The Light Shines On A GovernorErwin W. Lutzer | August 16, 2009
Selected highlights from this sermon
The Apostle Paul was taken before a governor named Felix. He spoke to the governor about righteousness, self-control, and coming judgment, causing Felix to become uncomfortable. He ignored his conscience, and sent Paul to prison.
Many today do the same thing when confronted with Christianity. They reject it, marginalize it, and try to keep Christians quiet. Are you willing to sacrifice eternity in heaven for the sake of being comfortable here and now?
Today I am going to speak to you about the role of conscience. All of us have a conscience. Even if you were born into a home with no special boundaries, you have a conscience. If you were born into a home that had special boundaries and was stricter, your conscience might be more strict, but this I do know that all of us have a conscience, and the questions are how do we violate it and are there times when we know right well what is right and good and we do the opposite?
In order to illustrate this, I’d like to speak today about a man who was a governor. Now we here in the state of Illinois know that our governor some time ago was arrested. He was not expecting it evidently at 6 o’clock in the morning, and when the feds called him he thought it was for something else, and thought it was a joke. Well, I don’t know if I should say this or not because we certainly do pray for our governor and for his wife, but I need to say that it was December and evidently it was so cold (I don’t know if you remember how cold it was) that two weeks before he was arrested he was actually found with his hands in his own pockets. (laughter) It gets cold in Chicago, doesn’t it? I won’t say that again for the rest of you.
But here we have the story of a governor who was confronted by the truth. The story is recorded for us in the 24th chapter of the book of Acts, and I want you to turn to it please. If you remember in context the Apostle Paul was one who was arrested for causing a riot in Jerusalem. Now he didn’t actually cause that riot in Jerusalem but he was accused of it, and that happens to be in the preceding chapter and he is escorted from Jerusalem at night to Caesarea, and the reason is because he appealed to Caesar. He said that he was a Roman citizen so the Jews that were there in Jerusalem didn’t want to deal with the issue and they said, “What we want you to do is to go to Caesarea” where they would meet the governor Felix. And that’s the story and that’s the background of our text today.
Now you’ll notice in Acts 24 that when the Apostle Paul gets there he is accused of various things because a delegation goes down from Jerusalem to Caesarea. We’re talking fifty or sixty miles, and this delegation goes before the governor with the hope of accusing the Apostle Paul and making sure that he stays in prison. And you’ll notice that they hire someone by the name Tertullus to be a spokesman. He was to lay before the governor their case. I am amused there in verse 2 where he says, “Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude.” Actually I need to tell you that Felix was a very evil person. He was a person, who actually hired robbers to crucify people he didn’t like, but this man is flattering him and saying nice things about him, and now he makes three accusations against the Apostle Paul.
You’ll notice he says in verse 5, “For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world.” This was a political charge. If there’s anything that Rome didn’t like, Rome didn’t like people who stirred up riots. Now was it true? No, it wasn’t true. Paul didn’t begin a riot in Jerusalem by any stretch of the imagination. His presence there sparked a riot because people detested him and they began to riot when he came into the temple area, but he did not begin any riot in Jerusalem, but nonetheless they accused him of it.
The second charge against Paul is a religious one. You’ll notice it says, “He also is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” That was spoken with contempt. Do you remember Jesus was born in Nazareth? Jesus was born in Nazareth and therefore He was called a Nazarene, and Nazareth was the wrong side of the tracks. It was an insult to be called a Nazarene. So when he says he is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes, that’s a religious charge that is intended to elicit within Felix contempt.
And then there is a third charge and that is that he tried to profane the temple. That would be a ceremonial charge. None of these were true, but they were presented because they did not like Paul and they did not like the Gospel that the Apostle Paul was proclaiming. The title of this series is Light Shining in Darkness because Christianity always bumps up against the culture, and the culture, not liking the message of Christianity, rejects it, marginalizes it, and intends to shut the mouths of people. This is happening today here in the United States of America.
Yesterday on the Internet there was this headline: “Florida Principal and Athletic Director Could Go to Jail for Prayer Before Lunch at School,” and then the article reads, “A principal and an athletic director in Florida could be charged with crimes and spend six months in jail after they prayed before a meal at a school event,” the Washington Times reported. Expect more of those kinds of headlines in the future. That’s a whole separate story but simply know that Christianity always bumps up against its culture. Light always dissipates darkness, but people prefer darkness and so what they try to do is to make sure that Christians keep their mouths shut. And that’s what they were doing here to the Apostle Paul.
