THE GLORY OF THAT LIGHT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-02-77 7:30 p.m.
And of course, I could not thank you enough for the beautiful gift you have given us on our anniversary—a creation that came out of somebody’s heart that loved things beautiful. What do you think about that? Do you think that it is a waste of time to make a church house pretty? Do you think it is a waste of money to buy a stained-glass window? Do you think it is a waste of effort to try to make your home beautiful? Not if you are like God. It is God that made the sky blue. Why should He? Does it serve any purpose that the sky is blue? It is God that made the clouds fleecy and white. Does it serve any purpose that they are fleecy and white? It is God that made a beautiful autumnal sunset. Does it serve any purpose that there should be a beautiful sunset? It is God that made a rainbow? Does it serve any purpose that God should have made a rainbow? It is God that made the earth emerald; that made the flowers colorful and pretty. It serves no purpose at all. If there is any utilitarian reason for a sunset, I have never been able to discover it. If there is any utilitarian purpose that the sky is blue and that the clouds are fleecy and white, I have never been able to find it. It is just that God loved things pretty. And when you love things pretty in your life, in your home, in your dress, in the church, in your life, you are just that much like God. So we are so grateful to George Shearin and the deacons and the church for the gift of the beautiful rose.
On the radio, KRLD, that blankets the Southwest and on KCBI, the radio of our Bible Institute, you are sharing the service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. We want all of you on the radio and now here in this great auditorium to open your Bible to the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts. The title of the sermon tonight is The Glory of That Light. And we shall be preaching concerning the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the bitterest enemy that the Christian faith has ever known. Acts chapter 9, and we shall read the first six verses. All of us out loud together, Acts chapter 9, verses 1 through 6. Now together:
And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this Way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.
And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?
And he said, Who art Thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him: Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
And thereupon we have the great missionary, ecclesiastical, worldwide preaching ministry of Paul the apostle.
Do you ever wonder why it is that this young man should have been so bitter against the Christian faith? Was he elected for that purpose? I find no intimation of it in the Bible. Was he a member of the ruling temple guard? Was he a captain? Was he an appointed leader in the preservation of that place of worship? I have no intimation of it. Some say, because Paul avows that when the Christians were put to death, he cast his vote against them [Acts 26:10], that he was a member of the Sanhedrin. That is a supposition. The Sanhedrin had no choice of death. That has been taken out of the hands of the Jewish leaders and was vested in the Roman procurator.
Why is it that this young fellow, this young rabbinical student in the school of Gamaliel [Acts 22:3], took upon himself the bitter onslaught against the Christian faith? [Acts 9:1-2]. I don’t know. He is just there. And if I had just one part of it to point out a reason for the rise of the bitterness in him, sometimes the more a man gives himself to what he is doing, and sometimes the greater pride he takes in his work, the more viciously will he respond and reply to something that humiliates him, that makes him less than what he thinks he is; or that destroys the work and the foundation upon which he stands. And the only thing that I know, as I read the Bible, is this, that in the Cilician synagogue in Jerusalem—and those provinces of the Roman Empire had synagogues in the Holy City, and when they visited there, when they lived there, they gathered in the synagogues that were dedicated to their people, possibly because they spoke the language of the nation there in that synagogue—in the synagogue of Cilicians, Stephen, in the power of the Spirit just pulverized, crushed, humiliated, shamed these who sought to speak against the faith that Stephen presented in the power of the Lord [Acts 7:2-53]. And, of course, you could easily imagine this Saul of Tarsus, this brilliant student from the capital city of Cilicia, from the capital province of Cilicia, from Tarsus [Acts 22:3]—you could easily imagine the reaction that he had when he was unable to stand up before the wisdom of that deacon layman [Acts 7:2-53]. Stephen was not a rabbinical student. Stephen was not someone who had prepared to give his life in synagogue service. Saul was. He was trained for that in one of the greatest schools that the rabbis had ever created [Acts 22:3]. So the background of it came to a head in this confrontation between Stephen and Saul of Tarsus in the synagogue of the Cilicians in Jerusalem.
