Better Than A Bribe [Acts 24]
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Better Than A Bribe – 09.11.2022
In today’s sermon we are finishing up our time in the book of Acts, and in this chapter we deal with a bunch of lawyers – and so I wasn’t sure if I should start this sermon with a lawyer joke or a story. And as I was thinking about it, I realized – you know who would make the greatest lawyers on the face of the earth? Toddlers! My children are the greatest negotiators mankind has ever seen. Bedtime at the Mannschreck household is like a hostage situation in reverse. [pause]. If you will stay in there, I will give you whatever you want. I mean we have this whole routine – first we give them warnings. There’s fake bedtime, real bedtime and then actual bedtime. We get them away from their toys, and then it’s jammies, brush teeth, and then dad’s version of brushing teeth because all you did was suck the toothpaste off and gnaw on it. Finally into the bedroom, in our jammies with our teeth brushed, everybody went potty and we said our prayers. To the uninitiated you would think this is the end of the bedtime routine. But this party’s just getting started. Mom and Dad have left, mom and dad are sitting on the couch starting to enjoy their evening – and the bedroom door opens, the negotiations have begun. We wait for it. The door opens, adorable little head pokes out. I need, I neeeeed… (they don’t need anything, they just want to see how many times they can come out of the bedroom before the vein in daddy’s forehead explodes) I need, I need a hug. My water bottle, another hug, Did I leave my favorite book out here? Another hug. I need.. this toy, did I get a hug yet? I just need to tell you how much I love you. My children are the most affectionate bedtime rule breakers on the planet. Because they know, they know! - there’s no chance mom and dad are going to turn down a hug – they’re manipulative little lawyers who know exactly what the judge wants to hear. Well I’m onto their little game, and I’m going to do absolutely nothing about it.
Today we are finishing up our time in the book of Acts. If you remember Paul has been on this journey all around the ancient middle east. Two weeks ago he finally got to Jerusalem, and he got arrested there right away. He stated his case, there was a teensy little assassination plot, so he gets an armed escort over to Caesarea. Roman Commander heard Paul’s case, heard his testimony, his story and said, “yeah, I’m not getting into that – you go talk to Governor Felix” and that’s where we begin in the text today.
[read v.1-2]. You see what’s going on here, right? Tertullus, the fancy lawyer brought down by the high priest is buttering up the governor. Not that low fat, I can’t believe it’s not butter stuff – but the delicious, smooth, artery clogging brilliance that makes everything taste amazing. He is laying it on thick. We have great peace because of you, your reforms are awesome and your foresight is incredible. [read v.3-4]. This lawyer guy Tertullus has a master’s degree in butt kissing and he is not afraid to use it. He says, “I beg you to grant us this brief hearing” – which, if you remember, Governor Felix is the one who called this hearing. This whole thing was HIS idea, and this lawyer is acting like Felix is doing them some big favor. And I should mention, I looked it up, apparently Governor Felix was actually a really bad governor. He was ineffective and made almost no positive impact on the region. So Tertullus starts in with the sweet talk, then switches to the attack. Next three verses he lays out the accusations against Paul – the real ones and then the ones that are almost true. [read v.8-9]
Then we get Paul’s response. [read v.10]. You might notice the lack of butter. Paul just sort of states his case simply, and he’s such a weird dude – it says he made his defense “cheerfully.” [read v.11-12]. This sort of feels like a bizarre “Green Eggs and Ham” defense. Pauls’ just cheerfully explaining to the judge, “I did not cause a riot in the temple or the city, not even in the synagogue so pretty. I did not cause a riot sir, I did not cause it, not even a stir.” [laugh] I know it’s ridiculous, but you’re never going to forget it – eh? So Paul goes on and makes his case, and he’s definitely slanting it to make himself sound all pure and innocent. Listen to this, [read v.16-18]. Isn’t he just an innocent little cherub angel who never does anything wrong. But here’s the twist – Felix actually already knew about Christians. [read v.22-23]. The governor basically throws out the court case on a technicality. He says, “I’m going to wait until the commander comes down” which was a stall tactic because we already know what the commander wanted. But this is Felix’s way of NOT punishing Paul, but also NOT letting him go. Keeping the Jewish folks happy, without actually punishing a Roman citizen. It’s clever, it’s sneaky and this is why we Americans make jokes about busloads of lawyers going off a cliff. Loopholes inside loopholes – it’s all a big show.
