Rev. Erik Veerman
“The Proof Is in the Pudding”
**note: our video dropped a couple times. Below is the full manuscript but the video doesn’t match where we lost the recording.
One of the most popular literary and film genres of our time is the courtroom drama. We’re pulled into the crisis of judges, juries, prosecutors, defendants, and expert witnesses. And it’s not just fiction like Law and Order or Criminal Minds or a John Grisham book; there’s also Judge Judy or the obsession over high profile cases. Netflix even has a new documentary series called “innocent files.” It covers wrongful convictions – you know, corrupt judges and lying prosecutors. We love the surprise attacks by a passionate lawyer, or the hidden secret that comes out on the witness stand, or jury tampering, you name it.
I think we can culturally relate to Acts 24. After all, a lot of our country’s legal system can be traced back to ancient Rome. Trials and appeals, witnesses and lawyers.
We find similar drama here in Acts 24.
• A corrupt judge – Governor Felix
• A dishonest lawyer – Tertullus
• And an innocent man, the apostle Paul, on trial for his life.
As you know, this is not the first trial we’ve come across in Acts. But it is more formal. It’s like we’ve gone from a local municipal court in Jerusalem to the district court in Caesarea. If you remember from a couple of weeks ago, Paul was rushed out of Jerusalem to save his life. 40 Jewish assassins had committed themselves to ambush and kill Paul – but their plan was foiled. Instead, 470 Roman soldiers and guards escorted him out of the city. Paul was brought here to Caesarea – the regional capital of the Roman empire. Paul went from a prison cell near the Jerusalem temple to Herod’s Praetorium – It sat right there on the beautiful Mediterranean sea – it was the presidential palace of the city.
Felix governed the entire region. He was the “head honcho” Interestingly Felix grew up as a slave. Yet, he was able to gain his freedom and ascend to power. Given that, you would think that Felix’s story involved overcoming adversity with hard work and perseverance. But, it was more like he took the “lie, cheat, and steal” route on his way out of imprisonment and into power. Felix even stole his wife Drusilla from another regional leader. That’s who we’re dealing with here. Felix was at the same time “the king of the hill” and “the bottom of the barrel.”
If you haven’t picked up on it, I’ve been on a cultural idiom kick – you know, figures of speech. There’s so many when it comes to trials, and proofs, and lawyers. There’s a “truckload”
I titled my sermon “The proof is in the pudding.” That means, while the pudding may look good, really you need to taste it to see if it’s actually any good.
And so, we’re going to evaluate 3 different puddings or proof tests this morning.
• First, Tertullus. He was the prosecuting lawyer representing the Jews. That word “spokesman” in verse 1 is best understood as a legal advocate. Tertullus made charges against Paul and Paul responded with his defense. So that’s our first evaluation.
• Second, interwoven in Paul defense of what happened is another proof. A defense of the resurrection.
• And the third proof test is Felix and Drusilla’s life – we’ll evaluate how they responded to the Gospel.
1.) Tertullus and Paul
So let’s “jump in with two feet.” If I had a title to this first point it would be “blowing smoke.” That’s because you’ll see pretty quickly that out of Tertullus’s mouth came lies and deceit.
It had been 5 days since Paul arrived in Caesarea. At the end of chapter 23, we’re told that Felix agreed to hear the case, but only after Paul’s accusers arrived. Well, they now arrived. We met Ananias, the High Priest, a couple of chapters ago in Paul’s first trial. If you remember, he was another “shady character.” Corrupt and self-serving. For the Jews, this case was so important that their High Priest came down for the trial.
Besides Ananias and some Jewish elders, the Jews also hired and brought Tertullus. His role was to eloquently bring the accusations. We don’t know anything about him other than his name. It’s likely, though, that he gave his speech in Latin. His word choice and word order points to that.
Imagine being a “fly on the wall” when they prepared for this trial. “How can we make Paul look bad? What can we say to get Felix on our side? How can we incriminate Paul in a crime against Rome?”
And so they came up with their strategy, travelled to Caesarea, and the trial began. It was customary in a trial speech to recognize the judge or ruler. Tertullus, however, went “over the top.” He spoke to Felix as if the Jews liked Felix. He spoke about peace and reforms – verse 2. And verse 3, that “everywhere” the people were grateful. But the thing is, the Jews hated Felix. One commentator wrote this: “[Felix] captured and had crucified an incalculable number of insurgents and innocent [Jewish] citizens… rebels and assassins freely roamed the countryside so that life in Israel was no longer safe”. You see, everything that Tertullus said about Felix was “hogwash…” - disingenuous and greatly overstated. Half of his speech was just “tickling his ear” And do you know why? Because they didn’t have a case!
And then, the next trick they employed was to “wax eloquent” about their charges. Tertullus’s language turned inflammatory. But instead of accusing Paul in a matter-of-fact way, he resorted to provocative language. He was trying to throw “gas on the fire.”
If Tertullus had a twitter account, he’d fit right in.
• His first tweet: “Paul is a plague” Literally the word means “pestilence.” Like an Old Testament plague of locus devouring everything.
