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Before Felix

For the last several months we have been following the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul as we have been working through the book of Acts. Most recently, Paul has been on trial – several times actually – for a crime, that up until our passage today, has not even really been defined! He was originally arrested by a Roman Commander named Claudius Lysias after the commander rescued him from a rioting mob that was about to kill Paul. The commander assumed that Paul must have done some terrible crime to stir up such a violent mob – but upon further examination, he realized that Paul had not committed any such crime – certainly nothing worthy of imprisonment or death – at least not by Roman standards!

However, before he could settle the issue, he was informed of a plot where 40 assassins were preparing to ambush and murder Paul and so the commander swiftly sent Paul on to Caesarea where he could safely stand trial before the Governor Felix. And this is where our passage picks up today.

Today, we are going to be observing Paul’s trial before Felix. We will hear the Jews’ formal charge against him as well as Paul’s defence.

Now if you’re one of those folks who love a good court room drama, this passage is going to be right up your alley! But even if you’re not a fan of Judge Judy or Law & Order, there’s some pretty good stuff in here. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us:

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

 2 Timothy 3:16-17

And so that’s what we can expect out of this passage today. We can expect God to speak through His Word to teach us, correct us, prepare us, and equip us for every good work that He has called us to do.

So let’s dive right in to it, and see what God has to say to us today!

Our passage today begins in Acts chapter 24 – and we’ll be starting at verse 1.

“Five days later Ananias, the high priest, arrived with some of the Jewish elders and the lawyer Tertullus, to present their case against Paul to the governor.” Acts 24:1

And I’ll just pause here for a moment. It’s interesting that the Jews have now recruited a professional lawyer at this stage. Apparently they weren’t confident in their own abilities to win the case against Paul, and so they brought in this lawyer Tertullus. And I think they were probably wise to do that – since they really didn’t have much of a case against Paul in the first place! Remember, they haven’t even presented any clear charges against Paul yet – and, as we will find out later as Paul gives his defence, the witnesses who initially accused Paul and dragged him out of the temple area – they didn’t even show up for this trial. So Paul’s adversaries are going to need all the help they can get to win this case!

But let’s read on and see what happens. Verse 2

2 When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented the charges against Paul in the following address to the governor:

“You have provided a long period of peace for us Jews and with foresight have enacted reforms for us. 3 For all of this, Your Excellency, we are very grateful to you. 4 But I don’t want to bore you, so please give me your attention for only a moment. 

Acts 24:2-4

And I’ll pause here before we get into the actually charges… Notice how Tertullus begins with some very flattering words for Governor Felix.

“You have provided a long period of peace for us Jews and with foresight have enacted reforms for us. For all of this, Your Excellency, we are very grateful to you.”

Now there is nothing wrong with being respectful to your leaders and honouring them for the good they have done – in fact, the Scriptures command us to do that. But Tertullus is not simply being respectful – he’s totally stretching the truth in order to flatter and butter up the governor.

According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Governor Felix was just about as cruel and corrupt as they come. Just to give you one example: We just read in verse 1 that at this time the high priest was a man named Annanis. Well, the next high priest after him was a man name Jonathan – we don’t read about him in the Scriptures, but there are other historical records that tell us how Jonathan (as the High Priest) often criticized Felix for how he handled Jewish affairs. Of course, Felix didn’t really like that and so Felix paid quite a sum of money to have Jonathan assassinated in the Temple at a Jewish festival. So you can see that integrity wasn’t really his strong point!

In fact, let me just read what the Encyclopædia Britannica says about Felix:

“Felix’s cruelty, coupled with his accessibility to bribes, led to a great increase of crime in Judaea. To put down the Zealots, he favoured an even more violent sect, the Sicarii (“Dagger-men”), by whose aid he contrived the murder of the high-priest Jonathan. The period of his rule was marked by internal feuds and disturbances, which he put down with severity.” 

Not exactly the long period of peace that Tertullus had given him credit for, was it?

It seems that even though history remembers Felix as actually a pretty terrible leader – that’s certainly not how Tertullus presented it. It seems Tertullus was far more committed to winning this case through flattery than he was through the truth! I’m not saying that he should have come in insulting Felix, but there just seems to be a lack of integrity here. But I guess Tertullus had about as much integrity as the Jewish high council who had plotted with those 40 assassins to have Paul killed in the first place!

All that to say… things are not looking real good for Paul. He is being accused by the corrupt Jewish leaders – who are being represented by a corrupt lawyer, and he is being judged by a corrupt Governor.

This trial is not likely to go in a good direction for Paul. But Paul does have one thing going for him – and that’s this: He has submitted his life to a holy and absolutely just God – and He’s the one who will ultimately determine how this all plays out. 

And what an encouragement that must have been for Paul. In this trial that was sure to be a mockery of justice, Paul must have so grateful to know that His God was ultimately in control.

Even though it seemed his fate was in the hands of corrupt, godless men – in reality, Paul’s life and destiny was always kept securely in the hands of God.

