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Faithfulness On Trial

April 28, 2024 Preacher: Jeff Griffis Series: Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles

Scripture: Acts 24:1–27

Faithfulness on Trial – Acts 24:1–27

Pray & Intro: We’re in the final section of our study in Acts, where Luke’s defense of Paul is to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to defend Christianity and Christians as a whole. We’ve come to Acts 24 in that broader section, and Paul is put on trial before the Roman governor Felix, which is the only official trial in which Paul makes a formal defense. (Paul makes various defenses in various settings, but this is only true trial.)

Of what particular benefit is this section to us? What do Christians, and non-Christians alike, need to understand in terms of the arguments against Paul, and Paul’s response, and Paul’s witness and behavior with Felix?

What if you were on trial for faithfulness to the truth of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ? As Christians who have gone before us, some of us may one day find such an experience a practical reality. But even if not, we’re pretty much always on trial in the court of public opinion. By God’s grace and according to his promise, Christ has been building his church, and Christianity is therefore influential in the world, and those who would oppose God’s truth can’t simply ignore the followers of Jesus. So we’re pretty much always on trial in the court of public opinion, and there may come a day when some of us may literally be on trial, like others who have gone before us, for faithfulness to Jesus.

What will we do? How will we respond?

How do we respond when on trial for faithfulness to Jesus?

Let’s look to Paul’s example in Acts 24. First we’ll notice the tactics of those who portray Christianity as a threat to societal order and peace.

Acts 24:1–9 ESV

1 And after five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and a spokesman, one Tertullus. They laid before the governor their case against Paul. 2 And when he had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying: “Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, 3 in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. 4But, to detain you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly. 5 For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him. 8 By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him.” 9 The Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all these things were so.

Paul has been transferred to custody in Caesarea, under the care of the Roman governor Felix, to prevent his pre-trial murder by a group of Jerusalem Jews plotting against him. The high priest and some elders come down (in elevation from Jerusalem), to make their case against Paul.

And they bring out the big guns: Tertullus - a public speaker acting as a prosecuting attorney

How does the prosecution’s approach and these accusations against Paul help us understand the kinds of similar arguments we are likely to face?

Christ’s opponents muster contorted arguments against his people that we are a threat to peaceful and proper societal order. (vv. 1-9)

The attentive reader can see through the strategic maneuvering of Paul’s opponents.

Note the flattery to gain favor.

-It is laughably transparent. (vv. 2b-4)

Note the inflammatory language. (v. 5)

-Plague (public menace, public enemy): paint Paul as dangerous, a man of sedition/rebellion (stirring up riots, threatening Roman peace)

- to call the followers of Jesus the sect of the Nazarenes - (Paul as a ringleader, one who stands at the front, of this unsanctioned, problematic sect)

-They knowingly use inflammatory language to exaggerate the severity of the situation and to apply pressure to rule in their favor.

Note the unsubstantiated false accusations. (and v. 6)

-Besides this other main false accusation, that he is a ringleader who causes riots, they accuse him of trying to profane the Jewish temple.

The problem with this would be, if it were true, that under Roman rule these various people’s were given leeway to govern and rule over certain areas of their own jurisdiction. The sacredness of their own temple would be one such thing. But the claim is unsubstantiated because Paul didn’t do it. 

[missing verses in 6b through 8a - best MSS do not include these phrases]

In all of this (flattery, inflammatory language, and false accusations), the irony is not lost on Luke’s readers of Acts. The illegal rioting and illegal plot to kill Paul, those who disturb the order and legal process of society, are the very ones trying to now use it to condemn Paul. (But Paul is influential… they desire to drown him out, to silence him.)

-When evidence itself is lacking (which is necessarily the case with false accusations), they attempt to simply overwhelm with more and louder voices to pressure a ruling in their favor, v. 9. (or to sway public opinion in their favor)

One strategy of the Chief Adversary (and God’s enemies as a whole) is to dishonestly prosecute Christians as a threat to justice, authority, morality, and freedom. But how do we respond?

