“Trusting God No Matter What”
Series: The Church on Fire!
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
First Baptist Church Henderson KY
- Take God’s Word and open to Acts, chapter 24.
We’ve been preaching our way through the book of Acts and in these latter chapters we’ve been reading about Paul’s arrest and imprisonment. Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem where he was falsely charged of things like opposing the Jews, opposing the Jewish traditions and opposing the Jewish temple. Twice now he has defended himself to no avail. We left Paul scheduled to appear before the governor of Caesarea, a guy named Felix. So these Jews come down from Jerusalem to Caesarea to take Paul to court. There is the Jewish high priest, Ananias, and some others with him. They are coming down to argue their case against Paul before the Roman Governor Felix. Let’s read the first few verses of chapter 24.
- Stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
1 Now after five days Ananias the high priest came down with the elders and a certain orator named Tertullus. These gave evidence to the governor against Paul.
2 And when he was called upon, Tertullus began his accusation, saying: “Seeing that through you we enjoy great peace, and prosperity is being brought to this nation by your foresight,
3 “we accept it always and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness.
4 “Nevertheless, not to be tedious to you any further, I beg you to hear, by your courtesy, a few words from us.
I want to speak to you this morning on this topic: “Trusting God No Matter What.” The tragic events of this past week in our community give us pause for reflection. There are no quick and easy answers that fully explain to our satisfaction why this sort of thing happens, a shooting that leaves several people dead and a community reeling in disbelief, shaking their heads in utter astonishment.
And while our text this morning does not directly address those events, I do believe we read here about the necessity of trusting God no matter what. You know, that’s really what faith is, isn’t it? The writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” There is much we “do not see” about God and His ways, but are absolutely certain that He is there, that He is sovereign, that He is good, that He is guiding, and that He always does what is right.
So let’s talk about trusting God no matter what. Chapter 24 presents us with three times we need to trust God. Number one:
I. Trust God when under Attack (1-9)
I don’t know how you respond to attacks and false accusations, but I want you to consider this morning how the Apostle Paul responds to the attacks of these guys who are falsely accusing him. And I want you to take some comfort in the very fact that Paul is being attacked. This guy who is responsible for giving us nearly two thirds of the New Testament is a guy no different than you and I. God loved him no more and no less than God loves any other Christian. So when you’re under attack, take some comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. Let’s read about this attack upon Paul.
We read earlier in the first four verses about Ananias the high priest coming down from Jerusalem with some of the Jewish elders and a certain orator named Tertullus. Tertullus was like a high-profile attorney, legal counsel from the Jewish “Dream Team,” if you like. So these guys appear before Governor Felix as court is in session. Their real goal is to kill Paul. They don’t like his message about Jesus Christ and they want to see Paul gone. So this Tertullus fellow speaks these flattering words to Governor Felix in verses 2-3:
“Seeing that through you we enjoy great peace, and prosperity is being brought to this nation by your foresight, we accept it always and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness.”
Don’t you hate flattery? Proverbs 26:28 says, “A flattering mouth works ruin.” Don’t engage in flattery and be aware when people are flattering you. They don’t mean it. They’re just trying to get something from you. Well, Tertullus finally gets to his case:
4 “Nevertheless, not to be tedious to you any further, I beg you to hear, by your courtesy, a few words from us. (We’ve already heard a few. Get on with it!)
5 “For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.
6 “He even tried to profane the temple, and we seized him, (some of the older Greek manuscripts don’t have all of this in verses 6-8 which is why it’s not in some of the newer translations. It seems to be here to help us remember what happened earlier in Acts) and wanted to judge him according to our law.
7 “But the commander Lysias came by and with great violence took him out of our hands, 8 “commanding his accusers to come to you. By examining him yourself you may ascertain all these things of which we accuse him.”
9 And the Jews also assented, maintaining that these things were so.
Some translations have verse 9 as, “and the Jews also joined the attack.” That’s the idea here. Paul is under attack. He is being falsely accused. None of these charges are true. It happened to Paul. It will happen to you. There are times when you will be under attack. Paul did not waver. He stayed faithful to God. He trusted God when under attack and so should you and I. Trust God when under attack. Number two:
II. Trust God when giving an Answer (10-21)
Now it’s Paul’s turn to defend himself. He’s been listening to these attacks and now it’s his turn to respond. It’s his turn to answer. Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:15-16, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” How many of you think he was praying as he was listening to these attacks? I do, too. Here comes Paul’s answer. Verses 10 and following:
10 Then Paul, after the governor had nodded to him to speak, answered:
“Inasmuch as I know that you have been for many years a judge of this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself,
11 “because you may ascertain that it is no more than twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem to worship (five days of which were spent in jail here in Caesarea. In other words, a week is hardly enough time to organize a city-wide revolt).
12 “And they neither found me in the temple disputing with anyone nor inciting the crowd, either in the synagogues or in the city.
13 “Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me.
14 “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets.
I love that! Paul says, “I’m not guilty of all these things they are attacking me for, however I am guilty of believing the Bible.” In essence, Paul says, “I believe what the Old Testament says about Christ.”
15 “I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.
16 “This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.
17 “Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation,
18 “in the midst of which some Jews from Asia (Acts 21) found me purified in the temple, neither with a mob nor with tumult.
19 “They ought to have been here before you to object if they had anything against me.
