MESSAGE DELIVERED: APRIL 30, 2017
Now that Easter is behind us for another year, we will soon begin to look ahead to Christmas. I know you probably don’t want to hear that, but the church year revolves around those two events; the BIRTH of Jesus, and The Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
So before we launch into that, let’s take a little time to look at the reality of Christianity. Actually, I’m kinda looking at my latest book, in which I used the premise that Christianity was outlawed and driven underground. And yeah, you can say that’ll never happen, but historically, it HAS happened in the past…and YOU know how history tends to repeat itself.
And I know you’ve heard this question before, but guess what? You’re gonna hear it again. Because I think it’s something we should examine often. The question is: “lf Christianity was illegal, would there be enough evidence to convict you in court?”
If YOU were to be arrested and charged with promoting Christianity, as Paul was in the passage we just read, would you be convicted in court? See, Paul was on trial, in chains, and charged with “CHRISTIANITY IN THE 1st DEGREE”. And he was being judged by THREE different men, two GOVENORS, and a KING!
And Paul used the SAME defense each time he was judged. Although actually he didn’t even TRY to defend himself against the charge. Instead he EMBRACED it. And to each of his judges, he presented the clear and unvarnished GOSPEL of Jesus Christ. And he allowed his fate to hang on the Truth OF that Gospel.
And each of the three men that judged him reacted differently to that Gospel message. And we’re going to look at each of those responses in just a minute. That will be brief, I don’t intend to keep you here all day.
But first, I want to look at a ‘follow-up’ to that question I asked, about there being enough evidence in your life to convict you of Christianity. While you’re sitting here this morning, I want each of you to examine your own life for a bit. Examine your WALK before the world. Who was it that said “an unexamined life is not worth living”? Thoreau? Well, anyway, do your neighbors know you’re a Christian? And remember I didn’t ask “do they know you go to church”? That’s pretty obvious, since you’re hearing this question, because you ARE here.
But, that’s not enough evidence to convict you. There are a lot of folks that attend church, and fairly regularly too, who are NOT Christians. So, do you treat your neighbors the same way you treat the folks that sit in the pew behind you? Do you treat your wife, or your husband, the same way at home, as you do here in the church?
Do the people you meet only occasionally, like the cashier at the grocery store, or the teller at the bank; do they know you’re born again? Or would they maybe be kinda surprised to hear that? What I’m asking is, is your walk before the world the same as your walk before the church? And is that enough to get you convicted in court?
Let me ask you a different question: “WHY should you be a Christian today since it’s becoming increasingly UNpopular to BE one? And by that, I don’t mean just “smiling and friendly and going to church” kind of Christian, but the “you better get Saved, and Jesus is the only way to GET Saved, and you better do it now or you’re going to hell” kind of Christian.
THAT is becoming more and more unpopular, so why should you BE one? Remember, there were three men sitting in judgement of Paul, during HIS trial for being a Christian. And each of these men heard the Gospel message, from Paul’s lips, and each man reacted TO that message in a different way. And each of those three men represent a different group of people that you just might run into today.
Those men were FELIX, FESTUS and AGRIPPA…two governors and a king. And each represent a different answer to the question “why should I be a Christian today”?
What I’d really like to do, is just stand here and read chapters 23-26, because that is where this story plays out, and it is told there so beautifully and powerfully by Luke, that there isn’t really anything I can add to it.
But we only have a half hour, and I want to keep as many of you AWAKE as possible, so instead just let me tell you a little bit about these three men.
The first man to sit in judgement of Paul, and to hear his Gospel defense, was Felix, the Roman Governor (Or ‘Procurator’) who served in the position that had once been held by Pontius Pilate.
A man like Felix, if asked “Why should I become a Christian?” should have come back with the answer “For my OWN sake”! But he didn’t. Out of the three men we’re going to look at, Felix is easily the most interesting…and certainly the most complicated!
This man who held the powerful position of being the Governor of the entire area of Judea, by the appointment of the Roman Emperor, had once been a LOWLY SLAVE! The details of his fall into slavery are not known, but the most likely event would be that he had been SOLD into slavery, by his own PARENTS…possibly to satisfy a debt.
We can make that guess because we know that he had a brother who was a free man. The brother’s name was Paulus and he served in the court of Emperor Claudius, where he advanced through the ranks to hold a very high position with the Emperor. From that high position, he would have then been able to secure his brother’s freedom, as well as having him appointed as Procurator of Judea.
That would have been possible because the position there was not a very popular one, since the Jews were an almost unmanageable group, always making problems for whoever held that position.
But the title, “Procurator”, was a perfect description of what he was supposed to do! It was to “PROCUR MONEY, in the form of taxes, for Rome. And Felix was very good at that. His manner was described as being both BRUTAL, and GREEDY!
Even though he was now a FREE MAN, and even though he now held a high position in the Roman government, he was never quite able to overcome his humble beginnings. So Felix wielded the POWER of a KING, with the MENTALITY of a SLAVE!
