The Worst Mistake Ever:
Dissing the Gospel
Trial 1 before Felix–Acts 24
This morning, I want you to consider the percentages. When the New Testament describes how many are saved compared to how many are lost, there are some eye-opening comparisons. With the wheat and the tares–50% are saved and 50% are lost. With the rich man and Lazarus–50% are saved and 50% are lost. With those who are hot, cold or lukewarm–33.3% are saved and 66.6% are lost. With the soils in Matthew 13–25% are saved and 75% are lost. With the rich young ruler, 0% are saved and 100% are lost. And today with Felix–0% are saved and 100% are lost.
You know family, you have friends, and you work with people or attend school with students who are lost. Some of them know they are unsaved and even more sadly, some of them think they are saved but are still lost. And I think the most painful of all, are those in the Church who think they are real believers, but are actually make-believers. Because the Church is made up of wheat and tares–there are some here who are not saved.
There are people sitting around you who have some religion, but no relationship. They know about Christ, but they are not related to Christ. They believe some truths about Christ, but they’re not born again by Christ. They grew up in the Church, but they are not in Christ or immersed in His body. They have watched others follow Christ, but they are still living for themselves.
They talk Christianese and occasionally do Christian deeds, but not for Christ. They act found, but they’re lost. They act alive, but they’re spiritually dead. They fake being a child of God, yet they are actually a child of the devil. And the reason many are in this scary place is because they did what Felix did. They’ve made the worst mistake anyone can make–they’ve dissed the Gospel.
How terrible is it to actually have someone point to the only life preserver floating just feet away, but the drowning man refuses to grab it? How tragic is it to have ingested some deadly poison, but to refuse to drink the only antidote that was just handed to you? How heartbreaking is it to have the fire ladder placed right next to your window, but you choose instead to walk through the flaming building? Yet that is happening right around us here today.
Even in this place, students in Christian homes have seen Dad and Mom live for Christ. Oh, they were not perfect by a longshot, but they love Christ and want to follow His Word and have sought to point to Christ and share His way of salvation. But instead of taking that ladder, they choose to walk through the burning building of this world. They are attracted to the heat, the danger, the colors–not realizing it will not only painfully take their life, but also their eternal soul. They’d rather compromise with a girl- or boyfriend, and feed the flesh by posting provocative pictures, living for comments about their low-cut dress or 6-pack abs. They acknowledge Christ, but live their own way, by their own will. They try drinking, test a few drugs, compromise with sex, and invent a self-defined Christianity which helps temper their guilt, but has no power to transform their lives. They have made the worst mistake ever.
Many of you suspect the true salvation of friends, because they never manifest the kind of heart the New Testament describes as genuinely born again. What kind of heart does the New Testament describe as authentic? It’s a heart that wants to obey God’s Word. It’s a heart that is willing to do whatever Christ wants. It’s a heart that worships Christ with every aspect of their being, because they are overwhelmed by what Jesus Christ has done for them.
Now don’t freak out–you and I will be surprised as to who ultimately arrives in Heaven. There will probably be some, “I can’t believe you made it” comments. But understand, the Bible does teach Christians will follow Christ, true believers will produce fruit, and real saints will be known by their obedience to the Word of God. According to 1 John, genuine assurance comes from loving Christ, obeying Christ, knowing Christ, having right doctrine about and enduring with, Christ.
Now true salvation comes by grace through faith, no works at all. God is the One who saves–and yet you and I are held responsible to respond to the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ–His life and death for you. You are responsible to cry out for faith, to plead for repentance, to desire forgiveness from sin, and to long for intimate relationship with your Creator.
When the Church was born, the crowd in Acts 2 cried out to Peter, “Brethren, what must we do?” And though God is sovereign in salvation, Peter told them they are accountable to respond to the good news of the Gospel. And if you don’t, you have made the worst mistake possible. What does that mistake look like? You will see it in the life of Felix in Acts 24, as he examines the apostle Paul. You see it in how he responds to the Gospel in the midst of Paul’s first trial.
