God’s Word for You
Acts 24:1-5a God’s pest
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, January 29, 2021
Chapter 24 is one of the shortest in the book, as is Chapter 25. The two could be titled with almost identical words: “Trial Before Felix” and “Trial Before Festus,” but the contrast between them is clear. Chapter 24 covers two whole years with Paul in the custody of a man who was not sure of what to do but was waiting for a bribe (Acts 24:26). Chapter 25 covers just about two weeks with Paul in the custody of an honest and energetic man who knew just what to do, and who did it.
24 Five days later the high priest Ananias came down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their evidence against Paul to the governor.
We can’t say why the high priest bothered to bring along this lawyer (literally “orator”). There is no reason to think the Sanhedrin didn’t think they could present their case in a Roman court, or that Latin might be used and not Greek (the letters and the address of Tertullus are obviously Greek originals and not translations). Either this lawyer was little more than “an ornament” (Lenski) or his presence was meant to intimidate Paul. The trip in just five days doesn’t bear any marks of a delay. They came as soon as they could.
2 Paul was called in, and Tertullus began to present his case before Felix. He said, “We have had a long period of peace because of you, and your foresight has carried about reforms for this nation. 3 We acknowledge this everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, with all gratitude. 4 We do want to detain you longer than is necessary. I ask you to be kind enough to hear us briefly. 5 We have found this man to be a disease, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world.
The lawyer begins with a flowery introduction, meant to get on the good side of the governor. Whether or not this worked isn’t relevant, since it had no bearing on the final outcome. It was also a pack of lies. Felix hardly brought “a long period of peace.” He was cruel, he took bribes, and his rule was pockmarked with feuds and bloody quarrels. His own attitude and language riled the people up and caused as much damage as anything else. Later we will see (Acts 24:24) that he had an affair with a Jewish woman who divorced her husband (the King of Emesa, a small kingdom north of Damascus) to marry Felix. Their son died in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.
The word we want to pay close attention to is “disease” in verse 5. This is the word loimos, which we find translated “pestilence” or “plague” in Luke 21:11. It’s used in the Greek version of 1 Samuel 2:12 as the description of Eli’s “worthless” sons. We see it in other places in the Greek Old Testament as “trouble maker” (1 Samuel 10:27), “worthless scoundrel” (2 Chronicles 13:7), “mocker” (Proverbs 24:9, 29:8; Psalm 1:1), and “ruthless” (Ezekiel 30:11). It’s obviously a loaded term, meant to brand Paul with a word that would mean something to the governor. Usually the Jews found it sufficient to brand a man as either a Gentile or a man who associates with Gentiles (Acts 10:28). But talking to a Gentile, how do you find a word that would be an insult without saying “Gentile”?
An added idea behind loimos “disease, pestilence,” is the infectious nature of a disease. This word is never used for the kind of infectious skin disease (leprosy) dreaded by the Jews, but more of human pests; undesirable people who are unwelcome. This is the kind of thing Habakkuk was talking about when he foresaw that “Plague went before him, pestilence followed his steps” (Habakkuk 3:5). Except the “him” the prophet was talking about was the Lord. When God brings judgement, the nations will tremble, and those who are judged will treat even the word of God like a destructive plague. But the word of God will go out into the world and accomplish the task God has set out in his holy will. God does not work in the world apart from his word, which our Lutheran Confession affirms when it condemns the false teaching to the contrary:
“We reject and condemn the error of the Enthusiasts who imagine that God draws men to himself, enlightens them, justifies them, and saves them without means, without the hearing of God’s Word and without the use of the holy sacraments” (Formula of Concord, Epitome II,13).
In the days of the Lutheran Reformation, the “Enthusiasts” were religious fanatics who believed that God spoke to them apart from the Scriptures. Lutherans called them schwärmerie, “swarmers,” because they behaved as if the Holy Spirit came “buzzing” in their ears like a swarm of insects. The Lord works in our hearts through his Gospel. The classic example of this working in our lives is that of a husband. He might imagine that he could lead a holier life and so leave his wife and family and enter into a monastery as a monk. But God has spelled out the duties of a husband and a father toward his family, that they should love their wives as a part of their own bodies (Ephesians 5:25-28) and love and raise their children in God’s way (Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21). God gave no command to fathers to enter into monasteries, but rather to fulfill their responsibilities to their families, and love their wives as Christ loves the Church (Ephesians 5:24; Song of Solomon 6:8-9).
Set your heart on the Word of God. Love your family and take care of them, pray for them, and fulfill your responsibilities to them, and know that this is God’s will for your life. If the world sees you as a pest, then be content that you are God’s pest, and he has a place for you in paradise for all eternity.
Pastor Timothy Smith