Making the most out of a bad situation
Paul finds himself in another sticky situation. He has been brought before the governor, Felix, by the high priest, Ananias. The Jews have hired a professional attorney to prosecute the case, but have little more than trumped up charges to bring against Paul. He is being accused of being “a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Vs 5). And they accused him of trying to desecrate the temple.
But Paul doesn’t seem to be phased by the circumstances. Because he knew something they didn’t know. The Lord Himself had told Paul that he was going to Rome. So Paul was at peace with what was going on around him. In fact, he took advantage of the situation and used it to not only defend himself, but to share “about faith in Christ Jesus” with the governor and his wife. Paul was using a perceived negative situation and turning it into a positive one. Sure, Paul was being held prisoner, but rather than moan about his conditions, he made the most of them, sharing his faith.
Righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come
What I find interesting was what Paul talked about with the governor and his wife. Paul had to know their situation. He must have known that Felix had stolen his young bride from her first husband. She was probably no more than 20 at the time. Felix was on his second marriage. Neither of them was known for having sterling moral character. So what does Paul talk to them about? Righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come. Not exactly a seeker-friendly sermon!
But I think what Paul was doing was meeting them right where they were. Drusilla was a Jew. She was the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I, and had been raised a Hebrew. She knew her relationship with Felix was wrong and immoral. So Paul talked to them about three things. Three things that still apply to every living human being today:
righteousness – literally, the state of him who is as he ought to be; acceptable to God
self-control – the virtue of one who masters his passions and desires
the coming judgment – that time to come when all mankind will be judged by God
Wow! Talk about a tough topic. Paul hit this royal couple right where it hurt. He discussed with them the requirement of perfect righteousness, which neither of them could achieve. He brought up their apparent inability to master their passions, allowing themselves to be controlled by sinful desires. And then he told them about the ramifications of a lifestyle of sin and unrighteousness: Judgment at the hands of a holy God. Paul shared with them the bad news that makes the good news so good. God demands righteousness. Man is only capable of unrighteousness. And their is a day of judgment coming when those who put their trust in their own ability to achieve righteousness will be judged on that ability and found lacking. No wonder Felix became frightened. Who wouldn’t?
But Paul was also sharing the good news. Verse 24 tells us that he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. Paul shared with Felix and Drusilla the answer to their problem. He let them know that they had one of two choices:
Please God – as a good Jew, Drusilla knew that righteousness was non-optional. She had been taught to keep the commandments of God. She had had it hammered into her head that God required a life of sinlessness in order to benefit from His blessings. But she had failed. She was divorced, technically living in adultery, and living a life of immorality with a pagan Roman. Felix was not even a God-fearer. He was an idol-worshiper who spent his life trying to appease the gods through sacrifice and self-effort.
Trust God – Paul was telling them of another way. It wasn’t about works or self-effort. It was about faith and trust in the sin-substitute that He had provided: His own Son, Jesus Christ. Paul was sharing the good news of a new way to have a right relationship with God – not based on keeping the law or somehow achieving sinless perfection. He was letting them know that the old formula of more good behavior plus less bad behavior did not equal godliness. God was using new math. It was now faith in Jesus Christ plus nothing.
Paul’s message to this couple was appealing and they invited him back repeatedly to hear more. We don’t know if they ever accepted the offer of faith in Christ, but Paul was faithful to share it. And we should be just as faithful today, because it is still the message that people are dying to hear. We live in a society mired in unrighteousness and uncontrolled passions, and every one of them is facing a judgment to come. All men know that something is wrong, but they don’t know what to do. So they turn to religion. And every religion in the world is based on some perverted form of self-effort. We have to do it. We have to earn a right standing with God. We have to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Even those who don’t turn to God, try to fix society through self-improvement. Their god has become mankind itself. We can fix ourselves. We can somehow hold off judgment by simply improving society.
Faith in Jesus Christ
But we know the truth. It is simply faith in Jesus Christ. There is no other answer. Righteousness and a right relationship with God is only available through Him. And what makes it good news is that it takes all the effort off of us. Jesus said “come unto Me all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus offers rest to those who are wearied and worn out by trying to keep the rules, trying to live righteous lives on their own, attempting to “be good” and only finding it impossible to pull off. Rest for the weary. That is what people are wanting to hear today. Just like Felix and Drusilla. But first they need to know that God demands righteousness, that man is addicted to unrighteousness, and there is a coming judgment. Hopelessness paves the way for hope in Jesus Christ. Coming to grips with our own inability opens the door to accepting Christ’s all-sufficiency. And that’s what makes it good news.
Father, thank you so much for providing a way for me to have a right relationship with You. Thank you that it is not based on me, because if it was, I would have failed. But You have provided Your Son. You have given me a gift I don’t deserve and a salvation I never could have earned. Now give me the boldness to share that gift with others. To tell them the good news that is the answer to their bad news. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men