I don’t know about you, but I think a lot of people have a problem with procrastination. Putting things off. Speaking for myself, it’s one of the few things I am really very good at. I put the “pro” in procrastination. I’ve been working on renovating my bathroom for almost a year now. Maybe longer. I try not to think about it. It makes me feel guilty. I just tell my wife that God is using me to teach her patience. My latest excuse is that I’m waiting for winter when I will need something to do indoors.
But the truth is, I’m just a sorry procrastinator. And while procrastinating on finishing my bathroom renovations may cause some irritation for my wife, there are other things which if we procrastinate in can really get us in trouble. Things like filling up your gas tank (Randy), or filing your taxes, or paying a speeding ticket. Some things you don’t want to procrastinate about.
I heard a fictional story about the devil and a group of his demons who got together to try to figure out some way by which they could deceive as many people as possible, and win the spiritual warfare against God. So Satan said that he would like for someone to volunteer to go to earth and to seek to win the victory for his kingdom. And one of the demons raised his hand to volunteer and the devil said, “Well, what are you going to do?” He said, “Well, I’m going to go to earth and convince them there is no God.” And the devil said, “That won’t work because the glory of God’s creation will convict men that there must be a God.” Another one raised his hand and said, “I will go to earth and convince them that there is no heaven.” And the devil said, “That’s not really a good idea either because God has planted eternity in the hearts of men so that they will hope for heaven.” A few other excuses were offered and summarily rejected and finally one demon then raised his hand, and he said, “I’d like to go.” And the devil said, “Well, what are you going to do?” The demon said, “Well, when I go down to earth, I’m simply going to tell them that there is no hurry.” And the devil said, “That will work! You’ve got the job.” That is the essence of procrastination. That there is no hurry. It’s not that urgent. There is always tomorrow. It’s a strategy that has slain thousands and thousands of people for all of eternity.
Today we are introduced to a man that is a great example of someone that procrastinated and lost out on his greatest opportunity. That man is Felix, a Roman governor to whom Paul has been sent to be tried. This man was quite a sordid character. His name however meant happy. That’s another classic strategy of the devil by the way. The world calling something freedom which ends up trapping you. Calling something fun which kills you. Calling something true which is a lie. Be wary of the devil’s schemes. Anyhow, Felix had been a slave at one point, but his brother’s political connections with the emperor of Rome had resulted in being set free and given political appointments which eventually landed him the job as Pontius Pilate’s replacement as the governor of Judea. He was married to a beautiful Jewish woman named Drusilla who was the daughter of King Herod Agrippa I. Her father murdered the Apostle James. Her great uncle, Herod Antipas, slew John the Baptist. And her great grandfather, Herod the Great, killed all the babes in Jerusalem under 2 years old. She had been married to another king in Syria when she was 15 years old, but Felix seduced her and made her his wife. And Felix had already been married twice before her.
Now Felix as Roman governor is the acting judge of Paul’s case. Paul has been sent to Felix by the Roman commander Lysias in Jerusalem in order to keep Paul from being assassinated by the Jewish leaders. So our story picks up in chapter 24 with Paul’s accusers coming to make their accusations to Felix. It’s interesting to me that the chief priests and members of the Sanhedrin have come on short notice to make their case about Paul, and they hired a Roman lawyer named Tertullus to represent them. They had their own lawyers, but they hire a Roman lawyer to present their case to a Roman judge. It proves once again my point I made last week concerning the ancient proverb, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Over and over again we see the Jewish religious leaders conspiring with their enemies, the Romans, in order to kill Christians. False religion and politics make strange bedfellows, but it’s something we see presented over and over again.
So Tertullus starts out by flattering Felix in an obvious attempt to butter him up. This illustrates another aspect of false religion. Flattery is associated with false teachers. They tell you what you want to hear in order to take advantage of you. Jude 1:16 says “These [false teachers] are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.” And so we will see that this same man that flattered so effortlessly also lies just as effortlessly. He brings false charges against Paul.
The first charge he brings against Paul is that of sedition. He says, “we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world.” The second charge is that of heresy; “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” And the third charge was profaning the temple; “he even tried to desecrate the temple.” Now that third charge is interesting in light of the unrest in Israel right now. Just because of an unfounded rumor that Israel is going to try to take over the temple mount the Palestinians have been attacking Jews by dozens of stabbings over the last week or so and the whole region is close to erupting in war. So the temple has always been a subject of tension, and no less so than in the days of Paul. And it was obvious that Felix would understand this being the governor of Judea.
Now I don’t want to belabor the judicial proceedings here. I want to move on to the latter part of the text and talk about Felix’s response to the gospel. But let me summarize quickly what Paul’s defense was, because it left the Jewish leaders and their Roman lawyer speechless, from what we can tell in the text.
