Last we left the Apostle Paul he was in Caesarea where it was decided he would be sent for trial in the capital city of Rome, Italy. Today we’ll see what happens as he travels. 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 Trip
The action for this week’s sermon is found in Acts 27. It’s a travel log written by Luke who went on the journey with Paul:
When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, of the Imperial Regiment. After boarding a ship…which was going to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, we put out to sea. (27:1-2)
Julius is a new name for your Bible trivia knowledge. He is a Roman centurion in the Imperial Regiment. (Of course, whenever I hear the word “imperial”, I think of Star Wars. And here I begin to imagine Julius dressed in full storm trooper garb.
Unfortunately, this is only a long time ago and not in a galaxy far, far away.
Julius is dressed in full Roman soldier garb because he is put in charge of getting Paul and some other prisoners to Rome.
Next is some mapwork.
They start in Caesarea where Paul was located.
From there, they sail north to Sidon where Paul is visited by some friends.
Next, they head up the eastern side of Cyprus. This is because the wind is coming from the West and preventing them from skating across underneath the island.
They travelled west along the cost and finally landed at Myra.
There, they switched to an Alexandrian ship that was sailing for Italy. Alexandria was a part of Egypt, so this was very likely a trade ship on the midst of its trade route. The Roman centurion paid the traders some money and was able to buy passage on the ship for Paul and all the prisoners.
Then, the wind slowed their trip. It took them several days to travel to a place called Cnidus that was only about 100 miles from Myra.
Since the wind did not permit them to go father, they went south and sailed on the eastern, sheltered side of Crete.
Eventually they came to a place called Fair Havens, which sounds like some kind of Disney resort. (Although I doubt they played “It’s a Small World” as Paul stepped off the boat.)
It was at this point that Paul spoke up to warn the men about going any farther. He said, “It looks to me as if the voyage is going to end with disaster and great loss, not only for the cargo and the ship but also our lives’ (v.10)
Paul had previously been involved in 3 other shipwrecks. This is according to his own words in 2 Corinthians 11:25. Perhaps his past experience led Paul to be conservative here.
But Julius doesn’t listen to Paul, the prisoner.
Instead, he listens to the pilot and the owner of the ship, both who suggested they go on – at least to the next harbor about 50 miles down the coast called Phoenix.
When they received a gentle south wind, they cast off, thinking it would allow them the boost needed to go north around Crete.
They never made it.
Before long, a hurricane-like wind, called the “northeaster,” rushed down from the island. Since the ship was caught in it and could not head into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. (v.14-15)
You know a wind is impressive when it has its own name.
Just like hurricane Irene.
Or hurricane Hazel.
Or hurricane Ione.
The ship was caught in the storm and there’s nothing they could do about it.
They lost control.
Some things in life are beyond your CONTROL but nothing is beyond GOD’S.
Because, did you notice in that travel log how often the wind affected the boat’s travel plans?
In verse 4, they sailed south around Cyprus, because the winds were against us.
In verse 7, they sailed on the sheltered side of Crete since the wind did not permit us to go farther.
In verse 13, they took off from Fair Haven because a gentle wind began to blow.
In verse 14, they lost control because a hurricane-like wind…rushed down from the island.
There were so many things that were out of the sailors’ control.
More specifically, so many things that were out of Paul’s control.
Those same things were not out of God’s control.
Because God controls the winds.
God invented the winds.
If weather itself isn’t beyond God’s control, then nothing is beyond his control.
Just like right now. In 2020, a lot of things might be out of your control.
How much income you receive.
Whether you keep your job.
How schools reopen.
Whether the guy down the street wears a mask or not.
The Coronavirus itself.
Not even the internet speed you’re using to watch this sermon.
Lots of things are out of our control.
Nothing is beyond God’s control.
II. The Panic
But the sailors could do some things. They immediately began doing all the things they learned about back in Sailing School to keep the boat afloat.
