On July 15, 1986, Roger Clemens, the renowned pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, played in his first All-Star Game. During the second inning Clemens stepped into the batter’s box, something he hadn’t done in a long while due to the American League’s designated hitter rule. Clemens took a few tentative practice swings and then looked right in the eye of the opposing pitcher, Dwight Gooden, winner of the Cy Young award the previous year.
Gooden started off with a sizzling fast ball fired right over the plate. Strike one! Clemens smiled, stepped out of the batter’s box, turned to catcher Gary Carter and asked, “Is that what my pitches look like?”
Carter replied, “You bet it is!”
Clemens quickly struck out, but he went on to pitch three perfect innings. At the end of the day he was named the game’s MVP. From that day on, Clemens pitched with greater boldness than ever before. Why? Because of a fresh reminder of how overwhelming a white hot fast ball can be.
Sometimes we forget how powerful the good news about Jesus is. Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16) If we would only remember how powerful the good news of Jesus Christ truly is, then I think we would be bolder in sharing it and living it out before a watching world.
Let’s look together at the holy boldness of Paul in Acts 24….
Five days later 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. When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before 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.
“We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.”
The Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.
Let’s examine who was in Paul’s audience. First, there was Ananias, the high priest. Ananias was noted for his cruelty, gluttony, thievery and violence. When the Jewish revolt broke out in the 60s of the first century he was eventually assassinated by his own people.
Secondly, there was the lawyer, Tertullus. He began his speech with what William Barclay once called “nauseating flattery”. Every word Tertullus spoke, he knew to be untrue. Tertullus thanked the Roman procurator, Felix, for the peace ushered in under his rule. In reality Felix had crushed Jewish rebellion with such brutality, the people were horror-stricken. Not only did Tertullus flatter the judge, he distorted the charges against the defendant. He accused Paul of stirring up riots, being part of a sect, and dishonoring the temple. As we will see in a few moments, Paul denied all of these false charges. Finally, Tertullus lied about how Paul was apprehended. He suggested that the Jews arrested him while in fact the Jews were intent on lynching Paul and it was the Roman commander Claudius Lysias who arrested Paul and thereby spared his life.
That leads us to the third major character in this narrative, the Roman procurator, Felix himself. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote of him, “Felix reveled in cruelty and lust and wielded the power of a king with the mind of a slave.” Felix had, in fact, been a slave and was set free because his brother, Pallas, was a favorite of the emperor, Claudius. It was for this same reason that Felix was appointed governor of Judea in AD 52. Felix was on his third marriage, having married three princesses in succession. His current wife, Drusilla, daughter of Herod Agrippa I, we will meet in a moment. Two years hence Felix will be recalled by Rome due to misrule.
Finally, in Paul’s audience there were the other Jewish leaders who had come from Jerusalem to press charges. They joined in the accusations against Paul even though they knew these accusations were untrue.
It’s hard to imagine a tougher audience than this one for listening to the good news about Jesus Christ. But it makes me wonder: Who is our audience? What are they like? And how do we handle our audience?
In Today’s Christian Woman, contemporary Christian singer Susan Ashton tells about the time she got to open for country singer, Garth Brooks. At the time, Garth’s brother Kelly was dating a woman who liked Ashton’s music. One day, after this woman played Ashton’s recordings for Kelly, he called his brother Garth on the phone and told him he should take Susan Ashton on the road. Garth Brooks did just that.
Once Ashton got to know Brooks better he admitted he hadn’t heard Ashton sing until they were on stage in Spain. That night Garth Brooks said he was overwhelmed by the beauty of Ashton’s voice and the moving nature of her lyrics.
At first, Ashton was afraid to tour with Brooks. She was afraid she would be booed off the stage with calls for “Garth! Garth!”. But an unusual thing happened. Ashton received a standing ovation her first time out on stage opening for Garth Brooks. Ashton later said she was overcome with the openness of the audience to hearing what she had to share about Jesus.
Neither you nor I may ever have a chance to speak on stage before a large audience. But the Lord will put each of us in situations we never would have dreamed of, just as Paul was thrust before an audience he never would have imagined speaking to. Your stage may be your cubicle at work, or an athletic banquet at school (like one I attended where I was invited to pray), or you may meet a stranger on the street and have an opportunity to share about Jesus with him or her. The Lord who arranges such divine appointments will also give you boldness to speak for him.
Let’s look next at what Paul said when he was brought before the governor.
When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: “I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.