Then, what I think is the most interesting thing happened. [read v.24]. So Governor Felix keeps Paul in jail, but then calls on him to ask questions about Jesus. I remember I was in a Pastor’s meeting a couple of months ago, and I was the only United Methodist pastor in the room, and they introduced me and suddenly the room was full of questions. It was like I was this exotic zoo animal, they had so many questions – they’d never met a Methodist before. At one point a pastor said, “sorry I have so many questions, I’ve just never had a chance to ask a Methodist any questions about the faith and what they believe.” Paul was like Felix’s Christian tutor – but here’s the problem. Felix looked at Christianity like we look at zoo animals. At an arms distance, through the glass. He’s asking questions as if this was an abstract conversation about a fascinating new topic. And when it gets too real – he backs off. [read v.24b-25]. Felix calls Paul in, to ask him about this fascinating guy Jesus, but when Paul starts talking about righteousness (how you’re supposed to live your life), and self control (which is not something Roman governor’s were known for) and judgment (hearing about sin and hell and all that stuff) – and it scared him. You see, Felix was just curious about the latest gossip on the fellow who died and came back to life – he didn’t actually want to change his life. In fact, we see this at the end of the chapter. Verse 26 it says, [read v.26-27] Why was Felix afraid of Paul’s talk about judgment? Because it would mean that he would have to change his life. It’s like a rock he doesn’t want to look under, because it might mean he’d have to actually do something about it. He wanted faith to be interesting, maybe even fun, but not real. Felix is thinking to himself, “these religious revolutionaries are a dime a dozen. This is how it works – they come in, say their piece, slip me a little bribe and then everything keeps going – status quo. Religion is like a hobby, or a fascinating documentary on the discovery channel. It makes you go, “huh, interesting,” hopefully puts a little lunch money in your pocket and that’s it. It’s not supposed to be real, or change your life or demand anything from us. But see for Paul? For Paul this was dead serious. Paul wasn’t interested in status quo or bribes or even freedom. All Paul wanted to do was tell the truth about Jesus.
You see, the good news this morning is that God’s truth is transformative. Truth brings transformation. You know a long time ago, there was an atheist named Karl Marx. And he came up with a phrase and he said, “religion is the opium of the people.” Sometimes people translate his german into “opiate of the masses.” He believed that all this religious structure was just made up, designed by the people in power to act like a drug on society. Religion, especially those Christians, was fabricated to keep people in line. To keep them happy and docile, so they wouldn’t stir things up. He was an atheist, right? He didn’t believe God was actually out there – he thought all this was just made up, and the reason was to control people. And here’s what I’m realizing – we believe him! So many of us inside the church, even the church leaders – we have bought the lie that this is a lie. For some people – even if there was no God, they wouldn’t change anything about their connection to the church. We do this thing because it makes us feel good, it helps us grow and sometimes it’s even fun. We believe that religion is an opiate, but we tell ourselves – well, it feels good and so why would I want to mess that up? We are Felix. I want to learn about this Jesus guy, he seems so interesting and it’s just so fascinating. But we don’t let it change us. We want our gospel like we want our zoo animals – arms length on the other side of the glass. We want our Jesus like we want our history documentaries. They might just be fascinating, but when we get bored we can change the channel or just turn it off. But the gospel is not a drug for people who need to escape reality. The gospel is a set of facts for those who can handle an honest look in the mirror. God’s truth is transformative. The gospel was never designed to be a sedative. The truth about Jesus is actually designed to radically alter who you are. The gospel is not a sedative, it’s good news that is designed to set your heart on FIRE and inspire you! The good news is that truth brings transformation, and the gospel IS the truth.
So let’s ask the question before we move on - What is this gospel and how is it transformative? The gospel is three simple truths, facts, not opinions. Number 1. Every single one of us has sin in our life, and the wages of that sin is death. I know I’ve done cute little moments in the past where I say, “who’s a sinner, let’s all raise our hands – yay look we’re all sinners.” But seriously, anybody want to disagree with that point? We’ve all got sin in our life. I get up and I make the claim – every single person in this room has sin in their life, has made a mistake, has done something wrong at some point in your life. And then I wait – sort of letting the silence dare you to disagree. Anybody want to claim perfection? Of course not – it’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. We’re all a bunch of screw ups and we start there. Number 2. Because he loves us, God sent his son Jesus to die for our sins, he made that payment so our sins are washed away and we have been set free from our sin. In a word – forgiveness. 1. We all have sin and sin brings death to us 2. Forgiveness is found in Jesus. I put it out on twitter this past week. I asked my followers, “how would you describe the gospel in 2-3 sentences. And I had a friend Larissa respond with this tweet. [put the picture up] She said, “The world is broken, we all feel it, and that brokenness holds on to us. But there’s a way to be free and whole again.” And I’m going to add to that, and that way to be free is Jesus. (I know that’s what she meant). The way to be whole is to have Jesus in your life. Tim Keller, we all know I love a good Tim Keller quote, he said, “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
The third and final piece to the very simple gospel, the third fact is that if you have brought Jesus into your life, if you have given your life to him – you can live reconciled to God. 1. Sin. 2. Forgiveness. 3. Reconciliation. – this is the core of a very simple gospel. And that third part? Reconciliation? That’s living every single day with Jesus as your Lord. It’s not Felix Faith, arm’s length Christianity. It's not fascinating hobby Jesus. It's living your life every single day as if you just escaped death. Because the simple truth is that the gospel is transformative. It is designed to change your life, and if it’s not changing your life, then somewhere in there you’re missing it.
