The apostle Paul stood as a prisoner before Festus and King Agrippa, in Caesarea The record is in Acts 25-26. They heard the greatest offer the heart can hear. Paul’s news was that God was offering forgiveness for sins committed against Him. The cross was the price paid by Jesus, the One foretold in the Jewish Scriptures. The Roman Governor and the Idumean king, Agrippa seemed to have found this too much for their mind to handle. Festus said Paul was mad. Agrippa teased Paul by inferring he, Agrippa, was almost persuaded. This sums up two of the three responses to the message of the cross. The cry of Festus still echoes through the lips of others to-day. "You're mad!" Agrippa also has many ‘spiritual’ descendants who, like him, are ‘almost’. In that state they die.
Paul, a shackled prisoner though he was he spoke as a liberated man. Paul knew he had a destiny with Jesus. Here was Paul a prisoners of faith with an unshakeable hope in the risen Christ. Festus, Agrippa, Bernice and the others failed to realise they too were prisoners. Dressed in regal attire they were inwardly shackled by sin, guilt and fear. They wore the iron chains, not around their body, but around their souls.
We all are prisoners of something or someone. In speaking to the assembled court Paul testified to the fact he was on trial as a prisoner of hope. Such hope was bound up in the promise God had given to Israel. Later on he repeated this truth to Jewish leaders in Rome: ‘It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.’ In effect Paul was a prisoner twice over. One definition is in the literal sense of being in chains for his faith. The other was in the spiritual sense. He was a prisoner of Christ Jesus. On both occasions his hearers were either prisoners of despair, unbelief or playthings of their unholy desires. Paul held on to a promise. They clung to wishful thinking.
Paul a prisoner of Faith spoke to prisoners of unbelief. In Acts 25 and 26 are such words as ‘hope in what God has promised’: ‘God has raised the dead (referring to Jesus) to bring light into their darkness: to deliver from Satan’s power:’ ‘receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Christ.).’ Prisoners of unbelief throw out their taunts as they flaunt their unrestricted lifestyle. But in the silence the fears of the future or the 'skeletons' of the past come to haunt.
The Christian life is a paradox.
When Christ is our Saviour we are set free from condemnation by God's Word.
We are delivered from the kingdom of Darkness.
We are made clean within from the offending lifestyle of our past.
When Jesus is our Lord we discover the chains of gratitude, devotion and hope.
These become and expression of a relationship which leads to Heaven. They also say we are His ambassadors in chains of glory.
It sounds incongruous but it is real. True freedom is only found when we live in the environment for which we were created. For a brief moment a fish out of water might imagine it is free from its watery prison only to die disappointed. Those who reject the bonds of Christ Jesus live under the same disappointment. Their indifference to and rejection of Jesus and His invitation to life appears bold and carefree. Death without hope awaits.
As a prisoner of Christ, Paul found Humanity's true environment.
This is true for all who are Christ's!
It leads from this life, through death, into His presence.
Ray Hawkins November 27 2016.