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Opportunities, Even in Adversity

By Pam Siefers
 
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Scripture Verses
Acts 24:1-27

 1Five 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. 2When 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. 3Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. 4But 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 6and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him. 8By[a] examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him."

 9The Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.

 10When 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. 11You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12My 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. 13And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. 14However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16So 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. 18I 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. 19But 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. 20Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin— 21unless 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.' "

 22Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. "When Lysias the commander comes," he said, "I will decide your case." 23He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.

 24Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. 25As Paul discoursed on 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." 26At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.

 27When 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.


Devotion               
As I read these verses, I wondered what Paul might have been thinking.  I visualize Paul at his hearing standing alone to defend himself, while on the opposing side was an accomplished attorney, the high priest of the temple, and other elders.   Paul must have questioned how he could possibly defend himself against the lies.  How would Felix, a Roman governor known to be aggressive and cruel, interpret a religious matter, now overstated in a charge of sedition?

Would he dare to doubt the words of the priest and elders of the church?  If Felix wanted the easy way out, would he just hand Paul over to the church leaders (where he surely would have been killed)? 

Ultimately, Felix would not make a decision. He would not convict Paul, for he knew he was innocent. Yet to release him would create dissention with the Jews.  So, he kept Paul imprisoned for the next two years.  In verse 22, we are told that Felix was “well informed about the Way” (Jesus said, “I am the Way…”), and he was open to hearing Paul’s message.  Felix met with him frequently during those two years, even bringing his Jewish wife along on at least one occasion.  Paul  continued to be faithful to God’s will—with limited resources & limited opportunities, he preached & tried to shepherd the very man who held him captive.

Can we be like Paul?  In the most adverse conditions, can we stay faithful?  Are we using all our resources & opportunities to reach out to others with the message of God’s word?    Many of you know my partner, George, who has cancer.  Last summer he took a turn for the worse, and was housebound.  As he lay in bed, he was going through his address book, calling family and long-time friends.  He told them of his relationship with God, and asked them to go to church as a personal favor to him.   He couldn’t drive, in fact could barely walk—but he had a phone and he could talk!  With all his limitations, he used the skills & resources he had to tell others of God’s grace.


Prayer
God, we know you have a plan for our lives.  Like Paul, give us the heart and will to do your work. Help us see the opportunities all around us to reach out to others—to teach, to love, to comfort, and to enable them to experience true Christian faith.  Amen.