All right, all of that to say this! Paul is given the opportunity of making a defense. You can read it there on your own because I’m interested in this governor by the name of Felix. You’ll notice that the Apostle Paul speaks and then it says in verse 22, “But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off,” namely the delegation that came from Jerusalem to Caesarea to accuse Paul. Let’s stop there for a moment.
Felix has a rather accurate knowledge of the Way. Now how does Felix have this knowledge of the Way? Actually the Way was an expression in New Testament times for Christianity. We encountered it earlier in the book of Acts where it talked about the Way. Because Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father but by me,” Christianity was tagged as the Way. And Felix has a rather accurate knowledge of the Way. Where did he get it? Well, I think he was exposed to the truth. Maybe he had his own sources, but another possibility is he got it through his wife who perhaps knew a great deal more about Christianity than he did.
So let’s read the next verses and then I’ll explain to you exactly why I said that. You’ll notice he said to the Jews, “When Lysias the tribune comes down (that’s a political messenger), I will decide your case.” Then he gave orders to the centurion that “he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs.” In other words, he knew Paul was innocent, so though he didn’t release him, he put him in jail and custody but said, “Let his friends come. Give him a great deal of freedom.” And I’m sure that Paul appreciated that.
Verse 24 says, “After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul.” Stop right there. Who in the world is this woman whose name is Drusilla? Drusilla had been married to one of the kings of what is today Syria. Her brother married her off at the ripe age of 14 and she became this man’s wife. Now evidently she was a very beautiful woman. As a matter of fact, the record states that she was fairer and more beautiful than all the other women. So what happens is Felix sees her, is attracted to her, and so he lures her away from her husband and encourages her to marry him, and she will be his third wife. And she marries him at the age of 16. This information comes to us from Josephus who gave us a great deal of history to fill in the gaps, but who was Drusilla? She was a part of the Herod family, and when you stop to think of it they were all cruel rulers. There are six Herods in the New Testament and sometimes when you are reading, it is difficult to keep them straight. You almost need a Bible dictionary to know who the players are, but they were cruel and they had an eye for women. They were all promiscuous, but let’s find out a little bit more about her background.
Her great grandfather was Herod the Great. Now you remember Herod the Great was the one who killed his wife, and killed some of his family. He was very evil and very cruel, and also he killed all of the boys who were two years of age and under around the environs of Bethlehem in order to try to kill Christ. His family had escaped into Egypt, but the point is that’s the Herod who was her great grandfather.
Her uncle was the Herod who killed John the Baptist. Remember how the young woman danced before Herod and he loved her and said, “I’ll give you half my kingdom,” and she asked for the head of John the Baptist and he gave it to her? That was her uncle.
What about her father? Would you take a moment and just turn to Acts 12? I want to make a couple of comments about her father. Acts 12:1 says, “About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James,” and so forth, and that is her dad. He was also evil. He tried to kill Peter also but Peter escaped. You remember the story. As a matter of fact, it says in verse 7, “Behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to Peter, and a light shown in the cell, and the angel struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, ‘Get up quickly,’” and you know the rest of the dramatic story. This is Herod. I want you to notice how he ends-how he dies. It says in verse 20, “Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food.” Now here’s the deal. These people in Tyre and Sidon offend the king. We don’t know exactly why, but he goes to see them. He’s angry and meets them in Caesarea and they are there because they are dependent upon his goodness. Verse 21 says, “On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne (there was also a throne room in Caesarea) and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, ‘The voice of a god, and not of a man!’” Amazing and he didn’t rebuke them! Verse 32 says, “Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” And then Luke in an understatement says, “But the word of God increased and multiplied,” and I would say, “Yeah, I think it would under these conditions.”
Now did you notice something? I read it to you in verse 7. An angel of the Lord strikes Peter and says, “Get out of here.” An angel of the Lord comes and strikes this man and he dies and is eaten by worms. Of course I can’t prove it but I like to think it might have been the same angel. God has many, many different angels and perhaps he gave one assignment to one angel and another assignment to another. I don’t know, but isn’t it interesting that an angel of the Lord causes Peter to live and to escape, and an angel of the Lord causes this evil man to die. Now when that happened, little Drusilla was six years old and this was her father who died in such an ignominious way.
