Faithfulness in the Midst of Injustice – Acts 24:1-27

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Sermon Study Sheets

Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

October 29, 2006

Faithfulness in the Midst of Injustice

Acts 24:1-27

The sermon last week ended with Paul being taken to Caesarea under heavy Roman guard. When the Roman commander, Lysias, found out about the conspiracy of forty men to murder Paul, a Roman citizen whom he was responsible to protect, he acted wisely and moved him to a more secure location. This was especially true since he had already taken Paul before the Sanhedrin and had determined by their response that the accusations were regarding questions about Jewish Law, but there was no accusation deserving death or even imprisonment.

Paul is now in Caesarea held in custody at Herod’s Praetorium. This complex of buildings had been constructed by Herod the Great and now served in several capacities including the governor’s residence. On the basis of Lysias’ letter and Paul’s Roman citizenship, Felix, the governor, could have and should have freed Paul when he arrived. Instead he kept Paul under guard while he waited for the Jews to come and make their accusations. This would begin what would become a series of Roman trials that would give Paul the opportunity to present the gospel to the most powerful people in that region and eventually to Caesar himself.

Paul Before Felix (24:1-27)

The Accusations of the Jews (1-9)

Arrival of Ananias & Elders (1)

Acts 24:1 (NASB) And after five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders, with a certain attorney [named] Tertullus; and they brought charges to the governor against Paul.

Recall from our study last week that Ananias and the Sanhedrin planned to request Lysias the Roman commander to bring Paul back before them under the pretense of having an additional inquiry. The real reason is that they wanted to give the forty conspirators the opportunity to murder Paul while he was on the way (Acts 23:14,15). We assume that was when Lysias informed them that Paul was already on his way to Caesarea and that they would have to go there to present their charges before the governor, it would have taken them some time to formulate their plans and then prepare and make the journey. Luke tells us here that it was five days later that they arrived. It is about 60 miles from Jerusalem to Caesarea and they would have been traveling a lot slower than the Roman soldiers who took Paul there.

The delegation was carefully planned in order to impress the governor. First, there was Ananias the high priest. The very fact that he would leave Jerusalem and go all the way to Caesarea signified that this was a serious matter otherwise he would have just sent a representative. Second, there were select men from the Sanhedrin who came. There presence would also indicate that they considered their charges against Paul to be serious. Finally, there was Tertullus the lawyer. There is some speculation about his background being either a Roman or Hellenistic Jew, but regardless he was coming as an expert in Roman law. His abilities would be needed because Paul was now before a Roman court and not a Jewish one. They would need to be able to convince the governor that Paul had violated Roman law.

The hearing begins soon after their arrival with Tertullus using his rhetorical abilities to sway the governor starting with a very flattering, but untrue salutation to Felix.

Feigned Respect (2-4)

2 And after [Paul] had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying [to the governor],

“Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for this nation, 3 we acknowledge [this] in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness. 4 “But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing.

Proverbs 26:24 warns, “He who hates disguises [it] with his lips, But he lays up deceit in his heart. 25 When he speaks graciously, do not believe him, For there are seven abominations in his heart.” After Paul is brought in Tertullus’ gives an introduction that makes it seem like these Jews loved Felix and thought he was doing a superb job as governor. The truth was that they hated him and despised his rule.

Tertullus says that through him they attained peace. The truth was that there was no peace in the five years of Felix’s rule. He had routed a force of 4,000 Jews led by an Egyptian that promised to overthrow Roman rule. That resulted in the crucifixion of an incalculable number of Jews both guilty and innocent. Currently there were so many rebels and assassins in the countryside that it was not safe for any person who was inclined to promote Roman rule.

Tertullus praises Felix for his reforms. He even amplifies his thanksgiving saying it was “sincere” and that it was acknowledged “in every way” and “everywhere.” The truth is that the Jews would have been hard pressed to mention any beneficial reform that Felix had initiated. His rule was so oppressive that Nero would recall him two years later, and he would leave Judea in a such state of civil disorder that it would result in open rebellion by the Jews against Rome in AD 66, seven years later.

Tertullus ends his introduction describing Felix as “most excellent.” Though a common title of respect given to those in positions of authority, it was not something Felix had actually earned.

He then made the customary promise to be brief. That was not a promise always kept but it was designed to gain the good will of the ruler. The promise was kept in this case for there was actually little that Tertullus could say.

With the opening flattery concluded, Tertullus begins to delineate the charges they are bringing against Paul.

False Charge of Treason (4,5a)

5 “For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 “And he even tried to desecrate the temple; and then we arrested him. [ And we wanted to judge him according to our own Law. 7 “But Lysias the commander came along, and with much violence took him out of our hands, 8 ordering his accusers to come before you.] And by examining him yourself concerning all these matters, you will be able to ascertain the things of which we accuse him. ” 9 And the Jews also joined in the attack, asserting that these things were so.

