June 13th, 1954 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-13-54 7:30 p.m.
This is the last sermon on the Book of Acts. I have been preaching in Acts now, I wonder if any of you know how long? How long? Just about a year and a half, lack just a few Sundays, just a few Sundays. A Sunday or two of being a year and a half—a year and a half ago, we started with the first chapter of the Book of Acts—now, after a year and a half, we come to the last sermon. Mr. Souther mentioned this coming Sunday I will be beginning the Book of Romans. I look forward of course to these wonderful epistles. Yet it is with a little sense of regret that I come to the last verses of the Book of Acts. Don’t you wish he [Luke] could have continued on and told the story, just stopped right in the middle of it. This is the way that it ends, Acts 28:30-31. And then in the sermon tonight, we will be preaching all through this last chapter. But I read, to begin with, the conclusion.
And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him.
Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him
And that concludes the story as Luke wrote it in the Book of Acts. You know, it twice says there about Paul’s hired house. In the sixteenth [verse]: “And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him” [Acts 28:16]. And always remember that when we talk about this twenty-eighth chapter here, this is his first imprisonment.
He was liberated from this imprisonment after these two years. And in that little space of time after this first imprisonment, Rome burned. And the people began to point toward Nero and said, “He did it. He set it afire in order to build it out of gold. He did it. He burned our homes. He burned our shops. He destroyed our living. Nero did that. He did that. Merciless, cruel, vain, proud Nero, he did that!” And in order to divert and advert the suspicion from himself, Nero had to find a scapegoat. So he said, “The Christians did it. The Christians did it.” And that is your first Roman persecution of the Christians and one of the fiercest. They ravaged the little Christian community in Rome. And Nero drove in his chariot through the streets of the city in the light of the burning Christians, put big poles all up and down those boulevards and tied a Christian to every pole and set it afire! And in the light of their burning bodies, Nero in his chariot drove furiously and wildly through the streets of Rome. Well, that is when Paul was arrested again—soon after this. He was not out very long. And that was his condemnation and martyrdom. Now, I repeat, this first incarceration of the apostle Paul was much milder. He was suffered to dwell by himself in a house that he rented with a soldier that kept him [Acts 28:16]. He was chained to a soldier all day and night [Acts 28:20]. And they shifted; and they shifted and they took turn about, chained to him. And then it ends here, “Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house” [Acts 28:30].
Suffer me to make a comment about Paul here that nobody knows an answer to it. You won’t find a prisoner like that very often. He has appealed to Caesar [Acts 25:11, 28:19], and he dwells in his own hired house [Acts 28:30]. There is something more about the estate, the life, the condition of the apostle Paul that we could never know. There is no answer to it. But it intrigues you. You cannot help but be enticed by the thing that arises as you look at Paul. Paul was somebody come, I do not know how much of a somebody. I can’t find out. I can’t find anywhere any answer to it. But Paul was somebody. For example, he was a Roman citizen [Acts 21:39, 22:25-29]. And the chiliarch, who kept the garrison in Antonio at Jerusalem, who headed the provincial legionaries, when he arrested Paul in that terrible tumult that was destroying his life in the temple in Jerusalem, when the chiliarch arrested Paul, he thought he was arresting a murderer and an insurrectionist, a famous Egyptian who with four thousand assassins, had plotted the downfall of the Roman government in Judea. He thought he was arresting that Egyptian, and when the tumult died and they were taking Paul into the tower, Paul addressed him in Greek [Acts 21:30-37]. And only the educated spoke Greek. It would surprise you how many people though were educated in that ancient day. Paul spoke to him in learned Greek, and the chiliarch was amazed. “What,” he said, “Do you know Greek? [Acts 21:37]. Are you not that Egyptian?” And he described it. And Paul said, “No, I am not that insurrectionist and that murderer. I am verily a man who am a Jew of Tarsus, a citizen of no mean city [Acts 21:38-39]. Proud of his heritage; he must have been of a family that was famous and acceptable in the provincial capital of the province of Cilicia. And then, when they began to examine him, Paul said, “Is it lawful to examine a Roman until first…”—that was by scourging, they beat them in order to make them tell the truth—put them to the third degree. They were beginning to put Paul through the third degree, like they did not have a police station to make a fellow tell what he knows. Paul said, “Is it lawful to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?” [Acts 22:25]. And the centurion posthaste went to the chiliarch and said, “Do you know this man is not only a learned man, he speaks classical Greek, but he is a Roman?” And the chiliarch came to him and said, “Are you a Roman citizen?” And Paul answered, “I am” [Acts 22:27]. And the chiliarch replied, “With a great sum of money bought I my citizenship.” But Paul answered, “I was free born” [Acts 22:28]. His family, Jewish, in Tarsus, on the other side of the Mediterranean—his family were Roman citizens, and Paul was born a Roman citizen, which in that day was a tremendous thing. And it means a lot to America to be an American citizen if you ever get outside of the boundary of our country.