Well, there’s so much more we could say about her father. Apparently he dressed himself in shimmering silver clothes, and they gleamed in the light, and the delegation wanted to appease him and said, “Oh, the voice of a god,” and he accepted the honor and died. Perhaps it was Drusilla who clued Festus in on the fact that Christians aren’t these people who you think they are. They are not the kind of people who begin riots. They are a people who are persecuted, who are being put to death, who are being tortured, and she may have given him some inside information, and that’s why the Bible says that Felix had a rather accurate knowledge of the Way. He understood Christianity. Christians do not begin riots. Sometimes their presence may evoke riots but they don’t begin them.
So you’ll notice that he was exposed to the truth, but it becomes more interesting now because not only was he exposed to the truth, but also please notice that he now is confronted with it. (Oh, by the way, the Herods were really from Moab. They were Moabites but they accepted the Judaist religion and even though some of the true Jews suspected them, yet they were known as Jewish.) Now I’m back in verse 24 where it says, “After some days, Felix came with his wife Drusilla and heard him speak about faith in Jesus Christ. And as Paul reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, ‘Go away for the present.’” You’ll notice that the Apostle Paul is brought in. Oh I wish they had had tape recorders back in those days so that the conversation could have been recorded, and that it could have been translated into English so that we could have heard what happened.
But Paul is brought into this environment now and he talks about faith in Christ, and there are people today who say, “Well you know we just need to get people to believe in Jesus (faith in Christ).” Well, that’s wonderful but the problem is that some people who hear the Gospel ask, “Well why do I need faith in Christ? I’m a good person.” You hear that all the time. Why believe in Jesus? So the Apostle Paul helped Felix and his wife understand why they should put their faith in Jesus. The Scripture says that Paul reasoned with them about righteousness. Righteousness is holiness. It’s God’s high standard. Here was a man and a woman who had violated righteousness many, many times. I, of course, feel sorry for Drusilla because she was in a sense a pawn in a political game, but Felix knew what he was doing, and he understood that he had been evil, and so the Apostle Paul was helping him see that. You see, you can’t believe on Jesus and be saved unless you know that you are a sinner and you need saving.
It was the righteousness of God that caused Martin Luther to have all of the anxiety and doubts that he had because Luther understood that the righteousness of God is so much beyond us. It’s not human righteousness to a higher power. Righteousness of God is God’s holy high indescribable standard and Luther understood that God does not accept us unless we are as holy as He Himself is. Luther got that straight. Many people today think they will just wiggle into heaven because they’ll show up and say, “Well, I’ve been good.” You’ve been good? You will be lost forever. It’s good to be good, but it doesn’t get you into heaven. That’s why the Bible says that Jesus Christ gave Himself, the just for the unjust that He might bring us to God, and the Good News of the Gospel is that when you receive Christ as Savior, you are credited with the righteousness of God and legally you are as righteous as God, and God allows you into heaven on the basis of Jesus. We are saved on the basis of His merit and not our own. That’s why as Christians we sing, “Clothed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.” That is the Gospel.
So Paul reasons with them about righteousness. He reasons with them about self-control, the Bible says, and he is speaking to people who didn’t have a whole lot of self-control and destroyed their own selves, Felix by wanting this young woman to leave her husband to come over to him. They broke up two marriages in order that he might get what he wanted, and so the Apostle Paul reasons about that, and then coming judgment you’ll notice. “Oh, that’s why we have to believe in Jesus. Judgment is coming and it is an individual judgment.”
Would you take a moment right now and visualize you standing alone in the presence of God with nothing but reality, with no attorney to appeal to make it look better, to tweak it and make you sound a little bit better? There’s nothing but reality. And God shows you your life, your background, and who you are, the country that you were born in, the opportunities that you had, the ones you accepted and the ones that you neglected and all of that is presented to you in the presence of God. It is an individual judgment. It’s a compulsory judgment. If you know anything about courts you know that people phone in and say, “I can’t make it,” and so the case is deferred. I’m sorry! When God calls your name, you will be there. It is a compulsory judgment. It is individual and it is totally thorough.