The first charge in verse 5 is that of treason. Tertullus will not even say Paul’s name, but just refers to him condescendingly as “this man” and then accuses him of being a “real pest” who stirs up dissension among the Jews throughout the world. The word translated as “real pest” (loimoV / loimos) actually means pestilence or plague. His charge is that Paul is like a plague spreading dissension throughout the Roman empire. There had been unrest in the preceding years in some of the large Jewish communities in the empire including Alexandria and Rome itself where Paul had never been, but the effort is insinuate that Paul is a reason for them and therefore should be destroyed or at least isolated before he causes more problems.

[verse 5 is poor Greek for it is without a main verb. Luke appears to be quoting Tertullus verbatim and giving another reason he is unconvincing to the court despite the flowery opening].

False Charge of Religious Heresy (5b)

The second charge in verse 5 is that he is “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” This is a contemptuous statement. The origin of the term “Nazoreans” is uncertain but there is evidence that it was used by the orthodox Jews as a term of derision even prior to Christian times and was later applied to Christians since they were followers of Jesus of Nazareth. The accusation here is that Paul is a leader in a sect that did not have Roman government approval and as such was an outlawed group.

False Charge of Temple Desecration (6a)

The third charge is of temple desecration. “And he even tried to desecrate the temple; and then we arrested him.” This accusation is even more inaccurate than Lysias’ self promoting description, for it was a mob that had attacked Paul and was trying to kill him and not the Temple police placing him in custody. The purpose of this charge is to try and move Paul out from under Roman jurisdiction and back under Jewish jurisdiction for a serious crime against Jewish law.

False Charge of Roman Interference (6b-8a)

The text then continues, [ And we wanted to judge him according to our own Law. 7 “But Lysias the commander came along, and with much violence took him out of our hands, 8 ordering his accusers to come before you.]

It should be pointed out that this section is only in the later Western texts as noted in the NASB, NKJV, NIV & RSV. It seems to be in harmony with the rest of Tertullus’ speech in accusing Lysias of improperly interfering with them. Verse 8 & 9 then continues, ” And by examining him yourself concerning all these matters, you will be able to ascertain the things of which we accuse him.” 9 And the Jews also joined in the attack, asserting that these things were so. This would be a logical flow that Lysias, who was not present, would back up this story even as the rest of the Jews were doing in voicing their support to Tertullus’ accusations against Paul. This would then explain Felix’s ruling in verse 22 that he would decide the case after Lysias came down.

If the text does not belong, then Tertullus does something that I have seen lawyers do. They actually believe the lies of their client and end up placing themselves sitting out on a limb which they then saw off themselves. That is what I think happens here and Tertullus boldly asserts that if Paul was questioned by the governor himself he would be forced to agree that this is what happened. He was probably quite surprised when the governor does just that and Paul ably defends himself on every point.

 

Paul’s Defense (10-21)

Respectful Introduction (10)

10 And when the governor had nodded for him to speak, Paul responded: “Knowing that for many years you have been a judge to this nation, I cheerfully make my defense.”

We must remember that Felix already had a letter from Lysias that briefly explained what had occurred, so he is not easily swayed by Tertullus’ speech despite the flattery. Felix now wants to hear Paul’s side of the story. Whatever else his failings, Felix is at least following the wisdom of Proverbs 18:17, “The first to plead his case [seems] just, [Until] another comes and examines him.” There are two sides to the story and he wants to hear both before coming to any conclusions. That is wise advice for everyone to heed for it would end the spreading of lies, rumors and gossip immediately.

Paul begins his defense acknowledging the governor’s knowledge of the affairs of the land because he had been involved in ruling over Jewish lands since at least AD 48 and had been the governor since AD 52. Felix was also married to a Jewish wife, Drusilla, so he was very familiar with Jewish affairs. Paul is in sharp contrast to Tertullus for he only states the facts of why he can cheerfully make his defense to Felix. Paul makes no flattery.

Refutation of Charge of Treason (11-13)

Paul refutes the charge of treason in verse 11-13. 11 since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 “And neither in the temple, nor in the synagogues, nor in the city [itself] did they find me carrying on a discussion with anyone or causing a riot. 13 “Nor can they prove to you [the charges] of which they now accuse me.

Paul’s defense is simple and to the point. First, there has not been enough time for him to accomplish what they are accusing him of doing since he had only been in Judea a total of 12 days and he had been imprisoned for at least 5 of those. Second, he had come to Jerusalem for the purpose of worshiping. Third, they have no witnesses of him causing a riot or even having a treasonous conversation at any place at any time. Fourth, they can’t prove any of their charges.

