The Church Confronts the World
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

The Church Confronts the World

Acts 24:22–27  (ID: 1795)

While under house arrest, Paul was repeatedly summoned by the Roman governor Felix and his wife Drusilla. During these visits, he didn’t fearfully defend himself or attempt to endear himself to his captors. Instead, compelled by the fear of God and the love of Christ, Paul used these opportunities to preach about righteousness, self-control, and judgment. Alistair Begg uses Paul’s example to challenge today’s church to confront the world with passionate, authoritative conviction regarding the Bible’s truth and the coming judgment.

Series Containing This Sermon

The Pastor’s Study, Volume 1

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 23001

Sermon Transcript: Print

Let’s take our Bibles and turn to Acts chapter 24. Acts 24:22–27, the final verses of the chapter. Let me read them, a brief prayer, and then we’ll go at them:

“Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. ‘When Lysias the commander comes,’ he said, ‘I will decide your case.’ He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.

“Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.’ At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.

“When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.”


Father, we pray that you will bring our hearts and minds underneath the truth of your Word in these moments, that you will open our eyes that we might behold wonderful things in your Word.[1] For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

In this familiar, brief section at the end of Acts 24, Luke records for us an incident which is not unfamiliar in the New Testament, insofar as it describes the fact that it is very possible for a man or for a woman to be moved as a result of the proclamation of God’s Word and yet to remain unchanged. And if we were going to preach evangelistically from these verses, I think that that would be the emphasis that I would want to bring: the great danger on being stirred but unchanged.

But I wonder if you would agree that what we also have in these concluding verses of Acts 24 is not simply an illustration of evangelism that never quite took in the lives of these individuals, but we also have an example of the church confronting the world. We have a picture in Paul’s ministry of God intervening at a moment in time in the lives of individuals who were outside of his kingdom and outside of his purposes. An example for us, then, of how the church can and—I want to suggest this morning, and somewhat forcibly—how the church should be prepared to confront the world.

Now, the context is clear. The situation is such that Paul is now being held under a form of house arrest; that’s what verse 23 says. The reason he’s there is because he is on the trumped-up charge of being a troublemaker and a ringleader of the Nazarene sect; you read that in verse 5. The governor, Felix, whose name means “happy”—“Mr. Happy,” we might call him—isn’t particularly happy at all, and likes to spend his time in some really filthy procedures, and is not immune to trying to produce bribery and corruption at every point. And as becomes apparent from reading these verses, he was just as happy to see if he could squeeze some cash out of the apostle Paul as out of anyone else.

Nevertheless, he determines that the proceedings which had gone so far should be adjourned, because, he says, they want to wait for Lysias, who apparently is a key witness. And while they wait for the arrival of this individual, during this intervening period, this encounter which Luke records for us here takes place—namely, that Paul is in this kind of house-arrest situation, and on this particular occasion and on subsequent occasions, we’re told, Felix and Drusilla decide to send for Paul and listen to him.

Now, we’re not told what motivated them, and we want to avoid idle speculation. Presumably, husbands and wives at that point are not dissimilar to husbands and wives today. They sit down, and the husband will say, “What do you want to do this evening, Drusilla?” And she says, “I don’t know, why do I always have to choose?” And then it goes into one of those major discussions where the guy wishes he never even asked the question in the first place. But on that occasion, presumably they said, “Well, there’s nothing much else going on. Why don’t we bring Paul up? After all, I believe that he’s got some things to say. He certainly has a dramatic impact in everything that he does and everywhere he goes. We’ve got him down here in the basement or over in the house. Why don’t we just bring him in, and let’s let him do his thing, and we’ll see what he has to give us.”

It is very possible for a man or for a woman to be moved as a result of the proclamation of God’s Word and yet to remain unchanged.

We don’t know what motivated them, but it is sufficient for us to realize that here are two individuals who in all likelihood would never, ever have attended one of Paul’s public meetings. It’s highly unlikely that we would have looked out upon the crowd and noted that this aristocratic couple apparently were in the group. And yet, in the providence of God, here they are, confronted with the message.

