Paul Before Felix
February 11th, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
PAUL BEFORE FELIX
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-11-79 8:15 a.m.
And once again, gladly do we welcome the uncounted thousands of you who are listening on the two radio stations to this service in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Paul Before Felix. In our preaching through the Book of Acts we have come to chapter 24. The background of the message is in these previous chapters. The latter part of the Book of Acts is very cohesive. It is one continuous story, and is very much one; it is not separated into other characters.
We are following the apostle Paul in these years of his imprisonment and trial before Roman judges. It begins in his arrest in the temple [Acts 21:27-34]. They had thought that he had profaned the temple. They cried to that effect, and seized him, and were beating him to death: and the Roman legions who were stationed in the Tower of Antonio on the north side of the temple court, seeing the riot down there below them, hastened down and seized Paul, and rescued him. And then because he is a Roman citizen and because he seems to be a man of culture and learning, Claudius Lysias, the chiliarch, the head of the Roman soldier contingent in Rome, stationed there in the Tower of Antonio, acquiesces in Paul’s request that he speak to the maddened throng below [Acts 21:37:40]. And the next chapter then is the address of the apostle Paul in Hebrew as he talks to those infuriated, bloodthirsty throngs below him [Acts 22:1-21]. Then that also ended in tumult and riot, and Paul was taken up into the castle [Acts 22:22-24].
Then not knowing what had happened, this chiliarch, Claudius Lysias, takes him before the Sanhedrin [Acts 22:30], and in this previous chapter now, Paul has been speaking to the Sanhedrin and making a defense of his life and of his faith [Acts 23:1-9]. And once again that also ensued in a riot [Acts 23:10]. So the chiliarch, being apprised of a conspiracy to kill the prisoner the apostle Paul [Acts 23:12-22], he sends him down to Caesarea, which is the capital of the Roman province of Judea; and you have a good intimation, a good introduction, to the seething times when you read in this twenty-third chapter that Claudius Lysias sent Paul down to Caesarea with a contingent of four hundred seventy men to see to it that he gets there. There are two hundred foot soldiers, there are two hundred spearmen, and there are seventy cavalry men who are to accompany him, that he gets there, that he arrives [Acts 23:23]. These are troubled times indeed.
So Claudius Lysias writes a letter to the Roman procurator [Acts 23:25]. The difference between a procurator and a consul would be the provinces that were volative and revolutionary were under the emperor because he headed the army; and a province that was tumultuous was under the Roman Caesar, and he governed it personally by his army. Well, Judea was one of the most volative and revolutionary of all the Roman provinces; consequently it is governed by the Caesar personally, and he did it through an appointed Roman procurator who was accountable to him. And the Roman procurator governed the land by the soldiers, with the Roman legions. So this Claudius Lysias, the head of the contingent that is stationed in Jerusalem, sends Paul down to Caesarea in order to be tried before the procurator himself.
Now, Claudius Lysias, after he writes the letter, which is written here in the twenty-third chapter of Acts [Acts 23:25-30], Claudius Lysias presents the apostle Paul to Felix the governor, the procurator, that he might try him [Acts 23:33]. When Felix therefore reads the letter, why, he says to him, "When your accusers are come down from Jerusalem, then I shall listen to the case and make disposition of the matter" [Acts 23:34-35].
So we begin now in chapter 24. After five days, why, then the trial is set in the judgment hall, in the Praetorium in Caesarea. Now we’re going to do as we would in a Shakespeare play. They always begin with a dramatis personae, and we’re going to introduce the characters as they appear in the story in this trial of the apostle before the Roman court, presided over by the procuratorin the capital city of Caesarea, down there by the sea.
So it begins: "And after five days Ananias the high priest descended with the elders" [Acts 24:1]. Ananias, we have met him before: he is the high priest who, in chapter 23, when Paul began to speak to the Sanhedrin, and said, that, "I have lived in all good conscience unto this day," this Ananias commanded those that were standing by Paul to smite him on the mouth [Acts 23:1-2]. And it was then that Paul turned to whoever it was that gave that command, said, "God shall smite thee, thou white-washed wall" [Acts 23:3]. And then when they said, "Do you revile the high priest so?" Paul replied, "I did not realize he was the high priest, didn’t recognize him as the high priest" [Acts 23:4-5]. Well, that is this Ananias [Acts 24:1]. And then we read in Josephus that this Ananias,who is the high priest from 47 AD to 59 AD, in 52 AD the legate of Syria over all that part of the Roman Empire, sends this Ananias to Rome to be tried before Claudius Caesar for cruelty. And he is delivered and acquitted, only because of personal intervention in the court.
