The journey from Jerusalem to Rome has begun. Acts 24 finds Paul in Caesarea. For 5 days he’s been kept in prison awaiting his accusers. Foiled in their plot to have him murdered, they are forced to present their case before Felix the Roman governor. They’ve lawyered up, maybe hoping that the smooth talking Tertullus would rung rings around Paul. If so, they are hopelessly disappointed.
Tertullus starts by applying plenty of butter; the last thing he wants to do is bore Felix – so he’s quick. It’s very pally-pally: It’s so simple; we’ll do the formalities quickly… His accusations: that Paul is a known trouble-maker who always stirs up riots, that he is a ringleader of the cult known as the Nazarenes, and that he was trying to desecrate the temple (a crime, as Don Carson points out, that carries the death penalty).
All of the accusations – bar one – are patently false. It isn’t Paul who has been stirring up trouble all over the world, but rather some Jews in each city jealous of the gospel. Paul was worshiping in the temple, not desecrating it. True, he is a follower of the Way.
I love how Paul refuses to have the gospel sidelined by Tertullus. It is the gospel that stands at the core of everything Paul does – and at the core of this case. The gospel is not some weird and wacky cult; it does not undermine the Jewish faith. Rather, the Way is the completion of Judaism; all of God’s promises are yes in Jesus. Paul can honestly say that he worships the God who chose Israel and that he believes the Jewish law and the prophets. Of course he does – they all speak of or point to Jesus! Jesus is God – the same God testified to in the Scriptures.
Like the Jewish leaders, Paul hopes for the day of the Lord. And that’s why he does his best to keep a clear conscience before God and all the people. Because he knows that God is coming to judge the living and the dead. Perhaps this is a subtle dig at Ananias and co: their consciences cannot be clear given all that they have done.
Felix is an interesting man. He knows a bit about the Way. And so he adjourns the case! Supposedly until Lysias – the garrison commander – arrives in Caesarea. But two years later, Paul is still languishing in prison. Why? Because Felix is both curious and fearful and grubby. He and his (Jewish) wife have Paul speak with them about faith in Jesus Christ. But the idea of God judging the world is something he finds frightening.
Frightening because he knows himself. He knows that he is not so much interested in justice as he is in popularity and money. He keeps Paul locked up both to please the Jewish people and in the hope of being offered a bribe. Instead of repenting and trusting Jesus, Felix stubbornly persists in his ways.
Felix is like so many who are interested in Jesus, and yet can’t bring themselves to trust him.
Father God, thank you that you do offer hope for the future. I don’t understand some of the ways people respond to your truth. Some are just so stuck in their opposition to you that nothing seems to sway them. Their consciences are seared against you. Others know all there is to know about you, but don’t actually want to know you or give up everything to follow you.
Lord, keep my conscience clear. Help me as I, like Paul, “try to maintain a clear conscience before God and all people.”
And for those who stand against you: give me wisdom in my replies. And give me patience; help me to trust that you know what you’re doing.