The Emperor’s New Clothes – Acts 23:23-24:27

by Roger McCay
29 November 2020
Sermon Passage: Acts 23:23-24:27
Link to Audio Version

At some time or another you’ve probably heard one of the many renditions of Aesop’s Fable called “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Here is short telling of it:

Once upon a time there was an emperor whose only interest in life was to dress up in fashionable clothes. He kept changing his clothes so that people could admire him.

Once, two thieves decided to teach him a lesson.

They told the emperor that they were very fine tailors and could sew a lovely new suit for him. It would be so light and fine that it would seem invisible. Only those who were stupid could not see it. The emperor was very excited and ordered the new tailors to begin their work.

One day, the king asked the prime minister to go and see how much work the two tailors had done. He saw the two men moving scissors in the air but he could see no cloth! He kept quiet for fear of being called stupid and ignorant. Instead, he praised the fabric and said it was marvelous.

Finally, the emperor’s new dress was ready. He could see nothing but he too did not want to appear stupid. He admired the dress and thanked the tailors. He was asked to parade down the street for all to see the new clothes. The emperor paraded down the main street. The people could only see a naked emperor but no one admitted it for fear of being thought stupid.

They foolishly praised the invisible fabric and the colors. The emperor was very happy.

At last, a child cried out, “The emperor is naked!”

Soon everyone began to murmur the same thing, and very soon all shouted, “The emperor is not wearing anything!”

The emperor realized the truth but preferred to believe that his people were stupid.[1]

When you hear a fable such as “The Emperor’s New Clothes” it is just natural to start working out parallels in our own culture and lives, and that is what such a fable is designed to provoke! I think this parable makes for an interesting bridge from our passage in Scripture to our culture and lives today.

The antagonists in the fable are the thieves, who in Aesop’s version are called “rogues.”

Their deception makes for a remarkable metaphor to the lies that are told to us by the world, woven throughout our society and culture, constantly tempting us.

In Acts 24 we see two people who have completely fallen for the deception of the world – Felix and Drusilla. And the lie they wear has the substance of the Emperor’s New Clothes. There is also Paul, who is Felix’s prisoner, and whose choice was to either pander to Felix and Drusilla (like the prime minister did for the emperor out of fear and selfish interests), or to boldly speak the truth of the gospel into their situation (similar to the little boy when he saw the emperor)—that they were naked in their sin.

The gospel reveals the true reality of all who experience it. Yet, due to pressures of the world, fear, and our own interests the message can become stunted, so that we never really tell people that they are walking around without any clothes even though they think they are wonderfully dressed. And sometimes, even when the gospel is spoken boldly, it is put off or ignored completely leading to tragedy of eternal proportions.

The Apostle Paul, after his arrest in Jerusalem, was sent to Caesarea so that he could stand trial before Felix, the provincial governor. The Jews had come forward and spoken a bunch of lies concerning Paul, but Felix wasn’t convinced. Despite this, he kept Paul in prison for a while at his whim.

Now, Felix had the distinction, through a series of events, to be the first slave to become the governor of a Roman province. And it turns out that he made a terrible governor. Kent Hughes sums up Felix and Drusilla’s situation saying:

During Felix’s governorship, insurrections and anarchy dramatically increased throughout Palestine because of his brutality. Josephus tells us that he repeatedly crucified the leaders of various uprisings. The Roman historian Tacitus described him as “a master of cruelty and lust who exercised the powers of a king with the spirit of a slave.” Antonius Felix was an unscrupulous, avaricious, brutal, scheming politician.

Drusilla was his third wife, and Felix was her second husband. Drucilla was the youngest daughter of Agrippa I and had originally married Azizus, king of Emesa, a small kingdom in Syria. She did not find Azizus very exciting and won Felix’s affection with the help of a magician named Atomas, eventually becoming Felix’s illicit lover and “wife.” She was barely twenty at the time. Unusually beautiful, her ambition and lust equaled that of her new husband. Unlike Felix, a pagan, Drusilla had been raised as a Jew… though she no longer had an active faith in the one God.[2]

Basically, these people were self-centered, hedonistic, immoral, greedy, and cruel persons with no fear of God. They had swallowed the lie of the world, and their own selfish pleasures and interests were the driving factors behind every aspect of their lives—an empty, meaningless existence, naked and exposed to God’s judgment and wrath. And these were the people who decided to have a conversation with the Apostle Paul.