This week’s Biblical study series on the Social Gospel Blog with Minister & Author Paul J. Bern will conclude Acts chapter 2

Biblical study series for this week on the Social Gospel Blog with Minister & Author Paul J. Bern will be part 3 of Acts chapter 2, on the continuing relevance of the Day of Pentecost https://www.social-gospel.net/so/58NN32iTV

The following post is an excerpt from my new book release, “The Social Gospel Teaching Series Volume 3: Paul the Apostle (available on Amazon)

How to Keep and Maintain the Mind of Jesus Christ

(Romans chapter 12)

Social Gospel series Volume 3

Today in our continuing series of studies of the book of Romans, we will move on to chapter 12. In this chapter, the apostle Paul talks about how we can initiate fundamental change from within ourselves for our own good. He then explains how this renewal of self can affect our place within the entire community of believers, as well as for the good of everyone else. He then goes on to outline how this personal renewal in Christ – for the sake of our relationship with Christ – applies to our everyday lives and what we as responsible Christians can do to cause this personal renewal manifest itself. I will now begin with verse one.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12: verses 1-2)

We are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God in the same way that Christ offered Himself up on the cross of Calvary. Furthermore, we are to be living in the world while remaining separate from it. We can live here as usual but not be caught up in the materialistic and vain trappings of the world as it currently exists. We can accomplish this by what Paul the apostle called “mind renewal”. In a modern context, this means being a modern Christian requires a new and different way of thinking that sets us apart from the rest of humanity. It is only when we do this that we can find out for ourselves what God’s will is for our lives. And His will is always perfect for us whether we realize it or not. And if we don’t yet do so, we can still accomplish this at any time by the renewal of our minds in Christ Jesus.

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith that God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it to the proportion of his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (Romans 12: 3-8)

The first point Paul makes is that there is no room for big egos in God’s family. Everyone has a place in God’s family “in accordance with the measure of faith that God has given you”. Everyone has a function within God’s family, and Paul named these functions without any particular order of importance. Notice that he mentions money only briefly (“if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously”). This is in stark contrast to the erroneous teachings of the modern church, which emphasizes tithing 10% of one’s income. This is a teaching that goes all the way back to the Old Testament, well before the time of Christ. As I said in one of my recent commentary, we should definitely contribute to churches and other charities as we see fit. However, the harsh economic realities of the modern world in which we live make giving 10% a prohibitively expensive proposition, especially for the poor and middle class. Let the rich give 15% to their churches in our place. Besides, when Jesus died on the cross, the old law was sacrificed with Him and he became the new law. Paul then goes on from there.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those that mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (Romans 12: 9-16)

The timely advice that is in these few verses is just as relevant now as it was nearly 2,000 years ago when it was first written. Love must be genuine, and never abusive. Stand up to evil and oppose it at every turn. Be a truly selfless person who thinks of them selves last, who puts others first, rarely complaining. Now comes the hardest part, because it’s a quote from Christ himself. “Bless those who curse you…”, be kind to those who oppose you or who have personal vendettas. You will be surprised (based on my own experience) at how quickly this tactic can disarm those who oppose you. Be willing to associate with people of low position, such as the homeless. I was once homeless myself for about four months, and I didn’t think such a thing could happen to me. I’m retired from IT after over 20 years in the computer business. But when you’re self-employed and the demand for your product dries up, your income dries up too. Never be conceited, and be wary of all the class warfare that’s going on in America. And how do we accomplish this and other similar things, such as our relationship with Christ? By being “transformed by the renewing of our minds”. Paul then continues on with these closing verses.

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written. ‘it is mine to avenge, I will repay, says the Lord’. (Deuteronomy 32:35) On the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12: 17-21)

As far as it is possible, live at peace with everyone. If any of your enemies refuses to act peaceably toward you, avoid them and don’t associate with them. Take it to the Lord in prayer and let God deal with them, and you can be sure that He will. God will deal with your enemies in his good and perfect will according to His perfect timing. That is the way of the Lord, and we are to emulate Him every chance we get. And the peace of God which is beyond all human understanding will be with you all. Let’s start putting these teachings into practice on a daily basis. You will be surprised at how much your quality of life will improve, as well as how many doors of opportunity this will open for you. Living God’s way through Jesus Christ really is the best way to live our lives. Try it and see for yourself, you will be pleased with the outcome. Be sure and return next week for our Biblical teaching series as we move on to chapter 13. Enjoy your day.

He has always been our vine, and we who believe are surely His branches

The Olive Tree, The Branches, and their Significance

(Romans chapter 11, verses 1-16)

let he who is without sin

In today’s chronological study of the Book of Romans, the apostle Paul continues his train of thought regarding the Hebrew people versus the remaining nations of the world. He continues to elaborate about the Jews as being God’s chosen people while he explains why that status was going to the Gentile nations instead of Israel. Paul quoted from the prophet Isaiah chapter 65 and verse one, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me”. God’s purpose for the Gentile nations (that’s us) was to extend the salvation of Christ to all humanity, provoking Israel to jealousy. So let’s pick up where we left off last week beginning at chapter 11, verse one.

