Paul had spent many a Sabbath in a dungeon cell.

Whatever day it was when the governor Felix put Paul under guard, to languish alone until his “accusers” arrived, he undoubtedly found worship, prayer, the reciting of scripture he had committed to memory, a comfort as the long hours dragged on each day.

Perhaps, like many before him, Paul had scratched a mark on one of the four stone walls that surrounded him. Each white score in the dark masonry would attend a day. Perhaps Paul knew morning had arrived when the jailor brought him food. Perhaps he had a high window which let in a little sun and sea air. Perhaps, as Paul etched a fifth mark—a hash across the first four—he would have heard footsteps approaching, the jangle of keys on their ring, voices growing louder, and finally, the clink and scrape of locks, the groan and shudder of heavy iron doors, and a breeze swirl in from the hall.

The high priest, Ananias, had arrived with a number of elders and one of the temple attorneys, a man named Tertullus, in tow.

Soon, everyone, including Paul, was assembled in the great hall. (Had Paul been given time to wash and change his clothes? Or did he look the part of a disreputable villain, unkempt, disheveled, dirty, chained, rough and stinking of unwashed sweat?)

After words of obligatory flattery neither side believed, Tertullus began his prosecution with indictments against Paul:

We have, in fact, found this man a pestilent fellow,

* An agitator among all the Jews throughout the world, and

* A ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.

* He even tried to profane the temple,

. . . and so we seized him.

Acts 24:5-6 (NRSV)

Tertullus was confident that if governor Felix would only examine Paul himself, he would “be able to learn from him concerning everything of which we accuse him.” Some ancient manuscripts add, “. . .and we would have judged him according to our law. But the chief captain Lysias came and with great violence took him out of our hands, commanding his accusers to come before you.”

At this point all the other Judeans who had come up with the high priest’s entourage chimed in with their robust avowals, “It’s true! Every word of it!”

Like any good arbitrator, the governor kept his face impassive as he leaned back in his chair, elevated as it was on the judge’s dais. With a slight shift of his gaze, and small move of his hand, he indicated Paul should mount his defense.

Paul Before Felix by William Hogarth
Kotomi \ flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Paul spoke, it seems, with good cheer, in even tones, plainly and truthfully. He avoided using flattery at all, simply reiterating that Felix had indeed been judge over Judea for many years. Then, he addressed each point in his indictment:

Had he been an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world?

They did not find me disputing with anyone in the temple or stirring up a crowd either in the synagogues or throughout the city.

Was he a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes?

I admit to you, that according to the Way—which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors, believing everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets.

Did he try to profane the temple?

I came to bring alms to my nation and to offer sacrifices. While I was doing this, they found me in the temple, completing the rite of purification, without any crowd or disturbance.

But there were some Jews from Asiathey ought to be here before you to make an accusation, if they have anything against me.”

Paul again brought out what he saw as the true heart of the matter, “It is about the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.”

It had been a show-stopper the previous week, when Paul dropped that particular bomb in the middle of the Sanhedrin, but governor Felix refused to take the bait. There is no record of an argument breaking out, as it had on the temple steps, or in the religious rulers’ judgment hall. Felix—with a word? A sharp look? Did he stand and motion to his guards?—kept order in his court.

As I picture the scene, I think, by this time, Luke and a number of others—perhaps most or even all of the group who had originally come with Paul to Jerusalem—had discovered where he was being held. I think they were there, both as moral and spiritual support for Paul, and as silent testament to the proceedings.

Clearly, it seemed to governor Felix there were not enough reliable witnesses to provide the full story. However, he was actually quite well-informed concerning The Way, a fact Paul may have known and wisely capitalized on, for a subtle shift had occurred in the governor’s demeanor, a change in the temperature of the proceedings.

When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case,” Felix told Paul, summarily dismissing Tertullus and the high priest’s faction with hardly a glance. Almost as though they were now allied, the governor changed the terms of Paul’s imprisonment. He would still be kept in custody, but he was now low security, allowed the freedom to move around the palace complex and be cared for by his friends.

I wonder who that took by surprise? The religious authorities, who were trying to get Paul executed? Was Paul surprised, or his friends? Did Felix surprise himself?

Like a ray of sunshine that bursts through stormy clouds, God had sent surprising hope to Paul.

Public Domain Pictures

Most assuredly, his friends had been praying for him. Most assuredly, Paul had been praying himself, as he had done through every difficulty and trouble he had found himself in, down through the years of his ministry, “Please, Lord, help me through this suffering, to endure this to Your glory, for Your sake, and for the ones you love.”[1]

Unfortunately there is no short and tidy answer for why people suffer. There is no formula for feeling better. Sometimes the ready-made phrases we say to each other, when we mean well, actually make things seem worse –

I know just what you’re going through” can sound empty sometimes, when what you’re going through is devastating.

Don’t worry, it’s all for the best” doesn’t help when it’s the worst thing that has ever happened to you.

It’s God’s will” can make you want to feel angry and bitter towards God.

You’ve got to stop crying and start living again” doesn’t sound encouraging, it sounds kind of heartless, like there’s a statute of limitations on hurting.

Though all these phrases may have a certain value of truth, they just don’t help when you’re experiencing emotional or physical agony. When you’ve been in a car accident, you don’t need your doctor to explain to you why you’re bleeding everywhere, or to assure you that you won’t miss that arm after a while. You need your doctor to stop the bleeding, sew you up, and help you heal.

God understands.

Very often the last thing God will do when you and I are suffering is to explain the reasons why we’re suffering. That’s something He saves for later, sometimes much later (sometimes when we have passed through this life, and meet Him in the next). What He will always do, however, is help us to endure the terrible pain, and make it through.

God says yes to all who come to Him for help and comfort, when they are in the middle of something hard. He may not stop the suffering, or prevent it from happening in the first place, or alleviate the situation in any way. This maybe is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to faith there is, but you and I need to face it head on

Paul knew God allows a lot of terrible things to happen.  He often referred to what Jesus had taught and lived. Jesus knew very well the pain He was about to suffer, and prayed “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup be taken away from Me.”  At the eleventh hour, the Son pleaded with the Father. But He also added “Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

No matter what kind of suffering you and I have to endure, God will give us a way through it.

Not a way out of suffering itself, but out of the hopelessness that suffering often leads us to. The apostle Paul said God will not let you and I be tested beyond your strength. With our trial, the Lord will also provide us with a means of escape, so that we will be able to endure it.

The Father twice sent angels to give courage and strength to the Son. God will also help you and me, provide for us, console us, help us and fortify us through whatever we are going through right now.

Death and suffering are not a normal part of life. They may be facts of life, but they are not “good” or “normal” in any way. Something went terribly wrong at the beginning of human history. Life was never meant to be this way, but because of what happened in the Garden of Eden, you and I suffer today.

But God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, suffered, too. He knows, intimately, what it’s like to experience what we are experiencing, and because of the cross, He can make His power available to you, and to me. When we pray “God, please get me through this suffering” He will actually walk with us through the pain and get us to the other side.

[1] These thoughts are drawn from Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To by Anthony DeStefano

[Paul Before Felix | Internet Archive Book Images / No restrictions]

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