The Prisoner in Perpetuity

Acts 26:24-32

And while Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.” And Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” And Paul said, “I would to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.” And the king arose and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them, and when they had drawn aside, they began talking to one another, saying, “This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

Because we keep the Bible caged by our traditions, teachings and beliefs based upon verses ripped out of context, here, we utilize the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics to unlock the Scripture, where; context is king, author’s aspirations to his audience are apex, genre is the general, expository exegesis of examples enlightens and dividing rightly the word of truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. Unless you are learning for yourself, you only know what you have been taught. Therefore we mine for gold in the Scripture, taking a long view and seeing the sublime string woven throughout the Scripture. CAGED=Context, Aspirations, Genre, Examples, Divide Rightly.

Therefore, we must consider the continuing context of Paul’s defense. If you are here for the first time, welcome, please read all my other missives first, because they build on themselves as the Bible does. I’m kidding, about reading the others, sort of. But I am not kidding about the Bible building on itself; it’s all woven together with a sublime string. For review and to get any newcomers up to speed; Jesus created the heavens and earth, including man, man fell, Jesus died on the cross to save sinners and rose on the third day, granting forgiveness from sin to those who believe in him, like the faith of Abraham and he will grant eternal life to those who truly believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For this hope, Paul is on trial in Caesarea before kings and governors, Jews and Greeks.

We consider the continuing context: “And while Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.'” I am not a big fan of the overuse of exclamation points but I also wonder why the translators used an exclamation point after Festus said, “Paul, you are out of your mind! But not after, “your great learning is driving you mad.” In the original Greek, Luke used no punctuation at all. Nevertheless, the context bears witness–Festus emphatically exclaiming the following, notice: “And while Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.'” We are students of the context and we remember that Festus didn’t raise his voice when he first heard Paul’s defense. We also remember that Festus defended Paul against death, feeling that he was saying nothing worthy of death. Through careful consideration of the continuing context, we have gotten to know Festus fairly well; not as well as we have Felix but we have read things including his asking Agrippa for advice concerning Paul–that is why we are here, seeing the results of that request. We also notice  that he follows the Roman laws. Therefore, I believe, Festus is playing to the crowd and Agrippa. Remember that Festus has already heard Paul’s defense in front of his accusers, with no such outburst but now he is in front of the leading men in his city. It’s almost as if Festus is trying to get a rise out of the crowd and possibly even a laugh or two. Strap on your sandals and picture yourself in the crowd as we continue to consider the context and see if Paul’s response bears witness to the emphatic exclamation of Festus.

“But Paul said, ‘I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.'” Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers can go on and on, writing and speaking about the response of Paul. Before we hit the highlights, let’s look at two passages, taking our vitamin E, Expository Exegesis of Examples.

Paul wrote to Timothy; “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me, in order that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was delivered out of the lion’s mouth.” And Jesus said to his disciples; “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves. But beware of men; for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues; and you shall even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not become anxious about how or what you will speak; for it shall be given you in that hour what you are to speak. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. And brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all on account of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. But whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you shall not finish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes.”

Context is king, correct? When did Jesus say he would come? Before they finished going through Israel as witnesses, not after Israel returns as a nation. But I digress, because everywhere we look, Jesus promised to come during their generation–the dispensationalists actually agree that the second coming isn’t the only coming, but they misplace the time and purpose. Notice that this passage is specifically about the 12 being sent out, nothing is said about Paul. But Paul is an apostle, who saw the risen Savior and was called by him to do the same sort of thing. The fact that this principle pertains to Paul is confirmed by his claim to Timothy. Once again, it wasn’t man who helped Paul but the Lord. Therefore it is no wonder that his response to Festus was beyond brilliant. There is some credence to the claim of Festus–in the same passage where Paul wrote to Timothy that everyone abandoned him during his defense but the Lord strengthened him, Paul also wrote to Timothy to bring his books and parchments. As a former Pharisee, Paul was used to studying, Festus probably pictured Paul as a nerd, but we also remember to take our vitamin E.

To the church in Galatia Paul writes; “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. Then after three years I went to Jerusalem.”