First, they secured the skiff, a tiny little lifeboat that was dragged behind their bigger vessel. (v.15)
Next, they ran ropes around the ship to reinforce it. The hope was that the ropes would absorb the blows from the waves and hold the stern together. (v.16)
Then, fearing that they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor. They might be bobbing up and down violently, but at least they wouldn’t be smashing into land. (v.17)
But it didn’t work.
The wind was harsh enough that they still were driven along.
The soldiers began to throw the cargo overboard. (v.18)
Gone are the suitcases.
Gone are the blankets.
Gone are the personal hygiene kits.
Gone is the iPad mini.
Still in trouble.
Next, they threw the ship’s gear overboard. (v.19)
The boom vangs.
All things that I don’t even know what they do.
But they were somewhat important.
But the sailors thought they were worthy tossing overboard in order to slow down the speed of the boat.
It didn’t work.
When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the violent storm kept pressing down on us, finally all hope that we would be saved was disappearing. (v.20)
Because they couldn’t move.
And they couldn’t navigate.
And they couldn’t do anything to save themselves.
They didn’t have any reason for hope.
But Paul did:
“I urge you to keep up your courage, because there will be no loss of life among you. Only the ship will be lost. In fact, last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand before Caesar. And surely God has graciously given you all those who are sailing with you.’.” (v.22-24)
Appears to tell Paul don’t worry.
Don’t you wish you had that kind of promise from God?
Don’t you wish you had that kind of encouragement from God?
Don’t you wish God would speak to you to tell you not to worry?
In the Bible.
When all hope is LOST, there’s hope in God’s PROMISES.
Because God had promised to Paul that he would make it to Rome.
Since he wasn’t in Rome yet, Paul figured he would survive the storm.
God might not have promised Rome to you.
God did make promises to you. He said:
He promised: “Surely I will be with you always to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:21)
He promised: “I will give them eternal life and no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)
He promised: “Whoever believes in me will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
He promised: “I will come back and take you to be with me where I am.” (John 14:3)
He promised: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:15)
If you feel like all hope is LOST, may I remind you…there’s hope in God’s PROMISES.
III. Time to Abandon Ship?
When the fourteenth night came, while we were being driven back and forth in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were approaching some land. They took soundings and found it to be one hundred twenty feet deep. After sailing a little farther, they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. (v.27-28)
Sounding was originally done by hand with a sounding pole or a weighted lead line. The pole or weighted lead line would be dropped into the water and when retrieved you could estimate the depth of the ocean by the length of wetness on your line. Usually the devices would be marked up every couple of meters in order to allow a quick approximation of depth.
The depth for these sailors was shrinking quickly.
Fearing that we would run aground on the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daybreak. The sailors tried to escape from the ship and had let down the skiff into the sea, pretending they were going to put out anchors from the bow. (v.29-30)
Because the lifeboat only had room for so many people.
Since the sailors knew that…
And since they knew that they would crash…
They tried to sneak off when no one was looking:
“Hey look isn’t that the Little Mermaid over there!?!”
Paul knew what they were doing.
And he reminded them what God had told them:
“If these men do not stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” (v.31)
Because God had said that Paul would survive.
And he had said that all who were sailing with Paul would survive. (v.24)
If these men weren’t going to sail with Paul…
They wouldn’t survive.
If you ABANDON God, you will be LOST.
Because you might think now is the time to stop worrying so much about God.
You might think now is the time to stop worrying about your church.
You might think now is the time to stop spending time in the Bible.
You might think now is the time to worry about you and stop worrying about your believing friends.
If you abandon God, you will be lost.
In fact, look at this passage from 1 Timothy. It was written by the Paul in this story to a fellow believer. He wrote:
My son, I am giving you this command… so that…you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. (1 Tim. 1:18-19)
Now is time of job loss.
Of a slumping economy.
Of an unprecedented pandemic.
Of social distancing.
Or blatant racism…
Those things are all rough!
If you think now is the time to abandon God?
If you think now is the time to abandon God,
Then you can add “SHIPWRECKING YOUR FAITH” to the list of the sad things to happen during 2020.
