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Acts 24:1-27: On Trial for the Resurrection Print E-mail

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Trials are known for the dramatic.  Someone’s life, or at least their freedom, hangs in the balance as the prosecution seeks to prove their guilt and the defense labors to prove the opposite.  Of course, the trials in books and movies and on TV are often more dramatic than those in real life, but that is not always the case.  When a life rests in the judge’s hands, the drama is real, which adds weight to what is spoken in those moments.  When Luther stood before the Diet of Worms, his life was at risk.  If he was condemned as a heretic, then it was seemingly just a matter of time until he was executed.  And when the prosecutor asked him if he repented of his writings, the drama was real.  It is why his response is still quoted today: “Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth.  Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  Here I stand.  God help me.  Amen.” 1  It was a dramatic moment indeed.

We see such drama in the trials of Paul as well.  Paul has already testified in Jerusalem before the hostile crowd of Jews and before the Jewish Council, but now Luke tells us of his Roman trials.  The first of these is before Felix, the governor, in Caesarea.  The tribune had sent him to Felix and the Roman governor agreed to give him a hearing when his accusers arrived.  Luke records this hearing for us in Acts 24.  I want to break the trial into three sections this morning: the accusations, the defense, and the verdict.  Let’s look at these together.

The Accusations (v. 1-9)

Luke tells us who came from Jerusalem to accuse Paul in verse 1.  Look at that with me.  Ananias was the high priest that had ordered Paul struck during the meeting with the Sanhedrin.  But he was not the one to make the official charges.  That responsibility was given to Tertullus, who was apparently hired to represent the Jewish prosecution.  He will lay out the charges against Paul.

But he begins professionally with an exordium.  Look at verses 2-4.  Tertullus begins by speaking well of Felix.  We might consider this just good old flattery, but this was an appropriate way to begin his speech, even if what he says is not entirely true (the Jews did not enjoy much peace under Felix).  But what about the charges against Paul?  Luke records those in verses 5-9.  Look at those with me.  Basically, the prosecutor lays out three charges against Paul. 

First, he calls him a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews.  Although this did not happen in Jerusalem, as Paul will point out, the ministry of Paul did cause problems among the Jews, particularly in Ephesus, where the Jews from Asia likely lived.  Second, Tertullus says that Paul is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.  It is difficult to know why Tertullus used this language, but he is simply pointing out the Paul is a leader among the Christians, or the Way.  Finally, Tertullus brings up the gravest charge: He even tried to profane the temple.  As we have noted before, it is this charge that had the potential to get Paul in the most trouble, for it was proven to be true, then it was punishable by death.  Tertullus concluded his speech by encouraging Felix to examine Paul, while the Jews agreed with his accusations.

The Defense (v. 10-21)

Felix lets Paul speak in verses 10-21.  He begins, like Tertullus, with the professional exordium.  Look at verse 10.  Paul follows the protocol without giving in to flattery.  His defense starts in verses 11-13.  Look at those with me.  Paul denies the first accusation that he has been stirring up a riot in Jerusalem.  He was only there for twelve days and he spent none of that time disputing or stirring up trouble anywhere in the city.  There was simply no proof that he had done that because he had in fact not done that. 

Paul then addresses the second accusation in verses 14-16.  Paul confesses to worshipping God according to the Way.  Yet, he makes it plain that to do so is to follow everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets.  In other words, Paul is once again claiming to be a faithful Jew.  He has not abandoned the Law or Prophets.  Rather, he knows that they point to Jesus and that to believe them correctly is to believe in Him.  They point to the hope of resurrection in which Paul believes along with his accusers.  As we have noted before, the Pharisees did not deny the resurrection.  Paul is simply noting here to Felix that they are in agreement that both the just and the unjust will be raised to face the judgment of God.  Paul will return to the subject of resurrection before his defense is over.  Instead of denying that he is a leader among the Christians, Paul simply tells Felix that this movement is not what they think it is but is actually the true fulfillment of their Scriptures.

Finally, Paul addresses the accusation of him profaning the temple.  Look at verses 17-19.  Paul relates the events of his returning to Jerusalem.  He came bringing alms for the poor of the city, as he writes about in his letters.  When the Jews found him at the temple, he had already gone through the purification rights and was not stirring up any trouble.  Yet, some Jews from Asia began causing trouble.  Paul notes that they should be present since they are the ones who accused him of profaning the temple.  This is an important point because no charge can be carried out without the testimony of the original accusers.  Since they are not there, the charge of him profaning the temple cannot be substantiated.  At this point Paul has answered each of the accusations that were put forward by Tertullus.  Yet, he wants to add one further point.  Look at verses 20-21. 