Picture the scene. The mighty apostle appears in the posture of apparent weakness. With that he would have had no real concern. After all, he was the one who said in writing to the Corinthians, as we heard yesterday, that we have this treasure in earthen jars, that we are old clay pots[2]—and from the outside, he must have fit the bill just about perfectly. And in he comes. After all, he’s the one under duress, he’s the one in captivity, and in apparent power and strength sit his hosts. They are the ones who have, apparently, his life in their hands. Felix has told them previously that he will decide the case when Lysias arrives. He doesn’t fully realize what he’s dealing with; he thinks he’s in charge. The world usually does. The church looks weak and impoverished, as it often does. But here a door of opportunity swings open—open for the apostle to preach and open for Felix and Drusilla to hear. There is, as one of the guys in Julius Caesar says—is it Brutus to Cassius, or Cassius to Brutus?—“There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on.”[3] And here is one of those great moments in the tide, one of the watershed event in the unfolding of God’s purposes.

And so he arrives. What should his strategy be? Ask yourself, “What would I have done? I was in house arrest; I get called up to meet the governor and his wife. I’m not sure just all that’s involved.” But as you’re making your way from where you live to where you’re about to speak, what would your strategy be? What would you do? Presumably, he might have said to himself, “What I’ll try and do, especially at the beginning here, is just make friends with this couple. And maybe if I can make friends with them and cultivate a relationship, I’ll be able to win them over. And if I win them over, then maybe at some future date I’ll be able to proclaim the gospel to them.” That would have been a fair strategy. Perhaps he could have said, “Well, what I’ll do is I will seek to negotiate my release. Because after all,” he might have reasoned, “I am far more useful outside of here than in here. And so, presumably God is opening a door of opportunity for me here, to be able to speak in a reasonable fashion to these folks, and I’ll be able to get out and get back on with the ministry.” That would have been possible; it would have been valid to one degree or another.

Now, we needn’t be in any doubt about this, because while we’re not expressly told, a clear reading of the text makes it perfectly obvious that the apostle Paul was single-minded in his approach. Let me suggest to you that we can learn about three things from his approach: we can learn about his motivation, we can learn about his methodology, and we can learn about his message.

Paul’s Motivation

First of all, his motivation. The way that we determine motivation in one another is actually by seeing what happens. We can be wrong, but in this case, I don’t think we are. If the apostle Paul had been consumed with self-interest or with fear, or if he’d been keen simply to cultivate friendship at a high level in the society of his day, then there is no way in the world that he would have launched into the discourse which we now find for us in these concluding verses. Nobody in their right mind who wanted to make friends with this couple, or secure their release, or make sure that life went on comfortably, would ever launch into the sermon we’re about to see.

Something else drove Paul in this situation. Something inside of him moved him in a way that he couldn’t let it go. To the Corinthians he says, “Woe is … me, if I preach not the gospel!”[4] And in the second book of Corinthians and in chapter 5, he explains what largely is that which drives him deep inside. Second Corinthians 5. You know the verses well. You should turn to them just to check they’re still there. Second Corinthians 5:11. Paul says, “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.” If we had sat with Paul and said, “What makes you tick, Paul?” he would have been able to respond, “Well, one of the driving, motivating factors in my life is the fear of the Lord. Not simply the beginning of wisdom—definitely that—but because I know the fear of the Lord,” he says, “we persuade men.” He goes on in verse 14 of that same section to say that he is driven, he is compelled, by the love of Christ—the reason being, he says, that “since we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died,” he says, “we want to proclaim this wonderful news.”[5] He also says in 2 Corinthians 5:16 that he no longer regards anyone “from a worldly point of view.” And then in verse 20 he says, “We are ambassadors for Jesus Christ.”[6]

Okay? Fine. That’s what you wrote; now let’s see if that’s what you do. Let’s see if there is a gap between what you’re saying and how you’re living. We turn back over here, and we ask ourselves, “How’s he doing, according to what he says in 2 Corinthians 5?” “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men. The love of Christ compels us. We don’t regard people from a worldly point of view, and we are ambassadors.” We’ll come back to that. His motivation was driven by something other than external circumstances. It wasn’t a reaction to the market commodity of his world. It was something inside of Paul which made Paul do what he did. He was not simply reacting to the potentiality of the situation.

Paul’s Methodology

Now, what of his methodology? Well, look what we’re told here by Luke. It says that “he spoke” or he “discoursed.” Essentially, he did what he’d been put together to do—that is, he preached. You men know that there are all kinds of words in the New Testament for preached: to proclaim, to dialogue, to discourse, to reason, and everything else. And what we find him doing in this situation is doing what he knew he was supposed to do. First Corinthians 1:17, he says, “Christ did[n’t] send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” He then goes on through that to point out that the world doesn’t know this; the world is foolish and thinks it’s bright; the gospel is “the power of God [to] salvation.”[7] And then he says in 1 Corinthians 2,

When I came to you, brothers, I did[n’t] come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God [or the testimony of God]. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.[8]

Okay, Paul, you said that’s your methodology; now let’s see if you use your methodology in front of governors and kings and influential people, especially when you find yourself in the most impoverished of circumstances.

