Hear “Nixon”, and you think “Watergate” (unless you were born after 1975). Hear “Felix”, and you should think of Paul’s first Roman trial complete with a corrupt, ruthless governor and two years in prison.
“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. But the commander, Lysias, came and with the use of much force snatched him from our hands and ordered his accusers to come before you. 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” (Acts 24:1-9).
The Roman tribune has chosen to transfer Paul to a high authority. With a huge contingent of Roman military, he takes him sixty miles north to Caesarea and Governor Felix. Five days after arriving, Paul is brought before the governor. Ananias, the high priest from Jerusalem, some elders and a lawyer, Tertullus, are present for the prosecution.
Tertullus (prosecutor): “You’re the empire’s greatest governor! (Oh, puh-lease!) You’ve wisely created much-needed reforms and ushered in perpetual peace (what about all those uprisings and Felix’s ruthless reactions who only sparked more Jewish violence?).
“But, let me be brief. This man (finger pointing) has stirred up riots among the Jews all over the world (shattering Roman peace) and is a ringleader of the (notorious) Nazarene sect. He even tried to desecrate the temple! We wouldn’t have bothered you with this but Lysias, the Roman commander, forcibly grabbed him from us and ordered we come to you. Your examination will show all these charges to be true.”
“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'” (Acts 24:10-21),
Paul (defendant): “I didn’t argue in the temple. I didn’t stir up a riot in the city. My accusers have no proof of their charges. It is true that I worship the God of our fathers ‘as a follower of the Way.’ But I believe everything in the Law and Prophets, and, like them, hope in the resurrection of the dead. For that reason I seek to keep a clear conscience before God.
“I came to Jerusalem to bring gifts for the poor. I created no trouble. Asian Jews started it all. They should stand before you with their charges. Or Tertullus and these Sadduccees should name the crime they say I committed—unless it was my shout that set them off: “It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today (this is irrelevant theology to the Romans).
“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” (Acts 24:22,23).
The wheels of government grind slowly. Felix declares, “We’re adjourned.” He needed no more information about Christianity, being “well acquainted with the way.” But he did want to hear from the Roman commander on scene. Until then, Paul was to be guarded but granted some freedoms.
Lysias was never summoned.
“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” (Acts 24:24-27).
Soap Opera: When Drusilla was six, her father promised her to an Armenian king, if he would be circumcised. Years later, he refused. So her brother gave her in marriage to a Syrian king. At a dinner party (I made that up) Felix saw Drusilla across the room and her beauty sparkled stars in his eyes. He wooed and won her away from her husband. Drusilla, divorced and remarried. So when Luke writes “Jewess”, don’t think “godly.”
Curiosity: I’m assuming this is why Felix sent for Paul. But his curiosity turned to terror when Paul told of God’s coming judgment. “No more. I’ll call you when I’m ready.”
Corruption: Government’s not only slow: it’s corrupt. Felix talked frequently with Paul hoping he’d bribe him to get out. Two years later—no bribe from Paul. But Felix is gone, leaving Paul under guard.
* * *
What was God doing? Okay, the Romans did rescue Paul from death by Jews. And as long as they held him, the Jews couldn’t get him. And Paul got to deliver the gospel to Governor Felix (who wanted a bribe more than righteousness). But, two years in prison with Lord knows how many “conversations” with the greedy governor. Two years! Couldn’t God just have gotten Paul passage on a ship headed west?
When troubles come, our first response is, “Why?” Our second is to explain to God why this trouble makes no sense, and he’d be a lot better off getting us out of it. There’s no changing God’s mind, though. And let’s face it: we don’t understand some things God does. Think there’ll be a long line in heaven? Folks lining up with all our “why?” questions.
‘Til then, we’ll just have to accept our ignorance and trust God’s wisdom.