Before WWII, the world was able to see the political strength of Adolph Hitler growing – it was not a secret rise to power. He was not particularly clandestine about his extreme beliefs, and he was not known for being silent about his thoughts. Yet, many in the west appeared to favor the strategy of “appeasement”. Clearly, the government of Neville Chamberlain in London settled on that approach.
The Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI maintained a separation of Austria and Germany, but in 1938 the Austrian-born Hitler instructed pro-German Austrians to create disturbances and then he sent troops in to “restore order”. Though France and England complained about the breach, the policy of appeasement prevented war by a series of negotiations. After that, Hitler threatened war if the territory inhabited by three million German speakers living in Czechoslovakia were not allowed to be annexed to Germany – and the appeasing forces went to Munich and agreed to let him have the territory in exchange for a promise he wouldn’t illegally take any others. Six months later, all those governments realized they were duped, and appeasement was nothing more than a delay tactic while Germany armed and trained soldiers.
Though true statesmanship is often about nuanced compromise; appeasement in the face of evil doesn’t work – history is clear. Telling people what they want to hear is only helpful if what you are telling them is the truth. If not, what starts off sounding like a reasonable argument, ends up surrendering valuable territory, costing lives, and allowing an enemy to entrench himself and fortify his position while good sits by idly and blissfully ignorant of the direction events are headed in.
We may be living in a time when world powers are posturing again (can you spell “Ukraine”?) but that isn’t my focus today. The simple fact is that we are living in a generation that has swallowed a moral relativism that hungers to appease evil and easily ignores truth. The strange symptom that indicates such a climate of moral relativism is that any verbal form of judgment of wrongdoing becomes the biggest sin of all. It isn’t wrong actions that bother people in such a climate – it is calling wrong by its name that angers them. Many people honestly feel that no one has the right to judge their actions – even when those actions change the society for everyone and pose a real cost to the rest of the community. It is a surreal disconnection of cause and effect caused, in part, by appeasement and a general lack of vigilance concerning truth.
Raise a generation of believers in the soup of moral relativism and you will eventually hear open arguments for appeasement growing inside the walls of the church. “Love” will be cited. “Tolerance” will be noted; but often truth seems to get lost in the mix. Those who stand with the Bible will slowly, but very deliberately, be framed as the intolerant ones “out of step with outreach” and “insensitive to the needs of others”. The Biblical record in such arguments becomes increasingly ignored or discounted as “irrelevant to modern sensitivities”– as if this is the first generation with sinful desires that pushed to get a new definition of morality. This is an old ploy, but it appears more dangerous this time – because this generation doesn’t appear to possess the inoculation of Biblical knowledge to slow the spread of the appeasement disease. As we draw late in the calendar of mankind, as the Bible reminds that we truly are, this certainly seems like no time for the message of Jesus to get fuzzy inside the church. In fact, now more than ever, we need a clear understanding of what we are saying to the lost world, and a concise but thorough presentation of it.
Fortunately, we have the record of those who went before us in the church’s beginnings to keep us moored to the past – and more importantly connected to God’s heart as expressed in His Holy Word. As we continue to follow the path of the Apostle Paul, we have a record of exactly how he defended the faith in the face of powerful pagans of his time – and that is at the heart of today’s lesson. These defenses are such a treasure; they occupy chapters of Dr. Luke’s writing in the Book of Acts. Here is the truth…
Key Principle: God modeled the defense of the Gospel so that believers will know how to be clear, confident and concise about the message we were given by the Lord.
I love that Paul was clear and Luke was concise. Sometimes I feel we live in a world befuddled by theological complexity. Some of the problem is that some believers major on minors and don’t recognize what the core message is, as opposed to other important but non-essential teachings. Some of the problem is as simple as the fact that some people don’t think clearly and cannot communicate clearly whether they know Jesus or not. Thankfully, we have a pattern to follow – a repeated model left behind by the first generation of church planters and Gospel defenders.
Follow the text in the Book of Acts to three Roman Provincial Defenses of the Apostle Paul. They are part of a string of seven defenses that Luke took the time to record for Theophilus, who may have been hired as Paul’s advocate before Nero to plead his case in Rome. We have identified two defenses already in our study:
• The first defense of Paul was before the Jewish crowd in the Temple, given in Hebrew, from the stairs of the Antonia Fortress (Acts 22).