You see, Paul knew what we need to remind ourselves of—namely, that no man among us can bear witness to Christ while at the same time bearing testimony to ourselves. That is why Michelangelo had a cardboard thing around his head with a candle in it. And as he painted these amazing paintings, he had a candle which shone in front of him to make sure that his shadow did not so cloud the mighty work in which he was involved. And Paul understood that, and he would not allow himself to so intrude on this event, because he was a man under compulsion. He was a man involved in persuasion. He was a man who was convinced from the inside out that he had an authoritative message from God and he must get it out.

No man among us can bear witness to Christ while at the same time bearing testimony to ourselves.

James Denney, the Scottish writer—who’s shaky on some things and good on others—he says, “No man can give … the [impression] that he himself is clever and that … Christ is mighty to save.”[9] And that’s why some of our preaching is so ineffective. ’Cause we’re so keen to let people know how bright we really are. And so they’re impressed with us, and they never encounter Christ. Paul says, “I didn’t use those tricks of the trade. I didn’t come to you…” It wasn’t because he was a dummy; we know that. It wasn’t because he hadn’t gone to school. It was because he refused to use methodologies which would allow people to say, “It’s the method that did it!” He would proclaim an unpalatable message in an unfashionable way in a fashionable environment, because of his motivation and because he had been called to bear the name of Christ before the gentiles. That’s what God the Lord had told Ananias in the encounter in Acts 9.[10]

Paul’s Message

Now. Are you still with me? One or two are; the gentleman on the front, not, but that’s okay. His motivation. His methodology. What about his message? Look at what we’re told: he shared with them “faith in Christ Jesus.”

Now, when we consider the constituent elements of his message, we realize that this wasn’t some kind of vapid little sugar-coated sermonette to make Felix’s ears tingle. This wasn’t a message to make Drusilla feel good about herself. In fact, it wasn’t even close to it!

So let’s look at his three-point message. Point number one, he starts into it: “Righteousness! Righteousness!” Presumably, he then proclaimed the holiness of God and how therefore men and women appear before him as sinful. In his earlier statement in his own defense in verse 14, he had made clear about the fact that he was in accord with the Law and with the Prophets. He doubtless then addresses the absolute standard of God’s law and is able to show how, in his own preconverted experience, he himself was a lawbreaker. He presumably quoted the Old Testament Scriptures. It is conjecture on our part to say from whence he may have quoted, but I’d like to think he used Psalm 1—that he looked Felix and Drusilla in the eye, and as he proclaimed righteousness to him, he said “Do you remember…?” or, “I would like to tell you what David said: ‘Blessed is the man who walketh not in the council of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of mockers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.’”[11] Maybe he went to Psalm 11 and proclaimed, “The Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds. The upright shall behold his face.”[12] But we know that he proclaimed righteousness. We know that because it says it in the Bible.

Secondly, we’re in no doubt about his second point: he then dealt with the issue of self-control. The word is an express reference to the control of passion, fleshly lust, and evil desire. “Like a city whose walls are broken down,” perhaps he said, from Solomon, “is a man who lacks self-control.”[13] He must have told them that the world’s view of freedom is really a cage—that what is held out as happiness is ultimately the embracing of sorrow.

And then, thirdly, he went on to address the issue of judgment. Judgment. There’s a coming judgment. Now, don’t let’s forget what I said as a thesis at the beginning. What I’m suggesting in here, in these verses, is that we have in this a paradigm—not the paradigm, not the exclusive model, but a model—as to how the church is to confront the world. Therefore, if you like, a model as to how we ought to preach. Not the model! A model. And, I might add, a very necessary model in the current climate.

