Obstacles are Opportunities–part 1
Difficulties can lead to declaration, trials can lead to testimony
Paul’s trial–phase 2 and 3, Acts 25 to 26, part 1
Welcome to 2020. If you say, “All lives matter,” that means you are a racist. If you stand for the National Anthem, that means you are a white nationalist. If you say, “Save our children,” you are a conspiracy theorist. If you question wearing a mask, that means you want to kill grandma. If you question Covid-19, that means you don’t believe in science. If you think for yourself, you’ll be censored or canceled. Welcome to 2020.
What’s the answer? You could riot . . . you could move away to Texas and hide under a tiny, temporary measure of political agreement . . . you could listen to the experts, the woke athletes and woke movie stars and let them do all your thinking for you, cause they certainly know best. Or may I offer you this morning a wiser choice, a determination which will bring you peace in the midst of the chaos? May I command you to follow the best joyful decision?
Put all your trust in God. Proverbs 3:5 and 6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. 6In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” In your heart you might ask, “Why should I trust God? I mean, it is so much more fun to worry and be stressed. I like to complain and be fearful. I think running away and hiding in the middle of Idaho forests is sweet. I enjoy grieving over the loss of democracy and growing angry at injustice.
“And most of all, Chris, I like being the victim. I want to be the one everyone should feel bad about. I want to be the most needy in this crisis and receive everyone’s special attention, cause for certain, I am suffering worse than others, more hurt and lonely than anyone else.” Okay, you can continue in that mindset and be miserable, or you can cling to the One who is large and in charge. You can put your life in the hands of the One who is orchestrating everything that is happening and who knows what He is doing. You can grow in confidence in the One who is working out his plan for this world and His personal will for your life, all at the same time.
Why not stop striving and start resting in the One who is in total control and actively working through all this chaos. How about leaning on the One who is all wise and never makes a mistake. How about trusting in the One who loves you so much, He knows the number of hairs on your head, He thinks about you more than the sand on the seashore, and is working every single thing out for your good and His glory.
How about we start living like God is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-present and is in charge down here? We gotta put some E’s to work. How about we start E–exercising some humility instead of complaining about what Christ is allowing to happen. We start affirming He has a plan in all of this. How about we start E–expressing some thanks that in the midst of a rebellious, fallen, sinful, gross and sick world, He determined to draw rebellious, fallen, gross and sinfully sick you to Himself. He didn’t have to, but He did. He irresistibly drew horrible sinners like you and like me to Himself in love, in mercy and at the greatest sacrifice the world has ever known–the death of the God/man to pay for your sins.
How about we start E–exposing His character in our comments and in our actions. Comments of confidence that He is in charge and working. Beloved family, God is not glorified when you wallow, fret, doubt, or run away. God is not glorified when you question or complain about His control. God is not glorified when you think political leaders are more powerful than He is. God is glorified when you believe and express that He is all-wise, good, and in control.
Yes, you can be shocked by evil, but you should be more shocked by a God who loves you, even though you were an evil rebel. And you should be even more overwhelmed by a Holy Savior who hates sin, yet still loves you when you sin as His child. How about we start E–embracing that this world is not our home and we are just passing through. How about we embrace that God is right now judging this world and will ultimately destroy it by fire in coming certain eschatological judgment.
You ask, “Chris, how is God judging this world right now? I don’t see it.” And the only reason you don’t see it is because you are not looking at His judgment through the lens of God’s Word. Allow me to focus your understanding. Some of our political leaders are acting more like South American dictators than elected officials of a democracy based on Christian principles and Christian morality. What happened? Let me tell you.
Democracy (government by the people) is, from its beginning, based upon the individual citizen doing what is best for the community and country. The weakness of democracy is this–people will vote in what they want instead of what is best for the country. The end result is all democracy will eventually collapse, once the population is more concerned about what they want than what is best for the country–democracy is over.
We are now back in the time of the judges–everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Everyone does what they personally want in the USA and democracy can’t exist in that type of society. The time of Isaiah the prophet was a dark time, after Israel in the north had been taken captive by Assyria and Judah in the south was about to be captured by Babylon. Why? Because they were not honoring the Lord, obeying His Word or loving Him first. And instead of repentance and obedience, they were trying to solve their problems politically by making deals with Egypt to try to stop their inevitable doom from Babylon.