• The second defense was before the Sanhedrin, under the guard of the Chiliarch (commander) in Jerusalem (Acts 23).
The next three defenses were at the highest level available in the Province of Judea where Paul was arrested – and we want to look more closely at these three stories. As we examine these three accounts, we want to focus on three important parts to each recorded defense and draw some important conclusions about how to defend our faith when necessary. The three foci are:
• First, the players – it is essential that we clarify the picture of the setting by sharpening our focus on Paul’s audience.
• Second, the content – we want to look closely at HOW Paul defended the faith, and what elements of the story he highlighted according to Luke’s brief overview.
• Third, the results – sometimes it is encouraging to see the responses to those who went before us so that we have some idea what to expect.
We will use these three as our “outline” of each defense, and then take the time to apply the lessons we find in the record.
Paul’s Defense before Procurator Felix (Acts 24):
Let’s start with Acts 24, where Paul has been taken to Caesarea and placed in the judgment hall of the Procurator named Felix – the favored name for slaves that meant “happy”.
The Players: Antoninus Felix and Drusilla
Here is how Luke recorded the scene:
Acts 24:1 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. 2 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, 3 we acknowledge [this] in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness. 4 “But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing. 5 “For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 “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]. By examining him yourself concerning all these matters you will be able to ascertain the things of which we accuse him.” 9 The Jews also joined in the attack, asserting that these things were so.
Since we know about Paul and his background as well as something of the people attacking him already, let’s see what history has kept alive concerning the Procurator before whom Paul stood.
Marcus Antonius Felix was born about the same time as the Apostle Paul (circa 5 CE) and held the post of Roman procurator of the Province of Judea between 52-58 CE. He rose to power in a unique way. Though probably born a slave, his family may have actually descended from the Greek kingly line of Arcadia, in southern Greece. He probably gained status because of the service of his younger brother, the freedman Marcus Antonius Pallas, who became the secretary of the treasury during the reign of the Emperor Claudius. The historian Josephus called Marcus by the name “Claudius Felix” signaling the possibility that he was “adopted into the gens (clan) of the Claudii”. By petition of Pallas, Felix’ seemed to have gained his title. His wealth building strategy apparently included taking bribes (Acts 24:26); but that led to cynicism about Roman justice and an increase of crime in Judaea. His rule was stained by a series of bitter disturbances followed by his often too severe responses. On returning to Rome, Felix was accused of participation in a dispute between two parties in Caesarea with a plan to divest some of the inhabitants and get some of the money. His brother Pallas came to his aid before Emperor Nero, and Felix avoided punishment. History reminds us that Felix married three times. Felix’ second wife was Drusilla of Judea, daughter of Herod Agrippa I & Cypros (who also divorced a king to marry him). Of possible interest to those who visit Pompeii in Italy, Felix and the Judean Drusilla, had a son, Marcus Antonius Agrippa, who died along with his mother Drusilla and many of the inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 CE. After the loss of his family in that tragedy, Felix married for a third time, but little is known about his third wife – or anything else that happened to him.
The Defense: Clear presentation of the issues.
More important for our lesson than the identity of the players is the specific record of the defense. The text offers six clues as to how Paul kept his defense clear, concise and focused. Consider these traits as modeled for us – because God kept them in the record for us to read about as we face days we will need to defend our faith before authorities.
Note that as Paul defended the faith, he waited for his opportunity to speak – he wasn’t RUDE.
Acts 24:10 When the governor had nodded for him to speak, Paul responded:
There may have been a time when it wasn’t necessary to add this point, but that time has passed. Christians need to remember to be polite when they stand before the world. This is one of the very impressive parts of Ravi Zacharias – his vast intellect and clear-thinking pattern of speaking is enhanced by his careful gentleness and polite manner.
If you keep reading, you will note that Paul acknowledged the authority of others – he wasn’t PRESUMPTIVE.
Acts 24:10b “…Knowing that for many years you have been a judge to this nation…”
Some may consider this part of being polite, but I think it is deeper – I think he respected authority. Respect wins listeners, while denigrating another’s position – even if you think they aren’t acting uprightly – only leads to discounting our collective testimony. At the same time, we must recognize that position and accomplishment don’t mean you can assume character. Many people were hired for their skills – not for their emotional maturity or social adeptness. If the famous men and women from the world of competitive sports have taught us anything, it is this: outstanding ability is not necessarily sterling character; outstanding accomplishment is not synonymous with inner maturity. In short, skill is not maturity.