Don’t abandon God.
Don’t abandon God’s Word.
Don’t abandon your church family.
IV. A Strange time to Worship…
Instead of abandoning ship, Paul had a different idea for the crew:
Just before daybreak, Paul urged them all to eat some food. (v.33)
I like that.
In the midst of a storm, just eat some food.
Grab some beef jerky.
Fix up some Spaghetti-Os.
Slam a bag of Doritos.
You’ve gotta keep your strength up.
But seriously, it is important to be physically well during a storm.
It’s important to be physically well…
But also spiritually well.
It’s why Paul continues to feed them.
“This is the fourteenth day you have waited in suspense and have gone without food. You have eaten nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food because this is important for your rescue. In fact, not a hair from any of your heads will be lost.” After he said these things and had taken some bread, he gave thanks to God in front of them all. (v.34-35)
Did you catch it?
All the gear is lost.
Things look bleak.
Paul has them eat food.
Here’s the TRUTH:
In a storm, WORSHIP God.
Understand what I’m saying:
I’m not demanding that you attend in person worship.
You might not feel safe to be at in person worship- and that’s ok.
Maybe you feel safer in outside worship.
Maybe you feel safest at home doing online worship.
It’s OK to worship in a different way.
But…It’s not ok to NOT worship.
Because in worship we connect with God.
In worship, we sing his praises.
In worship, we give him thanks.
In worship, we connect with God.
In worship, we hear his promises.
In worship, God gives us HOPE.
Rather than spend less time with God over these next COVID months.
Spend more time with him.
V. Safe at Last
Suddenly, the sailors noticed there was some land up ahead.
They didn’t know what kind of land it was, but they were thrilled for a chance to get to shore.
It’s kinda like finding a rest stop after hours of driving on a highway without a rest stop.
You don’t recognize it.
But your kid needs the bathroom, so you stop.
Before they can run the boat aground, it hits a hidden sandbar and the boat stars tearing to pieces.
Immediately, people figure they won’t make it.
And the soldiers came up with an idea.
The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners so that no one would swim away and escape. (v.41)
As opposed to today, in the Roman world you are guilty until proven innocent. If word reached Caesar they had let the prisoners escape, the guards themselves would be killed.
But the Centurion remembered Paul’s warning.
They all had to stay together.
He ordered those who could swim to get out and swim.
And he ordered the rest to grab a plank of wood to float to land.
And so they did.
Some began the front crawl.
Some started the butterfly.
Others did the doggie paddle.
And some floated to shore.
In the end. Look at this:
All of them were brought safely onto land. (v.44)
All of them.
All the sailors.
All the soldiers.
All the prisoners.
All made it to shore.
Because God promised they would all make it to shore.
God FULFILLS his promises.
You’ll get through this pandemic.
You’ll get through that job loss.
You’ll get through that loss of money.
You’ll get through that relationship struggle.
You’ll get through whatever 2020 is throwing at you.
God promises to give you strength.
God promises to be with you.
God promises to take you home to heaven.
He will hold you his arms until you safely reach the shore.
That’s God’s promise.
Even when life’s like a shipwreck.
We’re in the middle of our sermon series on the book of ACTS. Last week, a new Roman governor named Festus had come to power. Less than ten days into his reign, he restarted Paul’s trial that had been on hiatus for two years. He listened to Paul’s opponents bring charges against him. Their goal was to get Paul to Jerusalem in order mug him and to kill him.
To which Festus turned to Paul and asked:
“Do you want go? It’s not necessary. It’s illegal. In fact, they might try to kill you. But…it’d sure help me improve my approval rating if you did.”
In turn, Paul very spoke boldly, “I do not refuse to die. But I do want what is right. Since you won’t give it to me, I appeal to Caesar.”
Legally, Festus had no other option but to send Paul to Caesar, but it would look bad to Caesar if he sent Paul to trial without any kind of explanation of what Paul had done wrong.
Since Festus didn’t understand why the Jewish leaders were so upset with Paul, he needed help.