Now, there is another thing about Paul, just passing by, looking at him. I say he was somebody, and something else about him that I cannot understand, and that is Paul apparently was a rich man. Isn’t that amazing? I do not know what and I cannot find—I have dug and probed and studied and done everything I could and I cannot find an answer to it. But I want you to look at one or two or three things about Paul before we leave him here in the Book of Acts. There were two brothers who were immensely wealthy. One was named Felix and one was named Pallas, and they were the favorites of Nero—and especially Pallas. Pallas was the favorite of the Roman court. And Pallas was fabulously wealthy. One time when Nero was complaining that he was a poor man—now think of that, the emperor, he was complaining he was a poor man—somebody said to him, “Then by all means, you adopt the taxes and sit at the feet of Felix and Pallas, and you will learn what it is and how to be rich.” And those two men, Felix and Pallas, brothers, were enormously wealthy! Even the Caesar looked upon them with envy. When Paul was a Roman prisoner in Judea, in Caesarea, one of those brothers was the procurator of the Judean state. It was a province of the crown, of the Caesar—not a senatorial province, it belonged to the Roman Caesar, and it was held in Caesar’s hands. And the procurator was appointed by the Roman Caesar, and he appointed Felix. When Paul was a prisoner in Caesarea, Felix treated him with marked consideration and usually that meant one thing, one thing only. It meant that the prisoner was rich. And not only did Felix treat this prisoner Paul with marked consideration, and deference, but you look at this, Felix also hoped that money should have been given him of Paul; therefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him [Acts 24:26]. This rich man Felix felt—why I do not know—but Felix was persuaded that Paul could give him a gift! That Felix coveted, and Felix was a rich man. “He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him” [Acts 24:26]. This rich man Felix, I repeat, felt that Paul could give him a gift that was worthy, the rich man did.
All right, another thing. When Paul came to Jerusalem, the first suggestion they made to him was, “Do you not pay the offering vow of these foreign Nazirites?” When you read in history, Josephus tells one instance: King Agrippa did that for the poor Nazirites who could not pay the vow offering themselves. And it was looked upon as a charitable thing for a rich man to do—to take those poor men who had a vow, and they could not pay for the offerings in the temple at the end of their vow. It was a mark of a charity of a rich man to take a Nazirite and pay his vow. And when Paul came to Jerusalem, the first thing they suggest to him is that he pay for a vow of these four Nazirites [Acts 21:23-26]. One other thing, the thing that we are discussing now here in the Book of [Acts], Paul stood at the tribunal of Roman government, of the court in Caesarea when Felix was replaced by Festus, and in order to save his life, Paul said: “I stand at the judgment seat of Caesar [Acts 25:10]. And no man can deliver me as a Roman citizen into the hands of my Jewish enemies, of my Jewish enemies. Kaisara epikaloumai, I appeal to Caesar” [Acts 25:11]. And a poor man couldn’t do that. It takes a man of means to appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States. You have to have lawyers, and you have to have your case prepared. And you have to make preparation. And a poor man couldn’t do it. If a man today appeals to the Supreme Court, he has to be somebody who is able to see his case through. And the apostle Paul appeals here to the Caesar. And not only does he go himself, but he takes Dr. Luke with him, a personal physician, and he takes Aristarchus [Acts 27:2], who was a convert from Ephesus, from Asia.
And then this last thing about Paul, when he came to Rome, they didn’t treat him like the rest of these prisoners. Now you look at this: “And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard”—but Paul was singled out—“but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him” [Acts 28:16]. And in his own hired house, in his own hired house, the apostle Paul lived for those two years, awaiting the appeal of his case [Acts 28:30]. Well, I cannot answer it. And I cannot find it; nobody else can. But just in passing, those things they mean a lot to me as I study these men; try to live their life, this man Paul was somebody come. He wasn’t just somebody else. He was not just somebody passing by. He was not just a fly-by-nighter. This man, Paul, was a tremendous man, and he was rich in some way. Either Dr. Luke was rich, or Aristarchus was rich, or somebody was rich who was connected with the apostle Paul, or he was rich himself. He had entree to tremendous, tremendous personalities. For example, over there in Ephesus, in all of that turmoil in the city of Ephesus, one of the strangest turns, if you read that story, is that the asiarchon, the men who governed the Roman province of Asia, the asiarchon were fast friends of the apostle Paul [Acts 19:31]. There was something about him that commanded interest and obeisance and devotion from the men of state who themselves could not have held office were they not in the employ of the Caesar and worshiped at the shrine of the emperor. And yet Paul has their devoted friendship. And in this story we have been preaching about Paul on the way to Rome, the centurion Julius of the Augustus band time and again befriended Paul [Acts 27:1-3]; refused to have the prisoners killed because he wanted to save Paul [Acts 27:42-43]. I repeat, this man Paul is somebody come, somebody come.
