all over the world and is a leader of the party of the Nazarenes. He also tried to defile the Temple, and we arrested him. If you question this man, you yourself will be able to learn from him all the things that we are accusing him of.” The Jews joined in the accusation and said that all this was true.
The governor then motioned to Paul to speak, and Paul said, “I know that you have been a judge over this nation for many years, and so I am happy to defend myself before you. As you can find out for yourself, it was no more than twelve days ago that I went to Jerusalem to worship. The Jews did not find me arguing with anyone in the Temple, nor did they find me stirring up the people, either in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. Nor can they give you proof of the accusations they now bring against me. I do admit this to you; I worship the God of our ancestors by following that Way which they say is false. But I also believe in everything written in the Law of Moses and the books of the prophets. I have the same hope in God that these themselves have, namely, that all people, both the good and the bad, will rise from death. And so I do my best always to have a clear conscience before God and man.
After being away from Jerusalem for several years, I went there to take some money to my own people and to offer sacrifices. It was while I was doing this that they found me in the Temple after I had completed the ceremony of purification. There was no crowd with me and no disorder. But some Jews from the province of Asia were there; they themselves ought to come before you and make their accusations if they have anything against me. Or let these men here tell what crime they found me guilty of when I stood before the Council – except for the one thing I called out when I stood before them; ‘I am being tried by you today for believing that the dead will rise to life.’”
Then Felix, who was well informed about the Way, brought the hearing to a close. “When Lysias the commander arrives,” he told them, “I will decide your case.” He ordered the officer in charge of Paul to keep him under guard, but to give him some freedom and allow his friends to provide for his needs.
After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he talked about faith in Christ Jesus. But as Paul went on discussing about goodness, self-control, and the coming Day of Judgement, Felix was afraid and said, “You may leave now. I will call you again when I get the chance.” At the same time he was hoping that Paul would give him some money; and for this reason he would often send for him and talk with him. After two years had passed, Porcius Festus succeeded Felix as governor. Felix wanted to gain favour with the Jews so he left Paul in prison.
Paul doesn’t have to wait too long before he faces his accusers again. Five days after he arrives in Caesarea, in they all troop – Ananias, the High Priest, some elders and a lawyer called Tertullus.
Apparently Tertullus would have been hired as a trained and experienced professional lawyer to ensure that the case for the Jews might be stated properly. So they appeared before governor Felix and made their charges against Paul, who is then brought in and Tertullus before actually accusing Paul of anything makes a speech to the governor which when I first read it thought ‘what a crawler’. John Stott however describes it as beginning with what was called a captatio benevolentiae which is an endeavour to capture the judge’s goodwill, and goes on to describe it as ‘almost nauseating flattery’. I agree with that and he certainly wasn’t being very truthful when he spoke about the reforms Felix had introduced, they in fact they had been brutal put downs to uprisings which horrified the Jews.
Anyway he finally gets around to listing the charges against Paul, which are:
- He was a dangerous nuisance and starts riots among the Jews all over the world
- He is the leader of the party of the Nazarenes
- He tried to defile the Temple
Tertullus ends by saying that if Felix questions Paul himself he will establish the truth of these charges.
Now we find its Paul’s turn to speak and he says to Felix “I know that you have been a judge over this nation for many years and so I’m happy to defend myself before you.” Nothing false, no crawling to find favour, Paul just speaks the truth and gives Felix the facts of the matter.
- Twelve days ago I went to worship in Jerusalem
- I was not arguing with anyone in the Temple
- I was not stirring up the people either in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city
- They cannot prove their accusations
However he does admit the following:
- I worship the God of our ancestors by following the Way which they say is false
- I believe in everything written in the Law of Moses and the books of the Prophets
- I have the same hope in God that they have – that all people, both the good and the bad will rise from death
- I do my best to have a clear conscience before God and man
- I have not been in Jerusalem for many years until I made this trip to take money to my own people and to offer sacrifices
- I was in the temple after I had completed the ceremony of purification
- There was no crowd with me and no disorder
- Some Jews were there from the province of Asia and if they have anything against me they should come before you and accuse me
- Or let these men say what crime I am guilty of when I stood before the Council
- The one thing I said was ‘I am being tried by you today for believing that the dead will rise to life.’
At this Felix, who was well informed about the Way, closed the hearing saying, ‘when Lysias the commander arrives, I will decide your case. Now I wonder if Lysias ever turned up in Caesarea but I don’t seem to be able to find an answer to that question so I will just have to park it for the moment. However for Paul he still finds himself in prison although Felix does give him some freedom and his friends are allowed to provide for his needs, so I presume they are allowed to visit him.