So he spoke of judgment. Maybe he went back to Psalm 1:5: “The wicked will not stand in the judgment, Felix, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.”[14] Maybe to Psalm 9: “The Lord reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment.”[15] “Mr. Happy, you think you’re on the throne? Mr. Happy, you think you’re gonna decide my case? I’ve got news for you, Mr. Happy: it’s time you got sad! In fact, you’re never gonna be what your name is until you realize that you’re not what your name is. I want to tell you, Mr. Happy, and your lovely wife here”—and it is reputed in secular history that his wife was a ravishing young beauty. So let your mind ponder that for a minute or two—but only for a minute or two, all right? “I want you,” he says, “to understand that here is my message about faith in Jesus Christ.”

This was not, “Come to Jesus Christ.” This was not, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”[16] This was didactic. This was to the heart and the will through the mind. We cannot ask people to come to Christ till first we tell them who Christ is and why they need to come to him. And that’s what he was doing, you see. We can have these clever little messages about faith in Jesus Christ, and nothing happens, because we are not penetrating the armor of a secular world. They’re asking questions that we’re not even answering. See? So when he addresses them, very clear: “My first point is righteousness, my second point is self-control, and my third point is a coming judgment.” What a sermon! What a jolly sermon, eh? Huh?

Now, if we had him for a moment, I’d say to him, I’d say, “Paul, when did you ever learn to preach like that? I mean, who modeled this to you?” I was thinking this myself, actually. This is how I came up with this line of reasoning.

Do you know what I think he would have said? I think he would have said, “Well, I had it burned into my soul in the desert. But the first time I ever remember being encountered by this was on the day I played the role of the cloakroom attendant. On the day that I played the role of saying, ‘Guys, put your coats here; they’ll be here when you come back.’ When I said, ‘Men, drop your jackets here. You’ll want to be able to get a full backswing when you unleash those bricks.’ It was on that day,” Paul would have said, “that for the first time with clarity I heard a man speak powerfully of righteousness, the unfolding purpose of God in all of history. I saw a man who in himself displayed manifestly the evidences of a self-control which was frankly beyond human understanding. I saw him kneel down and lift his eyes up to heaven, and he said that he saw the Son of Man in heaven, and he lent himself to the blows which followed. And I heard him, before they beat him to bits, say, ‘You stiff-necked generation, you’re just like your forefathers.’[17] That’s where I learned to preach like that,” he says. “Stephen.”

“Well,” I say to him, “hey, Paul… you sure you really want that model? They didn’t really like it, did they, Paul? I mean, that didn’t go over big. He didn’t get invited back!” You’re not going to! You preach this way, you’re about as welcome as Arafat at a Jewish bar mitzvah. In fact, Luke records for us—and listen to this! When Stephen finished his message… (You find this in Acts… 8? 7! Thanks. No, it’s 8 in my Bible. No, just a joke! I love these versions, you know.) This is what it says: “They covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.”[18] Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some bad Sundays. But I haven’t come close to this.

Our Motivation

Now, here, that’s all the backdrop. Here we go. With this fresh in our minds, here is the question I want to pose. If this is a justifiable paradigm and model, since it is apostolic practice and precept, question: Is this the approach of the church in the Western world in the final decade of the twentieth century? The answer to that, if we’re honest, is this: that by and large, what we are doing at this point at the end of the twentieth century is so far removed from this model as to be downright shameful.

We cannot ask people to come to Christ till first we tell them who Christ is and why they need to come to him.

Now, let’s go through it—motivation, methodology, and message—and just see if there is any truth in this notion. First of all, motivation. What is our motivation? Is it 2 Corinthians 5:11: “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men”? In other words, we know ourselves to have been given up to the task of persuasion. And we’re unequivocal about being persuaders. We are shut up to it. We would not choose it, we do not think ourselves equipped for it, we shun it at every opportunity, but we’re driven back to it. We are put in the position of persuaders.

But the fact is, persuasion is unfashionable. You shouldn’t persuade people at this point in history. After all, we’re told, everyone has their ideas, everyone has their space, and who are we to invade their space? And that, of course, seems perfectly reasonable. You listen to that for long enough, you begin to believe that. So what then will make us persuaders in a world that is not remotely interested in persuasion? The fear of the Lord. We don’t persuade ’cause we don’t know the fear of the Lord. You see, how could John Knox go head-to-head with Mary Queen of Scots, who eventually got her head chopped off? Because it was said of John Knox that he feared God so much that he never feared the face of any man or woman.[19] He was driven from inside.

