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PAUL’S TRIAL BEFORE THE GOVERNOR FELIX

Acts 24:1-24:27
Key Verse: 24:25

In the last lesson, Paul’s trial before the Sanhedrin, Paul clearly proclaimed his hope, the hope of the resurrection of the dead. And the Lord stood near him and encouraged him that he would continually testify about the Lord Jesus even in Rome. We thank God that the Lord Jesus stands near us to speak to us and encourage us at each time of need. May we look for him and listen to him and in his strength be able to testify about him wherever we are. In today’s passage, when Paul stood on trial before the governor Felix, he received the Jews’ accusations against him. It is noticeable that among the five trials of Paul in Acts only in this trial the charges against Paul were clearly presented. Paul refuted the charges again him logically and systematically, based on the facts. At the same time he testified to his faith and hope, the constant hope of the resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. In this trial he even showed his shepherd heart for the governor Felix. Let’s think about this Paul.

First, Paul’s defence at the Jew’s charges against him (1-21). Look at verse 1. “Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor.” At the end of the previous chapter Felix, having read the letter from Claudius Lysias, sent to Jerusalem for Paul’s accusers and meanwhile kept him in custody in Caesarea (23:35). Now Paul’s accusers arrived. When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix. Let’s examine his presentation. He said, “We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation.” He talked about "peace" and "reforms" Felix had brought about, although these were, in fact, not true at all. In reality Felix had put down several insurrections with such barbarous brutality that he earned for himself a reputation of horror. Tertullus continued, “Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude.” As a trained and experienced professional lawyer, Tertullus began with what was called a captatio benevolentiae, that is, an endeavour to capture the judge’s goodwill. Traditionally, it was complimentary to the point of hypocrisy, but on this occasion it descended to ‘almost nauseating flattery’. Then Tertullus said, “But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.” Tertullus went on to enumerate three charges against Paul. Look at verses 5 and 6. “We have found this man to be a trouble-maker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple;…” Three charges are being a trouble maker and a ringleader of the Nazarene sect, and trying to desecrate the temple. To be a trouble maker, stirring up riots was a serious accusation because of its political overtones. There were many Jewish agitators at that time, Messianic pretenders who threatened the very ‘peace’ which Tertullus had attributed to Felix. To be a ringleader of the Nazarene sect was not an honourable title but that of contempt and danger to the Jews, for the "Nazarene sect" was a derogative expression of the Jewish leaders to discredit Christianity. And to desecrate the temple was an unspeakable crime to the Jewish people. Then Tertullus said, “We seized him.” This is a dishonest euphemism for the Jews’ attempt to lynch him. In charging Paul with these, Tertullus did not mention anything about the concrete facts. Rather, he lastly said, “By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.”

In verse 9, the Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true. They were really out of their minds to accuse Paul, stooping to disgusting flattery for Felix, although they had suffered much under him.

Let’s see Paul’s response to these charges. Look at verse 10. “When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied, ‘I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defence.” Paul also began with a captatio benevolentiae, although it was considerably more modest and moderate than Tertullus’ had been; he then proceeded to refute the prosecution’s allegations one by one. Look at verses 11-13. “You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 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. And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me.” Here Paul is saying that he was emphatically not a trouble-maker, addressing the charge of stirring up riots among the Jews. In other words, in the few days at his disposal he had had no time to foment an insurrection; he had had no intention of doing so either, since he went to Jerusalem as a pilgrim to worship, not as an agitator to cause a riot; and his accusers could produce no evidence that in temple, synagogue or city he had caused a disturbance or even engaged in an argument.

Look at verses 14-16. “However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. 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.” Secondly, Paul addressed the charge that he was a ringleader of the Nazarene sect. This led him to affirmation as well as denial. Although he was indeed a follower of the Way, this was not a sect, as they called it, for he worshipped the God of their fathers and believed the teaching of the Scriptures. Here was Paul’s public confession of faith (homologo, I confess 14). It consisted of four affirmations; (i) ‘I worship the God of our fathers’; (ii) ‘I believe everything that agrees with the Law and…the Prophets; (iii) ‘I have the same hope in God as these men’; and (iv) ‘I strive always [‘as much as they’] to keep my conscience clear…’. Moreover, Paul’s purpose in this was not just to make a personal declaration, but to insist that he shared it with the whole people of God. He worshipped the same God (‘the God of our fathers’), believed the same truths (the Law and the Prophets), shared the same hope (the resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked) and cherished the same ambition (to keep a clear conscience). He was not an innovator, therefore, but loyal to the ancestral faith. Nor was he a sectarian or heretical deviant, for he stood squarely in mainstream Judaism. His worship, faith, hope and goal were no different from theirs. ‘The Way’ enjoyed a direct continuity with the Old Testament, for the Scriptures bore witness to Jesus Christ as the one in whom God’s promises had been fulfilled.