Once again Paul draws attention to the fact that the real reason he is in trouble is his belief in the resurrection of Jesus.  Paul believed and taught that Jesus had lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sins, and was raised again on the third day.  Any who believed in Him and turned from their sins would be saved.  They too would be raised with Him to eternal life.  Paul knew that his belief in the gospel was the real reason that he was on trial and he wanted to make that plain to Felix as well.

The Verdict (v. 22-27)

So how does Felix respond to what he has heard?  Look at verses 22-23.  I am calling this section his verdict, but we might call it his non-verdict because essentially he just puts off making a decision.  It seems that he knows that he cannot take any action against Paul, but he does not want to anger the Jews over this matter either.  So he decides not to decide.  He tells them that he will only make a decision after he has heard from the tribune, which apparently never happens.  He has Paul placed in a minimum security situation, where his friends can visit and provide care.  

Yet, Paul’s dealings with Felix are not ended at this point.  While Paul is in prison, Felix and his wife Drusilla pay him some visits.  It is important to note that Drusilla was his third wife, whom he apparently convinced to marry him through deception.  Luke notes that she was Jewish, which perhaps explains their knowledge of and interest in the Way.  So what happens?  What does Paul talk about with this couple?  Look at verses 24-26.  Paul shares the gospel with Felix and Drusilla.  He tells them about faith in Jesus Christ.  He uses this opportunity to share the good news with this couple.  And he shares with them the importance of belief in Christ by talking with them of righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment.  Paul did not soft-pedal the gospel.  He did not try to smooth out the rough edges.  He spoke the truth (and nothing but the truth).  He talked about sin.  He talked about righteousness.  And he talked about judgment.  Paul did not try to tell Felix what he wanted to hear, he told him the truth. 

One of my commentators writes: “Certainly the release of Felix from sin meant more to Paul than his own release from prison.” 2  So he told him the truth.  And it had an impact on the Roman governor.  Luke tells us that he was alarmed by what he heard.  Yet, he was not alarmed enough to put his trust in Christ.  Rather, he just put Paul off until later.  Luke also tells us that Felix was hoping to make some money off of Paul through a bribe, which never came.  Instead, he just kept Paul in custody and met with him often.  How long did this situation last?  How long was Paul kept in Caesarea by Felix?  Look at verse 27.  For two years, Paul remained in this man’s custody.  And not because he was guilty, no, Paul remained in prison because Felix wanted to do the Jews a favor.  Such is how it often goes with corrupt government.

So then, what can we learn from Paul’s first Roman trial before Felix?  Let me just mention three lessons.  First, we see that as much as we can, we must live in obedience to the Law.  Paul notes that his conscience was clear toward both God and man.  He was not guilty of profaning the temple.  He was not guilty of breaking any Roman law.  He was only guilty of believing in Jesus, which was not against the law.

Second, we see again that we should take every opportunity to share the gospel.  No matter where Paul finds himself, he just keeps sharing the gospel with the people that God brings into his life.  Prison guards or Roman governors, Paul just wants to share the gospel.  He seeks to take every opportunity that he is given to spread the good news.  So what about you?  We should pray every single morning that the Lord would both give us opportunities to share and the boldness to seize them.  May we never miss a chance to tell someone about the Savior.

Finally, we should never shy away from the hard truths of the gospel.  Some say that we should not talk about sin in our gospel presentations.  Some think that we should avoid anything that might offend people.  Paul did not agree with such an approach.  He was not just trying to make friends or get people to pray a prayer or even talk his way out of prison.  Paul was committed to sharing the whole truth of the gospel with anyone and everyone.  Why?  Because he knew what was at stake.  Paul wanted Felix to hear about the coming judgment so that he could turn from his sins, believe in Jesus and be prepared.  If you are here this morning and you have never believed in Christ, then like Paul, I want that for you more than anything else.  Turn from your sins today and trust in Jesus and what He did for you at the cross.  Believe in the resurrection of Christ and never shy away from speaking the whole truth to others.  Amen.  

1 Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand (New York: Meridian, 1995), p. 144.
2 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts TBST (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), p. 364.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 10 November 2014 )

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