Preached at Trenton Baptist, February 12, 2017
(Please pardon typographical errors. I’ve never been good at proofing.)
The Court of Public Opinion
9 But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged before me concerning these things?”
2 Corinthians 5:10: 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.
Sermon thought: Paul stood before the Judgment Seat of Caesar knowing that he must give account before the Judgment Seat of Christ. We must live our life in the same knowledge having been saved from our sins by Him.
Paul stands before yet another Roman governor accused of crimes of civil disturbances and more. Festus could not care less that Paul is committing no crime in preaching Jesus. His only concern is that Paul’s preaching of Jesus offended a few powerful men with the ability to cause mass unrest in Jerusalem.
Paul’s defense is well prepared and forceful. His accusers are unable to present any evident to prove their accusations.
A verdict of innocent is demanded by the facts in the case. Justice demands his quick release. But an impediment to short stop a proper verdict is interjected into the proceedings. The court of public opinion weighs in with all its sensibilities aflame with irrationality and a spirit of having been affronted. Truth and justice fall in the street.
Festus’s first inclination while in Jerusalem is to hear the case against Paul in a fair and legal manner in accordance with Roman law. He instructs Paul’s accusers to bring their charges to the courthouse in Caesarea. But, ten days of being entertained by Jewish leaders in Jerusalem seems to mellow him a bit towards pacifying their disposition.
Having determined Paul innocent of violating any law, Festus asks him in verse 9, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged before me concerning these things?”
Festus, like Felix before him, is now playing to the Court of Public Opinion. One of his principle responsibilities is to set as judge of over the regional Roman Court. But he like other regional governors often allow the informal court of public opinion to override the proceeding in the established legal system.
There is no getting around the fact that the court of public opinion is always in play when it comes to issues that kindle impassioned sensitives in large portions of the population. The ongoing drama surrounding the new president’s immigration policy, abortion advocacy, and transgender restroom questions are examples of current issues being tried in the court of public opinion.
Let there be no misunderstanding concerning the need for public discourse on these and many more issues. A well-informed citizenry is essential to a healthy democracy. Consensus, agreement or compromise is best achieved in free, open discussion unfettered by fear of reprisals.
Moreover, citizens have a right and responsibility to inform their representatives of their stance on these kinds of matters. Regular, frequent correspondence from a broadly based electorate to elected officials on issues will make us a stronger nation. Failure to do so grants overwhelming power and influence to professional lobbyists pleading the cause of the highest paying client. Frequently the purposes of those clients do not represent the greater good of the greater citizenry.
Open dialogue carried out respectfully with proper regard one for another is more unifying than divisive. Unity can be achieved when we willing extend toleration while remembering that toleration does not mandate accommodation.
Public discourse is vastly different from the court of public opinion. Courteous public discourse is salubrious for the civility of society.
The court of public opinion is frequently coercive in nature. It seeks to strong-arm legitimate courts into yielding to popular opinion and thus abandoning their unbiased position.
The court of public opinion extends it reach beyond established court by influencing public behavior. It works to incite reprisal against individual it demonizes as offenders of political correctness.
The court of public opinion has become more powerful with the advent of social media. It is now possible to bring sanctions against the object of its malevolent outcry from constituencies which appear larger than they are.
The verdict arrived at through the court of public opinion therefore may not be representative of the larger public. It simply represents the desires of the loudest from among us. The larger part of society will then yield to the smaller part because they appear to be the larger part. The true larger part assumes the position of the minority having been cowered there by volume only.
Cases abound of businesses suffering financial loses which far exceed possible fines in established courts if the business had been, in fact, found guilty of a crime. Dr. Eric Walsh, a lay preacher, was fired from his job as a regional health director in Georgia in 2014. The motive behind his firing was because he preached a sermon he calling homosexual behavior a sin. Kevin Cochran, another lay preacher, lost his job as fire chief over a book his published on the same issue.
Sanctions, like the ability to fine and imprison, are what give established courts their teeth. Now the court of public opinion can bring sanction of near or equal consequence to bear on innocent people by influencing bureaucratic power brokers to do it bidding.
Paul was innocent of all charges against him. That however didn’t stop rumors. The rumors morphed into consensus, and consensus became a court of public opinion. The court of public opinion swayed Caesar’s Judgment Seat to accommodate a plot to assassinate Paul.
The line between public discourse and a court of public opinion can be hard to distinguish. Hindsight often makes the line clearer. The problem with hindsight is that its clarity arrives too late to be efficacious.
Hindsight is of little value except to sports commentators, journalist, and historians. It is of no help to those in the heat of battle.
Godly wisdom is the only prescription for curing the problems inherent in determining the line of demarcation between public discourse and the court of public opinion. Wisdom and honesty in established courts are the only shields against undue influence from the court of public opinion.
It becomes painfully clear when established courts are swayed more by public opinion than by law. Paul’s trials before three different rulers are good examples where the court of public opinion overrides justice, law, and right.
Paul proved his case in at least three official hearing. He appeared before Felix on several occasions because the corrupt official was hoping for a bribe.
It was not uncommon for Roman rules to pervert justice in favor of the court of public opinion because they also had the responsibility to ensure civil rest. Given the choice of avoiding civil disturbance and justice, justice would take a back seat.
As Rome grew weaker, it was more and more willing to appease the masses. The more she appeased the masses the weaker she became.
The right thing for Festus to do would have been to free Paul. He had found no guilt in the apostle worthy of imprisonment or other punishment. But to appease the outcry from power men in Jerusalem, Festus wanted to change venue from his court to the Jerusalem Jewish Sanhedrin power base. He was giving into the court of public opinion.
Paul maintains his position that he is entitled to judgment from Caesar’s Judgment. Since Festus refused to make legal decision, Paul appealed to Caesar, the Supreme Court of his day.
What does all the above have to do with us, the church? It is this. The court of public opinion is being effectively wielded again Biblical tradition and historic values of our faith.
We must be careful that we remain faith to the reveal will of God found in His Holy Word. God’s Word determines our action and beliefs. The court of public opinion has nothing to say about how we do business.
For example, a religious court of public opinion says that we must get our music right and relax standards of church decorum in order to win people to Jesus. Cutting edge music has become the tail that wags the dog in many churches. “This is the way that souls are saved,” they say.
The Bible says otherwise. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1Co 1:21, For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
The religious court of public opinion says that there are many ways of being saved. Jesus said, You must be born again.
Peter preached in Acts 4:12, Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
Don’t let your salvation rest in the court of public opinion; it doesn’t have the final says over your soul. Jesus does.
We must all appear in His court “may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
Stop worrying about the court of public opinion. Jesus died on the cross to save you from all you sin. Believe on Him, repent of your sins, and you will be born again.