First of all, Paul does not lower himself to flattery. Paul is not some servile, fawning servant of the court. Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ. I love the quote by Charles Spurgeon who said, “if God has called you to be a minister, do not stoop to be a king.” Paul is polite, even courteous as is expected behavior to a judge and especially to a governor. And Paul says what is true and probably the only good thing that can be said of Felix, which is that he had been governor a long time. That was a good thing for Paul, because it meant that Felix had to be familiar with Judaism, had to have some knowledge of Christianity, and would be familiar with Jewish history to some degree.
Then Paul said it had been only twelve days since he arrived in the city of Jerusalem and obviously some of those days have been spent out of Jerusalem in Caesarea. It’s apparent the apostle didn’t have time to raise sedition against the Roman Empire. So the apostle simply pleads there is insufficient time for this charge of sedition. There was no evidence for sedition.
The second thing that he responds to is the charge of heresy. And in verse 14, he says, “But this I admit to you, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets and have hope toward God.” So he points to his worshipping the God of their fathers. He points to his beliefs, his conduct. He says, “I believe all that is written in the law and the prophets; having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” So he says they believe in the same God and trust the same scriptures. And then I love the fact that he throws in there again the statement which cost him getting punched in the face before: I have a clear conscience before God and man.
Boy, I think if the majority of Christians could say that then there would be a different perception by the world in regards to Christianity, would there not? The biggest complaint by the world is that the church is full of hypocrites. People who claim one way and live another way. Paul would tell the church later in one of his epistles, “be imitators of me.” Can we say that as well? Can we say that to our kids, to our wives, husbands, co workers? Imitate me, because I imitate Christ. Well, that should be our goal. We are to be holy and blameless even as He is holy. We are to live godly lives so that we do not bring reproach upon the name of Christ.
The third charge was that of desecrating the temple. And this is the one that had started the riot to begin with which caused Paul to be arrested. So Paul carefully details how he purified himself in accordance with temple laws, how he came to bring alms to his nation, how he brought sacrificial offerings, and that at no time did he instigate a riot or uproar. But the Jews from Asia who had caused the riot were not there at this hearing, and if they had charges to that affect they should have been present to make them. He went on to say that the only thing he had done was to cry out “For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today.”
So in effect, Paul showed that the charges against him were bogus, they were without warrant, they had no witnesses of any crime. And I believe that his argument fully convinced the judge because the text says that Felix had a more accurate knowledge about The Way. He knew that what Paul believed did not constitute a criminal act. But Felix was not an honorable judge. He was looking at the situation and trying to figure out how he could profit from it. And so he put them off, and said he would wait until Lysias the commander came before making a decision. This was obviously a delaying ploy because Luke said in the last chapter that Lysias had written a detailed letter saying that Paul had done nothing wrong, but their disputes were solely about their religion. So this is the first time we see Felix postponing, procrastinating making a decision, in hopes of making some money off of the deal.
Then Felix orders that Paul be kept in custody, and yet given a certain amount of freedom so that his friends can minister to him. Now that was a unique situation. It’s interesting that God would allow Paul to languish in this sort of relaxed house arrest for two years under the remainder of Felix’s reign. From a human perspective, this must have been the most unproductive time of Paul’s life. Certainly this was a mistake for God to leave this great man in prison when he could have been establishing churches on foreign lands, and preaching to people all around the world. And yet we must believe that in the sovereignty of God this was His plan for Paul, even though God’s purposes were not clear to us.
I have counseled people who are dealing with all sorts of issues in life, from marriage issues to drug addiction, and one constant element that I have to address is the matter of time, of waiting, of dealing with what seems like delays. Time is one of the primary means by which God proves or tests a man or a woman. I do not mean he tests you to see what you will do. But what “ to prove” means is God uses time to sort you out, to refine you, to change you, to enable you to know Him more fully, more intimately. To come to depend solely and fully upon God. And unfortunately, many people fail that test by trying to circumvent it. Young people especially are often in such a rush that they spoil God’s plan. But God uses time to refine us, like a vineyard uses time to refine fine wine.
Dr. F. B. Meyer has written these words: “So often we mistake God, and interpret his delays as denials. What a chapter might be written of God’s delays. It is the mystery of the art of educating human spirits to the finest temper of which they are capable. What searchings of heart, what analyzings of motives, what testings of the Word of God, what upliftings of the soul, ‘searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of God signified.’ All these are associated with these weary days of waiting which are, nevertheless, big with spiritual destiny. But such delays are not God’s final answer to the soul that trusts him.”
We aren’t privy to all that God did in Paul’s life during these two years. But we can be certain that it was not wasted time. The years the field lies fallow produces a better crop in the future. We do know that his letters to the Ephesians, the Colossians, the Philippians, were all written after this. And in Philippians there is a passage which I think grew out of this situation. In the fourth chapter the apostle says, “Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13) Undoubtedly, Paul proved this truth while in Caesarea these two years.