Felix obviously is interested by Paul and brings his wife Drusilla (a Jew herself) to meet him and listen to what he has to say. However I think he got more than he bargained for when Paul talked about goodness, self-control and the coming day of judgement because he backs off a bit. You see the problem was that Felix and Drusilla weren’t exactly the model couple, in fact Drusilla was his third wife and he had by all accounts seduced her away from her rightful husband. So I can see why Paul maybe got under Felix’s skin and made him uncomfortable. Luke also tells us here that Felix hoped Paul would give him some money, a bribe perhaps to let him go free, but Paul wasn’t playing by these rules. Although Paul may have made Felix uncomfortable, Felix often sent for Paul and talked with him and obviously wasn’t too keen to get rid of him as two years later when Felix is being replaced as governor by Porcius Festus, Paul is still there. Why, well we are told that Felix wants to gain favour with the Jews and because apparently two years is the maximum someone can be held in preventative custody he is certainly working in their favour.
So two years on, Paul is still a prisoner but with a different governor in charge – next week we will find out what governor Festus decides to do with Paul.
Song: I Know Who Holds The Future by Alfred B Smith and Eugene Clarke
I do not know what lies ahead
The way I cannot see
Yet One stands near
To be my guide
He’ll show the way to me
I know who holds the future
And He’ll guide me with His hand
With God things don’t just happen
Everything by Him is planned
So as I face tomorrow
With it’s problems large and small
I’ll trust the God of miracles
Give to Him my all
I do not know how many days
Of life are mine to spend
But One who knows
And cares for me
Will keep me to the end
I know who holds the future ….
I do not know the course ahead
What joys and grief’s are there
But One is near who fully knows
I’ll trust His loving care
I know who holds the future….
CCLI Licence # 1084639
God bless Rev Sue
Sunday 18th July 2021
Today we join together once again in the chapel for our service, it’s been a long time coming but we look forward to sharing worship and praising God together. If you aren’t joining us today in person, please join us with prayer, we begin our service at 10.30am.
Lord we thank you for this day, a day of new beginnings as we return to the church building. Please continue to help us and guide us through all the things that happen during the days and weeks, months and years ahead. Knowing that you are the source of our being is what keeps our heads above water at times, knowing how much you love us keeps us secure and safe in a world full of sin. Help us today to make a new commitment to follow you and listen only to your leading. Amen
Let’s now go and find out what’s been happening to Paul this week.
Three days after Festus arrived in the province, he went from Caesarea to Jerusalem, where the chief priests and the Jewish leaders brought their charges against Paul. They begged Festus to do them the favour of bringing Paul to Jerusalem, for they had made a plot to kill him on the way. Festus answered, “Paul is being kept a prisoner in Caesarea, and I myself will be going back there soon. Let your leaders go to Caesarea with me and accuse the man if he has done anything wrong.”
Festus spent another eight or ten days with them and then went to Caesarea. On the next day he sat down in the court of judgement and ordered Paul to be brought in. When Paul arrived, the Jews who had come from Jerusalem stood round him and started making many serious charges against him which they were not able to prove. But Paul defended himself; “I have done nothing wrong against the Law of the Jews or against the Temple or against the Roman Emperor.” But Festus wanted to gain favour with the Jews, so he asked Paul, “Would you be willing to go to Jerusalem and be tried on these charges before me there?” Paul said, “I am standing before the Emperor’s own court of judgement, where I should be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you yourself well know. If I have broken the law and done something for which I deserve the death penalty, I do not ask to escape it. But if there is no truth in the charges they bring against me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to the emperor.” Then Festus, after conferring with his advisers, answered, “You have appealed to the emperor, so to the emperor you will go.”
Last week we saw governor Felix being replaced by governor Festus and Paul, although legally he shouldn’t have been held in custody after two years, still in prison. Anyway three days after arriving in Caesarea to take up his new position, Festus travels to Jerusalem. I wondered why after such a short time in Caesarea he is going to Jerusalem as I would have thought he would want to suss out the lie of the land there first. Loveday Alexander answered my question as she writes:
He (Felix) leaves Paul in prison and it is left to the new governor, Porcius Festus, to clear out his predecessor’s filing cabinet. Porcius Festus succeeded Felix as procurator about AD60, and vainly did his best to reverse the slide into anarchy that had begun under Felix. An early meeting with the ruling council in Jerusalem would have been a good way to start, and listening carefully to a long-standing complaint would make a good impression.
