To Make One Tremble
Acts 24:24, 25
by Tom McLemore
What terrifies you? What can cause you to tremble? What makes you feel faint, afraid, panic? With some it is snakes, certain kinds of dogs, public speaking, the dark, dentists, the sight of blood or serious injuries, severe weather, or anger. Those who tremble at things like these wonder and are amazed at others who can remain calm and not be affected. Perhaps we wonder if something is wrong with people who do not tremble before things which normally terrify us.
The Bible puts much emphasis upon the fear and trembling which is appropriate to awareness of the Almighty God: Acts 7:32 (Moses at the bush); Hebrews 12:21 (Moses at Horeb); cf. Psalms 77:16; 96:9; 99:1; 114:7; Jeremiah 5:22. Also, the Bible emphasizes the trembling appropriate to the word of the Lord: Isaiah 66:5; Ezra 9:4.
Acts 24:24, 25 is the story of a man who trembled when the apostle Paul spoke to him. “Some days later when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him speak concerning faith in Christ Jesus. And as he discussed justice, self-control, and the coming judgment, Felix became frightened [AV, “trembled”] and said, ‘Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity, I will send for you.’”
Felix was a powerful man. He was procurator of Judea and a favorite of the emperor Claudius. He was married to the sister of a king. He was not afraid of Paul who stood before him in bonds. Yet, Felix trembled when Paul presented his message. We need not imagine it to have been an overly graphic, dramatic, or emotional presentation. Rather, the report indicates that Paul discussed (RSV, “argued;” ESV, “reasoned”) the matters at hand. He presented evidence, appealed to Felix’s mind, and declared compelling, cogent, and convincing arguments. Recall Paul’s description of his approach. “We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2). And yet, Felix trembled. Why?
A full account of Paul’s presentation is not recorded, but only a summary of his main topics is provided. We are told that Paul discussed three things with Felix. He presented three truths that made him tremble. They are three truths that ought to make all human beings tremble: justice, self-control, and coming judgment.
He spoke of justice. There are rules of conduct, the doing of which makes for right living. There is a living God who created the universe and human beings and who has the authority to determine what is right, to declare what is right, and to demand acknowledgment of what is right. Just as there are laws of nature according to which the universe operates according to God’s decree, God has declared his rules for human beings. They are revealed in the Scripture (Psalms 19:9; 119:172).
Paul discussed self-control. Since there are rules of conduct, revealed by the living God, human beings have the responsibility to regulate their lives by the rules which God has declared.
Paul reasoned with Felix concerning coming judgment. There are rules of conduct, there is a responsibility to regulate one’s life by them, and there is a reckoning with regard to how one fulfills that responsibility. Failure to fulfill the responsibility means eternal punishment. The New Testament has much to say about judgment to come (Romans 1:18; 2:3, 5; 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 9:27; 10:27; 13:4; James 4:12; 5:9; 2 Peter 2:4, 9; 3:7; Jude 15).
Let us put these matters in simple terms, applicable to Felix and to each of us: God has made rules (justice). We have broken them (we have failed to control ourselves). God will sentence us who have broken his rules to hell (coming judgment). Now, when a person soberly considers this, when sees where one stands before the Almighty God, and when his true prospect really grips him . . . He is undone! He is terrified! He trembles! (Cf. Isaiah–“Woe is me!” Isaiah 6:5). When one seriously contemplates all of this, one ought to tremble from the top of one’s head to the sole of one’s feet!
But there was something else which Paul declared to Felix and which all of us who are under the same condemnation need to think about–“faith in Christ Jesus.” Yes, God has made rules. True, we all have broken them. But Jesus never broke a single rule (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22). True, God holds us responsible for breaking the rules. But Jesus assumed responsibility for our breaking the rules (1 Peter 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Yes, indeed, God would sentence all of us to hell for breaking his rules. But Jesus has experienced the sentence of hell in our place (Isaiah 53:4-6; Matthew 27:46). “Faith in Christ Jesus”–for Felix and for us–if we are united with Christ (Romans 6:1-7) , if we are in Christ (Galatians 3:26-29), means that we have moved from trembling to trust!
What about you? Felix trembled, he saw where he stood, and he heard that Christ could deliver him. But he shrugged off his trembling, he ignored the gospel, and he forfeited his soul! What will you do? You have two choices. Like Felix, you can shrug off the terror and resist the gospel and be sentenced to hell. And then one day you will experience the horror that you ignored. You and others like you will beg for something to hide you “from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:16, 17). Or, obey the gospel and be saved from what makes men tremble and ought to terrify anyone. Which will it be?
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