Their culture was so messed up, it was marked by the same horrible decline we are experiencing today. Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” They lost right and wrong, morality, doing what is best. This slide has occurred in our country, not just California, in my lifetime–and it is this slide which evidences God judging this world–not the eschatological judgment of the end times. That will be dramatic and clear–that has not happened yet, but I believe it will soon.
But we are experiencing God’s active wrath as He gives people over, and our society over to wallow deeper and deeper into sin. How does God judge right now? He stops restraining sin. He opens the floodgates of sin and allows people to pursue sin in order to suffer the consequences of sin as a judgment for sin.
God’s active judgment, occurring right now, is described in Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” How is God’s wrath revealed? How do we see God judging right now? Three ways, each one of the three ways being worse than the previous–the steps describe an awful decline.
Romans 1:24, “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.”–STEP ONE is IMMORALITY
Romans 1:26, “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural.”–STEP TWO is HOMOSEXUALITY
Romans 1:28, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.”–STEP THREE is DEGENERACY
My friends, you are immersed in all three–we are at the bottom wrung of God’s judgment for sin in America. God is judging America by giving the culture over to sin on every front, to the point that the culture actually, verse 32b, “give hearty approval to those who practice them.” Approval means applaud–as a culture we heartily applaud evil. This is literally seen on Jerry Springer, and as politicians approve violent riots.
Our society is not a post-Christian world, it is now an anti-Christian world. Everyone does what is right in his own eyes. Leaders are declaring good is evil–talking about sin is hate speech. And evil is good (abortion is a woman’s right). And now immorality, homosexuality, everything that is anti-God is applauded. In shock, you keep wondering how they can lie, then lie again, and it’s accepted. When you live in a world where there is no truth–when truth is whatever you think it is at that moment, then you can say what you want, no matter if it contradicts what you have said before or what really is true, because whatever is true for you is true.
That’s the world of politicians and the media. No truth, just agenda. You can’t trust the news, posts or blogs. You won’t receive justice in the courts, elected leaders no longer value character, the Word of God is not taught in churches. Our culture is not sick any longer, it has passed away. It’s over–sin has been unleashed. God is holding nothing back anymore. Jesus tells them, “You want to sin, then go for it.”
So now we have CHOP, CHAZ, defunding police, the state protecting pedophiles, Hollywood involved in human trafficking–it is all total, complete degeneracy. God is judging our nation and now we find He has let us go with sin, all the way to the end of Romans 1. What is left for God to do? Eschatological judgment–maranatha. So what is the answer for the Church and Christians right now? Jesus Christ.
When Paul says he is not ashamed of the Gospel–that is what he means. Paul doesn’t try to undo the wrongs, fix all the problems, but proclaim the Gospel. Paul did not put his hope in a new Caesar, but in Christ to transform lives. And now in Acts, as Paul is arrested and unjustly left in jail after two years–his focus is still proclaiming the only hope, the only answer, salvation in Christ.
Turn to Acts 25–that was all introduction. The culture of Rome is very similar to our own and the decline of Rome is also very similar to the USA. Two years after Felix in Acts 24 comes Festus in Acts 25. Paul has been in jail now for two entire years in Caesarea. Between chapter 24 and chapter 25, two years have passed. And now there is a . . .
#1 New Leader, a New Plot, and an Appeal to Caesar Verses 1 to 12
Two years later–Paul was writing, able to have visitors, but unjust jail time for two years. Luke will now tell us how Paul ends up in Rome. Festus, the new governor, was a more honorable man who truly desired to give Paul a fair trial. Luke tells us in verse 16, “I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face and has an opportunity to make his defense against the charges.” Festus wants to give Paul a just trial, but he also wants to win the favor of the Jews he is ruling, so after making a state visit to Jerusalem, Festus discovers the Jewish leaders are still burning with hatred over Paul two years later.
Read verses 1 to 4. “Festus then, having arrived in the province, three days later went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. 2And the chief priests and the leading men of the Jews brought charges against Paul, and they were urging him, 3requesting a concession against Paul, that he might have him brought to Jerusalem (at the same time, setting an ambush to kill him on the way). 4Festus then answered that Paul was being kept in custody at Caesarea and that he himself was about to leave shortly. 5‘Therefore,’ he said, ‘let the influential men among you go there with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them prosecute him.’”