He is described by Josephus as a typical Sadducee: he is wealthy, and he is cunning, and he is haughty, and he uses his sacred office for personal aggrandizement and profit. And he is a man of contemptuous nature; he uses the Sicarii, those people who mingled in the throngs and used daggers to murder their enemies and immediately lost themselves in the crowd on the street, he uses them to further his purposes. He murdered Jonathan, his predecessor, the high priest. And it seems to be a prophecy, when Paul says to him, "God shall smite thee, thou whited wall" [Acts 23:3]. It seems a prophecy, because this Ananias, when the revolutionary war broke out in Judea, the first thing those nationalistically-minded Jews did was they hunted down this Ananias and murdered him; the Sicarii did it themselves.
Well, that’s this Ananias: a man who has prostituted the sacred office of the high priest of God. And he has come down and with his cohorts, called elders here, the leaders in his Sadducean temple service, he is there now to accuse Paul [Acts 24:1].
So the second one to which we are introduced is, when Ananias comes down with the elders, he has with him "a certain orator named Tertullus," who stands before the governor as the prosecuting attorney [Acts 24:2]. Now we know nothing about Tertullus. He is a paid prosecutor to demean Paul. He has a Roman name, Tertullus; but that does not necessarily mean that he’s a Roman. Paul has a Roman name; Paulus is a Roman name, Paul, Saul. So whether he’s a Roman or not, we don’t know; he is a paid orator, in order that when he stands before the procurator, the Roman judge, and presents the case, it may be done eloquently and of course in order.
Now the next one it says here, Ananias the high priest, and Tertullus the paid orator and prosecutor, and the next one is named, "who informed the governor"; that is Felix [Acts 24:3]. Now out of all of the characters that I have ever read about in the Roman Empire, I believe this Felix is the most venal, and the most dastardly, and the basest, and the most unworthy that I have read about in Roman history. It’s hard to believe how providences place a man of that sordid character in so pivotal and so exalted a position.
There were two slaves of Antonia, the mother of the emperor, Claudius Caesar. They were brothers: one was named Pallas, and one was named Felix, these two brothers. And with a cunning and a shrewdness that would have given honor to Judas Iscariot himself, they raised themselves up in court procedures and in the acceptance by the royal family in Rome; so much so that both of them were freed. They became freedmen; they were manumitted from their slavery and became very wealthy, extremely rich. And Pallas, one of those brothers, became the favorite of the emperor himself. He pandered to the vices of Claudius Caesar. So, Pallas is one of the richest men in the Roman Empire and one of the most powerful in the court in Rome. And his brother Felix is now appointed procurator by the Roman Caesar of the Roman province of Judea.
And to give you an idea of how rich these men were, when Claudius Caesar complained of being poor, a man in court said to the emperor, "Why don’t you enter into partnership with Felix and with Pallas, and then you will be rich like them?" The suggestion maybe was made in irony, but so many a truth in jest is made.
Now this Felix who has been appointed procurator of Judea, uses his office for the basest of purposes. As a judge, as the head of the Roman court and the Roman state, the Roman province, he acquits people on the basis of their ability to pay him. He is subject to bribery every day of his life. For example, you will read here at the close of this twenty-fourth chapter, that he hoped that money should be given him of Paul, that he might loose him [Acts 24:26]. He had no regard for Roman law at all. All he hoped for was that Paul would be able to give him money to buy his freedom, buy his acquittal. Now I presume that in the seventeenth verse, this Felix had an idea of the wealth of Paul, because he says, that, "After many days I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings" [Acts 24:17]. So evidently this Felix thought that Paul was a man of means, and had money. So he kept him, hoping that he would buy his acquittal and buy his freedom with bribery: give money to Felix and then Felix would pardon him. Well, that’s this basest of all Romans who is now the judge of the great apostle.