Well, the story ends here. It just abruptly stops. It does not end, it just breaks off, just stops [Acts 28:30-31]. Sir William Ramsay, the incomparable English scholar, says that Luke intended to write a third volume. The first volume Luke, the Gospel of Luke, about Jesus, and the second is the Book of [Acts], and that Luke intended to write a third volume to tell the story about the trial and how it came out. And that he was stopped in some way. We don’t know—possibly by martyrdom. Well, I don’t think that. I think the thing stops here because there wasn’t anything else to tell. It just came to the end. Luke carried the story as far as the story had happened. And he stopped here because the story stops. It hadn’t gone on any more. And he wrote it here in the two-year period that Paul is in imprisoned at Rome [Acts 28:30-31]. That is the reason I think the story just stops right there. Then I think there is a spiritual reason for it. You don’t have the completed story of the apostle John; you don’t have the completed story of the apostle Peter; and you don’t have the completed story of the apostle Paul. There is only one great central character in the Word of God, all of the rest are left alike. All of the rest are broken figures. All of the rest are pieces and parcels. Your great one central figure is the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. And even the apostle Paul is just a witness to Him. “He was not that Light, but he came to bear testimony, to bear witness to that Light” [John 1:8]. So you don’t know the ending of the story of Paul; you don’t know the ending of the story of Peter; you don’t know the ending of the story of John. These men in their gorgeous robes who come and say, “We will now bow at the shrine of Peter, where he was martyred and dead; we will now bow at the shrine of Paul, where he was martyred and dead; they just hope they are bowing at the shrine. They have no more proof of that than that he was buried here in Dallas, or over there in Mesopotamia, or over yonder in Afghanistan, or down there under one of those pyramids in Egypt. What you know is here in this Book—in this Book. And I think God purposely left it off. You don’t have a completed story because the story is not of Simon Peter, nor of John, nor even of Paul. The story is the story of the Son of God.
May I make another comment here? Man, I am going to comment so much, I cannot get to preaching here tonight. But I love this thing. I just do. To sit down with an open Bible and look at it and read it, it is just life and light. Another comment; Luke compliments us, do you know that in those two verses? “Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, received all that came unto him, preaching the kingdom of God” [Acts 28:30-31]; preaching the kingdom of God—he compliments us. He compresses, he condenses two whole years of vigorous ministry in those two little verses there—those two little verses there. He thinks we know enough about Paul to know what Paul is doing. After going along with Luke, as he tells the story through these pages and chapters in the Book of Acts, he thinks we know him so well, or are so well-acquainted with him that we know naturally what he is doing in those two years. So he sums their whole ministry in those two little verses [Acts 28:30-31].
Well, what would you think Paul would be doing? Oh, I know what some would think. In those two years what Paul is doing, what Paul is doing, he is preparing his case to defend his life. That’s what he’s doing. He’s going through every argument. He’s re-examining every link in that appeal. He sums up in the wisest authorities. He is calling in the greatest lawyers. He’s getting ready for that appeal. And when the day comes, and Nero opens the door and says, “The next prisoner is the apostle Paul, he will now state his case.” Paul will be ready for he spent two years against that day. Ah! What does the Book say? Paul never thought about his appeal. He never consulted an authority. He never re-examined his case. What does the good Book say here? “Paul dwelt two whole years in his hired house.” Doing what? Doing what? “Preaching the kingdom of God” [Acts 28:30-31]. Well, I knew that, didn’t you? Why certainly. And Luke says we would know that. And so he takes a whole two years and just condenses it. When Paul waited in Athens, what did he do while he was waiting there for Silas and Timothy to come down from Berea in Macedonia? What did he do? He preached the gospel of the kingdom of God! That is what he did [Acts 17:15-34]. And Paul’s waiting here these two years, before his trial before Caesar, and what is he doing? Well, you know what he is doing. He is preaching the gospel of the Son of God—two whole years preaching the kingdom of God. Oh, with all confidence, no man forbidding him [Acts 28:30-31].
