Acts24: PAUL'S TRIAL BEFORE FELIX
(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)
In this chapter the Jews formalise their charges against Paul. They are such as to incriminate him in the eyes of a Roman governor as a threat to the peace. Paul refutes the charges and the Roman governor, Felix, postpones making a decision.
(A) The charge against Paul.
Tertullus, the lawyer employed by the Sanhedrin, started by flattering Felix, the governor: "We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation." v2. W.W. Wiersbe points out that 270 soldiers and 200 auxiliaries were still required to ensure Paul's safe conduct from Jerusalem to Caesarea. Felix presided over a very fragile peace!
There is a big difference between flattery and appreciation. The flatterer always wants something for him or her self. I can remember during my teaching days at Debenham that a sweet young thing would from time to time approach my desk and say, "You know Mr Reed that you are my favourite teacher." I would invariably reply, "What do you want?" "Please, please Mr Reed give me a week's extension on my course work project." The sweet young thing's flattery was in vain!
It is seven years since I taught Scott. I had an e-mail from him last week. He was in my form for five years. Before he left he just said, "Mr Reed, you have been a good influence on me." Those were words of appreciation.
Tertullus made three charges against Paul:
Paul never incited Christians to riot against Jews. He didn't hate Jews like the Nazis in Germany hated them. Paul was a Jew - he loved his people. He preached Christ to both Jew and Gentile. He wrote: For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Romans1v16. Sadly there were Jews who saw the gospel as a threat to their way of life and it was they who initiated riots against Paul.
It is very easy to brand someone with whom you differ and who poses a threat to your way of thinking a troublemaker. It may be you who is the troublemaker - stirring up opposition to, and hatred of, the person that you disagree with.
(2) He smeared Paul by referring to him as the ringleader of the Nazarene sect. v6. What is meant by this word sect? It means something like: not belonging to the official religion; not being part of mainstream belief; a religious group that are a law unto themselves. There were many different sects in Palestine at this time each of whom followed their own rabbi or, in some cases, Messiah. The latter were especially dangerous to Rome as the false Messiah's, supported by bands of zealots, aimed to free the Jews from Gentile domination. Paul was purported to be the leader of one such sect that had its origins in the Galilean town of Nazareth.
Throughout the history of the church dissident groups have been disparaged as sects. John Calvin reviled the Anabaptists and labelled them a sect. Anyone who interpreted the Bible for them selves and practised believers baptism belonged to a sect. It is clear that the term 'sect' can be applied to belittle and discount anyone with whom you disagree. I am one of those who believe that God will destroy all those who reject the saving work of his Son. See my article on the afterlife. On more than one occasion my views have been dismissed with the comment, "That's what the Sixth Day Adventists believe - they're a sect." This is hardly a reasoned argument. It is just possible that the Sixth Day Adventists are right.
(3) He accused Paul of trying to desecrate the temple. v6. Paul was charged with insulting the Jew's holy place and offending its custodians, the priests. The Sadducees were allies of the Romans and Tertullus hoped that Felix would show his support for the collaborators by condemning Paul.
It is not unknown for the non-conformists in the church to be accused of being disrespectful to their betters!
(C) Paul's defence.
(1) He denied being a troublemaker. In doing so Paul wisely focused on a specific time and place, namely, the few days that he had spent in Jerusalem during the previous fortnight. He said, "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." v12.
It is easy for people to make generalised accusations. It is always a good idea to get one's opponents to concentrate on the specifics. A little while ago I was talking to my old friend Pastor John Skull. He accused me of giving the Grace Baptists a hard time and being a difficult man to handle. So I said, "Look, Pastor, we worked together for 20 years at Pioneer Camp. You were the skipper and I was the sports organiser. Now, did I ever try to undermine your authority or give you a difficult time?" He generously admitted that I had been a loyal and helpful subordinate. It is impossible to defend yourself against generalisations. Get your accusers to deal with the specifics.
(2) Paul protested strongly that he was not a member of a sect - a group on the margins that was unrepresentative of mainstream Jewish belief. Paul claimed to believe what all orthodox Jews believed: "I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man." vs15and16.
Paul believed, with most Jews, in a promised Messiah. The Messianic hope was a strong feature of Judaism. Paul was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah and as such fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. Jesus was able to say as the Messiah: " You have heard that it has been said ......... . But I tell you .......... ." See Mt5v38. Jesus' teaching, example, sacrificial death and wonderful resurrection is God's final word to men.