Now, we have to go back to the Reformers and to the Puritans to understand the fear of God, which we don’t have time to do this morning. But let me pique your interest and send you out with a wee bit of homework. One of the members of your congregation comes to you and says, “Pastor, can you tell me the difference between servile and filial fear?” What do you say? Because if you and I don’t know the difference between servile and filial fear, we may want to go in and change the hymnbooks the way others have done to get rid of any notion of the fear of God, because we have been so swatted into the idea that this is nowhere in the life of a Christian—when in point of fact, it is the beginning of wisdom,[20] it’s a motivating factor in evangelism, it drove Paul, and the question is, does it drive us?

Our Methodology

Methodology. What was his motivation? “Knowing the fear of the Lord, I persuade men.” What was his methodology? He preached. Sangster, at the end of the century in Britain, the great Methodist preacher, said, “Preaching is in the shadows. The world does not believe in it.”[21] At the end of the twentieth century, I think we ought to change that and say, “Preaching is in the shadows. The church does not believe in it.” People say, “You surely don’t expect twentieth-century people, who live in a world of mass communications, to sit and listen to proclamation. You’re not gonna tell me you believe anymore that through the authoritative proclamation of the Word of God, lives will be changed, families will be restored, communities will be transformed, and societies will be energized for God?” Or was that only the eighteenth-century revival? You cannot find an outpouring of the Spirit of God at any point in the history of the church that is not directly related to authoritative preaching of the Word of God. And the methodology of the apostles is the methodology for all time, irrespective of changing circumstances and the nuances of public life.

But I put it to you this morning, men, that that sounds so crazy that we’re not sure. Why is it? Well, if we had time to camp on it, we could talk about the fact that there is a loss of belief in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. We’re not talking about liberal scholarship now; we’re talking about conservative evangelical scholars who have lost their confidence in the Bible. And you can tell we’ve lost our confidence in the Bible because we don’t rely upon the Bible to be the sword of the Spirit—to pierce the armor of the sinner and to bring them to faith in Jesus Christ. Okay?

Alongside of that, preaching is in the shadows not simply, I believe, because of a loss of authority in the sufficiency of Scripture but also because a shift in the belief re the problem of man. That the notion is out—from pillar to post, from seminary to pulpit, from pew to couch—the word is out: man’s real dilemma is that he is lacking self-esteem. It therefore follows that what is required is not the preaching of the law to bring him to conviction of sin but is a kind of preaching that tells him, “Okay!” The kind of preaching that allows us to produce a book on the Ten Commandments which hits the stores under the title Believe in [the] God Who Believes in You. Now, how can you get that out of the Ten Commandments? I’ll tell you how you can get it: by growing soft on the authority of Scripture and growing hot on a spurious belief on the condition of man.

Brethren, I say to you, I put it to you this morning, that there will not be in many of our communities churches a decade from now—there will not be, a quarter of a century from now, if Jesus Christ does not return—unless God comes and lights a fire in the hearts and minds of men like you and I concerning the authority and the sufficiency of God’s Holy Word. It is attacked on every front, and so subtly that most of us are blinded to the implications of what’s going on.

So consequently, our preaching creates passivity in the minds of our congregations. Congregations don’t come expecting to hear from God. They don’t come, largely, into our buildings to sit down and to pay attention and to listen for God’s Word. They come in to sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight! And if there’s something that rang their bell, then that’s good, and if there isn’t, then they can always move to another church. But the expectation level is so low. We’re partly responsible for that! ’Cause we don’t stay on our bottoms long enough during the week, or on our knees long enough during the week, to have something that is worth saying to people who have got hungry souls.

Neil Postman, in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death—speaking, admittedly, of television evangelism preaching—he says there are certain laws that you cannot violate if you want to speak to a twentieth-century audience. Law number one: “Thou shalt have no prerequisites.” People don’t like to be told that they’re supposed to do stuff, so don’t do that to them. Secondly, he says, “Thou shalt induce no perplexity.” Life is tough. They don’t want to be troubled by you. They didn’t come here to feel bad. And thirdly, he says, “Thou shalt avoid exposition like the ten plagues [of] Egypt.”[22] Okay? So, whatever you do, don’t induce perplexity. Whatever you do, don’t tell people that there are demands. And whatever you do, don’t fall into the foul trap of believing that taking this book and going through it verse by verse and chapter by chapter is the power of God unto salvation that transforms people, builds up the church, and sets it on its feet in evangelism.

Our Message

What about the message? The motivation. The methodology: preaching. The message. Well, let me ask you. When’s the last time you heard a three-point sermon on righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment? I’m being serious. When’s the last time you or I preached one? When’s the last time we even considered preaching one?