20 “Or else let those who are here themselves say if they found any wrongdoing in me while I stood before the council,
21 “unless it is for this one statement which I cried out, standing among them, ‘Concerning the resurrection of the dead I am being judged by you this day.’ ”
You’ll remember that Paul said that back in Acts 23. He had said, “Look, this is all about my belief in the resurrection of the dead.” The Pharisees believed in a resurrection and the Sadducees did not. Paul, of course, believed not just in a general kind of resurrection, but even more specifically, he believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But his point is, “I am not guilty of these false attacks.” So we trust God when under attack and we trust God when giving an answer. Thirdly:
III. Trust God when it seems He is Absent (22-27)
How many of you have those times when it seems God is absent? Come on, don’t leave me up here! I think one of the reasons God has all of these reminders in the Bible about His being with us is because we’re tempted to think He is absent. So He says in Joshua 1:9, “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” and in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always” and in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you; I will never forsake you.”
I read these closing verses and wondered whether Paul may have felt like God had forgotten him. The Bible says in the last verse here that Felix left Paul bound in prison for 2 years. That’s a long time. The events have been moving pretty quickly up to this point and then Paul is just left in prison in Caesarea. I wondered whether he may have felt like God had abandoned him. Let’s read how it happened. Verses 22-23:
22 But when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of the Way, he adjourned the proceedings and said, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will make a decision on your case.”
23 So he commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him.
So Felix procrastinates. He could have released Paul for insufficient evidence brought against him, but Felix is a corrupt politician who is trying to curry favor with the Jews. He says, “I’ll make a decision when Lysias the commander comes to Jerusalem,” but there is no evidence that the commander was ever summoned. So Paul just stays in prison. Now verses 24 and 25 are very interesting to me. Look at them now:
24 And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.
Felix is married to a woman named Drusilla. Secular history tells us that Drusilla was Felix’s second wife. Felix married a total of three times. He was a guy who married women for political advantage. The historian Tacitus refers to Felix’s cruelty and lust. Felix divorced his first wife when he saw Drusilla and lured the young teenager away from her husband. Drusilla, a Jewish girl, divorces her husband and marries Felix. Drusilla’s father is Herod Agrippa. That means her great-grandfather was the guy who tried to kill Jesus in Bethlehem (Matthew 2) and her great uncle was the guy who killed John the Baptist (Luke 23). Her father, Herod Agrippa, is the guy who killed the Apostle James back in Acts 12. Now I mention that background because verse 24 says that Felix is interested in hearing Paul concerning the faith in Christ and so Felix sends for him and he sits there with his wife Drusilla and they listen. Look at Paul’s preaching in verse 25:
25 Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.”
Paul’s got a three-point sermon outline: righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come. Given their backgrounds, can you see Felix and his wife Drusilla fidgeting uncomfortably in their seats as Paul preaches about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come? Felix is under conviction. The Bible says in verse 25 that he “was afraid.” Literally, he “became terrified.” He’s scared to death.
That’s the effect that Gospel preaching should have upon us. This is the bad news that must be grasped so that we understand the good news for what it is. Paul preached “righteousness.” The Bible says in Romans 3:10 that none of us is righteous. All of the good and kind deeds and works we do will not gain for us a righteous standing before God. We are sinners, all. Romans 3:23 says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We cannot get to heaven based upon our righteousness. The only righteousness that gets us into heaven is the righteousness of another, a perfect Person by the name of Jesus. So we say with the hymn-writer, “Nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to thy cross I cling” and “dressed in His righteousness alone; faultless to stand before the throne.”
Then Paul preached on self-control. How Felix and Drusilla needed to hear about self-control! More conviction. And then Paul drives it all home with his preaching on the judgment to come. I wrote in an article recently that there are two appointments every one of us must keep: death and judgment. So Felix became terrified and dismissed Paul: “Go away for now. When I have a convenient time I will call for you.”
Felix had an opportunity to be forgiven of his sins, but he turned away from the Lord Jesus Christ. Not today! Some other time! There is no record that Felix ever came this close again to being saved and forgiven. He is a warning to all of us who hear the Gospel and resist the call from God. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “Now is the day of salvation.” Don’t procrastinate. Don’t say, “Well, one of these days.” Someone said, “One of these days is none of these days.” Sir, don’t be a fool like Felix. Ma’am, don’t be a fool like Drusilla.
26 Meanwhile he also hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him. Therefore he sent for him more often and conversed with him.
27 But after two years Porcius Festus succeeded Felix; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul bound.
Two years! Did Paul feel abandoned by God? He tried to win Felix to Christ, but was unsuccessful and he stays in prison for two years. But Paul is a man who trusts God no matter what. He knows that God is good and that God is sovereign and that God has a perfect plan.
Do you know what happened during those two years Paul was in prison in Caesarea? He wrote some letters. All of the so-called “Captivity Epistles” were written while Paul was in prison either in Caesare or Rome. So it is while Paul is in prison that he wrote letters like Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. It was while he was in prison that he wrote Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.” It was in prison where Paul wrote Philippians 4:13, and 4:19 and Colossians 1:15 and countless other of our favorite verses. God indeed works all things together for good to those who love him (Romans 8:28).
Some of you wonder whether God is absent from your lives. He is there. He is working. He is using you if you’ll let him. Trust God when it seems He is absent. He is there. So the hymn-writer says:
Have faith in God when your pathway is lonely.
He sees and knows all the way you have trod;
Never alone are the least of His children;
Have faith in God, have faith in God.
God is there even when it seems He is absent. If anything, the events of this past week certainly remind us of the fallen nature of this world and the need for salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. The events of this week remind us of the brevity of our lives and the uncertainty of every day. We must always be ready for what Paul called the judgment to come.
I was moved by the statement I read in yesterday’s “Gleaner.” The widow of the supervisor who was killed called for the community to forgive her husband’s killer. I’m still learning much about this story, but I know this much: that kind of forgiveness mirrors something of God’s forgiveness toward us. God offers loving forgiveness to us if we will but turn to Him in faith. We must trust in God and trust in Him no matter what.
- Stand for prayer.