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Acts

Two Years

Acts  24

This section gives us a bit of history that takes two years to complete - and in the process gives us some insight on human nature, with and without Christ.

(Acts 24 NIV) Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor. {2} When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix: "We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. {3} Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. {4} But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly. {5} "We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect {6} and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him. {7} {8} By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him." {9} The Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true. {10} When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: "I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. {11} You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. {12} My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. {13} And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. {14} However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, {15} and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. {16} So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man. {17} "After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. {18} I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. {19} But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. {20} Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin-- {21} unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: 'It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.'" {22} Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. "When Lysias the commander comes," he said, "I will decide your case." {23} He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs. {24} Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. {25} As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, "That's enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you." {26} At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him. {27} When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.

Felix, the slave Governor

One of the more interesting characters in this history is Felix. We know this man from secular history, particularly Josephus. His entire character may be summed up in this: he is the first Roman governor who has risen to the rank from being a slave, and he carried a slave's mentality with him. Tacitus, the Roman historian, summed him up this way: "He exercised the prerogatives of a king with the spirit of a slave." His brother, Pallas, was a favorite of the Emperor Nero, and in this way he obtained his freedom and began his rise to power. But he was a slave.

Slave to fear

You have to look no further than the opening speech of Tertullus. He appeals to three things that a Roman governor would fear, knowing that his fear would override his duty to Roman justice:

·         He accuses Paul of being a revolutionary. If so, that is one thing a Roman governor would stamp out quickly.

·         He accuses him of being a ringleader of a messianic sect. False messiahs abounded at this time, and most of them were insurrectionists.

·         He accuses Paul of defiling the Temple. This is an appeal to support the Vichy of the time, the collaborationists.

Note that Paul has at no time done any of the things to which Tertullus alludes. But the lawyer, lying through his flattering lips, hopes that the fear of these things will override Roman justice.

Slave to lust

Felix is on his third wife. Drusilla is the daughter of Herod Agrippa, and by all contemporary accounts, a raving beauty. This might not be so bad, except that he seduced her from her prior husband - who was a king in his own right. He was Azizus, King of Emesa. Drusilla influenced Felix to keep Paul in prison (again, by contemporary records); this is not surprising as she is Jewish. And Felix was her slave.

Slave to anger

It is the measure of Roman justice that it is impartial. The incident that ruined Felix's career - and produced the coming of Festus - was this: A Jewish riot broke out in Caesarea. In such a case the riot is to be stopped, and the instigators punished. Felix went much further: he ordered the troops to sack the Jewish section of town, plundering the inhabitants. It was this incident that caused his removal, as the Jews protested to Caesar. No wonder he was trying to curry favor with them.

A man such as this is not fit to govern. If you need any more evidence, consider that this man heard Paul preach on righteousness, self-control and judgment - so that Paul might get the hint that he should provide a bribe! Character counts.

The Character of Paul

Contrast that character with the character of Paul. Here is a man accused of three things:

·         Being an insurrectionary

·         Following the Way

·         Profaning the Temple.

To the first and third charges, he simply says: please investigate. The facts are obvious. It is the first defense of the Christian against the slanders of the world to point to the facts.

To the second charge, his defense is simple: I believe the same things my accusers believe. I just know more about it. So until being a Christian is a crime, what's the problem? You accuse me of being a Christian. Fine, I am one. What's the problem with that?

Such a defense is credible only if the defendant is credible. Let's see how Paul establishes that credibility.

Paul's preaching

Most of us, when pulled over by the traffic cop, tend to be very pleasant people (there are exceptions!). We don't wish to offend the officer. Even if we think the ticket undeserved, we will tend to be most understanding. By that principle, Paul should have flattered Felix constantly. But compare his opening statement to that of his opponent. Paul says the only good thing he can say about the man: he's been in office a long time. But see that Paul also preaches righteousness, self-control and judgment - not the topics most likely to please Felix. But consider the effect: there is no evidence whatever that any of Paul's Roman judges considered him guilty - just a political problem.

