The Trials of Paul
We're getting close to the end of Acts, and Paul's getting close to Rome. I'm hoping our Coffee Break group will be open to continuing the story through the Epistles. Anyway, here's this week's study:
(23) The Trials of Paul
Paul has been held in Caesarea for two years now, first by Felix, then by Festus; and he has finally appealed to Caesar. At some point the Romans will have to send him to Rome to resolve his case.
Trial before Agrippa and Festus
1. Read Acts 25:13-15. This takes place just after Paul’s appeal. Why might Festus discuss the case with Agrippa? (Agrippa II was the last Roman/Jewish king in Palestine. He was a descendant of Herod the Great and is recorded as being very pro-Rome. Bernice was his sister; there were various rumors about Agrippa’s relationship with her.)
2. Read Acts 25:16-17. What does the way Felix addresses the problem tell us about his relationship with Agrippa?
3. Read Acts 25:18-21. What part of the Sanhedrin vs Paul case seems to have caught Felix’s imagination? What do you think he hopes for from Agrippa? And how do you think anyone was able to record this conversation?
4. Read Acts 25:22-27. Are Felix and Agrippa “reasonable” men? How do you view this scene, as Paul is brought in? And who do you think is viewing it?
5. Read Acts 26:1-3. Paul “thinks himself happy” in spite of the fact that everything seems to have gone wrong. Why? How can we apply Paul’s attitude in our own lives?
6. Read Acts 26:4-8. What’s the most important point about Paul’s argument? Why should this be particularly appealing to Agrippa, as a Romanized Jew? Why should it continue to be particularly important today?
7. Read Acts 26:9-11. Paul could say the Jews are evil to conspire against him. Instead he confesses that he also conspired against Christians. What does this tell us about Paul? Are there situations where Christian communities might do well to confess that we’ve not behaved perfectly in the past?
8. Read Acts 26:12-18. Paul declares his mission, as given to him by God. Where does Agrippa fit into this mission? What about us?
9. Read Acts 26:19-23. Is Paul speaking to Agrippa as a Jew, a Gentile, or both?
10. Read Acts 26:24. Why is Festus so upset?
11. Read Acts 26:25-27. If Agrippa says he believes the prophets, what will that make him?
12. Read Acts 26:28-29. If he really believes the prophets, what will that make him? What has Paul done by tying his Jewish and Christian beliefs so closely together in front of Festus, and why is it important? Are there times when we might witness more effectively by remembering out Old Testament background?
13. Read Acts 26:30-32. So... should Paul have appealed to Rome? How can we tell the difference between stubbornness, pride, and obedience in our own lives?
14. How has Paul refined his message during the years of imprisonment? Does this make him more ready for Rome?
Trial by Shipwreck
1. It’s probably AD59 or 60 by now. The journey to Rome is much more risky that the journeys Paul has undertaken so far, and will involve a real ocean voyage rather than short trips close to shore. Timing and weather will be really important. Has God ever asked you to do something more risky than things you would normally attempt?
2. Read Acts 27:1-2. Do you remember Aristarchus? (Read Acts 19:29, 20:4) Luke is probably on the ship as well. What sort of atmosphere do you imagine among the Christian contingent? How might Paul feel now he’s finally heading for Rome?
3. Read Acts 27:3. Who might Paul have visited near Sidon?
4. Read Acts 27:4-8. What is happening to the weather? Do you suppose anyone was tempted to call this a sign and think Paul shouldn’t be traveling to Rome? Would you have been tempted?
5. Read Acts 27:9-12. The centurion has to choose between the advice of a seasoned sea-captain and the advice of a landlubber. Why doesn’t he believe Paul? How do you react when people don’t listen to you or take your advice?
6. Read Acts 27:13-20. The ship is being driven out to sea. They bring in the skiff (usually it was towed behind). They bind the ship in cables to help avoid being torn apart. They take precautions to avoid the “Bermuda triangle” of their day (sands off the coast of Africa). They lighten the load to reduce the chance of hitting submerged rocks. And they get lost – they can’t see the stars to tell them where they’re going. Are we ever tempted to give up hope? Should we be?
7. Read Acts 27:21-26. Is the centurion more likely to listen to Paul’s advice or the sea-captain’s now?
8. Read Acts 27:27-32. Does it surprise you that the sailors are more willing to listen to Paul than to trust their own experience? How does Paul’s prophecy of running aground fit with what’s happening?
9. Read Acts 27:33-38. What is the significance of eating then throwing out the wheat?
10. Read Acts 27:39-41. The details make this all ring true but why, humanly speaking, might Luke tell this in so much detail?
11. Read Acts 27:42-44. Why might soldiers want to kill the prisoners?
12. Read Acts 28:1. They’ve gone a long way from where they intended. But they’re also a lot closer to their destination now. Malta used to be a Phoenician trading colony. The people probably didn’t speak Greek, but they were just as civilized as the Jews, and wintering on Malta would not be a great hardship. They’re certainly not going to set sail for Rome in a hurry though – no major sea travel takes place in winter. So... How do you react when you had something planned and God sends unexpected delays?
13. Which trials do you suppose Paul found harder to deal with – religious trials before the Sanhedrin, legal trials before courts of Rome, or natural trials on the ocean? Which do we find harder to cope with?