In Acts 24-25, we see that the Apostle Paul did not see Christianity merely as a good idea, a sincere opinion or one way to live that happens to work for some. Christianity is God’s revelation of historical, universal, absolute truth – seen most clearly in the person and work of Jesus Christ, for everyone, everywhere. Why plant a church? Why follow Jesus? Why fight against sin and for holiness? Why plug into a church? Why give our days and dollars to the spread of Jesus Christ? Because Jesus is the way.
We are quickly approaching the end of The Acts of the Apostles, an authoritative, historical account of the spread of the Jesus-movement during the first 30 years following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. We’ve spent a significant amount of time in this book in order to grapple with the important question, “What is true Christianity?” This is particularly vital for us as a newly forming church in the city center of Seattle. Today we find ourselves in chapters 24-25. At this point, the Apostle Paul has completed his three missionary journeys and, as far as we know, is done church planting. Two weeks ago, we saw Paul arrested in Jerusalem under false charges (21:37-23) and an attempt made on his life by a group of Jewish zealots (23:12-22). The plot was uncovered and Paul was safely delivered, under Roman guard, to the wealthy, coastal city of Caesarea where he will face a series of trials over a two year period. That’s where we’ll pick up the story today in Acts 24.
Today we’re going to see Paul come up against the leading figures of the two most influential power blocks in the known world: Jews and Romans. Judaism went back 2,000 years to Abraham. It’s strength was in its history and tradition. Roman rule, on the other hand, extended 3 million+ square miles around the Mediterranean Sea. It’s strength was in its military might and organization. As we dive into this (true) story, put yourself in Paul’s place. Imagine being before these leading, influential, culture-making, power brokers.Where does Paul get his strength during these trials? The answer probably won’t surprise you. His strength, confidence and certainty comes from a deep conviction thatJesus is the way to God, to life and truth itself. To Paul, and the Bible, Christianity is not just a good idea, sincere opinion or one way to live that happens to work for some.Christianity is God’s revelation of historical, universal, absolute truth – seen most clearly in the person and work of Jesus Christ, for everyone, everywhere. Why plant a church? Why follow Jesus? Why fight against sin and for holiness? Why plug into a church? Why give our days and dollars to the spread of Jesus Christ? Because Jesus isthe way.
So, I invite you to think with me today. Our culture trains us to be entertained deeply, but rarely to think deeply. We live in a culture where we are encouraged to believe whatever we want – as long as we are sincere and don’t enforce those beliefs on anyone else. If we’re honest, that’s just nonsensical. Our culture says truth is made not discovered, subjective not objective and based on internal feelings not external realities. In other words, it is possible to believe in everything and anything all at the same time. We are our own greatest authority. That is the opposite of how the Bible speaks of truth. The reason so many of us are stuck in sin, anxieties, depression, etc is because we have no greater truth outside ourselves. We’re trapped. The good news is Jesus came to set us free. (cf Jn8:32) We’re going to see these two worldviews collide today.
First, let’s set the scene and look at the key players. Then, we’ll look at Paul’s response.
Ananias, the high priest: The high priest was the hightest authority within the Jewish nation. You couldn’t get any higher (thus the name). Given this, the high priest was very powerful, wealthy, and influential.
Tertullus: We don’t know a lot about this guy, other than that he was a hired gun by the Jewish authorities to make sure Paul was found guilty. He is called a rhetor, which means he was a professional lawyer, trained in the art of rhetoric – or just a professional talker. Today, he would be akin to a high profile celebrity attourney.
Felix: He was the Roman governor of Judea for 8 years. He had been a freed slave and, from what we can tell, was a pretty sleezy guy. He got into power/wealth via marriage (i.e. male gold-digger). One of his previous wives was the granddaughter of Anthony and Cleopatra, which made him a relative of emperor Claudius. The Roman historian, Tacitus, tells us that Felix “Practiced every kind of cruelty and lust..” The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that he would send out Roman soldiers daily to catch Jewish zealots and execute immediately.
