Saturday, July 29, 2023

2023.07.29 Hopewell @Home ▫ Acts 24

Read Acts 24

Questions from the Scripture text: How long after Acts 23:35 does Acts 24:1 take place? Who come down from Jerusalem? To do what? How does Tertullus begin (Acts 24:2-4)?  What sorts of words does he use to describe Paul in Acts 24:5? What accusation does he actually make in Acts 24:6? Whom else does he accuse (Acts 24:7)? What claim does he make in Acts 24:8-9? How does Paul’s beginning in Acts 24:10 compare to Tertullus’s? How does he make his case in Acts 24:11-12? What does he claim in Acts 24:13? What does he say that he does and that he believes (Acts 24:14)? What hope does he say that he has (Acts 24:15)? Whom does he say shares this hope? What does this tell us about the “elders” in Acts 24:1 (cf. Acts 22:8)? How would this have sounded to many Gentiles (cf. Acts 17:32)? What does Paul say proceeds from his hope (Acts 24:16)? What does he state as his purpose in Jerusalem? And how was he conducting himself (Acts 24:18)? Who are both the accusers and the only other eye-witnesses (Acts 24:18-19)? What does he suggest is the only thing that present company could testify about (Acts 24:20-21)? What did Felix know about (Acts 24:22a, cf. Acts 9:2; Acts 19:9, Acts 19:23; Acts 22:4)? For whose testimony is he waiting (verse 22b, cf. Acts 22:26–30)? What does he do though, for Paul, after this first hearing (Acts 24:23)? Whom does Felix bring in Acts 24:24? What do they want to hear about? What three things does Paul reason about, when he tells about faith in Christ (Acts 24:25)? Hos does Felix begin to feel? But what does he do? What was he hoping for (Acts 24:26)? What does he do “more often” out of this motive? For how long does this occur (Acts 24:27)? Who follows Felix? What does Felix now do, and why? 

When a believer is on trial by unbelievers, who is really imprisoned? Acts 24 looks forward to the morning sermon on the coming Lord’s Day. In these twenty-seven verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that believers have liberty in Christ regardless of circumstance, while unbelievers are imprisoned by sin regardless of circumstance. 

We have already noted that Acts 23:11 is the controlling reality behind all of Acts 21:34 (after the prophecy about Paul being bound has been fulfilled) through Acts 28:31. Within that section, chapter 24 gives us a study in contrasts. Paul is free by trust in providence as free in his conscience, as well as free in his purpose to proclaim Christ. But the Jews are slaves of man-fear, and Felix and Drusilla are slaves of their sin, while Felix is also a slave of political conditions from which he does not have a gospel-founded providential hope.

The believer freed by trust in providence and purpose in Christ. Tertullus’s syrupy over-the-top flattery (Acts 24:2-4) and despicable word choice about Paul (Acts 24:5-7) may seem intimidating, but they actually betray a weak position. He has no actual position, no actual content to deliver. Paul’s simple, forthright speech is quite the contrast (Acts 24:10ff). The law and the facts are on his side. 

But there’s something even more than that here. He sees the providence of God (Acts 24:10a) that is increasing his cheerfulness (verse 10b). He has a clear conscience before God (Acts 24:16b) that comes from hope (Acts 24:15) and obedience (Acts 24:16a). He’s not a slave to the pressure to make the situation turn out for himself, because he knows that God Who has given Christ for him is giving all things together with Christ (cf. Acts 23:11; Romans 8:32).

At the end of the passage, Paul is still in the same place after two years. We know from Roman histories outside the Bible that Felix is in hot water with Rome because of Jewish complaints against him. This explains the gift that he wants to give them in Acts 24:27. He has no hope that all things are working together for good, so he is doing whatever he feels that he needs to do to save his own skin. 

But Paul does not need to save his own skin. Providence protects him. He is immortal until his work is done. He can live with purpose. He can keep telling of Christ for two years. He isn’t in Rome yet, but he is sure to go there, because that is the good work that Christ has prepared for him to walk in (cf. Acts 23:11; Ephesians 2:10). And every believer is sure to get to every good work that the Lord has prepared for him. He is freed not only by providence, but also by purpose. He knows why he is alive. He knows why he is in every situation. He knows what his life is about.

The unbeliever a slave of sin. Felix, for his part, is a slave of sin—even though in this passage he has an accurate knowledge of Christianity (Acts 24:22), desires to hear about faith in Christ (Acts 24:24b), and gets to hear the gospel from Paul often (Acts 24:26). We know from Roman histories that Felix and Drusilla were both serial adulterers. They were slaves of their lust and unfaithfulness. And we can see that Felix was a slave of greed, hearing the gospel in hope for money (verse 26). But he was also a slave of the fear of guilt and danger that weighs upon those who are in their sins. 

“Faith in Christ” may be a desirable thing to hear about (Acts 24:24b), but there is no “faith in Christ” apart from “righteousness.” We must hear that we are guilty before a God Who demands total and perfect righteousness. We must hear that God’s righteousness would rightly destroy us. And there is no “faith in Christ” apart from “self-control.” That is to say that there is no Christianity without sanctification. Christ does in believers, by union with Him ministered to us by His Spirit, what believers cannot do in themselves. And there is no “faith in Christ” without “the judgment to come.” Christianity isn’t just a better-life-now in God’s favor and God’s help, but perfect life forever over-against dreadful torment forever. 

What is the difference here? The difference is that Felix’s aim in hearing about Christ is not Christ Himself. He doesn’t have the relief, the release, the encouragement, the joy of someone who actually has the Lord Jesus Christ. O, dear reader, be careful not to take comfort in simply liking to hear about faith in Jesus Christ. Felix had that, but he was still a slave to his sin. There are so many motives other than Christ Himself for which you might like coming to church and hearing gospel sermons: money, others’ esteem, feeling good about yourself, enjoying ideas like a novel or a show, atoning for yourself by right things, maintaining habit for a sense of equilibrium… 

Dear reader, seek from Christ to hear the gospel of Christ from a desire for Christ Himself! Hear about righteousness to hear Christ as your righteousness. Hear about self-control to hear Christ as the strength and motivation and certainty for sanctification. Hear about the judgment to come to hear Christ as both your safety in that judgment and your reward in that judgment. 

And if ever you should find yourself alarmed, do not repeat Felix’s error in the end of Acts 24:25. Yes, it is difficult to hear the preaching of Christ if you do not yet have Christ. But don’t avoid hearing sermons. And don’t avoid engaging your heart and mind in the hearing of those sermons. For it is this very preaching, which you are tempted to avoid, which is the means by which Christ gives Himself to sinners. Press on in hearing, and look to Him even to give you His Spirit and His life by which to lay hold of Him! 

Why? How do you see yourself susceptible to fearing men or craving their help or approval? How do you see yourself being free from these things? From where does this freedom come? What use are you making of your opportunities to hear the gospel of Christ? How does your desire to hear it proceed from motives that cast out fear?

Sample prayer:  Lord, we thank You and praise You for giving Christ to be our righteousness, and Christ to be our self-control, and Christ to be both our safety and our reward in the judgment that is to come. Give us to love to hear about faith in Chrsit and to tell about faith in Christ. Give to us to have such confidence in Your providence, and to have such a conviction of serving You as our purpose, that we live our life as those who are free in Christ, regardless of our circumstances, which we ask through Christ Himself, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP46 “God Is Our Refuge and Our Strength” or TPH231 “Whate’er My God Ordains Is Right”

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