“I ask then; did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says about the prophet Elijah – how he appealed to God against Israel: ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me’? (I Kings 19, verses 10 and 14) And what was God’s answer to him? ‘I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed their knee to Baal’. (I Kings 19:18) So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. What, then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, as it is written, ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.’ (Isaiah 29: 20) And David says, ‘May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see and their backs be bent forever’. (Psalm 69: 22-23) Again I ask, did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater will their fullness bring!” (Romans 11, verses 1-12)

God has not rejected the Jewish nation, Paul wrote, and he states unequivocally that he is living proof that this is so. Keep in mind that when Paul wrote these words, the overwhelming majority of Christians in the early church were Jewish converts. It is a documented fact that all of the living apostles (James had already been executed at the time these words were written) were ministering to the Jews of their day. Only Paul, as we learned from last week’s study, was ministering to the Gentiles. If I as an Israelite, Paul was saying, can be saved, then so can the rest of us. “So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” As we have learned previously, grace is defined as unmerited favor from God. It is a free gift with no strings attached, provided that we surrender control of our lives to Jesus Christ, making him the Lord over all right down to our daily lives. “What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did.” “The elect” is a reference to all non-Jews who have been saved by the blood of the Lamb of God, none other than Christ himself. “The elect” are all born-again Christians.

“…Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.” Paul is saying here that since so many non-believing Jews had rejected the salvation of Christ, he would cause all the Gentile nations to get their fair share of grace ahead of the Jews, deliberately making them angry. Anyone who rejects Christ will be proven wrong, first for the Jew, and then for the Gentile. Those who are proven wrong but still will not change their ways are in danger of final judgment that leads to eternal death. But those who do believe, whether Jew or Gentile, will be granted eternal life in New Jerusalem, a life without end where time as we know it does not exist. Paul makes his point by comparing new Christians to branches of an olive tree. The olive tree is used throughout the Bible as a symbol for Israel. It goes back to the tradition of Jesus teaching us all that “I am the vine, and you are the branches”. It’s in all four gospels if you want to look it up.

“I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I might somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough that is offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole branch is holy; if the root is holy, then so are the branches.” (Romans 11 verses 13-16)

In the first verse above, the apostle Paul makes reference to himself as a Jewish man when he talks about being an apostle to the Gentiles, or non-Jews. He then states by doing so he hoped to “somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them”. This is a direct reference to a passage in the book of Acts where Paul’s arguments for his new-found Christian faith are rejected by his Jewish peers at every turn. “Let your blood be on your own heads”, Paul exclaims to them. “From now on, I will take my message to the Gentiles”. Paul then uses a quote from Christ to make his point when he says,” If the part of the dough that is offered as first-fruits is holy, then the whole branch is holy”. Jesus said during one of his parables, “A small amount of yeast works through the whole batch of dough”. This is what Paul is referring to when he says, “ If the part of the dough that is offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole branch is holy.”

“First fruits” refers to the ancient Jewish tradition in the Old Testament of offering up a tenth of one’s livestock and their crops for sacrifice at the temple at Jerusalem. Unfortunately, this tradition is still being taught in some churches as being a requirement for ‘membership’ today even though Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross takes the place of Old Testament teachings. (yes, you should still give to your church and other non-profits, but the 10% requirement was abolished when Christ rose from the dead three days after he was crucified. Any church that teaches tithing 10% of one’s income today is bending and twisting the Gospel so as to turn houses of worship into profitable businesses. God will deal with them severely!).

So as we close out part 1 of Romans chapter 11, Paul the apostle is continuing his train of thought by emphasizing how essential the passion of Christ truly is to Jew and non-Jew alike. Next week when we conclude part 2, you will see the strong, sure hand of Paul’s guiding hand as he led the early Church towards its destiny. Until then, keep Christ in your heart close at hand.

This week’s ongoing Biblical teaching series will be part 2 of Acts chapter 26

Paul the Apostle Continues His Testimony Before King Agrippa

[Acts chapter 26, verses 19-32]

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week as we left off at part 1 of Acts chapter 26, the apostle Paul was giving his testimony before King Agrippa, in the presence of many of those who had imprisoned Paul previously. Moreover, the majority of those individuals seated before Paul, Festus and king Agrippa were accessories to the murder of Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead on the morning of the 3rd day, much to their humiliation. As the apostle Luke wrote, Paul had not yet finished his defense, so let’s start where we last ended on verse 19. “19) So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20) First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. 21) That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22) But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen – 23) that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” 24) At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.‘” (Acts 26, verses 19-24)