Now the life of Saul as he would have been brought up is very much known to us. When he was a little fellow, up to about five years of age, he was taught by his mother, Judaism. And, of course, having been brought up in a heathen, pagan city in Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia, why, the little fellow from the beginning of his consciousness became sensitive to the truth of God, Judaism, and the false gods that worshiped all around him. So as a little boy taught by his mother, then from the age of about five to about thirteen, he would have been taught by the rabbi in the synagogue there in Tarsus, in Cilicia. Then somewhere beyond in his age, he came to Jerusalem and there was a student sitting at the feet of Gamaliel [Acts 22:3]. And it was this young rabbi, who having been shamed by the power and wisdom of Stephen [Acts 7:2-53]—when they suborned witnesses [Acts 6:10-11]—and I have wondered if he was in that, too, when they bought and paid men to lie against Stephen, when they suborned, when they bought for money witnesses to accuse him. And these witnesses came before the Sanhedrin, and in their sham trial of Stephen before the highest court of the Jewish people, in a rage, unable to answer the apology of the faith of Stephen that I preached about last Sunday—in a rage, they dragged him outside of the city, and there beyond St. Stephen’s Gate in the Brook Kidron, they stoned him to death [Acts 7:58-60]. And the young fellow who presided over it was this young Gamaliel rabbi by the name of Saul of Tarsus [Acts 7:58].
Now, I am going to do something this moment that I pray will be meaningful to you. I have never done it or anything quite like it, and I don’t know how the Lord will bless it. But I pray that He will. I want, if God will help me, I want you to see what this young fellow, Saul of Tarsus, did to the church in Jerusalem. When you read it in English, you sort of “Well, I can see that.” But the awfulness of it, the striking power of it, the murder and blood in it is largely lost to us. So I am going to take these words, written here in the Bible, as Luke wrote them down, I am going to take these words, and we are going to look at them for just a moment and see what it was that Saul did to that church in Jerusalem. Now you must remember that it was a large congregation. I would suppose that, when Saul began to strike that church in Jerusalem, it had something like fifty thousand members [Acts 8:1-4]. There were men and women and children, about fifty thousand of them in number that belonged to that mother church in Jerusalem. And then when Paul had succeeded in crushing it, then he persecuted the disciples of the Lord unto strange cities [Acts 26:11].
Now when you look at this story in the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts—and if you want to turn to it with me, you can, we are going to look at the words that are used to describe what Saul did to the church. It begins with Saul’s pleasure—his supreme satisfaction in the stoning of Stephen: “And Saul was consenting unto his death” [Acts 8:1]. That is kind of a lame English word that haltingly describes how Saul felt when he saw Stephen die [Acts 7:58-60]. He was preeminently lifted up in triumph over the slaughter of that godly man, Stephen [Acts 8:1]. Then, in the same verse, “At that time there was a great persecution against the church at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad” [Acts 8:1], and as the Book of Acts continues, over the whole Greco-Roman world. When Saul hit it, he struck it hard! He dealt it a death blow! It was cruel what Saul did.
All right, now let’s look at these words. Look in verse 3: “As for Saul”—and here is our first word—“he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison” [Acts 8:3]. He made havoc. Now let’s look at that word “havoc.” There is a Greek word, lume, which means “outrage,” and there is a verbal form of that Greek word lumainomai, from lume, lumainomai, which means “to outrage,” or it means “to violently mistreat.” And that’s what that word translated [is], “he made havoc of the church.” He violently mistreated it! So the verbs and the words that we are going to look at here in this English translation, when you look at them in Greek, they are the strongest words that the Greek language could command, and here is one of them. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church—lumainomai, he violently mistreated it! [Acts 8:3].