Look at verses 17-21. “After an absence of several days, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin—unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: ‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.” The third accusation against Paul was that he had profaned the temple (7). This the apostle strenuously denied. Far from desecrating the temple, Paul’s purpose in visiting Jerusalem had been religious (‘to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings’, 17) and his condition, when he was found in the temple doing this, had been of ceremonial purity (18). There was no crowd and no disturbance. It was certain Asian Jews, who had interfered with him and assumed that Paul defiled the holy temple by bringing the Greek into the temple area just when he was demonstrating his love for his nation and his respect for its laws. Why were these men not in court to press their charges? (19). Their absence was a serious breach of Roman law, which ‘was very strong against accusers who abandoned their charges’. Since those Asian Jews were not there as witnesses, then those who were there should state of what crime the Sanherin had convicted him (20). The fact is that the Pharisees had declared him innocent of any crime (23:9); only the Sadducees thought him guilty, and that only of a theological belief concerning the resurrection of the dead (21).

It is easy to be emotional and upset when we are falsely accused. Paul was not. When we think of Paul’s defence, it was very logical. concrete, factual and conscientious and sincere, whereas Tertullus was just asserting with no description of facts and no sincerity. And he not only refuted their charges, but also cleared knew and presented why he was on trial. It was concerning the resurrection of the dead. He even shouted for this in the presence of the Sanhedrin. His hope was very clear. Peter said in 1 Peter 3:15-16, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” This time he mentioned the resurrection of not only the righteous but also of the wicked, both the believers of Jesus and the unbelievers. It was actually a terrifying message to the accusers. Daniel 12:2 says, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” Jesus said in John 5:28,29, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” And Jesus said in Mark 16:15,16, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” There are only two destinations for people on the earth, everlasting life or everlasting condemnation and contempt. We must be very clear about this with no compromising at all.

As we know Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) lived an awful life. It seemed that he did not care about death and his destiny after it. Yet, he was also curious about his death and destination. Then he asked some people around him who would tell him about such things. At this one official near him said, “There is a Jewish astrologer. He is most outstanding in Deutschland. His predictions have been 100% correct. He will tell you when you will die.” So Hitler sent for him though he was a Jew and asked him about his death. At this, the astrologer closed his eyes and thought about Hitler’s destiny for a quite a long time and finally said, “See, the divination came out. You will die at the day of a Jewish festival.” Then Hitler asked again, “Tell me concretely. When is the Jewish festival?” The astrologer replied, “That’s hard to say. Yet, one thing is certain. The day you die will be the day of Jewish festival.” This story tells us even Hitler could not ignore the eternal destiny he had to face in his deep heart. There was one of the greatest intellectuals in this 20th century who seemed to shake the world. In the march of 1980 he was hospitalized in Burse hospital in Paris because of his pulmonary edema. For one month he reviled screaming to the top of his voice. He shouted to the doctors and nurses and those who visited him. Yet he could not ask what his illness was even to his wife near him because of the fear of his death. His wife also could not tell him the name of his disease fearing how he would respond to it. The wife could not comfort him at all though she heard his crying and yelling and shouting in pain and fear. How pitiful this couple was! This man was the one who moved the hearts of many people through his beautiful writings regarding freedom. He was an existentialist, named Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980). After one month of hospitalization, on April 16, 1980, he died and was gone from this world. After his death, French newspapers wondered, “Why did Sartre have to die in that way? Why was his end so miserable after so confidently claiming the freedom from death? People can say many things. But in light of the Bible it was because he also could not escape the reality of confronting the everlasting contempt that awaited him after his death. Thomas More (1478-1535) was imprisoned because of his faith in Jesus. His wife and children pleaded with him to surrender to the authorities, saying, “We can still live together for a long time. Why do you bring tragedy to your family, while you are still so young? After hearing this, More asked back, “How long do you think I can live more?” “At least, 20 years,” his wife replied. Then Thomas More exclaimed, “In order to live just 20 years more, should I give up everlasting life? If I do so, how foolish it is! Is it not better to lose all other things than lose the very soul?” He truly believed the everlasting life given to the souls saved. May we really believe that there are everlasting life and everlasting contempt and live up to this faith.

Second, Paul’s shepherd heart for Felix (22-27). Then what was the response of the audience? The high priest Ananias and some elders of the Jews and the lawyer Tertullus were silent. And Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way (perhaps through his Jewish wife, Drusilla),, adjourned the proceedings. He found himself on the horns of a dilemma. He could not convict Paul, since Lysias the tribune had found no fault in him (23:29), nor had the Sanhedrin (23:9), nor had Tertullus been able to substantiate (prove) his charges. On the other hand, Felix was unwilling to release Paul, partly because he hoped for a bribe (26) and partly because he wanted to curry favour with the Jews (27). The only other option was to postpone his verdict on the pretext that he needed the tribune’s advice: When Lysias the commander comes, I will decide your case (22).

And he ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs. The Roman had different degrees of imprisonment. Because Paul was a Roman citizen, who had not been convicted of any offence, Felix issued instructions that he should be given custodia libera, in which, although he was never unguarded, his friends enjoyed free access to him. We may guess that Luke visited him, and Philip the evangelist with his four daughters who lived in Caesarea (21:8-9), together with others who were members of the local church.

Look at verse 24. “Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus.” Drusilla was the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I, whose opposition and death Luke has described earlier (12:1-23). She was therefore the sister of King Agrippa II and of Bernice, to whom Luke will introduce us in the next chapters (25:13, 23: 26:30). She had reputation of ravishing youthful beauty, on account of which Felix, with the aid of a Cypriot magician, had seduced her from her rightful husband and secured her for himself. She was, in fact, his third wife. The lax morals of Felix and Drusilla help to explain the topics on which Paul spoke to them. Paul spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. We believe that Paul certainly talked about how to receive everlasting life. It is through faith in Jesus Christ who died for man’s sins and rose again from the dead. Faith in Christ Jesus is the most precious thing in one’s life and in the world. Faith in Christ Jesus is everything, for he is the Saviour and he is the Judge of the living and the dead. Peter said in Acts 10:42, “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as Judge of the living and the dead.” Paul said to the Athens in Acts 17:30,31, “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

Look at verse 25. “As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid…” Surely, Paul gave a personal message to Felix out of his shepherd heart for the pitiful soul, as Jesus delivered a relevant message to Pilate. Let’s think about Paul’s discourse, righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come. Jesus said in John 16:8-11, “When he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” Not believing in Jesus is the fundamental sin, which God really deals with. There are various kinds of righteousness. Each individual has each one’s own righteousness. Each nation has her own righteousness. For example, wasting food is a crime in North Korea. Homosexuals went to jail in certain countries around 1950s. Human righteousness is relativistic. Because of self-righteousness, people can be proud and do not recognize them as sinners and do not put their faith in Jesus. There are various kinds of righteousness: Job righteousness, position righteousness, family righteousness, intellectual righteousness, schedule righteousness (I am self-disciplined and rigorous in my time management, which makes me more mature than others), flexibility righteousness (In a world that’s busy, I’m flexible and relaxed. I always make time for others. Shame on those who don’t!), mercy righteousness (I care about the poor and disadvantaged the way everyone else should), legalistic righteousness (I don’t drink, smoke, or chew, or date girls who do. Too many Christians just aren’t concerned about holiness these days), financial righteousness (I manage money wisely and stay out of debt. I’m not like those materialistic Christians who can’t control their spending), tolerance righteousness (I am open-minded and charitable toward those who don’t agree with me. In fact, I’m a lot like Jesus that way!), etc. But before God all the righteousness of man are like filthy rags (Isa 64:6). The only righteousness that can be accepted by God is Jesus, who kept all the laws and was sinless before God, and also who died for all sinners as a ransom sacrifice. As a proof he was raised from the dead and was ascended into heaven to go back to the Father. Jesus is the righteousness of God. Those who acknowledge that they are sinners and believed that Jesus died for their sins are clothed with Jesus’ righteousness and can be accepted by God. We need to recognize and cast off our self-righteousness and claim the righteousness of Jesus every moment in our Christian life.

And Paul discoursed on self-control. As we thought of, Felix lived his life as his sinful desire directed. He was like a horse without bridle. Probably he had a question, “How can I control my life, especially my sinful nature and over my drinking habit?” But when Paul discoursed on self-control, it was not human self-control, which has a great limitation. Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit that comes through faith in Jesus (Gal 5:23). Christian life is the life of freedom in Christ. Yet, it includes self-control out of obedience to God and his word. Then Christians are truly free. At the moment when we cannot control our emotional feelings or bad temper or habit, we can come to Jesus for his help.

Paul discoursed on the judgment to come. As we studied, the resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked is related to the judgment to come. Hebrews 9:27 says, “…man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” The resurrection of the wicked is eternal punishment.

When Felix heard Paul’s discourse, he was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” Felix was also a soul made in the image of God. He knew what the message meant. But he refused it gently. Actually, when he was afraid, it was the very time to repent and believe in Christ Jesus. But he sought for the time of convenience, which he probably meant the time he would not be afraid even after hearing such a message. Actually that’s spiritually the worse time. As time passed by, his spiritual condition deteriorated. In verse 27, when two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favour to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.” In fact he was put in prison continually, most probably until the time he died and then had to face eternal judgment.

In this passage we could see Paul defence against false accusations of the Jewish leaders before Felix. He refused their unreasonable charges with logical mind, clear conscience, and assured and ever-growing hope of the resurrection, the resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. He even had a shepherd heart for the governor and discoursed on faith in Jesus, righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come. May we keep our faith in these without compromise and be able to discourse on them in our campus.

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