Sunday June 23rd
You probably know that our daughter Jessica lives in California, in the area called Silicon Valley. Jessica is still a Jersey girl at heart but she has several “Valley Girl” friends. So when we went out to visit her in California, we got to meet one of the “Valley Girl” friends, and it just so happened that this girl had recently purchased two cute little dogs. When my wife asked her what their names were, the “Valley Girl” (her name is Tiffany) responded by saying that one dog was named Rolex and the other one was named Timex.
I said, "Those are some unique names. What kind of dogs are they?"
She looked at me like I was from Mars. Then she kind of made this gesture at me and said,
"HELLLOOOOOOO......! Obviously they're watch
Speaking of Valleys, Joel 3:14 says that there are “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.”
Maybe you’re in the valley of decision. Or maybe you know someone who’s in the place where they need to make some life-changing decisions. Today we’re going to look at the story of Felix the governor and the decision that he faced, or more accurately, the decision that he refused to face.
As Acts 24 begins, we see that after leaving Jerusalem under an armed guard, Paul was escorted to Caesarea where he was to be arraigned before Felix, the governor of the province. Verse one says,
1After five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders, with an attorney named Tertullus, and they brought charges to the governor against Paul.
2After Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying to the governor, "Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for this nation,
3we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness.
4But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing.”
Tertullus doesn’t immediately begin making any charges against Paul, but instead he begins with a bunch of obvious flattery of the governor.
None of what he said was actually true by the way. Felix had brought neither peace nor prosperity. Actually there was constant turmoil throughout his governorship. But that doesn’t matter to Tertullus, because he’s just trying to butter up the Governor!
Now, using a mixture of outright lies and some half-truths, Tertullus begins to accuse Paul:
5"For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.
6And he even tried to desecrate the temple; and then we arrested him. We wanted to judge him according to our own Law.
7But Lysias the commander came along, and with much violence took him out of our hands,
8ordering his accusers to come before you. By examining him yourself concerning all these matters you will be able to ascertain the things of which we accuse him.”
9The Jews also joined in the attack, asserting that these things were so.
So the charges being brought against Paul were;
(1) He was a real pest
(2) He stirred up dissension among the Jews.
(3) He was a ringleader of the “sect of the Nazarene.”
Notice Tertullus’ choice of words; he defines Christianity as a “sect”, which is like a cult, and he uses the term “Nazarene” to avoid using Jesus’ name.
(4) He tried to desecrate the Jewish temple by taking a Gentile in there (that wasn’t true, but they had seen Paul near the temple with a Gentile from Ephesus and assumed that he took the man into the temple)
Tertullus claimed that Paul was in the process of being judged properly by their laws when the Roman centurion had intervened. But the truth is that they were actually trying to KILL Paul when the Romans got there!
Paul’s defense is recorded in verses 10-21:
When the governor had nodded for him to speak, Paul responded: "Knowing that for many years you have been a judge to this nation, I cheerfully make my defense,
11since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship.
12Neither in the temple, nor in the synagogues, nor in the city itself did they find me carrying on a discussion with anyone or causing a riot.
13 Nor can they prove to you the charges of which they now accuse me.
14But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets;
15having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.
16In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.
17Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings;
18in which they found me occupied in the temple, having been purified, without any crowd or uproar But there were some Jews from Asia--
19who ought to have been present before you and to make accusation, if they should have anything against me.
20"Or else let these men themselves tell what misdeed they found when I stood before the Council,
21other than for this one statement which I shouted out while standing among them, 'For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today.'"
Paul argues beginning in verse fourteen that the charges against him are religious, not criminal. “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets.” Essentially Paul is saying, “I am guilty in their eyes of believing that the long-awaited Jewish Messiah has come. It’s true. I do believe that. His name is Jesus, and He’s been resurrected”
This statement puts Felix in the valley of decision. Not just regarding Paul’s guilt, but also regarding his own response to the truth that he’s just heard. But rather than making a decision, Felix procrastinates:
22But Felix, having a more exact knowledge about the Way, put them off, saying, "When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case."
