Our world is real “judgy” right now.
Of course, I recognize that calling our world “judgy” is in and of itself a “judgy” thing to say, but…
The other day I stepped outside of my car at Harris Teeter. I forgot to put on my mask. Of course, there was a woman who politely reminding me by very gruffly telling me, “you need a mask.”
I thanked her.
Went back into the car.
Put on my mask.
And walked out just in time to see a man walk by my car without a mask giving me a look of complete disdain.
As if to say, “You shouldn’t have listened, fool.”
I settled on wearing my shirt over my face.
That way people don’t judge me for not wearing one.
And others don’t judge me for wearing one.
Everybody just judges me as “weird.”
Our world is real “judgy” right now.
And it can cause it to alter our actions.
Whose judgment really matter?
We are continuing our study of the book of Acts. Our goal is to identify the only judgment that really matters. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Trial before Felix
Last week, we learned about how Paul’s nephew discovered a plot against his Uncle Paul. God worked through him to expose that plot to the Roman commander and as a result, God saves Paul’s life. Because in response to the conspiracy plot, the Roman Centurion, whose name we now know as Lysias, developed a plan to keep Paul safe:
Lysias called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.”. (Acts 23:23-34)
A couple of notes:
Lysias decided to transport Paul to Caesarea. It’s about 70 miles to the northeast of Jerusalem. Caesarea was the administrative headquarters of this particular Roman region. By bringing Paul to Caesarea, Lysias would ensure his safety and that he received a fair trial.
Lysias didn’t take any precautions. He ordered a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to guard Paul as he was transported. That’s 470 people keeping Paul safe! They left under the cover of night to lessen the chances of an attack.
The goal was to get Paul to Governor Felix. Felix held the official position that was held by Pontius Pilate, the governor who had presided over Jesus’ death. Judging how that trial had gone for Jesus, I’d imagine Paul hoped for a different outcome.
The trial begins five days after Paul’s arrival in Caesarea. Acts 24:1 introduces us to the Prosecution:
…the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor. (24:1)
Ananias is the same high priest that presided over Paul’s trial in Jerusalem. If you remember, he didn’t like Paul very much. He had abused his power and demanded that Paul be slapped before he even made began his defense statements.
In Caesarea, Ananias didn’t have the same power.
This was a trial by the Roman government.
Not a trial by Jewish religious leaders.
So, Ananias brough backup, a member of the Sanhedrin named Tertullus who was also a lawyer. Because of all my opinions of lawyers stemming from television, I picture Tertullus…
…in a fancy a 3-piece suit.
…hair slicked to the side.
…drinking his 4th cup of joe…
…and speaking with a fast paced, thick New York accent.
The trial begins with Tertullus’ buttering up of Judge Felix.
“We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.” (v.3-4)
Then, Tertullus presented three specific accusations against Paul.
(1) Paul Stirs up Riots
There had been a riot in Jerusalem. We talked about it a couple of sermons ago. But do you remember why that riot happened? Paul had been in the temple, minding his own business, completing his vow when some of his enemies started screaming for the crowd to kill him.
How dare Paul start a riot by minding his own business!
That’d be like me starting a riot because you came to church this morning.
In fact, the word Tertullus uses to describe Paul, the one translated as “troublemaker” really means “pestilence” or “infectious disease.”
In a COVID-19 world, understand that Tertullus is comparing the Gospel to COVID-19. In his mind, “We need to permanently social distance this Paul guy so others don’t get infected by the diseased news that Jesus is their Savior.
(2) Paul Leads a Sect
The word for sect doesn’t have any positive connotations.
Not in English.
Not in the written Greek.
Nor in the Latin that the Roman spoke.
A “sect” is the kind of inclusive organization that only allows certain people into their secret ranks after they have completed some kind of startling initiation.
Now, remember, Tertullus was a part of the Sanhedrin.
The Sanhedrin was an exclusive organization in Jewish culture which only allows people into its rank after paying their dues and cutting off of a portion of their genitalia.
That group is claiming that…
Christianity, an inclusive non-organization which welcomes people into their ranks for free without any kind of price or mutilation is the sect.
(3) Paul Tried to Desecrate the Temple
Because it was their sect-like opinion, that it was a desecration to allow anyone into the temple who wasn’t Jewish. They claimed that Paul had done that.
But he hadn’t.
He understood their stance on the issue and, while he didn’t agree with it, he was willing to follow that custom just so he could peacefully be in Jerusalem.
That means their final accusation was just like the other three accusations:
A bald-faced lie.
Finally, it was the defense’s turn. Since Paul represented himself, he spoke.
He spoke about how these accusations were lies.
He spoke about how he didn’t start a riot.
He spoke about how he didn’t lead a sect.
He spoke about how he didn’t desecrate the temple.
He admitted to something.
I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors… It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today. (v.14,21)
Which was the ultimate truth.
All the Jewish leaders hated Paul.
Because he convicted them of their sin
And told them they needed a Savior.
Which was not wrong.
Here’s the truth:
If you serve GOD, expect the WORLD to judge you as EVIL.
Because good is against evil.
And evil is against good.
But here’s the thing about evil:
It doesn’t admit that it’s evil.
Evil is the hero of its own story.
Like the devil in the garden of Eden. He convinced Adam and Eve to eat from the fruit that they shouldn’t eat NOT because “It’s evil.” But because “It’ll be good. In fact, it’s evil of God not to let you eat from the tree.”
Evil thinks of itself as the hero of the story.
If you’re doing good.
The world will judge you as evil.
Rather than admitting its own sinfulness is the cause of that trouble...
The sinful world will view YOU as the cause of the trouble.