This chapter presents one of the most tragic examples of missed opportunity in all of Scripture. Felix, the Roman governor of Judea, had the privilege of spending much time with the apostle Paul. Yet sadly, he suppressed the work of the Holy Spirit. Felix let the opportunity slip away, and there is no evidence he ever responded or was ever drawn again—meaning he now, and for eternity, is in torment in Hell.
What you have in chapter 24 is a trial. There is the prosecution, a defense, then the verdict–making up the outline of this amazing chapter. You also have a false accusation, a faithful answer, and the worst mistake ever–a foolish attitude.
#1 The PROSECUTION–A False Accusation 24:1 to 9
Read verse 1, “After five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders, with an attorney named Tertullus, and they brought charges to the governor against Paul.” After Paul was smuggled out of Jerusalem, he’s in Caesarea on the coast and now faces a hearing before Felix the governor.
According to verse 1, five days later, the high priest Ananias comes down from Jerusalem with some of the elders from the Sanhedrin. They are not content with running Paul out of Jerusalem. Make no mistake–as they have already proven, they want Paul dead. They are looking to kill him.
They hired a slick attorney and traveled the 65 miles to Caesarea, and did it all in just five days. They’re moving fast. They probably feared Felix would release Paul if they didn’t quickly bring charges against him. Consider Paul’s timeline–the five days of verse 1 refers to the period since Paul’s arrest. Author Dr. Luke is exact with his facts, so Paul’s activities went this way.
Day 1–arrived in Jerusalem, 21:17
Day 2–visited James, 21:18
Day 3–visited the Temple, 21:26
Days 4, 5, and 6–in the Temple with the vow upon him
Day 7–arrested in the Temple, 21:27
Day 8–before the Council, 22:30 to 23:10
Day 9–the Jews’ plot to kill Paul and Paul’s trip to Caesarea, 23:12 to 31
Day 10–presented to Felix, 23:32 to 35
Days 11 and 12–waiting at Caesarea
Day 13–the hearing before Felix
Making it five days between Paul’s arrest and the trial–so now the tainted team seeking Paul’s life have arrived to bring dishonest accusations. Ananias was one of the most corrupt High Priests in Israel’s history. Because Paul taught the law and not tradition, because Paul upheld integrity and not graft, because Paul proclaimed character and preached against corruption, Paul was a threat to Ananias and all the Jewish leadership, some Sanhedrin elders down with the sham squad–showing us the truths of the Bible are a threat to corrupt leadership in any day.
In self-protection, the fraudulent leaders didn’t argue the case against Paul themselves, but they hired a slick attorney, Tertullus, to shark charges to the governor against Paul. Part lawyer and part gifted orator, we don’t know if he was a Roman or a Hellenistic Jew, but he was likely chosen because he was compelling and well-versed in Roman law.
Verses 2 to 4, the hearing began after Paul had been summoned. Yet before Tertullus began to accuse Paul, he addressed Felix with a type of flattering speech (known as the captatio benevolentiae) which was expected and customary in such situations. Verses 2 to 4, “After Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying to the governor, ‘Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for this nation, 3we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness. 4But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing.‘ “
This is customary flattery, but as you can tell, it is so over the top it sounds hollow and insincere. Unfortunately, there was not much good that could be said about Felix. He was the procurator, also called governor, of Judea, from AD 52 to 59. Felix was actually a former slave, who owed his position to the influence of his brother Pallas, who was a favorite of the Roman Emperor Claudius. The Roman historian Tacitus disdainfully dismissed Felis with this comment, “He exercised the power of a king with the mind of a slave.”
Now in verse 5, Tertullus turns his focus against Paul by bringing three charges, 1) sedition (violation of Roman law), 2) sectarianism (violation of Jewish law), and 3) sacrilege (violation of God’s law). We will see these all in verses 5 and 6.