23Then he gave orders to the centurion for him to be kept in custody and yet have some freedom, and not to prevent any of his friends from ministering to him.
Felix postpones his decision, about Paul and Jesus, even though he knows what he needs to do. Verse 22 says that Felix had a “more accurate knowledge of the Way,” which means that Felix knew what Paul was saying was true and he knew that Tertullus’ charges against Paul were utter nonsense. Felix certainly couldn’t find Paul guilty of any offense against any Roman laws. He should have released him, but by postponing a verdict he hoped to both pacify the Jews who hated Paul, and perhaps get a bribe from Paul or his friends.
According to verse 24 there is another encounter,
“some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.”
Drusilla was a sixteen year old girl who Felix stole away from her first husband and made his third wife. Felix was a Gentile, but Drusilla had been raised as a Jew, even though she didn’t practice her faith. It seems as though Felix wanted her to listen to Paul and then tell him what she thought of his message.
But Verse 25 says that as Paul,
… was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, "Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you."
Paul lays out the key elements that we all face in the valley of decision, “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.”
One commentary says this was “undoubtedly was not what this couple in an illicit relationship wanted to hear. Paul first preached to them about righteousness, which could only be found through Christ. He also spoke them about self-control, something Felix was clearly lacking in.
Finally he emphasized the “judgment to come,” warning them that they would not escape divine accountability for the way that they were living their lives.”
Jesus had said in John 16:8 that when the Holy Spirit comes, “He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment…”
And here, the Holy Spirit is speaking through Paul.
But did Felix respond to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul? No, he was simply afraid of the truth that he was hearing, and answered, “That’s enough for now! When I want to hear more, I’ll send for you!”
Felix didn’t say that he never wanted to hear the Gospel again; he just kept putting off his decision.
That’s what many people try to do.
Plus, we’re told in verse 26 that:
“At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him.”
So although Felix sent for Paul, “quite often” it was in the hope “that money would be given him by Paul” not because he was ready receive Christ. How long did this procrastination go on?
Verse 27 tells us.
“But after two years Porcius Festus succeeded Felix; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul bound.”
Think about that - two years had gone by and Felix still hadn’t made a decision about releasing Paul or accepting Jesus!
Let’s compare Felix’s lack of a decision with the Philippian jailer that we saw back in Acts 16. When the earthquake came and opened the prison doors, his first thought was to kill himself, rather than risking punishment from the Romans for letting the prisoners escape. But when he realized that Paul and Silas were still there, “…he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
That’s the only question that needs to be answered in the Valley of Decision – How can I get saved?
Some people want to stay forever in the valley of decision. Others see the choice that is in front of them and realize that now is the time to decide.
Thank God that those of us here today are folks who went into the valley of decision and came out saying, “I have decided to follow Jesus!”
No matter where you live in this world as long as you are advancing the Kingdom of God you will be opposed. So, if you want it easy, be religious, keep your faith to yourself, have a shallow relationship with God, don't apply truth, and remain deceived. Sadly, the church in America overall faces minimal opposition, not because of our freedom to worship but rather we have compromised and chosen lukewarm, complacent, institutional Christianity.
Paul was now before the Sanhedrin, and it was an uproar. Paul wisely knowing the division between the two parties of the Sadducees and Pharisees, set them up to fight amongst themselves rather than be united against him. He reminded them that he was a Pharisee and that he was on trial regarding the resurrection of the dead. Since that was the dividing issue between these two religious sects they started arguing and now the Pharisees turned from being against Paul to now speaking favorably of him.
The enemies of God have a difficult time being united because they are selfish and egocentric, so it is easy to say something that will turn them against each other which gives time to come up with a strategy to escape a difficult situation.
The Roman commander took Paul before they tore him apart and placed him in the barracks. In verse eleven it says at night the Lord stood by Paul and said, "have courage! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you also must testify in Rome."