Now, the next one who is named is Paul [Acts 24:1]; Ananias the high priest, and Tertullus, the Roman orator and prosecutor, Felix the governor, who informs him against Paul. Well, it’s going to be interesting for us to see what a man says about the apostle Paul. Now we’ve been following the life of this man of God for a long time. We’ve been reading about him on the pages of this blessed Book, and we have come to honor him, and of course, to love and to reverence this great preacher and missionary. That’s what we have found him to be. It’s going to be interesting now to see what a contemporary says about him; and not only does he speak, but the ninth verse says, "And all of those others assented, saying that these things were so" [Acts 24:9]. So we’re going to look at the apostle Paul in just a moment – right now, as this orator speaks his words concerning him, which words, which descriptions are assented to by all of those others who had come down from Jerusalem. All right, let’s see what he says.
After Tertullus begins in a beautiful and gracious and noble way, "We accept it in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness, your worthy deeds, and the quietness we enjoy under your governorship"; then he says, "I pray thee that thou wouldest hear us of thy clemency a few words, for we have found this man Paul a pestilent fellow" [Acts 24:2-5]. Now that’s an unusual way that he says that. When you have a King James Version of the Bible, you will see "a" and "fellow" in italics [Acts 24:5]; that is, it was not in the original [Acts 24:5]. The original: "There is loimos, loimos, we have found this man loimos." Well, what is loimos? The Latin word is pestis; and when it comes over into English, it’s "pestilent," pestilent, pestilence. Loimos is the substantive form of the word, and he uses the substantive form of the word: "We have found this man a pestilence; we have found this man a plague. He’s like a leprous spot." That’s the first thing that he says about him.
Well, what do you think about that? We’ve been following the life of this man, and he’s preaching the gospel, and he is comforting those who have found refuge in the blessed Jesus. You couldn’t find in literature a more moving address than we preached through in the twentieth chapter of this Book of Acts, when Paul is speaking to the pastors, the elders, of the church at Ephesus, and after he speaks, why, they all kneel down and pray, and then they weep as they bid each other goodbye, farewell [Acts 20:17-37]. You mean to tell me that that is plague? That is leprosy? That is pestilence? What bias and what prejudice and what hatred can do to the human spirit and the human heart! That’s the first thing this orator says about him: "We have found this man loimos; we have found him pestilence [Acts 24:5], we have found him plague; we have found him leprous." That’s the first thing he says.
All right, the second thing he says: "And we have found him a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world" [Acts 24:5]. He is an insurrectionist; and of course, that immediately would get the ear of the Roman procurator, because as the Roman government has the whole world in its hand, it is highly sensitive to insurrection anywhere – couldn’t exist if it allowed insurrection to obtain. So when the orator says, "We have found him a mover of sedition, insurrection, in the world," why, immediately I can see that judge doubly attend.
Well, what do you think about that? This man is supposed to be an insurrectionist, a revolutionary, a leader in sedition. What do you think about that? Well, I noticed that when we had this service of inauguration down there in Austin for Governor William Clements, I noticed that when they had the Episcopal priest to read the passage of Scripture, what he read was from this apostle Paul, supposed to be the leader in sedition and insurrection. They read the first part of the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Romans. And do you remember it?
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. . .Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. . .He is the minister of God to thee for good. . .Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute; custom to whom custom. . .honor to whom honor.
Now that’s what they read down there when they inaugurated the governor of the state of Texas.
Yet, this Tertullus says about him that he is an insurrectionist and a leader of sedition [Acts 24:5]. Now we could go on for hours with this. Let’s take this, which is in the third chapter, written by this apostle Paul: "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. . .that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory. . .to comprehend all of the height, and love and depth of God’s love. Unto Him be glory in the church, world without end. Amen" [Ephesians 3:14-21]. Does that sound like sedition and insurrection to you? How much can a man be moved away from the truth by his own prejudice and his own bias!
