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May 29, 2016
The Gospel Failed
There is power in the gospel to save people. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.’” (Romans 1:16-17). In the book of Acts we see this salvation take place several times. However, in the above text we see the gospel fail to save two to whom it was preached. They heard the apostle concerning “the faith”—the gospel. This must have been the same message which had been preached to the others. Why did it fail this time?
To answer, it is necessary to observe the ones who heard the message. What does history tell about these people—Felix and Drusilla? We find that Felix was a Roman procurator of Judea appointed by the emperor Claudius in AD 53. He was said to have ruled the province in a mean, cruel, and profligate manner. His period of office was full of troubles and seditions. At the end of the time of his service, Porcius Festus was appointed to replace him. Felix, on his return to Rome, was accused by the Jews in Caesarea, and would have suffered due to his atrocities except that his brother Pallas convinced the then emperor Nero to spare him. The wife of Felix was Drusilla, daughter of Herod Agrippa I. She was induced by Felix to desert her husband, the king of Emesa, and became Felix’s adulterous companion. She was his third wife.
Notice the great contrast of Felix and those on Pentecost who were converted (Acts 2). These people were devout people out of every nation. As noted above, Felix was anything but devout. There is also the great contrast of Felix with the eunuch who was a Bible reading man, even as he travelled (Acts 8:28). Felix stands in great contrast to the centurion who feared God and prayed and gave much alms to the people (Acts 10:1,2). Not only did Felix not care enough about others to be known for giving alms, he expected to be given bribes. Notice also the great contrast to Lydia who was devout enough to find a place of prayer on the Sabbath even when no synagogue was available (Acts 16:13,14). Felix had none of these types of traits. Felix did not even call this gathering, but was only present because of a political crisis (Acts 23:34,35).
Note the cause of this crisis. It seems that it is not only Felix who has difficulty in listening to the message (Acts 23:1-35). “Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, ‘Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.’ The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth” (Acts 23:1-2). Paul noticed that some of the assembly were Pharisees and some Sadducees. “But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, ‘Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!’ As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided” (Acts 23:6-7). Due to the ensuing uproar, the Roman commander had Paul taken into custody (Acts 23:10). Some of the Jews then plotted to kill Paul (Acts 23:12-15), but the plot became known (Acts 23:15-21). Paul was removed by night to be taken to the capitol of the province, Caesarea (Acts 23:23-33). Paul then awaited trial (Acts 23:33-35). This was all in accordance with God’s plan (Acts 23:11).
The day of the trial finally came and Paul was permitted to speak (Acts 24:10-23). Felix heard Paul speak concerning “the faith,” but he also had another motive for hearing Paul. He had reason to think that Paul had money or could get money with which to “bribe” himself out of prison (Acts 24:26). This tells us that the motive that anyone has for hearing the message has a lot to do with the effectiveness of the message.
Without doubt, when Paul preached “the faith” he told them what to do to be saved—obey the gospel. We are not told all that he said, just the summation of his speech—“he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come” (Acts 24:25). The gospel did have some effect on Felix, but instead of obeying he became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.” What is a convenient time? It is a time when it is just as easy to do something as not to do it. A convenient time for Felix was far removed—it would not have been easy to give up what he would have to give up. He would have had to make some hard decisions, including giving up a wife whom he did not have a right to have.
The gospel failed because the hearer rejected it. The gospel will help no one who refuses to use it, just as the best and most effective medicine will help no one who refuses to use it. The reflection is on the hearer or upon that stubborn sick man.
Many times, we think in a soft, almost excusing, way toward those who choose to neglect the message in what we hope is a postponement of obedience. The Lord will not be soft: “the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2Thessalonians 1:7-9). The gospel fails to save any who choose to ignore it. Also, many times, we think in a soft, almost excusing, way toward those who choose to leave the life of the gospel message. Again, the Lord will not be soft: “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-3). The gospel fails to save any who choose to leave it.
In your life, will the gospel fail? Perhaps a more appropriate way to ask the question is, “Are you failing the gospel?”
—S. Scott Richardson Sr.