It Is Reasonable To Be A Christian
October 15th, 1978 @ 8:15 AM
IT IS REASONABLE TO BE A CHRISTIAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-15-78 8:15 a.m.
Along with the great host of people in this sanctuary this hour and the thousands who are listening on radio, we express our gratitude once again to our Chapel Choir and their instrumentalists for praising God with us.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled It is Reasonable to be a Christian. The message arises out of the visit of the apostle Paul to the ancient and far-famed university city of Athens, the capital of Hellas, of Greece. I could not imagine, I could not conceive of a more dramatic moment in history than the confrontation between Hellenic culture and the preaching of the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. In the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts, Paul is standing in Mars’ Hill, which is separated by a satellite addition to the great Acropolis, on which were built the temples of the Athenians to their gods. And as he stands there in the midst of the supreme court, called the Areopagus, he delivers his message concerning the true God who is revealed to us in the Man Christ Jesus [Acts 17:22-31]. Then the story concludes: And when these Athenians and the supreme court, the Areopagites, when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, chleuazō, jeered, ridiculed” [Acts 17:32], the word is used twice in the New Testament.
It was used at Pentecost when these men began to praise God in the languages of the Eastern world [Acts 2:4-12], they chleuazō, they jeered at them, mocked them, ridiculed them, saying, “They are drunk; they are filled with new wine” [Acts 2:13]. It is used here; it is a very strong word. “Some of them mocked: others,” being more gracious, just bowed out, saying, “We will hear thee again of this matter [Acts 17:32]. So Paul departed from among them [Acts 17:33]. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite,” a member of the supreme court, “and a woman named Damaris, and others with them” [Acts 17:34].
The group that the apostle had gathered together on Mars’ Hill was a very diverse and polyglot group. Some of them were of the finest citizenry of Athens; they were members of the supreme court, the Areopagus. Some of them of course were just listeners who had talked to Paul as he spoke to them and witnessed to the Lord down in the agora, which is just below and before Mars’ Hill. And some of them were women, as you can see from the naming of one of them, Damaris [Acts 17:34]. Now, in that group you had those who were polytheists; they believed in many gods. They did not deny God, they did not deny His creatorship, but they made Him out of gold, or made Him out of silver, or out of stone; they were idolaters, and they were very much open to the preaching, that it was the gods that created the world and the gods that run the world and the gods that move in human life. The only thing bad about them was they multiplied the gods, and sometimes the stories that they mythologically told of those gods was worse than the actions of men.
Now the other group in that Athenian congregation to whom Paul was speaking on Mars’ Hill were university men; they were teachers, they were professors, they were academicians. And the author names two of them. He names the Epicureans and the Stoics [Acts 17:18]. They were atheists. They certainly did not believe in all of those gods, whether they lived on Mount Olympus or whether they were made out of gold and silver and stone and were right there in those temples. They were learned men. Now the Epicureans were followers of Epicurus, who lived before and after, a few years before and after 300 BC. And they were atomic scientists; they believed the teaching of Democritus, that the whole world was a concourse of atoms. And the coarser atoms made up the material universe you see around you, and the finer atoms made up the human spirit. And those atoms fortuitously gathered together, and then separated; gathered together and separated; and the whole universe was explained in their scientific theory and philosophy of the day as being a fortuitous impersonal concourse of atoms. Now that’s the Epicureans: they were atheists; there was no god in it, and everything was just blind chance. Now the Stoics were atheists of a different kind. They were followers of Zeno. And Zeno taught in the stoa, the porch. So they came to be known as Stoics. It is a great system of Greek Hellenic philosophy. And these Stoics were pantheists. That is, everything is god; god is everything. Everything you see, that’s god. And in their philosophy, why, they taught that the universe runs of itself and what we must do is to fit ourselves into it. And whatever providences of life overwhelm us, we must accept them in obedience and submission. And that’s where you get the name “stoical,” stoic. They were taught to be submissive to this impersonal universe that is god. God is pan, everything, pantheism. But they were atheists. Both schools were atheists.
Now when Paul began to speak to them, they listened very quietly for a moment, for a while. Then when he began to speak about this God who created the universe [Acts 17:23-24]—and that’s the first part of Paul’s message—He is not made out of gold, He is not made out of silver, and He is certainly not polytheistic; He is not many, He is one; and He revealed Himself in Jesus Christ [Acts 17:25-30]. And before that Lord, the revelation of God, we shall someday all of us appear [Acts 17:31]. And the verification of that revelation of God is found in an incident in history, namely, that God raised Him from the dead [Acts 17:31; Romans 1:4]. Pointed Him out as the Man by whom we shall all be judged [Acts 17:31]. Now that was Paul’s message. And when he delivered that message, the Epicureans jeered, mocked, ridiculed, laughed out loud. And the Stoics were more gracious: they bowed out and said, “We will hear thee again of this matter,” and walked away [Acts 17:32]. But there were some of them who clung to Paul, who believed the message that he brought. And among them he names two, that evidently were much known and much revered and respected in the Christian community in that ancient day. One was Dionysius, who was a member of the supreme court, and one was a noblewoman, a noble Athenian, named Damaris [Acts 17:34].
