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A Cheerful Defense

Even though he was on trial for his life, Paul was excited for the opportunity to make a defense before Felix, an important representative of Rome. First, however, the Sanhedrin’s lawyer Tertullus presented a flattery-coated case against him, consisting of three charges: a political charge – “He’s a plague: he stirs up riots!”; a social charge – “He’s a cult leader!”; and a religious charge – “He’s a temple defiler!”. Any one of these charges was enough to condemn Paul; the three of them – rioter, cult leader, temple defiler – guaranteed Paul’s death if they could be proven.

In his defense, Paul argued that he had had no public ministry during his brief time in Felix’s territory, and the rioting that had taken place had actually been sparked by certain accusers who were not present to press their charge of defilement. And, according to v. 22, even Felix recognized “The Way” as a legitimate Jewish party and not a fringe sect. The case against Paul fell to pieces, and in the middle of it all, Paul was able to preach the resurrection of Jesus.

But Felix was stuck: he couldn’t set Paul free for fear of the Jews, and he couldn’t hand him over to them, because Paul was a Roman citizen. And so he took the coward’s option and put the proceedings on indefinite hold, placing Paul in protective custody for the next several years. During this time, Paul had repeated audiences with Felix, but instead of the bribe Felix wanted, Paul gave him and his wife Drusilla a crash course in righteousness, self-control, and judgment day. Frequently hearing about Jesus, but never trusting in Him, Felix ultimately left Paul in prison in order to please the Jews when his time as governor came to an end.

Even though you are not on trial like Paul was, you do interact with the government, and you are told to be ready to give an answer. In your encounters with authority, whether they want a reasonable account of your actions, or your money, or to hear the gospel, you are called to give a cheerful defense, showing that Christians are not riotous rabble-rousers, crazy cultists, or inconsiderate iconoclasts. When the opportunity presents itself or is forced upon you, be ready give a gospel-centered reason as to why, for instance, you will not participate in the mockery of marriage that a homosexual union represents. Don’t plead private convictions; proclaim the authority of the risen Christ.

Here’s what a faithful witness gives: a reasonable defense from a clear conscience. Honor and respect to the governing authorities. The unvarnished gospel: righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment. The authorities might not want to hear it, but a faithful witness doesn’t hold back when given the opportunity to speak for Jesus, cheerfully accepting injustice so that the gospel will get a hearing.

It is especially this attitude of cheerfulness that presents a challenge. If someone were to describe your attitude towards the government, would the word “cheerful” come up? Do you welcome government officials as God’s deacons of the civil realm? Not very often. While you know better than to use bribes and flattery, when it comes to dealing with or even just speaking about the government, you’re willing to give cheerless grumbling and complaining a try.

Here is the problem: such an attitude contradicts your Christian hope. Where is your happiness? Is it high up in heaven with the risen Lord, or is it somewhere lower, where an IRS official or TSA agent can take it from you? Cheerfulness is not an optional cherry on top of your defense. A cheerful defense demonstrates that your resurrection hope is stronger than any judgment you might face, even death.

Paul was cheerful, because he knew that whatever Felix decided about him, God declared him “not guilty” in Jesus. He knew that when the great day of resurrection came, he would be found innocent, and any wrong done to him would be made right. This is the foundation for a cheerful gospel apologetic: the settled conviction that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, and that if you die with Him, you will also be raised with Him.

Posted on Thursday, June 04, 2015 by CJ Bowen