It is Tuesday and our reading thru the New Testament - in a year - we continue with Acts 24:1-27. After you have finished your reading of the Scripture, I would love to have you return here and we’ll walk thru the passage some more.
I’d like to take you back 25 to 30 years before this account. Paul had met Jesus on the road to Damascus and after the blinding light and the voice of the Lord, Paul was led by his companions into the city. Then God came to a man named Ananias and told him to go to Paul. God’s words to Ananias were prophetic - “Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem... But the Lord said to him, ’Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’”
God’s word spoken two and a half decades previously are beginning to come true. Paul will bear witness of his life, call, ministry...and more importantly, the Gospel to various “kings”, in fact, governors of Roman rule in Israel. It begins with “His Excellency, Governor Felix” (23:26).
It was five days after Paul arrived under the protection of Roman troops that the Jewish High Priest, also named Ananias, arrived from Jerusalem with a contingent of council Elders and a lawyer named Tertullus. Since Tertullus is a Greek name we can only assume he was hired by the council to speak for them before Governor Felix. We must not think of a lawyer as we do today. We have lawyers who are learned men of the Law, and who represent their client with the nuisances of the knowledge of the Law to guide their defense. Lawyers in this time period were trained in rhetoric - the art of public presentation. The law needed to be known, but the greater need was a for the lawyer to be skilled in persuasion, and in the art of flattery. It was how the lawyer made the court official feel that was of greater benefit than arguing the logic of law. It’s obvious that Paul’s case is crucial to the Jews since they are willing to make the 65-mile journey to Caesarea and hire a professional to make their charges against Paul. Tertullus begins his argument with flattery of Felix - false flattery since Felix was known as shrewd, but a selfishly evil ruler. The “peace” Tertullus compliments Felix with was brought about thru brutality, and the reforms were for the purpose of making himself wealthy. Nevertheless, Tertullus used the flattery as the beginning of his accusations against Paul.
I believe that the part Tertullus played in presenting the charges went on for a long time. These kinds of court cases in Roman history could last for hours. Luke sums up the charges against Paul in three ways: “We have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.”
The three charges are: 1) Paul was charged with stirring up riots in the Empire among the Jews. In other words, Paul is a seditionist, a person seeking to create rebellion. The Romans were noted for the “Pax Romana” - the peace of Rome - and among the many things that could get a person in trouble with Rome was the charge of creating the seeds of rebellion to form uprisings. Rome came down heavily on any group that did so. It was a charge against Paul that would not have been carelessly dismissed by Felix.
2). Paul was charged with being a “ringleader of the Nazarene sect”. There were many names given to Christians in the first century. The name “Christian” was originally a derogatory word - these “Christ-followers”. They were often referred to as “the people of the Way” which might have arisen from the church itself as it defined who they were and what they were about - people who followed the Way of Jesus. The charge Tertullus uses is that Paul is a ringleader of “the Nazarene” sect. It was meant to separate the church from Jerusalem, and from the Jewish nation. Nazareth was in the north of Israel, west of Galilee, and was the birthplace of Jesus. Jesus was often referred to as “a Nazarene”. Being called a sect did not carry the weight of accusation it does today. All it said was that they were a group of people who lived according to the rule of something or someone. Rome tolerated sects for the purpose of “Pax Romana”, but they drew the line on any sect that denied the Roman gods, and especially the Emperor as a god. Paul had clearly taught that there is no God except the Lord God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ. All other so-called gods were nothing more than idols.
3). Paul was charged with “trying to desecrate the Temple”. It was the least of the charges since it was a religious one, but it carried the weight of number one, that by desecrating the Temple Paul was stirring up rebellion - casting the seeds of an uprising - something the Romans did not tolerate.
As Tertullus ends his charges he appeals to Felix’s judgment, and other Jewish elders spoke in defense of Tertullus’ speech. The charges were severe because they represented the most crucial things Rome had to wisely walkout in ruling over a subjected people - politically how to keep the peace, and religiously, how to let a subject people worship according to their own convictions, without causing uprisings against Rome.
