"Showing the way, Teaching the truth,
Experiencing the life in Christ"
How Christians Should Respond
When Falsely Accused
(Acts 24:10, NIV)
“When the governor motioned for him to speak,
Paul replied: ‘I know that for a number of years you
have been a judge over this nation;
so I gladly make my defense.’”
When we concluded our previous lesson from the Book of Acts, Paul had been rescued from a forty-man assassination plot by the commander of the Roman garrison at Jerusalem and transported for 470 Roman soldiers to Caesarea where he was handed over to Governor Felix who ordered him to be held under guard until he could be tried in the Roman court over which he presided. Luke wrote, “When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they…handed Paul over to him [Felix]…he said, ‘I will hear your case when your accusers get here.’ Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace” (Acts 23:33a…33c…35, NIV).
After a delay of five days Paul’s accusers arrived from Jerusalem and his trial before Governor Felix began. Luke wrote, “Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor” (Acts 24:1, NIV).
“Tertullus” was a Hellenistic Jew who served as the Sanhedrin's expert legal counsel in Roman affairs. As a Hellenistic Jew, reared outside Judea in one of the many gentile provinces of the Roman Empire, “Tertullus” was a lawyer who would have been more expert in Roman law than a Hebraic Jew reared in the Jewish province of Judea. It is likely that he served as chief counsellor to the Jewish court in matters related to Roman law.
When the Roman guards escorted Paul to the courtroom, “Tertullus” presented his legal case against him. Luke wrote, “When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix” (Acts 24:2a, NIV).
II. The Case Against Paul
Before outlining the Jewish charges against Paul, “Tertullus” attempted to win Felix’s favor with an extended flow of flattery. Luke wrote, “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” (Acts 24:2b-3, NIV).
The fact is that secular Jewish history does not record any extended “period of peace” during Felix’s tenure as governor. In fact the Roman army had conducted an ongoing series of search-and-destroy missions against Jewish revolutionaries which fanned the fires of Jewish political rebellion into fiercer and fiercer flame.
Regarding “reforms” or “improvements” in the nation, Jewish history doesn’t record any of any significance. In fact, much of Israel’s infrastructure fell into gross disrepair during the more-than-a-decade of Felix’s successive terms as governor. So “Tertullus’” opening remarks were pure flattery designed to gain the good will of Felix.
To further gain his favor, “Tertullus” assured Felix that he would be brief in his enunciation of the charges against Paul. He said, “In order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly” (Acts 24:4, NIV).
At this point, “Tertullus” actually began to present the Jewish case against Paul. Luke wrote, “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 we would have judged him in accordance with our law. But the commander Lysias came and took him from us with much violence, ordering 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. The other Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true” (Acts 24:5-9, NIV).
“Tertullus” carefully explained the charges as primarily political issues so that they might be viewed as violations of Roman law. He began with an accusation of empire-wide insurrection. He labeled Paul a troublemaker (literally, "plague-spot") and accused him of “stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world.”
Whether the intended implication is rioting among the general population or simply disrupting Jewish communities, the charge is a serious one. If the judge found him guilty, Paul could be executed. However, “Tertullus” offered no proof to substantiate the charge. In fact, when riots broke out in cities where Paul preached, it was Jewish religionist who instigated the riots. Felix, obviously aware of the facts regarding periodic clashes between Christians and Jewish religionists, simply ignored the charge. He made no response.
Next “Tertullus” charged Paul with spreading disruptive religious propaganda and thereby causing civil unrest in the Empire. He used a derogatory nickname for Christians, “Nazarene,” and labeled them a “sect”—no more than an unwanted minority religious movement within Judaism, and identified Paul as their “ringleader.” Again, “Tertullus” presented no substantive proof of the charges levied against Paul.
Finally, the Jew’s lawyer moved to the real heart of their complaint against Paul—he refused to comply with their religious demands. So they accused him of trying to “desecrate the temple.” This charge probably stemmed from the incident recorded in Acts chapter 21 where Luke wrote, “Some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, ‘Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.’ (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)” (Acts 21:27b-29, NIV). This charge against Paul was based on mere assumption! No proof could be offered to substantiate it.