Now our message this morning is going to concern which one of those two do you think was correct? The Epicureans and the Stoics and the atheists, who mocked and ridiculed the Christian message of this emissary of the gospel of Christ, or Dionysius and Damaris and those who accepted the message that Paul was preaching [Acts 17:32-34]. Now the same thing obtains today. You have these two: you have the atheists and the materialists and the secularists who mock at the very thought that there is a personal God in this universe; and then you have the many of us who accept the Lord Christ and His revelation of God the Father, the great Creator [John 14:9; Colossians 1:15]. Now which of us is correct? Which is right? And that’s the message today. Of course, I shall present the Christian faith and the reasons for it.
Number one: why I believe in the Christian faith, and why I do not believe that the atheist, and the agnostic, and the secularist, and the materialist, and the whole system of philosophy that lies back of most of this world, especially in its academic community; why I believe in the Christian faith. All right, number one: when I look at this universe, it is not to me unintelligible and impersonal; but back of everything that I see, I see intelligence, and intelligence involves personality. Back of all of the creation, all of it, I see a creative omnipotent hand.
Now we are going to look at it just for a minute. And before we do, I want to illustrate what it is that we are going to look at. There was a teacher of a little class of junior boys, and he was teaching those little fellows about the creative omnipotence of the Lord God. And he took out his watch, pocket watch; he took out his watch and he put on the table before that little class of junior boys. And he says, he says, “Fellows, you see that watch there?” He says, “Nobody made it; it just happened. It just made itself.” He said, “Upon a day there came rolling by a watch case, and it plopped down. And upon a day there came rolling by a whole bunch of little wheels and springs, and they plopped in. And then upon a day there came rolling by a face, and two hands; and they plopped on. And then there came rolling by a crystal, and it plopped on. And finally there happened that watch. Nobody made it. And one of those little fellows looked at that guy and said, “Say, mister, ain’t you crazy?”
Now, I want to show you a mechanism that is one hundred infinitudes more intricate and amazing than that watch. Now you look at it.
- Around the central sun of this universe in which we live—which, by the way, is just a little thing tucked away in one corner of God’s vast infinitude—around that central sun there goes around and around a planet named Mercury. It is 37 million miles away from the sun; and it takes 88 days for it to go around; 36 million miles this way; 36 million miles that way; 36 million miles that way, and it goes around and around every 8 days.
- And then just beyond that central sun, there is a planet named Venus; and it is 67 million miles in its orbit. And it goes around every 7 months. It will be 67million miles that way, 67 million miles that way, and 67 million miles that way, and around and around.
- And then, in a larger orbit, is a planet named Earth. It is 92 million miles away, and it takes a year—365 days—for it to go around, and around, and around; 92 million miles that way, 92 million miles that way, and around and around.
- And then beyond is a planet named Mars; and it is a 141 million miles away. It is a 141 million miles that way, 141 million miles that way, and around and around it goes; and it takes a year and a half, 18 months, for Mars to make the orbit.
- And then beyond that is Jupiter: Jupiter is 463 million miles; 463 million miles that way, 463 million miles that way, and it takes it 12 years to make that orbit around the sun.
- And then beyond Jupiter is Saturn, and Saturn is 886 million miles away from the sun; and it takes 30 years to make the orbit. So it is 886 million miles that way, 886 million miles that way, and back 886 million miles that way; and it takes 30 years for it to go around the sun.
- And then beyond Saturn there is Uranus, and Uranus is 1 billion, 800 million miles in its orbit; 1 billion, 800 million miles that way, swinging around; 1 billion, 800 million miles that way, swinging around, swinging around, swinging around, and it takes 84 years for Uranus to make that orbit around the sun.
- And then beyond Uranus is Neptune, and Neptune is 2 billion, 800 million miles away from that central sun; 2 billion, 800 million miles this way, 2 billion, 800 million miles that way, 2 billion, 800 million miles that way; and it takes 264 years for it to swing around the sun.
- Then beyond that is Pluto, and Pluto is 3 billion, 460 [million] miles away; [three] billion 460 that way, [three] billion, 460 [million] miles that way; going around, and around, and around the sun. And it takes 434 years for that orbit to be made.
And for untold ages there has never been a second of variation in the orbits of those planets around the sun. Elgin Watch Company used to say, “We set our time by the stars”; God’s omnipotent creation.