Acts 24:10–21 ESV

10 And when the governor had nodded to him to speak, Paul replied: “Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense. 11 You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, 12 and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city. 13 Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. 14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. 16So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man. 17 Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. 18 While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult. But some Jews from Asia— 19 they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, should they have anything against me. 20 Or else let these men themselves say what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council, 21 other than this one thing that I cried out while standing among them: ‘It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.’ ”

In submission to the Spirit, Christians can make well-reasoned arguments to disarm false accusations and redirect attention to theological truth. (vv. 10-21)

I mention the Holy Spirit with good reason. The attentive contextual reader of Luke’s writings (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) will realize that there is not only fulfillment here of prophecy concerning Paul (Ac 9:15-16), but also fulfillment of a promise from Jesus to all his people who faithfully depend on him when brought into situations such as these.

In the context of fearing God alone and not man (Lk 12:4-7), and of boldly confessing Christ before men (Lk 12:8-10), Jesus had instructed his disciples, Luke 12:11-12

Luke 12:11–12 ESV

11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

If we are faithful to abide in Christ, will Christ be faithful? YES! (reversed) Christ will be faithful, so we must be faithful to abide in him.

So what do we see from Paul’s example as Christ fulfills what he promised by his Spirit?

Christian integrity and faithfulness compels us to counter falsehood with God-honoring, Christ-exalting truth—not by flattery or personal attacks, not by ignoring or twisting the facts. With boldness and respect, we present the well-reasoned truth with a clear conscience.

(vv. 10-13)

Now, if there is personal responsibility to be admitted, we must own up to it. (If Paul had in fact done something wrong, he would come clean and accept both responsibility and the consequences. For example, although this is nothing for which they would put him on trial, Paul readily admits his complicity and approval in the stoning of Stephen.) We cannot expect God to defend and honor us if we are dishonest. What if you get away with something because you life and cheat? In the courts of heaven you are now twice guilty.

Integrity and faithfulness to God compels us to make a defense with truth, AND to focus said defense on exalting Christ as Lord.

(vv. 14ff)

It is not true that I have done anything to incite violence or rebellion against social order, and it is even false that I teach against the faith of our fathers. Rather, the real problem is that they don’t like what I believe, which is that Jesus is in fact the fulfillment of the faith of our fathers.

What will be the outcome of Paul’s trial. Will we be convicted, or acquitted, or something else?

Acts 24:22–27 ESV

22 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.” 23 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. 24After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” 26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him. 27 When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.

Especially under trying circumstances, we must be faithful witnesses in word and deed. (vv. 22-27)

(22-23)

(vv. 24-25)

- To the pagan we must emphasize the supremacy of God and our accountability to him. Notice the things Paul emphasizes that Felix needs to hear: ***

?(The good of Christian parenting: Your little ones should be growing up believing in the supremacy of God, the pervasiveness and deceit of their sin, and therefore their need for forgiveness from and restoration to God. But we don’t leave it there; we proclaim the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and they’re responsibility to respond to him. Until they submit to Christ, we effectively have unconverted Jews in our household. They fear God; they know sin is bad; and they’re trying to please God. But the crux of the gospel is that Christ fulfills our need, and we must believe, calling on him and submitting to him as Lord.

We must be faithful witnesses in word and deed.

(26) It would be an irony indeed if Paul preached to Felix about righteousness and justice and self-control, and of the coming perfect judgment of God, and then gave in to bribing Felix for his release. Paul’s argument has been that justice is on his side, that his conscience remains clear because of his integrity. So may use the means at our disposal, but we do not resort to underhanded dealings that subvert the law and the testimony of Christ.

(v. 27) So Paul remains in custody for two years bc Felix want to do the Jews and favor, and because Paul won’t pay a bribe.

In Paul’s heart Christ is the holy Lord (1 Pet 3:15); a current compromise in ethics undermines the message. So he remains a prisoner their for two years because Felix is a man more of pragmatism than of principle (pragmatism that favors his own power and influence more than standing for and honoring the principle of justice).

Note that you can’t be a faithful witness without speaking. But then too we must live faithfully to Jesus to back up the truth we proclaim. In other words, we must live consistently with the gospel that Christ has made us his own. This is not the same as pretending we have no failings and hiding them. Rather, this is to be above reproach and to show and express the grace of God to us in forgiving our sin and our lives of growth and maintaining fellowship with him.

THROUGH Christ the Christian remains faithful TO Christ in word and deed.

Conclusion: Faithful Under Trial

May attacks against us that would defame Jesus be false.
May we counter falsehood with Christ-exalting truth.
May we proclaim Christ, reinforcing the truth with our lives.
May we be true to him whom we profess.

PRAY

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