We have found this man a real pest, a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world. They show how they feel about Paul by calling him a pest. The English word plague is a better translation–an epidemic disease with a high death rate, or a public menace. Some of you hate snakes, or clowns, or small rooms. Since Egypt, the Jews hated flies, locust, pestilence–whatever you hate most, that was what Paul was to them.
Paul was a pest to them, and own it Christian family, some of you are pests to your unsaved family and friends. Unbelievers don’t realize their pesky Christian friends are really their best friends. You want them to be set free from their sins now and delivered from Hell forever, only through Christ–so you keep proclaiming. That’s a friend! I pray none of you are like the rich man in Luke 16 who from Hell, begged that Abraham should send Lazarus to visit his brothers in order to witness to them.
Tertullus tells Festus Paul is a public menace, but then charged him in verse 5 as a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world. This is the most serious charge to bring against Paul in a Roman court and was the only accusation which was a crime against Rome. The Romans dealt severely with disturbers of the Pax Romana–the Roman Peace.
Rome would never consider disarming their soldiers, and Rome would be radically different in the way they would deal with so-called peaceful riots. Rome did not tolerate anyone who stirred up public dissension. It is true, Paul had been involved in riots–but the truth of the matter is, Paul had been the riots’ victim, not their instigator (a good reminder to us). Paul never sought to change men’s politics, but he did preach the lordship of Christ–so this was false.
A ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes–this second charge against Paul is a charge of heresy. According to Tertullus, Paul was a ringleader, which is a military term meaning “one who stands in the front rank.” Paul is the front leader of this heresy. But a sect of the Nazarenes–what’s that? Although this lying lawyer did not mean it as a compliment, it was true of Paul. Nazarenes was an insulting title for the followers of Jesus, who was from Nazareth and was called the Nazarene.
This term only appears in Acts, but was a common insult, since Tertullus didn’t even explain it to Felix. Remember Nathanael’s comment in John 1:46, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” These men considered the Christian faith a sect, a group of people alien to the true Jewish faith. Thousands of Jews had believed in Christ, but still participated in Temple worship, so they were looked upon as a sect within Israel and not as a new religion. This lawyer is accusing Paul of being the leader of a messianic sect which is troublesome to Israel, and therefore a danger to Rome.
Verses 6 to 8, “ ‘And he even tried to desecrate the temple; and then we arrested him. We wanted to judge him according to our own Law. 7 But Lysias the commander came along, and with much violence took him out of our hands, 8 ordering his accusers to come before you.’ ” Now this talented tongue tries to paint a veneer of legality over the savage attack of the mob upon Paul. This insincere solicitor whitewashes the Jewish goal of killing Paul by claiming they were attempting to arrest Paul themselves, then calmly try him in court.
The truth is, brave Roman soldiers under Lysias had to pull Paul from the Jewish mob in order to prevent the mob from killing Paul on the spot with no trial. So this deceiver accuses Lysias of violently ripping Paul away from their goal of giving him a fair trial. You know this all too well today–the classic biased report, the distortion of the facts. Tertullus softens the story of the Temple riot in verse 6, and distorts the actions of a brave Roman commander in verse 7.
Men opposed to the truth, integrity, character, morality and the law will stop at nothing to distort the truth or promote a lie. God used Lysias to rescue Paul, and the Jews hated him for this. Those who know Christ will love the truth, because Christ is the truth. And those who don’t know Christ will love lies, because their god is the father of all lies. Tertullus wraps up in verses 8b to 9, “ ‘By examining him yourself concerning all these matters you will be able to ascertain the things of which we accuse him.’ 9The Jews also joined in the attack, asserting that these things were so”–leading to . . .