And a man had might as well say that the marvels of this universe are like throwing up an alphabet, and he kept throwing it up and throwing it up and finally it came down in the form of an Aristotelian treatise on Greek drama—just happened—unthinkable! It takes a thousand times more faith to believe that than to believe the truth of God revealed in this blessed Book.
Why do I believe, why do we believe, that the message Paul preached is the revelation of God and not what these atheists believe who mocked at what he said? [Acts 17:22-32]. All right, number two: back of everything I see in the universe is ultimate purpose, everything. And I see it everywhere. There is nothing in the universe that I see that is not by design reaching toward some ultimate end; everywhere in everything, a design, a purpose. I see it in the fin of a fish. I see it in the hoof of a horse. I see it in the bird, the wing of a bird. I see it in the hand of a man; purpose.
I see it in the very creation of life itself: there is a seed, and there is a leaf, and there is a stalk, and there is a fruit, and all of it is moving toward what the Greeks call teleios, the end for which it is made. I see it in human history. According to the Book, all human story is reaching toward some final consummation, and you can’t stop it. It moves. History moves; and it reaches toward some great and final end. There is purpose in history. And above all I see it in the Bible; 1,600 years this blessed Book was in making, written by more than forty men under the direction of the Holy Spirit [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. And the Book moves, and there is purpose in it, there is redemption in it [1 Peter 1:18-19]. And it moves and it moves and it moves from one great plateau to another until finally we reach the consummation of the age. There is purpose in all that we see. And our lives are included in it.
All right, again, the scriptural identification of and testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ, and that was the consummation of what Paul was preaching. And they pretty well listened to him, apparently, as long as he was talking about God, the one God [Acts 17:22-31]. But when he came to preach about Jesus and the resurrection of the dead— the designation of the horizō, the designation of Jesus as the revelation of God—they laughed, and scoffed, and walked away [Acts 17:32]. You know I find that pretty well and pretty much in the world today. If a man talks about a great intelligence, or the first cause, or the prime mover, why, he seems to be sort of accepted in the academic community. But when you talk about the Lord Jesus Christ as being deity, the Godhead, why, you meet the same scoffing today as you find in the story of the Athenians. Now what is the witness of the Scriptures to the Lord Christ? He is, according to Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God.” And I turn the page, in Colossians 2:9, “For in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” And I turn to Hebrews 1:3, “He is the express image of the person of God.” That is the witness of the Scriptures to Jesus Christ. He is the Lord God, the express image of the Almighty.
All right, look at that. There is no fact in the world comparable to the fact of Jesus Christ. The world cannot bury Him. The earth is not deep enough for His tomb. The very clouds are not wide enough for His winding sheet. And the stone is not heavy enough to cover His grave [Matthew 27:64-66]. He arises [Matthew 28:5-7], He ascends into heaven [Acts 1:9-10], and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him [2 Chronicles 2:6]. He lives in His church unconsumed. And He lives in our hearts, teaching us and leading us in the way [John 14:23]. The greatest fact in human story is the fact of Jesus Christ. He stands midmost in all time and all history. You could almost say that Jesus is like a great towering mountain; and the farther slope goes back and back and back to the beginning of the ages, and the hither slope moves on and on and on to the great consummation of the age. And with prophetic eye the ages past look toward Him; and with historic faith we today look back toward Him, and forward toward Him. He is the center of the universe. He is the center of time. All of the years before His birth, His coming, His incarnation [Matthew 1:20-25], we call “before Christ,” BC. And all the years that follow after we call anno Domini, “in the year of our Lord,” after Christ, AD.
You know, it is a strange thing: where He lived is the very center of the earth. Do you notice, all of the civilizations west of where He was born read from left to right, from left to right, from left to right, from wherever they are to right. And do you notice that all of the civilizations on the east side read from right to left, from right to left. And they center where Jesus lived. He is the center of all time, and of all history, and of all creation. And He is the revelation of God. He is the express image of the Father [Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3]. “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” [John 14:9]. Would you like to know God? Then may I introduce Him to you: He is the Lord Jesus Christ. To have fellowship with Jesus the Lord is to have fellowship with God. To love Jesus the Lord is to love God. To receive the Lord Jesus Christ into your heart and life is to receive God. He is the express image of His person [Hebrews 1:3]. He is the fullness of the Godhead bodily [Colossians 2:9]. Look at God and you see Jesus; look at Jesus and you see God.
The pity of God you see in the tears of Jesus [Luke 19:41; John 11:35; Hebrews 5:7-8]. The longsuffering of God you see in the gentleness of Jesus [Luke 18:15-16]. And the love of God you see in the compassion of our Lord [Matthew 14:14]. What is God like? As long as we just define Him in terms of omnipotence, He is so far removed and above us and we are so small and infinitesimal that, how could He look upon such worms as we, creatures of the dust? But the love of Jesus, and the compassion of our Lord, and the preciousness of our Savior brings to our hearts: Ah! God we know, in Him.
