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Sermon Summary - Sunday 20 October 2019

Main Bible passage:  Acts 24:10-16

God is triune, three who are one: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Hence, when God made man in his image, he made us not simply as solo creatures but for community. This means that others affect our behaviour. In our passage, Paul displays something of what that looks like for a Christian.

The port of Caesarea was lavishly built by King Herod to honour Caesar. Paul finds himself in this very Gentile of Judean cities being tried by governor Felix, following his recent troubles in Jerusalem. The courtroom is unpleasant, with the prosecuting lawyer using flattery and assertion to get Paul condemned (Ac 24:1-8). The apostle, however, will not play the same game since he is aware that not only should he honour this human court (Ro 13:1) but that God is watching from his courtroom too, where Israel is being tried (Ac 2:32-36), and Paul is a witness in that trial.

Hence, Paul firstly recognises the authority given to Felix (v10) before saying that the events he’s being tried for are very recent (v11 – 12 days being a very suitable timespan given the number’s symbolism for Israel!) and so easily verifiable. His defence is simple: he came to Jerusalem for worship not for trouble, and no-one can say otherwise (v12,13). It is true that he offers this worship as a member of ‘the Way’ (v14), but that has an honourable heritage (Lk 3:4; Is 40:3) and is widely known (as even Felix can testify: v22). Paul upholds all Israel’s Laws and Prophets, and he has the same hope in the Lord as other ‘good’ Jews (v15).

What is Paul’s hope? He believes in the resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous. God’s court is real. Already it is sitting to bring judgement upon Israel. But a day is coming when the whole of humanity – all people through time and space – will be judged, and final and true justice shall, at last, be done. Though our society may see death as the end of the person, the Bible sees things very differently. Within Scripture, death is disintegration back to what existed before God brought light and life by His word (Ge 1:2). It’s not non-existence, but it is chaos, darkness and loneliness. For our bodies, that looks like a crumbling into dust. For our souls, the picture Jesus uses is much more solemn: ruin and misery (Mt 13:49,50).

But why does God make this separation? Because of the harm we have done to the world through our wicked behaviour. That vandalism is clearly visible in our chapter, in the rottenness of this human courtroom. Here is displayed one feature of our sin: our unjustness. We are quick to judge in rotten ways. That happens when: we tell lies to harm others; we show bias, running with our feelings rather than the evidence; we are greedy, condemning others to benefit ourselves; we are proud, looking down on others and writing them off (Jesus famously condemned such pride as being like a plank in the eye – Lu 6:41,42); we put others down in order to protect ourselves, like Adam at the beginning (Ge 3:12); we spin the truth because we like to read it our way, rather than face reality. Many of these are visible in Acts 24, as well as in the world, our society and in our own personal dealings with others. God looks at it all with anger, for he hates injustice. But more than that, he will act against it on the great final day of justice, when the Lord returns (Ac 17:31).

Thinking upon this should challenge us deeply. Who of us could stand peacefully before the court of God? There is no-one because sin has infected every life (Ro 3:10). However, that can then take us to Jesus. On the cross, Jesus brought the final judgement into history. On the cross, the sinless Jesus substituted himself for his people who deserved to die, and took their death onto his head. On the cross, God’s wrath against sin was exhausted so that Christians could stand without condemnation at the end of time. We have put our faith in Jesus to receive that forgiveness.

However, forgiveness does not lead to carelessness, as Paul shows here. He lives every day with a consciousness of the final court (v16). On purpose, Paul lives aware of God and of other people, wanting his conduct always to be right towards both, loving towards both (Mt 22:36-40). He wrestles against sin in his life, wanting his conscience to be clear. In other words, Paul wants as little as possible to be read out against in God’s final courtroom, even though he knows he’s already not guilty. Every Christian must want to live the same way. Of course, we fall short of God’s glory and fail Him; we ask for daily forgiveness (Mt 6:12). But we are not casual about that fact. Christians live knowing that final justice is coming.

Final justice
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