“Grow” Series articles are not expositions. They are efforts to take one aspect of the passage and expound on its application for us today. Join the study for a more in-depth conversation!

Acts 24

I took a class in college that required student dialogue around the strengths/weaknesses of marketing campaigns. Conversations were typically civil but there was one class where an advertisement caused quite the stir. The assigned campaign involved a type of SUV appealing to dog owners. A student turned the critique of the campaign into a critique of the character of pet owners. The class erupted in offense/defense while many of us sat quietly, realizing the dialogue was no longer on track. 

This memory flashed across my mind as I read the prosecutor’s opening statement against Paul in Acts 24. In many ways, Tertullus and the Jews had directed their critique from the facts to the character of Paul. 

We know from tracing his story that Paul is humble and compassionate. We saw an example of this in chapter 21, where he willingly participated in a Jewish ceremony despite his libertarian freedom to decline. Paul sought gospel unity and preservation at all costs. 

If we just read the accusations by the Jews, however, we would think Paul a raging, heretic. In chapter 24, Tertullus accuses Paul of being a plague, starting riots, being a ringleader of the Christian way, and dishonoring the temple. We’ve already discussed Paul’s innocence in dishonoring the temple. The remaining accusations aren’t about breaking Roman law but a disagreement in belief. 

Like the student in my marketing class, the discussion changed from logical discourse to reactionary defamation of Paul. 

An Offensive Message

Tertullus presents Paul as someone who causes disorder. Ironically though, as he tries to humiliate Paul he actually affirms the work of the gospel. In a backward way, the gospel is like a plague infesting and transforming the hearts of men. And when the gospel goes forth, we shouldn’t be surprised when it stirs up hardened hearts. Scripture tells us “we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. (2 Corinthians 2:15)”

Paul’s savior, Jesus Christ, prepared this path for all Christians warning us: “​​If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own (John 15:18-19a).”

Tertullus’ assertion that Paul is the ringleader of the Nazarenes, then, rightly identifies Paul with his Savior1. In many ways, even now in his trial, Paul is mirroring Jesus. 

In true paradox fashion, we can be comforted when the message of the gospel offends because that’s exactly the point. The gospel tells humanity of their cosmic sin against a holy God and the subsequent need for a savior. The gospel tells us we are not god or in sovereign control–it offends our pride2

Rather than Paul and Tertullus on trial in Acts 26, it is pride and humility. Who will win?

A Salvific Message

The purpose of a courtroom is to seek justice where a crime has been committed. As we’ve seen, the Jews have no evidence of Paul breaking Roman law. But there’s another courtroom where the greatest crime has been laid before the Judge. 

Humanity broke the law of God–what the Bible calls “sin”– by allowing our pride to convince us we could out-rule and out-serve God. 

In the heavenly courtroom, we stand on trial guilty. The accusations against us weren’t mere opinion or disagreement but wicked disobedience and rebellion. And it was true. 

While we, like Tertullus and the Jews, raised our fists in prideful protest and offense, Jesus paid our debt3. Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).” At the cross, the pride of man and humility of God converge with humility as the victor. 

This is why we must preach the gospel despite the possibility of offending hearers–because the message that offends is the same message that saves4. Like my marketing class in college, our name and character may be defamed but our identity is rooted in Christ. We can live and speak unashamed of the gospel because we’ve been set free by the sacrifice of Christ. And it was precisely this unmerited, abundant grace that sustained Paul in the face of false accusations. 

Paul looked out into the crowd, into the eyes of the offended, seeing his old self5, and proclaimed the only message powerful enough to break in. They were the ones guilty before God and Paul called them to freedom. For in Christ, we are forever out of the courtroom.

  1. Matthew 2:23; John 1:46 ↩︎
  2. Proverbs 8:13, 16:18; James 4:6 ↩︎
  3.  Romans 5:8-10 ↩︎
  4. Romans 1:15 ↩︎
  5. Acts 22:3-5; 1 Corinthians 15:9 ↩︎

An Offensive Message


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