And the way to salvation is in the revelation of Jesus Christ. “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]. In Him I see God. And in Him I find God. And the Book says that there is no other way that I can find God; and there is no other way I can know Him, and there is no other way that I can see God and live except through Jesus Christ [Acts 4:12]. He said, “Egō —I— eimi —am— hē hodos —the way—kai hē alētheia —the truth—kai hē zōē —the life” [John 14:6]. Not a way, or a truth, or a life, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” [John 14:6]. The apostle Peter preached, “There is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved” [Acts 4:12]; no other way can we see God and live except through Jesus Christ. And the apostle Paul preached here in this message, “God someday shall bring us all together in a fixed day of judgment,” which is the sermon tonight, “and He has confirmed that day and that Man in that He has raised Him from the dead” [Romans 1:4; Acts 17:31]. The sign of His deity, of His saviorhood, is His resurrection from among the dead. This is that Christ who is our only hope and our only Savior [John 14:6; Acts 4:12].
A man can live and die in this world, choosing all the emoluments and all the pleasures and all of the addenda of this created world around him, but he can’t know God and he can’t go to heaven by just the things that surround him in this world. A man cannot be saved without a personal acceptance of Jesus Christ into his heart; he cannot. A man can go to heaven without money, and without friends, and without fame, and without fortune, and without all of the accouterments of life that some people possess. But you cannot go to heaven without Jesus [John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 5:11-12]. Our one hope lies in the blessed Lord Jesus, and that is the preaching of the gospel to your heart today.
“Lord, I want to know You; who are You? Lord, I want to meet You. I want God in my life and in my heart. And I want God in my business. And how do I know God? I know Him through Jesus Christ, and Lord, when I die, I want to die saved.” The last thing said to me before I came into this sanctuary today, Dr. Step says, “Last night, one of the men died in our congregation, and this is his name.” And I’ve been to see the family; that’s happening to me one of these days.
While I was away one of our dearest members translated to heaven in her sleep. Some day, some hour, some time, that will happen to us and when it does, I want God to take care of me, I want the Lord to save me. I want to go to heaven when I die, and how do I do that? I do that through Jesus Christ, receiving Him in my heart in this life, and He saves me [John 3:16-17; Romans 10:9-13]. Receiving Him in faith in the hour of my death; and He stands by my side, and He sends His angels to carry His children to Abraham’s bosom, to heaven [Luke 16:22-23]. This is the Christian faith and the Christian commitment. And God be praised for Dionysius and for Damaris [Acts 17:30-34]; and God be praised for you when you come.
“Today, pastor, I accept Jesus as my Savior; for all that He said He was, and for all that He avowed Himself to be, my Lord and my God, and here I am” [Ephesians 2:8]. A family you, to come; a couple you, or just one somebody you, in the balcony round, down one of these aisles; on this lower floor, here to the front, “Pastor, I have made this decision for Christ, and I’m coming this morning.” On the first note of the first stanza, when you stand up, stand up walking down that stairway, walking down this aisle.
“Pastor, I have decided for God, I have decided for Christ [Romans 10:9-13], and here I stand. I haven’t been baptized. God commands us to follow the Lord in baptism [Matthew 3:13-17, 28:19-20]. I want to be baptized.” Or, “Pastor, we have been saved, and we belong to the congregation of God’s redeemed, and we are coming to put our lives here by letter or statement in the church.” Or maybe God has whispered some special word of faith and commitment to you and, “Here I am, pastor, I’m coming.” God bless you as you respond and answer with your life. Do it now; on the first note of the first stanza, while we stand and while we sing.
IS IT REASONABLE TO BE A CHRISTIAN?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. The story
B. The audience – pagan philosophers, university men
1. Epicureans believed the atomic theory
2. Stoics were pantheists, believed God in everything you see
C. The response to the message
1. Some scoffed, ridiculed – xleuazo
2. Some believed – Dionysius and Damaris
D. Find both of these responses today – which is correct?
1. It is reasonable and intellectually acceptable to be a Christian
A. The watch that “just happened”
B. The timing of the universe – planetary orbits
1. Elgin Watch Company
C. Throwing up the alphabet and getting back Aristotelian treatises
A. Seen everywhere around us
B. Seen in history
C. Seen in the Scriptures
IV. The fact
of the Lord Jesus Christ
A. The witness of the Scriptures (Colossians
1:15, 2:9, Hebrews 1:3)
B. The world cannot bury Him, the heavens cannot contain Him
C. He is the center of all time and history
D. He is the incarnation of the invisible God(John 14:9, 2 Corinthians 4:6)
E. He is our one way to heaven(John