Verse ten continues, and in it we see he offered his defense with a smile – he wasn’t DEFENSIVE in spirit.
Acts 14:10b “…I cheerfully make my defense…”
I LOVE that line. Paul was illegally arrested and brutally handled – but cheerful in his defense. This reminded me of the time at Philippi he and Silas held a “hymn sing” from a jail cell. The man knew how to keep his spirit “up” and ready! Defensive presentation shows a lack of confidence in our position. If we know and trust the power of God, we can sing from the jail cell – because God hasn’t forgotten us during the time of our testing. It is easy to say from my life of comfort – I can only hope to grasp the instruction should the days ahead necessitate.
Luke continued with a simple assessment: Paul gave the facts – he didn’t ASSUME knowledge.
Acts 24:11 “…since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship.”
Paul didn’t make the Procurator guess about the circumstances – he shared the straight facts with no frilly details.
Though he openly challenged the opponent to show solid evidence – he didn’t needlessly ATTACK them.
This is important! Paul said:
Acts 24:12 “Neither 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. 13 “Nor can they prove to you [the charges] of which they now accuse me.
In essence, Paul said, “They don’t have any evidence to present, and they won’t be offering any! They are going to TELL you I did things, but they cannot OFFER VERIFIABLE EVIDENCE of any of it.
Finally, Paul made clear the true issues involved – he didn’t WANDER into side areas of conflict.
Paul knew what he intended to bring forward. He said:
Acts 24:14 “But 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; 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. 16 “In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience [both] before God and before men. 17 “Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings; 18 in which they found me [occupied] in the temple, having been purified, without [any] crowd or uproar. But [there were] some Jews from Asia—19 who ought to have been present before you and to make accusation, if they should have anything against me. 20 “Or else let these men themselves tell what misdeed they found when I stood before the Council, 21 other than for this one statement which I shouted out while standing among them, ‘For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today.'”
As you examine the defense in detail, did you notice in the details of Paul’s statement of defense? First, he said that he was a leader of the “people of the Way” – and in that he was prepared to be accused and suffer penalty if he was guilty of a real crime. He didn’t deny he belonged to Jesus and was a part of the church. We need to be careful not to cover over this point. Denying of Jesus and our relationship to Him cannot and must not be part of the strategy of defense of the Gospel. Jesus was clear that He would deny before the Father those who denied Him before men.
Second, Paul made clear that he saw himself as a Jew, obedient to the Scriptures and seeing no conflict in them with following the Risen One. He did not concede that he was a renegade outsider. In fact, he made clear that he was accused of being outside the Jewish mainstream when he truly was not. This is a detail that offers warning – don’t feel the need to admit to things that aren’t true because you are trying to find “middle ground” with those who are attacking the Gospel.
Third, Paul made clear that he stood before the authorities with a clear conscience, and that his faith did not consist of trickery of those in authority. In a time when many would bribe and play political games – Paul made clear he was a “what you see if what you get” kind of man. This is helpful to remind us not to get involved in back room deals to keep out of trouble. We must be honest, above board and straightforward – with a clear heart.
Fourth, Paul pointed out that his opponents lacked witnesses that could offer any direct testimony of wrongdoing on his part, and didn’t provide them to the Sanhedrin when he was questioned at the time. It is important that false charges be called exactly what they are – deceptions. Believers don’t have to let people lie and falsely charge them and sit quietly. When the time is right, make clear that lies are being told!
Fifth, Paul summarized the whole issue as a singular one – the fact that he believed with his whole heart that Jesus was raised – and that was the heart of the Sanhedrin’s issue with him. The resurrection is not an incidental part of the Christian message, but at the heart of it. The center of our faith is rooted in the idea that there is a SPIRITUAL WORLD, and the short stint of physical life is not all of life for people. The fact that we maintain that afterlife is real and life now has an effect on life then will be offensive to many – but it is the truth.
Sixth, a bit later in a later defense before Felix (this time with his wife in attendance), Paul spoke of something that cause Felix to back away from his message – righteousness, discipline and future judgment.
Acts 24:22 But Felix, having a more exact knowledge about the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 Then 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. 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. 25 But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.”
We must remember that our message is not just one of salvation and heaven, but of submission and judgment. Many believers find it difficult to embrace the idea that the Gospel includes the depravity of man and impending judgment – but Paul did not find that to be something he wanted to hide. People need to recognize that a Christ-less eternity is no joke!