Drusilla: She was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I, who God struck down in Acts 12. Drusilla was 6 y.o. when her father died and only 14 years old when she married Felix. At this point in the story she is 20 years old. Drusilla was Felix’s third wife. Previously she was married to a different king, but Felix (by way of a hired magician) convinced her leave and marry him.
Porcius Festus: Sent by Nero to replace Felix and fix his issues. There is very little known about his background. Josephus portrays him as an honorable, capable leader, facing a crisis that was nearly impossible to fix.
Agrippa II: King of northern territories and a valued friend of Rome. He never married, no kids. At this point in the story he is 32 years old. He comes from the line of Herod the Great (who attempted to kill Jesus as infant by killing all male boys under 2, as recorded in Matthew 2). His son was Antipas. Antipas was the guy who beheaded John the Baptist and who Jesus called that “fox”. (Luke 13:32) Antipas’ son (grandson Herod Great) was Agrippa I who killed James the son of Zebedee and who was taken out by God in Acts 12. His son, Agrippa II (great grandson of Herod Great) is before Paul here. This made Agrippa II, Drusilla and Bernice brothers and sisters. Needlesstosay, a very scandalous family line.
Bernice: Younger sister of Agrippa II. There was a lot of gossip that the two of them had an incestuous relationship. She is 31 years old here. She was previously married, but her husband died. She then married her uncle, but he died. She then moved back to live with Agrippa with her two kids. 5 years later she got married again, but that didn’t last, and went back to Agrippa. Lastly, she became a mistress to the General who destroyed Jerusalem. She moved to Rome to be with him, but he was forced to break up with her. We nothing more of her sad life.
That’s the scene. It’s like an episode of Jerry Springer: gossip, adultery, incest, abuse of power, lust, greed, divorce, betrayal and more. There world was just as broken as ours is.Times and culture’s change, but people never do. Here’s Paul up against the main power players, the glitterati, leaders of populace, culture makers. What does he say? Does he change his mind? Does he say “this has worked out for me up to this point, but no longer”? No. He talks about “the Way…”, not a way, of Jesus. This term is used 5x in Acts. It was an early church name for Christianity, or followers of Jesus. It was taken from Jesus who said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
What can we learn from the Apostle Paul here? Three observations:
First, there is such a thing as ultimate, absolute, universal truth. “the Way…” 24:14
This was debated in Paul’s day just as it is in ours. A common question is, “What is truth?” The concept of truth answers questions about why we exist, who God is, who we are, how we can know by God, and how to live.
“All major religions and belief systems are equally valid and/or basically teach the same thing.”
“Each religion sees part of spiritual truth, but none can see the whole truth.”
“Religious belief is too culturally and historically conditioned to be ‘true’.”
“It is arrogant to insist that your religion is right and to convert others to it.”
The truth is that we are all following something we call “the Way”, whether its Jesus or I-do-whatever-I-want-do-to. There are basic assumptions that we all organize our life around. We can’t avoid it. We are built to center our lives on a truth, but because of sin we tend to find that truth in ourselves instead of in Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” What is your absolute truth?
Second, every belief system rests on faith in the end. “faith in Christ Jesus” 24:24
Sometimes those who do not follow Jesus will say, “That’s the problem, you have faith in Jesus but I believe in science.” They say that not knowing that, at the bottom, every person is placing faith in fundamental truths of life. I’ll give you some examples.
Matter: As far as we know, the universe came into existence w/ “Big Bang”. Life would have been impossible unless all of the fundamental constants of physics were calibrated perfectly to permit life on our planet, in our galaxy, in our universe. (ex. speed of light, gravitational constant, atmospheric pressure, water, etc) Now, If there is a God and a Big Bang and the start of life, we would expect the perfect calibration of universe. That would be completely rational. On the other hand, if there is not a God, we would not expect a perfectly calibrated universe or planet. Secularism tells us that we are just a result of time + chance + randomness. That combination does not usually result in perfect calibration. It takes faith to believe that; more faith actually than in a Creator.
Mind: We have the ability to reason, expect uniformity in nature, and to be able to trust the laws of logic. If there is a God, who is rational, that created and sustains a rationally ordered universe – we would expect this. But, if there is not a God and the universe is random, then we would not expect reason, uniformity or logic. It takes faith to believe that.
Meaning: All natural desires correspond to real objects to satisfy them. Hunger = food. Tiredness = sleep. Relational desires = friendship. Additionally, every human has a desire for unknown “something” that no amount of food, sex, friendship can satisfy. Human beings everywhere, at all times, have attempted to fill this with religion or spirituality.
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in the world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” C.S. Lewis
Someone who does not believe in God, in this case, is forced to say that, “Though there is no God, we just know that this desire is the one innate desire with no object” It takes faith to believe that.
The point here is not a question of whether you have faith in something, it’s what your faith is in.
Third, truth is objective and external not subjective and internal. “God of our fathers”, “Law…Prophets”, “resurrection of the dead”
Historians and sociologists of the ancient world tell us that the Greco-Roman worldview started with personal experience, no moral categories, sexual overtones, with a focus on the moment (comfort, security, safety, etc). They were preoccupied with their experience, their interpretation, their feelings. They interpreted life through the lens of “self”. Sound familiar? That’s because the modern mind is just the same thing all over again – just ancient paganism with “self” at the center.
The Christian mind, however, sees truth as objective.
Historically, Christianity was grounded entirely on the objective nature of God’s Word. Christianity isn’t saying, “here’s a nice thing to consider and think about.” No, Christianity says, “This is what God says and what God has done and what we are to do in light of that.” Interestingly, early Christians did not preach their experience of Christianity, but about the Christ. We need to be careful of this in our day by pulling ourselves free from the subjective preoccupation that our culture has with ourselves and occupy ourselves with the objective truth of bible. Because Christian faith presents itself as objectively true it has always exalted teaching.
“Unless truth is objective it cannot be declared to others, cannot be taught to others, cannot be required of others. Wherever biblical religion has been recovered, the recovery of the teaching office is never far behind. Nor is the kind of biblical preaching the life and force of which is the truth of Scripture. And wherever this preaching takes root, there the desire to know and practice God’s truth begins to blossom.” David Wells, p282
If it is objective, it can tell us what we wouldn’t otherwise hear or know.
“The Bible is not a remarkable illustration of what we have already heard within ourselves; it is a remarkable discovery of what we have not and cannot hear within ourselves.” David Wells, 279
For example, we’re told here that Paul was talking to Felix and Drusilla about “righteousness”, “self control”, “coming judgement” and “resurrection of the dead”. Those aren’t things we’d naturally come up with. The Bible tells us that no one is righteous but God alone. We are guilty. Can’t we confirm this? The Bible tells us there is a coming judgement, Heb 9:27 “appointed once for man to die and after that face judgment” and there is a future resurrection of the dead, Dan12:2 “some to everlasting life…and some to shame and everlasting contempt”. Christians don’t say these things because we necessarily like them, but because we believe they are true. Ths is the power behind Paul’s convication – the truth of God seen most clearly in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Christian: How would your faith, practice, Bible reading change if you genuinely saw Jesus as the way, truth, life?
Non-Christian: At the bottom, where is your ultimate trust? You’ll be adrift and aimless, until you come to Jesus.
Jesus is the way. The way to…God, forgiveness of sin, truth, life. We can be confident and courageous going into this city.
When the Bible says God is good – he is, forgiving sin – he does, reconciles us to God – he does, that all sin will lead to death – it will, that he is beautiful – he is, that he is the cornerstone of life and reality itself – he is. As the church, we are called by God to be the pillar and buttress of truth, empowered by the Spirit of truth, spreading the gospel of truth about the one who is Truth incarnate.
“Oh, great just a bunch of self-righteous Christians” No. Christianity is different. At the center of Christianity is a crucified Messiah who died for his enemies – us. Knowing and believing that causes us to love and be patient with our enemies, because we too were once enemies of God.
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Jn 8:32