GETTING THE MESSAGE/Christ is the cure for sin
In Acts 24 the apostle Paul is in Caesarea. He had been carried there by Roman soldiers who had taken him out of Jerusalem because the Jews had threatened his life. The Jewish high priest and other Jewish leaders came from Jerusalem to argue their case against Paul in front of Felix, the governor.
The Jewish leaders brought a lawyer, Tertullus, to present their accusations (24:1). Tertullus laid out two serious charges against Paul, insurrection and desecration: “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 Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him.”
These accusations were hot buttons for the Roman authorities. Stirring up riots was seditious and profaning a religious temple carried with it the penalty of death, so Tertullus is arguing Paul has committed crimes that deserve capital punishment.
Never underestimate how great a mercy it is to know your need of mercy. We see the darkness of sin in the Jewish charges. They had heard the gospel repeatedly. They had heard warnings attached to the gospel if they continued in their way. They not only persisted in unbelief, their animosity toward the truth of Christ grew.
In John 14:6 the Lord Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” If you compare our Lord’s words with the Jewish accusations against Paul, you see that the Jewish charges are in direct opposition to the claims Jesus makes about himself.
Tertullus said that the Jews found Paul to be a plague, in other words, like a pestilence that spreads and threatens the lives of those who hear him. Paul, in fact, spread the good news of the gospel, that Christ was life for sinners who would die apart from him. Men may think of Jesus as a plague, but he is the only cure for sin and death. He is life.
Tertullus said Paul was a ringleader of a sect. A sect was an illegitimate religion, designed to stir up trouble rather than promote traditional beliefs. But Paul proclaimed Christ as the Word of God and the legitimate fulfillment of Judaism. All the prophets wrote of him. If you want to know the truth of God, you must look to Christ. Christ came into the world to testify to the truth. He is truth.
Tertullus said that Paul tried to profane the temple. The charge was false, but it does remind us that the Lord Jesus charged the Jews with profaning the temple and the worship of God (John 2). Sinners cannot approach God or worship God except though Christ. He is the way.
Though the Jews confronting Paul hated Christ, many Jews embraced Jesus as the Christ promised in the law and the prophets. They saw the need they had for cleansing from sin and the glory of so great a salvation that the Son of God would give himself for them. But the Jews who rejected him were blinded by a vain apprehension of the law of God and their own righteousness.
They believed their observation of the law made them different from other men. However, the law revealed they were not different. The law condemns us all. Man is a slave to the law of God. He is under the obligation of satisfying its demands or bearing its penalty. It is either a terror to the conscience or the conscience will adjust to suppress the truth, thus hardening itself.
The Jews hardened themselves to the truth of Christ because they had a superficial understanding of the holiness of God. They chose to think of God in a way that promoted pride in themselves. They used Scripture to justify themselves, but their hearts were far from God.
This passage is a warning to us to understand the dependence we have upon Christ and how great a Savior he is. When we understand God’s law and his holiness rightly, it drives us to Christ. Our pride needs the light of Christ to expose it. The Jews stumbled over Christ because they wanted to be justified by their own righteousness. They didn’t know their need.
The law makes things simple for us to understand. If I don’t have Christ to cleanse me from sin, I will perish, and justly so. Christ saves us that we might not suffer the penalty of sin, but also be rescued from the hardness of sin. Sin is a plague to the soul. Christ is the cure.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.