III. Paul’s Defense
With a gesture of his hand, Felix indicated that it was time for Paul to begin his defense. His address to Governor Felix was respectful, affirming, within the bounds of truth, and brief. Luke wrote, “When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: ‘I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense’” (Acts 24:10, NIV).
Paul “gladly” made his defense before Felix because his long tenure in Palestine had provided experience, knowledge and insight on Jewish affairs. Felix had already spent a decade in Palestine, first as administrator of the Roman province of Samaria (A.D. 48-52) and then as governor of Samaria from A.D. 52 to the time of Paul's trial in A.D. 58. That’s what Paul was referring to when he said, “I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation” (Acts 25:10b, NIV).
Paul's address to the governor models the bold, yet respectful, behavior that Peter advised all Christians to display when we are falsely accused before civil authorities. He wrote, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:15-16, NIV).
Paul flatly denied the charges that he had been “A troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world… and… tried to desecrate the temple” (Acts 24:5b…6b, NIV). He said, “You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 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. And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me” (Acts 24:11-13, NIV).
Then Paul turned his attention to the real reason the Jewish mob had arrested him in Jerusalem. He said, “I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect” (Acts 24:14a, NIV). When being tried by civil authorities it is always proper to confess to the charges of which you are guilty. That’s exactly what Paul did at this moment.
Paul then took the opportunity to give a strong spiritual witness to everyone in the courtroom. He spoke of the authority of Scripture and of the resurrection of all humanity as the purifying hope of mankind. when He said it like this—“I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 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. So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man” (Acts 24:14b-16, NIV). Paul’s accuser must have been Pharisees rather than Sadducees.
Paul then denied the charge that he had defiled the Temple. He explained, “After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this” (Acts 24:17-18a, NIV). Since he was “ceremonially clean,” he did not defile the Temple.
Next, Paul denied the charge that he was “A troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world” (Acts 24:5b, NIV). He said, “There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance” (Acts 24:18b, NIV).
Paul made a few more remarks to demonstrate just how flimsy the Jewish case against him truly was. His presentation must have convinced Governor Felix that there was no legitimate case against him, because he abruptly “adjourned the proceedings.” Luke wrote, “Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, 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” (Acts 24:22-23, NIV).
When Christians are falsely accused before civil authorities, they should model the bold, yet respectful, behavior that Peter advised all Christians to display when we are falsely accused before civil authorities. He wrote, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:15-16, NIV).
Lessons on Witnessing from Paul
(Acts 24:24, NIV)
“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”
When we last left Paul he had just been tried before the Roman court at Caesarea and was being kept under guard with friends given the privilege to visit him to take care of his needs. Luke wrote, “He [Felix] ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs” (Acts 24:23, NIV).
After Paul had been incarcerated for “several days,” Felix and his wife Drusilla sent for him and listened to what he had to say. Luke wrote, “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” (Acts 24:24, NIV).
II. Lessons on Witnessing
When Paul had the opportunity to speak to someone who would listen, his subject matter was always the same—Jesus! Luke described the content of Paul’s speech to Felix and Drusilla when he wrote, “He spoke about faith in Christ Jesus” (Acts 24:24b, NIV).
After explaining that Paul “spoke about faith in Christ Jesus,” Luke recorded a more detailed list of items included in his speech. He wrote, “Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come” (Acts 24:25a, NIV). So let’s briefly discuss the three topics Paul explained to Felix in the process of helping him come to faith in Christ Jesus—“righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come.”
“Righteousness.” On other occasions Paul explained that the only kind of “righteousness” that is acceptable to God, and therefore necessary for men to be admitted to heaven, is righteousness that is the result of faith in Christ. It is not produced by the self-effort of men. He wrote to the believers at Rome, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:22, NIV). The word “righteousness” refers to “being in the right relationship with God.” This kind of “righteousness” is “given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”
Paul clearly indicated that “righteousness” is not something that can be earned. It is something that is “credited” to us when we believe in Jesus. He went back to the Old Testament and used Abraham as an example. He wrote, “What does Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness…The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead’” (Romans 4:3…22-23, NIV).