Since the first half of Paul’s testimony to Festus and the king was covered last week, this week we find Paul the apostle beginning to turn up the intensity of his rhetoric. He testified vigorously against the Jews from Jerusalem, and especially to those who were denigrating the sacred Name of the Lord. In verses 20-21 Paul said, “20) First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. 21) That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me.” ‘I remind them’, to paraphrase Paul regarding his Jewish accusers and former brethren, ‘of the very thing that they lack, which is Christ’s Salvation’. All they had to do was

Moving on to verse 22, the apostle Paul would not allow himself to be separated from Christ in any way, and compares his faith to that of Moses from centuries before: “But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen….” Paul was testifying on the Lord’s behalf what His intentions were, and that those intentions manifested themselves through Paul. Those who saw or were touched could be saved by embracing the Gospel, and by being healed (in that order). It was not until the following sentence was uttered that the real purpose of Paul’s testimony came forth: “23) ,,,,that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” Immediately, King Agrippa stops the proceedings at verse 24, as he accuses the apostle Paul of insanity. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” I don’t know about you, but if anyone is called ‘insane’ because of their Christian beliefs, that’s a huge compliment to a real believer.

So here we have the apostle Paul being called a madman in full view of everyone, and how does Paul respond? “25) ‘I am not insane, most excellent Festus,’ Paul replied. ‘What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26) The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27) King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.’ 28) Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’ 29) Paul replied, ‘Short time or long – I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.’ 30) The king rose, and with him, the governor and Bernice, and those sitting with them. 31) After they left the room, they began saying to one another, ‘This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.’ 32) Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.’”(Acts 26, verses 25-32)

Somehow, in some way, Paul seems to have found an opening in the heart of king Agrippa. Maybe it was something the king had been taught or otherwise had exposure to in his youth, who can say for sure? But his response gives away his true belief when Paul asks this question in verse 27: “The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27) King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.’ 28) Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’” The sarcasm in Agrippa’s tone of voice was likely unmistakable by this time. He was telling Paul to take a look around and notice that he was surrounded by his enemies. So to paraphrase Agrippa, he was asking Paul, ‘if you can’t make converts out of your own people, what makes you think you can convert me?’

Paul’s reply was classic Christendom: “…I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” Although Paul was in chains during these proceedings, he was more free than many of those who had no chains and walked around as free men. Seeing this as being a potential rallying cry for Paul’s supporters, King Agrippa – with Festus’ agreement – immediately adjourns the proceedings so they can discuss the matter privately starting at verse 31. “After they left the room, they began saying to one another, ‘This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.’ “. Nobody knew what to do with Paul, except for the one thing Paul sought, which was to have this case dismissed so he could be set free, even if he had to go all the way to Caesar to do so. And even then, he stipulated, only for the cause of the risen Christ, with nothing held back for himself.

32) Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.’” To everyone there, what Paul the apostle was doing didn’t make any sense. He could have been set free, but Paul couldn’t allow that to occur just yet. He was mindful of what the Spirit of the Lord had told him in Acts 23, verse 11: “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’” This right here is the real motivator for Paul – the opportunity to speak to Caesar himself. That would be the modern-day equivalent of setting up a meeting with president Trump.

Paul had been told by the Spirit of the risen Lord, who had appeared to him after he had been apprehended by the Roman guards at Jerusalem, that he would testify in Rome as to the good news of the Gospel of the risen Christ. Paul had also been told that he would testify before governors and officials, and the Lord had taken the most painstaking care to make sure that everything occurred precisely where and when it is intended. Paul the apostle continued to follow in the Lord’s footsteps, as the other prophets did before him dating all the way back to Abraham. The next stop on his journey of faith will be Rome and an audience with Caesar, but the journey to Rome will take a few unexpected turns. So be sure and return next week at this time for Part One of Acts chapter 27, where Paul sets sail under guard for his audience with the Emperor. Everyone have a splendid week.

This week’s ongoing Biblical studies series will be part one of Acts chapter 26

Paul the Apostle Defends Himself in the Presence of King Agrippa

[Acts chapter 26, verses 1-18]

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week as we left off at the conclusion of Acts 25, Paul the apostle was continuing to deal with his difficult circumstances of being jailed for preaching the Gospel. He had also begun the process of defending himself before a courtroom filled with his former peers, who wanted Paul to be given the death penalty for his conversion to Christianity. Paul’s former peers considered Christianity to be heretical and subversive. Moreover, those who were prosecuting Paul that morning were the same people who had handed Christ over to the Romans for his own crucifixion. So the Pharisees, Sadducee’s and the teachers of the Law couldn’t afford to simply let Paul go about his business, since doing so would be tantamount to their own admission of guilt in the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. This week as we take up where we left off at the latter part of chapter 25, we find Paul’s accusers having just concluded their testimony against him, and Paul’s rebuttal to the ‘charges’ of the Jewish religious establishment. So let’s take up this week’s lesson at Part One of Acts chapter 26.

