Christianity Faces the Pagan World
February 12th, 1978 @ 8:15 AM
CHRISTIANITY FACES THE PAGAN WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-12-78 8:15 a.m.
On the radio of the city of Dallas and on KCBI, you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Christianity Faces the Pagan World. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 13. And this is the second message from the book, chapter 13, beginning at verse 4, reading through verse 12:
– Paul and Barnabas –
being sent forth by the Holy Spirit, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Bar-Joshua:
– Bar-Jesus, in our language –
Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man: who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Spirit, set his eyes on him, And said, O full of all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the teaching – at the doctrine – of the Lord.
This is the first missionary journey. This is the sending forth of Barnabas and Saul on that journey in about 45 AD. Having been sent by the Holy Spirit, and with the prayers and the laying on of hands, the consecration of the church in Antioch [Acts 13:2-3], they went down to Seleucia, the port city of Antioch, about sixteen miles away. And then they set sail for Cyprus and began their ministry there in Cyprus.
And now as I read the passage, I have opportunity to speak here of the credibility of Luke, of the credibility of the Bible, of the Word of God. For when they come to Cyprus, they have there a man named Sergius Paulus, who is called three times a proconsul, an anthupatÃµs, anthupatÃµs – a proconsul – translated here in the King James Version, "deputy." In the seventh verse, he is referred to as the deputy. In the eighth verse, he is referred to as the deputy. In the twelfth verse, he is referred to as the deputy. It is not just by adventitious reference, it is by stated purpose that the Luke who wrote this book calls him anthupatÃµs, proconsul; that is, he was an appointee of the Roman senate, and not by the imperial Caesar.
So for years and years and years without end, these critics of the Bible who find in the Book so many mistakes and errors; they point to that with great glee saying, "That is a mistake, an error, in the Word of God, for the province of Cyprus was imperial, not senatorial." A senatorial province was one that was at peace and so was given to the senate to rule. An imperial province was one that needed the army to keep it at peace, and it was under the Roman Caesar. And the governor was called a procurator, in Greek, a hegemÃ³n.
Judea, for example, was an imperial province. It was under the Caesar. It was under the Roman army and therefore was ruled by a Roman procurator, like Pilate or Felix or Festus. The people were volative and restive, and, of course, as you know in 66 AD, rebelled. Those provinces were under the Roman Caesar. If a province was peaceful and quiet, such as Cyprus, or such as Asia, why, it was under the Roman senate and was ruled by a proconsul.
So for all the years and the years, that was pointed out as a mistake in the Bible: "This is an error on the part of Luke." And they referred to Strabo, who plainly says in his history, Strabo says that Caesar Augustus divided the empire into two kinds of provinces, senatorial and imperial; and that Augustus kept Cyprus for himself and ruled it by the army with a procurator.
Well, fine. So there is an error in the Bible; there is a mistake in the Bible. Strabo plainly points it out. Whereas, Luke says, this is a senatorial province, not imperial; and is ruled by an anthupatÃµs, not by hegemÃ³n – ruled by a proconsul, not by a procurator. Good, they have found an error in the Bible.
Then in recent years, in an obscure passage of Dio Cassius, a Roman historian, whose works were mostly lost; in recent years, there was a passage discovered in Dio Cassius that said, "Five years after Augustus Caesar divided the provinces and kept Cyprus for himself, five years later, Augustus Caesar made an exchange with the senate, and he relinquished Cyprus to the senate, in exchange for another province that he wanted for himself." So after five years and at this time, Cyprus was a senatorial province ruled by a proconsul; Dio Cassius says that [Dio Cassius liii. 12; liv. 4].
Then as these recent years passed, digging among the ruins of Paphos and other places in the island – and I have been there and looked at them – they found coins to substantiate this proconsul. And then finally, in recent years they have discovered two inscriptions, and those inscriptions list the names of the proconsuls of Cyprus, and they list the name of this man, Sergius Paulus; which gives me opportunity to say that for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, archeologists have been digging in the tells and the mounds and the ruins of the ancient Levant, and there has never yet been one spade of dirt turned but that confirms the Word of God!
In a thousand instances have the critics hammered at the Book saying, "Here is an error. There is a misconception. Here is a mistake." But as the archeologist confirms and confirms and confirms, there are no errors. And there are no mistakes in the inspired Word of God; it is inerrant! It is infallible, and it was inspired by the Holy Spirit of omniscience! Praise God for the Book that we hold that reveals to us the mind of our Lord.
