THE JUDGE FACES JUDGMENT Trinity
Acts 24 30.08.20
By most measures Jesus was a nobody. He wrote no books, held no government position, did not start a university, did not have an army, owned nothing but a long criminal record. He lived in nowheresville, and did not travel more than a couple of hundred miles from home.
Today Judaism, out of which Jesus came, has 15 million signed up members. More than 2 billion are signed up to Christianity. Today the supremacy of Jesus is proclaimed in millions of churches right across the world. How did what had such an unpromising and piddling (trivial) beginning become so significant?
How it all started is what the book of Acts is telling us. Here we see the gospel of Jesus spreads from a bunch of frightened men in a locked room in Jerusalem (Acts 1) to the heart of the then known world, and the corridors of power in Rome (Acts 28).
Acts is more than history. Luke is telling us the big story so that:
- Jesus will grow more wonderful to us
- the smallness of anything we do won’t discourage us
- the efforts of the enemies of Jesus won’t deter us
As we move to a part of the next chapter of the story from August 2020 to August 2021, we’ll run boldly and faithfully. Through this time of pandemic fear and uncertainty, into the next 10 years when believers are likely to face pressure against Jesus and his Word in a way that we’ve never seen in Australia?
What do we need, friends? In Acts 24 God shows us yet again that he advances the cause of Jesus from a very ordinary base by an extraordinary message.
THE ORDINARY BASE
We saw last Sunday that Paul has just been wonderfully rescued from 40 Jewish jihadists who have vowed to kill him. He is now in the court room of Felix, the appointed stooge (a subordinate used by another to do unpleasant routine work.) who runs the show for Rome in this backwater of its empire.
A slick lawyer, Tertullus, has been flown in by the Jews to nail Paul. The Jews hated Felix for what he had done to their nation, but Tertullus butters him up with false flattery. He then brings the people’s case against Paul with a bunch of false accusations. He is the kind of man whom you know is lying because his lips are moving.
It’s Paul’s turn to defend himself, from verse 10.
- Had he started a rebellion in Jerusalem against Rome? How can he have done that since he arrived there only 12 days earlier (verse 11), and six of those were spent in prison?
- Rome had decreed the Jewish religion and its holy books legal. Has Paul been an outsider? He is more Jewish than any of his accusers … “I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the prophets” (verse 14b).
- Has he come with a different God – or a different teaching about what is to come? He has “a hope in God which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust” (verse 15).
- Did he come in order to cause trouble for Jews? He had come with money he had collected from Gentiles for Jews … “I came to bring alms to my nation” (verse 17).
- Can anyone bring any evidence of a crime against Rome or against Israel? The men who want to condemn Paul haven’t even turned up at court, and those who have, have not presented even one shred of evidence. (verses 19-21)
Why has Luke reported all this? To make it crystal clear that Rome doesn’t have any lawful reason to be against Jesus’ churches – just as it never had a lawful reason to be against Jesus.
He’s also writing so that Christians will refuse to try to advance the cause of Jesus off the back of what is wrong. Paul told Titus “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works … that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” (Titus 2:7,8)
How did any Christian anywhere, or any church anywhere ever get the idea that we could advance the cause of Jesus by shonky deals (dishonest, unreliable, or illegal, especially in a devious way) tax fraud, gossip, immoral behaviour or bitterness? Or that what we need is a bunch of newer ideas, and more clever preaching and more entertainment at church?
God’s platform for his mission to the world has always been the ordinary humdrum daily godliness of his children.
BUT … as powerful as ordinary godliness is in a godless culture, it’s not going to convert anyone. It may confound those who want to oppose us. It may attract others to want to listen to what makes us like this. The cause of Jesus is not going to advance apart from:
AN EXTRAORDINARY MESSAGE
Back to the story. We say that “justice delayed is justice denied”. Felix is an expert at delay. He puts Paul under house arrest for 2 years, while he waits for more evidence against Paul – as if all the evidence wasn’t already in!
In that 2 years, Felix and his wife Drusilla have Paul brought to the governor’s residence for a conversation. What are Paul’s options?
- He knows God wants to get him to Rome. Why not make it happen … tell Felix what a wonderful guy he is or slip him some money, which is what Felix was hoping for. Why not use flattery to feed pride and bribes to line pockets, to get to Rome more quickly?
Why not? It is because the cause of Jesus must be advanced off the back of godliness in the ordinary things. One godless slip here and Paul runs the risk of killing off all his credibility. How many preachers do we know have done that!
- He could take cover under the blanket of Judaism, which was a legal religion. Maybe he could just leave Jesus out of it.
If he has to talk about Jesus, why not do it in a way that puts no pressure on Felix and Drusilla? Just talk about him as a wise teacher, or a kind example. They could take or leave that – just shrug their shoulders, leave Paul to his version of things, and go to bed that night without having to think about Jesus ever again.
