Reflections on the Book of Acts #24: Felix the Governor

Here’s the link to Acts 24.

I recently talked with a guy who was very intelligent, very well-versed in different religions and spiritual traditions, but it quickly became clear that he had more of a hodge-podge spirituality. He boiled all religions down to a sort of a new-age, self-awareness, being present in the moment worldview. Some of what he believed in was wonderful. I agreed with him in a number of ways. It was a great chat. He was appreciative about my faith tradition. But if I had the chance to talk longer, I’m guessing he would have bristled at the “scandal of particularity” with respect to Jesus: that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.

It’s always interesting to have a conversation with someone who isn’t a Christian but who is very interested in the Christian faith and spirituality.

And this isn’t a new thing.

The laser sharp focus on Paul continues in this chapter, with the apostle being brought before Felix the governor. And here we have someone who is actually interested in Paul. Our passage says he was well informed about the Way. He enjoys theological conversations. He likes debating and hearing about different ideas. So, as our text points out, he sent for him quite often and conversed with him.

At the same time, when Paul spoke about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix became afraid. So when Paul points out that the way of Jesus includes commitment, obedience, sacrifice, Felix bristles.

You can almost hear what’s going on in Felix’s mind: “There are real life consequences if I don’t follow Jesus? You mean I can’t just enjoy talking about these ideas, I actually have to decide where I stand with respect to them? Don’t make this personal, bro!”

Even though Paul was officially a prisoner, Felix treated him pretty well. He ordered that the centurion keep Paul under guard, though he could have some freedom, and that he should not prevent any of his friends from meeting his needs. Like we saw, once in a while he sent for Paul so they could have a chat. Of course, Paul was still in prison.

As it happens, he left Paul locked up for two years, at which point he was succeeded by Porcius Festus, who also left Paul in prison.

When we don’t really want to accept or deal with the truth–in this case, the truth of who God is and what that means for our lives–we can lock those ideas away, shut them in a closet, or, in this case, a prison. Maybe drag them out once in a while at our convenience. But we still keep God at a distance. We can cobble together a worldview that feels good but leaves our self-sovereignty intact.

The gospel doesn’t give us the option of liking it but maintaining an arm’s length.

The truth is, Felix, and not Paul, was the real prisoner.

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