The Christian group to which I belong, the Grace Baptists, are sometimes disparaged as a sect. This is nonsense. They share the same beliefs as all genuine Christians about God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. They are not a law unto themselves because they accept the authority of the Scriptures. In some matters, like believer's baptism, they are right and other, larger denominations are wrong. In some matters, like unconditional election, others are right and they are wrong. If God's choice depends upon nothing at all and grace is arbitrary then salvation is a lottery! It is quite wrong and thoroughly dishonest to dismiss small Christian groups like the Grace Baptists or the Brethren as sects.
(3) Paul denied that he had profaned the temple - far from it. He was able to say: "I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts from the poor and to present offerings. I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this." v18. Paul showed respect for Judaism and the temple. He never mocked Jewish practices or institutions.
We should show respect for Christians with whom we differ. I think it is wrong to poke fun at Roman Catholicism or the 'happy clappy brigade' or even Grace Baptists. It is important to address differences seriously and reasonably. The real issue that divided Paul from the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin was never discussed. The two sides differed over the status of Jesus. That is still what divides Christians and Jews. This difference was not argued before Felix because the Sanhedrin knew it was not a criminal offence to believe in Jesus! All they were interested in was to shut Paul up because they had made up their minds about Jesus.
Paul shows by his spirited defence that when our fellow Christians make false charges against us we are entitled to speak up for ourselves.
(D) The response of Felix.
Felix's response to, and relationship with, Paul reveals his character. He was:
Felix neither gave into the Jews nor released Paul. He postponed making a judgment saying to Paul: "When Lysias the commander comes I will decide your case."
It is sensible to have all the facts before making up our minds about an accusation. There is usual a second side to a story. However, it is possible to be over cautious. Felix never did decide Paul's case. Some folk are so frightened of giving offence that they never leave the fence.
Procrastination is one of Satan's deadliest weapons. He suggests that we put off making a decision to follow Jesus until a more convenient time. Many who hear and are impressed by the gospel are lost because they never get round to believing in Christ. Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation ... . 2Cor6v2. AV
Procrastination is the reason why so many things that ought to be done are left undone. Last week I wrote a letter of protest to the Royal Mail over their decision to publish no stamps next Christmas with a Christian motif - because we are a multi-faith country. I have never heard such nonsense. If we are a multi-faith country then the faith of Christians should be celebrated not ignored! I also made a small donation to TEAR fund to help alleviate the suffering in Uganda. Satan did his best to distract me from doing either.
It is ironical that Paul offered Felix the greatest of gifts - forgiveness, salvation and eternal life - and all he wanted was a bribe. It is a reminder that many attend church for the wrong reasons. Some attend for friendship and ignore the friend that sticks closer than a brother. Others think it confers respectability but never trust in Jesus who can wash them whiter than the snow.
(6) Callous. Felix left Paul in prison. Professor Barclay describes the riot in Caesarea that brought about the end of Felix's term as governor. Felix sent in his troops to support the Greeks against the Jews. Thousands of Jews were killed and numerous homes looted. The Jews protested to Rome. Felix kept Paul in prison at this time in an attempt to curry favour with the Jews. It was to no avail - he was sacked just the same - and Paul remained a prisoner.
Felix put his own interests before the well being of a good man who was guilty of no crime and should have been freed. Jesus died because of Jewish pressure and Gentile weakness. There are relatively few people in any society who ignore self interest to protect the vulnerable and unfairly treated. There are not many men like Bishop Haik Hovsepian-Mehr. In the August issue of Evangelicals Now I read the following:
In 1986, Mehdi Dibaj, a university lecturer in the northern city of Babol and formerly a Muslim, was imprisoned for refusing to renounce Christ and return to Islam. He remained in prison for nine years and was then officially sentenced to death for apostasy. He was due to be executed in December 1993. In response, the leader of the Assemblies of God Churches in Iran, Bishop Haik Hovsepian-Mehr, alerted the world to the imminent execution and without any explanation Mehdi Dibaj was released. However, in January 1994, Haik Hovsepian-Mehr suddenly went missing. A few days later his son was called to the mortuary to identify his father's body.