All right, let’s turn the page and look in chapter 9. It begins in the same way: “And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” [Acts 9:1]. You look at that word “threatenings, threatenings,” apeile. You know what apeile means? If you saw a man who was damning and cursing with all of the harshness of human language, that is this word apeile—threatenings. The word means “harshness of language.” It means “menacing.” It means “threatening.” And that’s the word here. Saul breathing out curses, violent language!
Now, you look at the next one, “and slaughter” [Acts 9:1]. You’d call that, you’d translate that word “murder”—phonos is the Greek word for “murder”; phoneuō is the Greek word “to commit murder; and that’s the word that is used here. “Saul breathing out threatenings”—curses, harshness of language—“and murder against the disciples of the Lord” [Acts 9:1]. There are no stronger words in the language than these words that they are using to describe this man, Saul of Tarsus. Now I want you to look at verse 21, after he was converted, you look at the word describing him. “And all that heard him in Damascus were amazed, and said: Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem?” [Acts 9:21]. And you look at that word “destroyed.” That’s the word portheō, “destroy.” Well, portheō, “destroy” sounds kind of lame compared to what it really is. That is the word that is used by the Greeks to refer to the laying waste of a city by fire and by blood and by murder! If you were describing the rampaging army of Genghis Khan or some other bloodthirsty tyrant, you would use the word portheō, which means literally “to sack, to destroy by blood and by fire and by murder” literally. And that’s the word that ‘s used in here. “Is not this he that portheō them which called upon the name of the Lord in Jerusalem?” [Acts 9:21].
Now you don’t need to turn to this, but I’m going to turn to the first chapter of Galatians. And there he uses the same words, and he adds one to it: “You have heard of my living in times past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it” [Galatians 1:13]. You look at that word “persecute,” diōkō. Diōkō literally means to place in rapid motion, to follow furiously; then as it was used in the Greek language, why, it came to mean “to pursue with a vicious and malignant intent” [Galatians 1:13]. And that’s the word that the apostle uses as he writes of himself in the Book of Galatians. He followed the Christians with malicious intent! He didn’t just strike it. And he didn’t just oppose it in one area. But he followed it. He hounded it! And wherever those men and women lived, there he was at the door, knocking. Wherever they sought refuge or escape or a hiding place, there he was haling them out, and presenting them before the authorities, and beating them, and compelling them to blaspheme, and rejoicing in their blood! And, as he says: “When they were put to death, when they were murdered, he cast his vote against them” [Acts 26:10]. I am just trying to get you to see that this young fellow Saul of Tarsus, he took it upon himself to destroy, to extirpate, absolutely to take out of the earth this Galilean heresy. Now that’s Saul of Tarsus. He was a vicious and a vigorous, the most openly hateful and despicable opponent that the Christian faith has ever had, this man, Saul of Tarsus.
Now, in the reading of our text: and as he came near Damascus, in that capital city of another nation, to hale into Jerusalem those that he found calling upon the name of the blessed Jesus, threatening murder, and harshness of language, menacing, these words of hatred against the people of the Lord, an intent following them that they might be destroyed; in the way, he meets Jesus [Acts 9:1-4]. That is without doubt the most dramatic confrontation in the history of the human race. He meets Jesus [Acts 9:1-4]. He says, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” [Acts 9:5]. “I am not the resurrected, and risen, and glorified, and coming Judge, and Lord of the earth.” He cuts across the bitterness and the hatred and the harshness of Saul’s persecuting soul: “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” [Acts 9:5].
He met Jesus in the way, and the light of the glory of God shine from the face of the Lord [Acts 9:3]. I think Paul wrote that in the 2 Corinthians [fourth] chapter, from that experience. “[For] God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” [2 Corinthians 4:6]. Above the brightness, and brilliance, and iridescence, and glory of the Syrian midday sun, shined the light from the face of the Son of God [Acts 9:3]. And Saul fell down, blinded. And this is how he describes it in the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Acts, blinded by the glory of that light, the glory of that light [Acts 22:6, 11].
