Both Paul and Festus (the successor to Felix as the Roman procurator in charge of Paul’s imprisonment) found themselves on the horns of a dilemma. Strictly speaking, Paul should have already been acquitted now, because he had not been found guilty of any crime, either religious or political, but Festus was keen to placate the Jews and therefore suggested moving the trial to Jerusalem. Compromise was his bedfellow, at the expense of doing what was right. Paul knew that would only lead to fresh accusations from the Jews (and potential ambush en route there.) If Paul were guilty of a capital offence, he was willing to bear the penalty. But if the Jewish accusations were false, no one – not even the procurator – had the right to hand him over to them, and so he used his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar.
This raises the interesting question of how far we must push at doors to open them and how far we must wait for God to move. God has promised Paul he would testify for Him in Rome (Acts 23:11); Paul now ‘nudges’ the scene a step closer to Rome. Tom Wright says of this chapter, “This is an important point about the interaction between God’s purposes and our praying. Sometimes, when we pray and wait for God to act, part of the answer is that God is indeed going to act, but that he will do so through our taking proper human responsibility in the matter. It’s hard to tell in advance what the answer will be. There are times when ‘the Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still’ (Ex 14:14), and other times when it is ‘be strong and very courageous, for you shall put this people in possession of the land I swore to give them.’ (Josh 1:6) Discerning and discovering which applies in which case – and note that even in the latter case God is giving the people the land which Joshua is giving them – is a major element in the discernment to which all Christians, and especially Christian leaders, are called.” (‘Acts For Everyone Pt 2’)
It is not always easy to know when to be still and when to be pro-active. There are numerous cases in the Bible of people getting it wrong (Abraham with Hagar, Moses taking the law into his own hands and murdering someone and so on), and we clearly need much wisdom in this area, but the balance of our action and God’s action is a delicate one! One thing is clear. God specialises in the ‘third way’, doing things we generally haven’t even considered because they are so bizarre, unconventional or downright miraculous!