Well the chief priests and Jewish leaders seem to waste no time in letting him know about the charges they have against Paul and beg him to do them the favour of bringing Paul to Jerusalem but Festus is not complying, why? Well again Loveday Alexander answers my question, she says:
But Festus is careful not to get too closely identified with the interests of the temple hierarchy, and insists if the case is to be reopened it will be heard in Caesarea.
So they will have to go to Caesarea themselves when Festus returns but that isn’t for at least eight to ten days according to Luke, so he made them wait. However once back, the next day he sits at court of judgement and Paul is on the agenda. Festus’s goal that day apparently is not to hear the case but to decide if there was a case at all. So Paul faces his accusers once again and once again the charges couldn’t be proved. Paul defends himself saying “I have done nothing wrong against the Law of the Jews or against the Temple or against the Roman Emperor.” Apparently Festus, like Felix, wants to gain favour with the Jews so he asks Paul if he is willing to go to Jerusalem to be tried on the charges the Jews have brought before him. Why did he effectively ask for Paul’s permission to send him to Jerusalem? It seemed a strange thing to me for him to do but apparently Paul had the right as a Roman citizen to choose where he would go on trial, Festus could not just send him to Jerusalem, Paul had to agree to go. I can totally understand why Paul didn’t think this was a good idea so Paul declines this offer and takes the only other option open to him to be tried by the Roman court and the head of that was the Emperor. So he replies: “I am standing before the Emperor’s own court of judgement, where I should be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you yourself well know. If I have broken the law and done something for which I deserve the death penalty, I do not ask to escape it. But if there is no truth in the charges they bring against me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to the emperor.”
Festus then consults his advisers (his legal team) and then gives his answer which is, “You have appealed to the Emperor, so to the Emperor you will go.
So Paul is off to Rome and my mind slips back to the words of Jesus to Paul when he was in prison in Jerusalem (Acts 23:11) “Don’t be afraid! You have given your witness for me here in Jerusalem and you must also do the same in Rome.” Being in prison in Jerusalem is a long way from being in Rome and I wonder if Paul sometimes mused over how he would ever get there. He was in prison – his life was in danger – but prison was probably the safest place for him to be because the Jews couldn’t get at him. However in prison you don’t have the freedom to go where you want even if Jesus has given you a task to do somewhere else. However as we journey through Acts we see God’s plan unfolding; Paul has been kept safe from the Jews in prison but now he is going to Rome. God worked in an amazing way for Paul and God can work in amazing ways in our lives if we just let him take control. Will you let him take control of your life today?
Father, help us to let you take control of our lives by allowing your Spirit to flow through us. Help us to remember the words of Jesus to Paul when he was in prison about not being afraid. Help us Lord to be still and know that you are God. Amen
God bless Rev Sue
Sunday 25th July 2021
How good it was to meet together last Sunday and this Sunday we are even allowed to sing our praises to God. However it’s been a strange week with Tuesday a day of hail and ice (in July), cars damaged, windows broken, crops devastated, trees down and even a landslide in Howe Lane. It almost seemed that we were back in Old Testament Egypt at the time of the plagues. Very bizarre, however it did make me reflect on how there are some things we cannot control and that our only sure hope is in God, through Jesus Christ our Saviour. So if you haven’t already invited him into your life then maybe now is the time to do it.
Lord there are things that happen that we just don’t understand however we do thank you that we can stand together in times of chaos and trouble. We also thank you that you are always nearby to help us with anything that life throws at us. Help us Lord to always bring our concerns and worries to you, to be still and know that you are God and Lord of all. Amen
This week Paul finds himself in front of King Agrippa and his sister Bernice who are visiting Festus the governor.
Sometime later King Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to pay a visit of welcome to Festus. After they had been there several days, Festus explained Paul’s situation to the king: “There is a man here who was left a prisoner by Felix; and when I went to Jerusalem, the Jewish chief priests and elders brought charges against him and asked me to condemn him. But I told them that we Romans are not in the habit of handing over any man accused of a crime before he has met his accusers face to face and had had the chance of defending himself against the accusation. When they came here, then, I lost no time, but on the very next day I sat in the court and ordered the man to be brought in. His opponents stood up, but they did not accuse him of any of the evil crimes that I thought they would. All they had were some arguments with him about their own religion and about a man named Jesus, who has died; but Paul claims that he is alive. I was undecided about how I could get information on these matters, so I asked Paul if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and be tried there on these charges. But Paul appealed; he asked to be kept under guard and to let the Emperor decide his case. So I gave orders for him to be kept under guard until I could send him to the Emperor.” Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear this man myself.” “You will hear him tomorrow,” Festus answered.