Festus feels the heat, seeking to avoid offending the Jews but also wanting to give Paul a fair trial, Festus commands them to go through the law–let them prosecute him. Festus is in a difficult spot. The Jewish leaders had already proven adept at manipulating rulers. Capitalizing on Pilate’s blunders, they had blackmailed Pilate into executing Jesus. And even though they failed to pressure Felix into executing Paul, they had forced Felix to keep the innocent apostle imprisoned and out of circulation.
Plus, seething under the surface, the nation of Israel is growing in their threat of revolt, which will ultimately explode in a full rebellion in just six to eight years from this moment. So Festus is trying to please the hateful Jewish leadership, but also trying to do what is right toward Paul. In verses 6 to 8, after a week and a half of schmoozing the crowd politically, Festus returns to Caesarea on the coast and allows the Jews to falsely accuse Paul again. Paul defends himself again, affirming that he has broken no Jewish, Temple or Roman law.
Then Festus, wanting to earn some cred with the Jewish leaders, suggests an option. Sadly, this option is exactly what the Jews want–demonstrating just how secular their religion had become, and how confused the Jews were about the Lord. The religious leaders desire to get Paul out in the open so they can kill him (verse3). Unknowingly, Festus falls into their trap and in verse 9 Festus asks Paul if he is willing to return and stand trial in Jerusalem.
Paul now knows he will not obtain justice in Festus’ court. The new governor’s desire to appease the Jews puts Paul in a dangerous situation. Paul had no illusions about his fate if he returned to Jerusalem–it was certain death. So Paul chooses a bold course of action. Paul immediately rejects the offer of a trial in Jerusalem (knowing the goal is his murder) and tells Festus, “As I am a Roman citizen, I must be tried by Romans.” He declares his innocence and even says, “If I am worthy of death, I am ready to die. But since I am not, I can’t have you hand me over to these leaders to be killed. Therefore, I will do what every Roman citizen can do and that is, I appeal to Caesar.”
Read verses 10 to 11, “But Paul said, ‘I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you also very well know. 11If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is true of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar.”
Such appeals could come after the verdict (appellatio) or, as in Paul’s case, before it (provocatio). Once granted, the appeal took the case out of the governor’s hands and transferred it to the emperor. At first glance, Paul’s appeal seems crazy, since Nero is the emperor at the time. But right now, this appeal takes place during the early years of Nero’s reign, which were not marked by the cruelty and insanity of his later years.
So now Paul’s appeal offered Festus a convenient way out of the impasse. Festus can avoid Jewish criticism and also accomplish a fair trial. It is no surprise after Festus checks with his advisors–he says to Paul in verse 12b, “You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go.” As a Roman citizen, Paul had the right to expect justice from a Roman court. Since there was no case against him, he was under no obligation to put himself into the hands of the Jewish authorities.
I am confident Paul was jazzed–not because his life was spared, but that he was now doing exactly what Jesus promised he would do, share the Gospel in Rome. But this unjust situation is so much like today–this event is not about right and wrong. It is not about what is fair and just, but it is about politics and murder. Everything is twisted, just like it is was in the time of the judges and Isaiah. And just like it is today. So here in Acts 25, you have Jewish leaders who are . . .
A HATEFUL toward the Gospel
Jesus who loves you, watches over you, is in control and is all-wise and good says in John 15:18 and 19, “’If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.’” No religion is neutral toward Jesus Christ–all non-Christian religions, including secular religion and modern thinking are openly or subtly opposed to Christ. This world is not our home–even Idaho, Texas, Arizona. There is no safe place except to cling to our Savior and follow His Word.
You cannot run away from this world, but you can be confident in the God who is sovereign over this world. Sheep, do you have confidence in your Shepherd? Children, do you have trust in your Father? Church, do you believe your Groom loves you as His bride? You hated Him, but He pursued you, suffered for you, sacrificed all for you. He continues to sustain you, feed you, protect you. How much more does He have to do in order to prove His love so you will trust Him with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, lean not on your fear, but have heart confidence in Christ?
Some of you have been burned by people your entire life. But that is no excuse for you not to trust the only perfect One. One of the biggest excuses for lack of trust today is the victim mentality–this is when you consider yourself a victim of the negative actions of others or consider yourself unfairly treated or thought of poorly because you have a certain sex, race, region or nationality. Behaving like the victim is very popular today, even though it’s destroying society, the Church and Christians.