40 Jews went on a hunger strike conspiring to kill Paul. A nephew of Paul found out and reported it and so Paul was taken at night armed with 200 soldiers to speak before the governor Felix, in which he was now placed in a safe place until his accusers could come and speak against him in the set boundaries of a trial.
Take courage if you are in God's will you are in the safest place you can be. No matter how many are against you God will deliver you. If He has revealed His will and you are set on fulfilling it, nothing can stop you. Every test is for the purpose of being able to testify. When you need support He will show up, Himself and speak life to help you remain focused on your divine purpose.
Sunday June 9th
I heard about a Baptist preacher and his wife who decided to get a new dog. But because of their denominational beliefs they wanted to make sure that the dog was a Baptist too. Finally, they found a kennel owner who assured them that he had just the dog they wanted. The pastor asked, “How can we be sure that he’s a Baptist?” “Watch this” the kennel owner said.
“Fetch the Bible,” he commanded. And the dog ran over to the bookshelf, scanned the books, located the Bible, and brought it to the owner. “Now find Psalm 23,” he commanded. The dog placed the Bible on the floor and turned the pages, pointing to the 23rd Psalm with his paw. The pastor and his wife were very impressed and asked the kennel owner, “Can he do regular tricks, too?”
“Sure he can” the kennel owner replied. He pointed his finger at the dog and commanded “HEEL!”
The dog jumped up on a chair, placed his paw on the pastor’s forehead and began to howl.
The pastor looked at his wife in shock and said, “Oh dear Lord! He’s a Pentecostal!!!”
I chose that joke for 2 reasons. First, because today is Pentecost Sunday, and second, because we have been fasting and praying about repentance for the past 21 days and I knew I would need to repent for telling that joke!
I heard someone say that repentance can ultimately be summed up by these six words: “I was, I am, I will.” These words represent our past life, our present situation, and our future choices.
The word repent is often confused with the word sorrow, and they are related, but they aren’t the same.
2 Corinthians 7:10 tells us that:
“sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.”
So the right kind of sorrow over our sinful past can lead us to a place of repentance, but sorrow itself isn’t repentance. Repentance literally means “turning around” to head in the opposite direction, and “turning away” from our past lifestyle.
Some people don’t think they’ll ever be able to overcome their past, no matter how hard they try. And truthfully, without the Lord, no one can overcome their past!
But each of us must be set free from the past in order to reach the future that God has prepared for us.
The goal of our fasting and repenting wasn’t to make us hungry and sad, it was to allow God to take us to a deeper place in our walk with Him.
Acts 3:19 shows us the end result of repentance when it says:
Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord
The point is that we don’t move ahead by looking in the rear view mirror. We must learn from the past but not live in the past.
As we will see in today’s chapter, the Apostle Paul was able to use these three elements, his past, his present, and his future, to share the testimony of his repentance with unbelievers, by declaring the difference that Jesus had made in his life.
Let’s look at Acts chapter 22 to see how Paul uses his past to show his listeners how Christ can give them a new future: (starting with the final verse of Chapter 21)
40When he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect, saying,
1"Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you."
2And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he said,
3"I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today.
4"I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons,
5as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.
Someone once said that the secret to effective evangelism is to speak, “as a dying man to other dying men!"
In other words, we need to let people know that we are not different from them in the sense of being better than them, we are only different because of Christ. In order to encourage others to repent, we must also acknowledge that we too needed to repent.
Paul emphasizes to these Jewish listeners that he has much in common with them, especially who he once was. He shows this in several ways:
But repentance is not about living in the past, it’s about leaving the past behind. So Paul is about to take these listeners in a new direction. He has told them “that’s who I Was” but now he’ll show them “this is who I AM”
6"But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me,
7and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?'
8"And I answered, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said to me, 'I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.'
9"And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me.
10"And I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.'
11"But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus.
12"A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,
13came to me, and standing near said to me, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very time I looked up at him.
14"And he said, 'The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth.
15 'For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard.
16 'Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.'