So I have two challenges for you this week. Now I try to give you something to work on every single week – a way for you to take what we see in the text and apply it to your life. And sometimes it’s a little abstract. Right? Like, I’ll get up here and say, “hey the challenge is to go love your enemies.” And you’ll say, yeah! I’m gonna DO that! And then you go out to brunch or lunch and forget about it by the afternoon and then you’re done. But this week I have a concrete challenge. First, I want you to start every day with the gospel. Every single day this week, I want you to wake up and dedicate that day to Jesus. Every morning, I want you to wake up and remind yourself, “Sin is real. Forgiveness is true. Get out there and live as if Jesus died so that you could have today.” Write it on a piece of paper, put it on the nightstand or use a dry erase, put it on the mirror. “Sin is real. Forgiveness is true. Jesus died so you could have today.” In fact, let’s put that on the screen and can you read that back to me. Sin is real. Forgiveness is true. Jesus died so I could have today. Start every day with the gospel truth. Wake up and dedicate this week to Jesus.
The second challenge I’ve got, and they’re connected. I want you to spend time with God every day this week. Now I’m not going to tell you what it’s got to look like – it’s different for everybody. But I want you to add something to your day, every day, that connects you and God. Read your bible. If you don’t know where to start, open it up right in the middle you’ll find a book called Psalms, It starts with a P, but it’s called Psalms – that’s a great place to start. OR find the book of Matthew, that’s Jesus’ story, start there. Read your bible everyday. Pray every day this week. Set a goal – you’re going to talk to God everyday. Turn the radio off in your car, do it while you’re driving, DON’T close your eyes. But your morning commute is a GREAT time to talk to God. If you’re a parent, spend time with God WITH your kids everyday. Even if it’s just teaching them to say grace before they eat, or say a nightly prayer before they go to sleep – start somewhere! Maybe someday you can crack the bible open together, and you can show them God’s truth – but whatever level you’re at, start! Do the ACTS prayer! ACTS stands for adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. Adoration – God you’re really awesome. You see a rainbow in the sky – wow, God you’re really awesome. You see a beautiful flower or a kid help another kid on the soccer field – wow, God you’re really awesome. I love seeing beauty and grace and peace and patience and love in your world. Adoration - God you’re awesome. Confession – God I did a bad thing I’m so sorry. I snapped at my wife, and I shouldn’t have done that. I nagged my husband and that wasn’t good. I yelled at my kid, I was rude to my co-worker. I cut that guy off in traffic and then I flipped him the bird when he honked at me. I shouldn’t have done that. Confession – God, I did a bad thing, I’m so sorry. Thanksgiving – God I’m so grateful for _____whatever. Look at your life and tell him the parts you like. God I’m so grateful I get to eat pizza today, thank you for the gift of pizza. God I’m so grateful for caffeine and my energetic babies but mostly the caffeine. Thanksgiving – God I’m so grateful. And Supplication – God, I need some help with something. The ACTS prayer, easy framework to help you get started talking to God. I’m not trying to tell you how to do it, I’m not trying to micro-manage your faith, but just… do SOMETHING, every day to transform your life with the truth of the gospel. Your faith is designed to transform your life.
I think about my children at bedtime – the great negotiators, my little lawyers in training. Paul and the Jewish leaders have a courtroom battle, but Felix just wanted to keep Jesus at arm’s length. The faith of Felix was like a zoo exhibit, but God’s truth calls us to something deeper. God’s truth is transformative, and so we need to be transformed. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you remember the truth of the gospel. Repeat it every day to yourself. 1. Sin is real. 2. Forgiveness is true. 3. Jesus died so you could have today. And when you wake up this week and your feet hit the floor, I pray that you will spend time with God every single day. May God transform your life this week. Amen.