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Implementation

Date: Aug. 17, 2014

Author: Bob Henkins

Acts 24:1-25:12

Key Verse: Acts 25:12

“After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: ‘You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go! ’”

When I used to work as a process control engineer I got involved in some pretty cool projects. Some of the projects that I’ve worked on were bridges, production of: animal feed, bread crumbs, roofing shingles, printing ink, candy, automotive paint, farming equipment, catalysts for the petroleum industry to name a few. One of the biggest projects I worked on was a new manufacturing plant that produced roofing materials. Our company designed all the controls systems and interfaces. We had six engineers working together on the project full time. It was a massive system with six complex subsystems all of which had to work together seamlessly. The design phase took about a year to complete and the implementation phase, or start up as we called it, took about six months. It’s extremely fulfilling to watch a project go from paper to production. Especially one of that size. We had hundreds of motors, pumps, valves, switches, agitators, blowers, sensors, conveyors and even rail cars that had to be programmed. Think about what it takes to put all that together in one cohesive machine. Now throw in the fact that our part was only a fraction of the whole. The project management company not only had to account for our team and all our equipment, but for every nut, bolt, screw, pipe, that connected to our stuff and manage the staff and materials to make sure everything went according to the timeline. In one of our trailers, we had a stack of drawings that came up to my chest. Every bolt was accounted for. As the plan was implemented at first it was chaos with people working here and there, material all over the place but as time went on the plan began to come together. Sometimes we didn’t know exactly how we would implement what was drawn on the plan, but in the end we got it working. If there is one thing we know about God it that he is a grand planner. The first sentence in the Bible says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And as we have been going through the book of Acts, we’ve found out that God also has a plan for Paul. His plan was that Paul would proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles, which Jesus personally visited Paul and told him that he would testify in Rome (23:11). But how, Paul was in jail? This was all part of God’s plan. And just as it was fulfilling to see my engineering projects unfold and begin to be implemented, it is the same with God’s plan as he begins his implementation. Which is why I titled this message, “implementation.”

In the previous passage we learned that Paul was escorted to Caesarea by 470 Roman soldiers. It may have been about half of the Roman force that was stationed in the barracks next to the Temple. The Roman’s wanted to make a statement, a show of force. However I believe that it was God who was demonstrating his show of force protecting Paul on his way to be locked up in Herod’s palace. Five days after Paul’s arrival, his accusers–the high priest Ananias, together with some elders and a lawyer named Tertullus–came to Caesarea to bring their charges against Paul. Tertullus must have been a famous lawyer, like Abraham Lincoln or Johnnie Cochrane from the O.J. Simpson trial. His opening statement is one of the biggest lies and butt kissing scenes I’ve ever witnessed. He said, “We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.” (2-4). His statement was completely untrue. Felix was an incompetent, corrupt ruler and a cruel man. His total lack of understanding and sympathy for the Jews made their life miserable, which caused them to rebel. Then Felix crushed them mercilessly which aroused new rebellions. Eventually even the Romans finally came to recognize his evil ways and removed him from office two years after this.

Tertullus continued with his lie and duplicity in verses 5-8, including the footnote. “We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him and wanted to judge him according to our law. But the commander, Lysias, came and with the use of much force snatched him from our hands and ordered his accusers to come before you. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.” When we look at this statement carefully, we notice that no facts are mentioned. There is no date, place or specific action, but only groundless accusations, laced with loaded words, such as “troublemaker, riots, and ringleader.” What is more, Tertullus implies that if Lysias had not acted ruthlessly, the whole matter could have been settled peacefully in Jerusalem. But the reality is they would have killed Paul if Lysias hadn’t stepped in. Even as Tertullus spoke, the Jews joined in the accusations (9) asserting that they were true. All of them lied boldly, and without conscience, just like their father the devil. (Jn 8:44)

Tertullus knew that if he used loaded words like “riots, ringleader, sect” in the charges against Paul, they would be red flags for the Roman officials and they would take notice. Finally Tertullus got down to the business at hand and set forth the Jewish charges against Paul (vv. 5–6). These were three in number. The first was that Paul was a “troublemaker” (literally, it meant a “pest” or “plague”), stirring up riots among the Jews throughout the entire civilized world. At first glance this seems to be a ridiculous charge, a bit of name-calling with nothing specific to back it up. Actually it was a carefully calculated move. Compare the charge with that of the Asian Jews in 21:28. They too had charged Paul with causing trouble “everywhere,” but they had correctly seen it as involving the Jewish law and temple. Tertullus attempted to broaden the scope a bit into that of provoking insurrection throughout the Roman world. It was the charge of sedition, a charge the Romans would not take lightly. Roman officials would scarcely concern themselves with matters of Jewish religion. They would take seriously any threat to the pax Romana. Felix in particular would have become attentive at the hint of such a charge. His entire administration had been marked by having to put down one insurrection in Judea after another. He had done so decisively and cruelly, maintaining the peace at any cost.