It’ll put you on trial.
It’ll convict you as wrong.
It’ll judge you as uncool.
It’ll repeatedly prosecute you as long as you keep doing the thing that exposes its own evil.
II. The Only Trial that Matters
Meanwhile, Governor Felix calls for a recess. He needs to know from Lysias’ witness to determine who truly started the riot. So, he’ll send word for Lysias to come to Caesarea and the trial will resume when he arrives.
Even though the trial was suspended.
Felix couldn’t suspend his own thoughts about the trial.
The thoughts weren’t so much about whether Paul’s guilt was real.
But whether this resurrection was real.
Is there more than just this life?
Something inside me tells me that there is.
If so, how do we gain it?
Have I done what’s necessary to live after death?
I mean, probably. I am a Roman governor after all.
Just to be sure.
Paul met with the governor and they began a Bible study. He told the governor all about Jesus and what Jesus taught:
About Righteousness. That God demanded perfection in actions, in words, and deeds in order to enter into the bliss of eternal life.
About Self Control. That therefore we needed to control our actions, our words, and thoughts, not once letting a single sin slip, lest we no longer be judged as righteous.
About Judgment. That one day everyone, including, you, Felix, will stand on trial before God.
A God you can’t lie to.
A God you can’t distract.
A God you can’t butter up.
A God, who, does not accept, “Well, I wasn’t that bad God,” as a defense.
A God, who, if you’re guilty, and we all are, will judge you as sinner.
And that judgment?
It isn’t a week in the slammer.
It isn’t a hefty fine.
It isn’t life in prison.
It’s the eternal fires of hell.
At which point, Felix got real uncomfortable,
“We can be done for today.”
“When it’s convenient, we’ll resume the conversation.”
As far as we know…
It was never “convenient.”
Don’t be like Felix.
Don’t wait to examine your heart “until it’s convenient.”
Your personal judgment day could be any moment.
Here’s the truth:
The only JUDGMENT that really matters is GOD’S.
We said earlier that our world is really judgy.
Maybe you’ve experienced that.
If you wear a mask, people judge you as foolish.
If you don’t wear a mask, others judge you as uncaring.
If you come to worship, people judge you as unsafe.
If you worship from home, people judge you as unchristian.
If you support the black community, people judge you as anti-police.
If you support the police, people judge you as racist.
If you post something from a Democrat, some judge you as anti-American.
If you post something from a Republican, others judge you as anti-American.
If you avoid posting about politics at all, both judge you as anti-American.
With all these judgments, it can become really difficult to get everyone to judge you as approved.
But you don’t need to.
The only judgment that really matters is God’s.
Because at the end of the world, he will be on the judge’s seat.
Not your family member.
Not your friends.
Not some politician.
God sits on the judge’s seat.
Then, the question is:
How will God judge you?
That’s what you need to examine.
Not how the world will judge you.
But how God will judge you.
That’s a difficult question.
In fact, it’s what was upsetting Felix.
Because when he was confronted with a holy God, he realized something.
Since he hadn’t served God, God would have no choice but to judge him as evil.
If you serve the WORLD, expect the GOD to judge you as EVIL.
He isn’t a God you can lie to.
He isn’t distracted by angry tweets about others.
He isn’t buttered up by Instagramming the “godly things” you do and not Instagramming the not-so-godly things.
Saying to God, “Yes, but my uncle is racist.”
Or, “At least, I wear a mask.”
Or even, “I went to in-person church during the pandemic.”
None of that will alter your case.
If you serve the sinful world, it isn’t a matter of IF, but WHEN God will judge you as evil.
III. The Greatest Lawyer of All Time
Have you ever noticed how awful lawyers are at advertising?
I know that’s a stereotype, but with good reason. Check out these real billboard ads:
There’s one for MyBaldLawyer.com that says, “Injured? Don’t pull your hair out.”
Or this one that simply says, “Call me. I’m a lawyer. I’m on a billboard.”
Or this one that involves a lawyer posing with his two hound dogs, “Trust me. My dogs do.”
Or my personal favorite featuring a lawyer in a pirate outfit that says, “ARRRGHrested?”
We need better lawyers.
And we certainly need better lawyers for our trial against God.
A lawyer that understands God’s justice system.
A lawyer that cares deeply for our eternal fate.
A lawyer that works for free.
A lawyer that can truthfully proclaim us as righteous.
We have one:
But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 John 2:1)
Do you know Jesus’ defense?
It goes something like this:
I see there’s a laundry list of sins against my client.
There’s a long list of sins.
Each one of them deserves the punishment of death.
But Judge, they didn’t do those things:
I did and I suffered the punishment of death on the cross.
This one is innocent.
I was punished.
They don’t need to be.
And God slams his gavel.
With JESUS as your lawyer, expect God to judge you as RIGHTEOUS.
Do you get that?
With Jesus as your lawyer, you will be judged RIGHTEOUS.
That means you are forgiven.
It means that God declared you innocent.
It means that you will rise to heaven.
It means you won’t be imprisoned with guilt, but FREE!
This is a strange year to celebrate FREEDOM.
Because of COVID, we haven’t been had the FREEDOM that we’d like to have.
Because of the economy, we haven’t had the FREEDOM to spend money as we’d like.
After George Floyd’s murder and the aftermath, we are more keenly aware of how July 4th, 1776 did not mean FREEDOM for every person in America and we recognize that there are some who don’t feel fully FREE even today.
But in Jesus, there is FREEDOM.
FREEDOM for all.
FREEDOM that can’t be taken away.
FREEDOM that will last.
Thank God for our innocent verdict.
Thank God for freedom.