In the passage we just heard from Acts, Paul has once again been arrested for his faith and has been brought before Governor Felix in Jerusalem. The Jews hated Governor Felix, but the lawyer Tertullus showered false flattery on him, doing what politicians have always done-spinning the truth to their own advantage. Paul did not have a lawyer, but as a Roman citizen, he was no doubt familiar with Roman law. In his defense, Paul referred to Felix’s familiarity with Jewish laws, customs and beliefs. Felix was bound to give a just verdict.
The first serious charge levelled against Paul was rebellion. The Romans did not tolerate people who incited rebellion. If the Jews could support this charge with concrete evidence, Paul would have been punished severely. If Tertullus named specific incidents, Felix could have Paul’s case transferred to the governor in whose jurisdiction the incidents took place. The Jews wanted Paul to be tried by a governor that they had some influence over. Paul recounted his schedule from the previous twelve days, when he arrived in Jerusalem, to show that the charge of creating dissention among the Jews was simply not true.
The second charge levelled against Paul was teaching heresy. Tertullus referred to Christianity with contempt by referring to it as “the sect of the Nazarenes.” Tertullus planned to portray Paul as the leader of a group that posed a threat to Rome. The Roman government was tolerant of religious movements as long as they were peaceful and did not seek to subvert the authority of Caesar. Paul argued that he had as much right to follow the Way as the Jews had to follow Judaism. Erasing the picture Tertullus painted of him as a radical, Paul noted that the roots of the Way were in the soil of Judaism: both religions believe in one God, embrace the Law and the Prophets, and believe in the resurrection of the dead.
The third offense that Paul was charged with was blasphemy. That charge was without merit. Why would Paul go into the temple to comply with the ordinances for sacrificial offerings and give alms for the poor and then defile the temple by taking a Gentile with him? This would have destroyed his credibility as a rabbinic scholar.
The Sadducees rejected much of the Old Testament, while the Pharisees rejected the Old Testament’s witness to Jesus Christ. In other words, both groups rejected Jesus. Paul saw the Old Testament as the inspirational word of God and believed everything it taught. Paul saw the Christian faith as the fulfillment of his Jewish upbringing. He worshipped the same God he always had, and he had complete faith in the Scriptures. Today, Christians are called on to see both the Old Testament and the New Testament as the inspired word of God, and we must believe everything that it teaches.
Paul never tried to earn a standing before God, but he did try to live out the righteousness that God had credited to him through his faith in Jesus. Paul wanted his conduct to reflect well on Jesus. In both cases Paul set a good example for us to follow as Christians.
When Paul referred to Christ’s resurrection, a longstanding feud between the Sadducees and the Pharisees erupted into an open argument. Belief in the resurrection was not a crime under Jewish law or Roman law. It is not a crime to believe that there is going to be a resurrection. If God is going to raise the dead in the future, why is it absurd to believe that He has already raised Jesus from the dead?
The Jewish leaders had a legitimate argument with Paul over the interpretation of the Scriptures and whether or not they lead to the conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah. The debate continues today, but no one should be thrown in jail, whipped, executed or otherwise persecuted because of what side they took in the debate. God doesn’t force us to believe. We have the right to decide for ourselves. While the Bible is the only unfailing and completely reliable guide to what is wrong, God has given each of us an internal moral compass. The conscience can be a powerful moral voice that helps guide our behaviour, but it can also be beaten into silence so that it no longer warns us that what we are about to do is wrong. If we want our conscience to play the role God intended, we have to work at it.
The witnesses to Paul’s alleged crimes didn’t show up for Paul’s hearing, nor did the Jewish leaders prove him guilty of a crime. The only verdict Felix could render that was consistent with Roman law was not guilty. This would have angered the Jews and could have led to more trouble. Felix’s main responsibility as governor was to keep law and order, so he decided not to make a decision. He adjourned the hearing with the excuse that he needed more information.
When Paul was on trial, he defended himself and his faith. His defence won new converts, but some people refused to listen to him. This proves that although God’s wisdom is wiser than any other type of wisdom, some people will never accept it, especially if they are not Christians. Similarly, when we are persecuted for our faith, we must defend ourselves by becoming Christ’s mouthpiece. If we are arrested and put on trial for being Christians, would there be enough evidence to convict us? If that happened, would we readily admit, “I’m guilty” and accept the consequences? We must tell everyone what Christ has done for us in our lives, and we must tell them what Christ can do in their lives.
Today is the only day we ever have. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow may never come. There are many reasons why we put things off-apathy, fear, anxiety, uncertainty, habit, indifference, passive resistance or just plain not getting around to it. Whatever the reason, there are some things that are far too important to put off until a more convenient time-and that includes putting our lives right with God.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1528-1529)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010; pp. 1544-1546)
- Dave Wyrtzen. “Jesus in Custody.” Retrieved from www.TruthEncounter.com
- Dave Wyrtzen. “Countering Lies-Just the Facts.” Retrieved from www.TruthEncounter.com
- Dave Wyrtzen. “Slick Presentation.” Retrieved from www.TruthEncounter.com
- Victor Robert Farrell, “Steady.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Dr. Paul Chappell, “The Path to a Strong Conscience.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr. Randy White, “I’m Guilty!” Retrieved from Christianity.email@example.com
- Richard Innes, “Procrastination.” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org/encounter/daily.php