(1) Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You have permission to speak for yourself.’ So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: 2) ‘King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, 3) and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently. 4) ‘The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. 5) They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee. 6) And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. 7) This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. 8) Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” In this passage, verse 8 is a clear reference to the crucifixion of Christ Jesus, and his triumphal resurrection. It also contrasts Paul’s own zeal in persecuting the early Church.

Paul then chronicled how his life had been completely transformed by his newfound faith, as we see in verses 9 -14: 9) ‘I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10) And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11) Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities. 12) ‘On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13) About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14) We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’“ As you recall from my previous studies, Paul is reliving his confrontation on the road to Damascus that we studied back in chapter 9.

Paul was making sure that King Agrippa and the Jews from Jerusalem remembered how Paul had lived prior to his conversion on the road to Damascus. Paul had pursued and persecuted Christians from Jerusalem to Damascus, an all points in between. Many of the early Christians who were put to death in the first years of the greater Church were ‘brought to justice’ by Paul, either directly or indirectly. 15) “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16) ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17) I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18) to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me…..’”

So it is at this point in Paul’s testimony before the king, the Sanhedrin and the chief priests, together with all the onlookers, that Paul’s speech changes from the past to the present tense. Paul was doing this to make an important point, and that point was the great extent of his obedience to the voice of the Lord. This one point alone contradicted the charges and allegations of the Pharisees, who wanted Paul killed for heresy. So, would the Pharisees and chief priests finally get their wish? Or would Paul escape their kangaroo courts once again? At this point, Paul the apostle is still testifying, so be sure to return next week for part 2 of Acts chapter 26. Shalom….

This week’s ongoing Bible lesson will be part 1 of Acts chapter 25

The Apostle Paul Stands Trial Before Festus

[Acts chapter 25, verses 1-18]

by Minister Paul J Bern

When we left off last week, we concluded chapter 24 of the Book of Acts, where Paul the apostle had been put on trial there in Jerusalem, only to be transferred to Caesarea. There he was put on trial before governor Felix, but no decision was made until Paul’s accusers could arrive. Five days later when they finally arrived, they even had their own attorney, evidently based on some presumption that this guaranteed their success. What ended up happening instead was Paul’s imprisonment, and this dragged on for two years afterwards until after Felix’s term in office was concluded. When Festus, the replacement governor, came on board for his term in office, he decided it was time to bring Paul into open court to be tried. It is at this point that we begin this week’s lesson, beginning at verse 1.

1) Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, 2) where the chief priests and the Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. 3) They requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way. 4) Festus answered, ‘Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. 5) Let some of your leaders come with me, and if the man has done anything wrong, they can press charges against him there.’ 6) After spending eight or ten days with them, Festus went down to Caesarea. The next day he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him. 7) When Paul came in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him. They brought many serious charges against him, but they could not prove them.” (Acts 25, verses 1-7)

In verses 1-2, the apostle Luke describes the activities of the chief priests and other prominent Jewish leaders as they went before Festus to present their case against Paul. What transpired that fateful morning amounted to a preliminary hearing by today’s standards. But, that was what happened inside the courtroom. What happened beyond the purview of that situation was infinitely more serious, as the next verse relates: “3) They requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way.” But Festus apparently knew to take whatever the religious Jews told him with a grain of salt, as we see in the next verses, when Festuus replied, “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.

Festus was a very shrewd individual. He had already learned that Paul was a Roman citizen, and he was equally aware that those bringing charges against Paul had ulterior motives of their own. You could say in verses 4 and 5 that Paul was given the modern equivalent of a change of venue, and so Paul the apostle would be tried there in Caesarea, instead of back in Jerusalem. And so, about 10 days go by before Paul, who has been imprisoned all this time, finally gets to defend himself before the political authorities at their regional headquarters there in Caesarea. “7) When Paul came in…. the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem brought many serious charges against him, but they could not prove them.” Here go these hapless accusers of Paul once again, who did not have the backing of those they served at home, nor did they have any credibility in court that morning. Those Pharisees, Sadducee’s and members of the Sanhedrin should have stayed home, but they couldn’t because of Paul’s ministry and discipleship. So now, let’s move on to part 2 of this week’s study.

8) Then Paul made his defense: ‘I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.’ 9) 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?’ 10) 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. 11) 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!’ 12) After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: ‘You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!’” (Acts 25, verses 8-12)

In verse 8, Paul’s defense is the same as when he went before Felix, and Claudius Lysias – the chief of security who had saved Paul from certain death back in Jerusalem. – before that. The apostle Paul, when asked if he wanted to go back to Jerusalem, stated this as a rebuttal to his accusers: “10) 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. 11) If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die….” Paul is pointing out in this passage that the Jewish authorities had their chance to convict him when he testified before the Sanhedrin back in Jerusalem. “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!’” And, as you just read in verse 12, off to Caesar Paul went. And now let’s close out this week’s lesson, starting at verse 13.

