Christ and This Crucial Hour


Christ and This Crucial Hour

June 3rd, 1979 @ 10:50 AM

Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 26:19-23

06-03-79    10:50 a.m.

 It is a joy for us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas to welcome the uncounted thousands of you who are watching this service on television and who are listening to the message on radio.  This is the pastor delivering the sermon entitled Christ and This Crucial Hour.

The climax of this service will be the invitation.  And when the pastor has done his message, we will all stand, praying quietly before God that the Lord will give us a beautiful and wonderful harvest.  Nobody leave, all of us staying here to the end of the invitation, praying the Lord will bless the appeal with many souls.

 In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 26.  And for the third time, there is recounted the conversion of the apostle Paul, this time in his own words as he defends his life before Festus, the procurator [of] the Roman province of Judea and before King Herod Agrippa II of Lebanon and his sister Bernice.

 First recounting his conversion; and then beginning at verse 16, recounting his call as a witness of God [Acts 26:15-18]; then in verse 19, his obedience to that call [Acts 26:19-20]; then, in verse 21, the antagonism and the bitterness of the enemies who went about to slay him [Acts 26:21]; then in verses 22 and 23: his continued faithfulness, witnessing, he says, both to small and to great, that Christ should suffer, that He should be the first to be raised from among the dead, and that He should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles [Acts 26:22-23].

 What is surprising to us is that verse 21 because he was a preacher of the gospel and a convert to Christ, his enemies caught him in the temple and went about to slay him [Acts 26:21].  To us who love the Lord and who have found refuge in the name of Christ, it is almost unimaginable the bitter animosity and confrontation and antagonism that is aroused by the preaching of the gospel of Christ, but we live in that kind of a world, and it is increasingly so.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 16:9: “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, but there are many adversaries.”

 Doubtless there has never been a time in the history of Christendom when the Christian faith was under such pressure as it is today, this moment.  One is disillusionment.  We have lost our ideals and our persuasion of a better tomorrow.  And the whole world seemingly lives in hopelessness, in helplessness, and in abject and utter despair.  The twentieth century was introduced as being the golden age of mankind.  Every dream of a better tomorrow was to be consummated and realized in this twentieth century.  Instead, we have seen our dreams dashed to the ground, and as one is presented, it also is decimated by despair.

I can remember when the First World War was fought.  And as the president of the United States avowed, Woodrow Wilson, “This is the war to end all wars and to make the world safe for democracy.”  Instead, it sowed the seeds and laid the foundation for an even greater and more horrible war, the Second World War.  And today, this moment, our headlines are filled with awesome confrontations by the great powers of the world.  And the nations and the peoples of mankind live in dread and in trembling for what the morrow may bring.

 Another tremendous confrontation to the Christian faith lies in the worldwide spread of Marxian communism.  There has never been in the history of mankind a foe so dark and so determined and so implacable as the communist governments of the world.  One of the strangest things of that darkness lies in their apparent championing of the Christian cause; then, when they come to power, they decimate and destroy the church that helped them realize their growth and coming to governmental power.  In Mozambique, for example, it was the churches that helped the revolutionaries.  Then when the revolutionaries found power, they immediately turned to destroy the Christian faith.  Fidel Castro was dined and wined and feted in America as the champion of the people.  His sister is a faithful Baptist.  And the Baptist people in Cuba looked upon him as a liberator.  And when he came to power, immediately, as with all communist governments, he turned to destroy those who had loved, prayed for, and befriended him.

 It is the same in the whole, vast communist totalitarian world.  They are seeking the extermination and the destruction of the Christian faith.  We are seeing in our day and in time a stirring and a revival of the confrontation of pagan, heathen religions to the Christian faith.

 Not since Mohammed died in 632 AD and the ten years that followed that death when by the sword the Muslim destroyed the churches of Northern Africa and the Levant and around through modern Turkey, has there been such a bitter confrontation as we face today in the arousing Muslim world.  There are nations this minute where it is the avowed purpose of the Muslim religion to destroy by murder every Christian in the state.  Nor would I have time to describe those pagan religions such as Hinduism in India that closes the door of the missionary, allowing only a technical doctor or a representative of one who might help them in the furtherance of their technology, to enter the land.

