Paul Before Felix
February 11th, 1979 @ 10:50 AM
PAUL BEFORE FELIX
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-11-79 10:50 a.m.
And once again, God bless the eyes that watch this televised appeal. And the Lord bless the ears that listen to this service on radio. You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled Paul Before Felix.
Now the message this hour: we are preaching through the Book of Acts. And the latter part of this book moves very rapidly, following the journey of the apostle Paul as a prisoner to be tried before the Roman Caesar in Rome. Now in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, we were listening to Paul as he talked to the Ephesian elders [Acts 20:17-35]. And then kneeling down and praying, they kissed each other and with many tears, bade each other farewell [Acts 20:36-38]. In the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Acts, Paul comes to Jerusalem for the last time, and his visit there ends in a riot. He is seized in the temple area, and they are beating him to death [Acts 21:27-32]. And just north of the temple area is the Roman garrison. They are situated in the Tower of Antonio that overlooks the temple court.
So the Roman soldiers come down and rescue the apostle [Acts 21:32-33]. He makes himself known to the chiliarch, Claudius Lysias, the head of the Roman contingent in Jerusalem [Acts 21:37]. And he asks the Roman chiliarch if he could speak to the maddening throng below [Acts 21:37-39]. And when Lysias understands him to be a Roman citizen, and sees that he is a man of education and culture, he allows Paul to address that great throng beneath him; speaking as he does from the steps of the Tower of Antonio. And when he begins to speak in the Hebrew language, they listen to him all the more intently [Acts 21:40, 22:21]].
Now that’s chapter 22, but that also ends in a riot [Acts 22:22-23]. So in chapter 23, the apostle is brought before the Sanhedrin for Claudius Lysias to try to understand why it is that there is such tumult and riot created by this man Paul [Acts 23:1-4]. Well, the same thing happened in the Sanhedrin, it also ended in a tumult and in a riot [Acts 23:10]. And Claudius Lysias is nonplused by the technicalities, the legalities, and the detail of what to do with this man who creates such violent opposition.
Claudius Lysias, the chiliarch, learns that there is a conspiracy to murder Paul [Acts 23:12-22]. So he sends him, in the twenty-third chapter, he sends him down to Caesarea, the Roman capital of the province of Judea, in order that he be tried before the procurator of the province, whose name is Felix [Acts 23:24]. And you have a good indication of the volitive nature of the country when you read here in the twenty-third chapter that there are 470 men, soldiers, who are seeing to it that he is accompanied safely into Caesarea—200 soldiers, foot soldiers, 200 spearmen, and 70 cavalrymen, just for the safekeeping of one man to be presented before the procurator [Acts 23:23].
Claudius Lysias, the chiliarch, that is the leader of a thousand Roman legionnaires, writes a letter to Felix, the Roman procurator. And when Felix reads the letter, why he says: “When your accusers come down from Jerusalem, then I will hear the case” [Acts 23:25-35].
“So after five days”—and now we have come to our chapter 24, out of which is brought the message at this hour—“after five days…” [Acts 24:1] while the trial is held in the Roman Praetoriam in Caesarea [Acts 23:33]—and we’re going to present, first of all, the characters who appear in this twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Acts. When you read a Shakespearean play, up there at the first will be the dramatist persona, the characters in the play. And then they are introduced. Now we are going to introduce them as they appear in this twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Acts. First of all Ananias—“And after five days Ananias the high priest descended with the elders…” [Acts 24:1]—now we have met him in the previous chapter, in chapter 23, when Paul stood before the Sanhedrin [Acts 23:2]. The first sentence he said was—“I have lived in all good faith and all good conscience before God” [Acts 23:1]. And when he said that Ananias the high priest commanded those who were standing near him to smite him on the mouth [Acts 23:2]. And Paul, in a blaze of indignation, turned toward him and said: “God shall smite thee, thou white-washed wall” [Acts 23:3].
And those that stood by said: “Revilest thou God’s high priest so”? [Acts 23:4]
And Paul replied: “I did not realize he was the high priest” [Acts 23:5].
Now that is the first appearance of Ananias. Now the second one is here, when he comes before the Roman procurator in the Praetorium to accuse the apostle face to face [Acts 24:2]. Now this Ananias is described in great detail by Josephus. Josephus says he was a typical Sadducee: haughty, imperious, contumacious, wealthy, using his office for personal gain.
