Guard the Gospel – Acts 24:1-27
For these past weeks, we have been looking at – what does it mean to have a church on a mission through the Book of Acts. It has been so enriching for me to go through this journey of this study with you. But in these recent weeks, I have been hearing a lot in the news of people being thrown into prison, tortured, executed because they were defending Christianity, they were guarding the gospel. Recently, this news hit close to me- that- a 7-year old boy was kidnapped, tortured and brutally murdered because of his faith in Christ. They found this boy in a pond – toes broken, hands and face slashed and burned, hot coals were placed on his stomach-and found out that this boy drowned to death- just brutal, and the parents of this child was wailing when they found him. Truly heart-breaking. Yet, in spite of the weekly persecutions and death, as one of the directors for Gospel for Asia said, they find it such a wonderful-privilege to guard the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only in that can we find strength and hope. Here are these people- their lives are at stake for defending Christianity. And if we are going to be a church on a mission – the real questions becomes – how much do we really value the gospel. Is the gospel worth it? Not just when persecutions comes but in the everyday, in the granular details of our lives. And the passage before us, today, shows us of what does it mean to guard the gospel, to protect it, to defend it. Three things:
First, Guard the gospel by,
I. Considering Joy in the Midst of Opposition v. 1-10
Notice the high priest Ananias, and an outspoken, professional lawyer named Tertullus- that the Jews hired, all of them were gathering together, accusing, speaking against Paul. And Paul was brought before the governor Felix and then Tertullus began to accuse him. The way they presented their case against Paul, was very intentional, planned and very strategic. A good and experienced lawyer or an able lawyer knows how to win over the judge – and in this case, Tertullus sweet-talked, he basically flattered Felix as a method to get him to pay attention to the facts. One commentator puts his method as “almost nauseating flattery”, look in v.2-3 – “we really have enjoyed a long time of peace under you and your foresight has brought reforms in this nation. Everywhere and in every way, we are very, very thankful” but Felix (we will come back to him) was corrupt and the Jews hated this guy. So, all of this buttering up was so nauseating because they were willing to do anything to have Paul killed. They brought three charges: 1) v. 5 – he was a troublemaker, a plague, a man who is very dangerous, a pest, not some annoying fly but a person who is disturbing and threatening our peace. He has a history of stirring up riots among the Jews wherever he went. Tertullus is saying that if Paul is set free, you know what will happen to this perfect, peaceful nation that Felix apparently did, then, it would be complete disaster, turmoil, there would be disorder and even have people rebelling against Rome. He is a pest that can bring enormous disturbance. The 2nd charge that was brought up was: – he is the ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. They couldn’t even mention the name Jesus but he was just “the Nazarene” and Paul was the ringleader – a leader to this religion called Christianity, which is so against Judaism and it’s law. That’s a big problem. And 3rd charge was: – Paul tired to profane the temple. They had to say this because Christianity was supposed to be a subset of Judaism and Paul, who should of known better because He was a Pharisee, and to go against the law, he deserved to die and they made up this false argument to convince the governor – that hey, if you don’t want to find the charges of those other two charges, get him on this one and if we get him on this one, then we could PUNISH him. It was punishable by Jewish law to profane the temple. They charged Paul with two crimes against Rome. If that didn’t work…hey, agree on this one, then we can take him under the Jewish courts and punish him there. It was a smart move yet a very cunning move on the able lawyer named Tertullus. That’s why you notice that all the JEWS began to join in the charge- yea…he did profane the temple…we want him DEAD. But Paul, even when he was in the midst of such great opposition, having others accuse him, saying all kinds of false things, v. 10- Paul “cheerfully makes his defense”. See, for Paul’s – he’s on trial – its not just him – it’s the gospel on trial, it’s the entire church on trial.
Yet that little small word – an adverb- “cheerfully” makes all the difference. It comes from the root word “JOY” – So for Paul, in the midst of facing opposition, saying all kinds of evil against him because of Jesus – he’s cheerfully making his defense. Maybe he is reminded of what Jesus said (Matt 5:11) – “Blessed are the ones when others persecute you, say all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account…therefore rejoice and be glad.” That is true now more than ever- we live in an age where opposition for Christ does exist – I mean; not all of us will be taken to the courtroom and have a case filed against us for us to be dead.
