Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Acts 24 – Felix the Judge


In a recent debate in Mexico, atheist Richard Dawkins said "why, was a silly question". In his usual dismissive style he further postulated that children usually see purpose in everything until about age 6, then they stop, but not all (looking down his nose at his theistic debate opponents).

I have already noted that atheist try to avoid any discussion of origins, clearly dissatisfied with their own answers, and the theistic implications. So is this the synthesis of the "God" debate? Just avoid origins and purpose, and atheism will somehow work? If all moral judgments are just brain chemicals, then how are anyone's moral judgments superior to another's?

The idea of values is central to our decision making as people, but without a robust philosophical basis for purpose, then any value system would be built on a foundation of sand. So the atheistic argument that "life will not stop, just because you don't believe in God", runs into the brick wall of purpose. In other words, "if life did stop, as a result of my unbelief, why would it matter?" And we also must ask the antithesis "Why would life without God matter at all?"

If we really are just stardust, a cosmological accident, if all our feelings and perceptions are just temporal chemical reactions, if the only destiny is the heat death of the universe, then how could any of it ever matter? The end result of the atheistic argument is that any satisfaction gained in life was just a delusion, a trick of nature played on our minds to get us to survive long enough to perpetuate the next generation; life can be fun while it lasts, but it really doesn't matter.

The theistic view is of course very different. That everything has the appearance of design because it was designed and created by a God with a purpose. But whether or not you believe in God, you can enjoy his stuff, and appropriate it for your purpose as you will. The only real disagreement is whether or not there will be an accounting for converting God's stuff to our purpose. The Bible answers this question in The Gospel of Mark chapter 12, where Mark recounts a story Jesus told about a man who built a vineyard. In this story we learn that the man who made vineyard is the ultimate judge of how it should be used; that His intent and His purpose is what matters. The maker is also the judge.

[This week we continue our study in Acts, focusing on Paul a man with a distinctive purpose as a witness to Jews and Gentiles. Called of God, empowered by the spirit, and tested in extraordinary ways. Some tried to worship Paul, others tried to kill him, most just wanted to hear him speak, but the unbelieving Jews wanted to shut him up.]

Acts 24

Accused of Sedition

Now after five days Ananias the high priest came down with the elders and a certain orator
Tertullus. These gave evidence to the governor against Paul.

[Some think Tertullus was a Greek, other call him a Hellenist Jew, either way he is a professional lawyer. His job is to make rumor into reality, to cause Felix to punish Paul because the Sanhedrin wants him silenced.]

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
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.

[Tertullus is laying it on thick. The governing skills of Felix are questionable. He has the position because his brother was a friend of Claudius Caesar. The Jews did not like Felix, so this flattery is just a device to get what they want. As you will see later, Felix is a corrupt judge, hearing false charges.]


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, and wanted to judge him according to our law. 7 But the commander Lysias came by and with great violence took

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.

[Paul, is accused of: dissention, when it was the unbelieving Jews from Asia Minor who spread the rumors and stirred up the crowd; leading the Nazarenes (a slang name the Jews had given to Christians), though the church in Jerusalem was clearly lead by James; profaning the temple, yet is was just a rumor that Paul had brought a gentile into the inner court. If those charges were not enough they accuse Lysias of "great violence" for stopping them from first beating Paul in the streets, then trying to tear him in half when he stood before the council.]

The Defense Before Felix

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. 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. 15 I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of
dead, both of
just and
unjust. 16 This
so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.
"Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation, 18 in the midst of which some Jews from Asia 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

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.'"

[Paul's defense is this: he had no dispute in the temple not did he incite anyone; he confesses to worshiping God according to the Way of Jesus; he came to Jerusalem to bring an offering not trouble; he was purified in the temple, far from profaning it; the Asian Jews who started the riot were not even there so anything charged by them is just hearsay with no evidence.]

Felix Procrastinates

But when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of
, 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
have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him.
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. 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." 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.
But after two years Porcius Festus succeeded Felix; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul bound.

[Felix was avoiding making a judgment and used the need to hear Lysias as an excuse. He already had the letter from Lysias saying none of the charges were worthy of punishment. Felix had knowledge of The Way of Jesus, probably from his Jewish wife, he became afraid when Paul spoke of "judgment to come", and he kept hoping that Paul would pay a bribe to be released. The secular histories tell us Felix was replaced by Festus, because of a civil insurrection between Jews and Gentiles where Felix was charged with using brutality to put down the insurrection. Here Felix possibly fearing the charges the Jews might press against at Rome, does them a favor, by leaving Paul in custody. Yet through Paul's writings and through his testimony he continued true to his purpose to be a witness, even while bound in Roman guardhouse. Paul was not overly concerned with the conclusions of the Roman judge; he was more interested in the final judgment of the Righteous Judge, Jesus Christ.]

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