13) A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. 14) Since they were spending many days there, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. He said: ‘There is a man here whom Felix left as a prisoner. 15) When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.’” Even Festus, the new governor, had begun to ask why Paul had been held prisoner without trial for so long. But it was out of their hands the very next day when Paul appealed to Caesar. So, what will the outcome be? Will Paul the apostle be set free once again, or will his enemies from Jerusalem finally get their chance to kill him? To find this out, be sure and come on back for next week’s installment of Acts chapter 25.

This week’s ongoing Biblical teaching will move on to part 2 of Acts chapter 24

The Apostle Paul Concludes His Testimony Before Felix

[Acts chapter 24, verses 17-27]

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week as we concluded part 1 of Acts chapter 24, the apostle Paul had begun to testify in his trial before governor Felix in Caesarea on charges of incitement, plus a bunch of religious charges relating to the Jewish law of Moses. Paul’s accusers, who were his own fellow Jews, had gone to extremes to try and get the apostle Paul to incriminate himself. But Paul’s rebuttal was evidently more than Paul’s accusers were prepared for. Despite the best efforts of the Sanhedrin, the Pharisee’s and the Sadducee’s, they had been unable to convict Paul of any crime, whether real or imagined. So today as we continue our ongoing series concerning the writings of the apostle Luke, let’s all move on to part 2 of Acts 24, beginning at verse 17.

17) ‘After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. 18) I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. 19) But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. 20) Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin – 21) unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: ‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’ 22) Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. ‘When Lysias the commander comes,’ he said, ‘I will decide your case.’ 23) He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.” (Acts 24, verses 17-23)

After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings.” What a contrast between that which is Scriptural to modern ‘Christianity’! Paul the apostle has been on the road preaching and teaching for about 2 ½ years at the time the apostle Luke wrote these words. Over the course of that time, Paul had been the recipient of a fair amount of offerings from those he taught and ministered to. Some of it he undoubtedly redistributed along the way as Paul carried out his mission, but some he had not. So when he arrived at Jerusalem, Paul came to give gifts and present offerings there at the Temple. This indicates that Paul only kept enough for his own personal needs, and gave away the rest. There was enough to take care of the needs of the poor throughout the city. Today when this happens, the “evangelist” keeps whatever is left after the expenses have been paid off and when the payroll has been met. So churches today operate as ‘winner take all’. The early Church, together with Spirit-led leaders like Paul, was the polar opposite of modern Christianity.

The early Church was also populated by gracious and merciful people, as verse 18 attests to: “I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance.” Real Christianity is never forceful, nor is it ever pushy. The Social Gospel that is the namesake of this blog is always merciful, always gentle (excluding matters of self defense), and it is always just. Moreover, it can be depended upon to be truthful. Anything less is really no gospel at all. The only weapon Satan has to deal with truth is untruth, half-truth, or lies of omission. Paul brings this up in the very next verse: “….there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. 20) Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin….” Paul’s accusers never came to his hearing before the governor. They knew better by this time.

“….unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: ‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’ 22) Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings….” So here is the crux of the matter. The reason the Hebrew leadership at the Temple at Jerusalem – the same people who handed Christ over to the Romans to be crucified – were so upset and offended by the resurrection of Christ, was because Jesus was nowhere in the Old Law except for being promised through his prophets. When Christ did come, the leadership failed to recognize him for who he was. Since this subject was so controversial, Felix adjourned the hearing right then and there in order to maintain control over the proceedings. And now let’s finish up this week’s message with the rest of chapter 24.

24) Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. 25) As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.’ 26) At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him. 27) When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.

By this time, Paul was so compelling a witness for Christ that his reputation as an evangelist and apostle was very well known. Felix and his wife Drusilla were no exceptions. So much so that Felix stopped Paul, as if he could stand no more,. telling him, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you’. Whether Drusilla had the same view of Paul’s testimony as her husband isn’t revealed here. But as it is written in verse 26, Felix was secretly hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, just like what happens in government today. Everyone is in it for the money, and government has always been that way. That and politics, let’s not forget that since they go hand in hand. But, as we see in verse 27, Paul spends the next two years in prison. But that two years was nothing compared to the 3 hours Jesus hung on the cross at Golgotha until he died.

Next, Luke wrote, “….but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.” So when Felix was replaced by Festus in approximately 60 AD, Paul was kept locked up for political reasons. As long as Paul was locked up, there would be peace among the Jewish population of Jerusalem, and Jews were the majority who lived there. So at this point, the captivity of one man ensured there would be no further domestic unrest throughout all the countries that comprise the Middle Eastern nations today. This was a perfect plan for everybody except Paul. But at least he was being held in Herod’s palace under guard instead of prison.

But by this time, Felix’s term in office had expired, and he was replaced by governor Festus. A few weeks after he had entered on his office the case of Paul, then a prisoner at Caesarea, was reported to him. The “next day,” after he had gone down to Caesarea, he heard Paul defend himself in the presence of Herod Agrippa II. and his sister Bernice, and not finding in him anything worthy of death or of bonds, would have set him free had he not appealed unto Caesar (Acts 25:11, 12). In consequence of this appeal Paul was sent to Rome. Festus, after being in office less than two years, died in Judea. So everyone be sure and return next week as we move on to Acts chapter 25. Have a great week!

