Tomorrow Is Too Late
March 21st, 1954
TOMORROW IS TOO LATE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-21-54 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-fourth chapter of the Book of Acts. The message this morning is the defense of Paul before Felix, and the preaching of the gospel to Felix and Drusilla his wife. The message tonight is the answer of Felix to the appeal, entitled, Tomorrow is Too Late. In our preaching through the Word, we’ve come now to the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Acts:
And after five days Ananias the high priest descended with the elders, and with a certain orator named Tertullus, who informed the procurator against Paul.
And when he was called forth, Tertullus began to accuse Paul, saying, Seeing that by thee,
– addressing the governor
Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness, and that very worthy deeds are done unto this nation by thy providence,
We accept it always, and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness.
Notwithstanding, that I be not further tedious unto thee, I pray thee that thou wouldest hear us of thy clemency a few words.
For we have found this fellow Paul a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes:
Who also hath gone about to profane the temple: whom we took, and would have judged according to our law.
But the chief captain Lysias came upon us, and with great violence took him away out of our hands,
Commanding his accusers to come unto thee: by examining of whom thyself mayest take knowledge of all these things, whereof we accuse him.
And the Jews also assented, saying that these things were so.
Then Paul, after the procurator had beckoned unto him to speak, answered,
And then we read the rest of the chapter.
The story, you have to pick it up. We’ve been preaching through it. Some of you might not have been here last Lord’s Day. Paul, going to Jerusalem for the fifth and the final time, Paul was worshiping in the temple. While he was there, some Jews from Asia cried, "This is the man that teaches all over this civilized world against Moses, and against the traditions, and against the law, and against this holy place." So a riot, a multitude, an angry mob came together, and they were beating Paul to death.
Now the Tower of Antonio, from which the Chiliarch, with the centurions and the Roman legionnaires could look down into the temple area, when they saw the furious mob assembled, they rushed their soldiers down into the area, and rescued this unknown man, pulled him out of the mob. And they were taking him into the castle as a bound prisoner to see what was the matter, and Paul spoke to the Chiliarch in Greek, asking to speak to the people. And the Chiliarch said, "Why I thought you were that insurrectionist, that Egyptian that has been leading those four thousand Iscari insurrectionists against Rome." And Paul said, "No, I am a Jew, of Tarsus, of Seleucia. And I pray thee, let me speak unto the people." So Paul stood on the steps of the Tower of Antonio, and spoke to the maddening crowd below. That was our message last Sunday morning.
Then in the evening, the message, after Paul had spoken to the people, they again turned themselves into a furious riot, saying, "Away with him; it’s not fit he should live in the earth." So in order to protect him, the Chiliarch took him into the castle, and started to examine him by scourging, to beat him in order to get the real truth out of him; who he was and what was the trouble. When they began, when they started to scourge Paul, lifting up a thong to beat him, why, Paul said, "It’s not lawful for you to whip a Roman citizen uncondemned, is it?"
And the centurion said, "You, are you a Roman citizen?" And he said, "I am." So the centurion sent to the Chiliarch and said, "Beware what you’re doing. This man is a Roman citizen." Chiliarch came to Paul and said, "You, you are a Roman citizen?" And Paul said, "I am." And the Chiliarch said, "With a great sum of money I bought my citizenship." But Paul replied, "I was freeborn." His parents were Roman citizens, evidently at some time servants of the emperor of the senate or at least of the government of Rome.
Then it was decided that the Chiliarch would take Paul down to the Sanhedrin, to see why it was that they so railed against him. So on the morrow, the Chiliarch, with his legionnaires, took Paul before the Sanhedrin, the highest court of the Jewish nation, the court of seventy, presided over by the high priest. And as Paul began to speak to him, to them, they accused him of many things. And seeing he had no opportunity for life from them, and noticing that half were Sadducees, and half were Pharisees, Paul said, "It’s for the hope of the resurrection of the dead that I’m called and questioned this day."
Then the Pharisees rose and said, "Why this man, there’s nothing wrong in him. Maybe he’s seen an angel, or a spirit has spoken to him," being themselves persuaded of the resurrection of the dead, they began to defend Paul. But the Sadducees, who were materialists, were practical atheists, saying, "There’s no resurrection, no spirit, no heaven, no angel, no anything." Why, they said, "He ought to be condemned to death," and then they began to fight one another. So lest they tear Paul to pieces, the Chiliarch once again pulled him out, and took him into the castle of Antonio.
Forty of the Jews made a conspiracy, that they’d not eat nor drink until they should kill Paul. So Paul’s sister’s son, hearing that, went to Paul and told him of the conspiracy that would destroy his life. They were going to make as though they wanted Paul to come down on the morrow that the Sanhedrin might further question him, and then on the way they were going to destroy him. So Paul said to his nephew, "Now son, you tell this to the Chiliarch." So Paul called a centurion and said, "Now you take this young man to the colonel of the garrison, the Chiliarch, the commander of the post, of the army in Judea."
So the centurion took the boy to the Chiliarch. The Chiliarch took him by the hand and led him aside, and said, "Now what is it?" And that boy told the Chiliarch, "Tomorrow they’re going to ask you to bring Paul down to the Sanhedrin, and on the way there are forty men lying in wait who will destroy him. Don’t you heed their request." So that night, the Chiliarch wrote a letter to Felix, the Roman procurator, whose imperial palace, praetorium, was at Caesarea by the sea; and he sent horseman and a large guard, that he might be safely escorted and delivered into the hands of Felix.
So we begin today in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Acts. Paul is being tried before the Roman procurator of Judea. And it begins, "After five days Ananias the high priest comes down." Ananias was high priest from about 47 AD to 59 AD. And from Josephus we read of him: "he was a typical Sadducee; rich, haughty, arrogant, unscrupulous, and used his office for private ends."
He’s mentioned twice here in the Bible. In the previous chapter, when he was stood before the Sanhedrin, Paul began his defense, saying, "Brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God and man until this day." And when he said that, Ananias the high priest commanded one of the men standing by him to slap him in the mouth, to smite him on the lips. And when he did that, Paul turned to Ananias and said, "God shall smite thee, thou whited wall, for why commandest thou to be smitten contrary to the law, while thou standest as an exponent of the law?"
Somebody turned to Paul and said, "What answerest thou the high priest so?" And then Paul made a devious answer that nobody knows quite what he meant: Paul says, "I didn’t realize that he was the high priest." Well, I like Paul for that. There was fire in him. There was spirit in him. Wasn’t anything dull, dead, phlegmatic, lethargic about Paul. He had a temper. He was full of life and drive.
When Ananias commanded him to be smitten, he said, "God will smite you, you whited wall," then apologized for it, maybe, or maybe he didn’t. I don’t know what he meant. All I know is, that he was like Moses. He was full of fire and fury. A lot of us are good; just good for nothing, just dead. Not Paul; if he’s for Christ, brother, what he’s doing for Christ; if he’s against him, what he’s doing against him. But he’s alive. Then the other time we have Ananias is here.
Now the next man mentioned here is the orator, Tertullus, who has been hired by the Sanhedrin and the Jewish leaders in order to prepare the case properly to be presented in the Roman high court in the presence of the procurator in Caesarea. Then we have the procurator himself, Felix. Felix was a slave of Antonia, the mother of Claudius Caesar, the Emperor of the Roman Empire.
There were two of them: Pallas and Felix; they were brothers. And by a cunning like unto Iscariot’s own, those two slaves worked themselves up until they were two of the most influential leaders in the Roman Empire. Pallas remained in the court, pandering to all the vices of his master. Both of them were freed men, and were Roman citizens. Felix was appointed procurator of Judea, one of the leading men in the government of the civilized world. They were rich.
One time a man said to Claudius Caesar, the emperor, when he was complaining that he was poor, man said to him with much suggestion in the tone of his voice, "Claudius, if you will align yourself with Felix and Pallas, it’ll not be long until you’ll be a wealthy man yourself." He was the judge here, and held the lives of the people in his hand. And he had one object in his office, and that was to be paid for his acquittals. Do you notice here that Paul says in his defense, "After many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation," then right over here these following verses, "Felix communed with him the oftener, hoping to get money out of him, that he might loose him."
That’s Felix. He was as mean a soul as ever lived. The Latin historian, Tacitus says of him in his history that he used the imperial functions of Judea for mercenary means. He was venal and detestable. He had no other thought in mind except to use his office for pecuniary purposes. Of all the judges, he was the basest of his tribe.
Now it’s before that man that Paul stands in judgment for his life. So they begin. This orator Tertullus stands up to speak, and he’s speaking about the apostle Paul – – interesting to listen to what another man, a contemporary thinks about Paul. We’ve been preaching about him these last several months, and he’s our hero. We’ve come to look upon him as one of the noble spirits of all time, and one of the great men of God, gracious, humble, full of the love of milk of kindness, a man who loves Christ and preaches the gospel of the Son of God.
We’ve fallen in love with Paul during these last few weeks. But look at Paul through the eyes of this man Tertullus. And it says here, "And the Jews also assented, saying that these things were so." They all agree. Look what he says about Paul: "We have found this man a pestilent fellow." The Greek word loimos the Latin translation of it is pestis, taken in the English "pest, plague. "We’ve found this man Paul a plague, a pest, a disease, a scourge."
Does that tally with what you know about him, preaching the gospel of the Son of God, comforting the disciples; a pest and a plague? Look at him again: "A mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world." Is that what you know about Paul, a mover of sedition? When he stood there preaching on Mars Hill, when he prayed his great prayers, when he kneeled down with the elders of Ephesus, when they cried together because they’d see his face no more, when he charged him to be true to the church of Jesus Christ; a mover of sedition, does that tally with what you know of him? "A ring leader of the sect of the Nazarenes." Ring leader all right. Said that in contempt; isn’t that strange, Tertullus here unconsciously pays tribute to Paul. "He’s a pestilent fellow."
Well, he was active, that’s right. The spirit of seven men was in him. There was no quiet rotting faith in the apostle Paul. If we was a bad man, there was no badness in all the market like Paul. Pestilent fellow: wherever he was, things came to life. Mover of sedition: that’s right, he was an insurrectionist. Tertullus was saying that in order to get the ear of the Roman governor, as though in this man the throne was threatened. An insurrectionist: every Christian is an insurrectionist. He’s a revolutionist.
We’re not daubing plaster on rotting walls; but we are pulling them down. We’re uprooting, we’re disestablishing that the Kingdom of God might come in the earth, building for eternity. He says he "went about to profane the temple." And I can hear his melodious voice, full of tears as he speaks of Paul profaning the temple, this man Tertullus, with what great affection does he hold the temple in reverence. Crocodile tears, weeping over the profanation of the temple by this man Paul; when at the same time he’s trying falsely to abuse and to accuse one of the worshipers in the temple. That’s Tertullus.
How does it affect Paul? He stands there in the midst of all those epithets, with those stones lying around him, unhurt and unharmed. Great swelling words of accusation, these, by this great orator Tertullus but when he’s done, the governor beckons to Paul and says, "And now, thy mayest speak for thyself." So Paul begins, in the tenth verse, and he makes his defense that we read this morning. "These things," he says,
Are not so. I’m not a seditionist against the Roman government, nor have I gone about to profane the temple, nor have I done ought whereof they accuse me. But this I confess: that after the way which they call heresy, in the name of Jesus Christ, so worship I the God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.
Then after Felix heard the defense of Paul, and learned more certainly and truthfully of the innocence of the man, he dismissed his accusers and kept Paul in prison, saying, "When Lysias the Chiliarch shall come, I’ll hear thee further and make a final decision."
Then we are introduced to one of the most interesting episodes in all the story of God’s Book. After the passing of a few days, Drusilla said to Felix her husband, "O how much I would like to hear that man Paul." Drusilla, Drusilla was Miss Universe of AD 54. Drusilla was one of the most beautiful women of all time. She was the daughter of Herod Agrippa the First. She was the sister of Herod Agrippa the Second, before whom Paul will plea in a chapter or two later on. She was the sister of Bernice, who comes with Herod Agrippa the Second. She was a beautiful, beautiful woman; and she used her beauty for personal advancement.
She was a gold digger, and she found in Felix an opportunity to further herself. Felix was a favorite at the court of Claudius Caesar himself. So she forsook everything and followed Felix, and became wife unto Felix, furthering herself in any way that she could; that’s Drusilla. She was also a Jewess. And she had a family connection that makes it doubly interesting why she was interested in Paul.
Her father, I said, was Herod Agrippa the First. In the twelfth chapter of Acts, he slew James, the brother of John, by the sword. And he’s the same one that imprisoned Peter, planning to slay Simon Peter. Her great-grandfather was Herod the Great, who slew the babes at Bethlehem. And her great uncle was Herod Antipas, who slew John the Baptist. She was a member of that Herodian family.
Now, that Herodian family, everlastingly had an interest in the Christian faith. Do you remember Herod Antipas sent for Jesus, saying in his heart, "I want to see this sorcerer, this magician, this wonder worker." So he had Jesus brought before him, in order that Jesus might do some miracle in his presence. Remember that story? Well Drusilla is the same way.
She speaks to her husband Felix, and says, "All the years of my life I have heard about that master magician, that prince of sorcerers, that wondrous wonder worker Jesus. And we have here in your custody a devotee, a man who incites and incenses and raises up a riot wherever he is, about that spiritual Houdini, about that ecclesiastical person, about that black stone in the church. I’d like to hear him," says Drusilla; "I’d like to, oh the vivid recounting of the story of those marvelous things that He did, I’d like to hear him," says Drusilla.
And Felix said, "Why, I think it’d be interesting too. I never realized that. We’ll just call him in before us, and we’ll have him tell us about this sorcerer Jesus, this magician Jesus, this wonder miracle worker Jesus. We’ll have him tell us all about the story of this modern Houdini, Jesus." And so they seek themselves in a private audience. And they bring Paul, bound in chains, before them. And there they stand, Felix and Drusilla the Jewess, and Paul the prisoner of Jesus Christ.
What shall he say, and what shall he do? Felix is the Roman procurator, and his wife is a queen. They are rich. The roof of their house is gilded. Their walls are velveted. The carpets on which they walk are flowers, soft and fragrant. Their wine is plentiful, and they drink it out of nothing less than gold. Anyone who accosts Felix accosts him as a kind of a god, a pseudo-god, a quasi-god. No one ever says a critical word to Felix.
In the sickening atmosphere of adulation and idolatry he moves. When Felix comes in, all men stand up; nor are they seated except at his haughty permission. He is the judge. He has the lives of the people in his hands. A word, and they’re thrown to the lions. A nod and the fire consumes them.
What shall Paul say? I know what he’ll say. He’ll try to ingratiate himself into the favor of the royal couple. He’ll plead his cause in order that he might be loosed from his chains. I know what he’ll do. He’ll be an obsequious sycophant. He’ll say those flattering things in order that he might be loosed from his chains. I know what Paul will say. I know what he’ll do. Don’t all the ministers do that?
In the presence of the high and the great and the might and the famous, they bow the edge of their sword. They blunt the point of their doctrine. They do away with the true message of Christ. I could not tell you the times without number I’ve been at civic organizations in the city of Dallas, and the Christian minister refuses to pray in the name of Jesus, why? Because he has visitors there that don’t believe in Jesus, so he leaves off the name of Jesus when he prays.
He’s a sycophant. He’s an obsequious idolater, worshiping the praise of men more than seeking the love and favor of God. "I know what Paul will do. He’ll bow. He’ll say flattering words. He’ll do like all of the rest. I know what he’ll do. That’s what he’ll do."
That so, preacher? I hear him now, as he says that resounding word in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, "Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my ministry and the testimony of the gospel of the grace of the Son of God." He stands there alone and bound and in chains. He stands there alone in the presence of his two royal auditors, in whose hands are the issues of life and death. He stands there, and what does he do? He bears the sword of the Lord. He bears the blade of Jerusalem. And he preaches to that royal couple the cause and the message and the judgment of Almighty God.
In the presence of the gospel there is no great. There is no small. There is no rich. There is no poor. There is no high. There is no low. In the presence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the thrones, and the Caesars, and the procurators, and the kings, and the queens, and the towers are all the same; lost and undone, and facing the wrath and the judgment of Almighty God. And Paul, as he stood there, "reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come."
We’ll pick it up there tonight, carry it on. And the little minute that I have left, I want to point out one thing about the preaching of the apostle Paul. He was standing there in the presence of one man and one woman; had an audience of two, just two. But he poured into that appeal everything that he had. He did his best. He was reaching out for the souls of those two lost, lost. He was trying to save them, trying to get them to Jesus. This man Paul, he did his best. Even one man is a congregation. Even one woman is a congregation. Earnestness doesn’t require overwhelming numbers. Earnestness can plead, and preach, and beg, and importune, and intercede for just one, just one.
Not long ago I read of a minister who said, "We’ll not have any more evening services. For," he said, "it is not worth my while to preach to a congregation of less than a hundred." So he dismissed his services – – how unlike Paul and how unlike the Lord Jesus Himself. The Lord Jesus preached some of His greatest messages to an audience of one, just one. It was to a woman, just one woman, in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, that He made the first self disclosure of Himself: "I that speak unto thee am He, the Messiah."
And it was to an audience of one, just one, in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John, that the Lord Jesus said the sublimest words in the earth, "I am the resurrection and the life." And it was to an audience of one, just one, one man, that Jesus said John 3:16, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son." There was just one man who heard that, an audience of just one.
In John 7:37, at the great feast of the tabernacles, Jesus stood forth and cried to the multitudes, saying what? "If any man," one, "if any man thirst," one man, "let him come unto Me." The last great invitation in the Book, Revelation 22:17, "Let him that heareth," one man, "say come. Let him that is athirst," one man athirst, "let him come. And whosoever will," one somebody, you, "let him come, let him come, and take the water of life freely."
When Christianity takes a census, every man counts for one, counts for one. Let us say to any despairing preacher or evangelist, the word from the pastor James, "Let him know, let him know that he that converteth a sinner, one sinner, from the error of his way shall save a soul from death and hide a multitude of sins." One man, just one; Christianity is the religious of the one man: you, you. Christianity is the religion of the one lost sheep, of the one lost coin, and of the one prodigal boy.
There are totalitarian faiths. There are great religions that count by multitudinous numbers, by nations and tribes and empires; not the true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They count. God counts. The faith true counts, by one somebody you. "It’s not the will of your Father in heaven that the least of these little ones should perish." [Matthew 18:14] "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." [Luke 15:10] Paul stands there, my soul, stand there in the presence of a congregation of one man and one woman, and pours his heart out that they might be saved. That’s God. That’s Christ. That’s the true faith. That’s the gospel of the Son of God seeking you, seeking you, seeking you.
Will you come? Will you say yes to Him? Will you do it? Will you do it? "Preacher, today, here I am, and here I come. Here’s my hand, I take the Lord as my Savior. Here’s my whole family. We’re coming into the fellowship of the church." One somebody you, two somebodies you, a family you in that topmost balcony, anywhere, from side to side, while we make appeal, while we sing our song, while we wait, will you make it now? "Here I am, pastor, and here I come, giving my heart in faith to the Lord Jesus, putting my life with Christ in God; and here I am, and here I come." Will you stand by my side? Would you make it now? "Today, I hear His voice, and here I am, preacher, and here I come. I’ll make it now. I’ll make it now." While we stand and while we sing.
HAVE A MORE CONVENIENT SEASON
I. The scene in that palace
before Felix and Drusilla, loaded down with chains
They expected to be entertained
reasoned of righteousness, temperance and judgment to come
Felix trembled under the mighty call of the mighty God
His answer – "When I have a convenient season."
II. But tomorrow is too late
A. Convenient season
1. That was all it
took to destroy his life, damn his soul
B. All it ever takes to
be lost is to do nothing, drifting into eternity without God
1. Poem, "The
2. Satan’s smartest
a. Baptists never
coming for membership
b. Children, youth,
adults, waiting; and are lost
c. Those beating on
the door of the ark
d. Five foolish
virgins beating on the door (Matthew 25:10-11)
C. The day of
Spirit will not always strive with men (Genesis
6:3, Mark 3:29, Hebrews 12:16-17)
somewhere, sometime had a last warning
a. Sunday school teacher’s
husband – "It’s too late!"
III. What are the facts?
A. If you live forever,
you have plenty of time
B. If you get a second
chance, forget what I’m preaching
C. If you can go back and
recall and repent, forget what I am preaching
The eternal fact – We will die and face judgment (Hebrews 9:27)
Nothing in the Bible about a second chance(Ecclesiastes 11:3, Luke 16:24)