All right, now I want to get to my sermon. The first thing that he did when he came to Rome, in the [seventeenth] verse: “It came to pass, after three days”—after he has had time to settle himself and be quiet before the Lord—“he called the Jewish leaders together” [Acts 28:17]. And then down here in the [twentieth] verse, he calls all of the Jewish people together [Acts 28:20], and he has two things to say to them. One, that as a prisoner of the Roman Caesar, he has nothing against his nation. He is not an insurrectionist. He has not whereof to accuse his people. He loves the Hebrew faith and the Hebrew religion. And he explains to them that the only reason he made appeal to Caesar, not because he had ought against his people; but in order to save his life. And he says the Palestinian authorities that judged him said he was innocent. But again, the only reason he came to Rome was to save his life. He had nothing against the Hebrew people or the Jewish faith. Then the second thing he says is this, that the true culmination and consummation of the religion of the Old Bible is found in the messianic hope of Jesus Christ: “For the hope of Israel, I am bound with this chain” [Acts 28:17-20]. Then they appointed him a day, and he expounded unto them the kingdom of God…out of the Law, out of Moses, and out of the Prophets, from morning till evening [Acts 28:21-23]. I can see Paul again as he has those scrolls of Isaiah, of the Pentateuch, of the Prophets, of the Psalms before him. And as he goes through the scrolls, pointing out how Jesus was the promised hope of the Old Bible and the people of the generations gone by, those are the two things that he told them, two things that he told them. The final consummation, the Ancient of Days is the day of Bethlehem, the Beginning and the Ending is the Lord Jesus; the true, the true consummation of the Hebrew faith is in Jesus [Acts 28:21-23].
I ought to take time just to read one thing that is typical of Paul. In the second chapter of Romans, last verses:
For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
That’s what he told them. That’s what he told them, “I have nothing against my nation, it is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain; and the consummation of all of the Prophets, and all of the Law, and all of the Psalms, and all of the Old Covenant, all of it is in Jesus Christ—it is in Jesus Christ” [Acts 28:17-23].
Now, there was a twofold response to it. “Some believed the word which was spoken, and some believed not” [Acts 28:24]. You find that everywhere. Everywhere the gospel is preached, some will accept and some will not. The same fire that melts wax will harden clay. The same light that will rejoice a sound eye will be agony to a diseased eye. The same word that is the savor of life unto life for those who believe, is the savor of death unto death to those who reject [2 Corinthians 2:15-16]. And the same preaching of the Lord Jesus is to some a foundation upon which they can build their lives, and to others He is a stone of stumbling [1 Peter 2:7-8]. He is set for the rising and the falling of Israel [Luke 2:34].
And as Paul preached, there was that twofold response. Some believe. I believe. And some rejected and believed not [Acts 28:24]. And so the thing closes with the word from the prophet Isaiah [Acts 28:25-27]. Paul’s ministry here is closed in the same way that Jesus closed His ministry to the Jewish people [Matthew 13:14-15]. And when they agreed not among themselves and declined it, Paul spoke one word. One other word said Paul; one other word:
Well spake the Holy Spirit by Isaiah the prophet saying unto our fathers…
Go unto this people, and say, Hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see, and not perceive:
For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they shall see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and they will hear it . . . And the Jews departed.
That’s the last thing in God’s Book until the great consummation in the Revelation. The Jewish people turn aside, they depart [Acts 28:24-25, Romans 11:25]. That passage is heavy with prophecy. That’s the last, sad scene in the sad and tragic story of those strange, unusual people, the Jews. This is the last opportunity afforded; Paul preaches to them the gospel of the Son of God, the hope of Israel [Acts 28:20]. They turn it down, they reject it [Acts 13:46, 28:28].
Paul quotes this last verse from the prophet Isaiah [Isaiah 42:1-6] and says, “Be it known unto you, that though you rejected, we turn to the Gentiles, and they will accept Him” [Acts 13:46, 28:28]. And from that day unto this, for over nineteen hundred years, the Jewish nation and the Jewish people have been a sad, persecuted, homeless, and wandering tribe.
Do you ever today think about little Israel over there in Palestine? Do you? Are you sensitive to the developments in this world as it concerns the Jewish people? When the king of Saudi Arabia died, the richest man in the world, with all of that enormous, enormous oil flow, that brings billions every year into his coffers, did you notice what his son said when he ascended the throne of Saudi Arabia after the death of his father? Do you remember? He said, “Our great task and destiny as a Muslim nation is to carve out of the earth the cancer on our shores that is the kingdom and fate of Israeli.”