Paul must have realized that this would not be easy. Without a lawyer, Paul begins his own arguments in defense of himself, and also gives Felix some words to flatter his ego to pave the way (vs 10). He didn’t embellish the flattery with words that would have been lies - as Tertullus had done - but instead rendered honor to Felix’s office with the word “judge”. Paul’s defense challenged each of Tertullus’ charges:
1). Paul had arrived in Jerusalem less than two weeks previous and only spent seven days in the Temple area, in order to fulfill the vows he had taken and to worship during the festival of Pentecost. He hardly had time to foment a revolt during that short time.
2). He did not engage with anyone in debates, or try to convert anyone while there, and didn’t meet in any crowds with people - not in the Temple, nor anyplace else in Jerusalem. I.e., there were no attempts at sedition. His only purposes for coming to the Temple were to worship (vs 14) and to give gifts to the Temple he had raised in his travels (vs 17), and he was ceremonially clean when he entered the Temple area.
3). He was indeed a follower of Jesus - “a follower of the Way” which the Jews called a “sect”. But Christians were people who arose out of the Old Testament story, and thus, were part of Israel’s past in the law and the prophets.
4). Paul’s last defense was that the Jews from Asia (Ephesus) who recognized Paul in the Temple and created the near-riot, were not present to make their accusations against Paul which was clearly part of Roman law, as it is in our own law - an accused person has the right to cross-examine their accuser.
5). Paul’s remark at the end that he “attempts to have a clear conscience before God” is both to defend himself against false motives, as well as lay the groundwork before Felix of what Paul considers to be the primary issue in four points:
I serve the God of the Hebrews.
I believe everything in the Hebrew Scriptures.
I hope in the God of the Hebrews.
I anticipate a resurrection and final judgment before this God.
Because much of the elders of Israel present must have come from the Sadducees, the last point is the real point of disagreement. The Sadducees rejected the idea of life after death, and Paul knew that Jesus, his Savior, had been raised from the dead - which is the hope of Christianity’s faith.
Felix was in the horns of a dilemma. To reject the Jews and let Paul go free would only serve to create more difficulties in keeping the Jewish leaders in check, but to turn Paul over to them as a guilty person was impossible since Lysias already had ruled he had done nothing wrong. Felix was “familiar” with the Way, so he knew that he also had Christians to deal with. So he did the politically expedient thing - he procrastinated. Paul was given freedom but was still kept under house arrest. Paul’s friends supplied Paul with his food and needs.
This story ends with Felix’s wife - his third wife, Drusilla, who was a Jew. She was a granddaughter of Herod Agrippa whose death in Acts 12 was deemed a judgment from God. She had been married previously until she was seduced by Felix’s power, and divorced her husband in order to marry Felix. Intrigued by Paul as a leader of “the Way”, she asked to see and hear from Paul. When Paul appeared before them, Paul did not hesitate to speak about the matters of the Law, Gospel, and God that were most pertinent to them: “he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment”. I think they got the point. Luke writes, “Felix was alarmed”. He was also miffed - and looking for a bribe he let two years pass until a new Governor arrived to take over his job, and he refused to release Paul.
The theme in the end is the fruit of procrastination. Felix had endless talks with Paul over those two years of time. It’s the nature of religion to have intellectual discussions that only have a horizontal preoccupation. People feel good about raising money for good causes, discussing deep subjects, and pleasing people, yet they come to admit, “Before God, I am guilty. I know that I need a Savior. I bow before Him. I ask Jesus to come into my life because I want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
As far as we know, Felix never did that. In pursuit of his own agenda, he missed God’s purpose for living - to know God through Jesus Christ that lasts into eternity.
One day all of us will face our last day, and all that will matter it whether we have heeded the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you have not, don’t delay. There is a heaven. There is a hell. And procrastination is a dangerous place to be in.