It Is Reasonable to Be a Christian

Acts

It Is Reasonable to Be a Christian

December 13th, 1953 @ 10:50 AM

Acts 17:16-34

Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.) Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
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IT IS REASONABLE TO BE A CHRISTIAN

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 17:16-34

12-13-53    10:50 a.m.

(partial tape)

 

You’re listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled It is Reasonable to Be a Christian or The Philosopher and the Christian.

And the message is taken from the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts.  In our preaching through the Word, we are in the seventeenth chapter of Acts.  And in that story of the second missionary journey of Paul, we have an encounter of the Christian preacher and the Stoic and Epicurean philosopher. 

And to anyone who has in anywise studied philosophy or has even been introduced to some of the higher brackets of university life, just the proposal, just the set-up, just the thought of such an encounter would be fraught with tremendous interest.  And how much more so to us who have loved the Christian way, believe it, and have given ourselves to it.

            Now this is a part of the Word:

 

Now when Paul waited for Silas and Timothy to come from Berea to him at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.

Then disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.

Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, encountered Him. Some said, "What would this seed-picker say if he had anything to say?"   Other some, "He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods:" because he preached unto them Iēsous and anastasis.

And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?"

For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.

(For all of the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spend their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)

Then Paul stood in the midst of Areopagus.

 [Acts 17:16-22]

 

Translated "Mars Hill," it was the name for their highest judicial body – a court of five hundred members.  And in the democracy of Athens, anybody could attend and listen just as you can in the Supreme Court of the United States.  Paul stood in the midst of the Supreme Court of five hundred and said:

 

Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are very religious.

For as I passed by, I beheld your devotions, and I found an altar with this inscription, to the unknown god. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship –

whom therefore you worship without knowledge, without knowing Him –

Him declare I unto you.

 [Acts 17:22-23]

 

Then he preached his message and ended it:

 

"Whereof He hath given assurance to all men, in that He hath raised the Lord Jesus from the dead."
And when they heard –

these Epicureans and Stoics and the learned of Athens –

when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, "Ha!" and others said, "We will hear thee again of this matter."

So Paul departed . . .  

Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius –

a member of the court –

Dionysius the Areopagite . . . and some others.

 [Acts 17:31-34]

 

            To me, that is about the most interesting thing that I read in the Bible.  Ah, it has so much meaning!  And I have plenty of time this morning, so I’m going to preach unhurried-like, and I feel good to do it.

            The Epicurean laughed: "Ha, ha, ha!  The resurrection of the dead!  Listen to that idiot!" [Acts 17:32]  The Epicurean mocked and ridiculed.  The Stoic was more gracious.  He was finer, nobler.  He said, "Oh, yes, the resurrection of the dead.  Yes, yes.  We will hear thee again of the matter" and excused himself [Acts 17:32].  But there were some who stayed with Paul and believed among whom was Dionysius, a member of the court [Acts 17:34]. 

            Now you have there those two groups.  On one side is the cultured, sophisticated, intellectual, learned, scholarly philosopher of Athens – the home of philosophy, the home of culture, the home of science.  There’s not anything that you know today that didn’t ultimately find its seed bed in Athenian culture and scholasticism.  All the knowledge we have today – the beautiful architecture, the glorious dramas, literature, poetry, philosophy. – ah!  There’s no way you can go . . .

 

[end of first excerpt; approximately 15 minutes of tape missing]

 

            I see it in the hand of a man, how God made a hand so he could work!  The great purpose and design of God in everything: I see it in the seed, and in the flower, and in the fruit. I see it in the cell, and the bud, and the body.  I see it in history and in time where God says all things work together for good to them that love God [Romans 8:28].  The Lord in it all: God everywhere.  We believe in God.  I think we are the more rational and reasonable.  I must hurry.  About the time I don’t think I have to, then I must.

            The second great fundamental of our faith: the first one, we believe God did it, the Lord made it.  The second great fundamental: the revealed Word, the Scriptures.  Where’d they come from?

