Paul as a Witness for God
May 20th, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
PAUL AS A WITNESS FOR GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-20-79 8:15 a.m.
On the radio the thousands of you uncounted who are sharing this hour are with the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Paul as a Witness for God. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 26; and I read from one of the most dramatic instances in all the Word of the Lord. After recounting his conversion [Acts 26:12-18], Paul begins, at verse 19:
Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:
But showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God,
Wherefore having obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those with the prophets and Moses did say:
That Christ should suffer, that He should be the first that should rise from the dead, and that He should show light unto the people, and to the nations.
And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much study doth make thee mad.
But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.
For the king, King Agrippa, knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; this was not done in a corner.
King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.
One time in Israel I walked around where was located the ancient city of Caesarea, the capital of the Roman province of Judea. And as I walked around, just looking at what few remains could be seen, just walking over the ground where the city once lay, in a field, I saw a Corinthian fluted marble column, sticking up out of the ground. It was the capital, the top of it, and it was above the ground at an angle of about sixteen or eighteen inches. And as I stood there and looked at that beautiful carved piece of marble, I thought, "Below me may be the very Praetorian palace in which Paul stood on trial for his life." I had been told by a geologist that the alluvial soil of the plain has been raised seventeen feet, washed down from the denuded hills and mountains of Israel. When Paul lived, the floor of the valley next to the sea was seventeen feet below what it is today. And that column, sticking up in the field, was down there where the ruins of the Praetorian still remain. So as you would, I relived this dramatic scene; one of the most poignant in the Bible.
Felix, the profligate procurator of Judea, had been recalled in disgrace. Paul had been a prisoner under him for two years. And in order to please the enemies of the apostle, he left Paul in chains [Acts 24:27]. When Festus came to replace Felix as the Roman procurator, he asked Paul if he would stand trial for his life in Jerusalem [Acts 25:9]. That was at the request of an ambush that hoped to slay him, murder him, on the way up to the city [Acts 25:1-3]. Festus was a noble Roman, but he fell prey to the scheme. And it was then that Paul appealed as a Roman citizen to be heard by Caesar himself [Acts 25:10-11]. While Paul was therefore in Caesarea in prison, awaiting to be transferred to Rome to stand on trial for his life before the Roman Caesar, in that interim there came to visit Festus, there came to visit Festus, the Roman procurator, King Herod Agrippa II, the king of Lebanon, and his consort, who was his sister Bernice [Acts 25:13]. Herod Agrippa was a Jew, and of course, his sister Bernice who lived with him as his queen, was also a Jewish. They made request of Festus that they might hear this man [Acts 25:22]. The fame of the preaching of the gospel of Christ had spread throughout the world, and they were eager and curious to hear this primary and most vocal exponent of this new religion. Festus happily and gladly and quickly acquiesced. So the day was set, and Paul is brought in before them [Acts 25:23].
In the Praetorian palace, on a raised dais, you can see that royal group. There sits Festus, the procurator, clothed in scarlet, surrounded by his lectors and his legionnaires. By his side there is seated King Herod Agrippa II, with all the insignia of royalty, surrounded by his guards, gaily attired; and by his side there is seated Bernice, the queen, her royal jewels flashing, beautifully gowned, dressed, attired; and surrounding the group, the magistrates and the captains, insignia of the presence and power of the Roman Empire. On a polished pavement below them, there is let in a poor prisoner in chains, and he stands there below, speaking, pleading, apologizing, defending his life and his faith. Could you ever imagine a scene more dramatically diverse than that? Here is power; there is weakness. Here is strength; there is the struggle even to breath, to exist. Here is luxury and affluence; there is poverty and need. Here is self indulgence; there is suffering self denial. Here is pride and glitter; there is deepest humility. Here is Roman cynicism; there is sublime faith. Could you imagine so contrasting a situation as between these who are seated on the raised dais and that poor prisoner in chains who stands before them, speaking for his life?
As the prisoner is given permission to address the illustrious group [Acts 26:1], he does so by recounting his miraculous and heavenly conversion [Acts 26:12-18]. And he describes that journey from Jerusalem to Damascus, on which journey he met the Lord, appearing to him above the brightness of the Syrian midday sun [Acts 26:12-13]. I have made that journey, from Jerusalem to Damascus; across the Pharpar River, finally the Abana, which flows through the city of Damascus. And at a certain spot, where tradition says, there did the apostle meet the Lord. I remember the saying of a geographer. I quote from him, he said, "I have seen and studied the greatest battlefields of all the world. But this spot," referring to where Paul met the Lord, "but this spot is the greatest of them all."
In the years previous, this Saul of Tarsus had defended Judaism and persecuted the Christian faith unto death [Acts 26:9-10]. He said, "I felt that I was doing what was right." But when he met the Lord, he was wonderfully turned, marvelously converted; and the faith that once he destroyed; now he preaches with the very heart blood of his life [Galatians 1:23]. It’s a miracle, the conversion of Paul; the conversion of any man is a miracle. It’s a regenerating, soul-saving, life-turning experience from the hands of God. And as Paul has described his conversion, he says that what he is doing, preaching the gospel of Christ, is not of himself, but he is answering a mandate from heaven [Acts 26:19-20]. God has set him into the apostolic ministry to be a preacher of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 9:15, 22:14-15]. What he is doing, God has commanded, mandated that he do it.
So oft times is that the experience of a man who is delivering the message of the Lord. Jeremiah, who was so terribly persecuted because he delivered the prophetic message from the Lord, Jeremiah said, "I am in ridicule; they that pass by hold me in derision [Jeremiah 20:7]. And I said in my heart, I will not speak anymore in His name. But His word," Jeremiah says, "was in my bones as a fire burning in my heart, and I could not forbear" [Jeremiah 20:9]. Or as Amos, who was taken from the flocks [Amos 7:14-15] in order to be a prophet to the northern tribe of Israel, in defense of his prophetic ministry he said, "The lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord God hath spoken; who can but prophesy?" [Amos 3:8]. So Paul, standing before that illustrious group, describing his conversion, says that the gospel that he preaches is in obedience to a heavenly commission [Acts 26:19].
Now, as he describes that gospel, the atoning death of our Lord and His resurrection from the dead [Acts 26:22-23], while he is speaking, Festus, the Roman procurator, breaks in and he cries with a loud voice, "Paul, thou art beside thyself; much study and learning hath made thee mad" [Acts 26:24]. That is the reaction of secularism and materialism and cynicism to the message of Christ and the Christian commitment always. It has never been otherwise. "You are mad. You are irrational. You are beside yourself."
There is not a more amazing incident in the life of our Lord than that. When you read the life of Jesus, in the third chapter of the Book of Mark, in verse 21, "When His friends heard about Him, they went out to laid hold on Him: for they said, He is beside Himself. He is mad" [Mark 3:21]. When the friends of the Lord Jesus, who knew Him in Nazareth, saw what He was doing, they sought to lay hands upon Him, to coerce, to seize Him. And they said, "He is mad. He is beside himself,And even His," look in verse 31, "and even His brethren and His mother sent unto Him, calling Him" [Mark 3:31]. Not only His friends, and not only His family said, "He is mad. He is beside Himself," the scribes which came down from Jerusalem, verse 22, said, "He has a devil. He is Beelzebub incarnate, and it is by the prince of the devils that He casts out devils" [Mark 3:22].
When He was raised from the dead and those devout women came to the eleven apostles and said, "He is alive! He is alive," the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Luke says that when the apostles heard the report of the women, they thought they were beside themselves [Luke 24:5-11]. They too have lost their rational judgment. They are mad. What they had to say was like a fairy tale, like an old wives’ tale. At Pentecost, when the power of the Holy Spirit fell upon the twelve apostles, and each man was speaking the glorious message of Christ in the language that all of the strangers in Jerusalem could understand [Acts 2:1-12], they said, "These men are drunk" [Acts 2:13]. This is the response of cynicism, secularism, materialism, always, to the message of Christ: they relegate Christian commitment to irrationality or hallucination or madness or fanaticism.
When I was a high school student in Amarillo, I took part in the forensic extra curricular activities of the school. I had won a silver loving cup for declaiming, declamation, memorizing a famous patriotic address and delivering it. Donald Honey and I represented the debaters of the high school and went all over West Texas debating other teams in the high schools of the cities of West Texas. And as such I spoke before every civic club in the city of Amarillo. So the biggest law firm in Amarillo visited with me, had me visit with them. And they said, "We will send you to school and pay for your education." And being poor and with nothing and not knowing how I could go to school, it was a tremendous, for me, invitation and promise. "We’ll send you to school, and we’ll send you through the law school. And in the summertime you can come to the office and work with us. Then when you’re graduated with your law degree, why, you can be a partner in our law firm." And I replied, "I can’t do that. God has called me to be a preacher and a pastor, and I’m getting ready to be a preacher of the gospel of Christ." And the reply was, "How could a young man like you waste your life being a preacher?" To the secular world it’s a fanaticism and a madness, "You’re beside yourself."
These youngsters in the Chapel Choir, when I was preaching through Genesis, I delivered a series of studies on how God created us, and these chapel youngsters, some of them taking shorthand in high school, they took down those addresses, the first time I ever saw them was in galley proof from the Zondervan Publishing Company. They’d taken them down and sent them to Zondervan. And it was published by Zondervan in a little book entitled Did Man Just Happen. It’s a series of addresses on evolution. It had such tremendous circulation that it was reviewed by a scientist, and published; the review was published in the Dallas Morning News. But instead of answering the tremendous truth that I presented in that book, Did Man Just Happen, what the reviewer said in the published news was this: "If you would like to read it as a curiosity, I would commend it to you that you might see what a warped mind has to say." To secularism and cynicism, Christian truth is always irrational and fanatical, always.
One time a man found out how much I give to the church, and he made the exclamation to me, "Why you could buy an expensive automobile with that amount of money. How inane and insane and mad can a man be? Why you could take that amount of money, look at the clothes you could buy, look at the trips you could make, look at the automobiles you could buy. But instead you give it to God? You give it to the church? You give it to the work of the Lord?"