Admonitions for Church Leaders, and Encouragements for the Faithful

Admonitions to Church Leaders

With Encouragements For the Faithful (part 2)

2nd Peter chapter 2, verses 1-3, 13-14, 17-21

by Minister Paul J Bern

Last week as we completed Part One of this two part series, we heard from and/or read the words of the prophet Ezekiel, who lived in the sixth century BC. His words, as he was led by the Spirit of the Lord, were a condemnation of those in charge of these various institutions. Last week, we focused on Ezekiel chapter 34 from the Old Testament. This week I’m going to elaborate on the Second Book of Peter chapter 2, with particular emphasis on that apostle’s warnings about false churches and phony pastors. Like last week’s message, this will be another prophecy against many modern churches, this time as written by Peter the apostle. So let’s go to 2 Peter chapter 2 for our first warning from him.

1) But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2) Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3) In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.” (2nd Peter 2, verses 1-3)

In 2nd Peter chapter 2, Peter described and harshly condemned the false teachers who had entered the church. He promises their destruction, which will be brought by God. Peter also shows the impact of their lies on those who might believe them. Who are these false teachers? They were not strangers who showed up spouting false doctrine in a full frontal attack against the community of Christians. Instead, they came from within the church. They were sneaky. They “secretly” introduced their destructive heresies, or “lies about the truth.” This passage highlights a few of the more serious sins involved, but not all possible details. Peter didn’t fully reveal all of the contents of their false teaching. This was deliberate, so that the point is not lost: any false teaching is a problem, not only some specific doctrinal error. By leaving this description general, Peter ensured that his meaning would be applied in all such situations.

All this has been repeated, as well as amplified, in the modern churches today. The Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches were once one organization united in one faith, but that hasn’t been true for well over 1,000 years. The Protestant denominations are splintered into literally thousands of highly diverse churches, none of whom seems to be willing to reconcile their differences with the other dissimilar faiths, not even for the purpose of unity. Some churches are nothing more than cults of personality surrounding the pastor. Others, like the ones in verse 3, are ‘money churches’, also known as ‘prosperity gospel’ churches, and all are led by well dressed, slick looking and smooth talking “pastors” who want 10% of their congregations incomes each and every week. Never mind that the Bible doesn’t say it, or read it, like that. This brings me to 2 more verses further down in our text for today.

13) They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. 14) With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed – an accursed brood!” (2nd Peter 2: 13-14) Doesn’t this passage of Scripture read like a description of modern politicians? What about as some modern ministers (trust me, I’ve met a few along the way)? I don’t know of a single person who has not yet become thoroughly disgusted with government corruption at all levels here in the early 21st century. Based on verse 13, I would say there is a day coming soon where all the corrupt officials in government, in the military, in our schools and within the law enforcement profession are going to have their day in court. Lord Jesus, please let that day be soon! And now let’s close out this week’s commentary in verses 17-21 of chapter 2.

17) These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18) For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19) They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for ‘people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.’ 20) If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21) It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.”

I would say verse 17 is pretty self-explanatory. Any time we hear the promise of riches in exchange for our undying devotion to someone boasting that he or she is an agent of the Lord Almighty, 2nd Peter chapter 2 and verse 17 sums up how we should view such individuals. “For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity….” Such people are hypocrites, Peter wrote, and they often suffer from hidden addictions like pornography, gambling and other compulsive behaviors, not to mention substance abuse issues. Whatever or however they preach and teach as these “springs without water” are doing, you can be sure that, when no one is looking, these false ‘prophets’ are into all kinds of lewd behavior and “depravity”.

The last 2 verses of this week’s message bear a little extra scrutiny. “20) If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.” Assuming that the world was at least as corrupt back then as it is now – and you can be sure about that – is it any wonder that people can get caught up in its entanglements? This is no excuse for the actions of those kinds of people, but the world we live in is filled with distractions of every imaginable variety. Television, video games and the Internet are the three main culprits as far as I am concerned, along with the other vices I listed in the paragraph above.

If one escapes “the corruption of the world”, only to find themselves “again entangled in it”, that person, whoever he or she might be, can and should extricate themselves from their lives that are lived only for themselves. They should, and often do (but not always, tragically), put as much distance between themselves and the abusive relationships they were in as they possibly can. Still, the fact that those who get up and get away from bad, negative or abusive people or situations do so because they manage to muster up the guts that it takes to succeed. They also pray a lot. A whole lot, sometimes being in a state of prayer all day long.