#2 The DEFENSE–A Faithful Answer 24:10 to 21
Paul didn’t depend on flattery–he waited until the governor gave him permission to speak, then he quietly and honestly stated his defense. Verses 10 to 14, “When the governor had nodded for him to speak, Paul responded: ‘Knowing that for many years [about five years] you have been a judge to this nation, I cheerfully make my defense, 11since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12Neither in the temple, nor in the synagogues, nor in the city itself did they find me carrying on a discussion with anyone or causing a riot. [Paul states their accusations are absurd. He first destroys, their accusation of sedition. “There’s no way I could stir up a riot in that short of time–I wasn’t involved in any public debates or even an evangelistic mission, but I was there to bring an offering for the poor. I was there to worship–not incite a riot.” So Paul says] 13Nor can they prove to you the charges of which they now accuse me. [Concerning the second charge of sectarianism, Paul admits being a Christian, but denies that Christianity was or is heretical in any way.] 14But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets.’ “
Paul simply insists–to be a Christian was not forsaking the one true God, but being devoted to Him by believing everything written in the Old Testament. Paul says, “I follow the Bible, God’s Word–the Old Testament. I believe everything in the Law and Prophets.” Paul turns the tables on these accusers, saying that they are the real heretics. They did not truly worship God, since they reject the Bible and even worse–the God of the Scriptures. They rejected God’s Son, Jesus Christ–right? John 5:23b, “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”
Far from being a heretic, Paul was more orthodox than his accusers. Paul served the God of his fathers, believed in the inspiration of the entire Old Testament, and accepted everything it taught as the inspired Word of God and they did not. In fact, Paul’s literal belief in the Bible led him to the conviction of verse 15, “having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.”
The Old Testament clearly teaches the resurrection. Daniel 12:2, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” Living forever in the presence of God in a glorified body after death is the hope of everyone in Israel and everyone here today in Christ. Those in the accuser group who were Sadducees don’t believe in a resurrection, but those who were Pharisees did.
But every human conscience knows for a fact there is a coming judgment and that will determine a resurrection to forever life or forever contempt. Paul’s belief in the resurrection is not a mere doctrinal truth, but a life-altering reality, changing the way he lives. So he says in verse 16, “In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.”
To rebut the final allegation of sacrilege by profaning the temple, Paul recounts the circumstances of his visit to Jerusalem in verses 17 to 21. In these verses, Paul declares he is not anti-Jewish, nor did he bring a Gentile into the Temple. Far from seeking to stir up trouble, Paul came to Jerusalem on a mission of mercy. He brought an offering, a gift of love for the needy Jewish Christians collected from the Gentile churches. Felix perks up over this. After delivering the offering to the Jerusalem church, Paul agreed to sponsor four Jewish Christians who were taking Nazirite vows. Paul was not causing any disturbance–he was merely doing what any devout Jew would do.
The real cause of the disturbance was certain Jews who were in Jerusalem from Asia who brought false charges. They were upset by Paul’s teaching in their home regions, so they provoked a riot. Paul reminds Felix in verse 19, these witnesses didn’t show up and are not present in the court. This is a key point in Roman law–when accusers didn’t show up, the case leaned in favor for the innocence of the accused and against the case of the accusers.
Paul wraps up his defense with the key point of the Gospel–I am being accused for believing in the resurrection of the dead, but that belief is not a crime under Roman or Jewish law. So Paul refutes all the charges, stating the issues were theological and not civil or criminal. He does not belong in jail nor does this case belong in court.
#3 The VERDICT–A Foolish Attitude 24:22 to 27
Felix the governor heard the prosecution and now the defense. Do you know which two comments he picked up on–two statements which became his focus? The first is the comment the accusers made when they blamed the Roman commander Lysias. Verse 22, “But Felix, having a more exact knowledge about the Way [the Christian faith–the one way], put them off, saying, ‘When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.’ 23Then he gave orders to the centurion for him to be kept in custody and yet have some freedom, and not to prevent any of his friends from ministering to him.” Paul was under house arrest.
Felix was treading on thin ice as a Roman governor, as he had been overly-harsh in dealing with the Jews, and did not want a bad report to be sent to Caesar by the Jews. So instead of rightly throwing the case out of court and letting Paul go, he put the decision off until Commander Lysias could come and verify what they said, preventing the Jewish leaders from complaining about him.
