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Justice Delayed…But Not Denied

Justice Delayed…But Not Denied

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Justice Delayed… But Not Denied

Acts 24

There is a saying in legal talk that justice delayed is justice denied. Perhaps it’s most famous when quoted by Martin Luther King Jr in his 1963 letter from a Birmingham jail. King is opposing the racial injustices of his time and in this letter he is opposing the moderates that are just telling him to be patient. Just wait. And King says that “wait” has often meant “Never.” King could not sit idle while people were being degraded, bullied, terrorized and even killed. When people told him to be patient and wait for justice, he quipped that justice too long delayed is justice denied.  

You could imagine what it would be like if it were your kids being bullied, and attacked and told they could not go to school because of the color of their hair. And being told to wait when you have been wronged is like rubbing salt in the wounds. 

You may experience that delay or denial of justice in life. King experienced it we will see the apostle Paul experienced it. In the book of Acts people have been persecuting him for his faith and teaching. Trying to kill him. Trying to have him arrested. Last week he was saved from an assassination plot his nephew overheard, and now he is once again being interrogated, and once again justice is delayed. He is innocent but is not freed. 

This passage shows us that while justice may be delayed, it will not ultimately be denied. Through Jesus God will bring justice to all the wrongs that happen in the world, and this gives us hope… and it keeps us honest. 


And after five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and a spokesman, one Tertullus. They laid before the governor their case against Paul. 2 And when he had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying: “Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, 3 in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. 4 But, to detain you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly. 5 For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him. 7  8 By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him.” 9 The Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all these things were so. 10 And when the governor had nodded to him to speak, Paul replied: “Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense. 11 You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, 12 and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city. 13 Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. 14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. 16 So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man. 17 Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. 18 While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult. But some Jews from Asia– 19 they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, should they have anything against me. 20 Or else let these men themselves say what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council, 21 other than this one thing that I cried out while standing among them: ‘It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.'” 22 But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 Then he gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs. 24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” 26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him. 27 When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison. (Acts 24:1-27)

  1. The Denial of Justice

Governor Felix. This is the Roman Governor. Israel is ruled by the nation of Rome, so while the large Jewish population had its own distinct community and faith and religious practice that governed the community they ultimately submitted to Rome. Felix governs this area. 

The Roman leadership, like Felix, had the task of enforcing Roman law to a people who wanted to be independent of Rome. It required carefully walking a balance and Paul was a lightning rod. 

Felix is a not a good man. He is praised verbally by Tertullus, but his actions portray him as ambivalent and noncommittal.  

A little history. His full name was Marcus Antonius Felix. He was appointed as governor of Judea about A.D. 52 by the emperor Claudius. Felix and his brother Pallas were freed slaves. Both were  favorites of Claudius. This favor with the emperor is what led Felix to believe that he could do as he pleased. 

Felix was well known for his cruelty, he suppressed much lawlessness that had risen in Judea, but he did so by extreme violence. 

Felix is actually so brutal he would actually be removed for being too cruel by Emperor Nero

If there were revolts Felix would completely destroy an area. People said “Rome brought a dessert and called it peace.”  

  • Felix once made a deal with one of the leaders of a revolt, promising safe passage for surrender, then once he left Felix captured him. 
  • Once the high priest Jonathan complained to Rome about Felix in hopes of getting a better governor, so Felix hired the sicarri, the knife-wielding assassins, to kill the high priest. (Antiq. 20.163, JW 2.256).
  • Roman historian Tacitus says, “he was a cruel and rapacious, practicing every kind of cruelty and lust, wielding the power of a king with the instincts of a slave” (History 5.9). 

Felix was married to Drusilla, the daughter of Herod Agrippa I (Acts 24:24). Drusilla was Jewiish and was married to the Syrian king of Emesa (about A.D. 53) at the age of 14. She was reputed to be very beautiful (Antiq. 20.142).  Felix persuaded her to leave her husband and marry him. 