But think about it: If you are a Christian fast food CEO or a Christian store-owner, who refuse to align with the same-sex marriage, you can be sued. If you are a Christian business owner, who does not offer health care plan for birth control – you might end up in court. Or if your family who might not be a Christian and you are, then there can be family breakdown and betrayal because of your relationship with Jesus – a brother or a sister who will not talk to you because of your faith. Children who have walked away from believing, no longer wants talk to you or don’t want to hear what you have to say anymore. Being a Christian may cost you family relationships. There might be people who will just flat out hate you because of your devotion to Christ – they will put blame on you, for dividing people and family, causing conflicts, society fragmenting- or from a global perspective – places like North Korea, there is mass executions, a handful of theirs country’s Christians were put to death for owning a bible…all because of their faith in Christ, yet the Bible says – consider it a pure joy when you face trials of many kinds (James 1:2). Even Paul who will say to a young (2nd ) Timothy 3:12- that if you desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, you will be persecuted. You will be opposed. How in the world can we be “cheerful” when we are hated, when they say false things against us, when our family is breaking down and dividing in front of our lives, where we can be mocked, or even killed? BUT Jesus says – to rejoice and be glad- what in the world can justify such counsel to people who are experiencing such deep pain/ or great opposition?
But if you notice Paul, he never went about saying, “oh, you know what, I really enjoy these struggles, I’m cheerfully enjoying my suffering, I’m having such a great time”- he never said – “yayyyy, I get more persecution.” That’s not being “cheerful”. That’s not joyfulness. No. If you look at Paul’s life – all of his suffering, persecution that he experienced in many places throughout the Book of Acts – there was this deep-seated joy that he considered. How did that happen? If you think about it– why was Paul on trial in the first place – with all of his experiences that he had over several chapters before chapter 24 was, “every hour he faced danger, every day he faced death” and in the midst of this, added along with the false charges against him in the Romans court- to have executed–he is defending the gospel cheerfully? And the answer has to do with this whole idea called the resurrection v.21; 23:6. Not some general physical resurrection as some Jewish Pharisees believed (23:6) but the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection is not just something to believed- it’s power-it is a completely new reality, a new life. And because Christ was raised- he was ready to go through the walls for the gospel. Let me give you an example that might help but it’s not the perfect illustration but recently, Kobe Bryant got a $48 million contract extension from the Lakers. And one of the thing that he said was – after signing that contract- “it makes me want to run through the walls for the Lakers”- I thought- wow, here is the Lakers giving him a contract, some sort of document that they will pay Kobe, some sort of proof that the payment or his income will be made, and all he did was sign those papers as proof, and now he’s ready to run through the wall for his team – and that is what the resurrection is like – it’s like a proof of purchase that Christ paid for, He paid for the highest and the utmost opposition, the ultimate pain – DEATH – and death has no sting anymore. The poison is gone. The sting is gone. And because that sting is gone – he is able to go through the walls of persecution, sufferings, 5 times getting 39 lashes, 3 times beaten with rods, being stoned, shipwrecked, danger around every corner, city, people, thrown into jail and nothing stops him, he runs through walls to advance the gospel- the way he looks at it, for him – if he dies, it’s a plus – it’s a gain and if he lives this life is –that’s also a plus because he has Christ, the risen One. Whether in this life or eternity – the resurrection of Christ is our proof that joy is possible.
