We are continuing our study of the book of Acts. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Paul on Death Row
Last week, we studied the account of Paul on trial before the Roman Governor named Felix. There the Jewish leaders brought a large number of charges against him. One of those charges against him was that he had started a riot. Granted, a riot had happened. But all Paul did was attend the temple. The reality was that his accusers were the culprits behind the riot. Since the Governor didn’t know which side was telling the truth, he had called for a recess until he could get the local law enforcement as a credible witness.
But that guy never came.
So, the trial remained in recess…
For two years!
That means for two years Paul was in Roman custody.
For two years he didn’t have freedom.
For two years he couldn’t do as he wanted.
If you thought quarantining during Coronavirus was difficult, can you imagine what Paul was going through?
(He probably would have watched everything he could on Netflix!)
Finally, a new governor is appointed. His name is Festus. That’s where the account picks up in chapter 25:
Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, where the chief priests and the Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. (v.2-3)
Notice the word “Province.” That’s the Roman empire’s version of a state. Festus’ rule, then, stretched a decent amount of territory. One of the first cities he visits to after arriving in his headquarter of Caesarea is Jerusalem.
What does he find there?
The same angry religious leaders.
Leading the same group of angry people.
That wanted to press the same angry charges against Paul.
In fact, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way (v.3)
Do you remember that vow? Back in chapter 23, it’s recorded that a group of 40 men had vowed not to eat or drink until they murdered Paul.
Now it’s two years later…
And Paul’s still alive so…
If they had kept their vow, that would mean two years without eating or drinking!
Since they are still alive, that means some of them started to eat.
Can you imagine how that went down?
Jebediah? What’s that on your fingers? Is that Cheetos dust?
Nah. Man. I promise. I didn’t eat anything. It’s just my son’s art project! I’m still cool with the vow. Let’s (licks fingers) kill Paul!
Two years later, they had another chance.
The plot gets resurrected.
But Festus had other plans: “Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. Let some of your leaders come with me, and if the man has done anything wrong, they can press charges against him there.” (v.4-5)
I like that response from Festus.
He isn’t bullied.
He isn’t convinced.
He isn’t tricked.
Festus basically says:
You want him dead,
You do the work.
You travel up to where he is legally being held.
There we will legally have his trial.
So that’s what happens.
About 8 days later, Paul’s trial is restarted in Caesarea.
And it restarts the same way it did last time.
With false charges made against them:
He starts riots.
He leads a cult.
He tried to desecrate the temple.
But since they’d had two years to think about it…
And since those three charges alone hadn’t been enough to convict Paul last time…
And since verse 7 says that they brought “many serious charges against him”…
I imagine there were quite a few more made up charges:
He embezzles money from the temple.
I saw him canoodling with one of the widows.
I heard he puts BUTTER on his Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches!
He didn’t use hand sanitizer after touching his face!
After all the violent outbursts and angry shouting, it was finally time for Paul’s simple defense:
“I have done nothing wrong.” (v8)
Festus didn’t like that answer.
Because it didn’t give him a reason to kill Paul,
To be fair, Festus didn’t think Paul was guilty, but…
He didn’t really care if he killed Paul.
Because then the Jewish leaders would be happy with him.
And they wouldn’t rebel – and possibly kill him.
Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?” (v.9)
Notice Festus’ phraseology.
It isn’t a command.
But a question.
That’s because Festus didn’t have a right to bring Paul to Jerusalem.
The Roman Law stated that he must be tried in Caesarea, on neutral ground.
Especially so because Paul was a Roman citizen.
Festus knows that.
…Unfortunately for Festus.
…So does Paul:
Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”
Festus was shocked.
He didn’t know what to say.
He, the Roman legal system’s representative had been out ‘legal-procedured’ by this prisoner.
He conferred with his officials.
He looked for a loophole.
He tried to figure out a way to appease the Jews, but…
Since Paul had appealed to Caesar, it was technically out of his hands:
Festus declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!” (v.11)
II. Not Afraid to Die
There you have it.
Paul is not convicted.
Paul is not condemned.
Paul is not going to die.
Instead, his trial goes to the highest courtroom in the Roman land.
But did you notice something about Paul’s reasoning for wanting to get his case moved to Rome?
He wanted his case moved because it was right and so that he could bring the Gospel to Italy for the very first time.
But it was not because he was afraid to die.
In fact, Paul says, “I am willing to die…”
Why did Paul say that?
Why are YOU able to say the same thing?
(1) He Knew a Guy that DEFEATED Death
During this pandemic, it’s been helpful to hear stories of people that have conquered the illness, especially when they were so very sick that they had to make use of a breathing machine.
Like Jennie Stejna. Have you heard about her? She is 103 years old when she contracted COVID. As a result, she spent two weeks isolated in her Massachusetts nursing home battling the virus. A lot of people, her family included, thought that this was probably it.
And celebrated by drinking a Bud Light.
Knowing someone has defeated COVID-19 gives us hope.
And hope makes COVID-19 less scary.
But do you know what I’ve noticed?
On those charts that detail the rise in COVID-19 cases, the number of deaths from COVID-19, and even how many people have been healed…
Do you know what stat is missing?
The number of people that died, but then came back to life.
It’s missing, because the answer is obvious.
It’s a big, fat ZERO.
But not for Paul.
Paul know someone who did defeat death.