We’re picking up the story there. 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. All About Goads
Acts 25:13 says, “A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus.”
King Agrippa was the King of Judea. He wasn’t over Governor Felix. He oversaw the Jewish temples within his region, advocated for Jewish principles in front of the Roman government and appeased the Jews by giving them a “figurehead” monarch.
Agrippa was a cross between Prince William and a church maintenance chairman.
Felix and Agrippa were friends.
And Felix knew that Agrippa was more aware of Jewish thinking than he was.
So, when he got together with Agrippa to have a drink and talk shop, he told the story about how he didn’t understand Paul’s trial and strongly implied that he could use help.
Another trial was set up for Paul.
This time King Agrippa would hear the case.
That’s what happens.
The next day Agrippa…came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. (Acts 26:23)
Big impressive-looking king.
Long flowing robes.
Probably a teacup he held with his pinky up.
Paul stretched out his hand and began his defense. “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate that I am going to make my defense before you today.” (Acts 26:1-2)
The truth is that…
This isn’t about a riot.
This isn’t about a cult.
This isn’t about desecrating the temple.
They just don’t like me teaching about Jesus.
And I get it. I hated Jesus too.
In fact, I was “convinced that it was necessary to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus the Nazarene.” (v.9)
That’s what I did.
I threw them in prison.
I voted for them to get the death penalty.
I had them punished.
Because I was so insanely angry with them, I even pursued them to foreign cities. (v.10-11)
That’s what I was going to do.
I went to Damascus to kill believers.
“At noon along the road, O King, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those traveling with me. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
“Then I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
“The Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’ ” (v.14-15)
We’ve heard this account before.
Paul’s conversion is written about in Acts 9.
A second time in Acts 22.
This third time in Acts 26.
Each time Paul adds a little bit more information about his conversion.
This account includes Jesus using the phrase:
“It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
How many of you thought that the sermon title was just a misspelling of the word “goats”?
By the way…
It is foolish to kick a bunch of goats.
A goad is a SPIKED STICK used for driving cattle.
It may not be the most humane thing. But it was certainly effective in ancient times. Positioned on the plow behind the animals, the spiked sticks would poke the animal in the haunches whenever he backed up. This usually caused the animal to move forward – and keep moving forward – as to not be poked in the haunches again.
Every once in a while…
An animal might try to fight back.
They might try to back up.
The end result?
The animal gets injured.
It didn’t pay for an animal to kick back at the goads, because…
When an ANIMAL kicked at the goad, the animal got INJURED.
Do you get it?
Paul was kicking back at the message of Jesus.
It wasn’t working.
The Gospel was still spreading.
Christianity was still growing.
Paul thought he was harming the message of a false god.
But in reality?
He was only HARMING himself.
REPETITIVE SIN results in continuous HARM to yourself.
You might think it doesn’t.
You might think it’s getting you ahead.
But it’s harming you.
You’re kicking against the goads.
Repetitive lying results in harm to your relationships.
Repetitive gossiping results in harm to your friendships.
Repetitive slacking results in harm to your place at work.
Repetitive drunkenness results in harm to your liver.
Repetitive sleeping around results in harm to your esteem.
Repetitive porn viewing results in harm to your ability to be intimate.
Repetitive anger outbursts result in harm to your kids’ trust of you.
Repetitive sin ALWAYS results in HARM to your relationship with God.
Because God hates sin.
And God punishes sin.
God punishes sin with death.
And try as you might to stop God from punishing your sins.
By screaming at him.
By calling him a liar.
By telling him he’s wrong about this being a sin.
You’ll only be racking up more sins.
You’ll only be racking up more punishments of death.
You’ll only be harming yourself.
Here’s a truth –
I don’t know what your repetitive sin is.
I don’t know what sin you struggle with.
But I do know what God’s Word is saying to you today:
Stop kicking against the goads.
Stop harming yourself.
