Acts24: Fearful Felix
Paul is in the process of entering the Roman judicial system which will take up the next 5 years of his life. He will be under house arrest with some liberties but, not free to go and do as he wished. His circumstances will be difficult.
After Pauls appearance before the Sanhedrin arranged by the Roman commander turns into another riot, the commander takes Paul back to the barracks for safety. The Lord appears to Paul the next night and encourages Paul with these words: Take Courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome. ( Acts 23: 11)
I want us to look at this lesson today on two levels: the visible and the invisible. Paul prayed we would have the eyes of our heart opened to see... He is referring to spiritual vision. In fact in 2 Corinthians 4, Paul writes: So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, and what is unseen is eternal. When we do, we will see the story within the story. One of the most unique books in the Bible is the Old Testament book of Esther. Its uniqueness comes from the fact that it is the only book in the Bible in which the name of God is not mentioned even once in the entire nine chapters. However, a Christian reading this book would not be aware of that- for they are consciously aware of God working behind the scenes as the Sovereign God of the universe.
Dr. Luke tells us a plot to kill Paul taken on by more than 40 Jewish men who have taken an oath they will not eat anything until they kill Paul. Their plan as revealed to the chief priests, Ananias, and the elders is for the Sanhedrin to petition the commander to bring Paul before them again on the pretext of asking him some more questions. Then as Paul is being brought to them, they will attack him and kill him. It is almost a suicide mission. Do you see the spiritual war taking place in the earthly realm? The enemy of God, the devil has so enraged these men with hatred for Paul they are determined to find a way to kill him. Just as before he had so enraged the Jewish leaders to kill Jesus. But watch how this plot unravels as a Sovereign God is in control of circumstances.
Pauls nephew hears of the plot. How did he hear of this plot? Luck. Accidental? No the sovereignty of God is at work in the life of Paul, just as it is in our lives. Let us understand this attribute of God, for it will enable us and empower us to live life as God intended for us to live. A life without fear, a life of contentment and peace. Notice I did not say a life without trouble. To understand the sovereignty of God, let us go directly to the source, to God. This is God speaking as recorded in Isaiah 44:6-8: This is what the Lord says, Israels King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come- yes, let him foretell what will come. Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No,there is no other Rock; I know no one.
Paul writes in Colossians 1: For by Him, all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. Our Sovereign God, Almighty God, our Heavenly Father is before all things- eternally pre-existent before the mountains were born. He created all things; He is above all things; He upholds all things; He knows all things; He accomplishes all things; He rules over all things; and He is in control of all things. That is why I believe Him and that is why I love Him and that is why I serve Him. He, and He alone is the ultimate source of all power, authority, and everything that exists.
And because of His Sovereignty and His Faithfulness we are assured He will finish that which He has started; and if we stumble, or fall we will not be cast out for He upholds us with His right hand and we know He is able to work all things together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.
So Pauls nephew over hearing the plot is not a coincidence or luck, it is Gods sovereignty at work. Paul has the centurions take his nephew to the commander to warn him of the plot.
Claudius Lysias, the commander who has become Pauls protector writes a letter to the governor, Felix as he arranges for fast and secret transfer of Paul to Caesarea at night under heavy guard. In his letter, the commander informs Felix of Pauls Roman citizenship and also that he finds no merit in the charges brought against him by the Sanhedrin. The commander appears to be ridding himself of a problem and making sure he protects himself of any liabilities. It would appear a clear case of self-interest on his part- but the real story is once again the sovereignty of God at work in what appears to be ordinary events.
Upon being transferred under Governor Felixs care, Felix asks where Paul is from and learns he is from Cilicia. Again seemingly on the surface, an innocent question asked to ascertain under which jurisdiction Paul is. Remember Paul saying he was from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. What was special about Tarsus and Cilicia? They were one of the districts under the direct supervision of the Emperor. Which meant, eventually, this is who Paul will appear before. Coincidence? No- once again the sovereignty of God. A God so in control of circumstances who allowed a sycamore tree to grow in a certain location so that one day a short man named Zacchaeus, would be able to climb it to see Jesus . For no other tree would have worked for Z as he needed the low limbs of that particular tree to be able to reach it and climb up it.