And that’s such an encouragement for us too! Many times we feel like our fate is resting in the hands of sinful, corrupt people. Maybe we find ourselves under the rule of godless political leaders or maybe we work for bosses who have less then perfect integrity, or maybe we’re feeling the impact of poor decisions by made by friends or family… All of these things can make us feel like our life is being hijacked by the people or circumstances around us!

But the reality is, our lives have never left the security and guidance of the hands of God. Yes, other people do make a significant impact on our lives – for good and for bad – but ultimately and always – God is in control. And unlike Tertullus, Felix, or the Jewish leaders – God is always holy and just in all that He does.

Deuteronomy 32:4 says…

4 He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect.
Everything he does is just and fair.
He is a faithful God who does no wrong;
how just and upright he is!

Deuteronomy 32:4

Isn’t that a great reminder? We live in a world where integrity seems to be a rare commodity – but our God is always just and fair. A faithful God who does no wrong!

So for Paul, he didn’t have to worry about the outcome of this trial – no matter how rigged it seemed. He didn’t have to fret that these godless, corrupt men would hijack God’s purpose and plan for his life. No, God was still in control – and He could be trusted absolutely.

And so now, as Tertullus presents the charges against Paul – I imagine that Paul wasn’t even worried – despite the serious accusations levelled against him. Let’s take a look. Tertullus continues in verse 5.

5 We have found this man to be a troublemaker who is constantly stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the cult known as the Nazarenes. 6 Furthermore, he was trying to desecrate the Temple when we arrested him. 8 You can find out the truth of our accusations by examining him yourself.” 9 Then the other Jews chimed in, declaring that everything Tertullus said was true.

Acts 24:5-9

By the way, I really like how the NLT puts this last verse – “then the other Jews chimed in – declaring that everything Tertullus said was true.” It’s just like a bunch of kids banding together to convince mom that “the window just broke all by itself! We all saw it!” It’s almost comical!

But there are three charges against Paul.

#1. Being a trouble-maker – stirring up riots all over the world.

#2. Being the ring-leader of a cult

#3. Desecrating the temple

The first charge was certainly the main charge – the one most likely to catch Felix’s attention. Being responsible for the peace and security of the Roman empire in this area, Felix would certainly want to know about anyone who was causing riots and civil unrest. The other charges were supporting charges – not likely to stick very well on their own, but would help them build their case of Paul being a threat to the empire.

The other thing that I wanted to mention, is that you may have noticed that verse 7 is missing out of this passage. This is another one of those cases where some of the ancient manuscripts of Acts included that verse but others did not. Most scholars believe these missing parts were not written as part of the original but were added in later. That’s why they are usually just footnotes in most modern Bibles. Of course, we don’t know for sure -so let me show you how this passage would read if those missing parts were included. It would say (starting at verse 6…)

6 “Furthermore, he was trying to desecrate the Temple when we arrested him. We would have judged him by our law, 7 but Lysias, the commander of the garrison, came and violently took him away from us, 8 commanding his accusers to come before you. 8 You can find out the truth of our accusations by examining him yourself.”

Acts 24:6-8

As you can see, this doesn’t really change our understanding of this passage, but it does show that they kinda threw the commander under the bus – accusing him of violently taking Paul away from them – when they just wanted to judge Paul for his crimes without the hassle of have to involve Felix. Again, this is not a terribly accurate picture of what actually happened. In reality, Lysias rescued Paul from the violent mob who was trying to be judge, jury, and executioner all at that very moment. 

So now, having presented their case against Paul – Paul is given an opportunity to respond to them. Verse 10 says…

10 The governor then motioned for Paul to speak. Paul said, “I know, sir, that you have been a judge of Jewish affairs for many years, so I gladly present my defense before you. 11 You can quickly discover that I arrived in Jerusalem no more than twelve days ago to worship at the Temple. 12 My accusers never found me arguing with anyone in the Temple, nor stirring up a riot in any synagogue or on the streets of the city. 13 These men cannot prove the things they accuse me of doing.

14 “But I admit that I follow the Way, which they call a cult. I worship the God of our ancestors, and I firmly believe the Jewish law and everything written in the prophets. 15 I have the same hope in God that these men have, that he will raise both the righteous and the unrighteous. 16 Because of this, I always try to maintain a clear conscience before God and all people.

17 “After several years away, I returned to Jerusalem with money to aid my people and to offer sacrifices to God. 18 My accusers saw me in the Temple as I was completing a purification ceremony. There was no crowd around me and no rioting. 19 But some Jews from the province of Asia were there—and they ought to be here to bring charges if they have anything against me! 20 Ask these men here what crime the Jewish high council found me guilty of, 21 except for the one time I shouted out, ‘I am on trial before you today because I believe in the resurrection of the dead!’”

Acts 24:10-21

In these brief statements, Paul quite effectively counters all their charges against him. He explains that he is not a trouble-maker and has not been stirring up any riots! There are no witnesses or evidence that would say otherwise. He also discounts their accusation of desecrating the temple – pointing out that he was actually completing a purification ritual in the temple – offering sacrifices and doing all the things that good Jews do!