 Another thing that breaks the heart of those who would love Jesus is found in the increasing minority of the Christian population in the earth.  About two hundred years ago or less, the world was twenty-five percent evangelical Christian.  Today, it is less than eight percent.  In another decade, it will hardly be four percent.  And in the year 2000, it will hardly reach two percent.  Our country and our nation and our world are increasingly pagan, godless, lost!  We are ever just one generation from paganism.  Every generation must be won to the Lord, and we are daily losing that battle.  There are more lost people by far today than there were at the turn of the century.  And there are far more lost people this moment than there were at the beginning of the new year.  Little by little, in nation after nation, we are beginning to lose this appeal for the faith that we have found in the Lord Jesus.

Another one of the awesome pressures upon the Christian faith is found in secularism and materialism and humanism.  These are the doctrines that have swept the academic community of the world, and has become a lifestyle for the American people.  Secularism, materialism—the values are all earthly and of this world.  Secularism is a way that lives as though God did not exist.  And our heroes are those who live in a glamorous world of either success in Hollywood or success in corporate profits.  These who might not be affluent, are not successful.  These are “successful” who measure up to the false materialistic standards of modern humanistic life.

 One of the funniest things that I have come across concerned a Texan who died and requested that he be buried in his gold-plated Cadillac.  So when the time came for the interment, there the crane lifted the big, beautiful car and that tycoon sitting in it above the vast hole in the ground.  And, as the gold-plated Cadillac was lowered into the grave, a fellow said to his friend, “Look at that, man, ain’t that living!”

 Or a typical thing; when the Dallas dowager arrived finally at the gates of heaven and the gatekeeper at the pearly gates asked her what were her credentials to enter in, she opened her purse, and she showed the gatekeeper of glory—she showed him a Neiman Marcus charge plate; and she showed him the stub of the ticket to the Dallas Symphony; and she showed him a membership card in the Dallas Country Club; and she showed him a letter of appreciation for her part in the success of the Charity Ball.  The gatekeeper looked at them, looked at her and said: “Well, come on in.  But I’m telling you, you ain’t going to like it here.”  All of our values are secular and materialistic.  And humanism—the exalting of man and the furtherance of our own cause and course—is the philosophy and the teaching of the whole earth.

 Another one of the great pressures on the Christian faith is the doctrine of universalism.  And unconsciously, it has come to be the doctrine of the Christian faith itself.  “There’s not any judgment.  There’s not any damnation.  There’s not any hell.  There’s not any condemnation.  We’re all going to be saved.”  And the doctrine of universalism: that we are all going to be saved; we just go by different roads; but we all find the way leading to heaven—this doctrine cuts the very tendon and nerve that supports missionary enterprise, and it forever destroys the faith and the fervor and the zeal of the evangelist.  If men are not lost without Christ, why the missionary?  If men are not lost without Christ, why the evangelist?  If men are not lost without Christ, why preach the gospel?  Universalism destroys and decimates the very thrust and march and meaning of the Christian faith.  A liberal theologian said—and I quote him exactly—a liberal theologian said: “If the doctrine of perdition (damnation, hell, judgment), if the doctrine of perdition were written on every page of every leaf of every Bible in the world, I would not believe it.”

 Well good!  No man would rejoice over the lost condemnation and damnation of another man.  No one would!  But the darkest, starkest tragic fact I know in human life and in human history is this: that men are lost without Christ! [John 3:36]. However you say it, philosophically, academically, psychologically, sociologically, politically—men are lost without God.  And we find God in Jesus Christ.  It was He that said: “Ego, I,” eimi, “am,” ha hodos, “the way,” ha aletheia, “the truth,” kai ha zoe, “the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” [John 14:6].  In the passage that we read together in Acts 4:12—Simon Peter preaching the gospel, saying: “And there is none other name under heaven given unto men, whereby we must be saved.”