I’m speaking to those of you now who have never received Jesus Christ as Savior. Your judgment will be so thorough, and so complete. The Bible says regarding all people that God will disclose the motives of men’s hearts. Can you get any more thorough and complete than that? And Paul reasoned with them regarding coming judgment.
So notice that he was exposed to the truth, he was confronted with the truth, and what does Felix do? Well, let’s read the text and find out what he does? He is convicted by the truth. You’ll notice it says, “And Felix trembled.” Our translation says he was alarmed. The arrow had hit its target. Paul was right dead on. He got right to his heart, and Felix shook.
Are you under conviction like that today? If the truth is known, you are so uneasy you can hardly wait until this meeting is over. Take care. I hope that you respond differently than Felix did, because he made the wrong decision with what he knew. Felix trembled.
It’s amazing that we as people don’t like truth. We are enemies of truth. Having been exposed to the light, Felix preferred the darkness where he could hide. He preferred the darkness in ways that we shall see in just a moment. You and I are so filled with such self-protection, such a willingness to rationalize, such a willingness to ignore the truth, and if we can’t ignore it, we tweak it, and we rationalize it.
A number of years ago my wife and I were in England where I led a tour to the sites of the Reformation in England and Scotland, and the guide that we had with us was a pleasant woman, and we got along very, very well, but she was an atheist. And she wanted us to know upfront that she was an atheist, so as you can imagine, we had some interesting discussions during down times. But I remember we attended a church, and you know guides are supposed to stay with the group that they are caring for, and so forth, and she was very good at that, but she left us at the door of the church and said, “When it is over I’ll pick you up. I’ll be here for you.” And I was thinking, “Well, why wouldn’t she come to church? Is that so bad? You know, you don’t agree with it. You just think that they are talking a bunch of fairy tales. I mean, just endure it.” Listen; there is something about us today. We don’t even want to hear it. Don’t tell me. Because we know that when it comes to the truth it can be very convicting.
Well, Felix, the Bible says, was alarmed. He was convicted by the truth, but he did reject it. You’ll notice he said to Paul, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you,” and now he shuns the truth. He shuts down his conscience.
I remember when I was the pastor of a different church some young people sitting in the balcony (for some reason young people like to sit in the balcony), and they used to say, “Pastor Lutzer, we were so convicted when you preached that as soon as the service was over we would go out and we’d get into our cars and we’d turn on the radio real loud because we didn’t even want to deal with the issues.” That’s the way we as humans are, so Felix does that.
But notice what was really in his heart. He said, “When I get an opportunity I will summon you. At the same time (Verse 26) he hoped that money would be given to him by Paul.” You see, Paul had brought an offering to the saints at Jerusalem. That’s one of the reasons that he went to Jerusalem, and so Paul mentions that in his defense, which we didn’t have time to read, so Felix is thinking, “Paul is connected here. Maybe I can get some money,” and so he has Paul sent for a number of times. You’ll notice it says, “So he sent for him often and conversed with him.” He thought to himself, “He hasn’t given me money yet but if I get him often enough and if I keep him in jail long enough maybe he’ll come through.”
“When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.” He knew right well the guy was innocent, but there in prison the Apostle Paul is going to know the presence of God because prison for Paul was just as much within the will of God as the good times were. If you have the faith to believe it, that’s how you can handle your circumstances, but back to Felix.
If you summarize the life of this man who saw the truth, was confronted by it, was alarmed by it, and then so far as we know, died without responding to it, the bottom line is this. He simply sacrificed eternity on the altar of the present. What he said was, “All that I care about is the money.” That’s his number one motivation, and number two, “What do people think of me?”
There are some of you listening right now who have never trusted Christ as Savior, and what is going through your mind with such clarity over and over again is this. If I become a Christ follower, if I believe in Jesus, what is my family going to say about me? What about my colleagues at work? What about my relatives? What about something like Felix saying, “I want to do the Jews a favor, because what people think is more important than what God thinks.” And like Felix, you are putting him off and you are saying, “It doesn’t matter. I’m going to stifle the voice that I know I should follow.” And so Felix postpones and it is often said that if you have this idea that someday you will do something, someday turns out to be no day. You never do it. You put it off.
