“Felix trembled.” A powerful man heard the Gospel message, and he did not know what to do with it.
We read about this Roman ruler in the book of Acts. Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles, had been apprehended in Jerusalem. Jewish religious zealots sought to assassinate the onetime Pharisee and silence his ministry of Christ throughout the Empire. News of their plot reached the ears of Paul’s nephew who alerted the authorities, and soldiers then scrambled to “rescue” a man they knew to be a Roman citizen. Within hours, according to Acts 24, Paul was being held captive for his protection and so that his case might be investigated and tried.
This is where Felix entered the picture. He sat as governor over the region and was based in Caesarea Philippi. His wife, Drusilla, was a Jew and so his interest in Jesus may have started with her and her relatives. He made some inquiry about this new Way of faith.
The Empire’s slow-moving justice system meant that Paul spent two years under the watch of Felix. During those days, the governor spoke with Paul often. On the surface, his purpose was less than honorable — Felix hoped a bribe might be raised for the purchase of this preacher’s freedom.
The conversations, however, shook Felix. The message of Jesus and His salvation proved too much for him. “And as [Paul] reasoned of righteousness, self control, and the judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go your way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for you” (Acts 24:25).
The Word of God worked upon the heart of Felix, and this troubled him. He was not the first Roman official to sense this invasive power. Herod squirmed when John the Baptist addressed his unlawful marriage to his brother’s wife. Eventually, John was executed, but then news of Jesus reached Herod and he sought to see Him. Pontius Pilate wrestled with the question of truth when he had Christ in his judgment hall before sending Jesus to the Cross.
Lines of Reason
What was it about the message that so disturbed this ruler? Notice the points that Paul emphasized with Felix.
He reasoned first along the lines of righteousness. Consider Matthew 16:16 and what it declares about Jesus: He is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” He came from Heaven to earth; He, ever being God, lived out a real, honest, sinless human life. He then offered that life for the sins of the world as the true Lamb of God.
Demons were among the first to proclaim Him as the Holy One (see Mark 1:24 and Luke 4:34). The presence of righteousness in the Person of the Son of Man terrified these beings. They shrieked out, shrunk down before Him, and followed His orders.
Felix, it seems, had an experience something like this. Paul spoke and the things he said hit Felix where he lived. Though shaken, he refused to humble himself under the message of God’s greatness and love. He told Paul to go away; he expected that there would come a more “convenient” opportunity for him.
That moment never came for Felix.Proud hearts struggle to acknowledge the righteous One. His holiness confounds the natural minded. Click To Tweet
Proud hearts struggle to acknowledge the righteous One. His holiness confounds the natural minded. Ethical Jesus, political Jesus, kind Jesus, helping Jesus, social justice Jesus — these Jesuses are acceptable and safe. These Jesuses don’t touch the matters of sin and self-centeredness.
Holy Jesus, however, shines with His glory. His Light exposes all the secret places. He penetrates the dark corners of who we are.
For some, this is too much. For others, His presence sets them free. They recognize that they are undone and run to embrace the One who finished the work of redemption for them. They cry for His mercy; He gives it and they receive Him and His Holy Spirit.
These ones “worship the Lord in the beauty of His holiness” (see 1 Chronicles 16:29; Psalm 29:2; Psalm 96:9). To the broken heart, to the contrite spirit, the holiness of God represents an invitation. They see Him and sense His heart for them and come boldly to His throne of Grace.
Felix heard words from Paul about self control. The righteousness of Christ is one thing and it is given freely to those of us who believe. It is placed upon us like a robe. We are hid with Christ in God; no one and nothing can separate us from the love of God. His righteousness then stirs us to righteous activity.
The earliest Christians were recognized for their tenacious faith, their loving communion, and their generous spirit of concern. As citizens of the Empire, they were without peer. Their gracious ways extended to their communities. They cared for and fed the poor and the sick beyond the church walls. Roman historians noted how Christians comforted the diseased and the dying during grievous plagues.
Christ Shall Reign
Paul was also careful to tell Felix of things to come. At that point in time, Jesus’ reign was not something of this world. One day, however, Holy Jesus shall return as King Jesus. He will judge the earth and all who have lived upon it.
What effect did these words have on a man of the Empire? The Romans viewed their society as the consummate civilization. Justice, learning, art, music, administration, and government were paramount and brought stability and peace, or so it seemed. The Empire’s days were numbered; Paul knew it.
There’s a lesson in this for us. A true and lively testimony of Christ touches people in a deep ways. Some respond violently, others are indifferent, but there are those who hear of Him gladly.
The Gospel message reveals the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who came to die and who seeks and saves the lost. May we learn to reason often of righteousness, self control, and the judgment to come.
The Holy One made us holy people in this unholy world. We treasure the promise He made. We hold tight to our hope that our righteous Savior shall come again.
He shall rule. He shall reign. Forever and ever. Amen.
For more thoughts like these, check out “Big Exit Ramp Decisions,” a message by Thomas Schaller, Pastor of Greater Grace Church in Baltimore.