Paul summarizes for these listeners everything that happened to him back in chapter 9. He’s saying, “I told you who I Was, but now let me tell you what Jesus did for me to make me who I Am today!”
His encounter with Jesus was an absolute turning point in Paul’s life. Everything that he believed, everything that he valued before Christ was gone. It really didn’t matter anymore. Jesus had offered Paul a brand new start of repentance and Paul took it!
He says, “I surrendered to the call of Jesus, I put my faith in him and what he did on the cross!” For Paul, the happiest moment of his life was when he surrendered to Christ in faith and obedience. Paul asked the Lord, "What do you want me to do?" He was told, "Get up and you’ll be told what to do."
Paul admits that he had to surrender to Christ’s power in order to receive forgiveness and redemption. When we call on the name of the Lord we’re admitting that we’re lost and in need of forgiveness. That’s the first step in repentance. There’s no such thing as accepting the benefits of salvation without allowing Christ to do a redemptive work in our lives. Paul is making it clear that becoming a Christian isn’t just saying a prayer, it’s a life-changing commitment. It’s turning from the past towards a whole new direction in life!
Next, Paul tells them about his future. He tells them, “because of what Christ has done for me, this is what I Will do from now on to serve him.”
17"It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance,
18and I saw Him saying to me, 'Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.'
19"And I said, 'Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You.
20 'And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.'
21"And He said to me, 'Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'"
Notice that Paul’s “I Will” statement is directly based on Jesus’ “I Will” statement. Jesus says, “Go! For I WILL send you to the Gentiles.” And Paul says “If that’s what you want, then I will GO”.
If we want our future to have any value or purpose, our will MUST line up with God’s will!
One benefit of lining up our will with God’s will is that we can leave the ultimate results of our actions up to Him. If we do what He tells us to do, then what happens is His responsibility, not ours. Paul spoke the words that God gave him to speak, and it really didn’t matter what happened next. In fact, in the short run the people reacted very negatively:
22They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!"
23And as they were crying out and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air,
24the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way.
25But when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?"
26When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and told him, saying, "What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman."
27The commander came and said to him, "Tell me, are you a Roman?" And he said, "Yes."
28The commander answered, "I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money." And Paul said, "But I was actually born a citizen."
29Therefore those who were about to examine him immediately let go of him; and the commander also was afraid when he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had put him in chains.
30But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them.
Paul was probably getting used to this type of rejection by now, but he continued to try to preach Christ, not because the people WANTED to hear about salvation, but because they NEEDED to hear about salvation. This group of Jews, like so many others before them, wanted to kill Paul. And the Romans stepped in and were ready to give Paul another whipping until they find out that he was a Roman citizen as well as a Jew!
Roman citizenship gave a person certain rights that the average person didn’t have. For example, the standard practice of Roman soldiers in handling someone accused of a crime was to beat them first and ask questions later! But they weren’t allowed to beat a fellow Roman. Since they were in Jerusalem, they assumed that Paul was an Israeli Jew.
But although Paul was raised in Jerusalem, he was born in Tarsus, which was a Roman city. So he was both Jewish and Roman. When he points this out to the soldiers, they back off right away, knowing that they could face serious consequences for whipping another Roman.
The leader of the Roman guard is curious as to how Paul could be a Roman citizen and a Jew. He tells Paul that he, the commander, wasn’t born Roman, but paid a lot of money to purchase Roman citizenship. The going rate for that privilege was around $50,000! Paul surprises him by saying, “But I was actually BORN a Roman citizen!”
Think about this; you are a citizen of heaven! That’s what Philippians 2:20 says, “our citizenship is in heaven” And you didn’t have to BUY that citizenship, in fact you CAN’T buy it, not for $50, 000 or for $50,000,000,000! You are BORN-AGAIN into heavenly citizenship when you receive forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ!
And that’s why our testimony says “I Was, I Am, I Will”
I was a sinner with no hope of eternal life. I was destined for a miserable existence on this earth.
I was destined for eternal separation from God. But God in His mercy showed me a better way, a better plan for my life. So I repented, I turned away from my old life and surrendered my future to God.