            "Ah," says the infidel, says the Stoic, says the Epicurean, says the philosopher, says the intellectual who disbelieves: "The Scriptures, why sure they’re inspired.  Why, certainly they’re inspired.  Everybody knows they’re inspired.  Why, we don’t deny that.  Yes, they’re inspired.  So’s Dante inspired [Dante Alighieri, 1265-1321].  And Shakespeare – he’s inspired [William Shakespeare, 1564-1616].  And Milton was inspired [John Milton, 1608-74].  Goethe was inspired [Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 17-1832].  Homer was inspired [c. 800-701 BCE].  Virgil was inspired [Publius Vergilius Maro, 70-19 BCE].  All of those great authors were inspired just like Moses was inspired and Luke and Matthew.  Sure, they were inspired.  The others were inspired too.  All of them were inspired."

            The most classic illustration that I have ever come across of that point of view was when some of us at the Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky went down to the Unitarian church to hear the preacher preach, and he was preaching from Shakespeare. Well, that was unusual, so some of us asked him, "We are very surprised.  We noticed you preaching from Shakespeare.  Why don’t you preach from the Bible?  We thought that’s why people went to church was to hear the Bible preached.  Don’t you believe the Bible?"

            And the Unitarian minister replied, "Why certainly we believe the Bible.  Why, certainly.  Why, sure."  But he said, "Last year I preached the Bible, and we finished the Bible last year.  This year we’re starting on Shakespeare."

            "Sure we believe it’s inspired just like all of the other authors are inspired.  It has the spirit in it just like Shakespeare has the spirit in what he writes."  That’s what they say.

            What does this Christian say?  The Christian says " [Second] Peter 1:21: ‘For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man" – wasn’t concocted by him – "but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.’"

            The Christian says all Scripture is given by inspiration of God [2 Timothy 3:16].  It is God-breathed.  It has God in it.  And there’s not any author – Goethe, Dante, Homer, Shakespeare – there’s not any other that has in him the Spirit of prophecy such as the holy men of God who wrote the sacred Word of God.

Now who’s the more reasonable and who’s the more rational?  All right, let’s start out.  Look at me.  Ah, am I happy?  I have taken me an archaeologist’s spade, and I have dug down into the ruins of Chaldea, and I have discovered for me a cuneiform manuscript 3,500 years old.  And so I dig me out that manuscript, 3,500 years old in cuneiform, and I take it to the archaeologists and to those who decipher in polyglot languages.  And he says, "This is a glorious find.  This is a marvelous discovery.  Why, this tells about Nimrod, and this tells about those ancient Chaldean kings, and this describes the life and lot of people back there in ancient Babylonia.  What a marvelous find!"

            And so he takes my manuscript that I discovered with an archaeologist’s spade, and I dug it up, 3,500 years old, and he carefully carries it over to the British Museum and deposits it there and puts it behind a plate glass with a little sand on it.  And it stays there, and you can go to the British Museum and look at it if you want to.  Except I’s just fooling: I didn’t discover anything like that.  I just make-believe.  You go to the British Museum and look at it, and that’s all. 

But tell me, tell me: somebody finds the Word of God.  It’s washed up on a shore or a leaf of it is floating on the bosom of the water.  

A few months ago, we had a missionary here in our church.  Down there on those islands off the coast of Columbia in South America, there was a Bible washed up on the shore – a Bible washed up on the shore.  And after the passing of many, many years, there was a visitor who landed on those out-of-the-way islands, and he found the thing overrun from one side to the other with Baptists.  Why, it beat anything you ever heard of or saw.  The thing was lousy with Baptists.  It was breathing with Baptists.  It was working with Baptists. Everybody on that isle was a Baptist.

Where’d they come from? Why, bless your bones!  All ’cause a wave of water washed up on the island a Book, that Book, and turned the whole thing into a church: God’s Word.