TRIAL BEFORE FELIX
While we may never appear in court or in a judicial system as a defendant for our faith, we will each be called to defend our faith in the court of public opinion. And as occurred with Paul, we must be ready to defend our faith. Remember who our attorney is- the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our advocate. The High Priest, Ananias and the elders arrive with their lawyer, Tertullus to appear before Felix and make their accusations. Remember the devil, is our enemy and his very name means he is a slanderer. So here is the courtroom setting: Felix the governor, Ananias the high priests,the elders( the leaders of the Sanhedrin), and their lawyer, Tertullus.
Tertullus begins his charges with a statement intended to flatter Felix. Flattery is the language of the powerful and those who want to impress the powerful. Insincere praise is the conversation in the culture of politics. It is interesting that the High Priest, himself has come down for this hearing which shows the deep hatred that Ananias has for Paul.
Three charges are made against Paul.
- He is a revolutionary person who incites riots among the citizens. He is a source of civil disorder.
- He is a member of a sect, known as the Way of the Nazarene. A group known to have cause trouble in Jerusalem and other parts of the country.
- He has profaned, desecrated the temple. The Temple was of great interest to the Roman Empire for they collected monies from the temple.
Then Paul is called to testify. He refutes each charge with logic, reason and evidence and reliable witnesess and proof easily provided that refutes the charges.
- He was not found arguing or stirring up anyone in the temple or synagogue.
- He was a worshipper of the God of our Fathers as a follower of the Way. He believed the Old Testament, the law and the Prophets and had the same hope these men did in the resurrection of both the just and the unjust.
- He had not desecrated the temple, he had in fact entered the temple in an act of cleansing and purification.
Felix calls for an adjournment in the proceedings on the pretext of getting more information from Lysias, the Roman commander to make his ruling. However, he has already received what he needs to know in Lysias letter. So there are some other motives involved here that we will soon discover. Paul continues to be held under guard, but is given certain liberties and is in effect, under house arrest.
Several days later Felix along with his Jewish wife,Drusilla send for Paul to listen to him about his faith in Jesus Christ.
A word about this historical figure, Felix,the governor. His wife, Drusilla, is the daughter of Herod Agrippa, who was the one who beheaded James, the brother of John. She is his third wife. Felix is an immoral man, as he had already had two wives and Drusilla was the wife of another when he persuaded her to come live with him as his wife. He is a political opportunist and motivated by power and money as we will see he seeks to obtain a bribe from Paul. But in spite of this he has a natural curiosity about faith in Jesus Christ. Thus he invites Paul to come speak to him and his wife.
Acts 24:25 tells us Pauls discussion with Felix and Drusilla. Paul reasons with this famous couple on three areas:
- Judgment to come.
Let us look at these three areas of Pauls discourse and we will realize why they placed the fear of God in Felixs heart and mind.
Righteousness is Gods expectation of mankind. Since we are created by God and for God, He can make demands of His creation. His first demand is Righteousness. It is for this purpose we were created, given life and breath. We exist because God willed for us to exist. And we exist for a purpose. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. ( Westminister Catechism.) We glorify God when we obey Him. We come short of the glory of God when we sin. And all have sinned. All have come short of the glory of God. Ever since the fall in the Garden, mankind has been born with a sinful nature. And we know when sin entered the world so did death. And mankind born with a sinful nature is powerless when it comes to living a righteous, holy sinless life. In other words, mankind is incapable of behaving the way God created us to behave.
Ask the man in the street today what is wrong with the world and you will get a list of answers like this: kids now days have no respect for their parents and elders; parents are not disciplining their children, public schools are lousy, entertainment is godless and perverse, drugs are rampant, pornography is everywhere, government is corrupt, society is by and large self- centered, war, violence and terror rule. In other words, people are not behaving the way they should. And the Blame Game begins in predictable fashion. It was true in Pauls day , in Noahs day and today. People are selfish by nature and live for themselves.