Now we are going to look at the figures here, the personalities here that they meet in this first missionary journey and this first assembly, preaching the gospel. There is here a proconsul – translated here "a deputy" – by the name of Sergius Paulus. He is described by one of the best adjectives in the English language. He is described here, a translation, "a prudent man," a prudent man. The Greek word is sunetos, translated here, "prudent."
Look at that word, which is a magnificent description of Sergius Paulus. There is a verbal form of it, suniÃ©mi, which literally means, "to put together," "to put together," "to place together." So the adjectival form of it, sunetos, would be a man who in his mind would be able to put together things. So the word actually means "intelligent," "making for understanding." And that is what intelligence is: a man who can see in situations how things are, and so put them together, correctly and beautifully.
Sunetos, the Sergius Paulus, an aristocrat of the Roman senate, is a man who is able to understand. He’s learned. He’s intelligent. He’s a man of understanding. And this man sends for Paul and Barnabas – Barnabas and Saul. And he hears from them the Word of the Lord [Acts 13:7]. What a magnificent man who will open his heart to the truth of God. "I’m listening, Lord. I’m willing to learn. If the Lord has some word for me, speak, Lord. I’m listening." That’s Sergius Paulus; and he is the first aristocrat to be converted to the Christian faith [Acts 13:12].
I think there is a reason for this little parenthesis here: "Then Saul, (who also is called Paul") [Acts 13:9]. Heretofore, it’s been "Saul of Tarsus." But from this moment on, always it is Paul, the preacher of Christ; Paul, the missionary. Why should Luke have put that little parenthesis there: "Then Saul, who is now called Paul"? Why should it be there?
Well, there is a possibility, of course, that he had both names from the beginning: Saul, a Hebrew name; Paul, a Roman name. He was a Roman citizen, possibly from the beginning. Possibly also he took that name Paul from his first aristocratic, illustrious convert; it could have been that.
Or it could have been that being sent to the Roman Empire; he takes a Roman name, Paulus, meaning "small," "little," and referring to the humility with which he does his work before the Lord. He is now a preacher to the Roman citizens, to the Roman Empire, to the Roman provinces, and he is hereafter called Paul. But in any event, to me it is significant that at that one juncture, at the conversion of Serguis Paulus, from then on Saul is called Paul.
Now will you look at another character that we meet here in this first preaching of the gospel on a missionary journey? In the capital city of Paphos, where Sergius Paulus had his seat of government, there was a Jew, a sorcerer, Elymas [Acts 13:8]. Well, let us look at all those things. The word translated here "sorcerer" in Greek is magos; that is, he is an astrologer. Our word magician comes from it. The word actually means astrologer; this Jew is an astrologer. Now in Aramaic or in Arabian, he’s called, Elymas; that is, "the wise one." Elymas, the Aramaic word, is a translation of the Greek word, magos, which is translated here, "sorcerer." But Luke calls him "a false prophet," and this man controls the mind and life of Sergius Paulus.
Now how could such a thing be? That’s unthinkable! He has just been called by one of the finest Greek adjectives in the language, sunetos, "a man of tremendous intelligence" and "a man of great understanding and learning." And yet, he is under the complete domination of this astrologer. How is that?
Well, you would never understand that were you not intimately acquainted with Roman history. You see in those days, the East for the first time was open to the West, and the Western world was simply captivated by all the mysticism that poured out of the East. It was an astonishing thing to the Western world and to the Roman mind. Consequently, these astrologers, they simply took over the mind of the Roman Empire. It is unbelievable!
For example, the great Roman military leaders Amerius, Pompey, Crassus, Caesar; all of them consulted their astrologers before they entered on any great military campaign. Juvenal, the great, famous Roman satirist poet, described Emperor Tiberius Caesar as, quote: "sitting on his rock, Capri, surrounded by his flock of Chaldean astrologers" [Juvenal, Satire VI 553, X 93], an astonishing thing!
"Well," we say, "that was two thousand years ago." Man, that’s today! That’s today! There is not a great newspaper in the country that would ever go to press without that column on astrology, not one; including the two great newspapers in Dallas. And when you talk to the editor, "Why do you put that blatant superstition in your newspaper?" They say, "We couldn’t sell it without it." There are so many thousands and millions of people today who follow those astrological prognostications. It is unthinkable! I had a friend who is one of the greatest businessmen here in America, here in Dallas, and to my amazement, in all of his business decisions, he first converses with a medium, a necromancer. You would not believe such a thing!