Paul knows that the message God has given him is so clear, and so universally applicable, that there are no options when it comes to knowing what to say, even to this power-couple.
He talks to them about “faith in Christ Jesus” … faith in Jesus as God’s Messiah. Drusilla is from high-flying Jewish stock – she is the daughter of King Herod Agrippa. The Jews reject Jesus as Messiah. Is that a smart message if he wants to win this woman over?
There is more however: Paul “reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (v25). What’s that about?
A coming judgment. No problem there. Maybe these two can use their political clout to get through that okay. Until … until Paul puts his finger on the very things that mean they won’t.
Felix had once been a slave, and the Roman historian Tacitus says that he now “exercised the power of a king with the heart of a slave”. He was cruel and brutal. He was always looking for the next bribe. He used his position for his own benefit.
When he lusted after 16 year old Drusilla, who we are told was ravishingly beautiful, she was already married. Felix stole her for himself and she became his third wife. Felix is a serial adulterer.
Felix may control the army, but he can’t control his own lust for money and power and women and sex. Righteous? He was a living bundle of unrighteousness.
Why shouldn’t he be? The powerful people in Rome turned a blind eye to all that. He was part of a culture that said people with power should be able to do as they please.
The day is coming close when he will have to give an account to a judge whose standards are righteous. God’s extraordinary message is that Felix is going to have to face the Judge of the whole world. On that day he will have to give an account for every idle word, every lustful thought and every cruel deed. He is in big trouble.
Luke says that “Felix was alarmed”. Why? Maybe no-one had ever loved him enough to call him to account before Paul did. Maybe no one had presented the case so logically, so thoroughly, so convincingly as Paul did when he “reasoned” with them.
Maybe since God has made him and all of us with “eternity in his heart” he saw how right and reasonable it would be for him to be condemned for a wicked and godless life.
Was there any hope for Felix and Drusilla … this rich, powerful man and his beautiful 20 year old wife, who charmed their way through life – but not now?
Can there be any hope at the coming judgment for gross sinners like Felix or respectable sinners like you? Absolutely. There is hope for those who have, as Paul told them, “faith in Christ Jesus” (v24b). If Felix and Drusilla bet all they have on him, and live for him, they’ll be as safe as anyone else on that last day.
This is an extraordinary message, by almost any measure.
- The message in this world is that lust for power and sex in a culture which is as sexualised as ours is okay. Everyone is like it – why make such a big deal about it? However, God says he hates that.
- The message in this world is that everything will be okay. Just get a few things right and at your funeral we’ll all be saying that you’re now with the angels looking down on us in love. God is against all who were not for Jesus, his own precious Son.
- The message in this world – and in many churches sadly, is that you should know that “God loves you”. Actually, he is against you, and plans to judge you if you are not in Jesus.
- The messages of this world are about self-improvement, and self-esteem and doing your best. God’s message is about the truth of who you really are, and the truth of his certain judgment.
Who is going to love enough to tell the people close to you, the truth of the extraordinary message that God has sent? Not some pathetic Christianised version of the messages of this world, but the extraordinary message God has sent from outside this world.
You may have heard these things many times. You may have stumbled across our livestream and heard it today for the first time. What matters is what are you going to do with it?
When Felix heard it, Luke says that he was “alarmed”. The word is used in only one other place in the New Testament. There was another man who held Paul in prison – in the city of Philippi. God sent an earthquake which started the prison walls falling down around him. He also was “alarmed”. His knees shook and his mouth went dry.
What did that man do, in his alarm? He called out to Paul “What must I do to be saved”. He knew he was about to die and that he was under judgment. He asked the right question, and he took the right action. He was told to “believe in Jesus, the Lord”, and he did. He was now safe and saved forever.
Felix was alarmed. What did he do? He was disturbed … and he put Paul on the backburner. Maybe they’d talk again another day when he would think about it all again. As far we know, he never did.
He had God’s own apostle to the Gentiles in his home. Paul made a well-reasoned case why he also should want to be rescued from the judgment of God. Instead, he said to Paul “go away”.
What a tragedy never to have trembled at the thought that there is a righteous judge over every human judge – one who knows your history from start to finish and the kind of person you really are. Every one of us should tremble at that thought.
Maybe an even greater tragedy would be to tremble, but then do a Felix. Put off any decision. Not bet all we had on Jesus, for this world, and for the one to come.
You won’t do that, will you?
Has God appointed Jesus the judge of all? Yes. Is he Lord of all right now? Yes. Then doesn’t that mean you should bow to him now, right now, and not put that off another minute?
His invitation to you is so gracious: “Come to me, come to me, to ME, says Jesus, and I will give you rest.”
- Rest from trying to fix yourself up.
- Rest from fear of death and of judgment.
- Rest to live a new life of righteousness and of self-control – in the ordinary ebb and flow of life here and now.
This is a supernatural, extraordinary message. There isn’t another one out there anywhere that comes even close for truth and reality, for grace and for mercy.