To live in light of HIS resurrection –then – it’s to believe in what is yet to come. Why? Because it changes how we live and what we face. The resurrection of Christ points to something greater – that there will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, no more disease, no more ageing, no more cancer, no more birth pains, no poverty, no oppression, no more opposition, no more earthquakes, no more hurricanes, our bodies and all of creation will be whole again, no more brokenness, only wholeness, for the old order of things has passed away (Rev 21:4). And believing in that – gives us a deep-seated JOY. Why? Because it promises us something that we long for- RESTORATION. TK puts it this way-“The resurrection promises more than consolation for the suffering and death we experience in this world; it promises us restoration. It means nothing is truly lost”
Think about these people: Obadiah Holmes, born in England, became a pastor in Newport, Rhode Island in the 1600s, after 90 lashes that turned his back into jelly for Jesus, says to the authorities “you have struck me with roses”. Or a pastor in the late 1500s, John Rodgers burned to death in England and having his own children seeing their father’s execution, with tears and pain in their hearts, they encouraged him to consider it a pure joy to see Jesus. Or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in 1945, as he left his prison room and went to the gallows and said, “this is the end- but for me the beginning of life.” What made these people say, “you have struck me with roses” or having the children of John Rodgers encouraging him to die cheerfully and see Jesus? See- they all believed in the joy of resurrection – that God will restore everything that was broken and lost. That’s why you can face opposition with JOY. It is to believe of what is yet to come. Tim Keller says: “the resurrection is the key reality and the hope for the future where God makes everything right, the day that everything sad comes untrue—on that day the same thing will happen to your own hurts and sadness. You will find that the worst things that have ever happened to you will in the end only enhance your eternal delight. On that day, all of it will be turned inside out and you will know joy beyond the walls of the world. The joy of your glory will be that much greater for every scar you bear. That means even the worst things you’ve experienced in the end will make your joy greater. So live in the light of the resurrection and renewal of this world, and of yourself, in a glorious, never-ending, joyful dance of grace.” Considering Joy in the Midst of Opposition;
Secondly, Guard the gospel by,
II. Standing Firm in the Truth of the Gospel of Grace v. 11-22
Now, what we see is that Paul is giving his defense, answering to all of the charges that Tertullus presented to the governor in v. 11-12 – that he’s not a troublemaker, he has never started riots, he wasn’t some cult leader of some sect but in v. 14, it reads, “But this I confess…” what is he confessing? The word “confess” actually means to concede or to admit that something is factual or true. In other words – he is admitting to what is actually true contrasting everything to what Tertullus and the high priest have been saying all along; he is boldly admitting to what is true. It is amazing to see that Paul-who was put on trial, was defending not only himself but the gospel he believes, the gospel that he is willing to put his neck on the line, the gospel that he is willing to take the risk, he is admitting to the truth of the gospel by standing firm by it. For a guy who has been defending Christianity throughout this whole book of Acts – he used many, many methods or approaches to defend his faith but the way that he’s talking about the gospel in this chapter is remarkable. He didn’t present them a “case for the resurrection of Jesus” – by looking at the proof of resurrection evidence or giving investigational proofs…NO, he didn’t present it that way.
Look at v. 14- I confess, I admit to what is true here, that I (1st person singular-personal pronoun) worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the prophets, having a hope in God, which they accept, that there will be a resurrection… You see what he’s doing. He is standing firm in the truth of the gospel by allowing others to see the proof of how much the gospel has been personally influencing, impacting and changing him as a person. The degree of your firmness to the gospel is dependent upon to the degree of which the gospel has changed you. In other words, it was his testimony of the gospel that allowed him to stand firm to the truth. He wasn’t defending himself. He had no agenda. He was defending just how certain the gospel really is, not his credibility, not his achievements, not his pedigree, not his practices, not his very own life, his life has no value to him, that’s what he said in Acts 20:24- but what is his AIM: to TESTIFY to the gospel of grace of GOD (to bear witness). In other words, – it’s your own story of the gospel– the story of how God miraculously saves you again and again from darkness and sin that helps you to stand firm in the truth of the gospel. You might ask – how in the world can our testimony of gospel truth enable us to stand firm? Paul gives us two ways that it reinforces or supports or bolster up our firmness to the gospel: In v. 14-15, you will see that clearly; one is by worshipping and the other is by having hope. 1) Worship is the goal of the whole Christian story. It is not just some segment or event that we do on a Sunday and call it a worship – it’s part of it but- rather it deals with our entire life, it’s really our response to God for who He is and what He has done for us; expressed by what we say and the way we live. That gives enormous weight to what we stand for.