II. When You Stop Kicking Goads
Take a look at what Jesus called Paul to do instead of kicking at the goads:
“Jesus said, ‘Now get up and stand on your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose: to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things you have seen and to the things I will reveal to you.’ ” (v.16)
This is the reason that Paul left his life of persecuting believers.
He saw Jesus.
He saw that Jesus was real.
He was that the resurrection was real.
He saw that he was only harming himself by what he was doing.
Paul does a turn-around.
He begins preaching Jesus.
He beings telling others to stop kicking the goads.
He begins telling others to “turn around”.
In Bible language, that “turn around” is called “repentance.”
Repentance is what God is calling each of us to do right now!
God is calling you to turn from sin to your Savior.
This repentance results in a variety of blessings.
(1) Life in the LIGHT
I once spent the night at a family member’s house and the sleeping arrangements meant that I would be crashing in an area where the kids played.
No big deal.
I fell asleep.
I started dreaming.
Until I woke up thirsty around 2 am.
So, I sat up and started walking over towards the door. When…UGH! The sharp pain of LEGO corner jutted into the bottoms of my feet.
I took another step…YOW! Another toy to the other foot.
After limping to the water, I came back into the room and OW!!! One more painfilled step.
The next morning, I woke up around 7 am with light streaming into the window.
I didn’t step on any Legos.
Cause I could see where I was going.
The light is better.
Jesus said that repentance needed to be preached, “…to open people’s eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light…” (v.18)
Jesus is that light.
In Jesus, we see things clearly.
I see it now: This thing that I’m doing is sin.
This sin is what I keep stepping in to harm my relationship with God.
But over here, LOOK! It’s the Savior.
Over here is Jesus.
Jesus is the way to restoration with God.
(2) A New AUTHORITY
Have you ever had a bad boss?
When that boss moves on and you get a new one?
You realize that they’re a sinner too.
Acts 26 says that the message of Jesus turns people “…from the power of Satan to God.” (v.18)
You get a new boss!
Because the boss when you’re living in sin is Satan.
And he’s a jerk!
Satan doesn’t care about you.
Satan wants you to harm yourself.
Satan sends you emails in the morning that say:
I need you to sabotage your esteem by 11 am today.
Don’t forget our quarterly goal of weakening your faith by 25%.
Oh…and how’s it coming on utterly destroying your relationship with your spouse?
Jesus on the other hand?
I saw the mistake that you made on that report, don’t worry. I fixed it.
I stopped on the way to work and bought you some PEACE. It’s in the workroom. Have as much as you want.
Have I ever told you how important you are to me? I’ll pay whatever it takes to keep you on staff.
If it costs…
My own blood.
Which leads directly into the third blessing of turning to Jesus.
Jesus says that is another reason for Paul to preach repentance. “…so that they may receive the forgiveness of sins…”
Earlier we said that sin deserves punishment from God.
If you’ve been doing repetitive sins you’ve been earning repetitive punishment from God.
You might call it…
Jesus didn’t do any repetitive sins.
He never repeated a sin even once.
Do you know how I know?
Because Jesus never did a sin the first time even once.
Yet Jesus was punished.
Not for his sins.
But for yours.
That means in Jesus you are forgiven.
For that sin you’ve done hundreds of times, you are forgiven.
For that sin you struggled with earlier this week, you are forgiven.
For that sin you’ve been hiding from others in your family, you are forgiven.
You are forgiven because of Jesus.
And that forgiveness is yours through turning to him.
(4) A Place among the HOLY
Jesus says that’s the result of repentance. Believers have “a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (19)
“Sanctified” is a fancy word.
It means “to make holy.”
Do you think you belong among “the holy?”
Because that doesn’t sound like a place for me.
It sounds like a place for impressive believers.
It sounds like a place for heroes of faith.
It sounds like a place for those people who can quote Bible verses for every situation.
Not for me.
Not for a repetitive sinner like me.
But through faith in Jesus,
That’s exactly where you belong.
You belong with the holy.
You belong with the sanctified.
You belong with God’s people, because you are God’s person.