The attraction of righteousness

There is a curious pattern throughout the Bible. The wicked ruler, especially the one who is weak willed, is fascinated with the preacher of righteousness. Herod could not resist John the Baptist; Isaiah went from the pit to the palace frequently; and Paul is called on for two years.. And what did he preach? Nothing but the core of the faith:

·         His preaching centers on the Resurrection - the resurrection of Christ, and the resurrection of the dead.

·         He is careful not to soft-pedal anything about the judgment to come. Do we hear hellfire and brimstone here?

·         No doubt his character enhanced the message - as the message enhanced the character.

The uses of the world

Paul does not commit the two opposite errors of Christians in trouble. One error is to despair, and thus put trust in the world. The other is to get cocky and tempt God, saying "God will deliver me; I can just sit back and wait." Paul does neither. His character is shown in two things:

·         First, he does not hesitate to use the rights that are due him. He is a Roman citizen; he is entitled to appeal to Caesar. So he does.

·         But in the process, he waits patiently upon the Lord. There is no hint of complaint here - despite two years in prison. What is two years to eternity?

Looking back upon it, it is easy to say that God is in control. But did it look that way at the time? There is only one defense against such despair: integrity. Take it with me in three steps:

·         P. T. Barnum put it most simply: you cannot cheat an honest man. By his integrity Paul will not offer a bribe - and so his words hit home to a man who cannot conceive of anyone having such integrity. Perhaps that fascination is really a longing for righteousness.

·         Take the principle one step further. Can the one who depends upon God be truly injured? I think not, for all this world is trivial. We are open to injury from Satan's cause only as we permit it. The martyr at the stake knew this; perhaps we should listen to his tale more often.

·         The weapons of this world - all of them displayed here - will not bite upon the one who picks up the weapons of heaven. If you will overcome evil with evil, you live by the sword, and will be overcome by it. If you will overcome evil with good, the Evil One has no weapons which can bite through your armor.

Paul's Message

So what does the man have to say? What is the message that Paul gives to the rulers of this world? Perhaps we should be delivering the same message today:

Righteousness

The word can also be translated "justice." Is it not curious that our rulers acknowledge the value of justice, and the world at large values it - but only in receipt. I always want justice; I never want to deliver it. We have it backwards.

Worse yet, this virtue is particularly fitting for the ruler. For if the ruler will not reign in righteousness, what does that say to the people? Does it not say that every man can do whatever he can get away with? Do you hear echoes of "If it's legal, it's moral?"

The truth is simple: Rulers, like the rest of us, are either slaves to righteousness or slaves to sin. Choose well and wisely.

Self Control

Isn't it interesting how we admire the athlete who disciplines himself physically - and even more the athlete who can discipline his character? Ty Cobb was one of the greatest baseball players that ever lived - and yet his friends were few. Not until late in life did he accept Christ, and then publicly regretted the waste. Babe Ruth was no Christian - but because he loved the least, the world loved him. Both had their failings; but it is self control in character we admire, really. It's just that we don't value it in our own lives.

There is a great message in here for our rulers. Presidents want to be popular, respected and loved. This respect and love vanishes for the ruler without self control. Bill Clinton is highly approved - as President. But for the man, who respects him? Gerald Ford's drinking caused him to be an object of ridicule. Franklin Roosevelt was greatly admired for overcoming his handicap. Is there a pattern here?

Judgment to come

The word for judgment used here is an interesting one: it is the root word of the English word "crime." It carries with it the idea of being judicially convicted. If there is no other aspect which becomes a ruler, it is a sense of justice. Can any leader be taken seriously if he will not give good justice?

If that is so for a king or president, how much more so for God? God is just; therefore there must be justice. But the court of God is still in session; sentence is yet to come. While there is yet time, we need to come to Christ.

From the world's view, Paul is in deep trouble. From God's view, it's the world that's in deep trouble. The character of his servant highlights this. The justice of God will bring it about.

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