He was sent by the legate of Syria, who controlled all of that part of the Roman Empire, to Rome in 52 AD; there to answer for his life because of cruelty and injustice. But Claudius Caesar acquitted him when others intervened in his behalf before the court. So he was sent back to Judea and to his office of high priest. He was an unscrupulous man. He murdered his enemies.
But when Paul said to him: “God shall smite thee, thou whitewashed wall” [Acts 23:3], he was a prophet. In the insurrection of the Jewish nationalists against Rome, the first thing they did was to hunt out and hunt down Ananias and to murder him. Now that is the high priest Ananias, who is come before the court to accuse Paul [Acts 23:1-2].
Now the next one introduced here: “Ananias… came with the elders, and with a certain orator named Tertullus…” [Acts 24:1] Now that’s a Roman name, Tertullus. And we suppose he is a Roman but not necessarily so. “Paul” is a praenomen, Roman name; Paul. It’s a Roman-Latin word meaning “small” or “little,” Paul, Paulus.
So this Tertullus is an orator, maybe a Jew, maybe a Roman; but he has been hired to debase, and to defame, and to prosecute the apostle. And of course, being learned in the forensics of the court, he prepares it in order to present before the Roman judge [Acts 24:1-2].
Now the next one named here is the governor: Ananias, then Tertullus, the paid orator and accuser, and then Felix, the governor, the procurator [Acts 24:1, 3]. Out of all of the characters that I have ever read about in Roman history, I don’t think there is one more venal, or base, or despicable than this man, Felix. Where he came from was: Antonia, the mother of the emperor Claudius Caesar, had two slaves—brothers, one was named Pallas and one was named Felix—and those two brothers, in a chicanery, in a shrewd deception that would have done justice to Judas Iscariot, they elevated themselves in the court at Rome and became favorites of the queen mother and of the Roman Caesar himself.
So they were manumitted; they were freed. And as freedmen, they advanced rapidly and marvelously in the imperial city. They became two of the richest men in the empire. And Pallas was the favorite of the Caesar; he pandered to his master’s vices. One of the men in the court said to Claudius Caesar, when the emperor complained of being poor, he said to him: “Well, you be a partner with Felix and Pallas and you will be a rich man like them.” Maybe he said that in irony or in jest, but full many a truth in jest is made. These two slaves have marvelously risen in power and influence in the imperial court in Rome. So while Pallas stays in Rome, the favorite of the Caesar, Felix, is appointed procurator of the Roman province of Judea, and here he is [Acts 24:3].
Now he uses his office for the purpose of collecting bribes. He is rapacious and greedy; for example, at the end of the chapter it says that this Felix hoped that money should have been given him of Paul that he might loose him [Acts 24:26]. Not a matter of Roman law or worthy acquittal but a matter of bribery. I suppose that he thought Paul had a great deal of money, because of the seventeenth verse; Paul says in his defense: “After many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings” [Acts 24:17]. So Felix thinks that Paul has a great deal of money. Therefore he offers to liberate him, acquit him, if he’ll buy his freedom; that is Felix using his office for personal gain and wealth. Tacitus, the great Roman historian, speaks of this Felix in supreme contempt. I copied two sentences out of his history. He says Felix reveled in cruelty and lust, and wielded the power of a king with the mind of a slave. And then Tacitus said again about him, he exercised in Judea the imperial functions with a mercenary soul.
Now it is before that judge, that procurator, that Paul stands to be tried for his life. So Tertullus begins to accuse him. And after complimenting in worthy adulating words, brilliant, beautiful words, addressed the most noble Felix with all thankfulness [Acts 24:2-3], then he begins. So he says, “Notwithstanding, that I be not further tedious unto thee, I pray thee that you hear me of thy clemency…We have found this man”—Paul—“we have found this man”— and the King James Version is here—“a pestilent fellow” [Acts 24:4-5]. Now when you look at that, the “a” and the “fellow” are in italics. That is, they are not in the original. Now, what this orator said in his first sentence was: “We have found this man loimos.” And loimos, when you take it over into Latin is pestes. And when you take it over into English it’s “pestilent,” it is “plague.” “We have found this man, plague, leprous; wherever he touches, wherever he goes he sows discontent, and disorder, and discord.” And that’s the first thing that he says about him, just like that: loimos.
Well, what do you think about that? We have been following Paul now for several months, and this is the man who preaches the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. This is the man who prays with many tears with the people. This is the man who is trying to win, out of the judgment of sin and death, these who would find life in the Lord Jesus our Christ. Nothing in him have we ever found that even began—or remotely—to approach that word “loimos.” Well, it is interesting to see what the orator says about this man Paul, and all of those that were with him assented, saying that these things were so.