III. Short Time or Long
At the end of Paul’s confession of faith, Governor Festus had seen enough: Festus shouted, “Paul, you are out of your mind!” (v.24)
But Paul replied, “I am not insane, most excellent Festus, but I am clearly speaking words that are true and sensible. Certainly the king to whom I am freely speaking knows about these things. Indeed, I cannot believe that any of these things has escaped his notice, because this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” (v.25-27)
Can I tell you something about King Agrippa’s family?
His dad was the king that killed the Apostle James.
His grandpa was the king that beheaded a prophet named John the Baptist.
His great grandpa was the king that slaughtered innocent young boys in the hopes of killing Jesus.
Herod Agrippa came from a long line of goad-kickers.
Maybe this is why he can’t believe Paul’s questions!
Agrippa said to Paul, “In such a short time are you going to persuade me to become a Christian?” (v.28)
Look at Paul’s response: “I pray God, that whether in a short time or a long time, not only you, but also all those who are listening to me today would become what I am...” (v29)
That you would stop kicking the goads.
That you would repent.
That you would walk in the light.
That you would serve Jesus.
That you would find forgiveness.
That you would belong among God’s people.
The same is true for you.
Whether it’s been a short time or a long time, God’s not interested in that.
He’s interested in the right now.
Stop kicking against the goads.
Turn to Jesus.
We are continuing our study of the book of Acts. 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. Paul on Death Row
Last week, we studied the account of Paul on trial before the Roman Governor named Felix. There the Jewish leaders brought a large number of charges against him. One of those charges against him was that he had started a riot. Granted, a riot had happened. But all Paul did was attend the temple. The reality was that his accusers were the culprits behind the riot. Since the Governor didn’t know which side was telling the truth, he had called for a recess until he could get the local law enforcement as a credible witness.
But that guy never came.
So, the trial remained in recess…
For two years!
That means for two years Paul was in Roman custody.
For two years he didn’t have freedom.
For two years he couldn’t do as he wanted.
If you thought quarantining during Coronavirus was difficult, can you imagine what Paul was going through?
(He probably would have watched everything he could on Netflix!)
Finally, a new governor is appointed. His name is Festus. That’s where the account picks up in chapter 25:
Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, where the chief priests and the Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. (v.2-3)
Notice the word “Province.” That’s the Roman empire’s version of a state. Festus’ rule, then, stretched a decent amount of territory. One of the first cities he visits to after arriving in his headquarter of Caesarea is Jerusalem.
What does he find there?
The same angry religious leaders.
Leading the same group of angry people.
That wanted to press the same angry charges against Paul.
In fact, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way (v.3)
Do you remember that vow? Back in chapter 23, it’s recorded that a group of 40 men had vowed not to eat or drink until they murdered Paul.
Now it’s two years later…
And Paul’s still alive so…
If they had kept their vow, that would mean two years without eating or drinking!
Since they are still alive, that means some of them started to eat.
Can you imagine how that went down?
Jebediah? What’s that on your fingers? Is that Cheetos dust?
Nah. Man. I promise. I didn’t eat anything. It’s just my son’s art project! I’m still cool with the vow. Let’s (licks fingers) kill Paul!
Two years later, they had another chance.
The plot gets resurrected.
But Festus had other plans: “Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. Let some of your leaders come with me, and if the man has done anything wrong, they can press charges against him there.” (v.4-5)
I like that response from Festus.
He isn’t bullied.
He isn’t convinced.
He isn’t tricked.
Festus basically says:
You want him dead,
You do the work.
You travel up to where he is legally being held.
There we will legally have his trial.
So that’s what happens.
About 8 days later, Paul’s trial is restarted in Caesarea.
And it restarts the same way it did last time.
With false charges made against them:
He starts riots.
He leads a cult.
He tried to desecrate the temple.
But since they’d had two years to think about it…
And since those three charges alone hadn’t been enough to convict Paul last time…
And since verse 7 says that they brought “many serious charges against him”…
I imagine there were quite a few more made up charges:
He embezzles money from the temple.