            Tertullus’s second charge was really a variation on the same theme: Paul was “a ringleader of the Nazarene sect.” This was true. Paul was a Christian leader. By linking the comment with the charge of provoking insurrection, however, Tertullus implied that the Christians as a whole were a dangerous and seditious sect and that Paul was one of their main collaborators. The ramifications of the Jewish charges now became infinitely clear. Should such a charge be made to stick for Paul, the whole Christian community would be viewed as a dangerous, revolutionary movement. Fortunately, Tertullus could not substantiate the charge, and Felix was already too informed about Christians to take it seriously (v. 22).

            Tertullus’s third charge was another matter—that Paul had violated the temple. Evidently the Romans did grant the Jews the right to enforce their ban on Gentile access to their sacred places. Paul had been charged by the Asian Jews with violating the ban (21:28). Had Tertullus substantiated this charge, it would have obligated Felix to turn Paul over to the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin which would mean almost certain death. The accusation, however, was totally false and based on an erroneous conclusion by the Asian Jews (cf. 21:29). This probably is why they were not present to substantiate the charge (v. 19).

Then Felix, filled with his sense of power, without a word, maybe with just a simple nod of his head, the governor motioned for Paul to present his defense, Paul replied: “I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. 11 You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. 13 And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me.” (10-13). Paul spoke based on facts. He didn’t do anything wrong. The only thing he did was to go to the temple to worship God. And now he was branded as a dangerous criminal, public enemy #1. This reminds me of what Jesus said, “They hated me without reason” (Jn 15:25). Just as Jesus was slandered and falsely accused, so would Paul, so will anyone that follows Jesus. So it shouldn’t surprise you when you serve God, that there will come a time when you will be rejected, not because you’ll do anything wrong, but simply because the devil opposes God’s work. And anyone that stands on God’s side will be hated and persecuted by the world. It’s hard, but don’t be sad. Keep your eyes focused on heaven.

If Paul was only thinking about getting out of the situation, he could have stopped speaking after verse 13. But he didn’t. In verses 14-16, Paul continues with his personal testimony. In doing so, he reveals his faith in Jesus and his hope in the resurrection of the dead. This is maybe the high point, the climax, of his testimony in all his speeches from Acts 23-26. Paul has spoken of resurrection before, but now he identifies the point of contention between him and the rest of the Jews and how his hope is different than theirs. Take a look at verse 14-16. “However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15 and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16 So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” Paul worshiped the God of Israel as a follower of the Way. Here, “the Way” refers to Jesus when he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6) Jesus is the ONLY way to God. Without Jesus no one can come to God. It was when Jesus died on the cross, the four inch thick curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Mk 15:38). This curtain represented the wall of separation that had been put up between God and men because of sin. When Jesus died, he took responsibility for our sins and removed the barrier that was between God and men. Hebrews 10:20-22 says, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body...let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith....” Now we can come to God and have a personal, loving relationship with him because of what Jesus did. Paul concluded in verse 16 talking about his conscience. All our deeds, good and bad, will be remembered. All the pain we’ve experience following Jesus will be recognized and God will welcome us into his kingdom and crown us with glory, giving us the gift of eternal life. When Paul had this hope, he did his best to live before God with a clear conscience and to be a blessing to others every day. Resurrection hope is not just a theory. Resurrection hope leads us to struggle hard to keep our consciences clear before God and man. Resurrection hope helps us resist the lusts of the world and the culture of death. Instead of despairing, we can do all things for the glory of God. We can live with a pure heart, not immorally, trusting in God’s future blessing. We can teach our children God’s word and pray for them. May God help each of us to have resurrection hope and strive to keep our consciences clear, living before God each day

When Paul said that he was a follower of the Way, he added, “which they call a sect.” This was a derogatory expression used by the Jewish leaders to discredit those who follow Jesus. They wanted to shame Christians and make them powerless and useless. It was the devil’s temptation. Jesus had warned his disciples, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” (Mk 8:38). Peter said, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1Pe 4:16). Paul wasn’t intimidated by the devil’s pressure. He clearly identified himself as a follower of the Way, that is, Jesus Christ, though corrupted said it was a sect. Paul said in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes....” We shouldn’t be ashamed of Jesus in front of anyone. We should be able to identify ourselves as Jesus’ disciple without fear. Right now the summer conference is going on in Europe. I remember the first time I went to a SBC in Moscow. At the airport, we gathered in a circle as we listened to the meaning of our journey. It was a little weird being in a big circle in the terminal, but I could deal with it. But then I freaked out when we started to sing “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” as everyone began to stare at us. I also found it hard the first time I went out on the campus to invite people to Bible study. And I felt uncomfortable the first time I said grace before a meal in a restaurant. However those things do not bother me as much anymore. From this I realize that I still have a long way to go.

