Septuagesima Sunday February 11, 2001
284, 289, 423, 400
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. 25 And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee. Here ends our text.
In Christ Jesus, Who paid the terribly high price of our redemption, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
While attending school in Madison, Wisconsin, I lived across the street from a store that did an amazing amount of business. At any time, day or night, there seemed to be an endless flow of customers. It was a bit shocking, actually. The prices in that store were so high that it made you wonder why anyone in their right mind would shop there. A pound of margarine cost over two dollars; a pound of Folgers, four dollars. And right on down the line, every single item carried a price tag that would make your jaw drop. So why did people shop there? Why would anybody be willing to pay such exorbitant prices? Because it was a convenience store. It was always open.
Nowadays, it seems that everything is geared toward making our lives more convenient. If can go into a 7-Eleven that’s nearby and where you don’t have to stand in line, well—perhaps it’s worth it to you to pay a little more for your groceries. We Americans love convenience. We could still use a wood stove for cooking, but we don’t. We have microwaves. We have remote control TV’s, computers and cellular telephones. We have coffee makers that start brewing our coffee before the alarm clock even goes off. These appliances may be expensive, but chances are it’s a price you’re willing to pay—for convenience.
Well, I’m certainly not going to condemn the technology that makes our lives easier. If God has blessed you with modern conveniences, then be grateful! The point I want to make is that convenience always comes with a price. And when people want convenience in their spiritual lives, that price is much too high. Today, we meet a man who put off hearing the Gospel until a more convenient time. As far as we know, that opportunity never came for him again. Our theme today is:
Does the name Claudius Antonius Felix mean anything to you? I doubt it. You’d have to be a specialist in Roman history to have heard of him. He was the governor of Judea from 53-60 AD. He’s not important in world history. His name has not gone down in the annals of Roman glory. But to students of the Bible, he’s remembered as a man who wanted a convenient faith.
Felix happened to be the presiding ruler of Judea when the Apostle Paul was imprisoned in Jerusalem for preaching the Gospel. Felix was interested in Paul, because his third wife, Drusilla, was Jewish. One day he had the guards bring Paul to his court so that he could hear him speak on the subject of Christianity. Little did he realize how much inconvenience that message would cause him.
When the Apostle stood before Felix and Drusilla, he made it clear that his message was about Jesus Christ. He went on to talk about morality, and self-control, and the coming judgment. His message hit a nerve in the lives of these two people, because they were living in adultery. But instead of taking the Word of God to heart, Felix waved his hand and dismissed Paul, saying, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee. He didn’t close the door altogether, but for the present time, he didn’t want Christianity to tell him that he was living a life of sin.
There are a lot of people like Felix and Drusilla. People who have only an academic interest in religion. People who really can’t be bothered with God in the ordinary routine of their day-to-day life, but who want Him handy in case of emergencies. They want their family name on the membership rolls, but otherwise they’d just as soon the Church leave them alone. They want a religion that can be put on and taken off like a pair of Sunday shoes. Too many people are looking for a convenient Christianity. Dear friends: the truth of the matter is that such a thing does not exist!
When God speaks to us about our personal sins, our neglect of our Christian duties, our obligations toward our Savior and our fellow men, we get uncomfortable. It’s pretty irritating to our sinful flesh when the inflexible and unchanging Law of God points a finger directly at us. It would be so much more convenient if God made no demands and closed His eyes to our sin. By nature we’d all prefer a more convenient Christianity—one that condones all the things we like to do.
A friend of mine recently remarked that, no matter what you want to find in a church, it’s out there somewhere today. If you would rather doubt the miracles of the Bible than believe them, there’s a church that will honor your choice. If you want a church that says sex outside of marriage is ok, and that abortion is an acceptable solution to an unwanted pregnancy, why, you can walk down the street and find a church that teaches just that. If you want a church that allows you to believe that the Bible contains error as well as truth, you won’t have to go far. You can easily find a church that will conveniently ignore God’s Word about these things—and a preacher who will (conveniently!) tell you exactly what you want to hear.
But is a convenient religion the answer? Let’s say you go to your family doctor for a check-up. He puts his hand on your shoulder and says, “I’ve got bad news. You have cancer. But if we operate right away, things should be fine.” The news so devastates you that you hunt around until you find another doctor who’s willing to lie and say you’re perfectly healthy. I don’t have to tell you which doctor is ultimately going to do you more good. The same is true of a convenient religion. Do you really want one that hides and distorts the will of God? Are you going to take the approach of Felix so many years ago and say, When I have a convenient season, I will call for thee?
Christianity is not convenient. It lays out the Law of God in its full condemning force. And why? Because it’s only when the Law has stripped us of our own righteousness and laid our souls bare in all their sin that we’re ready to hear the sweet Gospel of Christ.
But poor Felix—he never got that far! He never let the Law have its intended effect on him. If he’d only listened to Paul, instead of sending him away. If he’d only confessed his sins, he could have heard about Jesus. He could have believed in the Son of God, the One who suffered the greatest inconvenience ever in order to save a world of sinners.
Read through the life of Jesus—it was one of staggering inconvenience from beginning to end. True God, Son of the Father, He was perfectly at home in the glories of heaven. And yet, he chose to take on human flesh and come into our world—a world that had no room for him. During His life on earth, He had none of the domestic conveniences that make for a cozy home; in fact, He didn’t even have a permanent home. He said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Mt 8:20. Finally, even His friends ran away from Him, and an angry crowd with blood-lust in its eyes turned on Him and viciously demanded His murder. He died a shameful and painful death on the cross. Yes, I think you’ll agree with me that the life of Jesus Christ was rather inconvenient!
Why did the Almighty God allow Himself to suffer these inconveniences? To make a way for you and I to have eternal life. Just so people like us—who fail to keep God’s Law, who daily sin much—might be covered with the perfect, atoning righteousness of Christ. And here’s a paradox, because what could be more convenient for us? Jesus pays the price for sin, and we reap all the benefits!
Have you ever heard the hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross?” It’s not in our hymnal. It’s really kind of sentimental, but it does remind us of one thing: that Jesus didn’t die in some lavish cathedral between two golden candlesticks. He died on a rough-hewn wooden cross on the skull-shaped hill of Golgotha, where thieves cursed and soldiers gambled. He drank the bitter cup right to the bottom. In love, He paid the full price of your sin so that, on Judgment Day, there wouldn’t be a single penny left owing on your account. It was a great inconvenience for Him, that’s for sure. But here’s where you see Jesus’ love for you most clearly. He went to the ultimate extreme, just so He could have you with Him forever in the mansions of Heaven.
Rejoice that you have such a Redeemer! The happiest people on earth are those who have been “inconvenienced” by the message of Christianity. You know that in life’s darkest hours—when sin and guilt overwhelm you—you don’t have to run and hide. You can place your trust confidently in the righteousness of Christ. When life deals out its harshest blows to you and your family, you can count on your loving Savior to hold you up. For, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul asks. “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” No, for “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” Rom 8:35, 38-39. And if it’s just the seeming emptiness of life that’s getting you down, well, remember the words of the old hymn: “The evening always finds me, a day’s march nearer home.”
At the end of his life, the Apostle Paul had no regrets for having marched under the banner of the Gospel. From prison in Rome, he wrote to his young protege Timothy, “The time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” II Tim 4:6-8. For this aged apostle, Christianity had indeed held many inconveniences, but none greater than those suffered by his Redeemer, and none that outweighed the future glory that his righteous Redeemer had earned for him. May it be the same with us! In Jesus’ saving name, AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.