POMP AND CEREMONY
"Agrippa said, 'I'd like to see this man and hear his story.'
"'Good,' said Festus. 'We'll bring him in first thing in the morning and you'll hear it for yourself.'
"The next day everybody who was anybody in Caesarea found his way to the Great Hall, along with the top military brass. Agrippa and Bernice made a flourishing grand entry and took their places. Festus then ordered Paul brought in." Acts 25:22-23 (The Message).
What is this? Some sort of circus or celebrity show? Why all the pomp and ceremony just for a man to defend himself against lying accusations? Was this about Paul or was it about King Agrippa? It's almost as though the town crier had gone through the city shouting, 'Hear ye, hear ye! King Agrippa is in town. Come and see him in the Grand Hall at 9 o'clock this morning!'
With the arrival of the VIPs and the accompanying military procession, everything was ready to bring in the prisoner. Amazing, isn't it, how God manages to shift the spotlight so that His servant and His word gets centre stage! Had Paul worked for months to plan this, he could not have arranged a better audience and a better opportunity to proclaim the message of Jesus. God is smart!
"Festus said, 'King Agrippa and distinguished guests, take a good look at this man. A bunch of Jews petitioned me first in Jerusalem, and later here, to do away with him. They have been most vehement in demanding his execution. I looked into it and decided that he had committed no crime. He requested a trial before Caesar and I agreed to send him to Rome. But what am I going to write to my master, Caesar? All the charges made by the Jews were fabrications, and I've uncovered nothing else.
"'That's why I've brought him before this company, and especially you, King Agrippa, so we can come up with something in the nature of a charge that will hold water. For it seems to me silly to send a prisoner all that way for a trial and not be able to document what he did wrong.'" Acts 25:24-27 (The Message).
Mmm! Festus was a slippery as an eel. He didn't have the guts to stand up to the Jews, knowing full well that Paul was innocent of their charges, but now that he could hide behind King Agrippa, he was willing to admit that Paul was no criminal. What was the point of this auspicious occasion? Did he grab the opportunity to exonerate himself in public and in front of Agrippa so that the authorities in Rome could not charge him for injustice against a Roman citizen?
But Festus was still caught in the horns of a dilemma and wanted King Agrippa to join him in a conspiracy. If Paul was innocent, why was he being sent to Rome to be tried in the imperial court for nothing he had done wrong? He and King Agrippa would have to come up with their own set of lies to justify sending him to Rome.
Caesar would not be interested in petty Jewish religious squabbles. What would be of concern would be anything that challenged his authority or claim to be "Lord", and that was exactly the issue that brought many believers in Jesus to trial, torture and execution. The currently reigning Caesar, Nero, arrogantly laid claim to the titles and office that belong to Jesus alone, such as Lord, Son of God, Prince of Peace and Saviour, and demanded to be worshipped as god. To deny these claims was treasonable and the sentence was death.
Festus and King Agrippa would have to fashion their charge against Paul in such a way that it appeared that he had deliberately and verbally challenged those claims and had laid himself open to Nero's wrath.
It was Paul's opportunity to shake off these predators once and for all.
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