The ones who never make it back home to the Kingdom are those in verse 21: “21) It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.” The “sacred command” that Peter was referring to was from his own version of the Gospel, which ended up getting deleted when the Bible as we know it today was first compiled, which occurred between about 300 and 400 AD. The only remaining quote we have left on that topic is Matthew 28: 16-20, also know as “the Great Commission”. But let’s go back to 2nd Peter verse 20 for moment so I can tie this all together: “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome….” The key words here are “and are overcome”. Some people get entangled in the world’s sinful ways of depravity and are able to free themselves. The only way to do this is to let Jesus take charge of your life. Go ahead, ask him right now, he is waiting there for you. There is no substitute for the real thing, and the powerful presence of Jesus Christ is all you will ever need.

So if all those who are believers, but who have become entangled in the evil nature of this world, want to untangle themselves, let them call out to the Lord, and he will hear their cry. Remember that there is no shame in asking for help. Feel free to call out at most any time, and the Lord will most definitely assist you. “Never will I leave you,” Jesus said, “and never will I forsake you”. Otherwise, if we do nothing about ourselves, making no effort to improve ourselves at all, God will shut those lazy people into outer darkness, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. These challenges set before us by God Almighty when he created us are the measuring rod of human character. So it’s incumbent on us all to make sure we measure up. Otherwise, we will be like those who “are again entangled in it and are overcome….” No one in their right mind would want to end up in that place where their own condemnation is just and deserved. Remember, God is watching us all. Not to look for an opportunity to punish, but to look for opportunities to lift us up. Because that’s what He’s there for.

This week’s ongoing Bible teaching will be part 1 of Acts chapter 24

The Apostle Paul Goes On Trial Before Governor Felix

[Acts chapter 24, verses 1-16]

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week when we were finishing our 3-part in-depth teaching of Acts chapter 23, the apostle Paul had been quietly transferred overnight to Caesarea from Jerusalem under guard under orders of the Roman commander there. And so as we begin part one of Acts 24, we find Paul being kept under guard in Herod’s palace. There has been a five-day wait for Paul’s accusers to arrive. After all, this was around 2,000 years ago, but there was no more than about 63 miles that separated Paul from his accusers. That would have been roughly 3 days on foot even for older people, so Paul’s accusers clearly took their sweet time getting to their destination. And so this week as we move on to part one of chapter 24, five days have gone by, Paul’s accusers have finally arrived, and Paul’s trial is about to begin. So here we go, starting from verse 1:

“1)Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor. 2) When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix: ‘We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. 3) Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. 4) But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly. 5) We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect 6) and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him and wanted to judge him according to our law. 7) But the commander Lysias came and with the use of much force snatched him from our hands 8) and ordered his accusers to come before you. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.’ 9) The other Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.” (Acts 24, verses 1-9)

Right there in verse one, we see an immediate problem with the Sanhedrin’s case. They had hired an attorney to present their case who may have known little concerning their law, which we know today as the Mosaic Law. In point of fact, it is likely that counselor Tertullus was ambivalent at best regarding his view of the Law of Moses. Had it not been for his representing the Hebrew religious body in that particular matter, he was probably an agnostic or pagan individual busying himself with getting rich. My point here is that the Sanhedrin and all those with them had hired a nonreligious man to represent them concerning a religious matter, and all this before governor Felix, another notorious pagan of his day. So these super-religious Jews weren’t making very good choices. Choices notwithstanding, their lawyer presents their case, and then come the accusations, which begin at verse 5.

5) We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect 6) and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him and wanted to judge him according to our law. 7) But the commander Lysias came and with the use of much force snatched him from our hands 8) and ordered his accusers to come before you….” As you just read, these utterances under oath were exaggerations at best, but isn’t this what happens when people get accused of circumventing the political, economic, or in this case religious establishment? Precisely the same thing happened to Jesus Christ when he was crucified. President John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert, Malcolm X and Rev. Dr. King, Jr. came cent5uries after that. Let’s not forget the Spanish Inquisition, who slaughtered untold multitudes of people who refused to pledge allegiance to the Vatican, and the Salem Witch Trials of the 1600’s here in America, etc.

The phony charges the Jews lodged against Paul are especially apparent in verse 7. That’s where Tertullus states that the Roman commander had taken Paul by force illegally, when in fact the Roman forces were present to keep Paul from getting killed by his accusers. This was clearly perjury (compare this to Acts 23, verses 9-10). Then in verse 9 of chapter 24, all those present from the Jerusalem delegation solemnly swore that what Tertullus had presented was the truth. At this point it was Paul’s turn to defend himself in front of his bogus accusers, and so let’s move on to part 2 of this week’s lesson, starting at verse 10.

10) When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: ‘I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. 11) You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12) My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. 13) And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. 14) However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15) and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16) So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.’” (Acts 24, verses 10-16)

In verse 10, the apostle Paul’s term “a judge over this nation” was a reference to the Jewish nation whom we know today as Israel, and whose lineage can be traced back at least 4,000 years. It was also a public acknowledgment of the common heritage that Paul shared with his accusers, an observation that certainly did not escape Governor Felix. “11) You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12) My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. 13) And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me….” Scenes like this have been playing out wherever there is religious persecution, and this has been especially true for Christianity. More Christians died for their faith during the 20th century than in the previous 19 centuries combined.