The vast majority of Paul’s learning was from the Lord by revelation. Notice the exchange again and his response to the soap-box proclamation of Festus; “‘Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.’ But Paul said, ‘I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.'” Again, it’s absolutely brilliant, the way in which Paul responded. We know Paul loved his books, scrolls actually, and Festus is poking fun at this. But we also know that Paul was instructed by Jesus. Festus grandstands, therefore Paul acknowledges him respectfully and quickly, with refutation, and then subtly switches to Agrippa, who is not grandstanding despite the great pomp at his presence. As Agrippa entered with much pomp, Festus is has now shown off for the crowd. Paul, ever-so-subtly shifts the focus awy from Festus and onto an exchange between Agrippa and himself. Paul absolutely acknowledged and answered Festus, but he did this quickly and concisely to satisfy the appetite of Festus for the dramatic but then takes away the soap-box from Festus. Again, it is absolutely brilliant, reminiscent of Jesus and the Pharisees and Sadducees. Except Paul doesn’t disrespect Festus, far from it, he acknowledges and answers Festus, even though he contradicts what Festus exclaimed. Paul ultimately told Festus, no, you are wrong. He gets away with it because Festus was in fact, grandstanding and knew it, using hyperbole to get a rise out of the crowd; and because he subtly shifts to the king. Paul also counters the hyperbole of “madness” by saying that he utters words of sober truth. This is the pivotal point where Paul switches from responding to Festus to appealing to Agrippa. Paul has shut down Festus and before anyone knows it, he question Agrippa and appeals to his knowledge, notice: “For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.”

We remember that king Agrippa was the great-grandson of Herod the great, the King of the Jews (although an Edomite by birth), at least in his own mind. Agrippa himself was the superintendent of the temple for a time. Agrippa was well versed in the goings on in the area at that time. Even Festus asking aid and advice from Agrippa is proof of this. Paul politely points out these details to Agrippa. Whether through family tradition, teachings in the temple or first hand knowledge with his own eyes, Agrippa has knowledge of the things of which Paul speaks. Paul points out, “this has not been done in a corner.” Which means that Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified and the followers of Jesus have made great gains, and the prophets promised this. Day to day the Scripture was read in the region. Paul’s question and Agrippa’s answer confirm this.

“‘King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.’ And Agrippa replied to Paul, ‘In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.'” Both the question and the answer speak volumes. Paul’s concerns are more than his own life, he knows he is going to Rome. This defense is not about whether he is going to Jerusalem to stand trial or to Rome. That part of the dispute has been settled–he is going to Rome. This defense is for them to ascertain exactly what Paul was saying and doing, so that Festus can write to Nero the specifics of the situation and the charges against him. Therefore Paul does what Paul does–reasoning with a religious, Jewish person that Jesus was the Messiah. Once again, after going to synagogue after synagogue, Paul preaches to another Jewish person after being almost assassinated in Jerusalem. But notice what happens, as it always happens.

“And Paul said, ‘I would to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.'” To the Jew first and also to the Greek, seem to be words by which Paul lived. Agrippa, although born in Italy and a Roman citizen and client king, was Jewish by conversion of his family to Judaism and born an ancestor of Abraham and Isaac. Paul preached Jesus, through the prophets, to him first but also to the Greeks present, including Festus. “I would to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.” Paul also has a sense of humor but really think about what he says when he says, “except for these chains.” I am sorry but a little grammar lesson is in order.

“These” is a demonstrative, plural pronoun which acts as an adjective, modifing the noun, “chains,” which means “close at hand.” Rather than “those,” which means something observed or seen which is not close to or in the posession of the speaker. Paul could have said, “except for my chains,” or, “except for the chains on me.” By Paul’s use of the demonstrative, plural pronoun “these chains,” the reader knows that Paul is in more than one chain. That is, Paul was a prisoner in chains as he gave his defense. Probably everyone who will ever read this missive, not that missive, will think to themselves, “why the grammar lesson on ‘these?'” Many people probably don’t know the part of speech of “these” and “those,” “this” and “that,” by definition but they certainly know how they are used. I doubt very much that anyone thought that when Paul said, “except for these chains,” he meant anything other than the chains in which he was bound. I don’t believe anyone would think that Paul was referring to someone else’s chains. Why then do many people think Jesus was referring to another generation other than his own when he says, “all these things shall come upon this generation?” Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t worry disciples, those things will happen to that generation.” Just as Jesus was referring to his generation, Paul is referring to his chains. There in lies the absolute irony; the only free man in the room, was bound as a prisoner. Nevertheless, the bound man preaches Jesus to his captors, using logic and reason, sincerely hoping for them to be as he was, except not only free from the curse of sin, but also of figurative and literal chains. I can’t think of a better example of what it means to be a christian.

