Sermon on Acts 24:1-27 – “Paul Before Felix”

Sermon on Acts 24:1-27 – “Paul Before Felix”

Sermon Text

[Act 24:1-27 ESV] 1 And after five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and a spokesman, one Tertullus. They laid before the governor their case against Paul. 2 And when he had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying: “Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, 3 in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. 4 But, to detain you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly. 5 For 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. 6 He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him. 7 8 By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him.” 9 The Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all these things were so. 10 And when the governor had nodded to him to speak, Paul replied: “Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense. 11 You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, 12 and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city. 13 Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. 14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. 16 So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man. 17 Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. 18 While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult. But some Jews from Asia– 19 they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, should they have anything against me. 20 Or else let these men themselves say what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council, 21 other than this one thing that I cried out while standing among them: ‘It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.'” 22 But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 Then he gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs. 24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” 26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him. 27 When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.

Introduction

There are two terms in this text given for the Christians. They are not called “Christians” but rather “Nazarenes” (or even “the SECT of the Nazarenes”) and they are called followers of “the Way.”

The first of these is a critical term applied by others. It is the only time in the Bible that it is used. “The Nazarenes.” Jesus was from Nazareth. And the opponents of Christ want to give the impression that Christ and his followers are a small, sectarian, group from one small isolated plate, Nazareth. In reality the Christians are from all places, every tribe and tongue and nation, and they are growing rapidly in numbers.

There are Christians today who use the term. There is a denomination called the Church of the Nazarene which came out of the Methodist Church over a hundred years ago. This group sought to preach especially to the poor, and so the name “Nazarene” was fitting as they went to the low in society.

Then, in our text, the second description of Christians is as followers of “The Way.” Paul uses this term himself. And Luke, our author, uses it as well. Christians follow Christ, the WAY, the truth, and the life. This is the Biblical use – followers of “the Way.” I think we could safely also self-describe as followers of “the Truth” and as followers of “the Life.” Or even all three. Followers of the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And what a good description that is, covering our mind and actions. In all things following Christ.

These two terms — “Nazarenes” and “the Way”—are used in the context of a trial of Paul before Felix, the Roman Governor of Judea. The High Priest himself, Ananias, comes with a spokesperson (or lawyer) Tertullus to present their case to the Governor.

I. vs. 1-9 – Tertullus’ Accusations

What at the charges of the adversaries of Paul. We’ve seen them before. There are essentially two charges.

Charge 1: Paul is causing unrest. It was so peaceful before. “We were enjoying much peace.” Which isn’t true. But they are try to win favor with Felix. “It is because of your foresight and reforms that we live so well.” But Paul here stirs up riots and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.

Charge 2: Paul tried to profane the temple.

This isn’t accurate either. So they really don’t have a case. They have Ananias and Tertullus and various Jews who “also joined in the charge.”

But there is nothing specific, and no actual witnesses are brought forth, because there are no witnesses.

And those who accuse Paul are not there. They refuse to risk their lives bearing false testimony. So we have just the slander of the Jewish religious authorities.

They hire the lawyer Tertullus. He has a Roman name, but could still be a Jew who has merely taken up a Roman name. And hiring him shows how strong their desire is for this case to be in their favor. They need to hire an eloquent man. They can’t just rely on the simple truths of the case. They need a persuasive orator.

And he uses the term “Nazarenes.” Note what he doesn’t say: Jesus. He never puts on his lips “Jesus of Nazareth.” He’s dancing around it. One day, he and everyone else will bow down to Christ and confess that Jesus is Lord. But here he won’t even speak his name. The animosity against Jesus is palpable, it can be felt. This is the entire reason why the Jews are after Paul. Paul could have done all of the things he’s been doing and gotten away with it no problem, but … for one fact … he preaches Christ. And they don’t like this. They’ve rejected Christ and so they reject Paul.

And look at the twisting of facts here. Well you can’t see it. Where did verse 7 go? Take a look, in your ESV is goes from 6 to 8. It is said that most early copies of the Bible don’t have this verse, and so the ESV translators have kept it out. And know is not the place to get into a lengthy argument for or against the inclusion of the verse.

I just want to say, “I like it.” I like what the verse says. Check it out. In the King James it says “But the chief captain Lysias came upon us and with great violence took him away out of our hands.”

Did you see the lie there? Lysias came upon and with great violence took him away out of our hands. That is exactly opposite of what happened. The Jews were using violence to attack Paul, and Lysias came to the rescue.

This continues to show the perversion of truth that the lawyer employs.

Then we have Paul’s response.

You can see how there is a normal legal proceeding just like a court case today. The accusers speak first, and then the defendant. At the end the Judge will decide the case, or in our case today the Judge will delay, delay, delay.

