Acts Devotionals

Passing the Buck

You have heard of the saying … “passing the buck”. The term is said to have originated from a ritual practiced during card games. The card players would place a marker, called a “buck” in front of the person who was dealing. This marker would be passed to the next player who would become the dealer. In this way there was no confusion as who the dealer was and who would deal next.

The term was later used to shift blame from one person to another. Perhaps you have heard the saying … “Passing the buck is a way of life in large bureaucracies.” Loosely used in our day, it means shifting your problem to someone else, be it at work or in the family. Perhaps not, but I tend to feel the Roman commander passed the buck with Paul. Though, doing what he did certainly saved Paul’s life and it prevented the Jews supported by the Sadducees from getting the Jewish Leaders into serious trouble. Then, maybe as a commander he needed to refer Paul’s case to a higher authority because he himself had reached a conclusion that the mob would not accept. Please read:

Ac 23:23 Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. 24 Provide mounts for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.” 25 He wrote a letter as follows: 26 Claudius Lysias, To His Excellency, Governor Felix: Greetings.

1) The commander took the news Paul’s nephew shared seriously. He did not want a lynching on his watch as this would be disastrous for his career as a trustworthy commander of a Roman Legion. He calls two of his most trustworthy soldiers giving them instructions to prepare a huge, armed guard of well-trained men to remove Paul from Jerusalem where he was not safe to Caesarea where the procurator was resident. This guard that would escort Paul came from the infantry (two hundred soldiers), cavalry (seventy) and (two hundred) armed troops. The shape of this detachment shows us that the commander was not prepared to take any chances. He set a departure time. Remembering there were no lights and even though four hundred and seventy men with seventy-one horses (one for Paul) … nine at night would mean pitch darkness, everyone asleep, most of the mob not living close to the temple and barracks … the detachment could leave with little awareness of their presence.

2) We now learn the commander’s name. He is commander Claudius Lysias. We know he was the commander of the Roman Garrison in Jerusalem. He was not a free-born citizen of the Roman Empire. He purchased his citizenship. He does seem to be a fair man who tried his best to extract the reason for the mob seeking Paul’s death. Failure resulted in his locking Paul up, only to hear of a plot to kill Paul. This is the reason for him “passing the buck” and sending Paul to Caesarea for a proper court hearing, but also to prevent his murder. Pass the buck or not, God’s sovereignty is at work protecting Paul because he needs to be Jesus’ witness in Rome. He sends an explanatory letter to the governor, who was Felix at the time.

3) Governor Felix. His full name was Antonius Felix, a former slave who was promoted to governor by Cladius Caesar. He was a cruel, licentious, treacherous, greedy, cunning, immoral man, without any decency. He was gross! He was attracted to Drusilla, Herod Agrippa the 1’s daughter. Even though she was a married woman, he enticed her away from her husband (Azizus) and later married her. We shall break up the commander’s letter to Felix to try and understand the mind of the writer, Commander Claudius Lysias.

(1) Rescue. He shows his professionalism as a commanding officer. He does not want the governor to feel he is sending small matters to him, so he explains how a mob of Jews took Paul captive and were on their way to kill him … but he, Claudius Lysias arrived with his troops and rescued him.

Ac 23:27 This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him.

He is showing off a little here.

(2) Determination. He learns Paul is a Roman Citizen … for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. Again the commander shows he is more than ready to protect the Empire’s citizens. Again a small feather in his cap.

(3) Examination. He now shows his skill and qualification to be a commander, perhaps seeking further awards or a promotion.

Ac 23:28 I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin.

(4) Finding. Once again, the commander reveals his “wisdom” by correctly analyzing what Paul was not guilty of.

Ac 23:29 I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment.

Note that he deduced that the mob’s case (and that of the Sadducees) against Paul was about how the Jewish Law’s (first five Books of the Bible) interpretation.

(5) Intelligence. This is reference to Paul’s nephew:

Ac 23:30 When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man.

Again we see the commander a thoroughbred militarist.

(6) Transfer of the case. As said above, to protect Paul and to prevent a lynching, the commander sends Paul to the governor to hear his case.

Ac 23:30 I sent him to you at once. I also ordered is accusers to present to you their case against him.

There is something else here that we have not yet heard before. He ordered Paul’s accusers to present their case to the governor.

(7) Mission complete.

Ac 23:31 So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. 32 The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks.

Paul was delivered safely and part of the detachment returned to their barracks in Jerusalem. All the above is true, but it was flavored towards the commander’s abilities. Yes the commander did a great job. There is no doubt about that … and God’s worked everything for the good of Paul, yet one cannot but read the letter and see how he was blowing his own trumpet. I listened to Frank Retief giving the sermon at Joe Bell’s memorial service on Monday. His text was that of the parable of the talents. In short Frank reminded us that whatever our talents are, we need to use them for the glory of God. We all tend to be like the commander desiring just a little recognition, a few small compliments and a pat of the back here and there. Beloved, irrespective of how small it is … it is robbing God of some of the glory due to Him. How we need to be cautious not to steal glory from God for it could result in us hearing:

Mt 25:30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

4) Felix’s decision.

Ac 23:33 When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. 34 The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will hear your case when your accusers get here.” Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.

From here onwards Paul’s court cases and testimonies will ramp up. He was safely in the center of God’s will.

Our Father, we marvel at how in the midst of huge issues, You arrange outcomes so easily. Help us to trust You to make our decisions and to map out our lives for us and Your glory. Amen.

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