Let me share a story of a pastor whom God miraculously saved from darkness and sin to a person now standing firm in the truth of the gospel: At 16, he dropped out of high school; his lifestyle was so disruptive to his parents, they had no choice but to kick him out of the house. He now can do whatever he wants, be freed from parental and teacher commands, nobody to look over his shoulder, no one can tell him what he can do and couldn’t do. And so he chased after things like acceptance, affection, meaning and respect in all the wrong places. The more he pursued them, the more lost he felt. The faster he ran towards sexual pleasure, the further he felt from fulfillment. The more he pursued freedom, the more enslaved he became. The world had not satisfied him the way it promised. He felt betrayed. Lied to. He longed for something. One day he came back to his apt after another night of hard partying- came home, passed out, woke up with a headache and suddenly realized deep in his heart that he was empty and realized it was a Sunday morning. He was broken and longing for something more than anything this world has to offer. He went to church. He didn’t even change his clothes but as soon as he stepped in, he just couldn’t escape God’s love for him through the other people’s worship of God, he saw and noticed how people were shipwrecked afresh by the good news of the gospel in through the praising, praying, preaching, the mighty acts of God in bringing salvation to our broken world- God used the worship service that day to save his life, he believed. He trusted the Lord. And that pastor’s name is Tullian Cha–vi-jin, the grandson of Billy Graham. What he realized was that the worshippers all around him are finding in God what he has been searching for all his life. Worship showed him how his heart really works, he found the truth about himself and the truth about God, that he became convinced that’s he’s a sinner; the secrets of his heart was laid bare and he needed a Rescue, (1 Cor 14:24-15)- he worshipped and he believed. Worship produces trust. Worship begets belief. “We worship our way into sin, and we can only worship our way out of it.” That’s our story of grace. “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, O what a foretaste of glory divine. Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of His spirit, washed in His blood. This is my story, this is my Song, Praising my Savior all the day long.” Our changed lives are our testimony to the world that there is hope. And that leads to the 2nd thing that Paul mentioned in v. 15- hope– not just hope by in of itself – but for Paul, is “having hope in God of the resurrection”- in other words, our degree of firmness is dependent upon by what we believe our ultimate future to be. That there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust – the godly and the ungodly but for the Christian, the one who declares us to be just, namely, Christ, He also was raised- therefore, the result is that– we are also raised in Him.
One author named Rodney Stark, wrote a book called “The Rise of Christianity”, I haven’t read it yet but was reading bits and pieces of it and in that book- he gave some reasons to why Christianity exploded in the Roman empire. One of the reasons why Christianity grew was that when the Christians were persecuted, when they were put to death unjustly, they didn’t respond against the gov’t with terrorism or violence or any sort of pay-back but they died praying for their enemies’ forgiveness. They put their ultimate hope in God. What was so vital was that these pagans had no clue of what their ultimate future was going to be, what happens with life after death. But Christians had hope. They were shaped by the certainty of God’s future. That there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust; they believed at the end of time God will JUDGE everything and put everything right.
Just look at what Paul is doing in v. 10-22- all he did was, he simply told the truth, he was able to bring the truth to the agenda of the gospel rather than to the agenda of Tertullus and the high priest or the Jews. If you are a Christian facing hostility, all you need to do is to simply tell the truth. It is as simple as that. Know the truth and tell the truth. You have nothing to hide. With respect to all of the things that he was accused of- Paul is standing before Felix as a Jew of Jews, the Hebrew of Hebrews, and telling them in v. 18 – that he could not have profaned the temple when he came to Jerusalem, no, he was clean when he went into the temple and he simply told Felix, v.17-20, that, “I am here in the temple, to bring alms and present offerings, completely clean, because I actually believe what these men merely profess to believe. They have the law, they have the promises, they have the hope of the Messiah, they have the promise of the resurrection- but, that is what I believe, I believe the Scriptures and the promise of the resurrection have already been fulfilled in the person of my Lord Jesus Christ, the Nazerne- and now, through Him – all of the promises, all of the law, all of the prophets – I can now respond in true worship, true faith, true knowledge of God, true hope, and true resurrected life, it is only in Christ…And as a matter of fact- , my conscience is clear towards God and now man v. 16, I’m not a pest, a trouble maker as they say…and that you see his integrity to the gospel in v. 18-19ff; what about these Jews from Asia, they are the cause for all this trial – where are they? They should have been here! What about the Roman officer who rescued me – he should have been here testifying. What about the trial that I had with Sanhedrin- they couldn’t prove any of the charges guilty.” But all he needed to know was to tell the truth and the truth itself will be his defense.