• Tertullus’s next tweet: “He’s a rioter” This charge was the one punishable by death.
• And next, “he’s a ringleader of this sect.” Those word choices insinuated bad intentions.
Those were all “fighting words.”
Let’s take a brief “rabbit trail.” Acts 24 does not focus on our word choices and language. No, it’s more about the truth of the situation. However, what Tertullus is doing is so common today. When we get worked up, we start saying things in a way that becomes “rabble-rousing.” That means we’re trying to “stir up” other’s emotions. It’s not just twitter and social media. Those platforms are just the training ground for our conversations.
You know how if you are in room with a lot of people – and everyone’s talking. Someone starts talking louder and then the volume keeps rising in the room because everyone has to talk louder to hear. Sometimes I want to stand up on a chair and say “hey, time out! Let’s reset and all start talking normal again.” The same thing happens when our words provoke emotions. Everyone’s emotional temperature starts to rise… almost to a “fever pitch”. We are so adept at pithy statements that incite anger and maybe violence. Every one of us does this - every age, kids up through adults. But instead what we need to do is learn how to defuse explosive situations… how to “lower the temperature in the room”; how to promote “peace and not war.”
You see, what Tertullus wanted to do was “stir up a hornet’s nest” in Felix – get him angry. He wanted Felix to lash out at Paul – maybe even rashly sentence him to death for “rioting” or being a “plague” to Roman society.
The pudding that Tertullus made was a sour, bitter, “poison pill.”
Thankfully Felix had a “level head.” I’m sure he had heard this kind of “smooth talk” before. He knew the “devil was in the details.” So he turned to Paul.
And Paul politely responded. Not in a rash way. Not “throwing mud” back at Tertullus. Paul wasn’t a “bull in a China shop.”
Now, can you imagine what would have happened if Paul had responded in a similar way? “These trumped-up charges are horrendous. These guys are a disgrace to this court. They should be tried for treason.”
Instead, Paul lowered the temperature. Verse 10 “I cheerfully make my defense”
“Your honor Felix, it is not possible for me to have stirred up a riot. After all, it had only been 12 days in Jerusalem. A rioter would have needed weeks to plan and stir up the crowd. I am a law abiding citizen of Rome. Furthermore, my purpose in attending the temple was for the purification according to Jewish ceremonial law – no against it. I also strive to keep the law of God. The false accusation about profaning the temple originated from some Jews from Asia. They are not even here. According to Roman law, as you well know, they are required to bring charges face to face.”
“Case closed.” Paul’s defense was “Proof positive” that he had done nothing against either the Jewish customs or Roman law. It was an “open and closed case.”
2. Paul’s Defense of the Resurrection
That brings us to the next defense. Let’s call this one “Living proof.” Because integrated throughout Paul’s defense of the charges, is his defense of the resurrection.
Paul was not shy. We know that. We’ve seen that. He took every advantage to speak of the hope of Christ.
When it came to this trial, the Jews didn’t mention Jesus. No, instead, Tertullus mentioned this “Nazarene sect.” He was referring in a “round-about” way to Jesus of Nazareth, but didn’t even want to utter his name.
But Paul, on the other hand, had a “card up his sleeve.” He went right to the resurrection. Paul wasn’t trying to interject Jesus into the middle of this. No, Jesus was at the center of it all. Look at verse 14. Paul said, “this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets.” No, he didn’t mention Jesus directly by name – he does that later in the chapter. Here he mentioned “the Way” the way to God (the only way to God)… and he spoke of the “law and the prophets” –how they were fulfilled. He was alluding to the promised Messiah – the great Prophet, the perfect Priest, the sovereign King all in one. Jesus was the one who fulfilled all the requirements of the Law and who fulfilled the promises of the prophets.
In fact, Jesus himself pointed to his fulfillment. After his resurrection while on the road to Emmaus, Jesus opened the Scriptures to his travel companions. He showed them how he fulfilled Moses (the law) and the prophets. Or take what the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1. Our call to worship this morning. “All the promises of God find their yes in [Jesus].”
Here’s what Paul was proving to Felix: Christianity is the ultimate expression of the Jewish faith. It all comes together in Christ. Paul’s claim is that he was a faithful follower of God and a faithful Roman citizen
And the resurrection is central to all this because it proves his claim. Some of you are probably thinking “ok, ok, ok. It’s like Paul is a ‘broken record.’ I mean, how many times is he going to bring up the resurrection? It seems like it comes up every chapter!” Well, that’s because it does. This is not the last time, either. If you remember, the resurrected and ascended Christ is a main theme in Acts. It’s the resurrected and ascended Christ, who has ushered in his Kingdom, he’s the one who has given us his Holy Spirit. He was working through Paul… and is working through us, to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The resurrection is key to it all as we’ve seen over and over.
