God Doesn’t Care How We Look, He Cares about Our Hearts – (Acts 25)

Paul has been kept in custody by Governor Felix for two years in the prison in Caesarea. It seems Felix had some trouble making decisions, for he couldn’t decide what to do with Paul, nor could he make a decision on faith in Christ (see Apostle Paul Before Felix). As a matter of fact, because of his inability to be a decisive leader, Felix is replaced as governor by Porcius Festus. It is here we pick up our story in Acts Chapter 25.

    Vs 1-3 Now when Festus had come to the province, after three days he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem. Then the high priest and the chief men of the Jews informed him against Paul; and they petitioned him, asking a favor against him, that he would summon him to Jerusalem—while they lay in ambush along the road to kill him.

The same Jews had attempted the same plot two years before but with Governor Felix. Isn’t it amazing that they have such bitterness and hatred that they have carried this plot in their hearts for two years! Yet, we all do that don’t we? We carry junk in our hearts -bitterness, anger, and hard feelings- for years. But that’s not what God wants percolating in our hearts.

    You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
    ~ Leviticus 19:18 (Jesus quotes part of this same verse in Matthew 22:39)

    So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
    ~ James 1:19-20

“The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” When you and I are angry it is so damaging to our own hearts! As a matter of fact, we can let it brew in our heart so fully that the “root of bitterness” quickly becomes sin.

    Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;
    ~ Hebrews 12:14-15

    Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
    ~ Ephesians 4:31-32

Paul tells in Ephesians that forgiveness is the key! Oh it’s hard to forgive, no doubt about that. But that’s what God tells us we need to do.

When these men plotted against Paul two years ago, God intervened to foil their evil scheme. God has plans for each and every one of us. If we follow The Lord and allow Him to rule in our life, no one else can stop God’s plan. God halted their assassination scheme the first time because He had other plans for Paul, and God stops their plan again here in chapter 25.

    Vs 4-6 But Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was going there shortly. “Therefore,” he said, “let those who have authority among you go down with me and accuse this man, to see if there is any fault in him.” And when he had remained among them more than ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day, sitting on the judgment seat, he commanded Paul to be brought.

It’s always awesome to see that God can work in the lives of non-believers like Festus to effect His plan! Festus has no idea that God is using Him, yet that doesn’t matter.

    And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
    ~ Romans 8:28

God works all things together for good

Paul loves God.
Paul is called according to God’s purpose.
God works all things together for good in Paul’s life.

That is exactly what God wants to do for you and for me. Bad things happen in our lives. Bad things happen to people around us. But if we step way back and try to look at life from the bigger picture perspective, we come to realize that God can use those bad things for His good work and His will.

The following story is told of George Mueller (taken from http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/church-history-for-kids/george-mueller-orphanages-built-by-prayer-11634869.html)

“The children are dressed and ready for school. But there is no food for them to eat,” the housemother of the orphanage informed George Mueller. George asked her to take the 300 children into the dining room and have them sit at the tables. He thanked God for the food and waited. George knew God would provide food for the children as he always did. Within minutes, a baker knocked on the door. “Mr. Mueller,” he said, “last night I could not sleep. Somehow I knew that you would need bread this morning. I got up and baked three batches for you. I will bring it in.”

Soon, there was another knock at the door. It was the milkman. His cart had broken down in front of the orphanage. The milk would spoil by the time the wheel was fixed. He asked George if he could use some free milk. George smiled as the milkman brought in ten large cans of milk. It was just enough for the 300 thirsty children.

What an incredible story! And yet, it wouldn’t be an incredible story if they already had plenty to eat and lots of money to buy everything they needed. God uses difficult circumstances in our lives to reveal Himself and to glorify Himself.

How do I look?

    Vs 7-12 When he had come, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood about and laid many serious complaints against Paul, which they could not prove, while he answered for himself, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all.” But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged before me concerning these things?” So Paul said, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know. For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, “You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!”

Paul knows he is innocent and has done nothing wrong, and he “appealed to Caesar”. As a Roman citizen, Paul had a right to a trial before Emperor Nero Caesar. But we also get a small glimpse into the heart of Governor Festus when the verse tells us Festus was “wanting to do the Jews a favor”.