“After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin—unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: ‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’”
What can we learn from Paul’s witness before Felix? Paul got straight to the point and answered the charges brought against him by Tertullus. He didn’t waste any time flattering Felix. He was polite, but to the point.
Paul answered the charge of being a rabble-rouser by pointing out that he did not stir up the crowd in the temple, but that he was simply there to worship God. Secondly, Paul admitted the charge of being part of the Nazarene sect, but he pointed out that his belief in the resurrection was in agreement with the Law and the Prophets. Thirdly, in regard to desecrating the temple, Paul pointed out that he was simply there to present offerings.
Paul’s public confession of faith before Felix really had four points:
1. I worship the God of our fathers.
2. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and the Prophets.
3. I have the same hope in God as these men.
4. I strive always to keep my conscience clear.
I wonder, if you or I were asked today by someone to defend our faith in Jesus Christ, could we do it as succinctly, as pointedly, as Paul? 1 Peter 3:15-16 says:
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
Paul gave his answer to Felix with gentleness and respect. Paul was prepared to give an answer to those who asked him to give a reason for his hope. Are we so prepared?
When Jeff Van Gundy, later coach of the New York Knicks basketball team, was a student at Yale University, he learned an important life lesson the hard way.
When Van Gundy was a student in New Haven, Connecticut he lived in a dormitory across the quad from actress Jodie Foster, who was also a Yale freshman. All twelve male students on Van Gundy’s dorm floor put $100 each into a pot with the promise that if one of them could get a legitimate date with Jodie Foster that guy would get the $1200.
Van Gundy, recounting the incident years later, said: “I had seen Jodie Foster around but I was too shy to go engage her in conversation, let alone, ask her out on a date.”
One evening on his way back to the dormitory Van Gundy walked by a store that made popcorn. He stopped to look in the window and suddenly heard a voice behind him say: “Geez, that popcorn smells really good.” Van Gundy turned around and found himself staring into the eyes of Jodie Foster. The only words he could get out of his mouth were: “Yeah it does.” That was it.
Finally, one of the other guys on Van Gundy’s floor got up the gumption to ask Jodie Foster out on a date. And she said, “Yes.” So that guy got the $1200. Van Gundy vowed that he would never be that flustered or unprepared again!
Many opportunities in life come along suddenly, including the opportunity to share our faith in Jesus. We need to be prepared like Paul was.
Now let’s look at the response to Paul’s defense….
Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. “When Lysias the commander comes,” he said, “I will decide your case.” He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.
Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.
When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.
Felix’s response to Paul’s witness was to put him off. First, Felix put off judgment regarding Paul’s case until he got a report from Claudius Lysias. But even after Felix had all the facts, he left Paul in prison for two years, just to please the Jewish religious leaders. Felix was clearly a corrupt bureaucrat as well as a cruel tyrant. One moment he could brutally crush a Jewish rebellion; the next moment he was trying to curry favor with the Jewish people, hoping not to lose his power and position. Felix sent for Paul frequently and listened to what Paul had to say, but really his only desire was that Paul would perhaps pay him a bribe to get out of jail.
We may seldom, if ever, have an audience like Paul had. But by the power of the Holy Spirit each of us can be just as persistent as Paul was. Notice that Paul doesn’t allow the fact that he is being treated unjustly deter him from his primary goal in life—to tell others about Jesus. Despite how Paul was being treated by Felix, Paul remained focused on the good news. He longed for Felix not only to hear and understand that good news but also to embrace it. And notice how Paul tailored his message to meet the needs of Felix and Drusilla. Paul talked to them about faith in Christ, righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come. These were the very topics Felix and Drusilla most needed to hear something about. Felix had seduced Drusilla away from her first husband, Azizus, king of Emesa, by use of a magician. So we see here how Paul boldly warned Felix and Drusilla about their sin and the coming judgment, while at the same time he clearly showed them the way of hope through faith in Jesus Christ.
Can you imagine being as bold as Paul if you were in the same situation? What allowed Paul to be so bold? I think it is the fact that Paul had tunnel vision. What mattered to him most in life and in death was that he should be a faithful witness to Jesus Christ above all else. That desire was planted in his heart by the Holy Spirit who had transformed his life on the road to Damascus.
How about you? What is your response to the good news of Jesus’ death on the cross for your sins and his resurrection from the dead? I don’t think any of us can afford to put God off like Felix did. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” And as it says in Hebrews 3:15, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”