All right, the next thing he says about him, “He is a mover of sedition among all of the Jews throughout the world” [Acts 24:5]. Now what a remarkable thing that is. Of course the orator had in his mind, immediately he would get the ear of the procurator in calling him an insurrectionist, because the government of the Roman Empire lay in its power, in its quietness; and “insurrection” was a blasphemous word, just to name it. And so this man Paul is accused of being an insurrectionist, a seditionist among all Jewry throughout the world [Acts 24:5].
Now that’s an amazing thing for us. Did you know when I was down there at the inauguration of the governor of the state of Texas, William Clements; one of the men in the service was an Episcopal priest. And his assignment was to read the Bible, the Scripture passage. And what he read was a passage from the apostle Paul. He read the first part of the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Romans:
Let every soul be subject under the higher powers. For there is no power but of God…
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God…
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil…
For he is the minister of God to thee for good…
Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
This man, accused of being a seditionist [Acts 24:5], is the man who preaches to them, and to us today, that we are to be peaceful and law-abiding citizens. And if we seek to change government, we seek to change it in godly, and prayerful, and peaceful ways.
All right, the third thing that this orator says about the apostle Paul: “He is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” [Acts 24:5]. Now that’s the truth! But this orator used it in supreme and sublime contemptuousness. Nazareth was a despised village, even Nathanael said: “Can any thing come out of Nazareth”? [John 1:46] And when they called the Christians “the sect of the Nazarenes [Acts 24:5],” they were doing it in contempt—they are insulting in their words. But he was surely correct when he said that Paul is a ringleader of the group [Acts 24:5]. He was like that everywhere he appeared. He had the energy and the strength of seven men, and he poured his life into that ministry of the gospel.
Then last this Tertullus, this orator, says against Paul: “He has gone about to profane the temple” [Acts 24:6]. Now that’s the most astonishing word that I could conjure up. “He has going about to profane the temple.” He was in the temple paying a vow before the Lord! Bowing in praise before the great God Jehovah! [Acts 21:23, 26]. And while he was there, he was seized by a riot who were beating him to death [Acts 21:30-32]. Yet this Tertullus, in almost hypocritical mockery, says that he is profaning the temple [Acts 24:6].
So the procurator, after listening to the castigation from the Roman orator Tertullus, he says that, “You may speak for yourself” [Acts 24:10], and Paul begins. And he says, “I know that thou hast been a judge of this nation for many years.” Felix was in that office of procurator longer than any other had been. And he says, “Therefore most happily do I answer for myself” [Acts 24:10], and then follows after this word of his good conscience toward God:
This I confess . . . that after the Way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing the things that are written in the Law and in the Prophets:
And have hope toward God… that there shall be a resurrection of the dead…
And therein do I exercise myself… without void, with offense, and void of offense toward God, and toward men.
Well, after Paul’s defense it was so apparent that he had been unjustly accused that Felix had no basis to condemn him. So in order to delay the process, he says to the court and to the accusers: “We will wait, and then when Claudius Lysias comes, why, I will hear the utmost of the matter” [Acts 24:22]. So he leaves Paul in bonds [Acts 24:23].
Now for the next person that appears in the chapter: “And after certain days,” after Paul has been kept in prison waiting for the coming of the Roman chiliarch, “After certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ” [Acts 24:24]. Now that’s one of the most unusual developments that you could find in dramatic story. Drusilla is one of the most beautiful women of her day; she’s one of the beauties of the world. Drusilla is the youngest daughter of three of Herod Agrippa I. Herod Agrippa I appears in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts. He is the Herod Agrippa that kills James, the brother of John [Acts 12:1-2], and he imprisons Simon Peter, expecting to execute him the next day [Acts 12:3-4].
Drusilla is the sister—when we turn to the next chapter, the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth chapters of the Book of Acts—Drusilla is the sister of Herod Agrippa II and Bernice. She is a great granddaughter of Herod the Great, who slew the babes in Bethlehem [Matthew 2:16], and she is the great niece of Herod Antipas, who slew John the Baptist [Mark 6:16-28].
Well, being a Jewess and married to Felix, she’s a gold digger. She was married to the king, a little petty king in northwestern Syria, but because of her great beauty, when Felix found out about her, he persuaded her to leave her husband and to come with [him].