You know, as I was thinking about this and preparing this message yesterday, I was thinking to myself that Felix has been dead now for roughly 1,950 years. After he died he was in eternity and according to the Bible he was in a place called Hades (not yet hell), fully conscious, fully aware, fully remembering exactly the opportunity he had. We can prove that from Scripture. Good memory! And there he is, knowing that eternity awaits, and he sacrificed it all because he was hoping for a bribe, and he didn’t want to confront his sin. He wanted to please the Jews. What an unbelievable tragedy. I don’t know how to put that clearer to you today. What a tragedy.
Now there is someone in American history I thought of who somehow fits into the same category. He was not an evil person in the sense of Felix, but his name was Benjamin Franklin. My son-in-law gave me a copy of a long biography of Franklin, and so I have tried to look at it very quickly. I don’t have time to read these books page by page. Life is passing me by, but what I was interested in was Franklin’s relationship with God. Now you know he became great friends with the evangelist, Whitefield. George Whitefield was a great preacher. He used to speak to 7,000 to 10,000 people in Philadelphia and in Boston without a microphone, and people could hear him all the way to the back. One day Franklin was there, and I guess he got bored in hearing the message, and it was an outdoor meeting, and he walked away and then measured later the number of feet that he could walk down the street and still hear Whitefield preach.
They became very good friends. As a matter of fact, Franklin often had Whitefield stay with him. They had a deal that I’m sure Franklin appreciated, and so did Whitefield, and that is that Franklin would publish all of Whitefield’s sermons. And so Franklin did that and made a lot of money, and it also made Whitefield famous. In The Pennsylvania Gazette, Benjamin Franklin on six occasions had the full text of Whitefield’s sermons, and referred to him at least another 40 times in his other publications. So they became good friends.
Now you can imagine Whitefield, whose theme was “Ye must be born again.” If you’ve ever read Whitefield’s sermons, you know that he hammered on that because Jesus hammered on it. There’s a famous Swiss theologian who I will not bother naming who believed that everyone was born again; we just had to announce to them that they were, but Jesus said, “Ye must be born again,” so I have to ask you, are you born again? I’m not asking you whether you’ve prayed a prayer. I’m asking you, are you born again? Jesus said, “Without it you can’t get into the kingdom of heaven.”
Well, anyway, after Whitefield died, Franklin wrote these words. He says, “Whitefield used to pray for me for my conversion but never had the satisfaction of believing that his prayers were heard.” And then just before Franklin died, he was asked about his faith and he said he believed in God as creator and he believed in the providence of God. When he was asked if he believed in Jesus, he said, “Yes, Jesus is a great teacher, a great moral teacher, the likes of which the world has not seen,” but then he was asked if he believed in the divinity of Jesus, and this is a quote: “I have some doubts as to his divinity, though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and I think it needless to busy myself with it now when I expect soon I shall have an opportunity of knowing the truth with a lot less trouble.” In other words, he said, “I’m dying and now I’ll find out.” Franklin was brilliant. I learned that from the biography. He had a great deal of impact here in America regarding the convention and all of that. He was brilliant, but in the end, very foolish.
Don’t wait until you die to find out whether or not it is so. It is too late. That’s exactly what Felix did. He trembled and yet he said no because of money and because of other people’s opinions. He deadened his conscience.
So where are you? I guess as I conclude I want you to look into my eyes (and that’s easier to do now that I don’t have the glasses I used to wear). Do you know that you have been born again, and that you have received Christ as Savior, and that he has given you a new nature? Do you know that the righteousness of God has been credited to your account so that you stand before God as if you were Jesus? Do you know that or are you like Felix? “I’m a sinner, I’m convicted and I’m alarmed but please come back some other time.”
I don’t know what else to say, folks, so when I don’t have anything else to say, let’s just pray.
Father, I want to pray for all those who are listening to me today here in the sanctuary as well as on the Internet around the world who are basically good people, people who are quite convinced that they’ll make it on their own. They may believe in a prophet but they do not believe in a Savior, for only Jesus has the qualifications to be a Savior. Would you, Father, today bring about a conviction that leads to faith?
I don’t know who you are here today, but if you’ve never trusted Christ as Savior, would you do that right now? I mean right now. I want you to say to Jesus either silently or out loud, “Jesus, I believe on you right now, and receive you.”
Don’t put it off. Eternity is long. Time is short.
Father, today for those who are struggling, overcome their struggle. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.