But I want you to notice the emphasis here. Verse 15 is about our resurrection. The future resurrection. It says the resurrection of the “just and the unjust.” We read from the prophet Daniel earlier in the service. Chapter 12. It’s the same future resurrection promise. But it’s more pointed. “some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” The dividing line is not whether you can be good enough, or whether you’ve done really bad things. No, rather the dividing line is whether you know and believe in and trust in Christ. That’s it! It’s whether you’ve turned your life to him. You can’t be good enough… and you can’t do something so bad that he won’t receive you if you come to him. He’s the resurrected one and he’s the one that will raise all the dead and judge based on his forgiveness.
We can’t read this… I can’t read this… you can’t read this without a self-reflection. Am I Christ’s? Is he mine? There’s no “sitting on the fence” But if you are his. You are his forever and that day of resurrection will be a joyful day of eternal joy.
In this case, the “proof in the pudding” is a “living proof” …a wonderful pudding of resurrection hope and promise.
3.) The test of Felix and Drusilla’s life.
That brings us to the third proof test. The test of Felix and Drusilla’s life.
Now, Felix ended up not making a decision in Paul case. No, he “kicked the can down the road.” He delayed a decision and just kept Paul is prison. But as we read, Paul was able to have some freedom and have guests.
But the interesting thing here is that Felix and his wife Drusilla continued to interact with Paul. Drusilla was Jewish. Josephus, the historian, described her as a “Jewish princess” – beautiful. She was only about 19 or 20 years old at this time. Drusilla also had quite the ancestry. Her father, Herod Agrippa I was the one who ordered the apostle James to be killed. Her grandfather, Herod Antipas was the one who had called for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. And Drusilla’s great grandfather, Herod the Great had commanded all the baby boys in Bethlehem to be killed. Quite the legacy of hatred toward the promises of God and faith in Christ.
But they listened to Paul, multiple times. Paul spoke about faith in Christ. verse 24. Of course he did! And part of what Paul shared included “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment.” As one commentator wrote, this is exactly what Felix and Drusilla needed to hear.
• “Righteousness and self-control” meaning the righteousness of God and his call for us to live in righteousness, obedience, and peace. I mean, verse 26 demonstrated exactly their need for righteousness and self-control. Felix wanted a bribe.
• Paul also talked about “the coming judgment.” This was a continuation of what Paul had said before of the resurrection of the just and unjust.
Paul laid it all before them. He laid the Gospel before them. The call to faith in Christ through what Jesus has done. The call to turn from unrighteousness, seeking faith. And the warning about judgment.
Were their lives just “houses of cards” that would come crashing down? Or would they believe?
Well, sadly, we hear that Felix is jolted because of Paul’s message. “alarmed” is the word used. Felix sent Paul away. It was a “rubber meets the road” experience for Felix. When Paul brought up God’s judgment for their unrighteousness – they walked away. We get the sense that there was some fear or conviction. But Felix turned away. He didn’t turn toward Christ. No, rather, he turned away from faith in him.
We’re not told whether they would believe later in life, but the sense we get is that they rejected the hope of Christ – the Gospel. Yes, they continued to dialog with Paul, albeit in hope of personal gain.
In a sense, this was like a trial about their life. Not a courtroom drama kind of way. But Paul spoke about “judgment.” That’s what trials are about – guilt or innocence, a judgment and punishment. Felix and Drusilla, in this case, were the defendants. They were charged with the crime of unrighteousness. To be sure, their guilt or innocence was not a matter of what they had done, or thought, or said. No, in that regard, they were already guilty—just like us. Their judgment of guilt or innocence and the penalty wholly rested on whether they would believe in Christ.
And it appears, when their life was “weighed in the balance” they were found lacking. Not because of their unrighteousness, but because of their lack of faith in Jesus’s righteousness.
Let me bring this “case to a close.”
Let’s talk about the courtroom trial of your life. If you know and believe in Christ, then here’s the amazing good news:
1. First, you have a spokesman in Christ. Not one like Tertullus bloviating with unsubstantiated evidence. No, Jesus is your advocate. He’s arguing your case for you before God. And do you know what he’s arguing and pointing to in your trial? Not your life. But his own life. The righteousness that you have in him. You are perfectly righteous in Christ.
2. And second, Jesus is not only the lawyer and advocate in your trial, he’s your judge. Not a judge like Felix. No, but instead, a perfectly just and holy judge. And this is where fear may kick in. Because if you know of God’s holiness, then you’ll know that your sin cannot go unpunished. It has to be dealt with. The judge will inflict punishment.
3. Well, if you believe in Jesus by faith… if you’ve come to him for forgiveness. He endured your punishment. That’s the third part of the good news. Jesus is not only your advocate and judge, he received what you deserved. He’s the scapegoat or “fall guy.” He “took one for the team.” You’re “off the hook,” “scot free.” He’s the only one who could endure your punishment on your behalf – as the holy God and fully man.
4. But you ask, “how can that be? And how can I know?” Well, your judge, and advocate, and scapegoat gave you proof and hope. He’s alive! You see, your punishment that Jesus bore - the judgment of God - death and hell – it didn’t conquer him. No, he overcame it. And the resurrection proved it. That is the hope of Christ.
And so you stand acquitted, innocent, free, with a hope eternal. It’s either a hope that you have in Christ, or a hope that you need in him.