I saw him canoodling with one of the widows.
I heard he puts BUTTER on his Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches!
He didn’t use hand sanitizer after touching his face!
After all the violent outbursts and angry shouting, it was finally time for Paul’s simple defense:
“I have done nothing wrong.” (v8)
Festus didn’t like that answer.
Because it didn’t give him a reason to kill Paul,
To be fair, Festus didn’t think Paul was guilty, but…
He didn’t really care if he killed Paul.
Because then the Jewish leaders would be happy with him.
And they wouldn’t rebel – and possibly kill him.
Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?” (v.9)
Notice Festus’ phraseology.
It isn’t a command.
But a question.
That’s because Festus didn’t have a right to bring Paul to Jerusalem.
The Roman Law stated that he must be tried in Caesarea, on neutral ground.
Especially so because Paul was a Roman citizen.
Festus knows that.
…Unfortunately for Festus.
…So does Paul:
Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”
Festus was shocked.
He didn’t know what to say.
He, the Roman legal system’s representative had been out ‘legal-procedured’ by this prisoner.
He conferred with his officials.
He looked for a loophole.
He tried to figure out a way to appease the Jews, but…
Since Paul had appealed to Caesar, it was technically out of his hands:
Festus declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!” (v.11)
II. Not Afraid to Die
There you have it.
Paul is not convicted.
Paul is not condemned.
Paul is not going to die.
Instead, his trial goes to the highest courtroom in the Roman land.
But did you notice something about Paul’s reasoning for wanting to get his case moved to Rome?
He wanted his case moved because it was right and so that he could bring the Gospel to Italy for the very first time.
But it was not because he was afraid to die.
In fact, Paul says, “I am willing to die…”
Why did Paul say that?
Why are YOU able to say the same thing?
(1) He Knew a Guy that DEFEATED Death
During this pandemic, it’s been helpful to hear stories of people that have conquered the illness, especially when they were so very sick that they had to make use of a breathing machine.
Like Jennie Stejna. Have you heard about her? She is 103 years old when she contracted COVID. As a result, she spent two weeks isolated in her Massachusetts nursing home battling the virus. A lot of people, her family included, thought that this was probably it.
And celebrated by drinking a Bud Light.
Knowing someone has defeated COVID-19 gives us hope.
And hope makes COVID-19 less scary.
But do you know what I’ve noticed?
On those charts that detail the rise in COVID-19 cases, the number of deaths from COVID-19, and even how many people have been healed…
Do you know what stat is missing?
The number of people that died, but then came back to life.
It’s missing, because the answer is obvious.
It’s a big, fat ZERO.
But not for Paul.
Paul know someone who did defeat death.
Paul knew someone who conquered death.
Paul knew someone who had died, but then came back to life.
Christ Jesus died—more than that, he was raised to life! (Romans 8:34)
Look at that first part – Jesus died! That means his body stopped working.
His fingers stopped twiddling.
His toes stopped fidgeting.
His head stopped swaying.
His nostrils stopped flaring.
His eyelids stopped batting.
His skin stopped feeling that tickle that he had down at his ankle.
His brain stopped functioning.
His lungs stopped breathing.
His heart stopped beating.
And everyone thought it was over.
Everyone thought there was no reason for hope.
Everyone thought that death had won again.
Three days later…
Three days later…
Three days later, Jesus was raised to life.
And Paul got to see Jesus!
And when he saw Jesus.
Jesus’ heart was beating.
Jesus’ lungs were breathing.
Jesus’ brain was functioning.
Paul probably even saw his nostrils flaring, his eyelids batting and his fingers twiddling!
Paul Knew a Jesus that DEFEATED Death
And…YOU do too.
Even if you’ve never heard of this Jesus before this very moment.
Now you do know him.
I just introduced you to him.
So now you know someone who defeated death.
(2) In JESUS, We have HOPE of Defeating Death
But this is more than earthly hope.
Do you understand what I mean by earthly hope?
On earth I hope I don’t catch COVID.