I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets….:” In no way did Paul ever say he was anything other than a follower of Jesus Christ and the Salvation of his shed Blood. The Way was truly the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one can stand in God’s presence without the covering – yes, a literal covering – of the Blood from the cross at Calvary. Absolutely no one.

I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16) So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” So here we have Paul saying in open court that he is certain of his innocence, far more so than the faith of his ‘religious’ accusers. All who were Jews at these proceedings had the Mosaic Law that was handed down by Moses, and Paul made sure everyone knew that he shared that same faith. Besides, the members of the Sanhedrin and the Temple Council who were present had known Paul since before his conversion, back when he was still known as ‘Saul of Tarsus’. So even though they pretended not to, they all knew exactly what Paul was talking about as he testified. But Paul still had more to say, and we will find out exactly what that was when we return next week for part 2 of Acts chapter 24. I look forward to seeing you back here again!

This week’s ongoing Bible teaching will be part 3 of Acts chapter 23

The Apostle Paul Is Transferred to Caesarea

[Acts chapter 23, verses 23-35]

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week as we left off at verse 22 of chapter 23, the Roman commander of the squadron in charge of making sure Paul remained in their custody has just received some new intelligence. Paul’s nephew had overheard a conversation between some members of the Sanhedrin. These men were going to kill Paul themselves with no middlemen involved. The plot to kill Paul was an inside job right from the start. This is precisely what Paul’s nephew (see verse 16 from last week’s study) had came to him and told him.

As you recall, Paul then sent his nephew directly to his Roman captors, to alert the commander of the murder plot against him, and that the commander was about to get played by the religious elect of Jerusalem. To this day, I am convinced that Paul’s nephew being in the right place at the right time to gather that critical piece of intelligence about the plot against his uncle was not coincidental. The Lord God Almighty can sometimes work in very mysterious ways. And so as we begin this week’s lesson, the Roman commander wastes no time in making his decision as to what to do with Paul next, beginning in verse 23.

23) Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, ‘Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spear-men to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. 24) Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.’ 25) He wrote a letter as follows: 26) ‘Claudius Lysias, To His Excellency, Governor Felix: Greetings. 27) This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. 28) I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. 29) I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. 30) When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.’” (Acts 23, verses 23-30)

There can be no doubt that the Roman commander at Jerusalem was very serious about making sure his orders were carried out with finesse, as you saw in verse 23. He was also a man who believed in taking care of details. So he amassed a formidable force to escort the apostle Paul to Caesarea on the assumption that the Sanhedrin would hire mercenaries to kill Paul by attacking those escorting him, and put Paul on a horse for his own safety as well. While the troops are being assembled, the commander pens, or dictates, a letter of explanation to Felix, the Roman governor of Caesaria and the surrounding territory. Verses 26-30 comprise the letter sent there by the Roman commander. So now let’s move on to part 2 of this week’s lesson, beginning at verse 31.

31) So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. 32) The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. 33) When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. 34) The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, 35) he said, ‘I will hear your case when your accusers get here.’ Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.” (Acts 23, verses 31-35)

So we see in verses 31-32 that Paul was escorted to Antipatris, a little town about halfway to their destination. He was held there until daylight for his own safety, until he could be escorted the rest of the way to Caesarea by the armed Roman contingent (Caesarea was about 100Km, or about 63 miles, north of Jerusalem). They presumably needed more soldiers during the night for security reasons. Even the Judea-based contingent of guards sent by their commander waited until the following morning before returning to their barracks in Jerusalem (see verse 32). Life back then was very dangerous indeed, so it’s no wonder that the human lifespan was so much shorter than now.

In verses 33-34, governor Felix receives the 2 centurions and their complements of troops from Jerusalem along with the apostle Paul. Reading the letter from the Roman commander, he asks Paul what province he is from. “Learning that he was from Cilicia, he said, ‘I will hear your case when your accusers get here.’ Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.” So evidently governor Felix had previous experience with the clique within the Temple at Jerusalem’s hierarchy, based on his response to Paul. Claudius had taken a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude about the whole affair, knowing full well that Paul’s accusers were a bunch of hypocrites (see Matthew 23). Paul is placed under guard at Herod’s palace in verse 35. It was likely a much better place than the soldier’s barracks at Jerusalem.

So the apostle Paul remains in Roman custody pending his hearing with Felix and his former compatriots from Jerusalem. What will be said and how will the hearing proceed? While the Jewish Temple delegation is presenting their case, what new evidence for any new charges does the Sanhedrin-affiliated consortium have against Paul? If they have no new evidence, Paul walks away a free man. If the Sanhedrin affiliates have new evidence against Paul, what is its nature? To find out Paul’s fate, be sure and return next week for part 1 of Acts chapter 24, as my ongoing series on the writings of the apostle Luke continue.