So much of what passes for biblical preaching appeals to man’s natural affections. It offers the benefits of the gospel without ever showing man his need of a Savior. Consequently, that kind of preaching demands no conviction of sin in order to be responded to. Therefore, all you do is you hold it out: “Jesus Christ is the real thing, Coca-Cola is the real thing, and something else is the real thing, and we’d like you to have the real thing. And after all, don’t you need the real thing?” “Yeah, give me the real thing, baby.” Then, they can go out and go, “I got the right one, baby, uh huh, uh huh.” But they never were confronted by sin or the need for repentance and faith and trust and everything else; they just came in and somebody said that “there’s a way here to fill up the gaps in your life.” I ask you, men: Is that the apostolic preaching of the cross? Is that the proclamation of the gospel?

Paul’s approach was Peter’s approach. I did an interesting thing in preparation for this message. I went through the Acts of the Apostles. I put two columns down on a sheet of paper. At the top of one column I wrote, “Miracles and Signs”; at the top of the other column I wrote, “Preaching.” And I wrote down the reaction to every time a miracle was done and every time somebody preached. The reaction to the miracles is words like “wonder,” “amazement,” “interest,” etc. The reaction to preaching is real bad stuff that reaches its high point with them rushing Stephen down the hill and beating his brains out. And since you and I live in a success syndrome and we’ve got to go home and eat lunch every Sunday, we love the kind of kudos that comes from people saying, “Oh, that was lovely. That was lovely.” Oh, it might be lovely. It might be lovely for a generation, and our churches might be a carpet sale room come 2010.

Jesus had the same approach. Yeah, he started with a glass of water. That’s right. We don’t want to gainsay that: “Can I have a glass of water, please? Can I have a drink of water?” “Who are you, a man asking me, a woman, for water? A Jew asking a Samaritan?” Where was he heading? He was heading to verse 18: “Excuse me, you’ve got five husbands, and the man you’re living with now is not your husband.”[23] Do you think that’s “in your face”?

I think—and I’m gonna wrap this up before I get yanked here—but I do believe—and this is the passion of my heart—I believe that the great lack in our day is the lack of a prophetic voice. I’m not speaking in charismatic terms. I’m talking about the raising up of men within the pulpits of this great nation who will bring the Word of God to bear upon the lives of men and women with a passionate, authoritative conviction, who will be prepared to stand up in the midst of a world of businesspeople and say, “‘Let not the rich man boast in his riches, or the strong man boast in his strength, or the wise man boast in his wisdom.’[24] You think your bodies and your brains and your bucks are the key to your life? Let me tell you something: ‘Let him who boasts boast in this: that he knows him, the living God.’”[25]

We got to check our weaponry. We’ve got the commanding officer, Jesus; he gave out the weapons. Who said we could lay them down? He gave the weapons; we’re supposed to use them, right? You don’t choose your own stuff. You get the uniform; he gives it. You get the marching orders; he gives them. He’s the captain, he’s the commander; he says what we do. He gave the weapons—the weapons that Paul was referring to in 2 Corinthians 10; he says, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.” I don’t believe the twentieth-century church can say that. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.” I don’t believe the twentieth-century church can say that. “On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”[26] I don’t believe we can say that. ’Cause we’re not doing it! And so, when we lay down weapons, recognizing that we still have to fight, we’ll have to take up other weapons.

The church today is politicized, psychologized, pragmatized, and trivialized. We’re a sideshow. We’re an absolute sideshow, as the world goes by. And don’t ever forget it. I don’t care how big our church is; we’re a sideshow. And in a quest for professionalization and actualization, we’re in great danger—I am in great danger—of giving up the one thing that gives me a raison d’être: this book and the Christ of this book. That’s it. I got nothing else.

Now, let me say this in conclusion. Some of you are sitting out there and you’re saying, “You know what? This guy should have stayed in Scotland. He is completely out to lunch. If he had wanted to be a raving prophet, he should have gone down to England or something, but he doesn’t need to come over here. Alistair, you’ve been reading far too many old books. This stuff that you are pronouncing this morning was okay for the apostle Paul in his day, because after all, in Paul’s day, people could cope with that kind of stuff.”

