The New Testament book of Acts is like an old friend to me, maybe sometimes a bit too familiar.
Acts, a history of the early Church from the moment of the risen Jesus' ascension through about three decades later, is the first book of the Bible I read after I became a follower of Christ. (I had been an atheist for the preceding ten years or so.)
In chapter 24, the apostle Paul is being held in Roman custody. The charge on which he's being held, false, is that he has profaned the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, specifically by allowing Gentiles into portions of the temple open to Jews alone.
For the Romans, conquerors and governors of Judea, the defiling of the Jewish holy place would have been a matter of indifference, except if it caused disruptions of the public order. The accusations lodged by the powerful among Paul's fellow Jews was that Paul was being disruptive, though Paul claims that he's in hot water with some--one thinks of the Sadducees, highly important among the Jewish leadership who didn't believe in life after death--because he has spoken of the resurrection of the dead.
Paul is kept a prisoner for two years in Jerusalem, albeit with some liberties. This delay occurred because Felix, the Roman governor of Judea from 52 to 58 AD, "well informed about the Way"--"the Way" being the Christian movement--thought he could pry a bribe from Paul's fellow believers to achieve his release.
Once, Felix sent for Paul and, with his wife, Druscilla, listened to the apostle teach. But Felix was a man who had always acted to get what he wanted, irrespective of how it hurt others.
This is where the verse that I considered for today comes in:
And as he [Paul] discussed justice, self-control, and the coming judgment, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity, I will send for you.” (Acts 24:25)The grace of God, which includes forgiveness of sins and the promise of new life through faith in Jesus Christ and the promise of Jesus' help and presence for me everyday I live on earth, is something I cherish. I know that these blessings of God are free gifts I can't earn, but only receive by faith in Christ.
But I also know that I cannot receive these gifts if I insist on sinning like the rest of the world.
I am human. I sin everyday, however unintentionally. And I must ask God to show me my sins--unintentional and otherwise--everyday, in case I come to presume on God's grace, secured for me and all people by the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross.
In gratitude for what Jesus has done for me, I want to live a life pleasing to Him. Despite my imperfections, I want to be an instrument that He can use for His purposes each day. Un-repented sin can stand in the way of that.
Conversely, when we have faith in Jesus--meaning when we trust Him with our sins and deficiencies and to save us from the death our sins deserve--He helps us, by His Holy Spirit, to live more justly toward others, with more self-control.
Jesus, according to Mark's gospel, called people to repent, that is, turn away from sin (something I have to do multiple times every day) and believe in the good news that God so loves us He sent God the Son Jesus to die for our sin and to rise from the dead, so that all who believe in Him won't perish--won't be separated from God--but live with God for eternity.
Paul was sharing this message with Felix and Druscilla. But when Paul began to talk about justice, self-control, and judgment, Felix became frightened and sent Paul away.
Paul hit too close to home. We can't be just or self-controlled when we're guided by the things of this world--whether they're our stomachs, our traditions, our desire for security, our countries, our love of money and power, our families, or something else.
To claim that we are just or that we do exercise self-control in our lives apart from the gifts of grace operating within us through faith in Christ is a delusion. I know that.
Without Jesus, we all stand naked in sin, deserving of death, and susceptible to judgment by God.
This is what disturbs Felix and so, he sends Paul away.
But as I contemplate this passage, I realize that I often send the message of God away. I send God away.
I hurry through my Bible readings.
I avoid making a personal application of what I read in God's Word and think, instead, of how it applies to other people. Or how I might use it as an illustration in a sermon or a lesson.
I hurriedly skip meditating on God's Word in order to offer pious prayers for justice and protection and healing for other people. There's nothing wrong with praying for other people, of course, unless I use such prayers to deflect God's attention from my deficiencies and God's desire to alter my character. In other words, to elude the judgment and recognition of sin that must happen before the grace of God can flood into that place in my life too.
I avoid the pain of letting God search me and know my heart, to detect the evil in me, to rip it out of my soul to die, to be replaced by a humble, childlike dependence on Him in another facet of my life.
I can be like Felix: well-informed about the Way of salvation, Jesus, but sending Him away when He gets too close.
I've preached it to many, but I don't always practice it myself: I must let God tear down these walls, to stop me from hurrying, to give me the guts to listen and to apply what His Word tells me when I would rather move on with my day and my agenda. I need to do this so that I can live for Him alone. (It's the only reasonable thing to do in response to the fact that He has lived and died and risen for me.)
God, give me the guts to take the time often each day to stop and listen to Your Word. Forgive me for so often, like Felix, turning You away when, for my soul's sake, I need to let Your Spirit do His work. I need to let Your Spirit convict me of sin and, as I repent and trust in Christ, to set me free to be trusting and faithful in yet another aspect of my life. Help me to take my cues for living from You alone. Help me to live the reality that I confess (and preach) that Jesus alone is the way, the truth, and the life, and that there's no way to You or the life You want to give me except through daily surrender to Jesus Christ alone. In His Name. Amen