And when he sought to rise to walk, he had to be led by the hand and a humble penitent gave himself to the blessed Jesus [Acts 22:11-16]. And thereafter, as vigorously and as violently as he had opposed and persecuted the Christian faith, just as vigorously and as zealously now does he defend it and preach it [Acts 9:19-27, 26:19-20]. O Lord, I wonder if Stephen in heaven looked down to see Paul take up that torch that fell from his hands and bear it to the Gentile world? John Calvin had on his coat of arms a hand lifting up a blazing, burning heart to God. That is what Saul of Tarsus did before the Lord—lifted up to give to God a burning, burning heart. And as Paul stood before King Agrippa, Herod Agrippa II, and recounted that conversion, he says, “O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: but showed first unto them of Damascus, then at Jerusalem, then through all of Judea, and then to the Gentile world, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” [Acts 26:19-20]. Isn’t that unbelievable what God is able to do?
And now I come to the conclusion of my sermon. You don’t know the power of God in His ableness to convert anyone—no matter how hard or how harsh they may be; you, you, and you, you who listen on the radio; however steeped in sin; however bitter in rejection; however violent in opposition to God; the power of the Lord to convert and to change and to remake the human soul and the human life. Why, in New York City spending two or three days at the Bowery when I was a young man, the brilliant preacher and leader guiding that work in the Bowery in New York City had been himself a drunkard in the gutter, and now, raised up by the power of the glory of that light—an infidel violently opposed to the gospel.
There is no more beautiful story in American legend than the train ride of infidel Bob Ingersoll and infidel General Lew Wallace. And Bob Ingersoll says to his friend and fellow infidel General Wallace, “Why don’t you study the New Testament and write a book ridiculing the faith of these Christians who believe in Jesus?” And General Lew Wallace, who was governor of New Mexico, said, “I think I’ll do it.” And he went to his mansion in New Mexico—and you can stand there at the desk, and you can stand there at the chair, and you can stand there in the room where he wrote his book. What was it? When he was through reading the New Testament, in order to write a book exposing the idiocy, and the unreasonableness, and the fallacy of worshiping Jesus, he sat there and wrote the book. It is entitled Ben Hur, the Story of the Christ.
There’s not a young preacher that lives but that ought to read B. H. Carroll’s great sermon, “My Infidelity and What Became of It.” He was a brazen infidel, and God marvelously changed him. Oh, the glory of that light! When George Truett went to Baylor to go to school, he lived in the home of B. H. Carroll. B. H. Carroll was a giant of a man—six feet six inches or so tall, with a great heavy beard. He would come over here to the First Baptist Church in Dallas behind this very pulpit, and he would tell George W. Truett, “I have come over here to preach.” Truett had no idea he was coming to preach. He just announced to him, “I have come over here to preach.”
And in the day before any kind of air conditioning, in weather a hundred degrees, when it was a hundred fifty degrees in this auditorium, he would preach for an hour and a half every time he stood here to deliver God’s message. He was a giant of a man, founder of our Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. Excuse me about the New Orleans Seminary. Our second little seminary over here, the second one, he was the founder of it. But every preacher in the land ought to read that marvelous testimony, “My Infidelity and What Became of It” by B. H. Carroll.
No one is too hard for God to reach. In a testimony meeting a man stood up, and he described his bitterness against God. He was a blatant Christ-rejecter; a man out in the world; no use for the church, and no use for Christ, and no use for the people of the Lord; no use for the preacher; no need for religion; a prospering young fellow; a man that God seemingly blessed out in the world. He had a wife, he had a boy that grew up to be a teenager, and then in one of those unusual providences of life, along came a little caboose, they had a little baby girl born into the home. So there they were, this blatant blasphemer, and his wife, and his teenage boy, and that precious little baby girl. Well, you can imagine the love they lavished upon that child, the little girl—dad, oh dear—and mother and the teenage boy.
The little child grew up, oh, to be say, four or five years of age; the darling of the home. And without knowing, without realizing, the little girl sickened and suddenly died. And as the custom was in the days when I began my ministry; they brought the little thing in the casket to the home. And there she lay, as though sweetly asleep in the casket in the home. In the room next door, in the room just beyond, the father sat cursing God, hating God! Everything vile that could rise in a man’s heart in reaction to the death of that precious little girl. The teenage boy came into the room, and said, “Dad, let’s go into the next room, and for one more time let’s look at my little sister.” So they walked together into the room, and stood there, the man and his teenage boy, looking down into the sweet, sleeping face of that little girl, and the boy began to cry. And putting his arm around his father, he said, “Dad, let’s pray. Let’s pray. Dad, let’s pray.”
The father in his heart said, “Pray? Pray? I hate God! Pray?”
But the boy was there by his side with his arm around him. “Dad, let’s pray.”
And the man said, “I never intended to kneel. My knees just bent. I just found myself down there on my knees by the side of that casket. And I began to think, ‘Dear God in heaven, what about this boy with his arm around me and his head on my shoulder and his tears like rain falling down. And he asked his dad to pray, what shall I do?’” And there came to his memory the prayer the Lord taught in the Bible that he had learned from his mother. And so he started out, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy . . .” and he stopped. And he stopped. And he stopped. “Thy kingdom come.” And then the big man said, “In a burst of tears and commitment and confession, I prayed, ‘O God, Thy will be done’” [Matthew 6:9-10]. And he said, “When I rose to my feet by the side of my boy, I was a changed man. I was a saved man. I had found the Lord.” You never know.
The bitterest of the blasphemers against Jesus; that’s the man that may be the greatest exponent and champion and apologist of the faith, you never know. You never know. That’s the wonder and power of God to save. Seated here, Dr. Patterson said to me, “Pastor, last Sunday night, a man heard you on the radio out of the prison in Huntsville. And he gave his heart to the Lord and was saved.” You never know. We are never to limit the ableness and power of God to change the human heart, just as He did Saul of Tarsus [Acts 9:1-18], just as He has done for us. He is in the business of making new men and new women, new boys and new girls—converting human lives. That’s God. That’s the Lord.
We are far past our time. We stand now to sing our hymn of appeal, our song of invitation. While we sing that song, if the Holy Spirit bids you come, would you make it tonight? “Here I am, pastor, I am this day declaring my faith in Jesus, and I am coming. I am bringing my whole family with me, we are all coming.” As God would open the door, as the Spirit would lead in the way, God bless you as you come. “Tonight, I take Jesus as my Savior. Tonight, I want to put my life in the fellowship of this wonderful church.” Come, on the first note of the first stanza. When you stand up in a moment, stand up walking down that stairway; coming down this aisle. Oh, bless God as you come! While we stand and while we sing.
OF THAT LIGHT
I. Changed the life of the bitterest
antagonist Christianity every had
between Stephen and Saul of Tarsus
B. His early training
C. His persecution of
pleasure, supreme satisfaction in the stoning of Stephen(Acts 8:1)
2. Dealt the
church at Jerusalem a death blow (Acts 8:1)
– Saul violently mistreated the church(Acts 8:3)
– Saul breathing out curses, violent language(Acts
– Saul breathing out murder against disciples(Acts
– Saul destroying by blood, fire and murder (Acts
– Saul pursued Christians with a vicious and malignant intent(Galatians 1:13)
incomparable conversion – the glorious light of the glory of God(2 Corinthians 4:6, Acts 22:6-7)
gave to men the world’s greatest Christian missionary, preacher and soul-winner(Acts 26:19-20)
II. The power of God to convert and to
A. Drunkard now
preacher at the Bower in New York City
atheist Bob Ingersoll challenged General Wallace to write a bookridiculing
After reading New Testament, he wrote Ben Hur
H. Carroll’s sermon, “My Infidelity and What Became of It”
Blatant Christ-rejecter who lost his daughter, brought to his knees