Then he says about him, "He is a ring leader of the sect of the Nazarenes" [Acts 24:5]. Now that was said in contempt. "Could any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Nathanael asked [John 1:46]. And here is a group of people who are carrying the name of a prophet that comes out of Nazareth, the sect of the Nazarenes. "And who also hath gone about to profane the temple, profane the temple" [Acts 24:6]. This man Tertullus now is greatly exercised about the apostle Paul profaning the temple. Who was it profaning the temple? He was there bowing before the Lord in a vow; and all of this mob seized him, and began to beat him [Acts 21:31-33]. And yet this one who is praying before God in the temple is now accused of profaning it [Acts 24:6].
Well, when you look at how others speak about the apostle, it’s just almost unthinkable what men are able to believe when they want to believe it – the truth of God wrested, and misrepresented, and twisted, and turned. So the governor gives opportunity to Paul to speak for himself, and he makes a beautiful and wonderful defense, just the simple plain truth of God’s hand in his life [Acts 24:10-21]. Well, it was so evident that the accused, the accusations were false, that the governor said, "I will just wait for Claudius Lysias, the chiliarch from Jerusalem, to come down; and then I will have a more perfect knowledge of why it is that you are so grievously accused by the high priest and the elders from Jerusalem." So he leaves Paul in prison [Acts 24:22-23].
Now we come to the next character in this drama: "And 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]. Drusilla, she was possibly the most beautiful woman in the Roman Empire, Drusilla. She was the youngest of the three daughters of King Herod Agrippa I, whom we met, among others, in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts, when he slew James the brother of John, and imprisoned Peter in order to execute him [Acts 12:1-4]. Drusilla is the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I, and her sister we meet in the next chapter; and her brother we meet in the next chapter, Herod Agrippa II, and Bernice, her older sister; we meet them [Acts 25:13]. This is the Herodian family. And Drusilla, the beautiful, beautiful daughter, and Eunice was very jealous of her. This Drusilla had been married at sixteen years of age to a petty king in northwestern Syria. She was a gold digger: she used her beauty for the advancement of her own cause, and she wanted to be high in the social circles of the courts. So when she had an opportunity, and Felix saw it and seized it, when she had an opportunity to leave her husband and to go off with Felix, she did. And here she is, married now to Felix. And by the way, this Drusilla had a child by Felix, and she called him Agrippa, after the name of her father; and both of them perished in Pompeii, in the eruption of Vesuvius. And all of those artifacts, some of those artifacts out of Pompeii you can see today here in Dallas. She perished in that eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, with her son Agrippa.
Well, being a Jewess, and Felix being introduced to the Jewish world through his Jewish wife, when Drusilla heard that Paul is a prisoner and is the great exponent of the Christian faith, curiosity caused her and Felix to want to hear him. Now, the interest there is in magic. Her great-grandfather is the one who slew the babes in Bethlehem. Her great uncle is the one who slew John the Baptist [Matthew 2:16]. And remember Antipas, that great uncle, Herod Antipas, is the one that wanted Jesus to do magic tricks before him [Matthew 14:6-11]. Now I would say it’s the same thing here: they want to hear about this marvelous sorcerer, this master magician, this spiritual Houdini, this ecclesiastical Thurston, this godly Blackstone. And so they have Paul to come before them in order that they might hear what he has to say [Acts 24:24].
Now what do you think Paul ought to say when he stands in the presence of Felix the Roman procurator and Drusilla the queenly beautiful wife? What do you think he ought to say? Well, look at that just for a moment. He is standing there before those two. Felix is one of the richest men in the Roman Empire.The roof of his palace is gilded, the walls are velvet, the floors are flowered, wine without end, and drinking out of golden vessels. What do you think he ought to say? Felix is a quasi-god. When he appears, men stand up, everybody. And he loves approbation and adulation immeasurably. Nor are they seated until his haughty permission is given. He is also a judge: with a word he can cast a man to the lions, or he can crucify him with a gesture, or he can burn him at the stake. What do you think he ought to say as he stands in the presence of that procurator and his beautiful queen?
You know, I have an instance of that in English history. Hugh Latimer had greatly displeased his Majesty, King Henry XIII, in a sermon that he’d preached before the king. And he was ordered by the king to preach again the following Sunday, and to make apology for the offense he had given. So the following Sunday, Hugh Latimer, God’s preacher, stands before King Henry XIII, and after reading his text, the same one he had preached on the Sunday before, he begins. Now I quote, Hugh Latimer begins:
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, 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 beholdeth 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, but with considerable more energy.
