Cheerfully Defend Your Faith

Acts 24:1-21

February 26, 2022 | Brian Bill

I was intrigued about how much a 3-cent stamp from 1957…it is worth 3 cents today. Paul had been “stamped” as a revolutionary seditionist…

Last weekend we ended the message by asking this question: Are you ready to increase your trust in the providence of God when you can’t feel the presence of God?  If so, 

  • Recognize the plot against you.
  • Rely on the provision of God to you.
  • Rest in the protection of God around you.
  • Rejoice in the purpose of God for you.

By way of follow-up, we shared some lessons from Acts 23.  Here are two I tried to put into practice this week.  How did you do?

  • Were you able to see your position and the places you were in this past week as a platform for ministry?
  • Did you have some success giving God credit for His providence by not using words like “lucky” and “coincidence”?

Please turn to Acts 24.  After Paul providentially survived the plot against him because his unnamed nephew spoke up, he was taken to Caesarea where he was held as a prisoner in Herod’s praetorium before facing charges before Felix the Governor.  He ended up being held here for at least two years.

Let’s pick up the narrative in verse 1: “And 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.”  Ananias and a contingent of other religious leaders came quickly from Jerusalem to Caesarea to present charges against Paul.  They employed a “spokesman,” or “orator” named Tertullus to handle the case.  He served as the prosecuting attorney, or literally, “the professional pleader.”  He was more a professional persuader than an attorney.  In verse 2, we read: “And when he had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him…”  The word for “accuse” is to “condemn by incriminating.”

Tertullus turned on the charm, ratcheted up the flattery, and promised brevity in the second half of verse 2 through verse 4: “Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude.  But, to detain you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly.”  The phrase, “much peace” means “to be superlatively prosperous and peaceful.”  The word “foresight” can be translated as “providence,” which is giving him way more credit than he deserves.  The attorney lays it on thick when he calls him, “most excellent Felix,” which is the idea of majestic and mighty.

Tertullus celebrated all the reforms Felix made in “every way and everywhere,” which is certainly not true, as Felix mistreated the Jews.  The Jews actually feared him, like Ukrainians fear Putin.  

Have you heard the phrase, “Flattery will get you nowhere?”  Psalm 12:2-3: “Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.  May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts.”  Proverbs 26:28: “A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.”

When Tertullus recognized Felix was getting as antsy as an Edgewood member does when the sermon goes long, he promised to not tie up his day by keeping his comments brief.

Tertullus turns up the heat in verses 5-6 by listing the charges against Paul: “For 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.”  

Tertullus used four different arguments against Paul.

    1. Sickness.  By calling Paul a “plague,” Tertullus was referring to him as a “pestilent fellow.”  In our culture it would be like calling someone “Covid-man.”  This was a serious charge because Felix was accustomed to anyone who caused him trouble.
    2. Schism.  He accused Paul of spreading the deadly virus of dissension and claimed he “stirs up riots.”  If true, this kind of insurrection would be an offense against Rome because it would threaten the Pax Romana.  Notice how he uses the phrase, “among all the Jews throughout the world…”  That’s all encompassing, isn’t it?  BTW, here’s some free marriage advice – avoid using phrases like, “you always” or “you never.”  You’re welcome.  Vance Havner was fond of saying, “Wherever Paul went, there was either a riot or a revival.”
    3. Sedition.  Next, Paul is accused of a being the ringleader of the Nazarene heresy.  The root of the word “sect” is the word from which we get heretic. This was a serious charge because Rome didn’t tolerate new religions.  The phrase, “sect of the Nazarenes” was no doubt delivered with a sneer on his face.  Nazareth was a place of derision as we see in John 1:46: “Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’”  The Jews spread a rumor that Jesus was born in Nazareth, not in Bethlehem, which means He could not have been the Messiah.
    4. Sacrilege.  Finally, he claimed Paul “profaned” the temple.  To contaminate the temple was a serious charge. This takes us back to previous chapters where Paul was accused of bringing Gentiles past the threshold.  

These charges…

Tertullus landed his argument by appealing to Felix to do his own interrogation in verse 8: “By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him.”  Verse 9 records loud “amens” from the Jews who were there: “The Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all these things were so.”  BTW, if you feel led to say ‘amen’ during the sermon, have at it!

Some time ago I read a post called, “The Cult of Culture.”  Here’s part of what it said.

“Watch out for the world.  It’s after you.  It wants you in its cult following, wooing you with pleasures and power, fame and fortune, the nexus of excess.  The cult of our culture provides the perfect distraction from what’s really important, and lures us with empty lusts, beliefs and religions.  It may not seem like an organized cult, but behind the apparent chaos and disorder is an enemy pulling the strings to entangle our mind, body and soul.  It’s easy to overlook that we are targeted and marketed with endless desires to capture your time, energy and money.  The world wants your worship, so you don’t worship the one who deserves it.”

When Billy Graham was preaching, when the persecution of Christians behind the then still-standing Iron Curtain was first coming to light, was a penetrating question about a person’s real life, not just his religious confession.

Though the question itself is commonly attributed to an earlier Christian author, Dr. Graham often used it.  Here’s a paraphrase…

Many people today claim to be Christians.  Do you claim to be a Christian?  That’s an easy claim to make. “I’m a Christian because I grew up in church,” some people say.  Others say, “I’m a Christian because I was baptized as a child.” Maybe you’ve heard people say, “I’m a Christian because my family are Christians.”

But, then there’s you.  You’re the one here tonight. Let’s think about you for a moment.

What about YOU?  Are YOU a Christian?  Do you trust Jesus?  Are you following Him?  How many of your friends and co-workers, your family and neighbors, would look at you and say, “Why, yes, he’s a Christian”?

If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Just imagine for a moment that you are going to court on the charge, “This person is a Christian.” Of course, to convict, the charge would have to be proven.

The only evidence that would count to convict you would be the way you live.  What if the authorities searched your vehicle or your house: would they find anything incriminating?  What would they find if your bank statements were brought before the court?  What if they looked at your check register?  Any evidence of following Christ there?

Suppose the prosecution subpoenaed a record of the TV shows you watch.  What would that say about your commitment to Christ?  What about [your] subscriptions, or your hobbies?

If the people who know you best were called to testify under oath, what would they offer up as evidence?  After interviewing your boss and your co-workers, your neighbors, and your family, would the court convict you of being a Christian? 

Or would they acquit?  

Would the judge’s gavel come down with a bang as he said, “Case dismissed for lack of evidence”?  Well…what about it?  What about YOU?

So, let me ask you again…and you listen close.  And you.  And you.  And you.  And ALL of you who can hear the sound of my voice: If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

In honor of Dr. Graham, and in memory of the multiplied thousands of souls who came to Christ through his ministry, I simply pass the question along to you again. In these days when more Christians are imprisoned for their faith than ever before, please ponder prayerfully the answer given by your life.

If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?


Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?