10 June 2011

"... they had certain points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, but whom Paul asserted to be alive." (v. 19)


Paul was by this time being held in Caesarea, and was at the mercy of the imperial authorities, the accusations of the leaders of the Jewish community and the misunderstanding and prejudice of them both. The Roman governor of the province, Festus, was caught in a cleft stick: he was willing to hand Paul over to the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, as the Jewish leaders were insistent upon pressing the charges against him. Paul, however, not only claimed himself to be innocent of all such charges, but also insisted upon his right to be tried under Roman imperial law. Yet even in that context, we hear that the accusers did not charge him with any of the crimes that Festus was expecting (verse 18). There are very strong echoes in the story of the trial of Jesus and the inability of either Roman or Jewish authorities to bring a substantial and convincing case against him (see Luke 23:1-12).

In the absence of any tangible 'crimes', the disagreements swirling around Paul focus on the death of 'a certain Jesus', and on Paul's claim that he is alive. Any listener familiar with the unfolding events leading to the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, would feel the tension mounting in Paul's story. We note the same unholy alliance of political and religious power, united in their reluctance and inability to dismiss a fabricated case against the prisoner, out of fear of the consequences. The irony being that maintaining the uneasy stability of the Pax Romana became the reason for nailing to the cross the one who came as the Prince of Peace. In the case of Paul, his personal testimony to the risen and living Christ, and the freedom he had found in following him, became the cause of his own imprisonment and loss of liberty. Yet at every point Paul continues to preach Christ and proclaim the gospel (good news).

To Ponder

Have there been times when your own commitment to Christ has been misunderstood or misrepresented by others? What happened?

Why do you think that the religious authorities were so hostile to Paul's own account of a profound and life-changing religious experience?

How do you think Paul sustained his faith during this extended time of trial and uncertainty? What might you learn from this?

Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Liz Smith

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