That’s the Hugh Latimer – have you all been to Oxford? Have you been to Oxford? At Balliol College, right in front of Balliol College is a magnificent monument to Hugh Latimer, and his friend Master Ridley, who were burned at the stake in that place. You can’t help but feel iron in your blood when you read about men like that! This soft, supercilious, obsequious, sycophantic Christianity is an affront to God! These men spoke with great conviction and truth, and sealed it with their blood.
So how does Paul preach before that procurator and his wife? Listen: "As he reasoned," of all things in this world, Christianity is reasonable, and right, "and as he reasoned of righteousness, and temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee" [Acts 24:25], some other day, some other time.
Well, I have to close; just pointing out that dramatic scene: the apostle standing before Felix and Drusilla. First, he did his best; he preached the gospel [Acts 24:25]. Now what do you think of that? Do you have to have a great throng and a great crowd to whom to preach the gospel? Do you? I read the announcement where the minister of the church said that he was discontinuing the evening service: no longer were they going to have an evening service on Sunday because it was not worth his while to prepare a sermon for a congregation of less than one hundred. So they called off the evening service. Any congregation is a good congregation to whom to preach the gospel of the grace of the Son of God, even if it numbers two as here, or just one.
Did you know the greatest sermon on the new birth that was ever delivered was preached to a congregation of one, the Lord Jesus to Nicodemus? [John 3:1-21]. Do you realize that the greatest sermon on spiritual religion that was ever delivered was delivered by the Lord Jesus to a congregation of one, and she a despised Samaritan woman? [John 4:1-29]. Did you know that the greatest spiritual sentence ever said was said by the Lord Jesus to a congregation of one, namely Martha, when the Lord said, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me shall never die" [John 11:25]. You don’t have to have a large congregation to preach the gospel to: one is a good congregation, if he’ll listen; just one, just one.
All right, another thing about him: he failed, he failed; he never won Felix, he never won Drusilla. He failed [Acts 24:25]. Jesus failed. Jesus said, "A sower goes forth to sow. Some of the seed falls on rocky ground; some of it falls by the wayside; some of it falls in thorns and thistles; but some will fall in good ground, and bare fruit unto the Lord" [Mark 4:3-9]. Now that’s the way with our testimony. My dear people, we are beginning to enter into a tremendous soul-winning appeal to the city of Dallas: but don’t ever think that everybody is going to listen; they won’t. You’re going to fail in many, many attempts, and appeals, and invitations. The Lord Jesus failed with the rich young ruler, and saw him walk away [Mark 10:17-22]. The Lord Jesus failed with the Sadducees, and the Pharisees, and the scribes and the elders; they even crucified Him. But He gained some; He won some. And God always will do that for us: when we are faithful, and when we witness, and when we testify, not all will turn, and believe, and repent, and accept, and be saved, but some will, some will. And I have in my own heart that same spirit that the great Spurgeon had when they accosted him about his belief in the sovereignty and the elective purpose of God, that men were going to be not responding if they’re not chosen, and Spurgeon replied, "But oh sir, when I preach and am faithful to the Word, there will always be some who are saved."
And that is our strength and our comfort. Wherever we have opportunity, invite to the Lord, deliver the message of Christ, say a good word about Jesus, encourage in the faith. Many will not listen or respond; but some will. You did. I did. And I bless God for those who preached the gospel, and I listened. And I praise His name, that the grace of God that saved you reached down and saved me. "God is with us" [Matthew 1:23].
And that of course is our appeal to your heart this day. If the Lord has reached down and touched your heart, would you answer with your life? "Lord, You have spoken to me, and I have heard, and I am coming. I am giving my faith and heart and love and life and soul; I’m giving it all to You. From now on, I’ll be God’s man," and, "God’s woman." Or, "Pastor, we’re all been saved, and we’re all in the faith, and we want to come and place our lives in this dear church." You come. Or just a couple, or just one somebody you, in the balcony round and on this lower floor, down one of those stairways, down one of these aisle, "Here I come, pastor, I’ve decided for God; and I’m making it now." On the first note of the first stanza, take that first step, and angels will attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.