I am now saved by the free gift of grace and mercy that God provided for me, and I will now live for Him and serve him with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength!
That was Paul’s testimony. What’s your testimony?
How has God set you free from your past and given you a new future?
What part did repentance play in your story?
And is God showing you something more that He has in store for you if you would be willing to enter into a greater level of repentance?
If you’ve gained some insight over these past 21 days of fasting and seeking the Lord, then I would encourage you to come to the altar as we close the service today, not in sorrow, but in true repentance, ready and willing to turn away from whatever has been holding you back, and turn towards the future that God has in store for you!
Paul, as we saw at the end of chapter 20, felt compelled to get to Jerusalem sensing that his time was coming to an end for great suffering was awaiting him. Now here in chapter 21, we see Paul traveling quickly from place to place. While at Tyre, they found some disciples who through the Spirit warned Paul not to go to Jerusalem, then in Caesarea, they stayed at Philip the evangelist who had four daughters who prophesied. While there, a prophet named Agabus came and did a demonstration to Paul of how he was going to be bound and delivered into Gentile hands if he went up to Jerusalem. Paul, told them all, what are you doing? I am ready to die for the Lord, don't make this any more difficult.
What do we do when prophecy contradicts the direction the Lord has given us?
It is always good to examine first to assure that we did hear from the Lord. Second, we understand that people prophesy in part, sometimes they add their own interpretation to what they saw, so we need to rightfully discern it. Keep that which we know is of God and throw out that which is not. Third, God's will is often not easy and what He tells us privately few people would be able to believe it themselves. Somethings we just got to keep to ourselves and within a small circle of those who truly grasp the call of God on our lives.
Prophesy helps us advance it gives us clarity to push us forward, it helps us discern the timing of God. But, we must be cautious to hear from God for ourselves first and not become prophesy junkies. There are those who go from one prophetic meeting to the next hoping to get a word from God. Most prophetic words have a bit of the individual's interpretation involved and if we don't know God's will for ourselves we will be all over the place, lost in confusion, hope deferred, spiritually sick. People mean well but as we see with Paul they thought there was no way that it was God's will for Paul to suffer and die and yet it was. They saw the suffering but interpreted it as a warning to not go to Jerusalem. People see in part, prophecy in part, but it is our duty to take the part and hear from God in order to fill in the blanks.
Paul finally reaches Jerusalem, and at first, he was welcomed warmly. Paul shared about all that God had done among the Gentiles, then the Jewish leaders starting bragging about the thousands of Jews who were now believers and were zealous for the law. Then, they started questioning Paul since they had heard he was telling Jews in his travels that they didn't have to abide by the law. The council years ago had agreed the Gentiles only had to follow a much-condensed version but that decision didn't include the Jews. Paul the next day, responded to their accusations by his men and him going through the custom purification. But, Jews from Asia saw him and seized him shouting accusations, they dragged him out of the temple and were about to kill him, when Roman soldiers stepped in and took Paul into custody. The Commander thought Paul was an Egyptian who raised a rebellion after Paul cleared his name, he was given permission to address the mob who had gathered.
Have you ever been welcomed one moment and then insulted the next? Brought into a heated situation and things seem to go okay initially and then all Hell breaks out. Being misunderstood and then given little room to explain anything. How should one respond? Sometimes there is nothing we can say or do all we can hope for is that God intervenes. The Bible says we overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony. Sometimes silence is the best way to defend ourselves other times as the bible says "we overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony." Debating theology to the hard of heart will not end well but speaking what God has done experientially cannot be denied. People may not believe us but one cannot argue with what another has experienced.
Americans live in a land that celebrates freedom of religion what we face in opposition is nothing compared to those in religious oppressive countries such as North Korea, Iran, etc. We should be thankful for the freedom we enjoy and be in prayer and look to support however we can the persecuted church, yet the enemies of God will oppose the advancement of the Kingdom no matter where we live, so we got to be on guard at all times, ready to respond to any situation in the power of God.