Our passage today is Acts 25:1-12
I used to drive a lot of miles as part of my job and when I did I was fairly patient when held up by heavy traffic. Since 2003 I have been working for the Church, my journeys have tended to be much shorter or at least outside the busiest times and my family have noticed a change in my attitude. To be honest, as I have become accustomed to getting around without problems, I have become less patient when I am delayed. Alternatively, I could just be becoming increasingly grumpy.
Some people cope better than others when their freedom is restricted but from what we know of Paul, I could see this being really difficult for him. We have commented many times on the huge distances that Paul covered with barely a mention from Luke, it was a schedule that would have broken most people but suddenly Paul was confined and unable to do the things he wanted. It could not have been easy.
After two years of stagnation, the arrival of Festus as the new Roman Governor brought Paul’s case to life. Paul was a problem to Felix, the previous Governor, so he had just left him in prison. Eventually, someone had to grasp the nettle; the case had to be heard. So many people glance at the Christian faith, realise the issues are massive and then decide to ‘park it’. They don’t so much reject the claims of Christ as postpone dealing with them. The problem is, these are the most important questions a person can ever consider; they are far more important than the things of this life because those things will pass away. Jesus said;
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)
I’m reminded of the example given by Bethan last Friday of her friend’s refusal to see the film ‘The Passion of the Christ’ as she was afraid she would become a Christian and as I write, I’m thinking of people that used to attend youth groups at Eb and when I bump into them I see their eyes filled with tears because they know they should be there now. If you are not a Christian, do not ‘park it’ because it’s difficult.
I’m interested in the behaviour of the Jewish authorities. These were men who revered the Torah and who took following God seriously, yet they lied (24:6), were deceitful (23:15) and conspired to commit a murder. I’m sure as experts in the Old Testament they could have reeled off plenty of information about God’s character; that he is holy and separate from sin. How then could they enter into sin in order to achieve their purpose? Allow me to make a few points;
- Sincerity doesn’t always = truth. You can be sincerely wrong as were the Jewish authorities.
- God is holy and separate from sin. He will not sanction sin on the part of his people to achieve his purposes.
- God calls us into a relationship not a religion
The Jewish leaders present us with a challenge; not to repeat their mistakes.
For Paul, this was a horrible situation. The Jews wanted to kill him and the new Governor was out of his depth. He had written to the Church in Philippi; ‘I can do everything through him who gives me strength.’(Philippians 4:13). Sometimes this verse has been twisted by some to mean ‘I can do whatever I like’ or ‘I can own a Ferrari through him who gives me strength’. The context shows us that Paul is saying something very different, he had learned the secret of being content in all things;
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13)
He held on to the promise;
“Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (23:11)
He was in a storm but he knew the one who had saved him and he was content.
So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine (Oceans – Joel Houston, Matt Crocker and Salomon Lightheim)