Paul is to spend the rest of his life as a prisoner and probably is aware of this. Not a prisoner in a pit of a dungeon but more like a person on probation or pretrial, possibly on house arrest, where he has some freedoms but can’t go anywhere he desires on a whim–he is under constant custody and control, physically. Paul is not set free but set on a ship to sail to Rome, where we will see that he has much freedom for a prisoner but is a prisoner nonetheless. Notice that Paul was not set free, ironically; “And the king arose and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them, and when they had drawn aside, they began talking to one another, saying, ‘This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment.’ And Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.'” Perhaps I spoke too soon, perhaps Paul going to Rome is the best picture of what it means to be a christian. When we first read this passage, we cry, “no!” We want to go back in time and tell Paul, “don’t appeal to Caesar, you’re going to be set free.” It is not until we consider the greater context that we understand that Paul embraced his chains. Jesus told Paul, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.” But even before this happened, the Spirit indicated to many people, chains and affliction awaited Paul. “‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”‘ And when we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, ‘The will of the Lord be done!'” In his defense before the brethren, Paul also quoted Christ, “it is better to give than to receive.” Paul, after exhausting exhortation in Jerusalem, because of their unbelief, now has gaurded passage to Rome to preach the gospel there–completely counterintuitive​, but it shows us the transformation of Paul by the gospel of grace from Jesus. Paul had authority and power to persecute people who believed in Jesus, now he has no worldly authority​, but is actually a prisoner, worldy speaking, bringing the gospel to Rome, in chains and yet free in the Lord. Paul’s will lined up with the Lord’s will. That’s what it means to be a christian.

And while we have zoomed in on Paul, the Jewish apostle to the gentiles who consistently preached in the synagogues and even in Jerusalem, let’s not forget to zoom out and see the continuing context and sublime string of what Jesus promised this generation in Acts. “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell? Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate.” Paul was the former but became the latter and therefore we know without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus meant what he said because he sent the ultimate-one-of-them, to them, but unlike Paul, they wouldn’t change their minds. Nothing is left to do in Jerusalem but for the christians to flee when they see the abomination of desolation, some 7 or 8 years after Paul’s testimony to Agrippa.

We fail to see the severity of the situation and Paul’s imprisonment. Paul has been in custody for over two years now and will be for at least another two. Even while Paul was “free,” he was, as he oft wrote, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ. From every aspect and in every worldly way, Paul was mad, as Festus has exclaimed, from his point of view. Paul would have to be crazy, by the world’s standards, to go from synagogue to synagogue and place to place, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. But it is not only the world which would find Paul crazy, most christians would find Paul crazy if they truly realized the way in which Paul lived. We don’t get it because we don’t carefully consider the continuing context. According to the American Dream, Paul was a loser. He possessed no house, no garage, no transportation, no wife, no kids. The only person who was more antithetical to the American Dream was Jesus, himself. Paul paved the path for us to live like kings and queens, as well, the other martyrs in history have also.

As christians, we fight tooth and nail against the crumbling culture around us, we fight against the loss of the American dream, and we fight against each other. Many believers ascertain an apostasy in the church based on traditional teachings which say that in the last days of the world as we know it, mockers will come and people will place leadership in the churches that will appeal to their various appetites. But that is ripped out of context and does not consider church history. Never looking in the mirror to see oneself in the light of Scripture, we hurl accusations against anyone who believes something other than our taught traditions. My question to these people is, are we really worse off than those who came before us? Is this generation more heretical than that generation which came before? Forget about apostate Israel, who didn’t recognize the time of her visitation. Forget about the church in Corinth who had some getting drunk at communion while others went without. Forget about the church in Galatia which abandoned life of faith for a life of Law. Forget about those in literal Laodicea whom the Lord wanted to vomit out of his mouth. Forget about the corruption of the Catholic church and the antisemitic atmosphere during the reformation. Go back a mere sixty years to a southern, baptist church and count the white people in the black church and count the black people in the white church. We have, to this day, an apostasy in the church but this is not indicative of a rapture rescue. History repeats itself and the Lord who reigns in heaven reminds us of this, and that. We simply don’t take the long view of Scripture, constantly considering the continuing context.