Refutation of Charge of Religious Heresy (14-16)

In verses 14-16 Paul refutes the charge of religious heresy. 14 “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law, and that is written in the Prophets; 15 having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16 “In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience [both] before God and before men.

Paul readily admits to he was a follower of “the Way” which is a shortened version of “the way of the Lord” (18:25) or “way of God” (18:26). His accusers claim it was a sect, but Paul demonstrates that it was solidly rooted in Judaism and therefore a religion protected by Roman law. Paul was serving the “God of our fathers” tying his belief system to that of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He believed “everything in accordance with the Law,” a reference to Moses, as well as what was “written in the prophets,” a reference to the rest of the Old Testament. Paul shared the same hope in God that his accusers held that there will be a resurrection of the righteous and wicked. That tells us that not all his accusers were Sadducees who rejected that hope. Paul then asserted the integrity of his own conscience in doing all of this. The Way was just as much a part of Judaism as were the Pharisees and Sadducees and therefore allowed under Roman law.

Refutation of Charge of Temple Desecration (17-18a)

In verses 17 & 18 Paul refutes the charge of Temple desecration. 17 “Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings; 18 in which they found me [occupied] in the temple, having been purified, without [any] crowd or uproar.

This is also simple and to the point. Paul had been in the temple because he was bringing alms, presenting his offerings and going through a purification rite. He was not the cause of any crowd or uproar. He was in no way involved in any sort of temple desecration but was doing quite the opposite in showing the utmost respect toward it by performing the practices which were to take place within it.

Refuting the Accusers (19-21)

Paul continues on verses 19-21 and places the responsibility for the turmoil where it belonged. But [there were] certain Jews from Asia– 19 who ought to have been present before you, and to make accusation, if they should have anything against me. 20 “Or else let these men themselves tell what misdeed they found when I stood before the Council, 21 other than for this one statement which I shouted out while standing among them, ‘For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today.’ ”

It was Jews from Asia that had stirred up a crowd and started an uproar. They should have been present to make their accusations, but they had not come. He then challenged those that had come to give testimony before the governor of any misdeed he had done. The only thing of which he could be accused was starting the dissension within the Sanhedrin when he shouted out in their midst, “for the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today.” However, the fact that Paul had to shout demonstrated to the governor that they were already in turmoil before Paul made his statement otherwise he would not have had to shout. It also demonstrated that the conflict was over a theological issue in Judaism and not anything seditious or even political and therefore not acceptable as evidence in a Roman court.

Paul refuted his accusers, demonstrated his own godly character and even was able to bring up the central issue of the resurrection of the dead which is a key aspect of the gospel. Paul would take advantage of any opportunity to proclaim his hope (confident assurance) in God’s promises. Verses 22-23 record the governors response.

Felix’s Procrastination (22-27)

Putting Off Paul’s Accusers (22-23)

22 But Felix, having a more exact knowledge about the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 And he gave orders to the centurion for him to be kept in custody and [yet] have [some] freedom, and not to prevent any of his friends from ministering to him.

Felix’s decision is mixed. He does put off the Jews because he was aware of “the Way” and knew their accusations against Paul and the followers of Jesus were false. He also already had the report from Lysias but still decides to wait until Lysias can come in person to report before making a final decision. Paul would be kept in custody. He did not need to do this and could have and should have freed Paul right then, but Felix, like Pilate years before him, was fearful of causing problems with the Jews. One final positive note in the decision was that Paul would at least have a limited amount of freedom including allowing his friends open access to him.

Putting Off Paul (24-27)

His Own Fears (24-25)

24 But some days later, Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul, and heard him [speak] about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time, I will summon you.”

One of the reasons Felix had a “more exact knowledge of the Way” was because his wife, Drusilla, who was a Jewess and was very interested in religious matters. After a few days sent for Paul to hear more about Paul’s beliefs about Jesus Christ. Here again we find that Paul does not hold back the truth in order to either manipulate Felix or gain a more favorable decision from him. Paul discusses righteousness, self-control and the judgement to come.

As I said last week, the gospel is not a man centered message as many have made it in Christianity in America. It is about the revelation of God and His righteousness in dealing with mankind. God does love you and has a wonderful plan for your life, but it is His plan for your life and not your own, and His love for you is in disregard of who you are and what you have done, not because of it. It is a love demonstrated in Jesus’ substitutionary death for you while you were yet a sinner. The gospel is predicated on the bad news that man has sinned against his holy Creator and remains under God’s condemnation until he repents and in utter humility turns in faith to Jesus Christ.

The truth was too much for Felix who was proud and was even then living in adultery with Drusilla. She was his third wife and had left the King of Azizus because Felix had promised her a life of happiness. Verse 26 tells us even more about his sinful character.