II. vs. 10-21 – Paul’s Response

Paul’s response is different from the accusations of Tertullus. The accuser was full of flattery for Felix. He will full of style. Paul will be full of substance. He skips the flattery. He merely states the fact that Felix has for many years been judge of this nation. He doesn’t pretend that all is going well, and that his rulership has brought great blessings.

Paul gives both a legal and logical defense of himself while using the opportunity to preach Christ to the governor.

His defense is that he didn’t do anything to deserve the hatred of the Jews. There is no crime here. They have only general trumped up charges with no specific crimes to be witnesses. And so Paul says “where are the witnesses.” They are not here. They don’t want to risk their lives being false witness.

And he says, he has come Jerusalem to worship not cause trouble.

Then Paul gives the real reason for his arrest:

14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.

He again, like in previous situations, appeals to their joint, or common, heritage and God. Paul is following through with the Scriptures. He believes in the resurrection. And he has proof of it in Jesus Christ. Some of the Pharisees says they believe in the resurrection, but in denying Christ they deny that truth which they claim to hold.

Here Paul says “There will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.”

I see this as strong evidence that there will be a SINGLE resurrection at the end of the world. In summary, all die, and all will be raised again on the last day, the just (who are united to Christ) will have eternal life in heaven, and the unjust will have eternal punishment in hell.

“A” resurrection. Of both the just and the unjust.

There are some who teach that there will a A resurrection of the just and A resurrection of the unjust, at different times. I find no need to divide what the text has put together. A resurrection of BOTH the just and the unjust.

See also [Jhn 5:28-29 ESV] 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

Anyways, in all of Paul’s talk of the resurrection, Paul is preaching Christ. Christ rose from the dead. He IS resurrected, and He IS the resurrection.

Felix is said to have “an accurate knowledge of the Way.” He would therefore understand that the resurrection OF CHRIST was in view.

But what was Felix’s response? He is the judge. He must make a decision.

vs. 22-27 – Felix’s response, or the lack thereof.

This is Antonius Felix, as he known in Roman history, who was in office as Procurator or Governor of Judea for 8 years, 52 AD – 60 AD. Here in our text, it is about 57 AD. In the next year, according to the Roman history, Felix will have the High Priest Jonathan killed. I mention this just to indicate the tensions here. The Christians, like Paul, are caught up in this world where there is a peace (by the sword) of the Romans and Jews, but it is a powderkeg ready to explode at any moment, and it does explode in later years with at least three major revolts in Judea.

And history does not speak too kindly about Felix. It is said that he governed “with cruelty and lust.” And in our account he fares no better. Unlike the Tribune in Jerusalem, Felix doesn’t want truth, he wants money. He’s hoping Paul will give him a bribe to be let go. Paul never offers Felix money, and so Paul remains in prison. But you’ve got to think that these multiple occasions that Paul had to speak with Felix were opportunities for Gospel proclamation. Paul preached Christ in his trial, and he continued to preach Christ even to his captor, the governor.

The accusers have spoken of Pauls’ stirring up of riots in all places. But this is the Paul who wrote the Book of Romans. The Paul who was the magistrates best friend, preaching law and order, and obedience to the governing authorities, who are given that role by God Himself.

Ultimately, the court case is ended by Felix. He has a decision. He decision is … “NO DECISION.” It is INDECISION. It is procrastination. And for 2 YEARS he speaks with Paul, without making a decision.

Don’t you wish you had 2 years to talk with Paul? I’d be glad for the discussion, but burdened that I’m keeping Paul away from preaching the Gospel to others! Then again, Paul has done much of his best work — his writings — from prison. Prison hasn’t stopped him from preaching the Gospel.

That is one application we should consider. Don’t say “my circumstances have prevented from doing good for God.” I even knew a man, born with spina bifida, who later had both legs removed, who FROM HIS BED would make phone calls, checking up on people, listening to them, being a friend.

Then there is the most pertinent application from this text: Don’t delay in believing the Gospel. Procrastination is bad in itself, but procrastinating on faith is the worst sort of delay. We are to come to the Lord NOW. The end could be any time. We need forgiveness now. And we need the blessings of God now.

Governor Felix has a case before him. A decision must be made. And “no vote” is as empty as a “no” vote.

What is the judge going to say?

And what are you going to say?

You have a case in front of you, and a decision to be made. If you haven’t decided for Christ, this is your invitation to come. To believe. And it is even the command of God, repent and believe in Jesus Christ for the salvation of sin

When Paul “reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed.” We should be too. We should be alarmed and make the right decision. Tarrying, waiting, is of no use. And not choosing is as equally ineffective as choosing against Christ. The agnostic is a practical atheist.

So let us be like the Apostles. Christ said to Peter and Andrew “Follow me.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And Jesus said to Matthew, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

I pray we do the same. Without delay. Let us follow the Lord. Let us pray.