If we can be saved in ourselves, there is no need for Jesus.  If we can be saved in our affluence and success, there is no place for Jesus.  If we can be saved riding a sacred cow in India, there is no place for Jesus.  If we can be saved by bowing toward Mecca, there’s no place for the Lord Jesus.  If we can be saved by our own genius and righteousness, there’s no place for Jesus.  But if we are lost and hopelessly lost in our sins, and Jesus is the way to God, then the great mandate that Paul heard from heaven is our mandate today: to preach the gospel of the Son of God, to send out missionaries to the ends of the earth, and to call men to faith and to repentance here and abroad.  And that is the avowal and commitment and obedience of the apostle Paul when standing before Herod Agrippa—he says:

Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:  But showed first to those in Damascus (where he was converted) then to Jerusalem (where he met Peter) and finally through all… Judea, and then (to the ends of the earth) to the Gentiles, that they should repent… and do works worthy of repentance.

[Acts 26:19-20]

 And this is our heavenly mandate today.  This is our great commitment and assignment today.  Individually, personally, not just for them there, or for them there, or for him there; but it is a personal assignment and a personal commitment.  I am not to ask, “Do I have a part?”  I am to ask, “Dear Lord, what is my part?”  And then, when God reveals to me my assignment, may God help me as I give my life to it.

I can’t help but remember that young fellow, the son of a missionary.  And the Standard Oil Company, seeing in the lad a great executive genius and ability, as so many missionary children are thus gifted, Standard Oil Company said: “We will give you thus and thus salary”—and it was an astronomical one—“if you’ll be our representative in the Orient.  And the young fellow refused.  And then they came back and doubled the salary!  It was an astronomical amount, “Thousands and thousands of dollars a year if you’ll be our representative and executive in Orient.”  And the young fellow refused.  And the executive from the Standard Oil Company said, “What’s the matter?  How much money do you want?  How much money would it take for you to work for and be the representative of the Standard Oil Company?”

 And the young fellow replied, he said, “Sir, there’s nothing wrong with the price.  There’s nothing wrong with the salary.  I’m overwhelmed by it!”  The young fellow replied, “The trouble is the job is too little.  God has called me to be a witness and a representative for Him; and I can’t turn aside from the mandate from heaven to accept salary and prestige from the Standard Oil Company.”   That’s what it takes personally on the part of each one of us.  However inducements or interests may be, our first assignment is to listen to the voice of God for us.  What is God’s will for me?

 In these years gone by, I preached at the North Shore Baptist Church in Chicago where James L. Kraft was a deacon and Sunday school superintendent.  And I was entertained in his beautiful and spacious home.  You could hardly imagine the moving of my heart as I listened to that man describing his little pony and little buggy in which he first started delivering cheese down the streets of Chicago.  The little pony’s name was Patty.  And he was failing.  Driving down the street in discouragement and despair, he pulled up his little pony, and he began to talk to her—“Patty,” and he said, “Patty, what’s wrong is, we’ve left God out of our lives.  And we’ve left God out of our business.  Patty, beginning now, we’re going to give our lives to God, and we are going to take God in as a partner, and we are going to follow the will of heaven for us.  Patty, this is a day of dedication.”

 James L. Kraft said, from that day on, listening to the voice of God for him, God blessed him, and strengthened him, and helped him; and finally, he said, “I had rather be a layman in the North Shore Baptist Church in Chicago than to head the greatest corporation in America!”  Then he added one other sentence, “My first job is serving Jesus.”   Would to God, every man was like that.  “My first assignment and mandate is serving Jesus.”  Then, if I am the head of a great Kraft Food Corporation, that’s in the will of God.  Or, if I am in His will, am a mason laying brick to the glory of His name—but He is first.  And if my task is that of a housewife taking care of babies, rearing children, God be praised.  But my first assignment and my first dedication is serving Jesus.

And this is the dedication of our church, as a community of God’s redeemed, as the household of the Lord’s saved.  Dear people, apart from a sense of mission, there is no reason for us to exist.  Let’s just go join the club; or let’s just go to the country place; or however we like the world of entertainment or outdoor, why bother with the church?  Why take time and effort to build a church, other than the tremendous sense of mission that God has called us into these tasks, and assigned us these fields of labor?  A church exists by evangelism as a fire exists by burning.  And where there is no burning, the fire dies.  And where there is no evangelism, the church ceases to be.