On earth I hope my bank account doesn’t run out of money.
On earth I hope that we’re having steak and potatoes for dinner.
On earth I hope no one notices the ketchup stain on my trousers.
That’s earthly hope.
Maybe those things happen.
Maybe they don’t.
Earthly hope, at best, means there is a chance something might happen.
But that’s not the kind of hope that Jesus gives us.
Jesus doesn’t deal in earthly hope.
Jesus deals in heavenly hope.
Paul describes that hope that we have this way. He says that we have…
…The hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised us. (Titus 1:2)
Did you follow that?
Heavenly hope isn’t a probably.
Heavenly hope isn’t a maybe.
Heavenly hope isn’t a possibly.
Heavenly hope is a certainty.
(If you wrote that note down earlier, can you add that to your notes? This hope is CERTAIN.)
With Jesus, your chances of defeating death are at 100%.
Right now, there’s a lot of scientific study on how to defeat the Coronavirus.
Study about how your chance of defeating it increases…
If we wear masks.
If we social distance.
If we use hand sanitizer.
And to be fair – doing those things may make it so that you don’t contract COVID!
And a lot of people are doing whatever they can to ensure that they don’t get COVID.
Even if you don’t catch COVID…
One day, you are still going to die.
Are you doing whatever you can to defeat death?
Cause the only way you will is through faith in Jesus?
Society wants to know if you’re doing everything you can to defeat COVID.
Today, God wants to know if you’re doing everything you can to defeat death.
And since Jesus alone gives us victory over death.
The question is --
Are you doing whatever you can to hold to faith in Jesus?
Without Jesus, your chances of defeating death are ZERO.
But with Jesus, your chances of losing to death are ZERO.
This might be one of the reasons that we suffering so much fear from COVID.
Perhaps (myself included) we aren’t clinging to Jesus enough.
Because if we are clinging to Jesus, he speaks to us and says:
I beat death.
I promise you will too.
In me, you win.
Why be scared of death, if death doesn’t win?
In fact, that’s our final point.
(3) Jesus has Transformed Earthly Death into ETERNAL VICTORY
Because that’s what death is for a believer.
It’s not the end of the good times on earth.
It’s the beginning of the divinely incredible times in heaven.
In heaven, there is no COVID.
In heaven, there aren’t any masks.
In heaven, there aren’t those little sanitizer stations.
In heaven, the economy doesn’t tank.
In heaven, it’s not a struggle to pay bills.
In heaven, there isn’t job loss.
In heaven, there’s no racism.
In heaven, there’s no prejudice.
In heaven, there’s no hatred.
In heaven, there’s no death.
In heaven, there’s no danger.
In heaven, there’s no fear.
Heaven means victory.
God’s endgame for your life is victory.
Why be afraid when you know the ending?
It’s like a PeeWee baseball game.
Jim’s Auto Supply Sprockets were up by 17 over the Rotary Club Rotaries. It was the 6th inning.
They only play 6 innings.
So, the coach of the Sprockets decided to go to the bullpen for his pitcher. A young man who had never pitched in a game before.
He faced the first batter.
He faced the second batter.
Hit by Pitch.
He faced the third batter.
A double scoring two runs.
The coach looked at his player.
He was visibly shaken.
He hadn’t even thrown a strike.
The coach called timeout to listen to the player.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Put someone else in. I’m gonna lose the game for us.’
The coach told him to calm down.
“Son, we can’t lose the game. Literally. Our league only allows each team to bat through the order once in an inning. It is impossible for them to beat us. The end result of this game is that we win.”
And the young player stopped crying.
The fear went away.
He took a breath.
He struck the next player out.
The second popped out to the third baseman.
The third hit a grounder to the first baseman to end the inning.
When you know the end result, there’s no reason to fear losing.
Friends, we know the end result.
We know that we get the win.
We know that we get the eternal victory.
Come what may in the meantime:
A loss of job.
A spoiled relationship.
Even death itself.
In Jesus, we win.
And there’s no reason to fear. Amen.
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.