Well the beautiful girl, she’s just at that time seventeen years of age. Why, she had an opportunity to be in the court, and she was very ambitious to appear in that circle in society, so she left her husband and came to live with Felix. And by the way, she had a son by Felix and called him after the name of her father Agrippa, and both of them died in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD; and all of those artifacts from Pompeii, where Drusilla perished in the eruption, they are here in Dallas now, and all of us ought to go see them.
Well, that’s Drusilla, and being a Jewess, why, she interested her husband Felix in this man who could tell them about the most wondrous sorcerer who ever lived: one Jesus [Acts 24:24]. Herod Antipas did that, he was delighted to see Jesus for he wanted to see Him pull some magic; to pull off some miracle for his entertainment [Luke 23:8].
So Drusilla and Felix have the persuasion that they can idle away an interesting hour by listening to this man who apparently is the greatest proponent of the message of this Christ Jesus of any man in the world. And they expect to hear some word about this ecclesiastical Houdini, this scriptural Thurston, this religious Blackstone. And they are there, just the two of them, to listen to this apostle Paul as he is supposed to entertain them about the greatest sorcerer and magician they had ever heard of.
Now I want you to tell me: what would you think that Paul would speak about when he stands in the presence of Felix, the Roman procurator, and Drusilla his wife? She is a queen and possibly the most beautiful woman in Roman history. And Felix himself is one of the richest men in the empire. The ceiling of his house is gold; the walls are velvet; the carpets are flowered. There is no limit to the wine, and they drink it out of golden goblets. He is a quasi-god and he loves sycophantic adulation. When he walks into the room men stand up, nor do they dare be seated until, in haughty permissiveness, he allows them to be at rest and at ease. He’s also a judge. With a nod of his head he can send a man to the lions. With a gesture of his finger he can send a man to the stake, and with a word of his mouth he can crucify the subject. And Paul stands before Felix and before Drusilla. What do you think he would say? All who ever stood before them bowed in adulation; filled his ears with words, and phrases, and sentences of sycophantic flattery. That’s what you would expect.
What do you think Paul will do as he stands there before that procurator and his queenly wife? What he did was, the Book says:
And as Paul reasoned of righteousness, and temperance, and judgment to come, he preached to them the gospel of the Son of God. Felix trembled,
so powerful the Word of God—
Go thy way, he answers, for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will hear you again, I will call for you.
Did you know that’s one of the most dramatic things that you can conjure up in mind? How does a lowly preacher, and this one in bonds and in chains, how does he speak and how does he say before such exalted personality; and especially before a man who commands his life or his death by a word? What do you say?
Let me tell you an incident exactly like it. In English history, Hugh Latimer is a preacher of the gospel of the Son of God. And he had preached the Sunday before in the presence of King Henry VIII, and he had displeased his majesty by the boldness of his sermon, whereupon King Henry VIII ordered him to preach again on the following Sunday, and to make apology for the offense he had given. So the following Sunday comes and Hugh Latimer, God’s preacher, is standing before the king, King Henry VIII, and after reading his text, the preacher began his sermon with this word, and I quote:
Hugh Latimer, dost thou know before whom thou art this day to speak? To the high and mighty monarch, the king’s most excellent majesty, who can take away thy life if thou offendest; therefore, take heed that thou speakest not a word that may displease.
But then consider well, Hugh Latimer, dost thou not know from whence thou comest, upon whose message thou art sent? Even by the great and mighty God who is all present and who beholdest all thy ways, and who is able to cast thy soul into hell. Therefore, take care that thou deliverest thy message faithfully.
He then proceeded with the same sermon he had preached the preceding Sunday, only with a lot more energy. That’s a man of God! If you ever go to Oxford, the University of Oxford, in England, by all means take time to stand at that magnificent monument before Balliol College at the University of Oxford. And there you will see a monument to Hugh Latimer and to Master Ridley, his fellow preacher; both of them burned at the stake!
Christianity ought to have iron in its blood and steel in its spine. And to be sycophantic and flattering is not worthy of the man of God; and not worthy of the Lord who laid down His life for the faith; and not worthy of the apostles and the martyrs who sealed their witness with their blood. So the apostle stands here before the two and he preaches the gospel message of Jesus our Lord, and as he does, Felix trembles [Acts 24:24-25].
The next time we preach, we are going to speak of that reply of Felix: “Not now, some other time” [Acts 24:25]. And the title of the sermon is Tomorrow Is Too Late. A convenient time never came and he died, as his wife and as his child, without God and without hope, and without Christ.