He was hated by the Jewish people for his immorality, cruelty, and general incompetence. 

Also prominent in this scene is Tertullus. He is a lawyer hired to prosecute Paul. Now after having heard of Felix, you understand the irony in Tertullus remarks, 

[“Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, 3 in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude.

Tertullus is lying through his teeth! All gratitude. In every way and every where reforms are made. O most excellent Felix. You have to think this is so good Felix may even have laughed at it. 

Paul had no advocate. No one to defend him. They charge him with three main things: 

v5 For we have found this man a plague

  • one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is 
  • a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 
  • 6 He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him. 

Paul denies stirring up riots. He has only been in Jerusalem 12 days. Hardly long enough to make a plan and get the collaboration needed. This was not the days of the iphone and constant contact and social media, etc. 

He also denies profaning the temple. 

[After ,many years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. 18 While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult.

Paul denies their accusations and tells them they need to provide proof of their accusation. But Paul does admit to one thing. He is a leader of the sect of the Nazarenes, which is known as the Way. He is a follower of the Way. He believes in the resurrection of the just. V21 he says he is on trial…

[21 ‘It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.'”

Felix is unwilling to declare Pauls innocence. He remains quiet. And leaves Paul in jail. Paul is innocent. They cannot prove their charges against him. But Felix shrinks from doing what is right. Knows he should free Paul but chooses not to. Felix delays, even denies justice. Leaves an innocent man in jail.

 and will send for him frequently not because he wants to know Jesus but because he is hoping to pay him a bribe. Paul won’t do it because he doesn’t want to feed Felix’s corruption, and because he wants to be declared innocent

Felix leaves Paul in prison. For two years. To do a favor to the Jews. Gain political favor, as good as a bribe

This is life in a fallen world. 

  1. Coming Justice

Justice is delayed. But it will not be denied. Paul speaks about the coming judgment. 

[25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment,

In this life things don’t always go the way they should. I feel like I mention this a lot. Sometimes I wonder if people get tired of hearing life is hard. But I want you to see this, because I believe it gets ignored in most other settings. You don’t get this on Hallmark cards, or Christian book stores. Your verse of the day rarely shows this. And most of the Christians I have met who really struggled with their faith did so because they endured hard times, and it seemed they were not prepared. It seemed they were ignorant of the persecution and hardship God’s people experience in this world. I want you prepared for that

Paul spoke to Felix and Drusilla  

Faith in Christ Jesus. This is the faith that sets us in a right relationship with God. It’s the faith that motivates us to serve and follow. That is why it is connected to:

Righteousness. (1) righteousness, uprightness, (2) legally justice. 3) of the right behavior that God requires of persons righteousness, good behavior, uprightness. You might think of this as the things God calls us to do: do not lie, do not steal, do not covet, do not give false testimony, honor the day of rest. God is holy and we honor him by following him. This shows there is always a need to confront political figures with the commands of God. 

Self Control. the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites. Can control and govern themselves. If God calls us a certain way then we need to follow that. It takes hard work. 

Following God is always the best thing. But it’s never the easy thing. 

Coming Judgement. God will not delay his judgment forever. He has extended mercy now. Each will be rewarded accordingly. And each will require the mercy of God. Paul was blinded by the moral righteousness of God. When he appeared he was knocked out and blinded. God was greater than he could imagine! 

Resurrection of the Righteous and Unrighteous. One of the basic tenets of Christianity is this resurrection. The immortality of the soul. The righteous will be raised to eternal life and the unrighteous to eternal death. 

This is traumatic. Harsh. What??? But there are consequences to the decisions we make. The bigger the decision the bigger the consequence. Biggest decision is will you submit your life to Jesus Christ. 

Justice will come. No one will “get away” with anything. It will be made right. Fairness will be established. Will stand before God and every action and thought will be judged. 

