Acts 24

  • 2 November 2021
  • Dan McKinlay

Convenient Christianity 

October 31st, 2021

Jesus said ‘Whoever would come after me must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’ Some of the most confronting words that Jesus ever spoke about the cost that those who follow him would have to pay. No doubt for many of us our faith in the Lord Jesus is not something that we would describe as convenient. We may have felt the tension in social situations, with our employers or with our family. We may agonise over those family members who are not believers, or we may have been faced with attractive business propositions that, were we to take them, would go against our convictions and our conscience. We’ve not felt that with in Jesus is convenient. But then there are times when all of us long for a Convenient Christianity. Who doesn’t want to avoid conflict, or win friends, or influence people. In those moments perhaps we have minimised the costliness of following a crucified saviour who gave up every earthly right, even laying down his life for us. 

Luke’s record in the book of Acts of the apostle Paul having his day in court before the governor of Ceserea, a man by the name of Felix, is there to either put the wind in our sails in our Christian life, or to blow hard against us – depending on our take of the convenience of Christianity. And it is my genuine hope that we all would feel one, or maybe both of those things, and see that above all, following the Lord Jesus even when it doesn’t suit us is far better than settling for an easy life.

We come to the point win these chapters in acts that we’ve been waiting for. Paul has been arrested by the Romans, and upon hearing that he was a Roman citizen, they see fit to deliver him to the court of the governor. He needed a trial because, after all, he is a Roman citizen. Remember in those days there were all sorts of agreements between the powerful pagan Roman Empire who held power, and the Jews who had been in these lands for millennia. That itself wasn’t an easy power balance and often the Roman powers had to succumb to the Jews in religious matters in order to maintain peace in the land – see the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ for details. 

And what we then read in Acts 24 is an excellent court room drama. The presentation by Tertullius, a Jewish lawyer and orator, who presents a case for prosecution. He appeals to Felix, the governor on a few grounds – ones which we could well read on the pages of our own Sydney Morning Herald this morning! Let me sum up his case thus: 

Under you, governor Felix, we enjoy a peaceful existence. This man Paul is a cult leader, his religion is causing strife and he is offending our way of doing things. If you want the peas e to remain, put him in prison. – verses 2 to 9. 

The Jewish and Roman existence was at times fraught but, in this landlocked colony, it was peaceful. Religious people had their Religion. The Romans had their power. But the gospel, friends, when the gospel of Jesus came to town, the colony was upside down. All of a sudden the local equilibrium had been tipped. Jews and pagans alike were coming to faith in Jesus – the temple system of Judaism had been replaced by Jesus once-for-all sacrifice for sin. No longer would the Ezras and Jacobs, the Claudius and Appus and Servius be given homage and loyalty to their childhood belief systems. And if there is one thing about humans friends, we hate change. 

So that’s the prosecution. And as in any good court case, we get to hear the defence, this time given by the apostle Paul himself. And the defence is very clever. You see, Paul can’t deny that there was strife in the colony. He can only say that he wasn’t there in the synagogue recently. Instead, Paul wants to pick up on their throw away accusation of Paul’s message. They called him a ‘ringleader in th sect of the Nazarene’. Oh how many times authentic Christianity is so often dismissed as a hardline, extremist or fundamentalist sect! Well, that is where Paul wants to pick up. Let me summarise, as before, what he says: 

The teachings, which we call ‘the Way’, are in fact the terminus of Jewish faith. Jesus is the final stop in the story of salvation. Their book, the law and the prophets and the writings, are full of people who anticipated this man Jesus,. Well, he has arrived, and he has paid for sin, and my conscience is clear because any disruption you find here in Ceserea is because the true need of people is peace with God in eternity. 

The metaphorical gavel bangs and the session is held in recess. ‘I will decide your case when the rest of my counsel arrives.’ Now interestingly, Luke notes that Felix has a ‘rather accurate’ understanding of the gospel. He knows about Jesus and we get just a faint hint of sympathy from him. Paul is held in custody, but his friends can stay with him. 

Bureaucracy takes its course, a few days pass and then, entering from stage right, Felix appears again, this time with his wife Drusilla, who is Jewish. And together they listen to Paul about faith in Jesus. And we get the impression that its the whole hog of the gospel; Paul speaks about right standing with God, of living a holy life, and about the promised return of God who will come in judgment. And at the end of the teaching we hear that Felix was ‘alarmed’ or ‘afraid’, or as the Greek suggests, terrified. Possibly because he knew that he stood under judgment, but most likely because he saw the radical implications of this gospel – it would render the sacrificial system of the Jews obsolete and it would transform his prefecture on its head. Again, Paul is dismissed. 

And that’s when we get to the great injustice of it all. This is where we get to the supreme inconvenience of Christianity. You see, Paul was not guilty of wrongdoing and he stuck to his convictions. Characteristics which, for the most part, we commend. But Felix decides he’d rather have a bribe and let Paul go quietly. And when that doesn’t happen Paul is remanded in custody. Although, amazingly, we hear that Felix frequently spoke with Paul – no doubt about these things. But Paul still had to remain in prison for two years and when Felix was eventually moved to govern elsewhere, his successor kept him in prison. 

The lesson for us here beloved, I think is this. We will all face the temptation to have an easy life. That is our human nature and an instinct that comes probably from when we did have easy lives; in perfect communion with God in the garden. But our frail hearts will often be tempted to sell out and we will press mute on our Christianity when we’re in danger of the inconvenience. Only when we see the glory that awaits us in faithfully following our saviour will we gladly pick up our cross and willingly be inconvenienced by the glorious gospel. Don’t settle for a convenient Christianity. For, as Jesus also said, ‘What will it profit a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’ 

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