His Desire for a Bribe (26)

26 At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him.

Here is the hidden reason that Felix had kept Paul in custody instead of releasing him. And yet, though Felix’ motives were wrong, it still became the opportunity for Paul to continue to proclaim to him the truth of the gospel. Paul continued to be faithful even though he was unjustly imprisoned and Felix did not heed his message. We assume that from what we are told in verse 27.

His Desire to do a Favor for the Jews (27)

27 But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned

Felix was supposed to decide the case after Lysias came to give a first hand report, but after two years Paul is still in prison. Either for some reason Lysias never came or Felix still did not decide the case even after Lysias did come. We know from verse 26 that Felix wanted a bribe from Paul first, and here in verse 27 we find that Paul had become a political prisoner. I have already pointed out that Felix was not a good leader and was fearful of the further turmoil that would have been caused by the Jewish leaders if he had released Paul.

Two years after Paul had been imprisoned governor Felix was recalled by Rome. There had been a civil strife between Gentiles and Jews in Caesarea that he had suppressed with such brutality that the infuriated Jews were finally able to get Nero to remove him. Normally there would be severe consequences to a governor recalled in such a manner. As an act of good will toward the Jews in order to gain a more favorable final report, Felix left Paul in prison. Felix was not a man of good character. However, it was Felix’ brother, Pallas, who was quite wealthy, that interceded for him. Though Felix escaped any punishment by Rome, he also passed from the scene of history and eventually into the hands of the God that Paul had faithfully proclaimed to him. The righteous God that created him and Who would judge him with true justice.

Felix is like so many people today. They have a curiosity about God and what He has said, but they don’t really want the truth because they do not want to face the reality about themselves and their current standing before their holy Creator. That is too frightening and too demanding. Their curiosity may even keep them coming back to hear a little more, but their motive is still to only get something for themselves on their own terms. I have met a lot of people like that over the years.

The greater tragedy are those who change the gospel message in an effort to reach these people. While they may succeed in getting those people to keep coming to their church, they do not succeed in bringing those people to genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Salvation from sin only occurs on God’s terms and not our own. That is why Jesus warned in Matthew 7 about the broad gate and the broad road that lead to destruction. Many who think they are saved are on that broad road and not the narrow one.

Paul was compassionate and gentle, but he never withheld or compromised the truth even when doing so would have been to his personal advantage. That is the example we must also follow. As ambassadors of Jesus Christ we can beg people to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20), but we must not change the gospel message in so doing. Like Paul we may suffer at the hands of our enemies because of their false accusations and then have that compounded by the selfishness and indifference of others, but we still must never compromise the truth even when doing so could alleviate our suffering. Paul was faithful in the midst of injustice just as Jesus Christ had been himself. So should it be said of us. As 1 Peter 4:16 states it, “but if [anyone suffers] as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God.”

 

Sermon Study Sheets

 

KIDS CORNER

Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Keep track of how many times governor Felix is mentioned. 2) Talk with your parents about how you can do what is right even when you are treated wrongly.

THINK ABOUT IT!

Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

Why was Paul imprisoned? Who were Paul’s accusers? Why did these particular people make up the delegation? What kind of lawyer was Tertullus? Why did he begin with such flattery of Felix? Was it effective? What any of it true? What does the Bible say about flattery? What were the specific charges against Paul? How were each designed to manipulate the Roman court? Contrast Paul’s opening address to Felix with that of Tertullus. How long had Felix been involved in Jewish affairs? What was the importance of his wife in understanding them? Explain how Paul refutes each of the accusations made against him – treason; religious heresy & leader of an illegal religion and temple desecration. What charges and challenges does Paul present against and to his accusers? Why does Paul talk about his hope for the resurrection of the dead? What is Felix’ reaction to what he heard? Why? Why does he want to wait until Lysias comes before deciding the case? Is this good or bad? Explain. What freedoms does Felix grant to Paul? Why did Felix & Drusilla want to hear about faith in Christ Jesus? What does Paul tell them? Why are they afraid? What did Felix want from Paul?

Sermon Notes – October 29, 2006

Faithfulness in the Midst of Injustice – Acts 24:1-27

The Accusations of the Jews

Arrival of Ananias & Elders (1)

Feigned Respect (2-4)

False Charge of Treason (4,5a)

False Charge of Religious Heresy (5b)

False Charge of Temple Desecration (6a)

False Charge of Roman Interference (6b-8a)

 

Paul’s Defense (10-21)

Respectful Introduction (10)

Refutation of Charge of Treason (11-13)

Refutation of Charge of Religious Heresy (14-16)

Refutation of Charge of Temple Desecration (17-18a)

Refuting the Accusers (19-21)

Felix’s Procrastination (22-27)

Putting Off Paul’s Accusers (22-23)

Putting Off Paul (24-27)

His Own Fears (24-25)

His Desire for a Bribe (26)

His Desire to do a Favor for the Jews (27)

Conclusions


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