Acts 24: It’s Just Not Fair


The events of Acts 24 make me want to scream. After being mauled by a mob in the temple courts; taken into custody and nearly flogged by the Romans; brought before the Sanhedrin where he was struck in the face and nearly torn to pieces in a riot; and now hauled to Caesarea in the dark of night to avoid a murderous conspiracy, St. Paul finally had a chance to stand before the Roman, Felix, governor and argue his case in an orderly fashion.

It all seemed well and good. The Jews and their fancy lawyer got up and presented a bunch of trumped up charges, Paul had the opportunity to rise and offer a sound defense, and Felix promised to rule on the case when the Roman commander, Lysias arrived from Jerusalem. Surely, the whole matter would be settled and Paul would be freed within a couple of days, a week or two at most! The governor even granted Paul “some freedom and [permitted] his friends to take care of his needs.”

But then we come to verse 26, and we get our first hint that something wasn’t quite right: Felix “was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe.” And then, in verse 27, we learn the outrageous truth. Paul was held in Caesarea for two years without a decision. And when Felix was recalled to Rome and replaced with Porcius Festus, he just left Paul sitting there in prison.

What an outrage! This just simply was not fair! Paul had done nothing wrong! The only reason he had appealed his case to Caesarea was because there was a plot afoot to kill him! And now he is compelled to sit in prison for two years!

Clearly, if this was modern America, there would be protests and demonstrations in the street. Congressmen (and women) would be waxing eloquent on Paul’s behalf. And the public uprising would be enough that no one would be held unjustly and completely without cause for more than two years.

But then again, this wasn’t modern America; it was ancient Palestine. And Felix was known for being oppressive, even tyrannical, to the point that he was even recalled by Emperor Claudius when the people rose up in protest. Moreover, Paul was a Christian, and persecution against Christians was already becoming the next big thing.

So here’s the deal. Life isn’t fair. Your mother always told you that when you flopped down on the sofa and pouted, “It’s just not fair.” Well, it doesn’t get any better as life goes on. And if anything, becoming a Christian will make it even less fair. Suddenly, people call you weak because you rely on a “higher power.” They laugh at you for thinking that anything other than random chance could be behind all that is. And they lash out in angry at all the “hateful” things you say and do.

No, life isn’t fair. But take note of Paul’s reaction to all of this here in Acts 24 because we must react in the same way. Does he get angry? Does he throw a fit? Rail against the authority? Even lobby his congressman? No. In fact, during his trial, after hearing some ridiculously trumped-up charges, Paul presents a very coherent, concise, and calm defense. When Felix calls him to talk frequently, Paul is more than happy to come and discuss matters of faith – “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come,” according to Luke – with the guy. And when two years pass without any judgment and Felix just leaves him in prison, such an outrageous abuse merits only one verse – one sentence, even – at the very end of the chapter. And Paul never got mad, threw a fit, badmouthed Felix, or tried to petition a higher authority. He just calmly and quietly went about ministering in the place where he was.

The message that I take from Acts 24 is very simple, and it goes something like this: Christian, life isn’t fair. Get over it. And keep pressing to minister to those around you, wherever (and in whatever situation) that may be.


  • (1) The trial starts in a timely fashion. The other day, my dad was telling me about his experience with jury duty. The trial he sat on was for something that happened 6 mos ago!
  • (2-4) Clearly, Tertullus knew how to grease the wheels of the Roman legal system: stroke the governor’s ego.
  • (5-9) The pattern of false accusations and conspiracy among even the highest officials of the Jewish religion continues. All of this was based on hearsay and/or absolutely false. Here, they accuse him of being an insurrectionist, a religious dissident, and in violation of Jewish law. Of these, the one that would have caught Felix’s attention was carefully placed first: insurrectionist.
  • (10-21) Paul’s response is very ordered and comprehensive. He notes the lack of evidence to support the Jews’ claims, recounts the events which led up to his arrest, and declares that his religious beliefs and practices were in line with those of the Jews. He then continues to speak of the reason why he was in Jerusalem, to deliver gifts for the poor and worship. No one could blame him for these things!
  • (22) Given that all of the events in chs 21-24 have happened within twelve days, Felix’s promise to decide on the matter when the final witness, the Roman commander, arrived from Jerusalem seems reasonable.
  • (25) It is amazing that Felix, the powerful Roman governor of Samaria and northern Palestine, a brutal and oppressive tyrant, was fearful when confronted with Paul’s message. Truly, the gospel has the power to convict anyone!
  • (26-27) The miscarriage of justice represented in these two verses compels one to cry out, “Not fair!”

1 Response to “Acts 24: It’s Just Not Fair”

  1. 1 Br. Francis Therese February 16, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    Thanks for the post! You are so right about life not being fair even for Christians (especially for Christians!) It is interesting to see Paul’s reaction to persecution and injustice, he does not rise against the government, but he continues to speak the truth and minister to those around him. That reminds me of John the Baptist too. The truth speaks for itself, though we have a responsibility to bear witness to it, and even to be prepared to provide a reason for the hope we have. Men will always try to bury the truth, to ignore it, and to disrespect it – but that is because it is hard to live with or in the truth, the truth always requires us to acknowledge the part of us that hides from the light, which is painful.

    Keep the posts coming! 🙂

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