The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and ceremony and entered the audience hall with the military chiefs and the leading men of the city. Festus gave the order, and Paul was brought in. Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are here with us: You see this man against whom all the Jewish people, both here and in Jerusalem, have brought complaints to me. They scream that he should not live any longer. But I could not find that he had done anything for which he deserved the death sentence. And since he himself made an appeal to the Emperor, I have decided to send him. But I have nothing definite about him to write to the Emperor. So I have brought him here before you – and especially before you, King Agrippa! – so that, after investigating his case, I may have something to write. For it seems unreasonable to me to send a prisoner without clearly indicating the charges against him.
So now King Agrippa comes into the story with his sister Bernice. He is the second king to be named Agrippa and he is part of the Herod family. King Agrippa I (Herod Agrippa) was the grandson of Herod the Great who killed James and imprisoned Peter (Acts 12:1-3) he died a nasty death after he took the glory that was God’s (Acts 12:22). This Agrippa – Herod Agrippa II – who is also known as Julius Marcus Agrippa is the son of Agrippa I. He has two sisters, Bernice who has come with him and Drusilla. There is a lot of gossip about him and his sister Bernice being in an incestuous relationship, certainly she seems to go everywhere with him and lives in his household but I don’t think anyone knows for sure. What we do know is that he had a lot of power in Jewish affairs and had custodianship of the Temple and the authority to appoint the High Priest. We are told he came to pay a visit of welcome to Festus, to pay his respects to the new procurator and I would think that it was also a very good PR decision.
Anyway Festus discusses Paul’s case with King Agrippa and tells him how his predecessor Felix left Paul a prisoner here and how when he visited Jerusalem, the chief priests and elders brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned. Festus says however that he explained the Roman way of doing things to the Jews and heard the case the very next day when he returned from Jerusalem. He told Agrippa how he was a bit puzzled by the charges brought against Paul as they were about the Jewish religion and a dead man named Jesus, who Paul claimed was alive and how he really wasn’t sure how to proceed. He told Agrippa that he had asked Paul if he was willing to stand trial in Jerusalem but Paul wasn’t keen and appealed to the Emperor so he was holding Paul in custody until he could be sent to Caesar in Rome.
It seems that Agrippa’s curiosity was aroused, just as Jesus had aroused the curiosity of his great uncle, Herod Antipas, and so he asked to hear Paul for himself. Festus agreed, saying “Tomorrow you will hear him.” So the next day Agrippa and Bernice arrive with much pomp and ceremony. John Stott writes:
They would have on their purple robes of royalty and the gold circlet of the crown on their brows. Doubtless Festus, to do honour to the occasion, had donned the scarlet robe of which a governor wore on state occasions.
With them we are told came the military chiefs and the leading men of the city, I assume in their finery too. When they are all there Festus gave the order for Paul to be brought in and what a contrast he must have made. We know according to tradition that Paul was a small unattractive man. He was going bald, had a hooked nose, beetle brows and bandy legs – although maybe not a pretty sight he was full of grace. Plainly dressed he however dominated the court with his quiet, Christ-like dignity and confidence.
Festus introduces Paul and says that although complaints have been brought to him about Paul, he can’t find anything that he has done wrong and certainly nothing to deserve the death penalty. Festus says that he will be sending Paul to Rome but he hasn’t anything to write to Caesar regarding the charges against Paul so he is hoping that Agrippa will be able to help him put something together.
Actually Festus wasn’t telling the whole truth here because he did know what the charges were but didn’t have any proof to back them up and that was the real issue. Really he should have been releasing Paul and not still pandering to the Jews and now he is enlisting the help of King Agrippa who we are told has a lot of power in Jewish affairs. What will happen, we will have to wait and see as next week Paul makes his defence in front of King Agrippa.
As I was writing this I began to wonder what if anything this passage has to say to us today, are there encouragements here and on reflection yes I think there are. Firstly I think there is an issue about being brave enough to do what is right and just, instead of pandering to what folk want – effectively doing things God’s way regardless of whether it is popular or not. Secondly I think Paul shows us how to act with grace and dignity when finding ourselves in a situation that’s a bit tricky. Finally about staying firmly rooted in God at all times so that we can speak the truth clearly.
May the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you today and always. Amen
God bless. Rev Sue