After hearing Paul, Felix adjourned the proceedings, saying he would wait for Lysias before making his decision. Most likely he was stalling. It was clear that Paul was innocent, but Felix had no strength to do what was right. A lifetime of moral compromise had rendered him powerless to make tough decisions. He remained indecisive, caught in a human dilemma. Several days later he brought his wife and they listened to Paul speak about faith in Christ Jesus. It was Paul’s way of studying the Bible with Felix and he seemed to like it. Felix found the truth of God refreshing to his soul yet at the same time started to bother his conscience. Take a look at verse 25. “As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.’” Felix was obviously convicted of his sin. He should have repented. But he wouldn’t and postponed until a more convenient time. He is like some who study the Bible until it touches their sin problem. Then they say, “Don’t call me. I’ll call you.” The gospel requires a personal decision to repent and believe in Jesus. Parents cannot do this for their children. Sooner or later, each person must decide to repent and accept Jesus for forgiveness. Those who postpone this decision run a great risk because we don’t know what will happen tonight or tomorrow. We may never get the chance again. We may die or even our hearts may harden beyond control. When Felix lived with indecision for two years, his indecision turned into a rejection of Christ. Without Christ he could not escape the fires of hell.

As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and judgment we see some interesting contrasts. For example righteousness, in the passage we see Paul’s innocence. He didn’t do anything wrong. He brought gifts for the poor and was ceremonially clean. Also his conscience was clear before God. Contrast him with Felix and the Jews. Felix was not righteous. He ruled cruelly, he was governor and yet he was still trying to get a bribe from Paul. He even stole his wife from another man, I read in one commentary that he used black magic. And as for the Jews, they were liars, manipulators and trying to kill Paul. Let’s think about self-control. Paul was self-controlled as he was stuck in prison waiting for two years, without any charges even. We have a law against that. Paul controlled himself in front of his accusers. This allowed him to be led by the Spirit to think clearly and be logical. Contrast him with the Jewish leaders who couldn’t control their temper and were prone to outbursts. They needed anger management classes. Even Felix couldn’t control himself as he talked with Paul and had to send him away. And finally contrast their actions about judgment. Paul wasn’t afraid to die or even to face judgment. He wasn’t afraid to face judgment on the political level or even the spiritual level. On the other hand, Felix became so fearful that he had to send Paul away.

What was the difference between Paul and Felix and the Jews? I believe that it came down to their hope. Paul’s hope was in eternal life, while Felix and the Jews’ hope was in the things of this world and so they naturally responded differently. Where you put your hope, will direct the path of your life. This is not rocket science. We naturally follow where our hope directs. As a result, Felix knew that Paul was innocent, but he did not release him from prison. He was afraid of the pressure of the Jewish leaders. Because Felix was indecisive, Paul remained in prison for two years without any charge. Indecision stems from cowardice and moral corruption. In this way, many unsolved problems must have accumulated during Felix’s administration. It is not surprising that he was removed as governor and replaced by Festus. Indecisive people are useless to God and man. When Festus arrived he seems a little better. He had carefully assessed the situation and found that the key to governing Israel well was to make friends with the Jewish leaders. For their part, the Jewish leaders also got right to the point, wanting to transfer Paul to Jerusalem where they planned to kill him. Festus was open to the ideal because he wanted to do the Jews a favor. I guess he was not all that different from Felix. And so when Paul was asked if he wanted to go to Jerusalem, he made his appeal to Caesar. “Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. 11 If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!” 12 After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!” If Paul had followed the governor’s direction, it would have taken him in the opposite direction of Rome and back to Jerusalem. Paul’s only option to move forward is to appeal to Caesar. I believe that God gave Paul wisdom and opened the way for his plan to go to Rome to be carried out.

            This was probably not the way Paul intended to go to Rome, but it was the way in which God worked. God’s purpose was being accomplished and Paul would get an all-expense paid trip to see Rome. Here we see how God works for the good of those who love him. In Rome Paul would get a fairer trial than in Jerusalem. Thus God saved his life. In this passage we see so many people, all of which have their own plans and desires of what they want to happen. The Jews are doing their best to carry out their plans, the governors are doing their best to do their thing, and Paul is doing his best. And yet God uses all of these things together to move his plan forward. And the thing I think that we should take away from this passage, is that we should not be afraid of what will happen in the future of our lives. We should trust in Jesus and put our hope in the resurrection and let that be the guide of our lives. And try to find joy even in the midst of all the craziness we call life. Several years ago, because of my sin, I was demoted at work. At that time I was miserable but God used it for his good purpose. I still struggle to fully accept it sometimes, but I believe that God blessed me through it.

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