When I came to the city, and when I came to be pastor of this church, I related to the people a dream that I had. And I don’t know why, but the spiritists of this community got the idea that I was subject to such influence. So they came out to the house, time without end. I remember, typical: one of them, with a friend, came out to the house and said, "Dr. Truett, and Dr. Cranfill, and Dr. Gambrell have been struggling with me for days and nights trying to get through a message to you. Oh, so important a message to you!" So they said, "We’re still struggling, we’re still struggling." So finally the medium came out to the house and said, "It has finally gotten into my legs, and I cannot stand it anymore. So finally the message got through!" Well, I said, "What is the message that Dr. Truett, and Dr. Gambrell, and Dr. Cranfill are trying to get to me?" And they said, "The message is that the church is going to fall down, and you have got to get all these people out. You can not hold services in that church anymore; it’s going to fall down!"
Law me in heaven! And some of them came out to the house, and they said, "See this book?" I said,
"Well, this is what Jesus says." So I looked at the book, and I said, "Why, this book contradicts the Word of God!" And the answer was, "This is written by man, but this that I have in my hand, this is the personal appearance of Jesus!" And it always started, every page would start, "I, Jesus, appear unto you for this reason. . ." and then say all kinds of the screwiest, cockeyed things you ever read in your life.
That’s today. That’s today. The people who do not love God and do not serve the Lord are subject to the most unbelievable demonic possessions. And I don’t mean dumb, ghetto, underprivileged, sub-marginal people. I’m talking about the aristocrats of the land! We are all alike; when you turn aside from God, it is amazing to what you turn.
And that is this brilliant, learned, intelligent Sergius Paulus. So the men of God stand in his presence; Paul and Barnabas. And now you look at what they do. This man Paul, under the power of the Holy Spirit, confronts that necromancing, divining, demon-possessed astrologer. There is no place in the Bible but that the revealed Word of God is against all sorcery and witchcraft and astrological prognostications, and all of the divinations that mediums are supposed, all spiritists are supposed to deliver to us – ah! The Bible from beginning to end hammers against it. It is against the Word of God.
So Paul stands there in the presence of Sergius Paulus, who is under the influence of that false prophet, who is standing by his side, telling him what to do. May I comment here again how Satan works? He is a remarkable somebody. He is brilliant beyond anything you could ever think for. Satan is of all things religious, and he is for religion. The only thing is he perverts it, and he uses it, and he misuses it; just as he is doing here with Elymas, a prophet, but a false one. Satan always is that.
When these preachers finally come to Ephesus, there is a riot in the city over what? Religion! The whole city is in an uproar crying, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians" [Acts 19:28-40]. Religion, that’s Satan’s best tool, religion.
Or take the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts. Paul is walking through the greatest intellectual center the world has ever known. I don’t think there will ever be another like it, the city of Athens. I don’t think you will ever have architects or philosophers or poets that will ever exceed the great Athenian culture. Paul is walking through it. And then when he stands up to speak, he says, "Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are," and in the King James’ Version translated most superstitious, "very superstitious" [Acts 17:22].
Man, that would have been an insult! When he stood up, he looked at them and said, "Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in everything, you are deisidaimonesterous – deisidaimonesterous."
So Paul stands there in the presence of Sergius Paulus, who is under the influence of that false prophet, who is standing by his side, telling him what to do.
When these preachers finally come to Ephesus, there is a riot in the city over what? [Acts 19:28-40].
Or take the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts. most superstitious, "very superstitious" [Acts 17:22].
Man, that would have been an insult! deisidaimonesterous – deisidaimonesterous." What is that: deisidaimonesterous? "In everything, you are deeply religious." "In everything, you are most reverent." "For as I passed by, I saw an altar with this inscription, agnosto theo – TO THE UNKNOWN GOD [Acts 17:23] – lest they left out one. Now can you believe that? The most intellectual center in the world, the most reverent, and the most devout; that’s Satan- not the truth of God- but he perverts religion; and he does it in the whole world, today.
There is a book entitled Disbelieving World, and it includes America. Over there they’re worshipping a Hindu god, three hundred thirty million of them. Over there they’re following Mohammed, the prophet. Over here they’re following the doctrines of Shinto, the national shrine. And I see in the paper where they’re trying to reinstate their emperor as the god and son of heaven. And in America, the entire nation practically worshipping at the shrine of hedonism, or materialism, or humanism, one or the other.
The Christian faith faces the ancient and the modern pagan world. And how does it do it? I want you to look at how this man Saul, now called Paul, speaks under the power of the Holy Spirit. "And he said to that false prophet, O full of all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?" [Acts 13:10].