Finally, Guard the gospel by,
III. Confidently Focusing on Things that Matter Eternally v. 22-27
It is very interesting to note that Paul was on trial waiting for a verdict. He had the accusers, cleverly presenting their case against him to a governor named Felix but Felix decided to post-pone his judgment. But what is so spectacular is the way that Luke is narrating this story of Paul – just trace back to when he was arrested in the temple in chapter 21, then brought him before the Roman tribune, whipped him with flogging, and then we find that the Jews were plotting to kill this man. And then we find out that he was rescued by a Roman officer- all to have Paul sent to a governor to judge his case. It’s like this big drama that is unfolding, it’s heightening, then there is conflict, then this process of the court-room proceedings and false accusations…just to have the governor judge a sentence on Paul’s life. But like a good movie or a good book- the show continues – and plot thickens, the scene changes from the accusers filing a case against Paul to now having Felix being confronted and challenged by Paul, who is acting on behalf of the Judge of the whole world. Luke narrows the dramatic story focusing on Felix, his wife and Paul.
Felix- was a person who had many, many issues –he lives for pleasure, very licentious, his passions are so unrestrained. He lived his life with an attitude – get all you can while you can. His unrestrained pleasure seeking heart went on to steal his wife, Drusilla, from another man through bribery- it was said that she’s very beautiful and so she was the object of Felix’s affection. So he’s an adulterer. He was a greedy man, motivated by his desires, and on top of that Drusilla is a Jewish woman, she was the daughter of Herod Agrippa in Acts 12, who killed the apostle James, her great-uncle, Herod Anitpas, had killed John the Baptist and- she was the great grand-daughter of Herod the Great, who wanted to destroy the baby Jesus by killing many, many innocent children at Bethlehem. – So her lineage, her family line all stood OPPOSED to the Christian GOSPEL. They were unjust, irreligious and immoral yet in spite of all that- there is something about God’s pursuit, His providence, His purpose that God uses to have Felix and his wife hear the gospel that could radically change their lives. Felix might have an accurate knowledge of Christianity-but it wasn’t a reality in his life. It was filled with information but no faith. He had learned something about Christianity but no faith.
The common view today is to think that faith goes against of what we know. BUT it does take tremendous faith to act in line with what we know yet at the same time, it goes beyond what we know. Look at v. 24-25ff – what did Felix hear – he heard Paul speaking about having faith in Christ Jesus- and what did Paul talk about? What did he reason? What did he dialogue (that’s what the word “reason” means- to dialogue, to discuss)? Paul never spoke about the gospel in a vacuum but always in a personal context, specifically to his hearers- and – He specifically and lovingly spoke about their temporary and sinful lives into matters that deals with eternity- see, the gospel is not some abstract principles to live by, no, but it is the power to live in a radically, new-way; -it’s the power to truly live. It’s that “Braveheart’s” mantra – “every man dies but not every man really lives” – every man does die- sin brings death but in Christ – there is hope of eternal glory- that’s when you can really live.
