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The Scriptorium

Wise as a Serpent

Paul claims his rights as a Roman. Acts 25.1-9

The Trials of Paul (11)

Pray Psalm 141.1, 2.
LORD, I cry out to You;
Make haste to me!
Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You.
Let my prayer be set before You as incense,
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

Sing Psalm 141.1, 2.
(Truro: Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns!)
O Lord, we call to You in prayer! To us come quickly; hear our cry!
Receive our prayer as incense sweet, our lifted hands as a sacrifice!

Read and meditate on Acts 25.1-12.

1. What did Festus say to Paul’s accusers?

2. How did Paul respond to the suggestion to go to Jerusalem and be tried?


Festus must have thought, “Great. I can’t even get organized and I have to deal with this situation.” His role was to keep peace, and Felix handed him this firestorm, just waiting to break out. Festus wisely decided to keep the trial on less flammable turf (vv. 1-4). The Jews could come to Caesarea if they were that serious about this matter. And they did (vv. 5-7).

Their argument had not changed – they still could not prove their lies and slanderous accusations (v. 7). Festus was clever. He made push-come-to-shove by testing Paul’s confidence in his case. Was he so sure of his innocence that he’d be willing to return to the scene of the alleged crime and argue his side there? (v. 9)

Paul once again played his Roman citizenship trump card, demanding his citizen’s right to have his case heard in Rome by the Emperor (vv. 10, 11). Festus must have lit up with joy to hear this. We can almost hear his “Whew!” as he agreed to ship the apostle off to the Emperor (v. 12).

Jesus had promised Paul he would get to Rome to preach there. But it was taking what must have seemed like an inordinate amount of time. The unfolding of the Lord’s will might tarry sometimes, but our duty is to understand His promises, wait on His timing, and, in the meantime, act in each situation as seems appropriate, according to the will of God. That’s what Paul did, and it launched the final leg of his mission to Rome.

Paul knew that Jesus was sending him to Rome, so he couldn’t risk a retrograde movement in his progress. He understood his rights as a Roman citizen, so he simply invoked them at just the right moment to ensure he would not be shipped back to Jerusalem, and those forty or so hungry would-be assassins.

Wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove.

Treasures Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
Rage against righteousness is an interesting thing to behold.

Porcius Festus, in all his pomp and glory, sashayed to Jerusalem where one of the hot topics was still Paul. After all this time, two years in fact, the folks in Jerusalem were still seething about Paul and petitioned the new leader to help them kill him. But Festus declined to participate in that scheme. He suggested instead that they do what they had already been invited to do, and that was to come to Caesarea and put their unsubstantiated case forward there. Same song, second verse.

And amazingly, the very first order of business for Porcius Festus was the case of Paul. Was Caesarea really that law-abiding that there wasn’t another case on the docket? Nothing more sinister than this? Apparently rage against the righteous took precedence over everything else.

Reminds one of the cries to free Barabbas. Pilate offered to free the innocent Jesus to the crowds, but they screamed for the release of a robber and rabble-rouser instead (Jn. 18.38-40). The preference for evil over good never ceases to be the case (Jn. 3.19, 20).

But because Paul always kept his eyes on the prize (Phil. 3.14), he probably found this whole scenario mildly amusing and comforting. He did truly believe that there is a resurrection of the dead (Acts 24.15), and that he was called to preach Christ in Rome (Acts 23.11), and that he would be fulfilling his calling with joy and testifying to the Gospel of God’s grace (Acts 20.24). So really, all these peripheral circumstances were fine with him. We can almost hear him say with the greatest amount of respect, “Whatever. Knock yourselves out!”

“Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand” (Ps. 20.6). Paul learned the truth of this from watching Stephen die.

“Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8.37). We learn this from watching Paul live.

When our righteousness is raged against we have Paul’s example to follow (1 Cor. 1.11). “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast…” (Heb. 6.19).

In times like these you need a Savior,
In times like these you need an anchor;
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the solid Rock!
This Rock is Jesus, yes, He’s the One!
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the solid Rock!
(Ruth Caye Jones, 1944)

For reflection
1. Paul remained cool, civil, and confident because he kept his eye on the far horizon of his life. What would living like this mean for you?

2. How should we respond if people explode in rage because of our witness for Jesus?

3. What are some precious promises of God’s Word that you cling to for peace, boldness, and comfort?

These words God certainly placed in the mouth of Festus, so that the Word of the Lord would be fulfilled that was spoken to Paul: “Be comforted, Paul, for as you testified of me in Jerusalem, so also must you testify in Rome.” Johann Spangenberg (1484-1550), Brief Exegesis of Acts 25.12.15

Pray Psalm 141.3-10.
Ask the Lord to prepare your mouth to serve Him and others today. Pray for Christian friends, that you might encourage them and be encouraged by them. Call on the Lord to make His Presence known with you throughout the day.

Sing Psalm 141.3-10.
(Truro: Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns!)
Lord, set a guard upon my mouth; let not my heart to evil bend,
nor let me work iniquity in company with wicked men.

Lord, let a righteous man rebuke –a kindness this shall surely be.
Like healing oil upon my head, Your sweet rebuke shall be to me.

When to the judgment wicked men by God are cast, our words shall tell:
Like broken sod or fresh plowed ground, so shall their bones be cast to hell!

We lift our eyes to You, O Lord, and refuge seek; Lord, save our soul!
From every trap and snare redeem; deliver us and make us whole.

T. M. and Susie Moore

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (Williston: Waxed Tablet Publications, 2006), available by clicking here.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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