I'll get back to you - 8th May 2005PM
I’ll get back to you…
24 Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” 26 At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.
Luke is the master of narrative in the New Testament. Here in chapter 24 he captures the courtroom scene, and the characters of those involved with a remarkable clarity. As I read his words I wonder whether – as seems likely – he was present – and I wonder what he made of Felix the governor.
History is not kind to Felix – and he is written off by Josephus and dismissed in a memorable quote by the Roman historian Tacitus:
“The kings were either dead, or reduced to insignificance, when Claudius entrusted the province of Judaea to the Roman Knights or to his own freedmen, one of whom, Antonius Felix, indulging in every kind of barbarity and lust, exercised the power of a king in the spirit of a slave. He had married Drusilla, the granddaughter of Anthony and Cleopatra, and so was the grandson-in-law, as Claudius was the grandson, of Anthony”
By all accounts he was a remarkably cruel man – very full of himself and aware of his power as someone who had risen to authority from slavery.
But what strikes me in this narrative is:
¨ The amazing power of the gospel as declared by Paul
¨ The awful timing of Felix’ response
¨ This will lead us on to consider the significance of the well know words in v 24 “when I find it convenient” as we try to apply it to ourselves.
It is all told with an astonishing economy of wording – yet makes us feel we were there.
An awesome Gospel
As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid
We need to ask:
How do we know the Gospel is powerful?
What were the hallmarks of Gospel preaching?
We know that the Gospel that Paul shared with Felix was powerful because of the HOLD that it had on him – and because of the EFFECT it had on him.
Felix took advantage of the adjournment – and the house arrest of Paul for two years to listen to him often.
Felix did not hear the word on one occasion only – if he had we might almost have forgiven him his insolent, superstitious dismissal of Paul’s words. He was familiar with the Christian Way. V22
We’ll return to that in a moment – for know we note that Felix was privileged to be familiar with Christian teaching. There was something in his nature which brought him back time and again to listen.
In this respect he is like is wife’s forebear Herod who had a similar relationship with the word of the kingdom in John the Baptist.
He also has something in common with Agrippa.
He has listened to such key teachings as the RESURRECTION during the trial
This teaching of Paul is not just about the resurrection of Jesus (15 and 21) it is about resurrection FOR ALL PEOPLE – and the effect that that has upon the moral life.
This is an aspect of Gospel preaching that – like that of the Second Coming – is less heard these days.
Felix heard that – and he recognised it’s force.
The witness in a faithful servant of God like Paul – in both public and private utterances – and in the quality of his life – reinforced that POWER.
The Holy Spirit is at work.
So what are the hallmarks of that preaching?
Luke summarises :
righteousness, self-control and the judgment
which – given what we have heard from Paul about RESURRECTION presents us with a model for preaching and personal evangelism that is worthy of note.
The Gospel is all about Jesus
The Gospel is all about a resurrection and a reckoning
Paul deals with Felix by emphasising the sinner’s position before a holy God:
This – in a Jewish setting – is Job’s question
4 How then can a man be righteous before God?
We need someone to stand between us and God
We need someone to put things right between us and God
We need the imputed righteousness of Christ
But the focal point is about GOODNESS
It is not impossible – well, apart from Christ it is not impossible.
It raises questions in the heart
It provokes the conscience
Certainly it was that which caused Felix to be terrified.
You and I need to measure the righteousness of our lives.
We often do – but we use the wrong standard.
In one sense Felix was proud of his self-control. As a Roman leader he knew the importance of not being emotional in public.
In another sense – if not in every other sense – Felix’ life lacked that quality entirely.
What he wanted he got.
This included his “wife” Drusilla whom he had acquired by devious and heinous means.
This is a negative aspect of Paul’s ministry.
It highlights for Felix – who, we conclude, influenced by the Holy Spirit, was for once honest with himself and recognised that he lacked that control.
Like all others (as James reminds us) he was the SLAVE OF SIN (James 1:15)
His life was in danger of spiralling out of control – he was the victim of his own desires. They ruled not Felix.
Not all have the quality of an evil life that Felix had. Many are entirely respectable. Their lives are not littered with the evidences of lust or depravity or cruelty.
They point in defence to their own lives and say “I am in control”
It is a myth!
Our sinful nature condemns us.
All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
And finally, Paul spoke of
THE JUDGEMENT TO COME
Felix would indeed be called to account. He would be summoned back to Rome at the end of two years to explain his handling of a revolt in Judea. He will be brought to book …
But that was not what worried him.
He realised that there is a more significant reckoning – a JUDGEMENT TO COME
I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15 and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16 So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.
Paul had said this in his own courtroom
This is the unfashionable view of the Word of God that caused Felix to tremble.
And it is something we dare not ignore. All will one day stand before a Judgement Seat – the Bema of Christ!
So, against the background of all that Paul had spoken concerning the Way and particularly the resurrection and the threefold message of righteousness, self control, and a judgement – these are the hallmarks of that witness which, together with the Holy Spirit’s power to convict wrought TERROR in Felix.
The awful timing of Felix’ response
25 As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” 26 At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.
The word afraid is rather weak for what is indicated here – TERROR
Of course Felix was a superstitious man – but something deeper was at work. This kept him coming back – but without any hope of salvation BECAUSE OF HIS TIMING!
When I find it convenient, I will send for you…
Felix re-asserts his Roman self-control.
Once again he is in charge. His dismissal of Paul is not a courtesy but a statement of independence.
As far as we know there never was such a convenient time.
As the reading in Hebrews warns us there is only ONE ACCEPTIBLE TIME – NOW.
7 So, as the Holy Spirit says:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the desert,
9 where your fathers tested and tried me
and for forty years saw what I did.
10 That is why I was angry with that generation,
and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.’ “
12 See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.
How often has God reached into our hearts as He reached into the heart of Felix?
And how often have we responded: “NOT NOW” “LATER”
It used to be more fashionable than it is to remind folk of the relevance of this teaching.
Now we do not want to be seen to “frighten” people into a response!
IN MATTERS SPIRITUAL TIMING IS OF THE ESSENCE
DEFER – PROCRASTINATE – PUT OFF - AND JUDGEMENT AWAITS.
Again from Hebrews 4:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts,”
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no-one will fall by following their example of disobedience.
Felix continued to visit Paul – but Luke tells us wisely that it was for another purpose. The moment of opportunity had passed.
There is no sin more terrifying in its prospect than that which makes us set aside the opportunity for God’s grace to work.
Fraud (as in the case of Felix) is as nothing compared with that!
So, finally let us consider the application of the text
When I find it convenient, I will send for you…
Yes, I know we are dealing here with Felix’ treatment of the Gospel witness.
It is possible – even on a Sunday evening at Bristol Road, when we expect most of our uncommitted folk to be elsewhere – it is possible that someone is even now considering the possibility of PROCRASTINATION – of PUTTING IT OFF
I’ll get back to you – says the customer – and the salesman knows the sale is lost.
Why do we so easily trivialise our treatment of God’s word?
There is an awesome significance in Felix words “When I find it convenient”
How quickly we assert our human dignity! And at what a cost!
But it is possible too that we need to see this matter of timing and our response to the Lord’s word in a wider spiritual sense.
How many opportunities for service have I missed because I thought my timing better than His?
Remember the ones who came to Jesus and wanted to follow – but later?
If God has placed on your heart a WORK or a WAY or a WITNESS for Him do not delay its carrying out.
Remember – we all have to account before God for the way in which we have behaved.
The story of the Talents….
The parable of the prosperous farmer…
The bell does toll – it tolls for me – and you.