That ongoing mentality is harmful to your spiritual life and may demonstrate you are not a believer. Yes, there are hateful and horrible events God may allow in a believer’s life, but He never wills an ongoing victim mentality–why? Because living as a victim is actually opposed to genuine repentance, which embraces full responsibility for our own sinfulness. It is the opposite of genuine confession, which agrees with God that He is not responsible for our sin, but we are.
The victim mentality causes ingrown eyeballs. The victim looks first at themselves and not others. The victim mentality questions God’s sovereignty and proudly causes you to compare yourself with others and not compare yourself to Christ. Those who desire victimhood merely desire to justify a different form of complaining against God. Those who are victims will not accept responsibility, blame, or their own utter sinfulness before a holy God. The victim mentality is another way to blame others.
Friends, there is only one person who could ever claim to be a true victim, and that is our Lord Jesus Christ. The rest of us need to claim Lamentations 3:39, “Why should any living mortal, or any man offer complaint in view of his sins?” Some of you are overwhelmed by what is happening in our world. But that is no excuse for you not to have faith in the One who runs this world and loves you.
When someone confesses to you they are afraid of death, you say, “I am not.” When someone comments on what’s happening today, you say, “I know what God is doing.” Christian, it is time to put away fear and express faith. Christ is too awesome, too powerful, too wise, too loving to have His followers live in fear. Here in Acts 25, the Jewish leaders were . . .
B ENSLAVED to sin
They have been waiting two entire years to kill Paul. They’ve already tried multiple times and this hatred of Paul has festered and enslaved them to bitterness and hate. Peter wrote in 2 Peter 2:19, “By what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.” Non-believers have no hope. If you don’t know Christ, you are a slave to sin and you will never be free from its bondage until you turn to Christ.
Sin additions are enslavement–you’re not free, but Christ can make you free. And when you believers don’t get help to repent of addictive sin, you will feel the bondage of sin too. You must admit it to God, to others in the body and not excuse it. Some are enslaved to fear. Others here are enslaved to alcohol or drugs, some to lust. Stop excusing your sin. Turn to Christ and turn to His body for help. You will never have confident assurance until you do–and you will suffer and continue to look as foolish as these Jewish leaders. Yet with all this evil, politics, manipulation, lies, false accusations and more–can you celebrate and grow in . . .
C Confidence that YOUR GOD IS IN CONTROL
In the midst of a deceptive murder plot, God accomplished His will with Paul in getting Him to Rome. And your Lord will accomplish His plan for us and you with all the evil around us. Christians today need a big dose of God’s sovereignty and a big kick in the pants over human responsibility. Let me illustrate. God is sovereign–He does as He pleases, only as He pleases and always as He pleases. And whatever He does He accomplishes for His own glory and our own good.
Yet you and I as Christians, are responsible. Philippians 2:12 and 13, we are to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” So believers know, even though God is sovereign, we are still responsible to pray. Even though God is in control and only God can save, we are still responsible to evangelize the lost.
Even though that’s true, over 60 million so-called believers failed to live out their responsibility four years ago. Even though God will determine the outcome of the upcoming election, we are still responsible to vote. You know you have to pray, and be responsible to share Christ–but you are also responsible to vote. “Chris, how should we vote?” (You can hear a pin drop.) God has already told you how to vote, what to vote and who to vote for–vote using the lens of Scripture.
Does the Bible say abortion is murder? Does the Bible say you are responsible for your life? What does the Bible say about family, God’s design for men and women, what is sin and what is not? Vote through the lens of Scripture–and friends, some moral issues are more important than others. Stopping abortion is more important than providing Medicare. Be responsible and participate in your democracy while you still have one. God uses events to provide opportunities.
Not only does God set in motion His plan to get Paul to Rome, but He also opens up a new opportunity for Paul to share the Gospel with another great leader. Who is that leader? What will Paul say? What must we learn from it? For the answer to that, you must come back next week. Friends, you may call yourself a Christian, but if your life doesn’t display Christ in some measure, you are lying to yourself.
Salvation includes transformation. If you don’t have a heart that wants to obey Christ, that is willing to do anything for Christ, and loves Christ above your children, your spouse, your parents and all your friends, you are not a Christian. It is time for you to turn to Christ, repenting of your sin and depending on the work of Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the dead by faith. Turn to Christ today, cry out to God and ask Him to give you a believing heart. And you who love Christ, trust Him with your words, overcome your fear with a growing confidence in His love, wisdom and power as you rely on His promises. Let’s pray.