One thing we are told concerning this time Paul spent in prison is the procrastination of Felix to the offer of the gospel. It’s interesting to see the contrast between Paul and Felix. Paul has to wait for two years. God uses the time to refine him. It is not wasted time, it’s time invested. But Felix procrastinates for two years. He wastes time. He hears the gospel from one of it’s greatest teachers for 2 years and yet he wastes that opportunity. His procrastination costs him the greatest opportunity of his lifetime.
Well, it says that a few days after putting Paul under house arrest, Felix’s wife Drusilla comes to see Felix, and so he brings Paul out to speak to them together, to hear more about Christianity. I think the text indicates there is a real interest on Felix’s part to learn about faith in Christ. It was said about this Way that it was turning the world upside down. And we can see from Felix’s response that Paul’s message really shook him up.
But let me say something first about what Paul had to say. A lot of people would have looked at this situation as an opportunity to restate your innocence and try to use this private audience to get released from prison. After all, there is a lot more that you could do for the Lord out of prison, or so it would seem. But Paul does not attempt to do that. Or some people might have been more noble and said I will use this as an opportunity to get to know Felix and Drusilla. Make friends with them, relate to them, and maybe if they see how nice I am and what a regular guy I am, then I will be able to introduce them to the gospel later. But Paul doesn’t do that either. Paul uses the opportunity to go right to the basic doctrines of the gospel; righteousness, self control, and the judgment to come. Not exactly how to win friends and influence people. But exactly what was necessary.
You see, Paul had no illusions of the luxury of time. He understood the urgency of the gospel. He knew he was going to eventually go to Rome because the Lord told him. But he didn’t know when or how. All he knew was that right then he had the opportunity to preach the gospel to the governor and his wife and probably a palace full of court attendants. And so Paul preached hellfire and damnation. Not much “just have a relationship with Jesus” in that message. Because Paul knew that unrighteousness cannot have a relationship with God.
So he preached on righteousness. What is that? That is the standard of God. It’s the law of God. The law that condemns us to death. The standard of God’s righteousness that we can never measure up to. He preached on the righteousness which is counted to the believer on the basis of faith. The faith of Abraham which was counted unto him as righteousness. He preached on 2Cor. 5:21 which says, “[God] made [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” He preached that Jesus died on the cross taking our sins upon Him, so that His righteousness could be transferred to us.
And then it says he preached on self control. Wow! I like that. Don’t hear a lot of messages today on self control, do we? What is that mean? I think he is talking about sanctification. “The sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14. And probably threw in a couple for Felix and Drusilla’s benefit about immorality such as 1Thess. 4:3-4 “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor.” Bet that went over well. And then to wrap up sanctification he probably closed with Rom. 6:22 “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.”
And then Paul wraps up his message with a section on the judgment to come. And maybe Paul quoted Jesus Himself on this one, perhaps Luke 12:2-5 “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. “Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops. “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!”
Well, after Paul’s message it says Felix trembled in fear. He became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.” This was the second time Felix procrastinated. This time he was under conviction. The Holy Spirit obviously shook him up. But Felix says I’m going to wait to a more convenient day.
You know, when a man refuses the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and rejects it, having received the ministry of the Holy Spirit that leads to trembling, when he begins to turn away from it, another thing begins to work in his heart; and that is his heart becomes hardened. And it becomes more and more difficult for an individual who has once received the conviction of the Holy Spirit and rejected it to turn to the Lord.
Not only does he make the tragic mistake of rejecting the Holy Spirit, but his greed springs up and sees this as an opportunity to maybe make some money off of Paul. Perhaps he thinks that the churches will offer to buy his freedom. So he brings Paul out from time to time to hear him more, but the Holy Spirit’s conviction fades away with each rejection until he no longer feels fearful. He no longer feels the trembling in his soul. He imagines that he has a more convenient day still in his future. And little does he know that he will never get that opportunity again. They say that the same fire that melts wax hardens clay. It is a dangerous thing to reject the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
Listen, today is the accepted day of salvation. If you hear this call today, if the Holy Spirit is convicting you today, then it is not too late. Simply call on the name of the Lord in repentance and faith and you will be saved from the wrath to come. We used to sing this old hymn when I was a boy called “Almost Persuaded.” I will close with a couple of verses from that hymn and then we will pray. I hope that you will not wait another day. There is no more convenient day. Today is the acceptable day.
“Almost persuaded” now to believe;“Almost persuaded” Christ to receive; Seems now some soul to say,“Go, Spirit, go Thy way, Some more convenient day on Thee I’ll call.”
Almost persuaded,” harvest is past! “Almost persuaded,” doom comes at last; “Almost” cannot avail;“Almost” is but to fail! Sad, sad that bitter wail—“Almost—but lost!”
Be now persuaded, oh, sinner, hear! Be now persuaded, Jesus is near; His voice is pleading still,Turn now with heart and will, Peace will your spirit fill—Oh, turn today!