Paul knew someone who conquered death.
Paul knew someone who had died, but then came back to life.
Christ Jesus died—more than that, he was raised to life! (Romans 8:34)
Look at that first part – Jesus died! That means his body stopped working.
His fingers stopped twiddling.
His toes stopped fidgeting.
His head stopped swaying.
His nostrils stopped flaring.
His eyelids stopped batting.
His skin stopped feeling that tickle that he had down at his ankle.
His brain stopped functioning.
His lungs stopped breathing.
His heart stopped beating.
And everyone thought it was over.
Everyone thought there was no reason for hope.
Everyone thought that death had won again.
Three days later…
Three days later…
Three days later, Jesus was raised to life.
And Paul got to see Jesus!
And when he saw Jesus.
Jesus’ heart was beating.
Jesus’ lungs were breathing.
Jesus’ brain was functioning.
Paul probably even saw his nostrils flaring, his eyelids batting and his fingers twiddling!
Paul Knew a Jesus that DEFEATED Death
And…YOU do too.
Even if you’ve never heard of this Jesus before this very moment.
Now you do know him.
I just introduced you to him.
So now you know someone who defeated death.
(2) In JESUS, We have HOPE of Defeating Death
But this is more than earthly hope.
Do you understand what I mean by earthly hope?
On earth I hope I don’t catch COVID.
On earth I hope my bank account doesn’t run out of money.
On earth I hope that we’re having steak and potatoes for dinner.
On earth I hope no one notices the ketchup stain on my trousers.
That’s earthly hope.
Maybe those things happen.
Maybe they don’t.
Earthly hope, at best, means there is a chance something might happen.
But that’s not the kind of hope that Jesus gives us.
Jesus doesn’t deal in earthly hope.
Jesus deals in heavenly hope.
Paul describes that hope that we have this way. He says that we have…
…The hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised us. (Titus 1:2)
Did you follow that?
Heavenly hope isn’t a probably.
Heavenly hope isn’t a maybe.
Heavenly hope isn’t a possibly.
Heavenly hope is a certainty.
(If you wrote that note down earlier, can you add that to your notes? This hope is CERTAIN.)
With Jesus, your chances of defeating death are at 100%.
Right now, there’s a lot of scientific study on how to defeat the Coronavirus.
Study about how your chance of defeating it increases…
If we wear masks.
If we social distance.
If we use hand sanitizer.
And to be fair – doing those things may make it so that you don’t contract COVID!
And a lot of people are doing whatever they can to ensure that they don’t get COVID.
Even if you don’t catch COVID…
One day, you are still going to die.
Are you doing whatever you can to defeat death?
Cause the only way you will is through faith in Jesus?
Society wants to know if you’re doing everything you can to defeat COVID.
Today, God wants to know if you’re doing everything you can to defeat death.
And since Jesus alone gives us victory over death.
The question is --
Are you doing whatever you can to hold to faith in Jesus?
Without Jesus, your chances of defeating death are ZERO.
But with Jesus, your chances of losing to death are ZERO.
This might be one of the reasons that we suffering so much fear from COVID.
Perhaps (myself included) we aren’t clinging to Jesus enough.
Because if we are clinging to Jesus, he speaks to us and says:
I beat death.
I promise you will too.
In me, you win.
Why be scared of death, if death doesn’t win?
In fact, that’s our final point.
(3) Jesus has Transformed Earthly Death into ETERNAL VICTORY
Because that’s what death is for a believer.
It’s not the end of the good times on earth.
It’s the beginning of the divinely incredible times in heaven.
In heaven, there is no COVID.
In heaven, there aren’t any masks.
In heaven, there aren’t those little sanitizer stations.
In heaven, the economy doesn’t tank.
In heaven, it’s not a struggle to pay bills.
In heaven, there isn’t job loss.
In heaven, there’s no racism.
In heaven, there’s no prejudice.
In heaven, there’s no hatred.
In heaven, there’s no death.
In heaven, there’s no danger.
In heaven, there’s no fear.
Heaven means victory.
God’s endgame for your life is victory.
Why be afraid when you know the ending?
It’s like a PeeWee baseball game.
Jim’s Auto Supply Sprockets were up by 17 over the Rotary Club Rotaries. It was the 6th inning.
They only play 6 innings.
So, the coach of the Sprockets decided to go to the bullpen for his pitcher. A young man who had never pitched in a game before.
He faced the first batter.
He faced the second batter.
Hit by Pitch.
He faced the third batter.
A double scoring two runs.
The coach looked at his player.
He was visibly shaken.
He hadn’t even thrown a strike.
The coach called timeout to listen to the player.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Put someone else in. I’m gonna lose the game for us.’
The coach told him to calm down.
“Son, we can’t lose the game. Literally. Our league only allows each team to bat through the order once in an inning. It is impossible for them to beat us. The end result of this game is that we win.”
And the young player stopped crying.
The fear went away.
He took a breath.
He struck the next player out.
The second popped out to the third baseman.
The third hit a grounder to the first baseman to end the inning.
When you know the end result, there’s no reason to fear losing.
Friends, we know the end result.
We know that we get the win.
We know that we get the eternal victory.
Come what may in the meantime:
A loss of job.
A spoiled relationship.
Even death itself.
In Jesus, we win.
And there’s no reason to fear. Amen.