Do you think those Jews are over there with an open door? Do you think those Jews are over there with a fair prospect? Do you think those Jews are over there in peace and in happiness? By day and by night, there hangs over their head a savaging sword, and it will stay there. And in the heart of every Arab in the world—and how much more intensified by those Arabs who look upon those nine hundred refugees who were cast out when the Jews came and took their homes and their cities—there burns an implacable, a bitter and an undying hatred. And they are living for the day when they can rise and by the sword massacre that face from the top up there in Dan to the bottom of it in of Beersheba. I never saw so unhappy a country in my life, the insoluble problems. Were it not for the sustaining hand of America, they would starve to death in a matter of weeks. They are a sad, a sad people.
And there is not any place in this world where anti-Semitism is not alive in the hearts of the people. It’s here in Dallas. It’s here in Dallas. Of all places in the world where you would think we would never find anti-Semitism would be in a city like Dallas. You just don’t know. You just don’t know. You just don’t know. Didn’t you read not very long ago where that kidnapper, that extortionist, that fellow writing those letters, he picked out twenty of the richest Jewish families in this city, and he said, “If you don’t have these hundreds of thousands of dollars at such and such time, and such and such place, there will be awful things happen to you and to your family.”
For said that man, did you read what he said? For said that man, “There are lots of people in Dallas who hate the Jew, who hate the Jew. Lots of people in Dallas who hate the Jew! You better give me this money.”
You think that’s here in Dallas? Then you multiply that an nth degree and raise it to a fervent heat and you will know some of the bitterness you will find in other areas of the world. It has been that way for nineteen hundred years, and it will be that way until that final consummation in the Book of the Revelation, in the day of Jacob’s trouble when they turn and accept the Lord Jesus Christ. But that will be other sermons down the line.
This is the epoch, in this sermon tonight we bid farewell until that end time to the Jewish nation. The oracle is given them, the grace of God upon them, all the story of the revelation through them, but not anymore [Romans 3:2]. Not anymore [Acts 28:26-28, Romans 11:25]. From that day until this and until the end time, they are a wandering, a lost, a miserable, an unhappy and an undone people. This is the message tonight from the Jew. What a tragic thing it is to be offered a gift from heaven and to turn it down [John 1:11].
“No, no, no!” The strong man preaches. “No!” The old man weeps as he pleads. “No. No!” Proffered mercies of God, and the Jew says, “No!” Oh, what mistake a man makes when he says no to God and the overtures of mercy. And so Paul says, “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and they will hear it. They will hear it” [Acts 28:28].
Suppose in a Roman amphitheater, suppose in a Roman hippodrome, suppose a few years later in the great Coliseum, suppose in the center of the Forum itself with the thousands of Romans around, suppose somebody had said, “Harken, you people! Harken ye people, this man has words! He preaches a gospel that shall reshape the destiny of civilization, remake imperial Rome, shake empires to their foundation! Give us a new day and a new world. This man bears those words!” I can hear the crowds by the thousands as they burst into uproar, into laugher, into scorn and ridicule. What? This despised Jew, a prisoner from little, tiny Palestine? He bears a message that will reshape the world, and rock our empire, and remake our city? And they would laugh, “He, he! that despised Jew.”
But that also is the providence of God. If the Jew will not accept it, we turn to the Gentiles, and they will hear it [Acts 28:28]. And hear it, they did. Within a comparatively small space of two hundred fifty years, they had subverted the whole Roman Empire. They had won their civilization to the Lord Jesus! The tragedy is that their successors so corrupted the faith that they prostituted it to the Roman state again, and its story was again written in suffering and in persecution and in blood.
But this is still our day. This is the day of grace. This is the day of the Gentiles. This is the day of our opportunity. This is the day of our open door [Acts 14:27]. Will you hear it? Will you keep it? Will you take it? Will you believe in it? Will you accept it? Will you trust it? Will you give your life to it? It is Jesus for you, and you for the will of Jesus [Romans 10:9-13].
While we sing our song, I will make our appeal tonight. Anywhere, somebody you, will you come? Would you come? While we sing, while we sing, “Pastor, tonight I want publicly to avow my faith in the Lord Jesus, I will do it now. I do it now” [Romans 10:9-13].
“Pastor, tonight, I want to put my life in the fellowship of this church. I have been baptized. I belong to His church. I want to be here with you in this ministry. And I’m coming tonight.” Would you make it now? “Here’s my whole family, all of us coming.” Somebody you, one, as God shall say the word and open the door, make the appeal, would you make it now? Into the aisle, from the balcony down here to the front, by my side, “Here I come, pastor, and here I am.” Would you make it now? Would you make it now? While we stand and while we sing.