I wish I had time to tell you the story of [Murata Wakasa-no-kami].  I referred to him Sunday or two ago walking along in heathen Japan before Japan was open.  Found a leaf on the bosom of the water in a lily pond, stepped out, picked it up, and read it.  It was a leaf from the New Testament.  He’d never seen it.  He’d never heard of it.  He didn’t know where it came.  He said, "I must find that Book" – that Book.  And he found the Book, and that’s where your first great Christian drive, holy movement came from in Japan: the Book, a leaf from the Book.

"The flower fadeth, the grass withereth: but the Word of God shall abide forever" [from Isaiah 40:8].  Heaven and earth may pass away.  His Word will never pass away [Luke 21:33].  God’s Word is like Himself: the same yesterday, today, and forever [Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 13:8].  Who is the more reasonable, the more rational: we who believe or they who scoff and ridicule?

Now the third one: the third great fundamental premise of the Christian faith is the deity of Jesus Christ – the person, the character of the Son of God.  What does the Epicurean say about Him, and what does the Stoic say about Him?  And what does the false intellectual and the pseudo-scientist – what does he say about Jesus Christ?

"Oh," they say, "He was a wonderful man.  He was a good man.  He was a great man, but He was a man – another man.  We may still have a better Christ.  There may come along somebody yet better than Jesus.  He was a wonderful, good, wise man, but He was a man," says the unbeliever and the infidel.

What does the Christian say?  We say, we say: "Thou art the Christ, the Holy One of God" [from Matthew 16:16], and we sing like you will hear our glorious choir sing tonight:

 

And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, –

[from Messiah by Georg Frideric Handel, 1741]

 

the King of the Jews, the King of Israel, the King of the nations, the King of all mankind, the Creator, pantokrator, the Almighty" – That’s our answer to the Lord Jesus.  Who is the more reasonable?

Time and decay destroy, efface, dim the luster, the works, the glory, the name, the fame of any man, any man, any man.  It’s only a schoolboy that could delineate to you the tremendous, incomparable work of Alexander the Great [356-323 BCE].  It’s only a schoolboy that could describe to you those campaigns in Gaul [Gallic Wars, 58-52 BCE] of Julius Caesar [100-44 BCE].  It’s only a schoolboy who’s just studied it that could ever tell you the story with any detail at all of a Waterloo [June 1815], of St. Helena [1659], of the Iron Duke [Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington, 1769-1852].  Give us 2000 more years and their names will be lost in a multitude of other names that arise just as illustrious and just as glorious.

The name of Jesus.  The name of Jesus.  What does time, and tide, and fortune, and the rise and fall of nations and civilizations, the passing of generations – what does time do to the name of the Lord Jesus?  You can’t bury it.

 

[end of second excerpt]

IT IS REASONABLE TO BE A CHRISTIAN

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 17:16-21, 32-34

12-13-53

 

I.          Introduction

A.  Responses to the preaching of the gospel

1.  The Epicureans scoffed, the Stoics more courteous – both lost

2.  Dionysius the Areopagite believed and was saved

B.  Epicurean and Stoic philosophies

 

II.         Creation – the world around us

A.  The unbeliever says it just happened

B.  It is a work of a personal God(John 1:3, Genesis 1:1, Psalm 19:1)

C.  There is purpose and intelligent design in the universe

      1.  The stars and planets in their orbits

2.  Divine handiworkin the creation

3.  In history and human life(Romans 8:28)

 

III.        The Holy Scriptures

A.  Unbeliever says it is just a book of men, no different than other works

B.  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God(2 Peter 1:19-21, 2 Timothy 3:16)

1.  Its contents

2.  Its eternal nature(Isaiah 40:8, Matthew 24:35, Hebrews 13:8)

 

IV.       The Lord Jesus

A.  The unbeliever says He was just a man

B.  He is the Christ, the Son of the living God(Matthew 16:16, Isaiah 9:6)

C.  Time, death, decay have no power over name, deeds and words of Christ

D.  Christ was placed midmost in the world’s history

E.  He is the embodiment of the Lord Jehovah Himself(Colossians 1:14-19, 2:9, 2 Corinthians 4:6)