While Felix was serving in Judea, Emperor Claudius died, and NERO then became Emperor. At the beginning of his rule, he hadn’t yet descended into the madness that would mark the END of his rule. So when Nero heard of the brutality of Felix, Nero had him recalled to Rome, and sent FESTUS to serve in his place.
But, not until AFTER Felix had sat in judgement of Paul. Before that judgement, Felix had already been in Judea several years, and had married a woman who was part Jew. So he knew quite a bit about Jewish ways and customs.
So when Paul told Felix about Jesus, and when he spoke about the RIGHTEOUSNESS and the JUDGEMENT to come, Felix was TERRIFIED. But the mind of a slave wouldn’t leave him, and when presented with the Gospel, all he could think was “What’s in it for ME”?
So Felix kept Paul locked up for two years, hoping that some of Paul’s friends would come up with the money for a BRIBE for his release. But that never happened, and then Felix was recalled to Rome instead.
Felix represents a lot of people today. People who are ENSLAVED by sin, who then hear the GOOD NEWS about the VICTORY available through Jesus…the FREEDOM available through His Sacrifice, but who think it can’t POSSIBLY be for them! Satan has such a STRANGLEHOLD on these people, that with their enslaved mentality, they can’t see any way to break free.
Jesus described these people in the Parable of the SOWER. These were the seeds that fell among the THORNS, and were SMOTHERED! With his HEART of a SLAVE, Felix longed to be free, but his MIND of a slave told him that he didn’t DESERVE it!
This world is literally FILLED with people like that…those who have been CRUSHED and BEATEN DOWN by life…who long for just a TOUCH of self-respect or a feeling of self-WORTH! And I know this because I had long numbered MYSELF among them! They are people who suffer from an UNfair sense of FAILURE…usually from an early age, and usually instigated by uncaring or unfeeling PARENTS. They LONG for a new start, but have been convinced they don’t DESERVE that new start!
But beloved, we worship and serve a God Who SPECIALIZES in NEW STARTS! But even so, poor, deluded people like Felix, who hear the Glorious Gospel message, are so completely enslaved by their sins, that they think “That can’t POSSIBLY be for ME, because I don’t DESERVE it”!
They are the people who, when faced with the question “WHY should I become a Christian?”…need to answer: “For ME! For MY sake! My OWN sake! For the NEW START that promise offers! A new beginning in Jesus!”
This Bible teaches “If any man (or woman), any PERSON…be IN CHRIST, they are a NEW CREATION! OLD things have passed away, Behold ALL things have become NEW!” (that’s 2 Corinthians 5:17) That means a brand NEW start, a brand new BEGINNING! EVERYTHING done BEFORE that event, is GONE!…WIPED away as if it never existed!
No matter WHAT you may have done before coming to Christ, no matter WHAT Satan may have deceived you into thinking or doing; NONE of it MATTERS anymore! Jesus loves you SO much, that He DIED, just for YOU! Just to set YOU free!
Are you maybe like Felix? Terrified by the thought of coming judgment, but shackled by your own LACK of self-worth? Are you struggling with what YOU see as your own inadequacies? It doesn’t MATTER! NONE of us are WORTHY of the Salvation Jesus Died to provide for us. But He GAVE it TO us ANYway! Just open your heart and RECIEVE it! It’s His GIFT to you.
Or maybe you’re more like the second man to sit in judgement of Paul…the one named FESTUS! Festus had just arrived on the scene and knew NOTHING about Jewish ways and customs. He knew nothing about JESUS and His Resurrection. All he KNEW was that this man named Jesus was supposed to be DEAD, but Paul was insisting He was ALIVE!
As hard as it is to believe, Festus represents a LOT of people around us every day…people who have never HEARD of Jesus, or His great LOVE for us. They’ve never HEARD of His Atoning Death…or that it was for THEM that He died. To THEM, all Jesus is, is a CURSE word, or maybe a FABLE!
They are also described in the Parable of the Sower. They are the seed that was sown, and immediately eaten up by birds. If FESTUS were asked “Why should you be a Christian today?”, the best answer he could bring would be “FOR THE WORLD’S SAKE”!
How many of you have lived way up north, in SNOW country? How many of you have ever experienced a terrifying condition called a “WHITEOUT”? That is what happens sometimes during BLIZZARD conditions, when the wind, instead of blowing in a straight line, begins to SWIRL, in EDDIES, and dozens of little VORTEXES. The snow is coming down from the sky, and being picked up from the ground and SWIRLED all around you, until you literally cannot see your hand in front of your face.
With the wind swirling like that, and snow is blocking your vision, you can become disoriented…and you can even become LOST, in familiar surroundings. When our girls were small, we lived on a farm in Lake Orion, Michigan. One winter day I was in my workshop, which was maybe 40 yards from the back door of the house…and one of these nasty blizzards began blowing, and I thought it would be a good idea to get in the house and maybe curl up with a hot cup of coffee.
When I was about halfway there, all at once I was IN those WHITEOUT conditions. It happened INSTANTLY. One minute the wind was blowing in my face, and the next it’s blowing EVERYWHERE. And after only a few steps, I was LOST, just a few feet from the kitchen door.