We could talk about those times when others around us want to look impressive, smarter, more witty, or more powerful than us; and we wind up taking the brunt of their desire to look good to others. But God wants us looking at our own hearts. Have there been times when -in our own heart- we wanted to look good, or smarter, or more impressive than others? Or when we wanted the “favor” of others and that meant we would put another person down? Many of us have certainly done that. Here, Festus is more concerned with pleasing the Jewish leaders rather than pleasing God. Many times in my life I’ve been guilty of wanting to please someone else rather than pleasing the Lord.

    The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.
    ~ Proverbs 29:25

The wise writer of Proverbs tells us trusting, fearing, or pleasing men is a trap, but we can have security if we put our trust in God.

    For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ. ~ Galatians 1:10

    But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.
    ~ 1 Thessalonians 2:4

Paul tells us in two different letters that we have a choice to make: If we want to please men, we won’t be pleasing to God. And if we live to please God, it won’t be pleasing to men. It’s time to choose sides. Festus had a choice then, and we have a choice now.

    Vs 13-22 And after some days King Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to greet Festus. When they had been there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying: “There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix, about whom the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, when I was in Jerusalem, asking for a judgment against him. To them I answered, ‘It is not the custom of the Romans to deliver any man to destruction before the accused meets the accusers face to face, and has opportunity to answer for himself concerning the charge against him.’ Therefore when they had come together, without any delay, the next day I sat on the judgment seat and commanded the man to be brought in. When the accusers stood up, they brought no accusation against him of such things as I supposed, but had some questions against him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. And because I was uncertain of such questions, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there be judged concerning these matters. But when Paul appealed to be reserved for the decision of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I could send him to Caesar.” Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.”

King Agrippa was the son of King Herod Agrippa. So this king was Agrippa II, and he was also the great-grandson of King Herod the Great (the Jewish king at the time of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem).

From David Guzik: “Herod Agrippa II ruled a client kingdom of the Roman Empire to the northeast of Festus’ province, and was reputed to be an expert in Jewish customs and religious matters. Though he did not have jurisdiction over Paul in this case, his hearing of the matter would be helpful for Festus. Of this King Agrippa, his great-grandfather had tried to kill Jesus as a baby; his grandfather had John the Baptist beheaded; his father had martyred the first apostle, James. Now Paul stands before the next in line of the Herods, Herod Agrippa.”

What do they think of me?

If Paul had been worried about this hearing, he would have been putting his trust in men. Certainly Paul knew the history of each of the Herods and what they had done to Jesus, John the Baptist, and James. But Paul puts his life and his trust in the God of the universe and the creator of all.

    It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.
    ~ Psalm 118:8

    Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.
    ~ Psalm 146:3

    I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. ~Job 42:2

Paul knows that God is on His throne, He is in control, and He has a plan for Paul!

    Vs 23-27 So the next day, when Agrippa and Bernice had come with great pomp, and had entered the auditorium with the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at Festus’ command Paul was brought in. And Festus said: “King Agrippa and all the men who are here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole assembly of the Jews petitioned me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying out that he was not fit to live any longer. But when I found that he had committed nothing deserving of death, and that he himself had appealed to Augustus, I decided to send him. I have nothing certain to write to my lord concerning him. Therefore I have brought him out before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the examination has taken place I may have something to write. For it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner and not to specify the charges against him.”

Festus is still trying hard to please the Jews. He is also concerned that he will appear incompetent to Emperor Claudius if he sends a man up for a trial with little to charge him with. King Agrippa is a Jew and knows the Jewish law well. The Governor is hoping that perhaps Agrippa can help him make a case or conjure some sort of charges or reason to be sending Paul up to the Emperor for a trial.

I know so many friends who are laser-focused on how they look: their clothes, their hair, the car they drive, how skinny they are, or what kind of physical shape they are in. Do you know God doesn’t care one bit about any of that? That is us seeking “to please men” rather than God. We all rationalize it in a variety of ways. But when it comes down to it, God truly doesn’t care what I look like to other people. He cares about what’s in my heart. (Yes I agree that God wants us to be good stewards of our bodies, our money, and our ‘stuff’. That’s not what we’re talking about. He’s concerned with our heart.)

Who are we trying to please? Who does God want us to please?

Other great resources:

I’ve Got This

and

The Heart of Man Reflects Man

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