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Paul Appeals to Caesar

After two years in prison, Paul receives a hearing before the new governor Festus, who suggests to Paul that he return to Jerusalem, treating his case as a local Jewish matter (under Festus’ supervision) rather than a matter of Roman justice. This is the question: is the gospel something to be batted around by fractious Jewish rabbis under the eye of a Roman referee, or is the resurrection of Jesus a public truth for all the world to hear? Which is it going to be? Go big or go home?

Paul’s answer is clear: “I appeal to Caesar!” He is convinced that the gospel must go to Rome. The whole plan of the book of Acts, outlined in Acts 1:8, called for worldwide witness. In addition, Paul was promised by Jesus Christ in Acts 23 that he would testify in Rome. That promise has been delayed for years, and if something doesn’t change, then Paul will remain in prison forever, since this latest hearing went exactly like the one two years earlier: wild accusations, a reasonable defense, and no judicious way out of the impasse for the Roman ruler. So Paul demands a trial before the emperor.

But what does it mean that Paul “appeals to Caesar?” Does Paul think that Caesar has the right to judge Jesus? No. Paul is not placing Jesus on trial before Caesar. He is planning to testify about Jesus before Caesar, but it is Paul’s action of testifying, not the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and Lordship, that Caesar will be asked to judge. Caesar does have the right to judge Paul, a Roman citizen, and he does have the authority weigh in on the preaching of the gospel in Rome’s territory, and so Paul the Roman leverages his citizenship to give Paul the Apostle an opportunity to bear witness.

Of course, if Caesar declares that preaching the resurrection and living like a Christian are illegal, then Christians know what to do: “We must obey God, rather than men.” But so far, Paul is not arguing that Rome’s laws are wrong. In Acts, Rome has always permitted Christianity, even protected her at times. Paul is simply arguing that his preaching is not illegal. “I have not committed any offense against Caesar.”

But even as he makes this defense, Paul is not content with a “live-and-let-live” strategy. Jesus did not come into the world so that He could co-rule along with Caesar. Part of Paul’s gospel is the message that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ, which entails that Caesar is called to render his kingdom and authority to Jesus. That is why Paul must go to Rome. Paul isn’t appealing to Caesar so that Caesar can judge Jesus. Paul wants to stand before the emperor so that Jesus can judge Caesar.

The application for us comes from the fact that we have inherited the mission that Paul so boldly advanced by appealing to Caesar. Our goal, like Paul’s, must not simply be personal religious freedom, but the glory of God through the proclamation of the gospel of King Jesus, resulting in every knee bowing and every tongue confessing Jesus Christ as Lord. The means to that end is the preaching of the gospel. And so if anyone tries to hinder our preaching or our faithful witness, we need to force the issue of whether our presidents and kings will permit us to preach as peaceful citizens or whether they will make rebels of us all. The way we force the issue is by more preaching that necessitates a choice – kiss the Son, or rebel against Him.

We cannot be content with ministry in Jerusalem, with the freedom to talk about Jesus among ourselves. This gospel must be preached not only in church, but also to the uttermost parts of the earth. All men must hear the good news that Jesus Christ is king, and that through His sacrifice on the cross, He has paid for the sins of the world, so that all who repent and believe, even caesars and presidents, can become citizens of His heavenly kingdom. So whatever part you have to play, embrace this mission for the glory of Jesus Christ. The gospel is not just something for the church to enjoy; it is good news for the whole world. Go therefore, and disciple the nations.

Posted on Wednesday, June 17, 2015 by CJ Bowen