But I didn’t know where the door WAS…or where the HOUSE was! I couldn’t even see the GROUND! That was a FRIGHTENING experience; to be LOST, in your own back yard! Well, I stumbled around for a while, before running into my BIRD FEEDER. And I mean literally RAN into it, because I was nowhere NEAR where I thought I was. But I DID know that, from that bird feeder, I could reach out by hand and touch the back porch. So I held on to that feeder with one hand and reached around with the other until I felt the side of the house and then FELT my way into the house…looking for all the world like a SNOWMAN.
Unless you’ve been in conditions like that, you have no idea how scary it can be to be completely lost, and at the mercy of the elements. But that’s where FESTUS was; LOST, and completely at the mercy of the dark forces around him. And then SUDDENLY, right there in front of him, is the LIGHT! The GOSPEL light! Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ, is right there in front of him, in chains, and fearlessly proclaiming the SALVATION available through Jesus.
ALL Festus had to do, was to reach out his hand and TAKE it! EMBRACE it!…and be Saved. Be PLUCKED from the storm of sin that was his life, and set down safely at the Feet of the Lord.
Then HE could have taken the same message to the lost world, and help others find the same Salvation HE found…the same SAFETY from the STORM! Why should you be a Christian? For the WORLD’S sake! There are so MANY that are LOST, and STUMBLING through life, in DARKNESS…and DYING, and going into everlasting PUNISHMENT!
The world desperately needs to know that SALVATION and SAFETY and FREEDOM are available…at the CROSS!…where the Lamb of God was SLAIN, for the sins of the whole world. You can tell them: “Become a Christian, for your OWN sake!…AND for the WORLD’S sake!
ALL of that was right there in front of Festus, but he refused to take it. Instead he told Paul “You’re CRAZY! All your STUDYING has driven you MAD!” And he remained in darkness, until he died.
But then there was AGRIPPA, the KING, sitting there WITH Festus. Agrippa was living in sin, in INCEST with his own SISTER, and serving by the decree of Nero, as the KING of the area around Jerusalem. Agrippa knew all about Jewish prophecy and teachings. He knew that Messiah was to come, and he knew that Jesus had claimed to BE that Messiah, by many amazing signs and miracles.
And he knew that Jesus had been KILLED, and BURIED, and that later, He had been seen ALIVE again, and seen and testified by witnesses all OVER Agrippa’s kingdom. He KNEW all that because, as Paul told him, “This thing was not done in a CORNER!”
It wasn’t done in secret. The Death and Resurrection of Jesus had been done OPENLY, and WITNESSED by HUNDREDS. The TRUTH was right there, for all to see.
If HE were to be asked “Why should you be a Christian?”, Agrippa should have answered “For CHRIST’S sake”! Agrippa KNEW the LAW. He KNEW the PROPHETS. He HAD the EVIDENCE! WHY be a CHRISTIAN? For JESUS’ sake! LOOK at ALL He has done for YOU, and HOW can you turn Him down?
I have compared Felix and Festus to the Parable of the Sower, but AGRIPPA doesn’t FIT in any of those categories. But there IS another one, one that Jesus didn’t mention, but one that ANY farmer knows well.
Sometimes, even though the SEED is GOOD, and the SOIL is FERTILE, and ALL the conditions seem PERFECT…SOMETIMES the seed STILL doesn’t sprout, and NOTHING happens! Every farmer knows that if he plants 10 seeds, maybe only 8 of them will sprout, and the others simply ROT and DIE!
And THAT was Agrippa! He told Paul, “ALMOST you have persuaded me to be a Christian”! ALMOST! But not quite! And beloved, ALMOST doesn’t COUNT! ALMOST PERSUADED IS COMPLETELY LOST!
Agrippa looked at Paradise, and turned around and walked away. Like Felix, like Festus, they ALL looked at Truth, and chose the LIE instead. And then one day, they DIED, in their sins, and woke UP in torment…ALMOST persuaded, but totally lost!
And NOW I have to ask YOU, and remember, this started with me suggesting “IF”, one day, Christianity was declared ILLEGAL, could YOU be convicted? IS there EVIDENCE against you? ARE you a Child of God today, or are you ALMOST persuaded, but completely lost?
And would you LIKE to be Saved? That precious gift of Salvation is RIGHT HERE, in FRONT of you today. And ALL you have to do, is step up and TAKE it! IT’S FREE, and it’s AVAILABLE…if you’re willing.
NOone is so BAD that they can’t BE Saved…and NOone is so GOOD that they don’t NEED it. And if you’re here, or hearing this, will you accept the wonderful thing that Jesus is offering you? Simply CONFESS that you ARE a sinner…we ALL are! And accept what Jesus did on the Cross as your payment FOR that sin, and ASK Him to Save YOU. As soon as YOU DO, it’s DONE!
And you’re a part of the family of God…so NOW I’ll ask you, will you go to someone ELSE, who needs the SAME Salvation the Lord just blessed YOU with, so THEY can have it too?
God let His Own Son DIE, for OUR sins! And now He’s offering SO MUCH, and all you have to do, is TAKE it…and then SHARE it. Are you willing?