See? I told you. What you see in this world is often not what you get. We live in a world that has been put wrong side up. You know those boxes that say, “This Side Up” and “Fragile”? Well, humanity came in just such a box, and the ones God entrusted our lives to (Adam and Eve) dropped the box from a very great height.
And so we come to the strange, mixed up, upsee dee dee down (as my daughter Renee used to say instead of “upside down”) story of Felix and Paul. First of all, Felix means “happy,” a fascinating name for this man. How felix can Felix have been, stuck in Judea and trying to keep peace in Jerusalem, that city which means “city of peace” or “legacy of peace” but which has been at the center of strife for 2000 years? Sitting there, waiting for bribes to do what is right is no way for a man to live.
While we’re on the subject of names, Ananias was in the story yesterday, Ananias, which is a Greek version of Hananiah (think fiery furnace) and whose name means “Yahweh has dealt graciously.” Yahweh has indeed dealt graciously, and yet not all Ananiases choose to receive the grace of God. The Ananias of Acts 5 had received God’s grace enough to be a part of the early church and yet despised that grace as he lied to the Holy Spirit. The Ananias of Acts 8 gave Paul back his sight, baptized him, and helped give him life. But the Ananias of Acts 24 who was graced to be the high priest also rejected the grace of God and sought to take the life of God’s anointed one, Paul.
Paul, of course, means “small”, and here we find another irony in an upside down world made right by God. By most human standards Paul was a giant of a man. And yet he himself claimed to be unimpressive in person. How could the Paul of Acts 24 be small? I tell you he was small – and weak, to boot. But by the grace of God he was a gigantic, courageous warrior.
The story of Paul in Acts 24 is still the story of God in a man in a world that’s upside down. Here’s Paul, falsely accused by the Jews who perpetually want to kill him (I wonder if the Jews who took the vows in Acts 23 kept their vows and starved or dehydrated to death?) hauled before the Roman governor in Jerusalem, the city where his Lord was murdered. And who’s afraid? Not small Paul but happy Felix!
“Now as he [Paul] reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid” (verse 25). Happy Felix, not small Paul. Why in the world would the powerful Roman governor who had the power over life and death be afraid and the man under Roman guard was not? Because small Paul had connections. He knew the One who truly had the power over life and death, the One who would be the judge of the quick and the dead.
When Paul began to speak about righteousness and self-control, things Felix evidently needed to hear, the Happy One became Much Afraid. This Felix had married three times, employed assassins to attempt to murder the high priest, and was known for his cruelty, taking bribes, and licentiousness. No wonder Paul preached to him about righteousness and self-control. Oh, and about the judgment to come.
But Felix had had enough. Instead of running away, he should have read Psalm 2: “Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying ‘Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision.You [the Son] shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.
Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed, you judges of the earth.
Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little.”
Instead, Felix pushes Paul, and therefore the Lord, away, saying, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.”
You fool! There is no more convenient time. How do you know that God will not say to you, as in Luke 20:12, “Fool! this night your soul will be required of you!” There will never be a more convenient time to seek God than the present moment: in fact, the present is the only moment you’ve actually got to spend. “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Hebrews 13:7-8). “But exhort one another daily, while it is still called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
You therefore have a choice today of who to follow. Are you and will you be more like Happy Felix or more like Small Paul today? Careful how you answer. To be Small Paul sometimes means being bound in chains and having your liberty unfairly restricted, and it may mean deprivation of many kinds. It means acknowledging that you are small and weak, and it means looking foolish and insignificant in the eyes of the world.
To be Happy Felix may mean having power and prestige in this life, and success as men reckon it. It may mean putting on a happy face and enjoying the things of the earth with complete license and frivolity.
But don’t answer yet! To be Small Paul also means to become one with the One who is larger and greater than all. It means to be made strong in your weakness and to have the strength to rejoice in suffering. It means to kiss the Son and to receive His daily blessing. But to be Happy Felix means to put on happy face to hide the sorrow and shame and emptiness inside. It means being a slave to your passions and lacking self-control, righteousness, and courage. And it means to slap the Son in His face and spit in it.
Every day, we have this fundamental choice to make. I’ve already locked in my answer for today. What will you do?
Prayer: Today, Father, make me a son of yours, that I might receive the inheritance You have reserved for me. Grant me the courage to serve You with fear and to rejoice with trembling. May I kiss the Son today and put my trust in You so that in all things I may be happy and blessed, being made great in my smallness and in the magnitude of Your grace. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
1. In what ways have I been cowardly and small, trusting in myself?
2. In what things today does the Lord desire me to seek His strength and grace?
Resolution: I resolve to choose to be Small Paul today, turning to the Lord for strength every time I feel afraid or small or weak today.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson