PAUL’S DEFENSE OF THE FAITH
Dr. W.A. Criswell
3-14-54 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas Texas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message from the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Acts. We have read through the fifteenth verse. I want first to read the remainder of the text.
And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
And it came to pass, that, when I was come again unto Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance;
And saw Him, the Lord, saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning Me.
And I said, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on Thee: And when the blood of Thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him.
And He said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence to the Gentiles.
And that concludes as far as he was able to deliver his message of defense. Now, in order that we might see what Paul was doing and why he thus spake, may I recount for a moment the story in the twenty-first chapter in the Book of Acts. This is the concluding part and time of the apostle Paul’s life. After his third missionary journey, he came to Jerusalem for the fifth and the last time. And when he made his report to James, the pastor of the church in Jerusalem, James said to him, "Brother Paul, the people here, the Jews here who are Christians, who believe by the myriad, by the thousands," the Greek word is tens of thousands [Acts 21:20]. It was an enormous church. Dr. Carroll, B. H. Carroll, says that the church in Jerusalem had more than one hundred thousand members. I know the church in Antioch, when John Chrysostom was pastor of it, had more than one hundred thousand members. They say this church is too big. Why, we have not even started! You wait until we have one hundred thousand members in it, and then we will consider whether it is too big or not.
When Paul went to Jerusalem, he made his report to the church concerning the grace of God upon the Gentiles. And he also brought to the church, the mother church, a gift from their hands for the poor saints in Jerusalem [Romans 15:26]. So while Paul was there, the pastor said, the brother of the Lord, James said to him:
Brother Paul, look at these tens of thousands of members of the church, and they are all zealous for the law. They all keep the law; they are Jews, they are Christians, but they are also Jews; they keep the law; they train their children in the way and in the manner of Moses. Now, they have heard of thee that you speak against the Jews, and against the temple, and against the sacrifice, and against the Mosaic customs.
Now in order to still their voices, you take a Nazarite vow with these four brethren here, then you go out to the temple and according to the Levitical code in the sixth chapter in the Book of Numbers, you shave your head with them, and you burn the hair of separation and give according to the Levitical law. Be at charges for them –
you pay for these poor Nazarites who cannot buy the offerings themselves –
So in order to show himself Orthodox, to the Orthodox Jew, the apostle Paul consented, and he went up into the temple.
And it was during that time that he was making the sacrifices of purification and of separation, having fulfilled the vow that some of the Jews from Asia who heard him preach in Ephesus, who saw all Asia turn to Christ through the marvelous ministry of this man of God, they seeing him in the temple and having cause to hate him bitterly, they cried, saying, "Men of Israel, men of Israel, help. This is the man, that teacheth all men everywhere against Moses, and against this place, and against the customs God has delivered unto us [Acts 21:28]. You say you can’t prove yourself to people who won’t believe in you. If you have an implacable enemy, don’t try. You could never live holy enough to convince him.
So Paul in the act of proving himself orthodox, instead of the men coming and saying, "Look, we’ve been wrong about this man. let’s shake his hand and receive him into our fellowship," instead of that, they raised a hue and a cry, saying, "This man has polluted this temple. Not only not believing in these laws himself, but he has brought in Greeks, having seen Trophimus, an Asian Greek with him on the street." He has brought in Greeks, plural, into this temple. And there was such a furor and such a mob and such an awful stir until they seized Paul and were beginning to beat him to death there in the Gentile court of the temple in Jerusalem [Acts 21:27-31].
Now above the temple – oh, how the Jew looked upon that with bitterness! Above the temple on the north side was the great Tower of Antonio, a vast castle in which the Roman legionaries were housed and controlled Jerusalem and Judea under the hands of the procurator and under the hands of the Roman Caesar. In that high Castle of Antonio, they watched the court, the Jewish temple, and the worship day and night, looking down upon it. And when the soldier watchman up there saw the terrible mob and cry in the temple, why, he sent word to the chiliarch, the leader of the Roman garrison, who called his centurion who called the cohort, and they ran down the steps of Antonio and into the temple and into the center of the mob and picked up Paul as they were beating him to death.
Then he said, "What is this man? Who is he?
And they cried, some one thing and some another.
And the chiliarch bound him with chains and was taking him out of the temple, and when they came to the steps of Antonio, up of which they were going into the Roman garrison, Paul spoke to him in the classical learned Greek language and said, "May I say a word unto thee?" [Acts 21:31-37]
And the chiliarch, the colonel of the garrison turned and said, "What? You speak Greek? Aren’t you that Egyptian that leads the Sicarii, the dagger men, the bandits?" They were a hired company of men who went in great crowds and slew political enemies by stabbing them,disappeared in the vast throng. "Aren’t you the head of that?" [Acts 21:38].
And Paul said, "No, no, I am verily a man who am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city. And I pray thee, suffer me to speak unto the people." And the chiliarch suffered him. And standing on the steps of the Tower of Antonio overlooking the vast temple court below with its infuriated, blood-thirsty and maddened mob, Paul raises his hand and made a defense for his faith [Acts 21:39-40].
What kind of a thing would you think he would say as he stood there, bound in chains, guarded by those Roman legionaries, looking into the face of his own people and race and tribe and family who just before had been lifting their hands to beat him to death? What would you say? What would you think Paul would say?
Well, some learned theological argument surely, educated as he was in the Halakah and the Haggadah the Mishnah of the rabbinical traditions, you would say he would stand there, and he would elaborate learned, theological things – arguments why the faith. You would think he would confound those hearers there below with heavenly erudition, with celestial flights of oratory, wouldn’t you? As he stands there and looks into their infuriated faces and defends the Christian way, wouldn’t you think that he would fall into poetic fancies, and celestial fire, and all kinds of able praises as he defends the Christian faith? Wouldn’t you think so?
As we wait breathlessly for that man on the steps to open his eloquent lips and speak the why of the Christian faith, you know what he says? Like a child, like a child, he makes a recital of the simple facts of an experience, a conversion. There’s no erudition, there’s no learning, there’s no argument. As he stands there on the steps of the tower, speaking to that vast maddened throng below, he recounts a simple experience. "I was on the way from Jerusalem to Damascus. And as I made my journey, in a light that put out the sun, I met the Lord Jesus on the way." He recounts a simple story [Acts 22:6-8].
He was a learned man, Paul was. He was a graduate of the rabbinical school of Gamaliel, the greatest Jerusalem ever had, Paul was. He was learned in Greek, in classics. He could quote from their poet. He would preach on the Areopagus in Athens. He knew Hebrew; he spake Aramaic. He was one of the great intellectual giants of his day, yet when it came to the defense of the Christian faith, he never referred to the classics, never bandied about intellectual arguments; never summoned up great force of mind to bring to bear upon that mob below.
But as he stood to defend the Christian faith, he recounted an experience. And my brethren, the defense of the Christian faith is ever just that. The defense of the Christian faith is never an intellectual argument; it is always a personal experience. Christianity is not a matter of the array of learned phrases and subtle arguments and philosophical approaches; Christianity is not a battle of opinions and of ideas and of philosophical insights. But Christianity is an incarnation. Christianity is a man standing up saying, "This is what I have seen and what I have felt and what happened; because I was there, I saw it. I felt it, it is my experience."
Christianity is a man standing up saying, "I was on the way from Jerusalem to Damascus. And in the way, I met the Lord. And it has never been the same again" [Acts 9:1-5]. Christianity and its defense is not a book, but a man. It is not an intellectual argument, it is a personal experience. "This is what I have seen and felt and heard," that is the defense of the Christian faith.
It is a man in Africa, standing up saying: "I was going from Jerusalem to Damascus. And on the way toward a self-chosen goal, with fame and riches and honor in one of the great clinics of the land, offered me after my graduation from the medical school and after the completing of my internship in the great hospital, I was on my way from Jerusalem to Damascus. And as I journeyed toward that self-chosen goal, following ambition and fame and riches, I met the Lord Jesus in the way. And I heard His call, and He said, "Africa!" And Africa, to which I turn my face, to whose people now I minister, this Dark Continent is my life, and my prayer, and my ministry, and my practice." That is the defense of the Christian faith.
It is a living man standing up saying, "I was a sheep going astray on the way from Jerusalem to Damascus, and I met the Lord Jesus in the way, and I am now returned to the Shepherd and the Bishop of my soul." The defense of Christianity is a man standing up saying, "I was blind, groping for the wall on the way from Jerusalem to Damascus, and I met Him who is able inside, and whose glorious presence opened my eyes, and whereas, once I was blind, now I see" [John 9:25]. That is the defense of the Christian faith.
The defense of the Christian faith is you, and I look at you in your face back there – and you, and I see you, and you, and I look upon you, who once were going to Damascus, on the road with a high hand and a proud heart, seeking. What things do we seek? Some ambitious for wealth, for success, for fame, for achievement, for glory, for money, for pleasure, in how many ways are we on the way? And we meet the Lord Jesus, and we are never the same again. "I know, I was there and it turned me, it changed me. And I am a new man with a new hope, and a new vision, and a new dream, and a new dedication," that is the defense of the Christian faith. "Men, brethren, fathers, in the defense which I now make unto you; I was on the way and I met the Lord, and it is never been the same again."
Philosophy can’t answer arguments like that; it cannot enter into them. Philosophy can bandy about all kinds of subtle phrases; philosophy can marshal all kinds of erudite supposition, but philosophy cannot answer a man’s experience. "I met the Lord. I saw Him. I felt Him. I heard Him and I turned!" To destroy Paul’s argument, you would have to destroy Paul’s life, and Paul’s character, and Paul’s mission, and Paul’s message, and Paul’s ministry. To destroy Paul’s argument, you must destroy Paul himself! As long as he stands there, he is a rock against which infidelity, and false philosophy and pseudoscience beats itself to death – as long as he stands there with that story of meeting Jesus in the way.
When I went into the room for my Ph.D. oral examination, having studied two years, the day came for them to question me whether or not I was worthy of that doctor’s degree. And one part of it was to stand a two hour oral examination with those learned professors and doctors of the law, asking one question after another for two interminable hours.
So I took my seat and they started. And one of the questions was this, "Young man, in your study in the field of New Testament, we suppose you have come across the critic’s word that Paul had a sunstroke on the way to Damascus, and that was his conversion. He had a sunstroke under that terrible, blazing, Syrian sky at midday; he had a sunstroke, and that was his conversion. And I presume," they said, "you also have come across the critic’s word that Paul, because of his vision and his trances, he was an epileptic. Now, young man, what do you say to that?"
And I replied, "Honored sirs and learned men of the law, all I have to say to that is this: that I have here in my hand, I have in my hand thirteen letters that are written by that man, Saul of Tarsus. And in those letters are some of the sublimest passages the world has ever known.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I have become as sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all of my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.
[1 Corinthians 13:1-3]
The man who could speak like that and the man who could write letters like that, if that is the gift of a sunstroke, and if that is the gift of a man with epilepsy," then I said, "may God in heaven grant that we all have sunstroke and that we all turn out to be epileptic."
The defense of the Christian faith is the apostle Paul himself, his character, his life, his work; it stands for two thousand years, pristine and glorious before God and before men. "Brethren, hear my defense [Acts 22:1]. I was on the way from Jerusalem to Damascus, and in a light that blotted out the sun, I saw the Lord Jesus" [Acts 22:6-8]. And the years passed and the days passed. I wonder how that experience wears in apostolic troubles and turmoil? With the passing of the years, does he get away from it? Does he get away from it? So many times, an experience we have had years and years ago, time clouds it, memory grows dim, and the thing is hardly remembered. How does this man wear in his apostolic labors and his remembrance of what happened on the Damascus road?
After shipwreck, and after imprisonment, and beatings, and toils, and travel [2 Corinthians 11:23-25], how does he do? And how does he say and how has it worn? You have your answer here: we are coming now to the close of a long life of ministry of this glorious servant of God. And as he stands in the twilight of life to speak to his people in the city of Jerusalem, to the men, brethren, and fathers of his own family and people, what does he do? He goes back to that glorious day, the hour that he met the Lord [Acts 22:6-8]. And after the passing of the years, it is as bright, and as glorious, and as full, and as meaningful as it was the day that it happened. That is true Christian experience; the days don’t wear it away. Time does not deface it. All of the trials and sorrows of life do not blot it out. It becomes sweeter, more precious as the years go by.
Back yonder, back yonder, back yonder, I remember the day; I remember the time, I remember the hour, I remember the preacher, I remember the service, I remember the people, I remember the church, what it was like. I remember the song that they sang. I remember how I felt. And from that day until this, the experience has never faded. It hasn’t dimmed, but its true meaning has appeared the more sweeter as the years go by. That is the defense of the Christian faith.
When I was at school, I’ve never trained myself in following it, but I had a philosophical turn of mind. I like to read philosophy and psychology. Started out to major in it, was a grader in it, I liked it; thinking, reading, trying to probe into the causes of things.
[I] had a wonderful friend, glorious friend. He and I were pastors together in a little place; he there and I here. We went out together and came back to the school together. We were both majoring in psychology and philosophy, and reading those books, poring over those arguments, thinking through all of those learned reasons, and as time went on, he left it. He resigned his church, and he resigned his ministry; and he gave up his Christian faith and became a learned, educated, scholastic agnostic. He didn’t believe in anything. He didn’t believe in anything. And he said to me: "You’re going to do the same thing. You may stick it out for another year, you may hang on for two more years. It may be a while, but you won’t stay, you can’t. You can’t. When you read these books, and when you study this thing, and when you see what men say, it will prove to you, too, the vanity, and the emptiness, and the vacuity, the sand of the Christian faith; you’ll leave it, too."
I wonder why I didn’t? I wonder why I didn’t? I want to tell you why. I will admit to you that times without number, I’ve been so tied up in my mind until I couldn’t find the way. I will admit to you that there have been lots of times when I have so doubted in my mind until intellectually I felt I could not follow in the Christian way. I will confess to you that lots of times it seemed to me that the argument of the agnostic and the infidel was beyond what any man could ever answer. I confess that to you. Then why didn’t I follow in his way and turn aside from the Christian message and the Christian faith? I’ll tell you why: I never could get away, I never could get away from how I felt and the something that happened in my soul back there when I was at home and went to the little church and heard the pastor preach. And mother talked to me about trusting Jesus as a Savior, and I went down the aisle and gave the pastor my hand and couldn’t see him for the tears in my eyes. Something happened there as a boy, ten years old, something happened. And to this day, I have never been able to repudiate it. It did something to me; it put something in me. It is there forever and ever; that seed cannot die.
I have never found an argument, I have never seen a philosophy, I have never read a book, I have never heard a man – never yet – that was able to change that something – the die that was cast, the bend of a twig, the turn of a life, I have never seen one that was able to take it away. And after the passing of these years, the tree has grown in that way until now it has become the heart, and soul, and center, and vision, and aim, and goal of my whole life. I was on the way from Jerusalem to Damascus, and I met the Lord Jesus, and it has never been the same again. The defense of the Christian faith is you; is you, is you. This is it. This is it; look around you. Oh, what the Lord has meant! What He has done! This is it, this is it.
Now, in your program we had announced that I was going to preach on The Blood of Thy Martyr Stephen. I was. I intended to. But when I read this passage, I just got to thinking about some of these things, and I couldn’t pass them by. But in my appeal, I want to sum up the sermon that I prepared for this morning and haven’t time to preach.
In his defense, Paul says, "No, Lord, I want to stay here in Jerusalem, right where I saw Stephen die, I want to stay here. Where his blood was spilled and where his life was taken out, I want to take his place, Lord, and for Stephen I want to preach, and for Stephen I want to live, and where Stephen died, I want to die." And my sermon that I prepared this morning was this, Paul’s offering of his life to God for somebody else, "for Stephen, Lord." You see it there in the passage, "I was consenting unto his death and engineered his martyrdom [Acts 22:20]. Lord, I want to stay where he stayed. I want to preach for him, and I want to live for him."
And that was my appeal to you this morning. For somebody else, for somebody else, would you come down that aisle? Would you? "Pastor, one of us belongs to one church, and one of us belongs to another church. For the sake of him, would you come? For the sake of her, would you come? Would you put your home together for her sake, for his sake? Would you do it today?
"Pastor, we have these children here, and here I come." For their sake, would you come? Somebody here today who belongs to the church, as I walked over here, one of our blessed women said, "There are two young men here today. One is not a Christian, and one belongs to another church." If the one who belongs to another church would come, the other will follow behind him. For his sake, would you come? And for the sake of the lost world all around us, would you come? Would you come?
"Here I am, preacher. Here I am, pastor. I give my heart to God and my life in the fellowship of this church. I want God to use me and bless me in my life to reach others for Him." Would you do it today? Would you do it today? While we sing this song, in that topmost balcony, from side to side, all around, anywhere, somebody you, a mother, her children, a family, a youth, a child, one somebody you, "Here I come, pastor, taking the Lord as my Savior, or coming into the fellowship of this church." Anywhere, while we sing this appeal and while we pray today, would you make it now? Would you make it now? While we stand and while we sing.
THE BLOOD OF THE MARTYR STEPHEN
Providence gave him the
beautiful name, "Stephanos"
"a garland," "a
crown." The first to win the martyr’s
I. He Testified As A Christian Ought to Testify
His witness to the
temporary, intermediate characters of the Levitical law
all that went with it. The voice of
Moses not the final one: he himself spoke of the prophet to come.
Charges his hearers with
the same spirit of criminal resistance to God as
their fathers had shown.
cf. John the Baptist, "generation of vipers"
The hardest thing in the
world to do, to proclaim the truth at a cost, to preach
righteousness of God to an evil generation, to denounce the spirit of
to God among the people.
cf. Our nature, to please the people
Jesus, "Woe . . . when all men speak
well of you . . ."
cf. to oppose enemies present
(a) Visitors – Deacon looks thru crack in door.
– say something about Presbyterians
– " " "
Catholics – " " "
Mormons – Give â€˜em fits."
II. He Died As A Christian Ought to Die —
With a Vision of Jesus in His Heart
A crier before the
doomed man, proclaiming his crime
cf. "Stephen’s gate" down to the rocky bed of Kidron.
"He cursed God." "He defamed Moses." "He blasphemed the holy place."
cf. Jezebel and Naboth
Stripped of all
clothing. Two chief witnesses throw the
headlong from 12′ high Then fling 2 large stones upon him.
Pause. Culprit urged to confess sin to God before
The multitude cast their
stones. Pause before death.
martyrdom went like this:
55 – The solid temple, priests, Levites – all a part of the veil of matter,
rolled away from before Stephen’s
58 – The witnesses cast the large stones upon him.
59 – The multitudes dash their stones against him, then pause for confession.
He cries, looking into their
murderous faces, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
60 – Assailants cast a multitude of stones.
Then pause once more.
His last cry, "Lord, lay not this
sin to their charge."
60b- "fell asleep"
"sleeping place" "cemetery"
III. His Influence Endured As Only a Christian’s Can – Mightily for God – Heb. 11:4
– ". . .young man’s feet . . .
– Years later, Paul says, wanted to go back – die where Stephen’s blood stained
9:5 – ". . .hard to kick against the
pricks . . ."
Saul: "It is all a lie, . . hateful thing. – destroyed
cannot be. Stephen’s face. Defense
Prayers . . .
will thou have me to do?"
preaching the faith he once destroyed.
God sees to this: no drop of blood
ever shed in vain.
"Why go? You can’t
"Great bridges, foundation stones never seen . . ."
Allen Bennett – Belgian
than 3 score at Biola
home church 13 volunteer