In our world today if you get outside of Christian circles you’ll find a lot of folks out there in society who think that anyone who believes in Jesus Christ is crazy. That’s right . . . crazy. Even during Jesus’ time on earth there were folks who thought he was crazy. And the “religious leaders” of his day absolutely hated him. Such venom is still around today, yet the gospel of Jesus Christ still rings out to a lost and dying world.
People haven’t changed any in the 2000 years since Jesus Christ walked on this earth. The things that happened to his followers back then (e.g., mockings, persecution, sometimes prison, sometimes death) still happen to his followers today. And some folks who listen to the Gospel message want all the benefits from it without any of the cost associated with following Jesus Christ. Such was the case with Felix, a Roman procurator whom the Apostle Paul addressed during his trial before Felix. Paul was in prison at the time because of the Jews and their hatred for his message about Jesus Christ. Let’s read the brief exchange in Acts 24:22-27:
Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way [followers of Jesus Christ], adjourned the proceedings. “When Lysias the commander comes,” he said, “I will decide your case.” He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.
Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. 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.” At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.
When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.
In a short devotion titled, “Don’t Put It Off!” by Ray Newbold in the devotional booklet, Open Windows, on this particular passage in Acts he states:
Felix, a Roman procurator, was interested in establishing a relationship with the apostle Paul, believing the he might receive a bribe to set Paul free. Paul desired a relationship with Felix that he might win Felix to Christ. Paul’s reasoning was so compelling that Felix became afraid and sent Paul away. One excuse would serve as well as another. He chose “inconvenience.” He was just too busy but promised he would get back to Paul in time.
Unfortunately, the case sounds all too familiar. When we are like Felix and expect benefits, we give an ear to the gospel message. But when it gets down to the cost, timing always seems to be a problem. We seem unable to find a convenient time to get serious about our faith, so we put it off.
There is no further account that Felix ever gave serious consideration to the gospel of Jesus Christ, just like so many people who hear it today. However, even though Felix was not persuaded–and even though Paul was still being held in prison due to the charges brought up against him by the Jewish leaders who hated him–that did not stop Paul. In Paul’s trial before Festus (who replaced Felix), we read the following exchange in Acts 25: 8-12:
Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.”
Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?”
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. 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!”
After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”
The Jewish leaders who hated Paul urgently requested that Festus, as a favor to them, have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, “for they were preparing to kill him along the way” (v. 3). They appealed to Festus and had brought many charges against Paul which they could not prove (v. 7). However, due to Paul’s appeal to Caesar, he remained in prison in Caesarea where he was to stand before King Agrippa and Bernice. Paul’s appeal before King Agrippa and Bernice is found in Acts 25:23 – 26:32:
The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. Festus said: “King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. For I think it is unreasonable to send a prisoner on to Rome without specifying the charges against him.”
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”
So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.
“The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee. And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?
“I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.
“On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
“ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”
At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”
The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. After they left the room, they began saying to one another, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”
Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” (Additional note: See commentary on Paul before King Agrippa and Bernice at this link on Biblegateway.com. Here’s the last paragraph in that commentary, “The hearing is over. The dignitaries exit and in private discussion agree on Paul’s innocence: This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment (compare 23:29; 25:18). And as if to explain the anomaly of an innocent Roman citizen in chains, Agrippa adds, This man could have been set free, if he had not appealed to Caesar. This is not a matter of Roman jurisprudence but of Roman politics. Even though a person could be acquitted and released after an appeal to Caesar (Sherwin-White 1963:65), not to honor such an appeal would be to slight the emperor’s prestige. These declarations of innocence make it clear that Paul and Christianity cannot be charged with sedition against the state. Nothing in the conduct of the messenger calls into question the truthfulness of the message. Luke’s Roman audience and we must come to terms with the gospel and the defining moment it offers by dealing directly with its truth claims.”)
When the decision came down in his case, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment, and they boarded a ship bound for Rome. There was a storm along the way, and they shipwrecked on an island called Malta (the entire story of this account is found in Acts:27 – Acts 28:10). After three months they put out to sea again in a ship headed for Rome and eventually landed in Rome where Paul was allowed to live by himself with a soldier to guard him (Acts 28:11-16).
Paul continued to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in Rome under guard and three days after arriving in Rome he called together the leaders of the Jews. Let’s pick up the story from there in Acts 28:17-31:
Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: “My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. The Jews objected, so I was compelled to make an appeal to Caesar. I certainly did not intend to bring any charge against my own people. For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.”
They replied, “We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.”
They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:
“‘Go to this people and say,
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’
“Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”
For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!
At this point the Book of Acts ends, and, of course, the very compelling Book of Romans, written by Paul, follows. Paul never, ever, ever gave up on preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ no matter what his circumstances (and he endured many persecutions besides the times he spent in prison). Even when his fellow Jews refused to believe the good news he did not let that sway him one bit. And his appeal all the way to Caesar allowed him to eventually go to Rome and continue to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Most of us will never have to endure the opposition that Paul endured by his own fellow Jewish leaders, and that should give each and every one of us who truly believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ the courage to stand up for Jesus even when the crowds are saying, “You’re crazy!” They called Jesus crazy, too, as well as Paul. And they never flinched.
Those of us who truly know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord should be compelled to tell the good news of Jesus Christ in whatever manner the Lord provides for us to do so, even against the odds and any religious establishment that says otherwise. We are called to be His ambassadors in this world, and nothing or no one should stop us when He opens the door to do so, even if we land in prison for it, or are persecuted because of it.
We are here to follow His lead, and not our own, and to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world regardless of the cost to us personally . . .
So don’t put it off . . . .
YouTube Video: “Softly and Tenderly” sung by Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt: