Evangelism That Makes Men Tremble

The One Yea®r Chronological Bible, NKJV (Tyndale, 2013), December 4

images-2The apostle Paul’s preaching and witness to the Jews eventually bring him to be arrested by the Jews and imprisoned by the Romans. His opponents seek to kill him, so the Roman soldiers charged with his welfare send him from Jerusalem to Caesarea, to the Roman governor Felix, a particularly inept bureaucrat who has kept himself in power by sheer brute force (like many bureaucrats). His cruelty is exceeded only by his lust. His wife Drusilla is his third wife; he broke up her previous marriage to take her for himself. Ancient historians suggest that he was utterly without self-control. His ineptitude (no doubt stemming from this immorality and injustice) eventually led Nero to depose him from his office.

During Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea Philippi, the Jews come and accuse him before Felix. The trial reveals the lack of any evidence against Paul, but Felix postpones his verdict. Instead, he keeps Paul as prisoner and eventually brings him in to speak before himself and his wife Drusilla. Paul’s approach reveals so much truth about evangelism. First, Paul speaks about “the faith in Christ” (Acts 24:24). Paul talks about Jesus and explains that He is Israel’s Messiah (“Christ” is the Greek translation of “Messiah”). He is the hope of Israel, the Seed of Eve who would crush the head of the serpent. He is the Seed of Abraham who would extend the blessing of Abraham to all the nations. He is the Seed of David, who would rule on the throne forever.

Paul hones in on Felix’s true need, however, when he reasons with Felix concerning “righteousness, self-control, and judgment to come” (24:25). In language similar to Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit’s work in John 16:8-11, Paul addresses true righteousness. Righteousness means both right standing with God and the right behavior that issues from that position. No person is truly right with God if his or her behavior does not change correspondingly. Paul also speaks to Felix of “self-control,” a lifestyle Felix totally lacks. The gospel brings self-control to the life; it is one attribute of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Paul finally speaks to him of judgment to come; the awareness of future judgment is one dividing mark between those who know God and those who do not (Ps. 10:11-14). Someone well said, “The apostle Paul had two days on his calendar: today, and the Day (the Day he would stand before Jesus); and he lived every ‘today’ in light of the Day.” Paul declares the reality of future judgment to a notorious judge of others whose morality is in shambles and whose governance is corrupt. When Felix hears Paul’s words, he becomes “afraid” and sends Paul away (Acts 24:25). Felix the governor trembles before Paul the prisoner because the prisoner’s words expose the governor’s heart.

This story reveals several truths about the gospel:

  • True evangelism is confrontational—not rude or attacking, but rather face to face with someone who needs to hear.
  • True evangelism is about Jesus and the claims He makes as Messiah and Lord.
  • True evangelism exposes sin and reminds sinners of the day of judgment.
  • True evangelism points people to Jesus and shows them their need of a Savior.
  • True evangelism may make people tremble.

Questions from today’s chronological Bible reading (Acts 24:1-26:32):
What charges do the Jews bring against Paul? How does he refute them?
Why does Felix leave Paul bound after his time is over? Who succeeds him? How does he deal with Paul?
What does Paul do when Festus wants to return him to Jerusalem? What does this mean?
To whom else does Paul bear witness of Jesus? What is the outcome of that witness?