And Paul talk to them about what does it mean to be right with God, there is no man, not Felix nor us, who has the righteousness needed to stand before the presence of a holy God – to go before God we need someone else’s righteousness. Someone who lived 33 years perfectly, always loving his neighbor, not taking bribes, always doing things that are pleasing to His Father, always speaking truth, never lusting, never being greedy, laying his life for our sins so that our sins can no longer condemn us, no longer accuse us. He did that for you. When God declares you right, He is declaring the ungodly-godly. Before THE ETERNAL, EVERLASTING GOD- we can stand before Him as if we had never, ever sinned (AMAZING RIGHT!!) YET at the same time, we can also stand before Him as if we had always obeyed, did what was right, because of Christ. That’s the gospel. That’s our motivation. The gospel says, “I have seen your worst and I still love you. I give all that I am to you, I’m with you and I forgive you” And all that we do, our response is simply to receive it, to simply believe it, to simply put our faith in Christ. When I believe THAT — his “righteous” record is transferred to an ungodly person like me, it means that I am now accepted before God, no matter how dysfunction my family really is, no matter what my historical track record really is, no matter how grave things really are, no matter how ungodly our lives have been; that faith is able to produce in us – repentance. It can only be that kind of “kindness” that lead us to GOD. Paul goes on, v. 25- righteousness, self-control –see what it should produce in Felix- ‘self-control’ over his un-restrained, uncontrollable quest for pleasure and bribery- and most importantly, what will happen to him if he stands before a HOLY God in the coming, ultimate judgment – who will defend him? SEE apart from Christ – who can actually stand up to the judgment of God; And God is perfectly just (his judgment would be absolutely true) to wipe the guilty out from the face of the earth but it can only be because of Jesus, who comes to our defense and say to His Father – “O Father, please don’t wipe him out; For my sake, please don’t wipe him out.”
And when Felix heard all of this – the tragedy of this story- v. 25- Felix was alarmed- he was afraid and said, “that’s enough for now, Paul, you may leave. When I find it convenient, I’ll call you.” But you know what opposes faith, my dear friends, – it’s fear – What was Felix afraid of? HE was afraid of something. Is it PAUL??? No, the aweful thing about it was that he was afraid of the gospel. He was afraid, terrified of faith in Christ and the beginnings of new life would mean to him. He was terrified of the implications of God’s grace invading his life. So he put it off, he post-poned ETERNITY off to the side and said, “I will come back when it’s convenient for me” and the result is that he turns his back towards Jesus Christ – drifts away out of the Bible story and we never hear from him. It is tragic to know that as the Judge who was on trial, who refused the grace of Christ and repentance towards God and trust in a Savior- condemned Himself OUT with his own actions. What are you so afraid of? Is it the gospel?
But see the beauty of the story here in Acts 24 – it’s an amazing story to see that it was never really about Paul guarding or defending the gospel but it is a story of how GOD, in the person and work of Jesus, eagerly desires to come to our defense. See, if we don’t see how sinful we really are, then we make God into a liar. We can put it off – and find a “convenient” time to start thinking about eternity. But if we do see ourselves as sinners – then we are desperate, now and always, in need of a Savior, that our eternity is at stake, and if Jesus is our Savior then we have HIM who will speak to the Father in our defense, Jesus Christ, the righteous (1 John 1:2). That means, He is like your defense attorney in the courtroom where the Father is the Judge. The law says that if you are in sin, one sin, rejecting Christ- the judgment is eternal banishment from the Father. And if the prosecutor accuses you of your sin apart from having faith in Christ – you are condemned; BUT if you are holding to Jesus as your Savior and Lord, He stands before the Father-, representing you, saying to the Father, “Father, I held my client before he knew how to hold me, your law does demand death as the payment for the sins of my client. But I died for him. The punishment that was for him, I bore it, I took it. I was forsaken, not my client. I was condemned, not my client. And since, I already paid for his sins by my life, death and resurrection, it would be unjust for you to not forgive my sister or brother. Give me justice, Father” SEE, He would do anything to defend His people for the gospel, to protect it, to guard it. He guarded it by showing us of what it means to be accused wrongly, suffered in the hands of lawless men, he died a cruel death and he rose again so that we could never, ever be separated from His love and mercy for us, not in this time nor eternity. It can only be Jesus, who comes to our defense, even when He knows the absolute worst things about us. He comes to us. And when God see those things, He sees not one accusation on us; all He sees my perfect, clean, track record of which I will never, ever be condemned. As the hymn writers says, “It’s Heaven’s peace and perfect justice – HE kissed a guilty world in love.” Let’s pray.
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