Oh, you want me to believe that, do you? You want to tell me that when Paul preached righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment to Felix and Drusilla, it was a real palatable message for them, and they said, “Hey, give me more, give me more, give me more, more, more,” you know? Absolutely not, and let me tell you why—and with this I conclude.

Do any historical research on this guy Felix, Mr. Happy, and you’ll find out that he was born a twin. His brother was call Pallas; they were born into a slave family. The historical writers say that they dragged themselves up from the dirt into the limelight. And it was said by secular historians of Felix that “with savagery and [with] lust, he exercised the powers of a king with the disposition of a slave.”[27] Admittedly, he had financial security, he had power, he had status, and he had a good-looking woman on his arm; however, the woman that he had on his arm he had seduced away from her original husband with the help of a Cyprian magician called Simon, and he was sitting in an adulterous relationship when they called Paul up to give his little sermon. And Paul comes up and does a kind of Ray Stevens on them:

Itemize the things you covet
As you squander though your life:
Better cars, bigger houses,
Term insurance on your wife,
Tuesday evenings with your harlot,
And on Wednesdays it’s your charlatan, your analyst,
Is high upon your list.

You better take care of business, Mr. Businessman.[28]

That’s what he does to him. You think that was palatable? You get your head chopped off for stuff like that!

And what about Drusilla? The raving beauty? Let me tell you this: her father killed the brother of Jesus, James; her great-uncle killed John the Baptist; and her great-grandfather was responsible for the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. And to Drusilla he preached self-control and the coming judgment. That’s guts.

Felix never became happy, according to the record—never found the happiness that his name described. And in AD 79, secular history records that Drusilla went with her son to Pompeii—fashionable resort at that time. It was gala night—banqueting, dancing. She was, as you would imagine, beautifully adorned and with her son enjoying all that life had to offer. No time now for that crazy little Jewish man with that “righteousness, self-control, and judgment to come” nonsense. No, this is Pompeii! This is living. This is now. And in a distant roar and in a moment, Vesuvius swallowed Pompeii and Drusilla, and in a moment she went from dancing to judgment.

The people to whom you and I preach will also in a moment go from dancing to judgment. Dare we do anything other than the example we’re set?

Small wonder that when Paul finally writes to Timothy in his swan song, he says, “Timothy, I want you to preach the Word, because there’ll be all this itching-ear syndrome going on, and it’ll drive you nuts. But Timothy, this is what you should do—four things. Write them down, memorize them, Timothy, and don’t deviate from them. Number one, keep your head.” That’s why I told the story at the beginning; I was planning on bringing it back. “Keep your head down. Keep your head down in the Book, and keep your head down before the almighty power of God. Keep your head down. Number two, endure hardship. Number three, do the work of an evangelist. Number four, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”[29] ’Cause there’s only one life, it’ll soon be past, and only what’s done for Jesus will last.

Thank you for your attention.

[1] See Psalm 119:18.

[2] See 2 Corinthians 4:7.

[3] William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, 4.3.

[4] 1 Corinthians 9:16 (KJV).

[5] 2 Corinthians 5:14 (paraphrased).

[6] 2 Corinthians 5:20 (paraphrased).

[7] Romans 1:16 (KJV).

[8] 1 Corinthians 2:1–5 (NIV 1984).

[9] Attributed to James Denney in James S. Stewart, Heralds of God (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1946), 74.

[10] See Acts 9:15–16.

[11] Psalm 1:1–2 (paraphrased).

[12] Psalm 11:7 (paraphrased).

[13] Proverbs 25:28 (NIV 1984).

[14] Psalm 1:5 (paraphrased).

[15] Psalm 9:7 (NIV 1984).

[16] Acts 16:31 (KJV).

[17] Acts 7:51 (paraphrased).

[18] Acts 7:57–58 (NIV 1984).

[19] Attributed to James Douglas in W. Stanford Reid, Trumpeter of God: A Biography of John Knox (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974), 290.

[20] See Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10.

[21] W. E. Sangster, The Craft of Sermon Construction (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1951), 11.

[22] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985; repr., New York: Penguin, 1986), 147–48.

[23] John 4:18 (paraphrased).

[24] Jeremiah 9:23 (paraphrased).

[25] Jeremiah 9:24 (paraphrased).

[26] 2 Corinthians 10:3–4 (NIV 1984).

[27] Tacitus, Histories 5.9.

[28] Ray Stevens, “Mr. Businessman” (1969). Lyrics lightly altered.

[29] 2 Timothy 4:2–5 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.