The Appeal

" 'No one can hand me over to them, I appeal to Caesar.' " Then when Festus had conferred with council, he answered, 'You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go.' " Acts 25:11-12

From the mob's grip to the Roman Commander Lysisas, from The Commander to The Council, from The Council back to The Commander, from The Commander to Governor Felix, from Governor Felix to Governor Festus, from Governor Festus to King Agrippa, Paul appeared to be an impotent pawn on a giant chessboard. To the untrained eye, Paul looked as if he was being maneuvered by the hands of powerful men. He was not.

Appearances can be deceiving, because deception is the work of the enemy. Perception is the ministry of The Spirit of God. Praying people must learn to tell the difference, by praying their way through a crisis, rather than talking their way out of it. Whining while waiting is not prayerfulness, just restlessness posing as piety.

Praying does not end the crisis, but it can make sense out of it. Prayerfulness is an admission of helplessness, that recognizes the crisis is so great and so prolonged that a praying person has come to the point where they must admit they are at the end of their rope.

Prayerlessness only encourages a person to make more rope. Postponing prayer doesn't end the crisis. It only ends up prolonging the capacity of the enemy to keep up appearances. Prayer exposes the enemy for the deceiver that he is, and replaces his deception with The Spirit's perception.

Yesterday, Christmas Day, my father came home from the ICU wing of the hospital. From a 2:00AM ambulance ride to the ER, in a pouring down rainstorm, to the mind-numbing scene of Dad's lifeless eyes on the ER gurney, the last six days have been an emotional rodeo.

As we prepared Dad for his trip back to his own home, he said softly, "One of my favorite lessons that I have learned in life is, 'The best is yet to come.' " Dealing with the mountain of paperwork, last minute instructions from the nurses, finding a wheelchair, and deciphering the new list of meds to be picked up at the pharmacy gave me little time to reflect on this. I heard it. I just couldn't receive it. Can I get a witness?

Note to self: In your Dad's 91 years, he has seen a few crises, personal and national. Take his word for it. When you come to the end of your rope. Stop making rope.

In Paul's case, his protective custody crisis had lasted more than two years. During his time in God's Waiting Room, Paul was given a forum to speak of his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to the most powerful people of his day. While on house arrest, in Herod's palace, in the port city of Caesarea, Paul had access to his friends, and an audience with his foes. He took full advantage of both.

Politicians like Felix and Festus had one thing in common. They both wanted to appear to be doing more than they actually were. The both made a point to do the Jews a favor, while keeping their Emperor happy. When push came to shove, they leaned towards Rome, not Jerusalem. Roman Law wouldn't allow them to throw Paul under the bus, but they were always entertaining the thought of kicking him to the curb. They were graduates of The Pontius Pilate School of Leadership and Political Expediency.

When Festus arrived in port, he wasted no time making the trip from the seashore to the mountains of Jerusalem to meet with the influential Jews of the city. They encouraged Festus to send Paul to them so they could apply Jewish Justice. To be clear, this included an ambush somewhere between Caesarea and Jerusalem. After more than two years, nothing is said of "The Famished Forty" who had pledged not to eat until they had killed Paul. But I digress.

"And the chief priests, and the leading men of the Jews brought charges against Paul, and they were urging him, requesting a concession against Paul, that he might be brought to Jerusalem (at the same time, setting an ambush to kill him on the way). v. 2-3

Festus was no fool, but he instinctively knew when he was being played for one. He said, "let the influential men among you go there with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them prosecute him." v. 5

After eight to ten days in Jerusalem, Festus took his seat on the tribunal in Caesarea, and had Paul brought before him and "the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem." v. 7

Paul proclaimed his innocence before the Jews, and Festus feigned his willingness to assist them. "But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, 'Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem to stand trial before me on these charges?' But Paul said, "I am standing before Ceasar's tribunal...I appeal to Caesar." v. 10-11

With this one statement, Paul thwarted the conniving of Festus, and the conspiring of The Jews. By appealing to Caeasar, Paul identified with his Roman citizenship, not his Jewish heritage. God had placed Paul in the right city at the right time in order to become a free born citizen of Rome. This afforded him a superior status to that of the most influential Jew ins Jerusalem. It also granted him the protection of the most powerful Roman in Caeasarea.

Paul was not a victim of circumstances, or a speed bump for the rich and powerful. He was a man on a mission. He was not turning his back on The Jews. His heart would always break, and his prayers would never end for them. His back was turned to the city of Jerusalem, out of necessity for the mission, not out of resentment. His eyes would be focused on Rome, but they would always weep for the his countrymen.

"At the same time, you need to know that I carry with me at all times a huge sorrow. It’s an enormous pain deep within me, and I’m never free of it. I’m not exaggerating—Christ and the Holy Spirit are my witnesses. It’s the Israelites . . . If there were any way I could be cursed by the Messiah so they could be blessed by him, I’d do it in a minute. They’re my family. I grew up with them. They had everything going for them—family, glory, covenants, revelation, worship, promises, to say nothing of being the race that produced the Messiah, the Christ, who is God over everything, always. Oh, yes!" Romans 9:1-5 THE MESSAGE

Praying for our enemies keeps our hearts tender to the touch of The Spirit, while carrying out the very mission that inflames their hatred for us. Paul was able to keep his focus on his mission without turning the abuse he received from his enemies into an excuse to hate them for it.

Paul ran the race towards Rome, by laying aside the weight of his IOUs. Carrying the physical chains, and feeding the spirit of "I OWE YOU ONE" would have become too great a burden to bear. Somewhere in The Waiting Room, Paul found the grace to run the race. When he yoked up with the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul rolled all of those IOUs onto the shoulders of The One who said on the cross, "Paid in full."

Prayer is The Appeal to Christ, to make sense out of the senseless, to make right out of wrong, and God's best out of the enemy's worst. Don't settle for anything less. TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!