Friday, June 6, 2014

ALARMED BY TRUTH (Acts Chapter 24)

Acts Chapter 24:25, “And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, ‘Go away for the present.”

The Felix of Acts chapter 24 was the younger brother of a man named Pallas.  The two brothers shrewdly advanced from lowly positions in the Royal household in Rome to gain favored status.  Pallas was the secretary of the treasury during the reign of Emperor Claudius.  Felix became the procurator of Judea by the petition of his brother.  Both men became quite wealthy--Felix was later considered to be one of the richest men in the Roman Empire.

The period of Felix’s rule in Judea was marked by internal feuds and disturbances and an increase in crime throughout Judea.  By all accounts he dealt with such matters with severity.  Not only was he cruel, he was given to licentiousness and accepting bribes (Cf. Acts 24:26).  One historian described him to be “a master of cruelty and lust who exercised the powers of a king in the spirit of a slave.” 

Felix was married three times.  Drusilla was his second wife, the youngest of three daughters of King Herod Agrippa I—the same Herod who slew James, the brother of John.  Her great-grandfather was the Herod who slew the babes in Bethlehem.  Her great uncle was Herod Antipas, the Herod who slew John the Baptist.  She married for the first time to a petty king in NW Syria.  Always looking to climb the social ladder, she divorced him to marry Felix.  The marriage itself was something of a scandal, having been deceptively precipitated by Felix.  In their shrewd and wicked ways they were obviously made for each other.

By God’s providence Paul was brought to Felix’s court.  Felix listened to the charges made by Tertullus and the Jews against Paul (Cf. Acts 24:1-9).  Then Paul was given permission to defend himself (Cf. Acts 24:10-21).  “But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, ‘When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.’  Then he gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs” (Cf. Acts 24:22-23).

After some days Felix and Drusilla sent for Paul and heard him speak about “faith in Christ Jesus” (Acts 24:24).  They were not ignorant to such matters.  Felix had “a rather accurate knowledge of the way” (Acts 24:22).  He had some intellectual grasp of the truths of Christianity.  One would suppose that Drusilla shared in his understanding.  But though they had some degree of knowledge, neither of them were saved.

We should note that Paul’s energy while in prison was apparently not devoted to trying to free himself.  His conversations with the governor were not about his own needy circumstances, but about the governor’s need to trust in Jesus.  He would ultimately spend two years in prison and over the course of that period Felix “sent for (Paul) often and conversed with him” (Acts 24:26), balancing his desire to receive a bribe from him vs. his having to listen to a message from God regarding his need for salvation (Cf. Acts 24:26).

Paul’s message to Felix, the powerful and ruthless governor, was “about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25).  Spirit-filled Paul was speaking the Spirit’s language (Cf. John 16:8).  Paul did not shrink back from being used by the Spirit to convict a wicked man of his wicked ways.  Felix was wealthy, powerful, and knowledgeable, but was devoid of righteousness.  He ruthlessly exercised control over the lives of others, but had no control of self.  He himself sat as a judge over the affairs of men, but was woefully unprepared for the coming judgment of God.  Felix could only listen so long—he had no heart for truth—till being alarmed he had to send Paul away (Cf. Acts 24:25).  There is no reason to believe that he ever trusted in Jesus.  But he was given ample opportunity to be set free from sin when his prisoner spoke to him about Jesus.

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