Give you rest. Paul could rest that in Jesus he would hear a justice that eluded him in this life. In Jesus his sin could be forgiven and he could hear the verdict innocent. This is good news! 

Also causes us to cry out for help. We cannot be righteous on our own. All of our wrongs, our mistakes, our rejection of God make us unrighteous. But in Jesus Paul can be made right. 

  1. Follow the Way of God

Paul is known as a follower of the Way. Way of righteousness. Faith. Self control. 

[14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers,

Future judgement should cause us to live rightly in the world. It is what should cause people of privilege like Felix to give a darn about the innocent and weak. It is what caused Paul to leave his privileged life and share the gospel with others. Paul was from a good city, Alpharetta, good education- Harvard, but left it all to be persecuted, hated, denied justice. It should cause us to serve God. Can’t say you didn’t know

Want others to be spared. Don’t miss this. It is very easy to point the finger at others and condemn them. That takes no effort at all. That is the easiest most immature thing to do. Bertrand Russell said moralists invented hell as the final bludgeon to get people to do what they want. Hell is not to bludgeon. Make no mistake – it should wake you up. 

Paul is inviting Felix into the life Jesus has purchased. Paul is inviting Felix to walk with him. To be a disciple. This good for nothing. Lyin’, deceivin’, brown nosin’, self servin’, public servant. Paul knows the power of God. Paul knows the grace of God. 

When you know this mercy, you want others to know this mercy.

He dialogues on these issues. That can be a debate. It can be a strong difference. It can also be a discussion. A back and forth. And no doubt they talked about the issues going on. Paul probably asked why he wasn’t being released and pronounced innocent. Why are you looking for a bribe? What about those people you murdered without a trial? And by the way, what happened to your wife’s husband?  

Funny Paul is accused of dialoguing/debating in the temple. He denies it. And now in the providence of God he is dialoguing/reasoning with the Governor about faith in Jesus. 

People need to hear we will be called to account  for how we lived. Most people lie cheat and steal and come home to a good meal. Think they have gotten away with it. There is no getting away with it. God’s grace is giving you time to turn from those ways. Don’t think he won’t call to account. Need to hear that. Will not back down from teaching this. 

But not judgement without mercy. Most people come into church knowing they messed up. When I first went to church in college I stutter stepped through church like a man who just robbed a bank walks through a police department. I was nervous. I was a little scared. I was just waiting to get kicked out. 

Our faith in Jesus is a faith that crooked people can be made straight. The broken fixed. The infected healed. 

Paul has been denied justice in a public trial, but Paul has been justified in the eternal court. Jesus was the only sinless innocent man who ever lived, and he was denied justice and condemned. He was crucified. But God raised him from the dead. God delayed his justice but he did bring it. He raised him to life and brought him to his right hand. 

Felix became terrified at what Paul was saying. He had the greatest theologian, the greatest evangelist the church has ever known and he said to stop talking! He did not want to hear another word but it nawed on him. He kept coming back for conversation but there was no change. Drusilla would be killed in about 20 years. In AD 79 they were killed in the eruption of Mt Vesuvius that destroyed the city of Pompeii. 


  1. Trust God with where you have been hurt. When you have things that are unfair. I heard someone say in regards to tithing, God is a fair God. if you give too much that he will pay you back. If you feel like you have given God too much and have not been treated fairly, it’s OK. He can make it right. Trust God with what you have endured. And stop making excuses to follow him. Rest in Jesus. Know that he has given you way more than you could ever give to him. In him you are declared righteous, innocent. All your mistakes are taken away by him. That is amazing!
  1. I also want to speak to those who have not made a decision to follow Christ. 

You either are following Christ or you are not. If you profess to be a Christian but are making excuses you need to stop. Be clear on where you are.

If you are not a Christian. You can follow him today. He simply calls you to know he is Lord and will lead you. You can go from eternal judgment to eternal life. Do that now. Don’t delay. If you don’t really know what to do but know you need to do something, come talk. We would love to help you. 


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