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Opportunity Lost!

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Acts 24

Hardship and persecution often afford us unexpected opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. Let us make sure that is our priority, even above the desire for deliverance and relief.


Hard times reveal at least two things: your personal integrity and your personal priority. I know this will sound convicting—and let me tell you, it is convicting to me—but difficult times do not just deepen your character; they reveal your character and priorities in life. Tough times have literally surrounded the apostle Paul, and his integrity and priority are going to be revealed once again.

Governor Felix is now keeping Paul in custody while waiting for Jewish leaders to arrive and present their accusations against the apostle. Felix is the Roman governor of Judea. His brother was a close friend of Claudius, the Roman emperor, and through that connection Felix has eventually risen to become Judea’s governor. This is the same position, by the way, that Pontius Pilate had held a few years earlier.

The Roman historian Tacitus describes Felix as “a master of cruelty.”[1] His third wife, Drusilla, appears later in this chapter, and we know she was part Jewish. Chapter 24 opens with these words:

After five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and a spokesman, one Tertullus. They laid before the governor their case against Paul.

Tertullus, the spokesman, begins by flattering Felix in verses 2-4, giving him a heavy dose of compliments and shallow praise. Then Tertullus begins to accuse Paul:

“We have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him.” (verses 5-6)

Notice these three exaggerated charges. First, Paul is a troublemaker—he is causing riots throughout the whole world!

Second, Paul is the ringleader of a sect called the Nazarenes. Tertullus is suggesting that this is a strange sect that is especially dangerous to the Roman Empire.

Third, Paul tried to desecrate the temple. With this third accusation, Tertullus is subtly reminding Felix that Jews were allowed by Rome to execute people who violated their sacred temple. He is basically saying, “Look Felix, you don’t need to bother with this man anymore. Just hand him over to us—we’ll take good care of him.” That is like a fox telling the farmer that he would be happy to guard the henhouse.

Well, now it is Paul’s turn. But he does not flatter Felix. Instead, he simply says here in verse 10 that he is happy to make his defense before Felix because of the governor’s legal experience.

Paul then addresses the charge of causing riots. He says that his accusers “did not find [him] disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city” (verse 12).

As for being the ringleader of the Nazarenes, Paul says in verse 14 that, yes, he is part of a group nicknamed “the Way.” But Paul clarifies that they worship the God of Israel and believe the Old Testament. He effectively says, “We are not some strange cult.” And he adds that they believe in the coming “resurrection of both the just and the unjust” (verse 15)—a doctrine taught in the Old Testament.

Paul responds to the third accusation of attempting to desecrate the temple by saying, “I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings” (verse 17), and, “They found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult” (verse 18).

He is asserting that he did nothing illegal in the temple. In fact, Paul adds in verse 19 that those who accused him of desecrating the temple have not even shown up to testify against him. In other words, they do not have even one eyewitness of him desecrating the temple.

Paul then wraps up his defense by telling Felix that the only reason he is on trial is because of his belief in the resurrection of the dead. And that is not a crime!

Verse 22 adds the interesting comment that Felix had “rather accurate knowledge of the Way.” Maybe that was because over time, or perhaps even from his Jewish wife, Felix had learned enough about the Christians to know for himself that these charges are false and they are not a threat to the Roman Empire.

With that, Felix adjourns the hearing. He sidesteps rendering a verdict by saying that he is going to wait for the Roman commander, Lysius, to arrive.

The truth is, Felix is stalling; he does not want his approval ratings to fall in the Jewish community; but he also does not want several thousand Christians in Jerusalem getting riled up over the mistreatment of one of their key leaders. So, he delays making a decision and orders Paul to be kept in custody, although free to receive visitors.

Now this is where the account takes a surprising and interesting turn:

After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. (verse 24)

They are curious. They want to know more. And from the beginning of his conversion, Paul was always ready to declare the gospel of Jesus Christ. Getting freed from jail was not his priority in life—the gospel was.

So here in a closed-door meeting, Paul presents the gospel to this Roman governor and his Jewish wife. Verse 25 tells us that Paul spoke to them about “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment.”

This is Paul’s three-point outline. He speaks to them of righteousness—what it means to be right with God and how a person can be made right before a holy God.

Paul speaks of self-control, which confronts this couple’s own lifestyle of immorality. Then, he teaches them about the coming judgment of God, when all the unbelieving world will one day stand before God. This judgment is described in Revelation chapter 20. Paul also explains for them what it means to have faith in Christ Jesus (verse 24).

Believe me, Felix and Drusilla get the message. Paul makes a direct appeal to this powerful political couple. They need to believe this message. They are lost and heading for divine judgment, but there is hope in Christ Jesus.

This message has not changed one bit over the centuries. There is a judgment day coming! And the only way to avoid standing before God covered with the filth of your sin is to give it to Christ, who died on the cross for your sin, asking Him to forgive you and bring you into the family of God (John 1:12; 1 Peter 3:18).

In verse 25, we read, “Felix was alarmed and said, ‘Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.’” Like so many people today, Felix does not want to hear any more about the judgment of a holy God. He does not want to repent of his sin. So, he sends Paul away.

But we are told in verse 26 that Felix has several more conversations with Paul over the next two years. Unfortunately, Felix never believed, and eventually he just sought some bribe money from Paul to free him. His greed erased any true spiritual interest he might have had.

This chapter ends by telling us Paul remains in prison for two more years until Felix is replaced by a new governor.

It is tragic for someone to be aware of the truth but refuse to find safety in Jesus Christ. It is tragic when unbelievers have had many personal conversations with Christians and miss the opportunity to believe the gospel and trust in Christ.

If that is you today—if you have not given your life to Christ—now is the perfect time. Now might be your last opportunity. What are you waiting for? What good reason do you have to keep running away from God? Stop, and trust in Christ as your Savior today!

[1] Richard N. Longenecker, “Acts,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 9, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Zondervan, 1981), 539.

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