"Paul, thou art beside thyself; you are mad" [Acts 26:24]. That’s the response of the cynic and the secularist to the Christian commitment.
The other, King Herod Agrippa II, when Paul addressed him personally, "Agrippa, you are a Jew. You know the prophets. It is not strange for you to believe the prophets? I know that you believe" [Acts 26:27]. And he replied in one of the most unusual sentences that you’ll read in the Greek New Testament, en oligō me peitheis christianon poiēsai. There are three ways that he could have meant that. The first, an exclamation, en oligō, in a little, with just these few words, with just this short of time, en oligō me, the me is very prominent, en oligō me peitheis, you would persuade, christianos, a Christian, poiēsai – poiēsai, to become. "You mean you would persuade me, king of Lebanon, to be a Christian?" That’s one possibility.
Another possibility is the King James Version: he was convicted and moved by the word of the apostle Paul, "Almost, en oligō, in a just a little, you persuade me to be a Christian." But almost certainly, I suppose, practically every Greek scholar and commentator would say this is what he meant: en oligō – in brief, "In summary, you want me to be a Christian," said in sarcasm, in ridicule, "In brief, what you are talking about, you want me to be a Christian" [Acts 26:28], sardonic, sarcastic, sneeringly, ridiculingly. And Paul replied in a beautiful way, "I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, this great throng, were both" en oligō and en megalō, "whether in a little or whether in much that you were such as I am, except for these chains" [Acts 26:29]. Then they separated [Acts 26:30], and the king went back to his throne in Lebanon, and Festus went about his Roman provincial assignments as procurator, and the apostle Paul went back to his cell and to his chains.
Can you think, can you imagine, the disappointment, and the heartache, and the heaviness of soul of the apostle after he had finished his finest and most eloquent address, an apology for his life, and now seated there in the cell, laden down with chains, no convert, nobody saved – his eloquence parried by a Roman sneer; his finest appeal shunted aside by secular cynicism, his most prayerful presentation of the gospel message of Christ ridiculed, turned to dust and ashes. Can you imagine the heaviness of heart and sorrow of his soul? But my sweet people, God, God, God never lets a word spoken in His behalf fall to the ground; somehow God waters it, and God blesses it, and God prospers it, and God uses it.
Tell me, wasn’t somebody there who heard that? And didn’t that somebody present who heard that, didn’t he write it down? And tell me, haven’t I read it to you today? And haven’t I preached on it this hour? And my brothers and sisters, I’m just one of uncounted thousands who in these two millennia have read that faithful reporting and have preached on this marvelous appeal, and God is blessing it still today.
We may think we fail, it may be apparent to the world that we fail; but not God. His servants never fail. His word never falls to the ground. It prospers that purpose whereunto God hath sent it [Isaiah 55:11]. So the apostle taking heart encourages us, "Do not be weary in well doing; in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" [Galatians 6:9]. God encourage us in the way. Bless us, help us, strengthen us when it seems the whole world falls crumbling around us. God is with us. He blesses us and helps us. And to the world such fanaticism and such madness may be to them irrational, but to us it is the very breath and life of heaven.
And that is our invitation to you this precious morning hour. A family you, a couple you, just one somebody you, "Today, I have made this decision for Christ, and here I am; we’re putting our lives in the circle and circumference of this wonderful church. And when God calls the roll, we’ll answer to our name; and when the angels of heaven look over the roll of the church, they’ll see our names." Welcome. Welcome. All of us are going to stay, all of us are going to pray, all of us are going to wait for the moving Spirit of the blessed Jesus, as down these stairways and down these aisles, God gives us these whom the Spirit has chosen this precious hour.
Make the decision now, and when you stand up, stand up answering with your life. May God speed you; angels bless you in the way as you come; while we stand and while we sing.
A. Felix had been
procurator, now in disgrace replaced by Festus
1. Paul left in
bonds in Caesarea
B. Paul appeals right
of Roman citizen to be heard by Caesar
Paul awaits transportation to Rome, Festus receives as visitors Herod Agrippa
II and Bernice, who request to hear from Paul
II. Paul’s defense
A. The experience on
the Damascus road – his conversion(Acts
1. He had been a
vigorous persecutor of the Christian faith
2. Conversion of
any man a miracle of God
obedience to God’s call(Acts 26:19, Jeremiah
20:9, Amos 3:8)
III. The response
A. From Festus – he
called Paul "mad" and "beside himself"(Acts 26:24)
1. So the family
and friends of Christ(Mark 3:21, 31-32)
2. So the enemies
of Christ who said He had a devil(Mark 3:27)
So the disciples about the resurrection report of the women(Luke 24:11)
those at Pentecost (Acts 2:13)
So the response of materialism, cynicism and secularism
B. From Agrippa – a
sneer, "You would persuade meâ€¦"(Acts 26:28-29)
C. Paul back to his
cell in chains – he had not failed