The second comment Felis is stuck on is found in verse 17–look back there, “Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings.” How do I know Felix focused on Paul’s money comment? Read verses 26 and 27, “At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him. 27But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned.”
Even though Roman law strictly prohibited the taking of bribes, Felix hoped Paul would bribe his way out of custody. Felix assumed by Paul’s alms comment that Paul had money and could bribe for his release. And although Felix knew Paul was innocent, Felix refused to the end to release Paul. Ultimately, Felix was too brutal in dealing with the Jews and was recalled from Rome. He could have been executed for his actions, but was spared through the influence of his well-connected brother, and ultimately Felix faded from Roman history.
But even though that’s all bad, it is not the worst thing Felix ever did. Without a doubt, verses 24 and 25 is the worst moment in Felix’s life. Read verses 24 and 25 and witness the worst decision Felix ever made–a decision which determined his eternity. Verse 24, “But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.”
Who is Drusilla? Listen to this soap opera. John MacArthur writes, “She was the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I (the Herod of Acts 12), and was Felix’s third wife (his first wife had been a granddaughter of Antony and Cleopatra). While still in her teens, Drusilla had been given in marriage to the King of Emesa (in Syria). Struck by her renowned beauty, Felix schemed (with the help of a Cypriot magician) to lure her away from her husband. At age 16, she became Felix’s wife and bore him a son, who was killed in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius (in AD 79). In verse 24, she is not yet 20 years old. According to some manuscripts, it was at her urging Felix sent for Paul. And possibly it was through Drusilla, that Felix obtained his knowledge of Christianity—The Way.”
When verse 24 says Paul spoke to them about faith in Christ Jesus, the Greek text adds the article, “the” faith in Christ Jesus, meaning Paul spoke to them about Christian beliefs and the Gospel. And we know that’s correct because of verse 25a, “But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.” This was Paul’s threefold argument as to why they both should turn to Christ, and why you here today must turn to Christ.
Righteousness is the absolute standard demanded by God’s holy nature. You have to be perfect to go to Heaven. You will not stand in God’s presence unless you have never sinned. Self-control is your required response to live in conformity with God’s law. You must exercise absolute control of yourself, to live a life that has never sinned and friends—and no one, not Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham or Shawn Farrell has done it. As a result, you will face eternal judgment (apart from saving faith in Christ)–you will be judged for your sins, for your failure to control yourself, so as to live up to God’s standards. In no uncertain terms, Paul says, “You both will fail at God’s judgment.”
And right at this moment, Felix is living with a woman he lured away from her husband, and his reaction in verse 25b makes sense. Felix became frightened. But what happens next was the worst decision anyone anywhere can make. Verse 25c, “And said, ‘Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.’ “
God had spoken to the heart of Felix, but he didn’t respond. Felix was convicted of sin, but he did not repent. Felix knew he would be judged and condemned, but he waited and let the moment pass. Felix heard the truth, understand it, was even convicted, but refuse to obey. Felix was offered the fire ladder, refused, only to be burned alive eternally. Felix was shown the only life preserver, but chose to drown in an ocean of torment.
Felix fulfilled Hebrews 10:26, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.” What about you?
TAKE THIS HOME
1 Will you be like Felix, and miss your opportunity to turn to Christ?
Felix is a warning to all of you not to play with your soul, and know you stand condemned before a holy God for your sins. You can’t live controlled enough to earn God’s righteousness. You are doomed, unless you turn to the one who will bear your sin on the cross and cover you with His righteousness. Do not be on the wrong side of the percentages, do not face judgement in your own righteousness. Turn from your sin and put your faith in Christ.
2 Will you be like Paul and stand firm on truth, even when all oppose you?
Paul is our motivation to be gracious but aggressive with the truth. If you have a heart that wants to obey God’s Word, a heart that is willing to do whatever Christ wants, a heart that worships Christ with every aspect of your being–then make certain you demonstrate that heart with service to Christ and sharing about Christ. Let’s pray.