The heartbeat of obedience over worldly tactics and success metrics continues. It was so important for God to preserve these stories for us, and it is so essential for us to pause and let them soak in. We tend to look at leaders of the faith as major success stories who just had things go right; go their way. That they had a clear mission and plan and executed it flawlessly. That they were extraordinarily gifted in all manner of leadership and communication. That they were given red carpet welcomes and sparkly open doors. But that is just not the case. The heroes of the faith were obedient. Period. They trusted God; they had faith; they did what He said. They were often in unfavorable circumstances. They usually waited a loooooooong time for things to develop…often not even seeing the end result. Whatever we see on the surface is a simply a breaking through of the steady root-building underground. If we want to be a disciple, THIS is what it really looks like. No more rose-colored glasses. But if we asked any of them now as they sit face to face with the one they love, my guess is they would say they wouldn’t change a thing. It was beautiful, and it was worth it.
For over two years Paul sits in prison because the one who knew he was innocent and had the power to set him free was a power-hungry, money-hungry coward. Yes, he afforded Paul freedoms and liberties in his imprisonment, and yes, he summoned him often to hear what he had to say, but for two years he deflected and delayed any action. Not only did he delay and reject the opportunity to free the one he knew had truth on his side, but he also delayed and rejected accepting the ultimate Truth for himself.
How many people like Felix do we know? He knew the truth. In fact, we are told he, “had an accurate knowledge of the Way.” But it didn’t change him. He hears a Gospel personal to him. Paul didn’t hold back. He didn’t preach a feel-good, inspiring, prosperity Gospel, he went right at what Felix and his wife needed to hear, just as Jesus did. He taught on righteousness, self-control, and the judgement to come. And Felix was afraid. But fear doesn’t change us either. We can be scared of condemnation with no conviction toward repentance. Instead, Felix tells Paul to go away…that he doesn’t want to hear what he has to say…that he will send for him later. We are good at brushing off confronting truth. But then Felix sends for Paul often and converses with him. Frequent exposure doesn’t change his heart. Instead, he secretly hopes for bribes to release Paul. Love of stuff, fear of man, and preservation of status and power keep Felix blinded to the Gospel. And as Felix is outed from power and his esteemed position, he leaves unchanged and he leaves Paul in prison…one last attempt to appease the Jews and gain some favor.
Two years….of hearing the Gospel, of open-access to one who had been with Jesus, of hearing personal truths…and Felix chooses the things of the world. Every. Single. Time. But God’s plans are never derailed or unfruitful, even when we don’t see it. Paul remained protected in prison. Paul could welcome friends and visitors to teach and encourage. Some scholars even think this was the time Luke did his research for the Gospel of Luke. Progress, success, and even time look different through the eyes of God. Our job: remain obedient. Keep pressing on and leave the planning and heart-changing and timing to God.
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