Preached at Trenton Baptist, Feb. 5, 2017

When Words Are Not Enough

Acts 24

We know little of Tertullus except what we read here. That, however, tell us much about him. He was a flatterer, liar, and a schemer. He was likely a Roman lawyer hired by the Jews to prosecute Paul. Such was the custom of the time. The word translated “orator” is the Greek “ρητορος, (rhetoros). It comes from ῥήματα (rhēmata) which means words.

Tertullus was a hireling whose only job was to speak carefully crafted words to win his client’s case. Truth and right have little to do with the justice system then or now.

The law does not permit one to commit perjury in testimony. But one can state factual words in a way that do not necessarily reveal the whole truth. They may in fact lead one to believe the opposite of what really happened.

Many carefully crafted sermons designed to please all listeners are, at this moment, being preached across our nation. They are designed to make hearers think the speaker is teaching the Bible when he is just telling people what they want to hear. A skilled orator will cause people who hold contradicting views to think the speaker has stated what they believe is so.

We can see in our scripture that it is often better to begin that kind of dialogue with flattery to win favor with the audience.

Flattery doesn’t need to resemble the truth. It will still be effective if it reflects what a person wants to believe about him or herself.

Playing to a person’s self-image is the easiest way to win their trust. Your guard ought to go up the moment a deceitful man starts flattering you.

Telling people what they want to hear is a basic skill of politicians. They tell people what they want to hear and tell it often. They know the human brain will begin believing it is true.

Research backs up the fact that the brain remembers what is repeated often as being true even if it is a lie.1

Public opinion is often formed by the person who makes the first assertion whether it is true or not. Often repeated, the false assertion will be accepted as factual common knowledge.

As early as 1945, psychologists Floyd Allport and Milton Lepkin found that the more often people heard false wartime rumors, the more likely they were to believe them. Clever manipulators can take advantage of this tendency.1

While television isn’t the only mean of shaping public opinion and acceptance of new standards, it is one of the most powerful weapons of Satan against all godliness.

Standards and actions the Bible teaches are immoral or perverse are broadcast into nearly every home hundreds of times in a week and presented as being acceptable by everyone. That is repeated every week of the year, year in and year out.

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary published a report on violence in September 1999. The report stated, “By age 18 an American child will have seen 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence…More than 1,000 studies on the effects of television and film violence have been done over the past 40 years. The majority of these studies reach the same conclusion: television and film violence leads to real-world violence.”

Who knows how many acts of immorality, dishonesty, cohabitation, and perversion will that same child see today? Add to that total the influence of the internet and social media.

There is no such thing as empty words. Words have power for either good or bad, to heal or wound, and bring peace or war. We must be careful how we use them.

Tertullus serves as an example of how people of the lie use words to misrepresent truth.

They claim peace where there is no peace and ascribe true peace to the wrong source.

Judea didn’t enjoy peace from Felix or because of him.

The truth is Felix had perpetrated much violence throughout his region. “Felix’s cruelty and licentiousness, coupled with his accessibility to bribes (see Book of Acts 24:26), led to a great increase of crime in Judaea. The period of his rule was marked by internal feuds and disturbances, which he put down with severity.”2

Peace is from God. Great peace did not come from Flexis, nor did prosperity. No nation can prosper apart for the Lord.

Psalms 147:11-14, “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, In those who hope in His mercy. 12 Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! 13 For He has strengthened the bars of your gates; He has blessed your children within you. 14 He makes peace in your borders, And fills you with the finest wheat.”

Man plans but the outcome is determined by our Lord not our foresight. Proverbs 16:9, “A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.”

Thanksgiving belongs to the Heavenly Author of all benevolence.

Wordsmiths will assign nobility where there is no nobility. We see that in modern times where being a hero is defined by doing something perverse which promotes the social agenda of a New World Order. Churches will claim to be doing a noble work but in fact are perverting the Gospel and lowering the standards of holy living.

“Most noble Felix,” Tertullus called Felix. But, Felix was not noble. He was not of a noble household. He was in fact born a slave. It is of note that his name comes from the Latin “felicis”, which means lucky. It was through the lucky association of his brother, with Emperor Claudius that he was given his freedom and government appointment as the Roman procurator of Iudaea Province from 52-58 A.D. The province incorporated the regions of Judea, Samaria and Idumea, and extended over parts of the former regions of the Hasmonean and Herodian kingdoms of Israel.3

Felix was not noble in linage or character. The Roman historian and senator, Tacitus, said of Felix’s character and career “he exercised the power of a king with the mind of a slave.’”4

Wordsmiths wrongly direct and overstate their thankfulness.

The statement, “we accept it always… with all thankfulness,” is another way of saying, “We will always be thankful to you.”

That was another lie. Felix was about to be replaced shortly and with his departure so went any pretense of loyalty and thankfulness to him. After Porcius Festus replace him two years later, Felix arrived in to Rome just in time to be accused of cruelty and corruption in office by the Jews of Caesarea.5

Felix was man who could be troubled by the truth yet remain unmoved by it. He had a more accurate knowledge of the Way. He knew about Jesus, but he didn’t know Jesus.

He knew about the truth, but because he didn’t know the One who is Truth he was not set free from his sins.

Rather than flatter Felix as Tertullus had done, Paul preached sin, salvation, judgement, and Jesus. He preached on the very sins which defined Felix.

Verse 24 and following say, And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. 25 Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered,Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.”

That convenient time for salvation never came for either Felix or his adulterous, teenage wife, Drusilla.

Felix was recalled to Rome because of a riot in Caesarea between Jews and Gentiles. Felix turned his soldiers on the mob and many Jews were killed. The Jews made formal complaint to the Emperor with the result that Felix was recalled and Porcius Festus sent in his stead. Judgment arrived sooner than Felix considered. Nothing is known about his death.

Drusilla died in A.D. 79 at Pompeii during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. She was one of only three people reported by name as dying in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the others being her son Agrippa by Felix, and Pliny the Elder. Pompeii was resort and party city for Roman nobility. It is said Nero has a house there. It is no surprise that a woman of Drusilla’s character would frequent the city. There she died. And, to our knowledge she died a sinner waiting for a more convenient time.

For Felix, waiting for a more convenient time was nothing more than words…just words.

What about your salvation? Is it more than just words?

End Notes:

  1. Persistence of Myths Could Alter Public Policy Approach, By Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post, Sept. 4, 2007.
  2., Feb. 4, 2017.
  3., February 4, 2017.
  4. F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), pp. 436-437.
  5. Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus, Ant. xx. 8-9.

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