But Paul does admit that he follows the Way – which, as we’ve noted before, was how followers of Jesus were initially identified before they became known as Christians. The Jews considered them a cult, but Paul explains that he worships the same God as they do – he follows the same Jewish laws as they do – and he has the same hope in God as they do (namely, that God will resurrect all people to one day stand before Him to be judged and rewarded according to what that have done in this life.) Really, the only difference between Paul and his accusers is their belief about Jesus Christ.

But it’s at this point, that Felix has heard enough – at least for today. Verse 22 says…

22 At that point Felix, who was quite familiar with the Way, adjourned the hearing and said, “Wait until Lysias, the garrison commander, arrives. Then I will decide the case.” 

Acts 24:22

Of course, this statement makes a bit more sense if we take into account that extra bit of information from the missing verse 7 – about how Tertullus accused the commander of “violently taking Paul away from the Jews – who were just trying to judge him according to their laws…” – it makes sense that Felix would want to hear from Lysius to give him a chance to defend himself and offer his testimony of how this all went down.

However, it was probably already quite clear to Felix what his verdict should be. This verse reminds us that he was quite familiar with the Way – so if he had any sense of discernment at all, he would quickly conclude (like many of the men who had already examined Paul on previous occasions) that this was not a case of a crime against the empire – but a merely a case of religious differences. Or really, to boil it right down to the issue – it was really a case of jealousy! And so, in a Roman court, this case should have been thrown out immediately.

But of course, as we’ve noted earlier, Felix wasn’t the most honest and upright fellow – and so justice wasn’t really his main concern. And we’ll see that in the concluding verses.

23 He ordered an officer to keep Paul in custody but to give him some freedom and allow his friends to visit him and take care of his needs.

24 A few days later Felix came back with his wife, Drusilla, who was Jewish. Sending for Paul, they listened as he told them about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 As he reasoned with them about righteousness and self-control and the coming day of judgment, Felix became frightened. “Go away for now,” he replied. “When it is more convenient, I’ll call for you again.” 26 He also hoped that Paul would bribe him, so he sent for him quite often and talked with him.

27 After two years went by in this way, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And because Felix wanted to gain favor with the Jewish people, he left Paul in prison.

Acts 24:23-27

So here we see the two reasons why Felix didn’t just throw out this case. #1. He wanted to gain favour with the Jews – and #2. He was hoping to get a bribe from Paul.

But instead of a bribe, we see that Paul gave him much more. Paul gave him the Gospel. For two years, Paul ended up being Felix’ personal evangelist – speaking with him often about faith in Jesus Christ.

But sadly, it seems, that neither Felix nor his wife ever took it to heart. Felix was certainly convicted – no doubt – as we’re told he became frightened when Paul reasoned with him about righteousness, self-control, and the coming day of judgment. After listening to Paul, I’m sure he knew that he was a sinner and that judgement would one day await him if he didn’t surrender his life to God and accept Jesus as his Saviour. But for some reason, it seems that Felix never made that choice to accept the forgiveness and mercy that God was offering him.

And I sure hope that no one here makes that same mistake.

Many of you have been attending this church for more than two years – longer than the time Paul had with Felix. Although for some of you – maybe this is your first time! (And if that’s the case, welcome! I’m so glad you’re here!) But for those of you who have been attending here for quite some time already, I really want to challenge you – that if you’ve never put your faith in God – what is holding you back? Don’t be like Felix – hearing the Gospel over and over again – but never making that personal choice to surrender your life to Christ.

And I realize that I’m no Paul – but I trust that over the many months that you’ve attended here, you’ve heard me and others clearly explain the message of the Gospel.

I trust by now you know that each one of us is a sinner. That’s just a fact of life – we’re born with a natural inclination to reject God’s way and to choose our own instead. And as sinful people, we make choices that hurt others and that hurt ourselves. Those choices are sin – And of course, that sin separates us from one another – and it separates us from God. Romans 6:23 says…

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

In the ancient Jewish way of thinking, death is not termination – it’s separation. Physically speaking, death is when body and soul become separated. Likewise, spiritual speaking, death is when we are relationally separated from God and others. And that’s the wages of sin. It’s separation from one another – and separate from God. But the flip side of separation is connection. Death is separation and life is connection!

And that’s what Jesus Christ freely offers us! His death on the cross paid the price for our sin so that we can be reconnected with God – and reconnected with others!

He offers us eternal life – a restored relationship with God and man forever!

But like every gift, it has to be accepted and received. God never forces us into a relationship with Him – but he invites us – through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – to reconnect and to re-establish that loving relationship with Him.

But the choice is ours to make. And I would urge not to put off that choice any longer. Choose today to trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin and step into a right relationship with God.

Roy spoke earlier about how a mother’s love for her child is probably the closest thing we have to understanding God’s incredible love for us. Of course, our mother’s were never perfect – but God is. He loves us perfectly and completely.

And so I would just urge you – not to be like Felix – hearing the Good News of Jesus over and over again – but never making that personal choice to accept God’s love.

Instead accept God’s free gift of eternal life – believe that He truly loves you more than you can understand and that He wants to live in community with you forever!

And if that’s your desire this morning, I would urge to come speak with me or someone else here that you trust – and we would love to pray with you and help you make those first steps to having a real relationship with the God of heaven.

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