Therefore I beg everyone to carefully consider the life of the Lord and that of the prisoner Paul. Neither had house nor home. Both walked a million miles to be persecuted by Jews and gentiles alike. Both were bound and brought before the government. Yet we think this generation has it worse than that generation. We mock the martyrs throughout history when we believe that we are the terminal generation because “things are getting so bad.” In a hypocrisy of hypocrisies, we in the west who have life on this earth as easy as anyone else in history, believe that we will be rescued from the best-as-of-yet world, while the martyrs suffer not so far away. We are taught that this generation of Jews will have two thirds of them slaughtered while they live in relative peace with their neighbors, comparatively speaking, as opposed to that generation who killed the Christ, persecuted Peter, Paul, Stephen, James and John. Today, after atrocities of the past, Israel aids in recovery of enemies, shows restraint and has the most modern of everything in the middle east, including medicine, wastewater management, irrigation and the like. We portray ourselves as pro Israel but are actually anti Arab, anti Asian and truthfully, antisemitic, because, we believe that a horrific holocaust awaits them. The church in Iran is bursting at the seams as is the church in China. But because Americans don’t swear on the Bible anymore and because transgender people are reading to little kids in libraries, we are told that the world faces an immanent end. But Jesus said to “make no oath at all” and “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes.'” And when was the last time we read to little kids in libraries? I don’t want our racist, drunken, mob-ruled country back, I want a redeemed country governed by God’s grace and not his Laws which  we won’t be able to keep (it’s been tried.) A redeemed country where abortion abolition is apex and will be looked back on as abhorrent as the antebellum south, shunned like slavery is now. Can we imagine a day where we look back at ourselves as monsters in the way we do concerning the middle passage and the slave trade, only over abortion? Unfortunately, that would require a lot of work and submission, maybe even chains and afflictions, mocking and scoffing like the Republicans faced from the democratic party as they took their stand over slavery. Also, as the democratic party marched the Choctaw, Cherokee and Seminole off their land, and as the democratic party intered Japanese-Americans in “camps” during world war two, among many other monstrosities, the horrific holocaust of the slaughter of the unborn needs to be a memory and a reminder of our self-centered depravity. Like Paul, we may be in chains, shipwrecked, stoned, beaten and mocked, having no home, moving from place to place, working with our own hands on a cursed land, in fear of the circumcised and the uncircumcised, the weight of the churches on our backs, preaching the gospel to everyone. Why then would we walk away from dispensationalism, which promises us that we will be rescued? Is this how we want the Lord to find us, isn’t quite, or at all, the correct question. The continuing context and sublime string of the Bible is clear. Look at Paul, Jesus reigns from heaven; he finds us everywhere and every day. We truly resemble the ones “holding to a form of godliness but denying its power.”

Perhaps it’s time to truly count our blessings. Perhaps it’s time to take a long view of Scripture and redemptive history. Perhaps it’s time to do as Jesus said and take our standard of measure and apply it to ourselves. If we believe that in the last days, we will appoint teachers to tickle our itching ears; I ask, which is more ticklish, chains and afflictions or a rapture rescue? Nevertheless, this is ripping that out of context. Those words applied to that generation. But these words apply to this generation; “And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ And He said, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true.’ And He said to me, ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.'”

Are we all called to be exact images of Christ; or for that matter, Paul? Or did Jesus pave the way for the baby-boomers to dwell in paneled houses while the temple continued to deteriorate? We can’t be Christ, but he is our example. Dwell in your homes but desire to leave a legacy rather than leave prematurely. Perhaps we all have a Rome in front of us, in perpetual,  figurative chains. If not, true chains will be the legacy of which we leave our children and grandchildren. When a present, presidential candidate’s campaign doesn’t fire a man after being arrested 3 times in a week, who has stated that violence and gulags may be necessary, it doesn’t mean we are in the last hours of the last days. It means that the martyrs of this century and all centuries prior were busy doing the Lord’s work while we took their sufferings for granted. The “meek will inherit the earth,” therefore we don’t fight, nevertheless we should humble ourselves and rely upon the Lord and his power, like Paul, in not only his defense, but his life. One cannot help but notice the juxtaposition of Saul the Pharisees and Paul the apostle, if one takes the long-view of Scripture and does not rip verses out of context as the mega-church pastors do. Apostasy is easy, it always has been and we would know this if we kept Paul’s letter to Timothy in its context. Taking the long view is difficult because it requires reading when we want to be doing anything else. Do you remember your prom? Do you remember what movie you last saw in the theater? Do you remember what was on TV last night, what was on the news, the answer to final Jeopardy, the final phrase on the Wheel of Fortune, the headlines? Do you remember your last vacation and the one before that? Do you have to go shopping? Is something great on Netflix? Do the kids have soccer practice? Are you tired? There are thousands of excuses to rip verses out of context due to time restraints, but the rapture is not one of them. My only point is Paul was perceived as mad by the grandstanding Festus, but what about us?

 

 

 

 

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