My advanced education has begun. I’m now learning from my grandchildren. I was watching Emilie (7) and Audrey (5) play Wii tennis—it’s a video game, BTW, and they both beat me regularly. Emmie is meticulous, as most firstborns are, working on her skills and very serious about competing (and winning). Audie, on the other hand, is the typical little sister. Distraction is her game. When it’s her serve, she throws the ball into the air ten times but never actually hits it over the net. Each time the ball goes up, Emmie tenses, ready to return the serve. Nope. Nothing. Audie giggles. Emmie scowls.
Audie throws the ball in the air again, and it drops without a serve. Another giggle and scowl. This continues until suddenly Audrey actually hits one of those balls, and Emilie is so busy scowling, she doesn’t realize the ball has actually gone past her! Audrey gets the point—and usually wins the game this way. Ugh. Waiting. There’s a knack to staying patient, alert, willing in the waiting. If we get frustrated, we sometimes miss the ball when it’s served. If we wait expectantly—every time the ball goes in the air—we might just return the volley… My grand-daughters are geniuses!
Acts 24:1 – “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.” (emphasis added)
Paul waited five days in Herod’s palace prison while the Jerusalem Jewish leaders recruited a lawyer that could represent them in a Roman court. But remember, Paul didn’t know what they were doing back in Jerusalem. He knew the journey from Jerusalem to Caesarea had taken him one night on horseback. What might Paul have thought while waiting in that prison for five days?
Acts 24:2-10 – “When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix: ‘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. 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 Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true. 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.’” (emphasis added)
Paul waited silently through the blustering lawyer’s speech and even while the Jewish leaders joined in false accusations. Then, in one sentence, Paul succinctly acknowledged the governor without adornment, and graciously began his defense. His words betrayed no sign of frustration or impatience. There were no hidden barbs aimed at the Jews or the Roman governor. Paul’s waiting seems to have nurtured his peace, honed his focus, and bolstered his confidence.
Acts 24:11-21 – “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 fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men, 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. After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin—unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: ‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’” (emphasis added)
Paul waited several years for the opportunity to bring gifts and offerings to Jerusalem again, and he had only been there six or seven days (twelve days minus the five he’d been in Herod’s prison) when he was arrested and forced to leave. Bummer. To make it worse, he’d done everything RIGHT—ceremonially clean, hadn’t preached from a street corner, didn’t start a riot—and he still got into trouble! “But some Jews from Asia…” Have you noticed there’s always something that gets in the way of fulfilling our heart-felt desires? Whether it’s a person, a circumstance, or simply the state of this sin-sick world, good and godly people wait for unfulfilled desires—and God seems silent. That’s when faith must shout.
Acts 24:22-27 – “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. Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul discoursed on 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. 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.” (emphasis added)
Paul waited for Lysias, and then for Felix’s whim, and ultimately for two years—without seeing any end to his imprisonment. THIS IS A CROSSROAD—for Paul and for us. When injustice prolongs the wait, what becomes our focus—self or Christ? Paul focused on Jesus while he waited. Does that mean we give up our desires during the wait? Did Paul give up hope of release from prison? No. The rest of Acts tells us he pursued his freedom. BUT…his focus was the Gospel whenever he was brought before rulers or magistrates. And you can’t just conjure up that kind of passion and effectiveness when the pressure’s on. It bubbles up from an intimate, constant communion with Christ during the waiting.
- Lord, Your Word encourages me to ask for the desires of my heart, so I know it’s not wrong to hope for things in this world; however, I also know that waiting for the fulfillment of those desires is an excruciating process through which You teach me powerful lessons—and You draw me closer to Your heart. Thank You for my yearnings. Though they are often painful, they serve a glorious purpose, and I pray they will draw me ever closer to You.