Let us ask some questions here about what you can imagine is the nature of Christian persecution around the world today.
About how many Christians are estimated to have lost their lives worldwide in 2016 because of their faith? A. 4,000 / B. 18,000 / C. 41,000 / D. 90,000
About how many Christians around the world face governmental opposition that to some extent inhibits their full exercise of faith? A. 140 million / B. 355 million / C. 490 million / D. 600 million.
The answer to both question is letter D – 90,000 killed and about 600,000,000 afflicted by authoritarian opposition (research done by The Center for New Religions). Christians are now the most persecuted religion in the world.
The trend of anti-Christian hostility is growing. Certain stories make the news prominently, like the killing of 44 Coptic Christians on Palm Sunday. But this is just the surface; it is happening in all corners of the earth. “There are many places on Earth where being a Christian is the most dangerous thing you can be,” Robert Nicholson of the Philos Project has said.
But this is actually nothing new, as hostility toward the gospel existed from the very beginning. Paul himself was of course an early persecutor. And he was an early victim as well.
Even after two years of imprisonment in Caesarea – 75 miles away from Jerusalem – the anger toward Paul had abated very little. In Acts 25 we read of the immediate raising of the issue of Paul the prisoner by the Jewish leadership as soon as a new governor (Festus) takes over power. There remains a plot to kill Paul. These are angry people. As Festus would like to please the Jews by getting Paul to Jerusalem, the Apostle knows that this would result in a loaded situation against him … besides the fact that he is fully innocent. So he asserts his rights to appeal to Caesar, where he will ultimately be sent.
By God’s grace we are not (yet) living under such a condition of hostility, though a gradual transition toward it is more imaginable than at any other time of my life. The trend is clear. A great many people hate the gospel message and the exclusive claim of Jesus Christ as the only way, truth and life.
Jesus said the world would hate us just as they hated him. The Scriptures teach in multiple places that opposition and persecution are to be expected as the normal condition of living the Christian life. But none of this should ever cause us to be knocked off pace in running the Life Race. So keep running, just like Paul.
Paul’s Trial before Festus
Acts 25:1 – Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, 2 where the chief priests and the Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. 3 They requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way. 4 Festus answered, “Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. 5 Let some of your leaders come with me, and if the man has done anything wrong, they can press charges against him there.”
6 After spending eight or ten days with them, Festus went down to Caesarea. The next day he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him. 7 When Paul came in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him. They brought many serious charges against him, but they could not prove them.
8 Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.”
9 Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?”
10 Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. 11 If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”
12 After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”
Festus Consults King Agrippa
13 A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. 14 Since they were spending many days there, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. He said: “There is a man here whom Felix left as a prisoner. 15 When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.
16 “I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over anyone before they have faced their accusers and have had an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges. 17 When they came here with me, I did not delay the case, but convened the court the next day and ordered the man to be brought in. 18 When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. 19 Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. 20 I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges. 21 But when Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.”
22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear this man myself.”
He replied, “Tomorrow you will hear him.”