Our reading this evening is quite a long one as we pick up from where we left off last time … Acts 23:25 – 24:27. Last time we had Paul in custody and examined by the Sanhedrin. Then on the Sunday which the preacher had to excuse himself from because of a family emergency, we would have looked at a conspiracy to kill Paul which was foiled by Paul’s nephew and which resulted in him being spirited away by the Romans to Caesarea on the coast. Here he appears before his accusers and Felix, the Roman governor. He denies all the charges which the governor eventually realises are baseless, but the governor nonetheless keeps him in prison because he wanted to gain favour with the Jews he governed.
What I want to focus on this evening are some elements of Paul’s defence, in particular his reference to the Way, which is what the early members of the church were called: Followers of the Way. In our series on the I AM statements of Jesus, we will still come to one where He refers to Himself as The Way … and there will look in more detail at the significance of the term. Suffice it for now to remind you that at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refers to two different ways we can follow in this life: The wide and easy way that leads to destruction, or the narrow and difficult way that leads to life. So, the early believers were called followers of the Way … the way of Jesus, the way of discipleship, the way of the Cross … the difficult way. How difficult is the way you are on? Jesus said the way of Christian discipleship is very difficult.
So to our reading for this evening: Acts 24:10-16 &22-27.
My text is vs 24b - 25a: “Felix sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul spoke about righteousness, self-control and the judgement to come, Felix was afraid and said to Paul: “That’s enough for now!”
If you were asked to speak about faith in Christ Jesus …. Where would righteousness, self-control and the judgement to come fit in? Paul here gives a complete salvation message: he starts with the past, when Jesus through his atoning death made righteousness available to everyone (Rm 3:21-26; 5:8); the present, when the Holy Spirit empowers believers to lead increasingly holy lives, with self-control being not only necessary but possible (Gal 5:22-23); and the future, when everyone - including Felix, you and me - will be judged (1 Cor 3:10-15). Jesus spoke a great deal about the judgement to come and in His great grace has shown us how to prepare for it in Mt 25:31-46, which can be summed up as “be kind to the least among you” … the hungry, thirsty, cold, sick, the foreigner and the imprisoned among you, … among you. That is the Way of Christ, it is the Way we are called to walk in, narrow and difficult as it is, ….. please don’t walk on any other way, even if lots of other people are.
So Paul, asked to speak about faith in Christ Jesus, talks about righteousness, self-control and the judgement to come. During the Nature of God series, we saw that while there is a difference between righteousness and holiness, we can to all intents and purposes, say that they mean the same thing. They are both attributes of God and are both things we are commanded to be, but boy oh boy, holiness/righteousness is not a popular subject today. Many people are not sure what to do about it.
If I said to you “If you walk through that door you’ll become a holy person, how many of you would take that door? … or maybe look for another door?” If I had a holiness pill I could give you, would you take it?
I get the impression from many Christians that whatever holiness is, it isn’t necessary? Would you agree with that? You don’t have to be holy to go to heaven … would you agree with that? Well … I see some dissent to that. Aren’t you saved by faith and grace, so you don’t have to be holy? Well, the Bible says that we are to pursue peace with all men (I think it means women as well) and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). So maybe the question is not can you get to Heaven without holiness, but rather if you get to heaven without holiness, will you like Heaven? If you don’t like holiness much now, when you get to heaven you’re going to be in a lot of trouble, because there will be holiness everywhere. No wonder Felix says to Paul: “That’s enough for now.”
Is holiness good for you? You see, a lot of what we have seen (and that the people around us have seen) is something called holiness that wasn’t good for people … it’s very hard on people, it crushes them. Dressing in a certain way or you’re not holy … if you’re with certain people you’re not holy … if you’re not with them you’re not holy … doing certain things or not doing certain things on a Sunday … going to movies … standard patterns of holiness which seek to control people and imply that if you don’t fit the pattern, God won’t like you. External things become the essence of this type of holiness, which of course is not holiness at all. Blourokkies.
Now the truth is external conformity doesn’t work and doesn’t make you righteous/holy. People can still be very mean … and fit all the pattern. People outside the church have discovered that it doesn’t really help people … these things don’t make them more like the Jesus they claim to follow, whose way they claim to walk in.
Biblically, holiness isn’t really focussed on behaviour. Biblically, holiness is more of a matter of being than of doing. Holiness is a matter of being from a different world and being influenced by a different world and bringing that world to bear on the world around us. We are citizens of heaven says Paul on another occasion (Phil 3:20) and we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16) and these can only but lead to a life and lifestyle that is Godly and which has nothing to do with whether we wear certain clothes, or who we mix with, whether we go to movies or not, what we do on Sundays, etc. You see, these things are all inadequate to the soul. They do nothing for the soul, least of all nourish it.
And so Paul faithfully speaks of these things and Felix says that’s enough for now … and keeps him in prison for two years for no reason until he moves on and another governor arrives and is left to deal with Paul. Paul just continues to learn that following the Way and living the Way is very, very difficult, just as Jesus said it would be. I hope that’s your experience as well. (Brands of Christianity)
By now the Elders are perhaps getting ready to say to me: “Come on Cedric … we are hoping to attract people to Jesus and the Way and this isn’t really helping” … but the truth is that when we are truly righteous/holy, self-controlled and living in anticipation of the day of judgement, people want what we’ve got and the gospel almost sells itself. We just have to be ready, says Peter in 1 Peter 3:15, to explain why we are the way we are … which leads us to give an account, as Paul did to Felix, of our faith in Christ Jesus, about righteousness, self-control and the judgement to come. And the best way to speak of these things is by living them … something which the Holy Spirit loves to do in us if we let Him.
Let us pray.