Seventh, it is worth noting that a bribe was anticipated, and that Luke knew that was the case. Paul surely understood that as well.
Acts 24:26 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.
Paul wouldn’t offer a bribe to get a release, because he trusted that God had him where he was. He was less intent on getting free than he was on being used of God.
We are almost finished observing Paul’s defense of the faith before a governor of the Roman Empire and his wife. Step back for a moment and look at what we learned about defending our faith.
• Paul didn’t need to be rude, presumptive or defensive in spirit to stand for Jesus –and we don’t either.
• Paul didn’t assume that his audience understood his faith (he didn’t “Christian-eze” his way through his defense), nor did he attack his opponents to get his point across – and we don’t need to either.
• Paul didn’t wander between issues, but stayed focused on the essential point of making the heart of his faith clear to the hearer – and we must do so as well.
• Paul didn’t like disagreement, and didn’t want it in his life – but that didn’t make him so soft that he refused to stand his ground – and we cannot either. This is a time for believers to make it clear that the message of the Bible is non-negotiable. What the Bible calls on us to do, is what God expects us to do – and we intend to do it.
The testimony before the world may get much tougher in the coming days. As naturalism nails down every board in the floor of our school systems over the next generation, and as skepticism and agnosticism become the hallmark of the learned, we may find a cold wind blowing in our face. We will have a month of witches at Halloween but never a single mention of Jesus at Christmastime – and this generation will accept that as normal. A single comment like: “A child needs a mother and a father” will be reason enough to be pilloried in public as a cruel and unthinking person. Suggesting that people have “no legal right to expect to live their lives without ever feeling offended” will get you a world of trouble – unless the offense is because of anything that has to do with the church, a Bible of Jesus. You will be able to quote the Qur’an in class, but never a Bible verse – for that will surely bring an end to the republic. You will feel it – fairness and justice is listing to one side.
As that happens, don’t lose your cool and don’t lose heart. We have a pattern to follow.
The Result: Continued imprisonment.
Acts 24:27 But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned.
It is easy to view the defense as a failure – because Paul was still under arrest. That would be true, but that wasn’t the goal. God wanted Paul to head to Rome, and that is still where he was going. God knows His timing, and Paul needed to learn to be content with his place while God moved in other areas and with other people.
The most important ingredient has been staring us in the face for the whole of the study – but I never mentioned it. Paul WANTED to be used of God to bring the message of Jesus to people. He was willing to sit in jail at the instruction of Jesus and wait his turn to head to Rome – because he knew that is where he belonged. He did it because he loved Jesus. He did it because he was burdened by the lost. He did it because he LOVED PEOPLE.
In his book The Gospel According to Jesus, Chris Seay mentioned a profound lesson he gained from his father about how to love people. He wrote: “Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money, so we used to get outfield deck seats (aka ‘the cheap seats’) to see the baseball games at the [Houston] Astrodome. Most of the people buying the cheap seats did so to save more money for beer. After the first few innings, they were drunk, and by the time the seventh-inning stretch rolled around, there would be beer mixed with peanut shells on the floor, spilled beer down your back, and a brawl two rows over and back to the left. It was ugly out there. As a kid, I learned from a lot people that we were sitting with the ‘bad people.’ There was one consistent drunk fan named Batty Bob. He was a self-proclaimed Houston Astros mascot. He’d come to all the games wearing a rainbow wig, and he’d lead slurred cheers in the stands. I remember one time my dad went out to sit and talk with Batty Bob. He spent the whole game with Bob, then walked him out to the parking lot to bring him home with us. I was more than confused, because this guy was one of the ‘bad people.’ When we got home, my dad came to me and explained how God loved Batty Bob. I remember thinking, Really? Batty Bob? And he stayed with us for a few days to get back on his feet. This is when I started to realize that God did not despise these people; he dearly loved them.”
We must remember that the church was designed to be a place, not simply where people would be “saved” – but where their broken lives would be transformed. The slavery to sin has been bested by our loving Creator – and the message of freedom awaits those who will hear our voices. The church is where God’s Spirit is working to change people once enslaved to their appetites to be like our Savior in character, and where we – in love with Jesus and people – will work together to show the power of the Savior graphically to the world. God modeled defense of the Gospel so that believers will know how to be clear, confident and concise about the message.