The word “credited” was a financial term that referred to “a deposit being added to your account.” So then, the kind of “righteousness” that will enable us to gain entrance into heaven is “the righteousness that comes from God” and is deposited into our account when we believe in Jesus. Paul wrote, “Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ…I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:7…8b-9, NIV).
An important lesson to learn from Paul about witnessing is the value of a clear explanation of the kind of “righteousness” that will enable people to get into heaven!
“Self-control.” Self-control is “the ability to bring one’s ‘self’ under the ‘control’ of the Holy Spirit.” It is not the ability to control oneself! None of us can do that. It is listed by Paul as one of the “fruit of the spirit.” He wrote, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22:23a, NIV).
One evidence of “righteousness”—a right relationship with God through faith in the Lord Jesus—is the gradual development by the Holy Spirit of “self-control” in us. The likely reason that Paul included some information on “self-control” as part of his explanation to Felix and Drusilla of “faith in Christ Jesus” is the fact that neither of them was demonstrating any level of “self-control” in their personal lives. You see, Felix had persuaded Drusilla to leave her husband Azizus and live with him at Caesarea in a sinful, immoral, adulterous relationship. By the way, a man and woman living together and engaging in sexual intimacy without marriage is still—even in the 21st century—a sinful, immoral, adulterous relationship.
This discussion on the topic of “self-control” was simply Paul’s way of illustrating to Felix and Drusilla that they were sinners in need of a Savior. It was Paul’s method of witnessing to first convince men and women that they were indeed sinners. He wrote to the believers at Rome, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NIV). But then, he assured them that God loves sinners—“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NIV).
A great lesson to learn from Paul about witnessing is the value of custom designing your witness to grab the attention of the people to who you are witnessing!
“The Judgment to Come.” Paul included a discussion of “the judgment to come” in his explanation to Felix and Drusilla of “faith in Christ Jesus” because he recognized how important it is for non-believers to understand what the future holds for them. John graphically declared what the future holds for non-believers when he wrote, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15, NIV).
Another lesson to learn from Paul about witnessing is that one of the most powerful motivators for people to come to “faith in Christ Jesus” is for them to gain an accurate understanding of what the future holds for non-believers!
Felix was so alarmed by Paul’s explanation of “faith in Christ Jesus” that he interrupted his presentation and sent him back to his cell. Luke wrote, “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” (Acts 24:25b-26, NIV). However, Felix frequently allowed Paul to speak to him for the next two years because he hoped Paul would offer him a bribe to set him free. I see three additional lessons about witnessing for Jesus in these verses:
God’s Schedule Verses Our Schedule
(Acts 24:27, NIV)
“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.”
When we concluded our previous lesson from the Book of Acts we left Paul in prison under guard in Caesarea. Luke wrote, “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” (Acts 24:23, NIV).
Paul probably did not expect his layover at Caesarea to be as long as it turned out to be, but then that’s why we’re talking about God’s Schedule Verses Our Schedule. Luke wrote, “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” (Acts 24:27, NIV).
Imagine how Paul must have felt as day after day passed, and there he sat in a prison cell in Caesarea. After all, he was supposed to be on his way to Rome. Remember, the Lord had appeared to him in Jerusalem and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11b, NIV). I’m sure Paul’s patience was tested to the max during this two year delay in his journey to Rome.
II. God’s Purposes
When unexpected delays or other circumstances try our patience, it is good to remember this profound statement Paul wrote to the Romans—“We know that all things [even unexpected delays in our schedule] work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NKJV).
Let’s speculate a little bit about why God may have left Paul in Caesarea for “two years.” Maybe it was so he could witness for Jesus to a king and two governors. First he witnessed for Jesus before Governor Felix. Luke wrote, “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” (Acts 24:24, NIV).
