We like to think we live in a place where “liberty and justice for all” is truly the guaranteed possession of the citizens. I believe it is accurate to say that there has never been a country in the history of the world where it has been more perfectly applied than in the United States of America. The justice system gets it right in a high percentage of cases … but it still isn’t perfect. Mistakes are made, and here and there are a few personages in power and authority with a less than perfect desire to see truth prevail, especially when it may impact their longevity and position in power.
We could make quite a list of places around the world where injustice prevails and where authoritarian strongmen abuse their people for personal gains. Though the Roman world and system made quantum leaps forward on the issue of justice, it was still true that abuses could prevail. And we see some of these cracks in the system in the biblical record concerning the Apostle Paul.
Today we meet a Roman governor who is a fair-minded and insightful fellow on one hand, yet also a man in possession of quite a laundry list of personal deficiencies. Many of these are known about him from secular sources outside the biblical record. Felix was not a man of high moral character personally. He was much into self-aggrandizement, possessing also a volatile personality and short fuse. We read that he truly heard what the Apostle Paul had to say, apparently did not buy the grandiose false stories of the Jewish accusers, and was even interested in hearing on occasion Paul’s views on matters of faith – being convicted by these words.
Yet at the same time, Felix was hoping to personally gain a bribe from Paul. Why would this be, and how could Paul pay such a thing? In Paul’s defense before the governor, the Apostle said that he had brought money to Jerusalem to give to the poor. Perhaps Felix thought that the people behind the source of these funds would likewise send money to see their dear Paul released from prison?? This is my speculation completely. In any event, Paul’s imprisonment lasted for two years.
Here is the text of Acts 24 … come back at the end for a few comments on the issue of justice …
Paul’s Trial Before Felix
Acts 24:1 – 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. 2 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. 3 Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. 4 But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.
5 “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 6 and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him. 7[some manuscripts have an extra verse at this point, not likely original] 8 By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.”
9 The other Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.
10 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. 11 You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 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. 13 And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. 14 However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15 and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16 So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.
17 “After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. 18 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. 19 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. 20 Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin— 21 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.’”
22 Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. “When Lysias the commander comes,” he said, “I will decide your case.” 23 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.
24 Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 As Paul talked about 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.” 26 At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.
27 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.
That truly is an injustice for the Apostle Paul. Imagine the frustration of knowing that you are innocent, yet are being held as a criminal by people who are themselves doing something criminal in detaining you. Imagine also how Paul must have been frustrated about the passing of time and loss of opportunity; yet as we referenced yesterday, Paul redeemed all of time by witnessing and proclaiming the gospel to all whom he met – including prison guards and authorities.
There is no guaranteed justice on earth. And that is a factor that I think makes the gospel so appealing. Justice would be for us to be eternally separated from God as payment for our sin. But the new justice that God makes available in Christ is that Jesus has paid this debt, and we therefore can anticipate a positive justice in the life to come as we stand before God in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Even if justice should fail us in this world, it will never fail us in the world to come. That is good news; that is what the gospel is all about.