Now in this last few moments, let me speak of this scene: Paul standing before the Roman procurator and his queen [Acts 24:24-25]. As he stood there, and as he delivered his message, he did it the best that he could, with all of the acumen, and energy, and zeal, and faith, and commitment of which he was capable. And he delivered that message to an audience of two.
Somehow we get into the persuasion that we have to have a great throng in order to preach to. And have lots of people in order to witness to. Nothing could be further from the truth. The greatest sermon that was ever delivered on the new birth was delivered by the Lord Jesus to an audience of one, Nicodemus [John 3:1-21]. The greatest message that was ever delivered upon the nature of spiritual worship was delivered to an audience of one; and she, a despised Samaritan woman [John 4:1-29], a harlot. The greatest message that was ever delivered, in all time and all creation, was delivered by the Lord Jesus to an audience of one, to a woman named Martha. “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me . . . shall never die” [John 11:25].
Anytime we persuade ourselves that we must have great audiences before we can witness and testify, we are vainglorious and carnal in our spirit and in our self-adulation. My brother, anywhere, anytime, to anybody is a good where, and a good time, and a good body to say something about the Lord Jesus; to lift Him up; to testify to His wondrous name; and to invite into the faith of the Lord.
If I could describe the Christian religion as any one thing above anything else, I have always said I would call it the religion, the faith, of “the one lost sheep” [Luke 15:3-7], and “the one lost coin” [Luke 15:8-10], and “the one lost boy” [Luke 15:11-32]. It’s not beneath our dignity to take time to tell anybody about the Lord God. Anybody! Anywhere! Any time that any man will listen! And that is the apostle Paul: pouring out his heart and life in appeal to these, an audience of two [Acts 24:24-25].
Do you notice another thing about that preaching hour and that preaching service? Do you notice that he failed? He didn’t succeed [Acts 24:25]. And we’re not going to succeed, always, all of the time, “all-wheres,” we’ll not! Our Lord did not. He said the preaching of the gospel is like a sower, going forth to sow. Some of it falls by the way side on hard ground, and some of it the birds of the air pick and carry away; and some of it falls in thorns, and in thistles, and in briers, but some of it falls on good ground, bears fruit to God [Mark 4:3-8]. And the Lord will always see to it that some respond; some will turn, some will believe, some will be saved.
When I follow the life of our Lord, He failed with the rich young ruler [Mark 10:17-22]. He failed with the scribes and the Pharisees. He failed with the leaders of the temple. He failed with the national leaders of the people; but God gave Him some. And God never fails with us. He will give us some. Anytime God would bless me and help me to win just one to the Lord Jesus, God be praised. Thank You Lord for that one.
There came down the aisle at the 8:15 service a young man, and he presented to me another young fellow, a college student. And he said, “Pastor, my friend is coming to confess his faith in the Lord and to be baptized [Matthew 28:19] into the communion and fellowship of the people of the Lord” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Well, I said, “Son, did this friend lead you to Jesus?” He said, “Yes sir. He led me to the Lord Jesus.” And as I looked at them one young man standing by his friend whom he led to the Lord, I thought in my heart, that is the greatest work committed to human hands. Think of what it means to win somebody to Jesus. Think of the turn in life. Think of what it means to family, to children, to work, to destiny, to the state, to the nation, to the world, to the kingdom of God. Out of all the dedications which we could commit our lives, there is none greater, nobler, more worthy than this humble thing. Here, my friend, is light and life and happiness and peace and glory and someday heaven itself; introducing somebody to the Lord Jesus.
And God will always give us some. We may fail in forty times, but the forty-first one God will give us a heart to turn, to believe, to receive, and to be saved [Romans 10:8-13]. And that is our invitation to you this holy and heavenly hour. That one somebody for whom maybe mother is praying, or father is praying, or a friend is praying, or family members have prayed; you, this day, “I answer that appeal with my life. I am coming. I am giving my soul to God. I am coming in the fellowship of this church [Hebrews 10:24-25]. I want to be numbered with the people of the Lord.” Maybe a man bringing his family, “My wife, my children, we are all coming today.” A couple, or just that somebody you, make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand up, taking that first step. When you stand up, stand up walking. “Here I am, Lord. This is the day God has called me, and I am answering with my life” [2 Corinthians 6:2]. Down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, I give you my hand. I have given my heart to God, and here I am.” Do it now. Make it now. May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.