What is the answer to righteousness- self-control. If we are to behave as God intended us to behave, we must exercise self-control. Here in lies the problem- we are powerless to control self. Self Control is a fruit of the Spirit. ( Galatians 5). This fruit of the Spirit is Gods provision to meet the demands of righteousness. So Gods plan of salvation involves His Sovereignty as Creator of all things. When we realize through conviction of the Holy Spirit we are sinners and powerless over sin and ask Christ our Redeemer to save us- we renounce, sin, self and Satan. We invite Jesus into our lives and we in turn share in His life. Our Creator makes us a new creation with a new nature and a new mind and a new morality. But here is the key- the Holy Spirit comes into our life and provides us with what we could not do in our own strength- self control. Self control is a fruit of the Spirit that allows us and empowers us to meet Gods demand of righteousness. God never demands something of us, He will not empower us to do. He gives us the desire to do His good pleasure and He gives us the power to do His good pleasure through the indwelling Spirit who provides us with the fruit of Self Control.
Paul is simply telling Felix and Drusilla what God demands- righteousness. It is a righteousness that man is powerless to do in his own strength. God provides the Holy Spirit who provides the fruit of self control whereby one can behave as God intended for mankind to behave. To obtain the Spirit is to renounce sin, self and Satan and surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Then Paul tells his audience- there is a future judgment of the righteous and the wicked. It is this that strikes fear in the heart and mind of Felix. Felix is under conviction- the spiritual battle for his very eternal soul hangs in the balance. He wants what many want- to live life the way they want to live it without God telling them what they can and cannot do and yet not face eternal consequences. Surely , no one wants to fall into the hands of an angry God and face an eternity of punishment and isolation.
Felix wants what a lot of people want- they want their cake and to eat is also. They want a god of their own making, on their own terms. Felix s conscience is convicting him, he knows if Paul is right that he has not behaved as God intended him to behave. He is unrighteous. He is a sinner. His treasure is money and power and sex . And where your treasure is there will your heart be also. He would like to have this God and assurance of heaven- but he wants God on his terms with his treasure intact as he wants it.
He does not want to renounce sin, for he enjoys it; he does not want to renounce self- for self is what he lives for and he does not realize that in not renouncing those two- he is not renouncing the one who is in control of his live, the devil, the father of lies.
Watch what Felix does? He tells Paul that is enough for now. Felix is afraid of the truth. Does not want to consider the possibilities of what can happen in the future. He procrastinates. When I find it CONVENIENT, I will send for you. What a dangerous thing is procrastination- it is called the thief of time and in can steal ones eternity.
What about Paul? What is Paul learning? For what Paul is learning is a lesson to be learned for all of us.
Paul will be in the Roman judicial system for the next 5 + years. It is here he will learn a lesson that is modeled for us in the life of Paul. It is the discipline of delay. It is the secret of contentment. We are seeing the problems created in our nation and in the world due to the lack of understanding of the discipline of delay and the secret of contentment. Believing one should have what they want when they want it without having to save for it and instead borrowing money in order to have it now to feel content is one of the principle causes of financial ruin. Listen to these famous verses of Paul: I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. ( A disciple is a learner and evidently contentment is learned. Also contentment is the opposite of complaining.) I know what it is to be in need ( abased-KJV), and I know what is to have plenty, an abundance. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Paul said this lesson of contentment is learned through being in need, being abased and humbled and it is learned though having plenty. Did you notice which came first- the being in need,the being abased, humbled by your circumstances. Success and failure are two sides of the same coin of progress in the Pilgrims life. We learn from both. We learn there is only one way to be content.
Paul said the secret was he knew he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him.
Undergirding this lesson is believing God is Sovereign. Do you believe God saw your last day before your first day ever began? So we live our life that is like a tight rope suspended between two poles that hold the tight rope up. Gods Sovereignty and Mans Responsibilities are the two poles from which this tight rope called life is suspended.
Though we stumble or fall we will not be utterly cast down, for He upholds us with His right hand.
Do you see what Felix was doing? He was weighing the promises of sin against the promises of God.
Let me remind you of this, that as a Christian- the One to whom you pray has power over the entire universe. He created it and controls it and upholds it. He has all knowledge and all power. Yet wonder of wonders- He loves me infinitely and cares about me.
Why not trust Him with all your heart? And if you do- He will direct your paths.
Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out of it. ( I Timothy 6)