GOD IN THE SHADOWS
"Three days after Festus arrived in Caesarea to take up his duties as governor, he went up to Jerusalem. The high priests and top leaders renewed their vendetta against Paul. They asked Festus if he wouldn't please do them a favour by sending Paul to Jerusalem to respond to their charges. A lie, of course -- they had revived their old plot to set an ambush and kill him along the way.
"Festus answered that Caesarea was the proper jurisdiction for Paul, and that he himself was going back there in a few days. ‘You're perfectly welcome,' he said, 'to go back with me then and accuse him of whatever you think he's done wrong.'" Acts 25:1-5 (The Message).
Like the proverbial elephant, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem had not forgotten about Paul. Felix' indecision had not let him off the hook as far as they were concerned. He was still a thorn in their side and they were determined to annihilate him whatever it took. There was new blood in control and now was their opportunity to get around Festus before he could hear Paul's side of the story.
Grabbing the chance to get him off guard, the religious leaders casually asked Festus to send Paul back to Jerusalem on the pretext that they would give him a hearing there, but they knew that, once Paul was dead, Festus could do nothing about it. It would not be their fault if he were murdered on the way to Jerusalem.
Fortunately for Paul, Festus didn't buy that one! He was either too familiar with the rules of his job to agree to their request or he smelt a rat and chose to protect Paul and give him a fair hearing. Once again, there was a Higher Hand guiding Paul's affairs so that he would not fall into the hands of his murderous opponents. Rome had no issue with him, so it was better for him to remain in Caesarea until someone had the courage to make a decision. God said he was going to Rome and that settled it!
When one takes a step back and on hindsight, one can see that, as long as Paul remained in the territory of Israel, he was not safe. Had he been acquitted and released, the Jews would have made sure their assassin was in place before he had a chance to get out of the country. God was surely watching over His son and, as unpleasant as it was for him to be imprisoned indefinitely, he was safe where he was until his passage to Rome under Roman guard, was assured.
Paul's story should be of great encouragement to God's children. King David assured us, and that after years of experiencing God's protection through many dangerous situations, that all the days ordained for us were written in His book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:16 - NIV). Not only has He ordained the length of our days, but He has also planned each day in advance.
That does not mean that He treats us as puppets or as pawns on a chess board. He honours His gift of choice far too much to do that, but it does mean that every day He has given us is packed with the potential to live it with Him and for Him.
Paul had come to know, through the hazardous life he had lived as a missionary in a hostile world, that he was indestructible until his work was done. He did not waste time worrying about his safety. He lived to the full in the assurance that it was God's responsibility to take care of him, and he could get on with the business of God's kingdom without wasting energy on what he could not control.
We live in the shadow of the Almighty. We cannot see where He is going but we can see where He has been and what He has done. Is that not enough to convince us that "Our God reigns"?
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