Second, Paul witnessed for Jesus before Governor Festus. As he did so, he demonstrated the power of a clear conscience. Luke described the scene when he wrote, “Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, where the chief priests and the Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. They requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way. Festus answered, ‘Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. Let some of your leaders come with me, and if the man has done anything wrong, they can press charges against him there.’ After spending eight or ten days with them, Festus went down to Caesarea. The next day he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him. When Paul came in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him. They brought many serious charges against him, but they could not prove them” (Acts 25:1-7, NIV). They couldn’t prove their charges against Paul because he was not guilty. His conscience was clear!
When Paul was given the opportunity to present his case, his opening statement was a declaration that his conscience was clear. Luke wrote, “Then Paul made his defense: ‘I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar’” (Acts 25:8, NIV). Did you get that? He said, “I have done nothing wrong.” In other words, his conscience was clear!
The following lines of his defense demonstrate that Paul’s clear conscience gave him the power to be bold. He said, “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” (Acts 25:9-10, NIV).
This scene reminds me of a statement made by King Solomon. He wrote, “The righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1, NIV). One aspect of the righteousness God wants to develop in His people is the ability to gain and maintain a clear conscience. Then we can indeed be “bold as a lion.”
His next statement illustrated that Paul’s clear conscience gave him the power to be fearless. He didn’t even fear death! He said to Governor Festus, “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!” (Acts 25:11, NIV).
God used Paul’s boldness and fearlessness to back Governor Festus into a corner. According to Roman law any Roman citizen could appeal his case to Caesar. So the governor had no choice but sent Paul to Rome to have his case tried before Caesar. That’s why Luke wrote, “After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: ‘You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!’” (Acts 25:12, NIV).
Finally, Paul witnessed for Jesus before King Agrippa. Luke recorded Paul’s proclamation of the “Good News” to the king when he wrote, “I [Paul] 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” (Acts 26:22b-23, NIV).
He must have been very persuasive in his presentation of the “Jesus Story,” because King Agrippa interrupted him and asked, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”(Acts 26:28b, NIV).
Maybe God allowed a two year delay in Paul’s journey to Rome so the conditions would be just right for him to make the maximum impact on the world when he arrived. You see, Paul would ultimately be charged with introducing and promoting an illegal religion in the Roman Empire. Under normal circumstances his name would have been quickly moved to the top of the court’s docket and he would have been summarily executed.
However, when Paul arrived in Rome after his two year delay at Caesarea, there was a huge backlog of cases on the court’s docket and the Caesar’s prison was filled to capacity. Therefore, Paul was allowed live under house arrest in a rented house where visitors could come and go. Luke described Paul’s situation when he wrote, “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!” (Acts 28:30-31, NIV). During those two years, Paul wrote four letters that are commonly called “the prison epistles,” which are included in our New Testament—Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon.
Under house arrest, Paul would have been chained to Roman soldiers for 8-12 hour shifts 24/7. Talk about a captive audience! What do you think those soldiers who, by the way, also had the responsibility of serving in the palace as Caesar’s personal bodyguards, heard from Paul during their shifts? Luke gave us the answer to this question in the last verse of the Book of Acts—“He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31a, NIV).
Some of these soldiers, no doubt, became believers and as a result the “Good News” infiltrated Caesar’s household, in spite of his efforts to banish it from the Empire. These soldiers are probably the people Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Philippians, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ” (Philippians 1:12-13, NIV).
Paul probably had a grin on his face as penned the final words of his letter to the Philippians and referred to people inside “Caesar’s household” who had become believers. He wrote, “All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:22, NIV).
When God allows an unexpected and unavoidable inconvenience into your life that delays your plans—when God’s schedule doesn’t align itself with our schedule—then we need to pause and remember that He has a purpose in every inconvenience…in every delay! That’s why Paul wrote, “We know that all things [even unexpected and inconvenient delays in our schedule] work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NKJV).
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