You’ve stumbled upon a four-part blog series called THE WAITING. This is Part Two. Here’s where we’ve been so far…
Life in the Waiting – An Unwanted New Home
The book of Acts is the most compelling story in the New Testament, but that’s just my opinion. I remember reading through it as a teenager and never wanting to put it down, or to take a break from the narrative that was unfolding in front of me. I remember wishing that Leviticus was as exciting as Acts, but then realizing that it just isn’t, and that this is okay with God, so it should be okay with me too.
We don’t really need any back story to Acts 24, except to say that Paul is (surprise, surprise) in prison again and that he’s there for whatever the Jewish authorities want to accuse him of. And Paul just wants to make it to Rome, because that’s the one thing he can’t get out of his mind.
Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor.
The fact that one of the same High Priests who was a key influencer in the death of Jesus is recruiting some other leaders and also hiring a lawyer for good measure, all to make a trip from their hometown down to Caesarea… well… it all just makes me think that this story isn’t starting well.
When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix.
I had to read this a few times before I began to feel the dynamic of the courtroom. And to help you discover what I think I’ve discovered, just read the following presentation from this lawyer as if Flattery and Kiss-Up had a baby, and that this baby is now whining forth the following words.
“We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.
See what I mean? This is getting thick.
And once the flattery has barfed itself dry, the false accusations begin.
“We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.” The other Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.
Same story, different day.
Brought before another council on trumped up charges.
So Paul makes his defense. Notice his absolute lack of flattery, and yet with honor and respect toward Felix the Governor. Also notice Paul’s ongoing attempts to help these leaders see that he’s not trying to create a new religion or faith or sect, but rather to help them see that the fulfillment of their own Jewish faith has finally been realized in Jesus Christ. That their waiting is indeed over.
When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: “I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.”
Paul continues to basically say the same thing he’s been saying all along, asking the courtroom to produce any accusers who were actually PRESENT when he did the things he’s being accused of.
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.
It’s interesting to me that someone can be well-acquainted with Jesus and His teachings (the Way), and at the same time be so unacquainted with Jesus Himself. And I suppose that could be said of all of us, at one point in our lives.
Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul talked about 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.
If it’s not obvious by now, especially from the way the courtroom proceedings began, Felix is a bit of a head case. Felix really loves Felix. It seems like his wife Drusilla might actually be listening to Paul as he talks about Jesus, but not Felix. He only seems to be interested in his unspoken expectation that Paul might slip him a $50 under the palace table.
And then we read the most tragic verse in the entire chapter. I can barely read it without feeling pressure in my chest.
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.
Paul waited for two years.
What were you doing two years ago? What if someone asked you to identify that time in your life, that location, that joy or that sorrow or that thing you were going through?
Now imagine being thrown into a prison cell from that moment until now, while some head case who happily exerts complete control over you brings you up to his palace to fake-talk about Jesus, all the while just wanting you to offer him a bribe. And then, after the conversation inevitably became a little to difficult or awkward or confrontational, imagine hearing Felix say, “That’s enough! Guards – Take him away.” And then envision yourself being led away as you stumble over the shackles that bind your feet, back down the long winding stairway, and finally into your living area.
If you could call that living.
Imagine experiencing two years of exactly that. Two years of time when nothing moved forward – at least nothing Paul could see.
Then one afternoon.
Then one evening.
Then one midnight cry.
Now imagine living that rhythm of that day 730 times.
So when I speak of a location called The Waiting, that’s exactly what I’m describing. Remember what we’ve already established as a working definition of The Waiting.
THE WAITING IS THAT SPACE THAT KEEPS UF FROM MOVING FORWARD BECAUSE SOMEONE OR SOMETHING ELSE OUTSIDE OF OUR CONTROL IS CONTROLLING US.
And make no mistake. Paul was the bloom-where-you’re-planted inhabitant of that space.
But the fortunate thing about The Waiting is that it really is doing an amazing work in us – or more accurately, that God Himself is creating us into better people who more accurately resemble the likeness of His Son, Jesus. And this is more than that simple belief that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. It’s so much more.
I feel completely unqualified and under-qualified to make some limited attempt at giving “answers” to people in The Waiting. Our friend Job from the Old Testament was given answers from his three buddies, but they were the wrong answers, and God wasn’t thrilled with them at the story’s end. On the other end of the Job spectrum, God never gave Job any answers, no greater purpose, and no explanation. As far as we know, Job went through the darkest-ever period of his life in The Waiting, and then God decided that he’d had enough. And then Job received a powerful explanation of who God is from God Himself, emphasizing the eternal miles that separate His power from Job’s.
And unfortunately, Job’s three friends are also our three friends, especially when we’re in The Waiting. And that’s usually because it’s people who have NEVER been in The Waiting who seem to have the greatest knowledge about it – at least in their own minds.
God alone has the answers, so let’s not pretend that anything written in these words will give anyone any answer. That’s just stupid. Instead, it’s more important to point out what will most likely happen to us while we’re in The Waiting – things that probably won’t happen in any other way or through any other means. And if something can be, at the same time both beyond difficult and beyond good, then that may be what The Waiting provides.
Please click here to read the next blogpost in THE WAITING series…