 I don’t know why but in these last several weeks, I have been preaching in the North and in the Northeast and in Canada.  They took a survey of the churches of New England, and the survey reported that you could take four-fifths of all of the pews out of all of the churches of New England and they would never be missed.  Four-fifths!  The chilling emptiness and deadness of the witness brings terror to my heart and chills the marrow of my bones!  This very minute I have sent Dr. C. Wade Freeman to Canada, to the great assembly there, meeting beginning tomorrow; he is preaching in Toronto today.  I am trying to lead that great Baptist denomination in Canada into a tremendous evangelistic effort.  And Dr. Freeman is there to plan an evangelistic conference and a simultaneous revival campaign to see if we cannot turn the materialistic and secular indifference of the vast population of Canada to the truth of God.

 When you visit Europe, there are not two percent of the people in England, or the British Isles, or the whole continent of Europe who attend church.  And when I think of my own town and my own people and my own church, O God, could it ever be that what I see in Europe, and what I see in the British Isles, and what I see in Canada, and what I see throughout the North, and what I see in New England, Lord, Lord—could it be that my eyes would live to see the day when I see the same thing here?  Nobody going to church—this great church empty—take four-fifths of its pews out and they would never be missed.

 Great God, dear God, in pity and in mercy and in grace, look upon us.  Search our hearts, Lord, and see if there is not in us a great commitment and dedication to preach the gospel, to win the lost, to baptize our converts, to gather the people together in the house of worship, there to sit at the feet of Jesus and to listen to an exposition of the living Word of the living God.

And the Lord God whispered and said to me.

These things shall be.  These things shall be,

No help shall come from the scarlet skies

Till My people rise!

Till My people rise My arm is weak,

I cannot speak

till My people speak;

When men are dumb, My voice is dumb—

I cannot come till My people come.

From over the flaming earth and sea

The cry of My people must come to Me.

Not till their spirit break the curse

May I claim My own in the universe.

But if My people rise,

If My people rise,

I will answer them from the swarming skies.

[“God Prays,” by Angela Morgan]

 When God sees His people dedicated and committed to the great program of witnessing and missions and soulwinning, God bows down His ear to hear their prayers.  He bares His strong arm to work by their side.  And He saves the lost, and adds to His people, and glorifies His name through us.

 Dear God, as one of the men called me yesterday, “Pastor, maybe the finest thing you could do is to build a church that would be a paragon and an example and a lighthouse for all of the other churches of the whole world.”

“See what they are doing there!  Look at the blessing of God upon them there.  Look at the people who are saved.  Look at the spirit of burning and revival.  Look at the witness of that congregation to the city of Dallas, to the state of Texas, to America, and to the world.”

 Grant it, Lord.  Be good to us, Lord.  And may that spirit of revival, of evangelism, of soulwinning, of dedication, of commitment, be with us, in us, through us as it was when the apostle Paul said to the king: “Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” [Acts 26:19].

 And for each one of us may a like commitment and dedication be the tremendous foundation of our lives.  Is that you?  Does the Lord speak to you?  “Today pastor, God has spoken to me and I am receiving in my heart the Lord Jesus as my Savior.”

Does he speak to your family?  “Pastor, this day God has spoken to us, and my whole family is coming to be a part of this family of the Lord.”  In the balcony round, a family, a couple, or just one somebody you, there is time enough and to spare.  If you are in the last seat of that topmost balcony, down one of these stairwells, down here to the front, “Pastor we have decided for God and here we are.”  In the throng and press of people on this lower floor, into one of those aisles and down here to the front, “Today I have taken Jesus as my Savior.”  Or, “Today, I want to be baptized as God has said and commanded in His holy Word.”  Or, “Today we are placing our life and our membership with the people of this dear church.”  Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand to sing and our people quietly pray before God, down that stairway, down this aisle, “Here I am, pastor, I am on the way.  I have decided for God and here I am.”  Do it now.  Make it now.  The Lord bless you now.  May angels attend you as you come forward now, while we stand, while we sing.