Ah, what language! You don’t speak like that. Do you know why? Because today the pulpit delivers; and the preacher preaches a half-Christ, a half-truth: always it is Jesus, love; Jesus, grace; Jesus, pity; Jesus, mercy. That’s true: Jesus grace, Jesus pity, Jesus compassion, Jesus mercy; that is always true, but that is just half true. There is another side to this gospel, and it is one of judgment and denunciation and condemnation!
For example, the sixth chapter of the Book of the Revelation closes like this, "And they cried to the rocks and the mountains to fall on them, and to hide them from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb!" [Revelation 6:16]. Think of that! Those words: "the wrath of the Lamb." A lamb so gentle, and sweet, and cuddly, and nice, and pure, "the wrath of the Lamb"; think of that!
Think of those passages in Hebrews 10: and Hebrews 12: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, for our God is a consuming fire!" Ah! The true message of the whole counsel of God makes you tremble, fills you with fear before the Lord!
Saul, standing here before Elymas the astrologer; it has been that way all the way through the years and the years. I think of Elijah standing before Ahab; or Amos standing before Amaziah. I think of John the Baptist standing before Herodias. I think of John Chrysostom standing before Empress Eudoxia. I think of Savonarola standing before Segur and Lucrezia Borgia. I think of John Knox standing before bloody Mary, Queen of Scots. I think of Martin NiemÃ¶ller standing before Adolf Hitler. Any time you have a true man of God, you will have a man who is bringing the Word of the Lord: "Except we repent, we face judgment, and condemnation, and death, and perdition, and damnation." That is the Word of the Lord, and that is the Word delivered here.
Under the power of the Holy Spirit, this man Elymas was blinded. And under the same power of the Holy Spirit Sergius Paulus became the first Christian aristocrat in the Roman Empire [Acts 13:11-12]. Do you notice? It is under the power of the Holy Spirit; and may I remind you, were it not for the power of the Holy Spirit of God, Christianity long ago would have been swallowed up, swallowed up, by the darkness of the world. It’s in the power of the Holy Spirit that it lives, and moves, and converts, and saves.
Let me tell you, one time a man described for me a great throng gathered in a city auditorium. Ah! I wish I could have been there. It was advertized as a public confrontation between the Christian religion and false religion – other religions – the religions of the world. And that night the Buddhist priest, suave, and learned, and gifted, presented the faith of Buddhism. It is a faith, as you know, of contemplation, of meditation. You see it all through the newspapers today; right down from me is a house where you can go, and they will teach you all about that Oriental meditation. Suave, gifted and learned, this Buddhist priest presented all of the virtues of Buddhism, and the people listened enthralled.
When the Christian preacher stood up to deliver the case for Christianity, he was plainly confused. His arguments that God should become a man and be incarnate, his arguments that God could die on a cross for our sins – everything he said limped, lacked power. And when he got through, there was a brief rebuttal allowed each one. And the Buddhist priest stood up, and in a suave and learned way, he decimated the idea of the Christian faith and of Jesus, the Son of God. And when he sat down – nobody knows who it was, or how it came to pass – but when that learned priest, a Buddhist sat down, somewhere way up in the top of the highest balcony, a man stood up and began to sing,
All hail the power of Jesus name,
Let angels prostate fall.
Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown Him Lord of all.
And then as he started the second stanza, people here and there began to pick it up:
Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race,
Ye ransomed from the fall.
Hail Him who saves you by His grace,
And crown HimLord of all.
When they got to the third stanza, the great throng had stood up and joined in the PAEAN of praise:
When they got to the third stanza, the great throng had stood up and joined in the PAEAN of praise:
Let every kindred and let every tribe,
On this terrestrial ball,
To Him all majesty ascribe,
And crown Him Lord of all.
[from "All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name"; Edward Perronet]
And he said that Buddhist priest, in humiliation silently stole away, while the people rejoiced in the power and the presence of the Lord.
That is, "It is not by might, and it is not by power, but it is by My Spirit, saith the Lord" [Zech 4:6]; that is, it’s not by learning, and It’s not by argument, but it’s by the convicting presence of the Spirit of God that there is revealed to us, who have found refuge in Him, the truth of the revelation of God in Christ Jesus. Bless His name! God has reached down and opened our hearts to the message of the truth of the Lamb of God.
We’re going to stand now and sing our hymn of appeal. It is late; and having decided for God, on the first note of the first stanza, come. In the balcony round, you, on this lower floor, you, down one of these aisles, here to the front, "Pastor, I have decided. Here I am. I am coming. The Spirit of God has