Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A little too close for comfort!

Most of us have never experienced the type of persecution which lands us in jail for our testimony of Christ.  In fact, many of my readers actually luxuriate each day in our "comfort" of living in a country which promotes religious freedom.  Over recent months, I have observed the largest percentage of my readers shifting from the US and Canada to some of the countries where religious freedom may not be as available - such as Russia, Slovania, Indonesia, India, and Saudi Arabia.  In fact, the most "hits" have come from Russia over the past 60 days.  I can only praise God for the expansive audience the internet allows!  


A few days later Felix and his wife, Drusilla, who was Jewish, sent for Paul and listened to him talk about a life of believing in Jesus Christ. As Paul continued to insist on right relations with God and his people, about a life of moral discipline and the coming Judgment, Felix felt things getting a little too close for comfort and dismissed him.  (Acts 24:24-25 The Message)


Felix was governor of the region.  He is asked to hear a case which is a little unsettling to him - the case of "State" versus "Paul - a believer in Christ".  As the chapter opens, we learn something interesting about this case - it is a "set up".  The charges have been "trumped up" to make Paul out to be some type of "rabble-rouser" worthy of a life sentence in prison.


Felix is in a little bit of a muddle here.  In fact, he is torn on what his verdict should be.  Why?  Maybe it was because his wife was a Jew, as was Paul.  In fact, if you know anything about Paul, he was a Jew of the Jews (a Pharisee - a student of the Law of Moses).  If he ruled against Paul, siding with the religious Jews which brought him before the court, what was he saying?  It was kind of like, "This group of Jewish believers I will support, but this group I will not."  Now, there's a pickle for you!


So, he delays his sentencing.  Yep, the age-old strategy of "stalling" in the moment of needing to make a decision works to his advantage here.  He tells the crowds he will need more time.  In reading this chapter, I actually chuckled by the passage which precedes ours today.  So, I thought I'd share it, too.


Felix shilly-shallied. He knew far more about the Way than he let on, and could have settled the case then and there. But uncertain of his best move politically, he played for time. "When Captain Lysias comes down, I'll decide your case." He gave orders to the centurion to keep Paul in custody, but to more or less give him the run of the place and not prevent his friends from helping him. (Acts 24:22-23 The Message)


He "shilly-shallied".  In the simplest terms, it means he wasted time - delayed in order to not make a decision.  He was vacillating this way and that, not able to figure out one way as better than another.  So, when in doubt, just throw the guy back in jail!  Only, look at what he "allows" for Paul.  He gave him the run of the place!  Anyone incarcerated would be the first to tell you this just doesn't happen!  Prisoners are just not allowed to have visitors anytime they want them, moving about as they wish.  In fact, they are on a regimented routine - going hither and yon as the guards require.


The thing I want to focus on today is the summation of Paul's testimony before Felix.  Our passage points out several important things.  First, Paul was given opportunity to share the Good News even in his "bound" state.  There is nothing which can "shut down" the testimony of Christ when it is genuine!  Second, he was bold in his message.  We learn he "insisted" upon right relationships between God and man.  He pointed them repeatedly to the truth of restored relationship - not just religious pursuit, but intimate relationship.  Last, but not least, he continued to warn of coming judgment.  Amazingly, the prisoner preaches of coming judgment to the very one who could pass the most serious of judgments against him (at least in the natural sense).


The result - it made Felix uncomfortable because it hit way too close to home.  The evidence of the reality of Christ is too much for even the most stalwart of souls to resist.  When the message hit too close to home - he sent Paul back to the cell.  Interestingly, he does not order him killed, nor does he prohibit his speaking out his testimony.  He simply distances himself from Paul - to ease the discomfort a little, I am sure.  


I wonder just how much our own testimony "gets a little too close to home" with those we are given audience with?  Does the message of our lives match the message of our mouths?  Who knows - we may be given audience to someone one day with great influence.  This "audience" may be the very thing which influences a nation.  What your words and life accomplish under the anointing of the Holy Spirit may be far-reaching.  Just remain faithful to the testimony of Christ, the reality of restored relationship, and the right-living of solid morals.  Your life speaks volumes - even if it is to an "audience of one".